Inventing Time to Write:
8 Power Strategies for Getting Your Book Done
by Sabine Berlin
I know busy. I have three kids in competition sports, two jobs, plus housework, homework to help with, snuggles to give, a husband that I’d love to see occasionally, and a dog. Technically, there’s no time to write. But I’ve learned a few tricks to invent some of that elusive tick-tock. In less than an hour a day, it is possible to squeeze in a thousand words. That’s enough to equal a solid first draft of a book in about three months.
Don’t think you can accomplish anything in mere minutes a day? Or that you even have mere minutes in which to write?
Last year, I created the time to write a 75,000-word novel, a 45,000-word novella, three short stories, and do a major edit on a previous novel—all while researching and writing my senior project for my BA (and living the ordinary life detailed above), thanks to these helpful hints.
1. Find hidden moments.
When we sit down to write, we don’t want to waste precious time brainstorming. Save that for while you’re driving to work, running kids all over town, taking a shower, working out, or before drifting off to sleep for the night.
Neuroscience has shown that the brain is more efficient at tasks like problem solving/brainstorming right before bed, right after arising, while we’re sleeping, and while doing repetitive physical tasks like exercise (Dene Lowe, Write Like Your Brain Works). Use those times to imagine the scenes you plan to write. Go to sleep with a plot problem on your mind and wake up with the answer. Try a few of these brainstorming strategies in order to get everything ready for that magic moment when you’re actually ready to start writing.
2. Write in 15-minute spurts.
Power writing can produce awesome word count. Find two or three times a day to write for 15 minutes—morning, lunchtime, right before bed (heck, skip the bathroom reading and be productive). You can get in a thousand words a day, no sweat. Set a timer, sit down, and type away. I average four- to five-hundred words per fifteen-minute session—typing two-fingered most of the time! Don’t stop for mistakes or because you hate what you’re writing. You can edit later. Just get your words out. If you’ve done step one, you should be able to rock step two.
3. Have a write-off.
Increase those numbers by getting together with a friend and having a write-off. It really helps if you’re in the same room because the sound of someone click-clacking on the keyboard can be all it takes to get you going, but you can also do this through online chat sessions. It’s a great motivator and can boost your numbers. My record? Eight hundred in a fifteen-minute stretch.
4. Carry a notebook with you.
You don’t need to be sitting at a computer to write. A pen and your favorite notebook can be a valuable resource. You can scribble scenes during half-time at your kid’s game, during your lunch break, in the eternally long lines at Costco and Walmart. Anywhere you have a free moment, write.
5. Make use of your electronic devices.
I might not have a computer with me at all times, but I usually have my smartphone. I use it to take pictures of things that remind me of ideas or scenes for my book, to note my ideas, and to voice-record entire scenes as I drive from place to place (of course, never write/type while driving!) There are a lot of great apps for writing that you can get on your phone. I’m partial to the Google Drive app and Evernote. (We’ll cover more exciting writing software in another post.)
6. Research later.
If your protagonist needs to make an underwater breathing apparatus with two coconuts, a string, and a ballpoint pen, your chances of figuring out how to make that happen are pretty good, thanks to the World Wide Web. But stopping for research robs you of writing time.
Craig Nybo suggests making a research folder instead. But when writing, simply drop in a reminder note (“insert x fact and setting detail here”) and get back to your story. If you even glance at the Internet during your writing time, chances are your coconut research will have you comparing coconut pancake recipes or seeing who got kicked off Survivor; your character will never even get the chance to use her breathing apparatus because she won’t have a story.
7. Turn off the Internet. (Am I sounding redundant?)
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, when the picture comes in the form of the intriguing celebrity on the gossip page, or any of the gazillion things you find on Pinterest, it really might cost you a thousand words—words that should be in your novel. The Internet, one of the best friends we have as writers, can also be our worst enemy—sucking our story away from us, one precious word at a time.
8. Don’t miss a day—flexibility enhancers
Write consistently—even if you can only get in fifteen minutes. The more you write, the quicker the words add up. Really feeling pressed for time or flexibility? Trade babysitting with a friend. Or take the kids to the gym daycare, but write rather than work out. Or find a critique/writing partner or group who’s kid friendly—all the kids can play in the basement/backyard and your group can set aside time for a write-off in each meeting. No hope of getting in your words on an extra busy day? Set the alarm clock for fifteen minutes earlier than usual. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done. Any accomplished writer will tell you that momentum is the key to meeting your goals.
Do This Now
Get out of time poverty. Do these four simple steps today:
- Track a day in your life and see where you have those extra minutes for any of the steps above. I bet you are richer than you think! (For more specifics on this strategy, see our article on planning for NaNoWriMo.)
- Lock down the spots you could brainstorm even the smallest scene or conversation.
- Then commit to where you’ll squeeze in your 15-minute writing spurt and put it on your calendar/to-do list.
- Have a calendar-committed plan B and C for when the unexpected strikes (because of course it will; you’re trying to meet a goal—resistance is the universe’s favorite prank).
The secret is this: Writing comes first. When the draft is out, research and editing can follow. Once you have the momentum going, you will find that the universe gives up and bends time to meet your writing goals for every stage. Just a little mind- and time-bending goes a long way toward actually meeting your goal. Invent the time to write, and you will create your masterpiece.
We’d love to hear some of your tricks for finding—or plain inventing—time to write. Rescue a fellow writer from “time poverty” by commenting below.