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How to Write When You Have No Time by Rochelle Melander

file000937405912If I have ten minutes I use them even if they bring only two lines, and it keeps the book alive. —Rumer Godden.

So how do you write when you have no time?

That’s not a stupid question. We all encounter periods when we have no time to write. At times, between managing work, home, family and friends, it’s all we can do to eat and find clean underwear.

Trust me, I know. I’m having that kind of summer. You’ve read about my meltdown.  And many of you have shared similar stories with me. So how do we write when we have no time, no money, no energy, and no clean laundry? How do we find five minutes to string together words when we don’t want to get up earlier, stay up later, give up our lunch hour or coffee break, or take a weekend to write (heck, during June, I spent every weekend working!).

1. Get realistic. When life gets crazy busy, it’s time to stop trying to write for an hour or even 30 minutes. Aspire to write for five minutes a day. (Seriously!) And lower those expectations—this might not be the time to blog every day, take on a summer write-a-thon, or promise your editor that you can churn out a 100,000- word vampire/lonely maiden love saga by Labor day.

2. Get specific. Choose a project and state your goal in specific terms. What one piece of writing do you need to work on right now? Be precise: I will write my query letter for X. I will write a blog post on y. I will write a scene for my novel.

3. Get chunks. Break this task into tiny chunks. You’re planning for a five-minute writing session, so make the chunks short enough that you can be successful. This step—chunking out the project—takes some time. You may need to steal the time from your evenings or weekend, but it will be worth it. I promise. At the end of your chunk-making step, choose one chunk to work on tomorrow.

4. Get thinking. Put your brain to work on the chunk. This is one step that can be done while folding laundry, cutting the grass, exercising, or driving to work. All you do is ponder, “If I were to write this chunk, what would I say?” Then let go of the thought. Let your brain chew on it while you do whatever it is you do during the day.

5. Get writing. Okay, here’s the thing: you need five minutes a day to work on your chunk. Just five. And here are three ways to do that without getting up early, staying up late, or giving up any food:

*When you open email, before you read or answer even one message, write the first email to yourself. Set your timer for five minutes and write about your chunk.

*Next time your phone buzzes with a text, answer that text and then write yourself a note about your chunk. (Use iPhone’s NOTES section, another smart phone tool, or the back of an envelope).

*Before you wander over to Facebook for the fifth time today to look through all of your friends’ happy status updates, write your chunk.

Why will this work? You’re already spending time emailing (look at your sent file), texting, and playing on social media. If you’re at all like most of us, much of the time we spend doing these tasks moves from productive to mindless fairly quickly. Why not take back that time for something meaningful to you?

Pro Tip: Prepare yourself: when I first tried this method, I failed miserably. I was already in the habit of mindlessly emailing, texting, and surfing—that came easily. But writing? I had to find a way to interrupt my habits and write first. Once I did, I succeeded. Put a sticky note reminder on the computer (real or virtual), set an alarm on your phone, or ask a friend to send you a Facebook message encouraging you to write. No matter what happens, don’t give up. With each five minute writing session, you’ll get better at honoring your writing time, and the words will add up!

Your turn: How have you found ways to sneak in five minutes of writing time? Share your thoughts below!


9 Responses

  1. Nom J

    Earlier today, I had, for my first time, actually grabbed only a few minutes on a current article, and had done this very thing: contented myself with only editing 2 or 3 paragraphs.
    I’ve never done this (little) before. I usually get ‘lost’ in my writing. Once I start, I don’t surface for hours.
    It turned out to be very satisfying and hopefully the start of an often-to-be-visited habit.
    Wonderful, timely encouragement ~
    Thanks Rochelle!

  2. Lynne Howe

    Didn’t realize that I was doing this, but now that you’ve explained it so succinctly, I’m quite pleased with myself! I stayed in the church library this morning after my volunteer shift was over, and worked – uninterrupted!!! – on the article I’m doing for one of my favorite magazines. Got a lot done. Ready to leave facebook and type it up and see how it looks/ sounds and what it still might need or whether it might actually be almost done! Thanks, Rochelle, for your really cool suggestions here!

  3. jennifer snook

    I get stopped by a train at least twice a day. I use those minutes (sometimes 20) as free writing time. I always have a notebook in the car and I have developed entire characters while sitting at the tracks. I look forward to those road sided interruptions.

  4. That is brilliant! I need this and I need to create this habit of writing for chunks of time instead of seeking for those blessed hours of writing I crave. Before I know it I’ll be writing my brains out.

    1. writenowcoach

      I’m with you on this, Rochelle–I love having oodles of time to write and putter–but sometimes short spurts give my writing the energy it needs!

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