How to Write When You Don’t Have Time to Write

“Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.”

― Dorothy Parker

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads…”

― Ray Bradbury

Yeah, Ray Bradbury, it’s great that you have the time to lurk in libraries all day, but I have to get to the dry cleaners.

We’ve all heard it a million times: to be a writer, you must write every day.

But in a world of jobs and kids and cooking and sleeping and shoveling snow, how are any of us supposed to find the time to sit down and write? Every day? Impossible…

I wrote my debut novel, Oil and Marble, while producing five nights a week of television. For those of you who have never produced five nights a week of television, it’s a 60 hour a week job and you never leave your work at the office; it follows you home to bed.

But still, I wrote a novel. Day by day, sentence by sentence, moment by moment.

I’ve written every day since I was seven years old. I write when I have 102 degrees of fever. When it’s a perfect beach day. On my wedding day. Even when my husband was in the hospital, and I didn’t know if he would walk out alive (this one may make me seem insane, but writing keeps me sane during difficult days).

It’s not always easy to write every day. And it’s not always terribly productive. It’s sometimes ugly and often unusable… but it’s there. Every day. Day by day. Word by word. Moment by moment. That’s how you write novels.

So, here are my top practical tips for how to write… when you don’t have time to write.

1: Use Notes App on Your Smart Phone. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my phone has become a useful part of my daily writing life. While standing in line at the grocery store, instead of checking Facebook, I open up my notes app and scribble down a line or two. It may only be an idea or a fragment of dialogue, but it’s there. Plus, my phone is always in my pocket, so I have no excuse.

2: Arrive Early? Sit In Your Car. The next time you arrive at a meeting a few minutes early, instead of rushing in and waiting on everyone else, pull out your notebook or iPhone and scribble down a sentence or two. No one will disturb you; you could be writing an important email or checking in with your spouse. It’s amazing how much work I’ve done in my car with the radio still going.

3: While Working Out. Look at the bike, treadmill, or elliptical trainer you regularly use. My laptop almost always fits onto that console (sometimes it takes some creative propping)… It’s like a standing desk, only no one bothers me because I’m “at the gym.” I’m sure fitness gurus will tell you not to do this because your workouts won’t be as effective, but for me, writing a novel trumps burning a few extra calories.

4: TV Time. While my husband watches TV, I have my laptop open. He feels like we’re spending time together; I get uninterrupted writing time. (I’ll admit this one takes a special level of focus. I can tune out the TV and tune into my world. If you don’t have this kind of focus, this might not work for you. But if it does, beware. You’ll suddenly be encouraging the family to settle down in front of the TV every night).

5: Cooking Dinner. Think about your story while you chop vegetables, then while waiting for pots to simmer, write down those thoughts. If you’re lucky, your family will leave you alone for a few moments because they want you to get dinner on the table. Besides, all that cooking will get some good creative juices flowing.

6: Take an Extra Long Shower. When you’re in the shower, do you think about your work, fume at your spouse, worry about the kids? Stop. Use those moments to think about your story. Keep a notebook in your magazine drawer and, when you hop out of the shower, scribble down your thoughts. Everyone will think you are just drying off. Besides, showering relaxes you; the ideas formed in there tend to be really good.

7: Take Your 10,000 Steps. I equate walking time with thinking time. Every time I go for a walk — down the hall, stairs, street — I think about my story. After I’ve walked somewhere, I take a second or two to scribble down the thoughts or sentences that came up. Start connecting walking to “thinking about my project” and you’ll suddenly be writing — and walking — more.

8: Set Your Alarm 15 Minutes Early. Pre-kids, pre-phone, pre-sunrise… Pre-everything. Early is my favorite time because no one else is up yet. Plus, my head is still half-foggy with dreams, so I feel more connected to my subconscious muse. Even 15 minutes is enough to scribble down half-a-page of dream-induced prose.

9: Never ignore a solid stretch of time. When you have a spare two hours on the weekend it’s easy to sit in front of the TV or scroll through Facebook, but you can’t squander these times. No excuses. Write something, ANYTHING, even if you feel stuck. If you sit there and work, it will come. If you don’t write in these moments, you never will.

10: Stop Worrying About Writing Something Beautiful or Even Usable. I’m not saying what you write in these stolen moments will be brilliant. I’m saying if you do it every day, it will eventually add up to something. Writing is re-writing, anyway; it won’t be perfect the first time no matter how much time you spend. So just get something down. Every. Single. Day.


How do YOU steal writing time during your busy day?


2 thoughts on “How to Write When You Don’t Have Time to Write

  1. Think you need a little time off now and then ?? 💃👠💌. You have pushed hard….and it Is paying off.

    This morning after church…we went to “Dolphin House” for wonderful breakfast of cheese Blitzes ….smothered In whip cream and strawberries!! 😍. Blew my diet 😡!! Place was packed So sat at counter. Met interesting couple from Mississippi…originally Danville, IL…who had Been coming to Longboat Key for years …because her Mom had house here. After Mom Died….sisters wanted to sell…etc, etc. I got on subject of your book and said they might want To attend Karen’s Book store signing in April. Their son had graduated from Oxford and she Was Excited to hear about your book. It is a small world with many Mid Western people On this side of Florida.

    Today’s paper had write up on 7.5 Mil $$ house on beach …just down street from us.. that recently SOLD….to Wisconsin family. There is a great mix of nice people here. Even An endangered Eagle built her nest ….high in a tree …just down the street!! A family bought A lot and planned to build…but the Eagle built her huge nest first! The family can not continue With their house until Baby Eaglets leave the nest. The eagle likes the neighborhood and comes back each year. There is even a sign posted…”no trespassing till May” …when Eagles leaves nest. Josh thought it was strange that POLICE protected the Eagle and nest!!

    Josh and Audrey flew home Yesterday afternoon. I told him I would miss getting up early in Morning and watching cartoons with him.

    Hugs…..Aunt Nellie

    Sent from my iPad



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