How to write when you don’t have time

How to write when you don’t have time – 10 tips for writing when life is busy

“A word after a word after a word is power.”
-Margaret Atwood

At the start of last year after I accidentally got stranded in Australia due to the global pandemic I had lots of time to write. Suddenly I found myself in a remote place, living alone, during a lengthy lockdown.

We were free to move about but I rarely saw anyone. In my small community in Tropical North Queensland, with its long and empty beach as our front yard, it’s easy to practice social distancing. But the lockdown also meant that all public places, from yoga classes to local pubs, remained closed.

If it hadn’t been for my writing, it could have been a very lonely experience. My words were my companions, and I got a ton of writing done.

But then I got busy.

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I was invited to deliver a talk at my local TEDxTownsville, I held a retreat at my own home and my partner returned from Vietnam after a 10-month separation.

Just like that, I was too busy to write again.

That got me thinking about the advice I gave a friend Janie from my Hoi An Writers Group a couple of months ago.

You are never too busy to write, I said to the busy mother of two. Just get up an hour earlier and write before your kids are up. And she did. Over the last few months, she’s blossomed as a writer and finished the final draft of her book. It was life-changing advice she told me, and I am so happy for her.

But, I wonder, how can I take my own advice in order to always hold my writing close.

Because when I get busy, I let my book, the thing that I am most passionate about, slip to the bottom of my to-do list.

Sound familiar?

Suddenly, I am always multi-tasking. My energy is devoted to 101 things, all of which require urgent attention and none of which involve me sitting down to write.

It’s the same for everybody. Many people also have children on top of it all. Yet, like my friend Janie, they get their books written.

So I did a bit of deep introspection and a bit of self-lecturing today and here is what I came up with:

 

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Ten Tips for how to write when you don’t have time

  1. Get up earlier, and write before your household stirs into action. Even 15 minutes will make a huge difference!
  2. Write yourself a note that it does not have to be perfect. A first draft is meant to be messy. A messy page is better than a blank page. Remind yourself often that it’s ok to write imperfect stuff.
  3. Stop getting lost on social media (this is a note to self!). Don’t allow that pesky phone to interfere with your sacred writing time. Do a digital detox. Write by hand if you must (your computer will always be a distraction).
  4. Schedule your writing time into your calendar. Make it an unbreakable appointment with yourself. Just like you wouldn’t cancel your dentist or your hairdresser at the last minute because often there are penalties for short notice cancellations, treat your writing time the same way. It’s all about showing up.
  5. Write even when you don’t feel inspired. One word after the other until you have a sentence, and then another until you have a paragraph.
  6. Use a writing prompt and set your timer and just go for it. Ten minutes. So often we waste 10 minutes mindlessly scrolling through our social media feed. Show yourself how much writing you can get done in 10 minutes and then keep doing it.
  7. Treat writing like a job. Nobody feels inspired or motivated to show up at their workplace all of the time. We all have bad days. But if you are in employment, you have to show up. As a writer, you are your own employer.
  8. Get a writing buddy and have a regular appointment. Keep yourself accountable.
  9. Break your writing up into manageable chunks. If you are writing a book, then don’t sit down to write your book. Sit down to write a scene. This makes the task easier to manage, which brings me to my final point.
  10. Write an outline first. When you’re busy, you need to make time to write on the fly. Having an outline is crucial as it allows you to pick one scene (or more), write for 20 minutes (or longer) and, voilà, you’ve got the first draft of another scene written without worrying where it all fits. We spent a lot of time at my recent Tropical Writers Retreat crafting our outlines and breaking our projects down into manageable chunks and individual scenes and it was amazing how focused we were.

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
William Faulkner

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What’s your best tip for staying focused on your writing goals when you don’t have time to write?

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Join me in the comments below or join us in the Write Your Journey Facebook group We help each other to stay motivated and accountable. Anybody is welcome, regardless of your writing experience.

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