Get the most out of your limited writing time

Prepare to be your best

If you're a writer with an unrelated full-time job (I'd hazard a guess that's most writers), you know just how tough it is find time to pursue your passion. It's why we wake up early to write before the rest of the household rises. It's why we say no to lunch dates and reserve conference rooms to edit our work. It's why we have mugs with "You have the same amount of hours in a day as BeyoncĂ©" on them.

Once you've carved out the time to get down to business, there are some habits to break, steps to take and apps to employ to make sure you get the most out of your 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there.

Once you've carved out the time to get down to writing business, there are some habits to break, steps to take and apps to employ to make sure you get the most out of your 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there.


For years, I only sat down to write when inspiration had already struck, because sitting down to write when you haven't a clue where to start? It's the pits. It makes you feel like all that talk about writer's block is true, and that you'll never have another idea again and you could be doing 100 other things for your job, home, family or friends instead of sitting here peeling your split ends against the white glow of your blank Word document.

Plan out the project you're going to work on before you sit down. Write in your schedule: "Monday, 8:30 p.m.: Add 300 words to short story." Narrowing in on the task at hand makes frustration a lot less likely.

Banish distractions

Once you put your booty in the chair, immediately turn off your wi-fi. Immediately. No, no, not after a quick run-through of Twitter or glance at Facebook, and don't even think of checking your email. I've played that game, and an hour later, I resurface a woman who has viewed many animated gifs and written no words. I don't have many superstitions about the writing practice, but I'm adamant about limiting known distractions.

If you've already peeked online and found a handful of articles you must read, use Pocket to hold on to them for later.

Clear your workspace outside of your writing time

You've carved out a sweet spot of 30 minutes alone for writing, so don't ruin it by spending one-third of it clearing off your desk. As you flit in and out of your workspace in the days/hours leading up to your writing time, use those moments to move bills to a folder, feed receipts through the shredder, pick off spilled melted wax and swap out the framed photos. You should be able to dive into writing as soon as you sit in your uncluttered space.

Tell people what you're doing

It's the ol' exercise trick: If you involve a friend in your workout routine by planning to meet her at the gym or competing with one another's run times, you're more likely to get your heart pumping. It works with writing, too. Tell your friends and family that you're writing today (or this hour or for the next 15 minutes). That way, one, they won't interrupt you, and two, they'll ask how it went. And you'll have to know how to respond, which means you'll need to get a good read (ha) on interpreting and explaining your work.

Set a goal

I live for short-term goals. Some are spur-of-the-moment -- I decide I want to finish this blog post by 2 p.m. -- or ongoing -- I plan to add 750 words/day to my novel. The great thing about short-term goals is you quickly learn what's attainable for you. That for you part is really important. Stephen King might be able to write 2,000 words/day, but maybe that doesn't work for your lifestyle or skill level. That's OK. You're OK. You're great, in fact.

Keep a notepad for things to remember

You're bound to have the greatest idea for a story when you're in the shower, on the road or in a marathon meeting. You repeat it over and over to yourself -- Janie finds out Tim's the brother of that man, Janie finds out Tim's the brother of that man, Janie finds out ... -- until you're free to record it. But it's gone; you lost its importance. Having a notepad handy for such moments is vital.

I like to use Field Notes because they're slim and fit in my purse. Before I began freelancing full-time, I'd receive approving looks from supervisors who spotted me pulling out a notebook to jot down an idea. Little did they know it was for my after-hours work. Whoops.

If in the shower, you might use a waterproof notepad -- They exist! 

A word of caution: Make sure the idea you record is detailed enough for your future-self to understand it. If I had a nickel for every half-baked idea I returned to ... Well, you know how that goes. If ever I'm out and about without my Field Notes, I use the Reminders app on my phone. It contains such gems as "Man on motorcycle with black cat on shoulders," which makes no sense to me now. But I've kept it just in case inspiration decides to remind me what it meant.

Warm up before sitting down

Often, the first few minutes of your sit-down-and-write time is spent warming up for your writing practice. To stay at the top of your game, consider using writing prompts, journaling or free writing to get used to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I chatted with Kristl on Twitter recently, and she's a big advocate for bullet journaling. She said it's helped her create more space in her life. And if you're a writer who takes care of a million other tasks and people, you know you're in high need of some extra space.

Somehow, journaling can still have a negative connotation. It's associated with therapy, which some (short-sighted) folks still consider self-indulgent. Yet, it's backed that expressive writing unburdens negative, bungled or murky experiences. It clears the mind for you to be more productive. Scientific American reported "research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery." And any healthy practice that makes you more productive for yourself and loved ones is positive.

What have you found works for you in making the most of the time you have to write?

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