When I started my writing journey, I had visions of spending hours pounding out brilliant prose, witty dialogue, and heart-stopping action scenes.
And I did, at first.
But then the weekend ended. Monday morning, back to work.
I joined writing groups and met people for whom writing was a full-time job. I was so jealous! I wanted to stay home all day and write, too.
But then I met lots of writers who also worked an outside job or homeschooled their kids, who had families and hobbies—AND still managed to write and get published!
I realized if they could do it, so could I. I just had to figure out how.
Only 24 Hours in a Day
After reading every article I found on “How to Find Time to Write,” I realized that we ALL struggle with the same issues.
Most articles suggested waking up an hour earlier to write. Or staying up later. That worked for me, until I got too sleep-deprived to function well.
They suggested scheduling “non-negotiable” writing time and sticking to it. Great idea, but not always feasible. Because, life.
The most frustrating suggestion was, “Find your most productive time of day and use that for writing.” Okay, except my most productive time was usually 8 am to 5 pm, and I didn’t think my boss would appreciate that.
What’s a Writer with a Day Job to Do?
After writing seriously for about five years now, I’ve developed my own system. It’s not perfect, but it allows me to get words. on. the. page. And that’s most important, right?
These five steps have worked for me. Maybe they’ll help you, too! (If not, you can write a blog post about how my suggestions didn’t work, either. Ha, ha!)
1. Remember that small increments of time are still valuable.
Instead of trying to find hours in my day, I find minutes. Fifteen here, thirty there, maybe forty-five if I can squeeze it in. Add them together, and they equal more than you’d think.
I can read over a scene or work on a new idea in fifteen minutes. I can write about half a scene (around 500 words) in thirty.
To train yourself to think in minutes rather than hours, set a timer for fifteen minutes and see how much writing you can accomplish before time’s up. I bet you’ll surprise yourself.
2. Find those bits and pieces in YOUR life and utilize them.
I’ve discovered that my lunch hour is one of my favorite writing times. I get out of the office, visit one of my favorite spots, order lunch, and write away!
I can sketch out a scene while heating a frozen pizza in my oven, or between loads of laundry. Use time sitting in the carpool line, waiting to pick your kids up from sports practices, or even waiting at the doctor’s office. Instead of scrolling through social media, find the minutes in your day and re-think how you use them.
3. Have a plan.
This is crucial for maximizing small bits of time. If you take fifteen minutes to figure out what to work on or to “get in the zone,” then it will be hard to get much done.
I am a planner by nature, and especially in writing. I plot, outline, and do a lot of “pre-writing” before I start my first draft. (I do this phase in bits and pieces, too.) Creating an outline and a scene list helps me know what I’m going to be working on during the next writing session.
Not everyone works that way. If you are not a plotter, I do suggest that you at least have an idea of what you are going to work on before you start. Make a note to yourself at the end of each session, and you’ll find it’s easier to jump back in and get more done.
4. Always have a way of writing (and saving your work).
Some writers hand-write their first drafts in a notebook. More power to you! Just bringing your notebook and pen is an easy way to avoid worrying about battery life or backing up your work.
A lightweight laptop/tablet with a detachable keyboard works best for me. I save my documents to the Cloud so I can access them wherever I am. I date the docs so I can pick up where I left off next time.
Some folks even use programs like Evernote to write on their smartphones. Find what works for you, but always have something to write on and a way of saving your work. You never know when life will give you a few minutes to write.
5. Schedule longer sessions when you can.
There are still benefits for having longer periods of writing time. I can usually get in an hour after work a couple nights a week. And I try to find a couple of weekends a month to spend a few hours with my current project.
For me, longer writing sessions are most useful for researching, outlining, and editing larger chunks of work. I enjoy these longer sessions even more knowing I don’t have to “get it all done right now.”
There are lots of other tips for getting work done in a small amount of time. I’d love to hear yours! I hope something in my list will inspire you to re-think your day, finding those small moments to do BIG work.
Hope Welborn writes spine-tingling suspense, sprinkled with romance, and saturated with faith. She nerds out over superheroes, survives on chai lattes, and spends time at her family’s North Georgia farm. By day, she masquerades as a web marketing projects manager and by night, she stays up too late putting words on the page. You can connect with her at www.hopewelborn.com or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo credit: Leah Colston Photography.