Almost everyone you meet will tell you they want to write a book someday, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. La la la la la.
This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.
~ Neil Gaiman
Writing is work. Hard work. It may come easier to you than to others, yet there’s no question that, like anything else worth doing, it requires thousands of hours of practice, learning, and skill just to get to the point of being capable of writing a book people might want to read.
Even the most dedicated writers have trouble finding time to write, especially if they’re not full-time writers. How to carve out the time between working, family, marketing, and life?
Read more of my tips to manage it all here:
How To Write, Market, AND Be Mentally Healthy
Feel like it’s impossible, writer friends? I’m here to tell you, you can do it.
Let’s discuss ways to make the most out of the time you do have and how to make the time, if that’s your struggle.
1) Make The Time To Write
This is the number one complaint most writers have — I don’t have the time! Well, books and blog posts won’t write themselves, so…make it happen. How? Here are several ways:
- Start with just ten minutes. That’s it. Most writers start out by trying to set aside huge blocks of time and when those blocks are interrupted, they become frustrated and quit.
So start small. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, wherever you are — waiting in line, on hold with the bank, waiting for a program to load. These small moments are referred to as “time confetti.” Read more here.
My only caution with this method is to write in the same place (e.g., a notebook, on your phone, on your computer) or use a note-taking program like Evernote that syncs.
- Free-write. If you’re just starting a regular writing practice and unsure what you plan to write about, start without a plan. It’s okay not to have one. Write about whatever you want, whenever you want. This gets your muscle memory going and aids creativity.
2) Turn Off All Notifications While Writing
Most of us have some tech, right? A computer, smartphone, tablet, with constant notifications. We also have real-life notifications, like humans, pets, and bills, also wanting attention. How do we shut all that off so we can focus on our writing?
- Turn off all tech notifications. You can and should do this when you write. If you write on your computer (as I do), close all your tabs. FOMO can wait. If you write in a notebook, turn off your phone notifications as well.
- Employ the Napolean Technique. This strategy basically says that most of the supposedly urgent ‘stuff we need to do,’ can wait — in fact, most busy-work types of things may resolve themselves. They can certainly wait the ten minutes here or there while we’re writing.*
**Not to be mistaken for procrastination or the ostrich effect. You’re aware of what needs to be done; you’re simply prioritizing.
- Do not disturb. If you have a dedicated writing space, shut the door. Sounds like a #doh, but it took me a while to take that definitive step that signifies to my family that I’m not messing around. Do not disturb The Mother Bot if the door is closed.
If you don’t have a writing space, use the “I don’t want to be hit on” trick women have used for years: put in your earbuds or pop on your headphones, even if you don’t have anything playing. Those around you will get the message.
It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
~ PD James
3) Fun Stuff Only After Writing
This is a tough one, isn’t it? So many great shows to watch right now, especially being stuck at home this year with COVID-19. And it’s difficult because shows are a wonderful escape, right?
- Turn off the television. You can do it. Think about how much time you’ve spent watching a series on Netflix or Hulu when you could have been writing. For me, it’s staggering. So, I’ve had to limit my watching to no more than two episodes of a show and only at night before bed (and only on my iPad).
By making the TV off-limits (except for family movie nights), I’m making my writing a priority.
- Turn off all social media. As I write this, I’ve closed out all social media channels on my computer and am getting no notifications on my phone. The world won’t end if I don’t know what political lie of the day is trending on Twitter right now, or who’s mad at who on Facebook for posting something they didn’t like.
- Same with gaming. If gaming is your passion, use your gaming console the same way. Whatever you enjoy becomes your reward for productivity. Speaking of…
4) Give Yourself Rewards
We’re only human. When you meet your writing goals, whether that’s writing daily for ten minutes a day — come on, you can totally do that! — or completing this week’s blog post or a poem or that first chapter, grab a reward! You deserve it. Get that dopamine flowing.
- Make a list of rewards that carry significance for you. I write my posts here in three phases on different days so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming: research on Monday, outline on Wednesday, fill in and submit to publication on Friday.
With each phase, I allow myself a little reward, such as reading a chapter of a book, reading others’ blog posts, interacting on social media, petting my sweet, affectionate kitty Pip, going for a walk, getting Thai snow at our favorite local cafe with my kids, or even taking a much-needed nap.
What makes you happy? Self-care is an important aspect of any writer’s life, and I don’t mean expensive spa days. Little things that make you happy, like those I mentioned above, are important brain breaks that bring me joy. If organizing a closet brings you joy, do that.
- Read as a reward. And to make yourself a better writer. Reading is one of the first things many busy writers claim they don’t have time to do, however, it’s one of the most important strategies to becoming a savvier writer. Multiple studies show that not only does reading stimulate our brains in ways other activities do not, it also opens up our creativity pathways. (Source: Lifehack)
Be willing to write really badly. It won’t hurt you to do that.
~ Jennifer Egan
- Go the opposite route and put yourself on the line. Meaning what exactly? Science shows we’re often more motivated by losses than gains, aka, loss aversion. So, you could challenge yourself to meet a writing goal and if you don’t meet it, you’ll be required to do something you really don’t want to do, e.g., organize that closet, run a 5k, or support a charity that goes against your personal values.**
Ready to commit? Check out StickK, a commitment platform designed by behaviorists to help you reach your goals, whatever they may be.
Want to learn more about personal accountability? Read more here.
**I’m more of a rewards fan myself. Social science researcher BJ Fogg, the founder and director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, says: “People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.”
5) Always Be Writing
Many new writers believe they have to write that ‘Great American Novel’ or their writing won’t “count.” Many won’t even start writing until they have figured out their entire outline for their seven-book series, which can hold up the actual writing itself. For years.
I felt the same way. I didn’t know what I wanted to write, so I didn’t, for years. Did I want to write fiction or nonfiction? What about poetry? I’d written for pay in college, but what about as an adult?
I found my voice blogging, then moved into creative nonfiction and poetry. I’ve now published two memoir/poetry books, two business books, and two humor books; I have two more books coming out this year as well. Throughout this past decade, I’ve blogged and written articles for various publications. It’s all writing.
Writing is writing. If you’re writing in your journal, it counts. If you’re writing this week’s blog post, it counts. If you’re scribbling poetry onto a napkin, it counts.
Organizing your writing in a way that allows you to publish takes more skill, yet you can do it. I know you have it in you.
- Have at least two notebooks dedicated to writing. One just for ideas and lists; the other for your actual writing, whether that’s freewriting, morning pages (three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning, created by Julia Cameron), or your WIP.
Shaunta Grimes writes about her favorite way to keep a notebook here:
How to Process Your Everyday Ideas Using a Notebook
The Everyday Notebook isn’t pretty, but it’s just about perfect.
- Make an appointment with yourself to write. Create a writing or blogging calendar (I use Google Calendar — it’s free and has all kinds of easy features). Put it in your planner. Take this shit seriously if you intend to make this writing gig pay at some point. Treat it as the business it is.
- Join a writing group or connect with an accountability partner.
Learn more about the additional aspects of the writing business, like marketing and publishing, here:
How To Grow Your Writing Business Every Day
You write so people will read your work, yet how to reach readers? Let’s discuss.
6) Let Go Of Perfectionism and Just Write
I said five strategies, but here’s an extra tip: just write. No self-editing. No worrying if your writing is good enough. No fretting about a teacher or parent standing over your shoulder saying, “You can’t write that!”
You are an adult, so write like one. Stop worrying about what Aunt Edna might say. Write that sex scene. Use those curse words, dammit. Share your trauma (if you’re ready).
Not everything we write must be high art or perfection. Stop expecting it to be. As any photographer will tell you, out of every 1,000 photos, maybe one is usable; out of every 10,000, maybe one is perfection (and even then, they’ll find a flaw). But there’s nothing to work with if you don’t start.
Open yourself up to creativity in your writing. Allow yourself the freedom you don’t have anywhere else. Conquer your fears and just start already.
Want more tips to master your writing fears? Read here:
How To Crush Your Writing Fears Right Now
Worried about what people will say? That you’re not good enough? Where to start? Read on…
As Anne Lamott says, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
The goal of this particular post is to help you glean more out of your writing time, so at some point, you can write every day and make it a part of your daily life — whether that’s as an author or blogger.
What strategies do you use to be a productive writer? Please share.
I believe in you, writer friends!