How To Write When Time Is Short
Dear writer, you know that writing takes a long time. There are some who claim to be able to knock out a novel in a couple of hours, and perhaps they can, but I’m pretty cynical that the average writer would be able to do that without cutting some major corners and coming away with a substandard novel as a result. Good writing takes time. That’s why it’s so important to write frequently and regularly.
‘Ah but you don’t understand!’ I hear you cry. ‘I simply don’t have the time to write for hours on end, day after day!’
‘Really?’ Some writing-guru glibly cries back before I get a chance to answer. ‘Don’t you have the same twenty-four hour days; the same seven day weeks and the same fifty-two week years as Tolkien, Dickens, Twain and–‘
‘No, that’s not what I mean!’ I hear you cry back, somewhat irked by Mr. Writing-Guru’s superior attitude. ‘I mean, I’ve got so much other stuff that demands my attention! I’ve got a job, a spouse, a mortgage, a budgie, six kids and one more on the way! I can’t just renounce them for the sake of a few extra hours of writing time!’
‘Well then!’ Mr. Writing-Guru replies. ‘Maybe writing just isn’t for you if you care more about your family and–‘
But before Mr. Writing-Guru can finish this latest patronising utterance, you lunge across the table and begin attacking him with his own ceramic coffee flask while he tries to defend himself behind his trilby.
Leave him alone, friend. I understand your situation. There are some things (not many, but some) that simply matter more than writing; other things you simply have no choice but to prioritise, such as a day-job to pay the mortgage. That’s okay. All that matters is you make the best use of the time you do have for writing, no matter how little it is.
First, sit down with a planner (whether physical or mental). Start by working out those times you absolutely cannot write. For instance, I work a day-job from 9-5, Monday-Friday. This makes it absolutely impossible for me to write in those hours (though could you squeeze some juice out of your lunch break?). However, that does leave me evenings and weekends. Surely that’s plenty of time?
‘You don’t understand,’ I hear you cry, warily eyeing Mr. Writing-Guru to make sure he’s still unconscious. ‘I use that time to socialise with my family, to feed my baby, to play a little bit of that new Spider-Man PS4 game…’
Oh but I do understand. Some of these things are essential. Others are optional. Ask yourself honestly what things you can and should give up to make time for writing. You might still find that only leaves you a couple of hours every evening to write, but friend… that’s all you need. You can easily knock out 500 words in an hour or two. I, myself (who am by no means the greatest of writers), wrote the first draft of this blog in just over an hour. Do a little bit of arithmetic with me (I know it’s hard) and you’ll soon see why the ‘little and often’ approach is so useful.
A bog-standard novel tends to be around about 80,000 words, give or take 10,000.
If, like me, you’ve only got evenings and all day Saturday to write, you might be tempted to think Saturday will be your Big Writing Day. Indeed, you certainly should take advantage of Saturday however:
If you write only 3,000* words one day a week, every week, you’ll have 156,000 words by the end of the year. Technically adequate, but I can’t recommend this approach for for these three reasons:
- Your friends and family are more likely to want a piece of you during what they perceive as your ‘free-time’, even if you’ve not got any regular business on those days.
- Writing only once a week can seriously bust up your rhythm, meaning you constantly have to get back into the flow every Saturday.
- Large daily word count goals are hard to accomplish even without distractions. It is difficult to guarantee success.
However, if you allow yourself one hour to write only 500 words (half the length of this article) every evening, when the kids are tucked up in bed and your office is shut for the night, you’ll have 182,500 by the end of a year. That’s more words than you would’ve had writing in a single huge weekend burst and it’s a heck of a lot easier to accomplish. And let’s not forget, you can still take advantage of any weekends or holidays that do become available to you.
If you’re still struggling, however, here are a few more simple tips to make sure you make the best use of your precious minutes.
- Disconnect your internet. No excuses. Every second you spend looking at Instagram, checking your e-mails or ‘researching’ your novel is a second you’re not spending writing.
- Turn off your phone and put it somewhere you can’t reach it.
- Make sure your family, friends or anyone else who depends on having a slice of your attention understands that you write between the hours of x and y every day, and that you cannot be disturbed for all but the most life-and-death reasons. No, not even for two minutes. They’ll probably be cool with that if they know you are available during your non-writing hours.
- Stick to one writing project. You’ve no time to lose as it is, so don’t double or triple your workload with new projects.
- Establish clear goals for each writing session. Aimless writing wastes time, so have a realistic goal in your mind for each particular session. E.g.: ‘Today I will write 500 words of my first draft’ or ‘today I will complete my chapter outline’. Keep your goals ambitious (after all, you want to accomplish as much as possible in the time available) but most importantly of all, keep them realistic.
- If you have time, experiment with pre-writing techniques like free writing.
- Write fast; edit slowly.
You can do this, dear writer. I believe in you.
*3,000 words is about the average output I tend to manage on a single Saturday session. It’s certainly possible to do more but it’s increasingly unlikely you’ll achieve it week after week, especially if you’ve got family and friends etc. clamouring for your attention.
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