How to Steal Writing Time From a Busy Schedule

In this crazy world called life, it’s often hard to find time to sit down and write. Between work, families, extra-curricular activities, shopping, adulting, etc, when are we supposed to work on our books? Many people say they have stories in their head but no time to put them on paper. I can sympathize, really. I’m usually running around from 8am-8 or 9 pm depending on the day, which leaves only a couple hours to get things done.

So what do you do? How do you steal some time from your busy schedule so you can create your masterpiece?

  • Meeting: Set aside a half hour or hour on certain nights and treat it like you would a work meeting or an appointment. If friends, or work, try to schedule things at that time, calmly explain you have a meeting that you can’t miss. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be at adapting to the new schedule. It could be once a week or several times a week. Either way, it gives you time when you know you can work.
  • Spurts or Sprints: I learned this little trick during NaNoWriMo. You set 10-15 minutes aside, turn off all distractions, and write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t worry about editing or going back to research, just write. Friends of mine and I will hold sprints to see who can write the most in that time frame. It’s a fun little challenge, and it forces you to get text on paper. Likewise, if you find yourself with 10 minutes to spare, use that time to type on your phone or computer, or write in a journal that you bring along. Even if you don’t get a lot out, it may get your mind moving so you’ll be ready to work on your book that night.
  • Record: How many hours do we spend in the car traveling from place to place? How many times have you been in the shower and gotten a great idea but couldn’t write it down? Record yourself. I’ve been on road trips and clicked ‘record’ on my phone and rattled off scenes and story ideas. Even if they’re not directly on paper at that moment, at least I got the idea out of my head and didn’t lose it. There are also speech-to-text programs like Dragon Speech that will record you and type what you say. It takes some getting used to, but it works great if you’re doing dishes or some other task and want to still get the words out.
  • Change Sleep Time: Now, I wouldn’t recommend this if you have insomnia or sleep trouble, but, if you can safely wake up a half hour early or go to bed a half hour later, you can use that extra time to get work done. One of my friends gets all of her writing done between like 5 and 6 am when she’s not being disturbed by anyone. Can you do that too?
  • Lunch Hour: If you get a lunch break at work, that might be a great time to work on writing. Right now, I’m munching on a sandwich and writing this blog entry because I was too tired to write it last night. I still get a break from work, but I’m also being productive with my own craft. But, if you fear you’ll get burnt out, make sure you still take that break.
  • Competitions/Deadlines: Maybe you want to try to push yourself to write because there’s an anthology deadline out there, or a writing contest. I might not write for three months because I know that in November, I’m going to spend 30 days writing for National Novel Writing Month. I pour out 50,000 words, taking more time for my craft that month than usual, because I know it’s only going to last a month. If you set goals for yourself, it might encourage you to find time during a busy schedule.

Whatever you decide to do to get writing time in, remember a couple of things:

  1. You don’t have to write everyday.
  2. Take care of yourself. If you’re burning yourself out writing, you’re not going to enjoy it as much.
  3. Make sure you’re still getting downtime for yourself.
  4. Have fun.

Do you have ways that you fit in writing? Share them below!

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

October is finally here. The leaves are changing color. There’s a crisp chill in the air. Pumpkin spice lattes waft through cafes. And the countdown to NaNoWriMo has begun! Whatever will you do?

Let’s start with the basics. What is NaNoWriMo? This is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge that writers around the world take on every November. The goal? Write 50,000 words (the length of a short novel or novella) in a single month. You track your words on the official NaNo site, and at the end of the month, you confirm that you reached the word count. If you win, you’re showered with all kinds of awards including discounts on writing programs, editing offers, NaNo swag, and more!

Sounds crazy, right? It’s a daunting task, to be sure, but thousands of people give it a shot each year. I personally have won NaNoWriMo about 8 times, but that’s usually because I prepped through October.

How can you get ready to write your novel during NaNoWriMo?

  • Pantser or Plotter? First, you have to decide whether you’re a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) or a plotter (someone who outlines a story). What you are will determine how you prep your story. A plotter is more likely to create an outline while a pantser might be more interested in character development or world building. Sometimes, a pantser doesn’t know what he’s writing until the strike of midnight on November 1st, and that’s completely okay. We all work to our own speed.
  • Outline: One of the best ways to prep is to create an outline. It can be a brief sketch of the chapters in the book, a paragraph about the story, or a 10-page long analysis. It’s completely up to you. Having something at the start of NaNo can help give you an edge and guide you when you inevitably get stuck.
  • Character Creation: Who are your characters? How will they act in the story? What do they look like? Knowing the information about your characters before you even get started can make the writing process much easier. You’ll spend less time hemming and hawing over small details and dive right in with your characters.
  • World Building: Whether you’re writing an urban fantasy, a science-fiction adventure in space, or a contemporary romance, your story is going to require world building. Gather that information in October so you know where to start in November. As with character creation, you’ll spend less time wondering what the world looks like and more time writing.
  • Research: If you know you’re going to need to research to create your book, do it in advance of NaNo. This can save you precious writing hours. Jot your notes down, and make certain your information is easily accessible so you’re not wasting time trying to find your research after you’ve already done it.
  • Create a Schedule: If you write 1,667 words everyday, you’ll succeed in completing NaNo. Realistically, though, real life can get in the way of that. Writer’s block, a bad day, sickness, a broken computer can all complicate your schedule and force you to play catch up. One way to prepare yourself is to set up “buffer days” where you’ll have more time to write than usual. Stick to your schedule, and you’ll have a better shot at winning.
  • Schedule Breaks: Not everyone will agree with me on this, but you should schedule breaks during NaNo. You’ll need time to recharge after writing furiously for days on end. It’s okay to take a night to hang out with friends, read, or, heaven forbid, sleep. You don’t want to burn out halfway through.
  • Find Your Region/Support Team: One of the cool features about NaNo is you can connect with people in your area! You don’t have to work on your novel alone. A Municipal Liaison (ML) will set up writing times for people to get together, and that includes October prep. Don’t be surprised if there’s a NaNo kick off right at midnight on November 1st. You can also communicate with one another over the NaNo website and encourage each other. Creating a support team can inspire you to finish your book even when you want to quit.
  • Pep Talk: Prepare pep talks to get you through the tough times, because there will be moments when you’ll want to hurl your book out the window. We face it every yearly, usually around the half-way mark. The NaNo site will provide inspirational speeches from authors, but it doesn’t hurt to have your own positive mantra.
  • Sleep: Seriously, make sure you set up a sleep schedule for yourself for November. And get plenty of sleep in October so you’re rested and prepared for writing. We usually joke about spending every waking moment writing in November, and that’s not too far from the truth. Make plans to take care of your mental and physical health so you don’t burn out or get sick.
  • No editing: NaNo is all about writing, so prepare yourself not to edit. There are no rules against going back and fixing mistakes, but the fun of NaNo is spewing out the story without worrying about grammar or showing vs telling. Editing comes later! Get used to taking off the editor gloves and go ahead and word vomit all over that page (a beautiful image, isn’t it?).
  • Playlists!: Create musical playlists that will keep you focused while you write in November. Maybe you work better with the tv on in the background, or you need a movie soundtrack to hold your attention. Whatever you need to do, October is the time to plan it! I have a playlist that’s nearly two hours long. Each song reminds me of certain characters in my book, thus creating an environment that encourages me to write.
  • NaNo Prep Page: Check out the NaNo Prep Page for more ideas to help you prepare your novel.

Keep in mind, these are all suggestions, and you can use what works for you. NaNo is supposed to be a fun (albeit stressful) event. If you don’t reach 50,000 words, that’s okay! The fact that you wrote anything is an accomplishment. You can do this! Happy NaNo prep to you!

If you have any topics you’d like me to cover (or any more NaNo advice you’d like to know) list them below! Feel free to share your NaNo prep ideas as well!