Almost every person I know has told me they’ve had thoughts/dreams of writing a book. Strangers I’ve talked to for less than sixty seconds while sitting at a bar have told me the same. Numerous studies indicate that 80%+ of the population wants to write a book some day.

And yet I’ve found that most people don’t seem to understand that in order to write a book …

You must make time to write a book.

Writing, and art in general, looks whimsical and creative from the outside, but those of us who’ve actually finished a book (or several) know that writing requires discipline, time management, and saying no to things.

The consumer only sees it as a finished project. It’s simply there. A book. A cartoon. A song. A painting. A movie.

But the creator knows that that creation was only possible because he or she uttered a lot of no’s.

No, I can’t go to the movie. No, I don’t have time to grab a glass of wine. I love you, but no, I can’t go to the park right now.

It’s not always easy. I imagine this is especially true if you’re trying to squeeze writing time into raising a family (I myself don’t have children, but I can only imagine it’s hard to say no to those dear faces!)

And I also know from experience that it’s even harder to prioritize the writing when you don’t have the extra practicality shield of, “I’m paying the bills, yo.” You start to feel guilty. After all, you don’t have to write. It’s not what puts food on the table. Except oh, yeah, you’re not feeding your soul if you’re a writer who isn’t writing, but who cares about that, right?

And of course, life is so short! None of us want to risk missing out on A Moment with someone we love.

But if you want to make a go of this writing thing for real, the most important thing you can do is to protect your writing time.

Here are three tips I’ve learned over the years:

01. Call it work.

If you treat your writing like a hobby, other people will too. A hobby is a splurge, something to be done any old time. Friends and family will not understand why you’re choosing a hobby over spending time with them. But people understand and respect work. You wouldn’t ask your spouse to skip a work shift because you wanted to go see the latest Avengers movie. He or she shouldn’t ask you to skip your daily writing time to go see the movie either.

Even more importantly, calling it work (even though it’s fun!) will tell your brain to treat it seriously. Even if you don’t get paid for your writing yet, act as though you do. You’ll train yourself to respect your writing time when you’re prioritizing your day, even if you’re not making money from it yet. Because remember, you can’t make money from it until you finish the book! And you can’t finish it until you…

02. Master the art of “No, but …”

If someone asks you to do something during a time you’d set aside for writing, embrace the phrase: “No, but …”

“No, I can’t play Scrabble with you right now, but I can’t wait to do that at four o’clock!” “No, I can’t grab drinks tonight, but are you free next Wednesday?” “No, tonight isn’t good for a date night, but let’s go to our favorite restaurant tomorrow.”

It tells the peope you love that the writing is important to you. And that they are too.

03. Don’t apologize

This is a hard one for me. Years into my writing career, I still have to resist the urge not to say, “Ugh, I’m so sorry, but I can’t, I’m on deadline!” The truth is, I’m not sorry. My writing is my passion, my life, my first love. I refuse to apologize for making it a priority. And when you apologize, people will assume that writing is some sort of burden that you must take on and shift their tactic to saying things like, “You should really take a break, you work too hard,” which is a whole other exhausting can of worms. Remember, “No, but …” Not, “No, sorry!”

Loving and prioritizing writing doesn’t mean that you love and prioritize your family and friends less. There is room for both, you just have to make the room—it won’t be dropped in your lap.

How To Protect Your Writing Time