I’m getting back to basics this month. With all the promoting and traveling I’ve been doing for the launch of Scarlet, I’ve been finding it more and more challenging to make writing a priority and find time to consistently work on the next book. (So much for quitting the day job solving all our problems!)
So I’ve been reminding myself how I did make time to write, even when I had that day job, even when I was in school, and bringing some of those tactics back into my repertoire. I hope you’ll find some of them helpful as well.
1. Write first thing in the morning.
Set a word or page goal—even something small like 250 words will get your day started off right. You’ll feel instantly productive and motivated to keep going. So before you check your email or read through your tweets or brush your teeth, open up your WIP and knock out some words. The rest of your day will thank you for it.
2. Break up your writing into half-hour tasks.
I’m pretty confident that most people can find half an hour most days to write. In preparation for that magical half hour, figure out the tasks that you can start and complete in thirty minutes and be ready to jump into them. In a half hour, you could write up one character profile, search and replace one crutch phrase in your manuscript, or write a page (or two).
3. Figure out the things you can do without a computer.
For times when you’re away from your desk, keep a list of no-technology-required writing tasks on hand. That way, you’ll always have productive things you can be doing to further your writing goals, even when you’re pumping gas or waiting at the dentist’s office. Some ideas: Brainstorm how to resolve your plot holes, come up with character or place names, jot down interesting setting details to plug into your descriptions later, edit your query letter, or outline a blog post.
4. Find someone who will keep you accountable.
Join a writer’s group that meets weekly or tell a friend that you’re going to send them one chapter every two weeks. Make sure that it’s someone who will hold you accountable (and perhaps publicly shame you) if you don’t submit something new when you promised to. Knowing that there is someone in the world waiting to receive your work can do wonders for motivation.
5. Set a timer.
This is a technique that I’ve been hearing about for years but I only started employing in the last couple months—but oh my goodness, does it work! When you sit down, figure out precisely what you’re going to work on for X amount of time, and then set a timer. (FYI, most smart phones have a convenient built-in timer.) Then—go! Knowing that you only have to keep working for a set period of time really helps you stay focused and avoid distractions. I usually set the timer for 45-50 minutes, then take a 10-15 minute break to stand up and stretch, get a snack, change over the laundry, check Twitter, etc., before it’s time to set the timer again and get on to the next task.
6. Write or Die.
“Write or Die” is like the timer technique on steroids. The free online program (or moderately priced downloadable app) available at writeordie.com allows you to set a word and time goal, and the consequences if you don’t keep writing. If you’re idle for too long, drastic things happen, such as the program deleting your work! Lots of NaNo-ers swear by this site.
7. Outsource or delegate non-writing tasks.
There are lots of things we do every day that have nothing to do with our writing goals. Now is as good a time as any to review all your regular habits and obligations and figure out what can be delegated to someone else. Can your spouse make dinner three times a week? Can your kids chip in more with the housework? Can you afford to hire a company to mow your lawn or weed your flowerbeds? Can you hire a babysitter for your kids one day a week so you can have some uninterrupted writing time? Is there a nearby university that can set you up with an intern who will help you with shipping tasks, updating your web site, and entering your bookkeeping, all in exchange for college credit? Once you’ve delegated, use that extra time to do the one thing only you can do: write.
8. Don’t multi-task.
When it’s time to answer emails, answer emails. When it’s time to research, research. And so on. By focusing on a task rather than multi-tasking, you’ll build up some momentum and become more efficient. I also like to group my tasks together into big chunks. For example, instead of writing a blog post every other day, I’ll usually take a couple hours on Monday to write and schedule them all at once. Answer emails for an hour in the morning or an hour in the evening and ignore your inbox the rest of the day, knowing that you’ll get to any urgent emails during your specified email time. And when it’s time to write—write. Don’t get up to empty the dishwasher or return phone calls. Avoid breaking your stride even to switch to other writing-oriented tasks. If you need to know what flowers grow naturally in Sweden in July, leave that spot blank and look it up during your official “research” time.
9. Turn off or block the internet.
This relates to #1, #5, #6, and #8 above, but I feel like it deserves its own line, because the internet really is the time suck to end all time sucks. Well, for some writers that might be TV, but for me it’s definitely the internet! If I hit the smallest of snags in my WIP, even just a momentary brain lapse in which I can’t think of a certain word, my fingers are automatically opening up an internet window and looking to see what emails have come in or what’s happened since I last checked Twitter. This goes against all those wise words about focus and concentration, so I’m trying to be better about it.
To help avoid temptation, try unplugging your router, turning off your computer’s wireless connectivity, or even downloading software that will block the internet for you.
10. Discover regular pockets of time you overlook every day.
Do you usually surf Facebook during your lunch break? Read during your commute? Watch “The Big Bang Theory” re-runs while dinner is in the oven? Repurpose these everyday or weekly occurrences into your new official writing time. It takes some practice re-wiring your brain, but those small pockets of time can really add up.
11. Daydream with intention.
I’m usually happy to let my mind wander into whatever random directions it feels like, but I do find that when I daydream with intention it makes me a much more productive writer. Whether you’re an outline writer or you let your stories unfold as you write them, use your daydream moments to be actively thinking about What Comes Next. While you’re driving or doing dishes or folding clothes or working out, think about the chapter you’re going to be writing as soon as you sit down at your computer. Let it play out in your head like a movie. Knowing that you have a vision beforehand will help motivate you to get to work as soon as possible, and allow you to get started without any of those “I don’t know what to write” moments.
What can I say? Bribes work for me. They’ve always worked for me and they remain my go-to motivation device when nothing else seems to be working. Some bribes take the form of rewards after I finish a certain task (i.e., finish this chapter and you can watch an episode of “Firefly”!), but when I’m really struggling to get any work done, I’ll even bribe myself by making the act of writing more enjoyable (i.e., if you sit down and open up your WIP and promise to write at least a page, you can have some hot cocoa while you’re doing it). After all, there’s something grand about turning your writing time into your pamper-me time. Enjoy every moment.
What techniques work for you to get more writing done?