A Simple Writing Strategy For Busy People

Updated July 19, 2021 by Iulian Ionescu | Read Time min.
busy-writer

If you are like most beginning writers, you probably have a job. Something that brings you money, maybe a lot of money, or just enough to keep you going. However, regardless of your job, your dream is to write, publish, and maybe one day quit that job and replace your income with royalties. Good thoughts, shared by many, but not as easy as you might think.

A Writer’s Life

The truth is that even the best writers need practice, just like every athlete and every musician needs to exercise a lot to maintain their level. Writing is an art, and just like any art, it needs work. You may have inherent talent, and that’s great, but you become excellent through practice. After all, our brain is the most complex part of our organism, so it’s not difficult to see why it needs practice.

And that is where the two worlds usually clash. You must divide yourself between your job, family, and your writing. Unfortunately, the latter will always suffer. Your job needs you. After all, those reports will not write themselves, and you can’t lose your job—how will you live? Your family needs you. You will not tell your wife, mother, or children that you don’t have time for them. They don’t see you the whole week; are you going to ditch them during the weekend too? How’s that fair?

Let’s not panic; I feel you are getting there… There is a simple answer to this conundrum, and it’s called: divide et impera, or divide and rule. If you take your life as a whole and try to back out like a fast movie camera and pan left to right over it, you will be overwhelmed with its vastness and complexity. But once you start breaking it down into smaller pieces, you will soon learn how to rule those parts, and when you put them back together into the puzzle, now you have a structure you can work with.

As a writer, this is exactly what I want you to do. I want you to divide your life into small pieces and ‘conquer’ them. We will start with a day.

Writer’s Weekday

Depending on your job and situation, your day may look different, but for this explanation, we will assume that you have a 9-5 job. You wake up at around 6:30 to get ready and return home around 7:30. Then late at night, you go to bed at around 11:30 PM.

Morning Brain Exercise

Beginning tomorrow, you will start waking up 15 minutes earlier. I promise you that 15 minutes will not alter your behavior or get you more tired during the day. So, you wake up 15 minutes earlier, you get out of your bed, and you go straight to your writing place. Don’t turn the radio or TV on, don’t look at the newspaper, and by all-mighty Gods in the Universe, do not, I repeat, do not check your email! Open up your favorite writing tool (which, by the way, can very well be a pen and paper or something more complex such as Scrivener) and start writing. You will write for 10 minutes without stopping. Once you are finished, read your work out loud (or whispered) and make short notes. That should only take you 5 minutes.

What does this do for you? It will fire up your brain. Overnight our mind works in the background. Sometimes we get a peek by having a vivid dream or deja vu symptoms the next day, but most of the time, it’s just working on its own. Your goal is to resurrect those thoughts from the depth and bring them to your fingers and onto the paper. This repeated exercise will do wonders for your idea factory and will help improve your style, voice, and craft in general.

I recommend checking the Morning Pages system for a more advanced technique, which can be easily integrated into your overall morning routine.

Writing During Commute

This obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but it does apply to some. For example, I commute via bus, and I have 30-45 minutes each way. So, I can use those precious minutes to improve my writing. All you need is a portable writing device, and I highly recommend it because it is not that easy to write with a pen and paper on a bus or train. Get yourself a cheap and simple writing device, something that works for you. I have a Neo Alphasmart.

You have a few options in this situation, but I will start with the one I prefer. Remember that all fiction and all your ideas are somehow driven from reality in their basic form. No matter how twisted and fantastic your writing is, it still comes from your life experience in this world. One important skill that you must develop is taking things from real life and putting them in your fiction.

When you commute, you are outside or otherwise surrounded by other people. Look around and pick something. May it be a building, a field, a car, a person, anything where your eyes stop in the first 3-5 minutes. Start writing a scene about that. Use that item as your central point; it will give you something to write around. That sort of hook is compelling because it allows your brain to hang on to something and then develop a story around it.

You don’t have a lot of time so start writing. Again, you don’t have to edit your work or agonize over every word. Your goal here is to push your imagination and creativity to take reality and make it into powerful fiction. So write as fast as you can.

If you cannot write during your commute because you are driving or it’s too short, and you can never get a seat, you this time wisely to improve your craft by reading or listening to audiobooks on writing craft. So far, I have bought and read about 100 books, and I still enjoy any new one that falls into my hands. They’re a great resource, and the more you read, the more those words will get fixated in your brain and drive your craft toward excellence.

Writing At Work

Again, this depends a lot on your own environment, but pretty much every job has a lunch break. Most people mingle with their co-workers, go outside to take a walk, read the news, watch the scores, or check their personal email. Forget all of those. If you have a precious hour in the middle of your workday, use it wisely.

The way I like to use my half an hour of lunch is by creating what I call a “job novel.” It’s basically the main idea for a book, nothing too fancy, nothing ground-breaking since that is not the focus. What I want to do is get used to continuity. It’s fun and nice to keep writing new random scenes, but it is a different skill to learn continuity. So, I pick a subject and decide how long it would be. Let’s say a murder mystery on 100 pages. Then I write as much as I can each day during my lunch hour, making sure that I stop when a scene or chapter is over.

Unfortunately, you will find that this is not always possible because of the unpredictable character of general jobs. You need to write as much as you can in that time, but that’s a big but: do not jeopardize your job. If you can’t use your lunch hour to write, don’t do it. Remember, you cannot steal corporate time and use it for personal things. That is a privilege that belongs exclusively to your boss…

Evening Writing – The Main Event

So during the day, you’ve been pumping your brain. You started in the morning, during your commute, and, if possible, during your free time at work. Now you are home, and you can dedicate some time to your larger project. A larger project is a novel, a series of short stories, anything that you want to finish and aim to publish one day.

Ideally, you should allocate one hour or as much as you need to write 2000 words. If your life situation doesn’t allow it, try to shoot for at least 30 minutes and 1000 words. If possible, do it when you feel the most comfortable and less pressured. If you need to put your kids to sleep in one hour, maybe you should do your writing right after. If you have a dinner tradition in the family, don’t break it; work around it. The goal here is for you to find the best time to allocate to your writing.

Writer’s Weekends and Holidays

You may think that you have a lot of free time during the weekend, but as we all know, that’s not true. You try to cram one million things into your weekend, and you wake up Saturday morning, you blink, and it’s Sunday night. So you need to divide and conquer the weekends as well.

I think that a reasonable time to allocate during a weekend day would be 3 hours. I guess that you can do an hour early morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night. You can also do them all three in one shot. I actually prefer it that way. Whatever works for you, make sure you allocate those hours, and you stick to that plan.

Putting it all together

So, we got a workday with 10 minutes of brainstorming, 30 to 60 of putting reality into fiction, about 30 minutes of story-telling, and one hour of working on your main project. On a weekend day, we got 6 hours of working on your project. Let’s bring it forward (some items are rounded down to account for diminished productivity):

Period Brainstorming Practice Practice Project
Weekday  10 min. 30 min. 15 min. 1 hr. / 2000 w.
Weekend 6 hr. / 6000 w.
Week  50 min. 2.5 hr. 1.25 hr. 7 hr. / 8000 w.
Month  3 hr. 10 hr. 5 hr. 30 hr. / 30,000 w.
Year  40 hr. 130 hr. 65 hr. 360 hr. / 350,000 w.

Of course, these are just high-level numbers. They don’t take into account vacation, time off, etc. They are ideal numbers obtained mathematically. The point is that if you were to stick to this strong regimen for one entire year, you should be able to write not one book but three!

But let’s make it more realistic. Let’s call 200,000 words for the year, with the rest being left for self-editing. But still, with this method of dividing your time, you should be able to put at least two complete manuscripts out in one year.

Even in a worst-case scenario where you can only allocate half of that, you should still produce one complete manuscript in one year.

Tracking Your Writing

Tracking is paramount. Without it, you will lose track of your progress, and you won’t know where you stand. It keeps you focused, and it helps you achieve your goals. First of all, let me say this: daily goals are difficult; you should aim for weekly goals. That means that if one day you cannot do the 10 minutes of brainstorming, maybe you can catch up during the weekend. Either way, you must achieve your weekly quotas.

So, open an excel or use a notebook and draw a table like the one above. Under the period column, write the date for each day and fill in that row with minutes and words. After each Sunday, make a subtotal for the week. After each month-end, make a subtotal for the month. You will soon start feeling proud of the table getting longer and longer and those total number of words climbing up.

For an easy tracker, you can try out my Master Novel Outline and Tracking tool, a free Excel spreadsheet that you can use to track your writing and outline your novel.

You Can Do It!

As you can see, the writing process for a busy person with a job is definitely not easy but absolutely doable. It takes a lot of concentration, willpower, and the ability to be in control of your life. This routine will actually help your writing skills and help you with your time management in general. It will teach you how to be realistic with your time, reduce the amount of time spent on unnecessary things, and allocate more time to what is important to you.

But most importantly, the continuous alternation between brainstorming, storytelling, adapting reality, continuing a storyline, and working on a large project, will tickle your brain from all sides and will drive your imagination and writing craft.

One mistake that beginning writers make, and I am very guilty of that sometimes, is to think that if they managed to write a good page, scene, or chapter, they are now accomplished as writers, and they can duplicate that result any time. That is incorrect, and you need to fix that mindset early. You need practice, you need willpower, and most of all, you need to be realistic with yourself and with your time. Keep your perseverance up and on track, and you will succeed!

Now, go back to writing!!

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Short or Long, One or Many?

Now, before you go, I have…

3 Questions For You

  1. Do you find yourself unable to write because you don’t have time?
  2. What major changes in your life interfered with your writing schedule?
  3. Do you have any specific tips for writing while dealing with your busy life?

Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!

iulian-ionescu


Tags

planning, productivity, time management, writing tips


  • I agree with you that tracking your progress is important. It is a strong motivator. I did this when I was finishing a book last year for a deadline and it really did make me sit down and get busy writing.

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