Let’s admit it: for most novelists, finding time to write is a real hassle. We usually can’t afford to quit our day job in favor of writing. Our writing time becomes precious, and there’s little we can do to change that.
But we can make the most of what we have. Here are 10 tips to show you how.
- Know what you’re writing. Even if you’re a seat-of-your-pants, anti-outlining writer, you should know in advance what you’re sitting down to write. I’m not talking about the entire novel or story. Just the current scene is enough.
Write at the top of the page where the scene takes place, who’s in it, and what’s the purpose of the scene. (While you’re at it, choose the most interesting answers to these questions.) This will help you stick to the point and complete the scene faster.
- Brainstorm first, write later. Don’t try to come up with exciting new ideas as you write. Do that beforehand. When you’re writing, you’re limited by sentence structure, flow, coherency, etc. That’s not a good mind frame for new ideas.
Prepare a list of questions to brainstorm (such as a scene’s locale, a story twist, a new character), and brainstorm them separately from your writing project. Let ideas flow freely, record everything that comes to mind, and don’t bother with censorship—that will come later. When you divide your time between brainstorming and writing, each process becomes more efficient and takes less time.
- Write a skeleton first. (Even if you’re not writing a morbid tale of the undead.) Stick to the basics first. Worry about flow and coherency, not about language. If you have a transitional paragraph or an action paragraph, sum it up in a single dry sentence and move on. If you’re writing dialog, write it in script form, and don’t worry about their exact wording. For example:
In a bar scene, Todd looks at Mary and smiles.
Todd: You look pretty.
Mary: You look like a jerk.
Todd is insulted, circles the table and confronts her.
That’s actually pure Telling instead of Showing. Now, you’ve probably heard before that you should Show, not Tell. But Telling is so much faster to write! You can draft your entire scene in Telling mode at a fraction of the time it will take you to Show it. Then, when you’re done Telling and have a complete scene, go over it again and replace every sentence with a vivid, immediate description that Shows.
- Turn off the Internet. Seriously. There’s nothing online that you can’t do without. Even if you’re missing a word, a phrase, or a research detail, write it down in the margin (like Fermat!) and get back to it later. So-called research on the net so quickly becomes browsing lolcat gifs on Facebook.
- Create your writing den and guard it like a dragon. Even if it’s a corner of your desk, when you’re in your den—or in your writing mentality—no one may enter, no one may interfere, and you may not step outside to “just do the dishes” or “just pay the bills”. (Trust me, the dishes will wait for you. I have experimented.)
- Limit your writing time. Sounds counter-productive, doesn’t it? But the fact is, we work better when we know in advance precisely how much time we have. When you have half a day off, most of it might fizzle away as you work leisurely. But if you know you only have two hours to write, you’ll make the most of these two hours. So set clear limits and stick to them.
- Write in bursts. Take your carefully allotted writing time, and divide it into writing bursts of 45 minutes, followed by a rest of 10 minutes. When it’s time to write, write. When it’s time to rest, get up, step away from the keyboard or paper, stretch, massage your eyes (carefully!), take deep breaths, and generally let your system recharge. Come back to your writing with renewed stamina and motivation, and a fresh look on your writing.
- Don’t edit. Unless you’re in the editing phase, where, of course, you should. But as you write your first draft, don’t allow yourself to backtrack and edit things until you’re done. It will not improve your writing. It will not be as efficient as doing a pure editing pass over the text. It will only waste your precious writing time.
- Write whenever you can. That means on the bus or train (but not in your car!), when you’re waiting for an appointment, when you have a free hour, during lunch, etc. Always keep a notepad and pen on you, or type your writing directly on your phone. Keep a notepad in your bathroom, too, in case you ever spend some quality time there.
- Use http://writeordie.com. If you work well under pressure, consider using this website to challenge yourself. It combines many of these tips: it allows you to set up a writing burst, and prods you to write without editing by brutal means. Plus, it can be fun.
Ready to make the most of your writing time? Go try it now! And share your own productivity ideas in the comments below.