Writing FAQ: how do you find time to write?

At a church leaders’ retreat last month, we talked about having an “I don’t do” list as a way of making time for sacred pauses in life and ministry. The things we don’t do make it possible to do some other things. The things we say No to allow us to say Yes to other things.

So one pastor said, “I don’t answer the phone at home after 8pm” – people can leave a message, and if it’s urgent she will call them back; if it’s not urgent that phone call can wait.

Another said, “I don’t go to every funeral in the community” – in a small town, he knew most of the people even if they weren’t part of his own church, and he had started out with attending every funeral, but that got to be too much, so he is now more discerning.

A Sunday school teacher said, “I don’t do committees and have no guilt about it” – I think that last part is key to any effective I don’t do list, and wow, Sunday school teachers are gold, so no committee work sounds like a good trade-off to me!

Having an “I don’t do” list also helps me find time to write. For some pastors, writing is actually part of their church time – their blog posts, books, and speaking beyond their own congregation are considered part of their church time. For me, this blog and my other published work are quite apart from my church hours — of course, I write sermons and church blog posts on church time, but if I counted all of my blogging here and other writing in the same way, there’d be no time for the other things my church has called me to — worship and preaching, leadership and admin, pastoral care, teaching, community outreach.

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Here’s my “I don’t do” list that makes my writing time possible (in no particular order):

I don’t do personality tests.
No, I don’t know what colour aura I am, what 80s cartoon character I’m most like, which Star Wars character, which animal, etc. etc. I haven’t even done the Enneagram, and I only know that I’m ENFJ on the Myers-Briggs because it was part of a denominational resource day.

I don’t do surveys, give donations, or buy services from people who call on the telephone.
The one exception is Big Brothers Big Sisters since they pick up any donated items from our door step.

I don’t cook or bake complicated recipes.
I love to cook and bake – natural ingredients, healthy, simple, delicious, but more muffins than fancy cakes, one or two dishes instead of the gourmet 12-course meal (although if that’s on your do list, I’m always open to invitations!).

I don’t endorse people on LinkedIn.
I almost feel guilty about this one since I’ve received endorsements from others, and it would be most polite and social to reciprocate. But I know if I start that, it would snowball into one more thing that I just can’t handle.

I don’t mow the lawn.
We live in a townhouse where the lawn around us is more or less common property and looked after by others, and we’re responsible for just a small garden area.

I don’t keep regular hours.
I know the best sleep advice is to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day, but I vary from that considerably. It’s not unusual for me to be writing at 6 a.m. or well past midnight, though hopefully not in the same night!

I don’t use social media constantly.
I generally take at least a 24-hour social media sabbath from Saturday evening to Sunday evening and most often extend that until Monday morning.

I don’t do church work on my days off.
Or if I do need to see someone in the hospital when I should be on vacation, or take a meeting on my usual evening off, then I pay myself back with an equivalent time off some other time. To some, that might sound legalistic or work to rule (aren’t pastors supposed to be available 24/7?), to others that may seem like a matter of course (isn’t pastoral ministry a profession like any other?), but I’ve talked with exhausted pastors who say they haven’t had a day off in 3 weeks or even 6 weeks. I read recently that 43% of Canadians do not take all of their allotted vacation time. I take all of the time off I’m eligible for, and use some of it to write.

What’s on your “I don’t do” list? And do you need one? How do you find time to write, and do the things you want and need to do?



Categories: Church and Ministry, Sacred Pauses, Social Media, Writing

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12 replies

  1. I am also a pastor and find many of my most “creative hours” (before noon when my brain works best) need to be for writing sermons. Five mornings a week I try to either start or finish sermons or do something else that requires my best thinking. There is little energy for other kinds of writing. The 6th morning I am preaching or being involved in the worship in other ways. On my Sabbath (7th) day I try not to work at anything. Thanks, April, for thoughts on how to find time to write creatively, using vacation etc. I would be interested in comments on this from other pastors, too. Or any writers who also have to earn a living. How do you free up the optimal creative energy time?

    • My church has given me periodic sabbatical time which has also been key for me. I, too, would be interested in hearing how other pastors and writers do it. I’m going offline soon for my social media sabbath, and it’s a long weekend here too, so I’m not sure how many comments there will be in the next day or two, but I’ll share this post around next week and hope for more responses and interaction.

  2. Reblogged this on A Musing Author and commented:
    Important reading for any writer. Writer’s block is a result of procrastination, and procrastination is an indulgence. And what with social media, households to take care of, friends or family to tolerate, distractions are everywhere. April Yamasaki has some wise tips to share about finding the time to write.

    • Thank you for re-blogging this on your site — I love what you say about passion on your Who Am I? page. Passion is what helps me say no to some things so I can say yes to the things I’m passionate about.

  3. That sounds very healthy, April. Like something more people should do in our hectic life style world. And I think most creative writers “don’t keep regular hours”, since you just sit down when the muse is visiting you. 🙂

  4. Morning April, After reading this insightful blog I wondered what Jesus’ “I don’t do…” list would have been. Lois

    • hmm, good wondering, Lois — maybe, I don’t worry about what other people will think, I don’t rush through my day — would be curious where your wondering takes you on this.

  5. More ideas for your Don’t Do list from another reader — a longer response that became a guest post here: https://aprilyamasaki.com/2014/05/26/i-dont-overlook-even-the-smallest-crumbs-of-joy-or-forgiveness/

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