How to find time to write: 7 simple strategies

How to find time to write: 7 simple strategies

When we survey writers on Now Novel, ‘how to find time to write’ often comes up as a shared challenge. Although there’s truth to the saying ‘finding time is making time’, these 7 simple strategies will help you make time and keep writing:

How to find time to write: 7 strategies

  1. Find time to write by stacking habits
  2. Create distraction-free writing sessions
  3. Have a regular writing appointment
  4. Try snap writing
  5. Join writing sprints for accountability
  6. Work smart, not hard
  7. Turn producing into a game

Let’s explore how to find time to write further and unpack these ideas:

1. Find time to write by stacking habits

Previously, we’ve discussed the concept of ‘habit-stacking’ in this article on building your motivation to write.

To recap, ‘habit-stacking’ involves attaching tasks you may initially have limited time or motivation for to other tasks. The creator of the Tiny Habits® system for building good routines, BJ Fogg, gives the example ‘When I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth’.

The point of this absurd-seeming idea (to only floss one tooth) is that initial change should be small. This helps to overcome inertia or our own resistance.

If you’re struggling to find time to write, say to yourself:

  • ‘Before I watch TV, I will write one paragraph’
  • ‘Before I go for my daily run, I will outline the next scene in my story’

Connect what you want to do to what you already do by default.

Making time for one activity becomes making time for the other this way, the activity that matters: Telling your story.

2. Create distraction-free writing sessions

Award-winning science fiction writer John Scalzi offers the following writing advice:

  • Turn off the TV if it tempts you
  • Write after the children are in bed if you have a family or get up early to write before work
  • If you aren’t a morning person, use weekends instead (this is how Scalzi was able to write his debut)

When we read interviews with accomplished authors, there’s a running theme in discussion of process. That is that successful authors create the environment and the boundaries they need to write.

Describing writing and productivity in a piece for The Guardian, Jonathan Franzen says:

Distraction pours through every portal, especially through the internet. And most of what pours through is meaningless noise. To be able to hear what’s really happening in the world, you have to block out 99% of the noise.

‘Jonathan Franzen: Modern life has become extremely distracting’, The Guardian (2015)

Write your own bullet list now. How are you going to minimize distraction next time you write? For example:

  • I will give my phone to a friend/partner/spouse and tell them not to give it back to me until I’ve written 500 words
  • I will set my alarm 45 minutes earlier than usual and write before the house is awake

3. Have a regular writing appointment

The late poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was strict about showing up for writing appointments with herself.

In an interview for the book Writers Dreaming, by Naomi Epel, she says:

I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’ you know. And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.

Maya Angelou, quoted in Writers Dreaming (1994).

What Angelou describes is the simple art of showing up, despite passing internal or external discouragements.

It might feel like a waste of time when you’re not churning out sentences you think will make your final edit.

Yet even ‘blocked’ days are important groundwork, as your mind is sifting through ideas and impressions to find the story’s thread.

If you don’t find time to write this week, think about your story. Let a narrative run in your head for a bit. Write down phrases on scraps of paper – everything is usable.

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4. Try ‘snap writing’

Science fiction author Danie Ware recommends what she calls ‘snap writing.’

Although some writers advise sticking to a relentless routine, this can stop you finding time to write if it feels too onerous.

There’s good reason for this. Chunking up a project into manageable tasks ensures you chip away at it consistently, whether you work fast or slow.

Ware’s view is that this is damaging to productivity when you become obsessed with making every writing session meet your ideal conditions.

Instead, Ware says, grab twenty minutes here, a half hour there — a full hour somewhere if you are particularly lucky. It’s enough to write one 800-word piece to submit to our writing groups for feedback.

In order to ‘snap write’ effectively, Ware suggests doing this at least once a day. That way you can always leap right back into your story and pick up where you left off.

Get the most out of snap writing and combine it with Earnest Hemingway’s alleged approach to picking up where you left off.

Stop mid-sentence at the end of a snap writing session. This gives you an easy win (the complete sentence) next time you write.

5. Join writing sprints for accountability

What is a ‘writing sprint’, and how does it help you learn how to find time to write?

It’s a simple concept: You get together with other writers, either in person or online, and you all write at the same time for the same duration.

This may sound distracting or unhelpful.

However what this creates is a system of mutual accountability where each member feels the urge to show up and write so as not to miss out. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful motivator. Use it to your advantage and join others who carve out the same time you do to fulfil similar ambitions.

You’ll keep each other accountable while also having a space to share progress, blow off steam, ask advice and more, before or after each writing sprint.

6. Work smart, not hard

If you’ve been asking ‘how to find time to write’, maybe it’s time to ask ‘how to use the time I already have to write’ instead.

Often we overcomplicate tasks, not using innovation that makes the actual task easier.

Use tools such as speech-to-text. For example, you could record a voice note to yourself while doing a menial task such as dishes, then transcribe it using a tool such as otter.ai.

Because you can likely talk faster than you write (especially if you are a slow typist), this is a great way to save time.

7. Turn producing into a game

Producing many words is tough when writing feels like a slog. Time will fly past, though, if you treat making time to write as a game.

Try to beat your own word count each day for a week. Set a timer and try to reach X number of words before it runs out. Different games you invent for your writing exploration might not all yield fantastic writing. Yet you may find usable parts among what you produce. You may find you become a faster, more efficient and focused writer in the process.

What strategies do you use to keep writing? Enjoy writing tools, groups for mutual accountability and more when you join the Now Novel community.

8 Replies to “How to find time to write: 7 simple strategies”

  1. I’ve found self-publishing and keeping on a regular schedule for my blog has given me so much momentum. They have been the reason why I’ve created so much in the last 6 months. You have to keep pushing forward and moving on to the next project because you can literally spend years on a book.

    1. Hi N.C! You’re so right on that count. It’s great how the non-fiction writing helps you stay productive. Hope you have a successful writing year in 2016!

  2. I have used all of those methods. When I am writing a first draft, I have minimum word quotas, and as I do my week planning I am figuring out how I am going to make the time to reach that quota. I have a daily writing rhythm, and I grab whatever minutes I can, even sitting in the parking lot in my car waiting to pick up my son, but I need to schedule those bigger blocks, and other activities may need to be moved around to make sure I have the time.

    Writing is a priority for me. My sweetie knows what my word quotas are, and checks in with me to find out where I am and how he can help restructure my time if I am having difficulty making it.

    A timer and sprints make a big difference too!

    1. Thanks for sharing your process. It’s great to have support from a sweetie! I think finding those moments (in the parking lot; in waiting rooms) really helps boost productivity, though it’s also important to take breaks so as to avoid burnout, of course.

  3. I recently started using Scrivener for writing. I’ve set my word count target and date for the project I’m working on and have that window open in the bottom of the screen when I’m writing. I know at a glance what my daily word count needs to be to achieve the goal. Most days I double the goal and sometimes even triple it!

    1. Hi Melanie, that’s fantastic! I hope you carry on making strides this year. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  4. Who makes the artwork for each blog post? Been trying to find the artist credited somewhere on the site, but been unable to. Very curious tho. Because I really like their work!

    1. Hi Tomb,

      Thank you for asking. More recent articles such as this one use premium illustrations by artists on Freepik that don’t require accreditation due to their licensing status for premium account holders. They have been customized somewhat with Now Novel’s signature colours that you will also find throughout the UI of our story outlining tools. Where images combine multiple elements (e.g. infographics) they have been created by myself; some images (e.g. quotes) use templates designed by Fentse Malatji for Now Novel.

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