Stealing Time: A 4-step guide to reading and writing amidst a fast-paced life

Hey guys, Suyi here.

Over on Facebook, I’ve been trying to show everyone how I make time to read and write amidst a busy life. Chisom blocked me one night at the car park and asked why I wasn’t sharing this juicy info with you guys. So, because I feared for my life, I had to succumb.

So, here, please, enjoy. (Also, tell him (in the comments) that he can now stop threatening me, biko).


#1 – You too can be a thief

I’ve been writing semi-professionally since July 2012, and in the 5 years since then, I’ve met a lot of people interested in my work. Everyone asks me similar questions: you want writing advice (lmao, guys; I’ve not even finished advising myself); you want to know what drives me (the work does, fam, the work does); but the question I get asked the most is: where do I find time to read and write despite my 8-5 day job?

The answer? I’m a thief.

Of time, of course. Don’t get any ideas.

See, the thing is, if mandem ah keen on succeeding at anything, mandem gotta make the time for it, no? That’s what I do, really; I search for what I call “pockets” of time in my everyday routine (I explain this below). I search for how I can maximise these pockets to my benefit. I’m not able to write BECAUSE my daily calendar allows me time for it, but IN SPITE OF my daily calendar.

I’m not asking anyone to write and/or read everyday (that piece of advice isn’t necessarily for everyone). The real first step you need–the same one I took towards becoming a professional thief of time–is simple:

BE A WRITER/READER EVERYDAY.

That’s what I do. I contemplate my character choices while doing the laundry; I search for new stories while shopping; I learn new methods about the craft by listening to podcasts on that long commute to and from the office. At office lunches, I’m known as the guy always with a book (great way to met new people, BTW).

I live, breathe, exist reading and writing. And the gag is? You can too.


#2 – Find pockets

A time pocket is a black hole of time-sucking demons (my definition). These are the little moments we waste doing absolutely nothing and producing absolutely no value. That long commute. That queue at the dentist. All that time on social media.

In order to use them to our advantage, we must convert these black holes into little periods of time where we can read or write. It’s like having 26 hours a day.

The thing about finding pockets of time is it has to be done consciously and consistently. You’ll have to parse through your usual routine and ask yourself: “What can I do without? Where am I wasting valuable time? At what points can I do something else simultaneously?”

Most of you know I write After Five on weekdays. Five is when I close from my day job. I write for an hour, then leave for home. 5pm to 6pm is my holy grail. I turn off my mobiles, turn up my headphones, and find a comfortable nook to bury myself while everyone else is trying to beat the rush hour. On weekends, I edit and do other stuff.

My reading pattern is more varied. I consume in three forms: mobile, print and audio. Audio is usually for podcasts and short stories, and I don’t miss it on my commute to and from work. My 1 hour lunch break involves 30 minutes of reading whatever print book is currently on my list. My mobile is for reading before bed and all those other 30-min pockets while getting a haircut, waiting on a friend, etc.

My pockets might not be much, but consistently done, they add up. 5 hours of writing every weekday is 20 hours a month. 1 hour of reading everyday is 30/31 hours a month. Think of that worth in pages. Wonders, I promise you.

If you’re keen on writing and/or reading but can’t find the time for it, unearth those pockets in your routine today and make good use of them. No matter how small they are, they will always be better than zero.


#3 – He who fails to plan…

Nope. You can’t do it without a plan. In addition to your pen/sword, you must have a roadmap to guide you on this quest to steal the golden time pockets (mwahahahaha).

My writing plan, for instance, is simple: I set up an expected amount of words per week. Some days I overwrite so I can rest the day after, but my weekly quota must be met.

The current novella I’m working on, PURE BLACK, has an expected word count of 24K words. My plan is to write it in 6 weeks (I’ve already done the outline), so my current sheet looks like this:

WEEK 1: 4K words | Day 1 – 500 words | Day 2 – 600 words | Day 3 – 800 words | Day 4 – 1000 words | Day 5 – 1100 words.

I usually start slow and build up to the week’s end to prevent me from burning out early. If I’m feeling super good and I write 1000 words on Monday, then I only have to write 100 on Tuesday, which takes out all the fear of staring at a blank page with an equally blank brain.

My reading outline is a slightly altered version of what they run at DIYMFA.com. My current plan for the books I want to read in Q3 of 2017 goes something like this:

Q3: In My Genre – Storm Front, Rosewater | Contemporary – The Woman Next Door | Classic – Juju Rock | Nonfiction – There Was A Country

Whether I’ll get to read them or not is another thing, but now I have a clear roadmap I can follow. I use Goodreads to track my progress and keep myself loyal to the cause.

In the end, every great journey requires clear direction. Setting this up for yourself from the beginning makes it easier to battle the demons who refuse to let you steal time in peace.


#4 – You can’t do it unless you’re jealous

Look eh, there is a time for everything in life. A time to be nice, and a time to be a ruffian. If you want to be a writer–a for real writer–you have to start becoming comfortable with not being a nice person. You have to start realising you will not last as a part of polite society. You will have to take things by force, and one of these things is going to be your time.

Fam, you can’t do it unless you’re jealous about your time. This means you will guard your writing time with your life. Once you set aside these pockets of time to read or write, all the forces in the universe will suddenly combine to ensure you get distracted. Your kid will suddenly want you. Your spouse will suddenly need you. Your boss will suddenly remember that report. Your pal will suddenly decide tonight is drinks night.

Do. Not. Let. Them. Deceive. You.

Writing is war. Reading is war. In war, you do not let your enemies know where you are. You do not let them know your next move. If they can’t see you, they can’t ambush you.

Find a place where no one will disturb you. If you have to hide, do it. If you have an office, lock yourself in. Place a DO NOT DISTURB sign over the door. If you plan to read out in the open (say at the lunch table), your face has to become the DO NOT DISTURB sign. Chats can wait until later. Go away, please.

The reason for this is simple: if you don’t start learning to respect your reading and writing time, you can’t take it seriously. And if you don’t take it seriously, why should others?

Start becoming jealous today.


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(Cover photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

9 replies added

    • Chisom August 6, 2017 Reply

      Hahaha. Steal away, bro. Do it!

  1. Made August 5, 2017 Reply

    Truer words haven’t been spoken

    Okay maybe they have but you get my drift.

  2. Chisom August 6, 2017 Reply

    And by the way, Suyi, consider thy behind spared.lol. Good stuff, man.

  3. Imade August 7, 2017 Reply

    I didn’t expect this to be so practical. The “pockets of time” thing is so true. I always feel like school is too overwhelming for any reading time but I could stand to cut down anime and social media time lol. I really like this article. Hope Chisom will leave you now

    • Suyi August 7, 2017 Reply

      Imade, you’ll never guess what I had to cut down in order to create reading time: gaming. I literally had to stop buying new releases of FIFA and other games for PS4 so I could stop defaulting to games when I want to relax. Now, my relaxation switches between games and reading. Like play like play, I’ve read almost 10 books this year already!

      I guess one has to make a sacrifice one way or another, eh?

      (Lol. Chisom, listen to the voice of the gods.)

  4. Pingback: Suyi Davies Okungbowa talks books and making time to read.

    […] I try to read everyday, and it’s usually during commutes, at lunchtime, and before bed. On weekends, I try to make space to read for 1-3 hours. I have this radical regimented routine I try to follow, which has worked for me so far. I talk about it lots over at WordsAreWork. […]

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