Where did you find the time to pursue your writing?

I recently got a question from Renée, who asked:

Where did you find the time to pursue your writing? I just find that I'm already SO busy a lot of the time. I get these "writing brain waves" always in the middle of the night...where I have this intense yearning to write things...but I'm often too exhausted to do it, haha.

Here's my answer:

Haha indeed, Renée, but actually I don't doubt that you were too exhausted to write. That's the problem with writing when you're not a full-time writer -- or even if you are a full-time writer, but your full-time writing stuff is not what you dream of writing (e.g., you're a reporter by day, novelist by night). This is why it took me so long to write Ash; in fact, I started it in early 2002 and did not finish a presentable draft until Dec. 31, 2006. That's five years, folks, and it's not like it's an epic novel -- it's only about 230 pages.

It took me a long time because I did work all day, and at night it was almost overwhelming to continue working -- and writing is work, although it can be fun. I tried a lot of different time management strategies over the years, from getting up at the crack of dawn and writing for an hour before going to work, to giving myself two hours of writing time on Sunday. At the beginning I was sporadic about it. I was getting used to the idea of writing regularly, and I had to experiment with different things for awhile -- several years -- before I got the hang of it.

Finally, I got that job at AfterEllen.com that allowed me to have Friday afternoons off (because we worked very late the rest of the week!), and I created a schedule for myself that eventually locked in and clicked. I allowed myself to not work on my novel all week until Friday, and then Friday afternoon and evening, I wrote. I did not go out. I canceled my Friday night social activities. Since I was single at the time, this was a big sacrifice! :) But it was also a relief, because for that one night of the week, I spent my time with myself, doing what I loved.

As time went on, I even started to write all night Friday and then got up early Saturday morning and kept on writing all day. It was like log rolling down a hill: I picked up momentum.

I did this from August to December 2006 and finished the third draft of Ash. (From 2002-2006 I wrote the first two drafts, which were not presentable.) Over the Christmas holidays in 2006, I created a self-imposed writers' retreat for myself and did not even visit my family. I wrote -- alone -- for seven days straight. When I finished Ash at 1 a.m. on Dec. 31 (my goal was to finish it by the end of the year), I felt totally overwhelmed and thrilled all at once.

What I did will not work for everyone. You need to find your own routine, but the key is, it must be a routine. You have to do it regularly. If you write sporadically, you won't gain the momentum you need to keep going. And yes, you will have to sacrifice something. If you work full-time and want to write a novel on the side, you'll probably have to sacrifice some of your social obligations. It's basic time management.

Just envision the reward in the end, and keep going! Don't give up. Keep trying to find the regular schedule that fits you, and keep writing.