Writers: No time, no energy…no hope? No way!

I received the following note from a student yesterday.  I removed identifying characteristics.  Hopefully.


Steven and Tananarive:

Well, apparently I’ve chosen the wrong time in my life to seek to improve it, and myself.

Time is my enemy. Monday through Thursday, while my wife is at work, I’m the stay-at-home dad of a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a not-quite-four-month-old son. Friday thru Sunday, I work a day-job at a local hospital. The one thing of which I have vanishingly little is free time; the kids and household responsibilities take up most of my waking hours, when I’m not at work. As a fifty-year-old cancer survivor, sleep is (as I know you’ll agree, Steve) very important for my well-being, but I almost never get enough.

I had to de-activate my Facebook account because, being my only outlet, means of self-expression, and source of social interaction I could cram into my few free moments, it had become a constant distraction, and an excellent procrastinatory tool; my housework and childcare began to suffer as a result. For me to return to Facebook, even for the worthwhile reason of interacting with my fellow Lifewriters would be akin to a new-to-the-wagon alcoholic taking a lucrative job in a bar. Is not doing so going to irreparably damage any benefit I might derive from this program?

Watch a movie? I can’t even get through a half-hour sitcom without missing salient plot points.

I know there are people who manage to be a parent, work a job, and have a life besides. Some – like you two – even find time and the means to stay in shape, pursue a martial art, and even follow their bliss and maybe create something. I don’t know how they/you do it, and I am impressed and envious.

The only time variable over which I have any real control in order to find “free” time is my sleep – and as I mentioned, I already don’t get enough of that. This is why I failed at the Ancient Child program (Nope! Can’t even find a half-hour, on a daily basis, dependably. Meditate? Well, when I manage to find the time to try, at least I get a short nap…) and why I am already failing at this writing workshop.

I know this sounds like a bunch of excuses, and it is – but as far as I can tell, they’re also obstacles I can’t seem to overcome or circumvent. Any suggestions? How the hell did you manage to keep training, working and writing, when your kids were small?

— “Mark”


O.K.  Mark.

Here’s what I see

  1. Lack of time (Dad duties, part time job)
  2. Energy (cancer survivor (healing takes energy!), lack of sleep.
  3. Stress (lack of sleep, mortal fear, feeling your life is slipping away from you)
  4. Organization (Sucked into FB, unable to find the time/energy/focus to invest on writing.
  5. Focus. Cannot watch a ½ television show and follow the plot.

So if we look at the “Machine” concept: you have to have a certain number of plates spinning at the same time to move forward.    If that feels cold and mechanical, try the “Garden”: you need to plant and water the seeds, fertilize them, make sure they get sunshine.

So let’s apply the “Diamond Hour” concept to this, aimed at the creation of a “Garden” that will blossom into writing.  What is the Garden/Machine?

  1. Read 10k a day
  2. Write 1k a day
  3. Finish a story a week/every other week
  4. Put them in the mail
  5. Keep them in the mail until they sell
  6. Continue the process until you have finished 100 stories.

Obviously, it is possible to “cut this down” to smaller proportions. This pattern will take you to 100 stories in 2-4 years.   You can write faster or slower, of course–it is up to you.  (Question: did your “inner voices” see the answer or the problem?)

The “Diamond Hour” starts with the “Five Minute Miracle”, breathing deep, low and slow for 60 seconds every three hours.   EVERYONE HAS FIVE MINUTES A DAY.  IF YOU HEAR A VOICE IN YOUR HEAD SAYING YOU DO NOT, YOU HAVE JUST FOUND THE VOICE LYING TO YOU.

So start there.  “Stairstep” your way up.

This five minutes will quash stress, increase focus and balance, and help you see how your internal voices lie and sabotage you.

Can you move to 10-20 minutes?  Then add a “Morning Ritual” of motion, emotion, and focus.  While walking (for instance)   Doing Five Tibetans or Joint rotations, focus on the positive, move walk and smile, find your faith and confidence that YOU CAN DO IT.   If you can move, talk, and focus your mind for five-20 minutes, you can set up your entire day.

THEN:   You will write one sentence a day. Just one, minimum.  IF YOU DON’T, IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH TIME.

WHEN YOU CAN ADD ANOTHER 10-20 MINUTES, You go from a sentence to 1000 words 3x a week.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday you edit.

This plan will allow you to start with five minutes a day, and by fighting your way to an hour max, you can write 150k words a year–more than enough.
You might need to negotiate with your wife for 1 hour a day that belongs to you.  30 minutes?  15?  How low is the threshold before you KNOW you are dealing with something internal, rather than anything to do with external circumstances?

Sleep?  If you aren’t getting 7-9 hours a night, this is a core issue.  If this is absolutely untenable, then start by getting the BEST quality of sleep you can.  The “Pzizz” app for iPhone and Android is a terrific aid in this.

Are you eating meals designed for health or emotional comfort?   The “Ancient Child” exercise is so critical because it is clear that you can do things for your children that you are reluctant to do for yourself.   So if you fought your way to 40 minutes a day, you could:

10 minutes heartbeat meditation and Ancient Child (focus, self-love)

10 minutes Five Tibetans, while performing Morning Ritual (focus, energy, health)

20 minutes rough draft or editing.

WHILE COMMUTING: Listen to books on tape to get your input.

Total time: 60 minutes a day, with only 40 minutes “rescued” from your other duties.  This can be scaled down and down and down…but if you are doing less than 5 minutes, you know what to think, right?

What you need to think is: What fear is stopping me?  How and why am I sabotaging myself?   Why am I committed to breaking this negative pattern?

If you ever made a list of the 100 reasons you HAVE to be a writer, you’d never have another problem.


You could also adjust the writing time to 15 minutes, and add 5 minutes of goal-setting.  Writing your goals every day is one of the most powerful things you can do–it is like looking at a map while on a long drive.


In other words, you are ADDING PLEASURE to the concept of doing what needs to be done.

IF you have clarity on your goal, are doing your meditation (and only if!) and have made contact with your “Ancient Child” and filled yourself with love (Heartbeat meditation) THEN you can add PAIN to the question “what will happen if I DONT take these actions?”

And so long as you know what needs to be done, the more pleasure you anchor to doing it, and pain to NOT doing it, the easier it gets to motivate yourself.


Remember the “Secret Formula”?  GOALS X FAITH X ACTION X GRATITUDE = RESULTS.

If you can start to see how this can all link together, starting with FIVE MINUTES A DAY, you are beginning to wake up.

See how this works?  But start with five minutes.  Find out what is really going on.  If you CANNOT do five minutes, the problem is within you, not outside you.  

I would suggest that your next story is about a man in your life situation who learns to take his life back, while being a better husband and father than he has ever been…with real joy.  THAT story is the one which, written with honesty and power, could save lives.

Write with passion!



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