5 Tips for How to Write With a Busy Life
Too often, people believe they’re too busy to write a novel. And with the pace of modern life, where everything is constantly on demand, it’s easy to see why.
If you’re one of those people, it’s okay. You’re not alone. I once believed I’d never finish writing my novel, let alone publish it! Between school, work, becoming a parent, and eventually homeschooling, I let myself believe writing would always be just a dream.
I was wrong.
We have more time to write than we think. Does crafting a novel take a lot of time and dedication? Absolutely. Do you have to carve out huge chunks of time to commit to your project? Nope.
This isn’t another post telling you to manage your time better or to write an obscene number of words in as little time as possible. Instead, I’m sharing with you 5 tips to write your novel at your own pace and feel good about your process and progress.
Abandon the “all or nothing” attitude
In my writing process, mindset truly matters. It may be easier said than done, but refusing to hold yourself to a high standard is freeing. You allow yourself to be grateful for the work you did and not worry about what you didn’t. Sure, you could set a daily word count goal and set aside a designated hour to write, but life usually gets in the way. You end up tired after a day of work, you need to study for your next exam, or you have to take your pet to the vet.
Days like the above happen more often than not, and it’s understandable to consider them a wash. It still doesn’t get rid of the growing guilt you have because of a missed writing opportunity or another day pushing aside your goals.
What you must always remember is that you’re a human being, not a robot. If you only write 27 of the 2000 words you planned, give yourself credit. Hear me when I tell you, something is better than nothing. And if the day slips through your fingers without a single word written, the world won’t end.
Practice being okay with the difficulties that are part of life and know you are in control.
Learn your words per minute
If you don’t know your Words Per Minute (WPM), there are plenty of resources online to help you find out – monkeytype.com is a popular choice and my current favorite. It’s customizable and allows you to practice and improve your WPM. Knowing how many words you can write in a minute will help you in two ways:
1. It gives you your average writing speed.
Whatever your average writing speed is, this is your minimum. That minimum is your micro goal – the small word count goal you’ll aim for every time you “get a minute” to write.
2. Having your WPM in mind makes it easier to write.
Instead of lamenting how 5 or 10 minutes isn’t enough, you’ll know you can get a couple of words down. This is because you no longer have the pressure to write a lot of words in a small window.
If your WPM is 90, then you’ll have faith that you can write at least 90 words that will contribute to your first draft. In no time, you’ll realize your WPM gives you the control to set realistic goals for yourself.
Reclaim your time
Reclaiming your time is easier said than done, but learning to slow down will help you in the long run. This is where you’ll realize exactly how much time you truly have to write.
We often fill our schedules to the point of guaranteed burnout, which leads to anxiety, stress, depression, and a bunch of other ugly things we don’t want. I can guarantee there is no need to rush and get all the things done. The good thing is that this isn’t a change that needs to take place overnight.
Between your important stuff, like your classes or work shifts, you have pockets of downtime where you’re “vegging out.” This can look like binge-watching a tv show, scrolling through social media for hours, saying “yes” a little too much for other people’s needs, or just flat-out procrastinating. These are entirely different from self-care or taking a break. This is you filling in your time because you feel you need to be busy doing something.
I’m not telling you to cut these out completely in favor of writing. Instead, take notice when you find yourself just passing the time more often than usual. When Netflix asks the infamous question, “Are you still watching?”, take that as a sign to get a bit of writing done. If those TikToks are growing too repetitive for your liking, maybe it’s time to create something of your own instead of consuming.
You can also apply this throughout your daily tasks. Let’s say you’re waiting in a long line to pick up your prescription at the pharmacy. You have two options: 1) browse through a magazine for the next 5-20 minutes, or 2) pull out your phone and write a potential 90 words or more. Best case, you can do a little of both and still leave with some tabloid gossip, some progress with your novel, and your prescription!
Once you shift how you spend your downtime, it will slowly but surely become second nature to just use some of that time to write.
Have an outline handy
Outlines let you know where you’ve been and where you’re going with your story. They allow you to organize your thoughts and see the flow of the narration. With this new writing process you’re adopting, an outline will help with your success.
Whether you pick up an extra work shift, have an exam to study for, homework to do, or homework to help with, there will be a day or more when writing your novel will have to be put on hold. Your project is one of your top priorities, but it’s okay when you have to say no to working on your novel. You’re a human being, not a robot, remember?
Keeping an outline handy eliminates the worry of what to write next when you have that minute to write. You’ll be able to skim through your outline and start typing without hesitation, adding to your first draft and bringing it a step closer to completion.
Outlines give you the peace of mind to take a couple of days off, then pick up where you left off when you get back to it.
Keep track of your progress
From personal experience, slowing down made me feel I wasn’t making any progress with my draft. At the beginning of this new process and mindset, I had a lot of doubt that I was putting in the work to complete my novels and other projects. A few words here and there couldn’t possibly amount to anything.
Keeping track of your progress lets you set those fears to rest as you can see how everything you do contributes to your work.
I use Novlr, because the mobile syncing feature makes it easy for me to write almost anywhere. I can sit down at my desk with my laptop, be on my phone during one of my children’s soccer matches, or on my tablet while I bounce around doing house chores. No matter the location, Novlr is always available when I have a minute to write.
Some writers keep track via notebooks and spreadsheets, but personally, I like having everything handy in one app. Novlr’s analytics page breaks down all the important things any writer could want. Tracking the number of words written for the day, week, month, and year is convenient, easy, and visually pleasing with graphs, counters, and charts. Productivity stats are always quick to update and available to review, letting you know if you’re making progress your own way. It shows your efforts, big and small, are adding up. But no matter what tool you use, just make sure you can always see (and celebrate) yourself making progress.
If you picked up anything from the five tips I shared with you for how to write with a busy life, I hope it’s that any progress is good progress. Even if you write 30-40 words a day or only every other day, it will lead to a completed rough draft. What’s also important is that you go at your own pace.
There will always be challenges. There will always be some commitment, chore, task, or obligation you have to tend to. Be comfortable with random days off from writing and know that every time you write, no matter how small, it counts.
Writing never has to be all or nothing. Block out larger times to write when you can, but don’t ignore those 5-15 minutes you’re in the waiting room of your doctor’s office.
Assess how you spend your time between the non-negotiable and catch yourself when you’re going overboard with vegging out. Once you’ve built the habit, you’ll realize one minute spent on your story puts you further ahead than not writing at all.
Never forget that you are in charge of your writing career, and something is better than nothing.