Each week on the Poetry Substack, the Rabbit Room publishes work from poets in the community.
The poems are chosen from hundreds of submissions that come through the submissions page. From there, we compile them into one anonymized document and then they land on the desks of the Poetry Group, a team of 30+ poets who do the work of choosing what poems to share on the Substack newsletter.
Many of the people in the Poetry Group are poets themselves. Recently, I asked them how they find time to write in the midst of their busy lives. This question was not without irony - I was asking busy people to write me something about how they find time to write during their busy lives.
But they responded with clarity, humility, and wisdom.
I hope these brief reflections comfort, inspire, and challenge you in your own creative pursuits.
As a mother of four who homeschools, I have to look for pockets of quiet in the margins. I have been known to hide from my children in the bathroom, but I usually get up early to write before everyone else wakes up. Sometimes when I'm wide awake at 3 AM, I'll just give in and slip downstairs for an hour or two while my mind is working. During November's intensive poem-a-day challenge I'll check the day's prompt first thing in the morning and think about it as I get dressed, do laundry, carpool, etc. When I finally have words, I type them into the Notes app on my phone—which is how I write most of my poetry anyway!
While I have set myself to writing every day, I do give my brain and body the freedom for that to be a little or a lot. With that said, I like to put in 30 minutes to an hour and a half per day. The kicker: that is sometimes split up into five to 15-minute increments throughout the day. In a perfect morning, I get 30-45 minutes. On wacky days where plans go up in smoke, I make poetry thoughts or poetry line voice memos on my phone while bike commuting. Or, I write for 15-20 minutes on a break at work or when things get slow, like how I’m writing this right now. The name of my game is regularity, working poetry and writing like a muscle, and writing everything down: phrases I hear, words I like, a quote, a story idea. Rinse. Repeat.
Seasonal practices work well for me, such as a 30-day challenge once per year or setting aside a few hours on Fridays during Lent. I put the allotted hours on my calendar and treat them as I would any other appointment or ministry. Finding a friend or two to join with me enriches the process. We give each other permission to be messy and playful. When we feel stuck, we name our stuckness aloud, which helps us push through. Sometimes resonators will see glints I was blind to, or ask different kinds of questions that I wouldn't have thought of. We pray for each other, especially when one of us is laid low. I intentionally set aside reading goals and at least one other focus as I prune my momentum toward a small faithfulness. Perhaps much of what is generated becomes compost, but it is a wealth of leaf-mould nourishment. It is the writing practice itself that is my path to flourishing as a human.
“Making time to write…”
Trying to write about how I find time to write, I had managed these four warm-up words when my 6-year-old offered me colored pencils and respite: “If you want a break you can help me color!” She’s darling and persistent, so I traded the memo pad for a lemur mandala, my WIP for hers. As a homeschool mom of three young girls, these “invitations” into the ongoing narrative of life together come more often than the pockets of quiet I desire. So, I write in the nooks and crannies, learning not to despise time that measures in the teaspoons, while also working to design full cups — relying on the help of my husband and church family. I jot down lines and ideas as they come with hopes of returning to develop them, but many works dangle undone. The lemur picture though? It’s complete. And wouldn’t what’s done in love find a way to spill itself onto my humble page?
How do I make time for writing? Haltingly. Falteringly.
This isn’t to say I don’t set the time aside, but even the time I do make can be eaten up by other good things: reading, volunteering at church, engaging with a writing community; laundry, dishes, sweeping; just enough exercise to ensure I won’t permanently freeze up into the shape of a deskbound day-jobber. The list goes on. Always on. But I continue to get up early, I continue to sit down for an hour on an evening to try to live the poetry I want to write, which is to say, to make space for seeing and appreciating and questioning and considering what this life brings my way. I continue to put myself to the task. I’m not sure our busy lives are in the way of our writing as much as we are. That list of good things is the soil of our gardens, and at some point it comes time to start tilling.
How do I make time for writing? Haltingly. Falteringly. Continually.
I've always found it hard to prioritize writing time, but recently I've realized it's about three times harder than I thought. Writing requires not only the space to put down words, but also the space to process beforehand and refine afterward. If I make no time to notice what's around me or be thoughtful about it, the muse will have nothing to work with when she appears. Ours is a culture of endless demands on attention: we spend most of our time producing or consuming and very little processing. When I'm constantly texting, reading articles, listening to music, or watching historical clothing videos on YouTube (we all do that, right?), I have no space for my mind to wander. Silence and stillness can feel deafening, but I'm trying to push into that discomfort. This can be as simple as a commute to work with no radio on or a slow Sabbath afternoon spent journaling at my favourite wifi-less cafe. Making time for writing is hard because it also requires making time to reflect. But an unexamined life isn't worth writing about.
Acknowledging limitations is key. About 3% of my day or less can be dedicated to sitting down to write, but this time is a small basket of fish and loaves I can be faithful to surrendering. When my habits are healthiest, I commit to a small amount of timed writing each day usually before I wake up the kids at 6 am. Even 10 or 15 minutes is worth it because it is never satisfying, so it helps to jumpstart the desire to write in the tiny margins of my life the rest of the day. If my mind is a web browser, the writing tab is rarely closed on those days, which means if you look at me closely when I am walking anywhere, I am mumbling lines to myself. It is the most portable kind of puzzle; you can be literally anywhere and be chewing on rhythm, diction, and rhyme, rearranging phrases until they start to glow. The richest place for this is the shower. The second richest is a tie between driving alone and the walk to the faculty bathroom from my classroom. If a line is finally good, I write it down on my phone or pocket notebook. Forgetfulness is an efficient natural editor. If I have a lot of raw brainstorming from the early morning writing plus one good line at the end of the day I am happy, though often a good line is several days work. While it helps to do all of this from joy instead of guilt, sometimes the joy isn’t awake yet and it just helps to do it. As internal as all of this is, prayer is essential to never writing alone.
As far as finding time to write goes, I'm not the most organized or disciplined of people. Generally I find it to be easier later in the day, both in terms of my schedule and my creative genius (it's a lazy beast). If I'm on a poem-a-day writing project, this often looks like telling myself I can't go to bed until I write something. Other times, it looks like writing a poem in the notes app on my phone when I've arrived too early to a dinner party, or repeating lines over and over to myself until I can get out of the shower and get them down on paper, or (a somewhat rare scenario) being attacked by a poem before I get out of bed in the morning and grabbing the closest writing implement and paper to hand before I forget the whole thing.
Life is hectic for most of us, in so many ways.
In my own context, pastoral ministry and parenting dominate most of my waking hours with their invited and uninvited responsibilities and joys. At times, WB Yeats’ words feel like my life motto: ‘all things can tempt me from this craft of verse’, and weeks can go by where I simply cannot reach the writing projects that I have on the boil, or significantly develop the ideas that rattle around in my head. This can create a sense of conflict and painful tension for me which is difficult to live with at times, but
I am grateful for a sustained sense of compulsion that draws me back to my writing space over and over again. Writing insinuates its way into my mind, knocks patiently on the door of my schedule, and does not seem to be put off by my neglect and poor hospitality. Creative inspiration is an excellent and unassuming guest, while I can be a terrible host. This muted insistence (call it a creative impulse, the ministry of the Muse or any other name you prefer) is a sweet grace, which means that I keep writing - sporadically, erratically, at times unwillingly, often in spite of myself. I have come to the persuasion that this is providence at work and is part of the process of how my writing works. The time could come in the future where the clutter in my mental hallway is cleared and I can give writing a more comfortable home, but for now I continue to allow it come for weekends in spite of the mess of its surroundings!
My advice to fellow writers is to keep opening the door to your own work, even when you are embarrassed by how little you manage to apply yourself to the blessing and labour of writing. Doing what we can in our allotted time is always a better plan than giving up because of a lack of time!
When it comes to writing it’s a fact that seconds matter as much as hours. It’s also a fact that the notes app is God’s gift to poets. Art is made in many ways but moment by moment, like by line in the minuscule margins of each day, of each hour, is certainly one of them. I’ve also had to learn (and am ever learning) the persistence it takes to stare a rough draft right in the face and ask her what she has to say. To not only start but to start again. To keep returning. Finally, always keep a pen and paper by the bed, it’s also a fact that all the good ideas come out at night and no, you won’t remember them come morning.
My problem is not so much finding the time to write, although that is certainly a factor, but rather taking the few moments I have and finding the determination to pull my dusty notebook out from under my bed or comb through my computer files for that one story I started ages ago. The pockets of my day where I might actually have time to write are often the most difficult to navigate. The voices of a thousand distractions roar louder the moment there is quiet. Writer Steven Pressfield calls this “The Resistance”-- the disembodied force that fights tooth and nail against any act of creativity. The only way I actually use my tiny pockets of writing time is by adopting a “come at me” attitude. Unless I dig my heels in and put my fist up, the Resistance wins and I lose whatever precious time I’ve managed to scrounge up. So, dig your heels in. Make it a game. Set up a reward system. Sit at your desk and yell at the Resistance until it shuts up. Even if it’s just three minutes at a time, take back a little territory, and the thing fighting you will start to weaken. Whenever you find yourself with five empty minutes, remember that every word you write is a war against the darkness. It might feel like you’re struggling uphill in waist-high mud, but do it anyway. Kick the distractions out the door, give your insecurities a good punch in the face, take up your pen and try something.
As a husband, special-needs parent, full-time college employee, & part-time songwriter/writer, I find that the focus of having a writing prompt or concept in mind to start to be really helpful. Whether a piece is based on Scripture, inspired by a great story, or part of a themed suite, I find the limitations of that approach to be focusing - and freeing. That way, when I have a bit of time I can set aside to write, I have a clear idea of what I'm writing about, rather than just sitting in front of a blank page & hoping for the best.
How does anyone find time to write? I might jokingly say take more bus rides — some of my best poems happen while I’m on public transportation. If I look at that fact more closely, though, I think I find time to write by first paying attention to my margins — the time between things. Not all marginal time is good writing time: I need to be able to focus completely on writing, so probably not if I’m anxious before a meeting or waiting for company to arrive. Waiting for my laundry to finish or the second half of my lunch hour, though — that’s prime time. I’m a graduate student and work in cross-cultural ministry full time, so my margins are constantly in flux. I give myself grace as they shift and change, and I try to notice creative cycles, too. When do I feel most inspired to write? How can I create margins around those times? And when I feel myself pulled toward quiet — to read, to listen, to rest, I honor that, too.
I have recently realized that while I am a morning person, my best writing is mid-day. I’m in a season of life where I can do that, so for the past few months I’ve been writing from 10 am to 2 pm, with a short lunch break, and it’s been my most fruitful schedule ever. This gives me time in the morning for school drop-off and a few chores or coffee with a friend, and then in the afternoon I still have time for my other vocations (homemaker, clergy person, small business owner) not forgetting school pick-up, followed by our family evening routines. I realize this is not a doable schedule for many, but it has marked a shift in my life, from writing when I feel like it, or when I can squeeze it in, to writing as my primary work. I think turning 40 this year prodded me into such a shift— I’ve spent enough time dreaming of being a “real” writer. Now, I’m simply doing it (having journeyed through the painful and real budget changes needed in our lives for me to do so much unpaid work!).
And as a special bonus, here is poet Scott Cairns' answer to the question.
Andy Patton: How do you live the writing life in the real world?
Scott Cairns: We have to learn not to say things like that. I don’t believe I have ever left the real world. I’ve been an academic for a while, but it feels pretty real to me. I have children and dogs, a mortgage. What’s not real about that?
A: I guess the question is how do you make time for writing?
S: How do you make time for writing now?
A: It gets drown out too often.
S: Do you have a prayer life?
S: How do you make time for that?
A: I suppose you just make time for it.
S: So you have a discipline? Well, maybe that could be the answer. You could develop a discipline for writing that is like your discipline for prayer.
The reason I resist the phrase “real world” is that it is so commonplace. I think in many ways a scattered, distracted business world is a lot less real than one in which you are paying attention to your heart and your soul and your mind, and nurturing those things.
A: Your advice to the writer who wants to write but doesn’t know how to begin to go about doing it is to be disciplined and write?
S: To be disciplined and read with your yellow legal pad handy to write down whatever provokes you.
It is sort of like writing poems. When it is time to work on writing a poem I always begin with my legal pad and my pencils and I read until something provokes a response. Then I chase that on the page until I run out of gas there and then turn back to reading. It really is a dialogue and conversation which you establish with the text. It is not like you are going to get through his text some ossified meaning; it is rather that you honor the text in front of you as vital and as having agency and power.
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