Finding Time to Write

A friend of mine, a fellow writer and horse/farm owner, recently asked me how I found time to write articles and books while taking care of a farm.  She was looking for ideas to help in her own work/farm/writing quandary and wondered if I had any tips for her.  I wasn’t sure what to tell her because I put myself in the same boat.  The fact that I can’t finish everything every day in the way that I want is always a source of frustration for me.  I know I’m joined in this by a lot of people.  My friend, Jennifer, another hobby farmer and photographer, and I admitted once that we looked forward to winter because there was a lot less for us to do.

Now I’m not complaining.  I want to say that right off the bat, because owning this beautiful piece of land near Lake Michigan is a dream come true.  Being able to stay home and write every day is another dream come true.   I love all of my animals, even my mischievous goats, and one day away from my farm is hard to bear.  But, there is a LOT to do when you own a farm and there is a LOT to do when you are a writer.  So much to do that it can become overwhelming.  There is no end.  I feel guilty for taking an hour away from writing or weeding or planting to sit on my porch and read or to watch something stupid on TV.  I long to jump on the train and go to Chicago to visit the art museum or to ride my bike to the lake and sit there for a few hours.  Every day is filled with another task to do, another goal to meet, another weed to pull, another craft to learn that I can write about, another source to interview, another scene to write.

On an average day I wake up anywhere from 6 am to 7 am, feed all the indoor critters and then pull on the wellies and head outside.  Chickens are first.  I let them out, fill the water drinkers, top up the feed hoppers, lug extra feed out to the coops and gather any early eggs.  Then it’s over to the big guys.  I feed the horses, feed and cuddle the barn cat, feed the goats, spray the horses with fly spray, walk them out to their pasture, return to the barn to muck stalls and fill water buckets.  I open the greenhouse and water the seedlings.  Then I head into the house about for coffee and breakfast.  Check emails, answer emails from my editors, take a sneaky look at Twitter, quickly scan the news on NPR online.  Send out a few emails to writer friends to check in with them and then settle down to work.  I write fiction for two hours each morning, six days a week, unless I have a pressing deadline.  My riding instructor told me years ago when I became a professional trainer to make sure to ride my own horse first, otherwise I’d be too tired to ride after I’ve ridden everyone else’s horses.  So I take that into my writing world too.  If I waited to write fiction after being shackled to my computer…well, it just wouldn’t happen.  This amount of time may not  seem like much, but the word count mounts up with even an hour a day.  I suppose that is the best advice I could give anyone who wants to write.  Just an hour a day, start there.

After my fiction session I switch to non-fiction and fact check articles, and then either write an article, do some research, conduct interviews or work on a non-fiction book project.  Then it’s lunch and then back to work or out to run errands.  About 4, I take the dogs for a walk in the woods near my house or go for a bike ride.  When I’m walking or riding I mull over plot problems or ideas for scenes.  When I come home I make notes or quickly sketch out the scenes I thought of on my walk.  I answer any emails and then change into barn clothes, feed the indoor critters, and then back out to feed the chickens, gather eggs, feed the big guys and then do any farm chores, such as water the gardens, weed, check my bees, harvest veg, ride the horses.  Then it’s back into the house to make dinner, have dinner, do the dishes, hang out with my husband and niece for a couple of hours and then to bed where I’ll read for an hour, think about my fiction again and make any notes on my iPad before I go to sleep.

The weekend is filled with farm chores, harvesting, cleaning, visiting farmers markets, more writing, hanging out with family/friends, and, yes, even some time out on the porch swing reading.

Those of you who follow my blog might remember there used to be a milk goat in that schedule.  As fun as it was, milking one goat took two hours out of my day.  The milking bit was fast; the preparation before and after and dealing with the milk took the longest.  So I dried my doe off in the winter and found that I didn’t really want to repeat the milking this summer, so I took a break.  And that’s fine.  In the not-so-distant past I would have forced myself to keep going, but sometimes the wise choice is to let some things go.  The goat didn’t mind, I didn’t mind, I have a freezer of goat cheese and goat milk, so it made sense to take a year off of the dairymaid work.  That’s another piece of advice: it’s okay to drop a project.  You don’t have to do something forever, just because you did it once.  That doesn’t make you a quitter.

Each day is a busy day indeed, and of course life prevails and I get sick or fed up, or someone in my family or a friend needs help, or someone is visiting from out of town or galleys come in for a book project that need to be addressed.  It’s important to stay flexible and to understand there are only so many hours in the day, and not everything is going to get done perfectly…or at all.  As long as everyone is healthy, fed and watered, the house and farm is relatively clean, and my work hasn’t gotten out of control, then I have to call that a successful day. Everything else is a bonus.

My best friend, editor and co-author, Moira Reeve, told me once that she gets what she can done each day, she cracks open a bottle of wine, surveys the damage, and pronounces the job…done?  That’s really all we can do.

So that’s my blog written.  Phew.  On to the next task!

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8 Responses to Finding Time to Write

  1. My first piece of time-saving advice would be to ditch the stalls. We have a horse in rehab & are doing daily stalls for the first time decades. Agggg. Time sink. Cleaning, buying shavings, cleaning, moving compost, cleaning. Plus, with a run-in shed & water, horses are happier & healthier out 24/7. Weather permitting, if that is an issue in your area. My $0.02.

    Otherwise, my schedule is reversed. I feed. While they eat & digest I answer emails, draft blog, do paperwork. Then I turn off the computer (to prevent sneak FB attacks) and head out to the barn for morning session. Repeat for lunch & afternoon.

    • Yes! My husband and I are currently trying to figure this one out. We found that the pelleted corn cob bedding is the best for reducing bedding. The urine clumps with this stuff and it’s easy to hoik it out. Otherwise the horses are out at least 12 hours a day. They have a sacrifice paddock when not out at pasture but my mare loves her stall.

  2. kass says:

    I Like to fill up my day with good things to do: ride/train my horses, teach a couple of students, have coffee with friends, walk with my husband and my standard poodle, cuddle my cats–the list is endless. But I find that having a lot to do makes me more productive and more efficient, and I can feel satisfied and fulfilled as I cook and eat dinner. And early to bed. Of course, I board my horses at a wonderful facility with great pastures and oversight, but no one rides them but me. I used to wish I had my “own place,” but then I realized that 1) I like to travel too much and don’t want to leave either my horses or my dogs and cats to a stranger, and 2: I like to RIDE and TRAIN my horses, not feed them or clean their stalls. This is what works for me–now if I’d just quit procrastinating and start some serious writing, I wouldn’t feel so guilty. But for me to write and enjoy it, I have to have something meaningful to say. Sharon, your productivity astounds me–wish I had your discipline.

    • Who do you think instilled that sense of discipline in me? You did! : ) No lie. The only thing that didn’t stick was getting up at 5AM. Blech.
      I spend more time caring for my horses than riding them. That is for sure.

  3. Writing for yourself first–I love it. Thanks for this timely blog post as I head back into full-time travel and freelancing! (And you again make me miss having a farm!)

  4. Leslie Olsen says:

    Sharon I have always felt overwhelmed trying to get everything done in a day at the farm. My list just gets longer and at the end of the day I fell frustrated and rushed to the point I am not living in the moment. Then the flood washed away my farm and it has taken a couple of years just for me to recover. Now I have a whole new perspective. This could be my last ride, my last lesson that I have the opportunity to help someone or my last and final anything that I so enjoy everyday. For some reason I am learning more now after the flood from my horses simply because I am not in a hurry. I am living in the moment every day. When I start feeling overwhelmed I tell myself most everything we worry about works itself out if you let it.. Even when I teach I tell my students don’t sweat the small stuff when you are training your horse or they get as frustrated as you are. Enjoy your ride and enjoy your day!!! How fortunate we are that we get to live everyday doing what we love!!

    • That is exactly how I feel. So overwhelmed and even guilty for not getting everything done perfectly and on time. Sometimes I think we set our selves up to fail but piling so much on our plates.
      I’m sure that flood really packed a wallop on your mental health. I am amazed how you bounced back so quickly. And yes, enjoy each day! We are for sure lucky, lucky.