Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

6 Habits to Help You Write When You Don’t Have the Time

Note: This is a guest post by from Tyler Braun who lives in Portland, Oregon. His first book releases is available to order now. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or his blog.

If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.
–Katerina Stoykova Klemer

Recently I turned in a full manuscript to my publisher after five months of writing. Before I started, I wasn’t sure I had the time or bandwidth to make it happen.

No Time

Photo credit: Kaja Kozlowska (Creative Commons)

I work full time at a job that doesn’t give me time to write or spend time doing research. I also go to school for a full day of classes each week, plus homework.

In the midst of writing a full manuscript, giving my job my full attention, and focusing on school, I also have a wife who wouldn’t exactly be thrilled if I disappeared for five months.

But now I’m on the other side of all this. I did it. I wrote the full manuscript when I seemingly had no time to do so. This raises the question: How do you write a book when you don’t have time? I’m glad you asked. Here are some habits to help.

1. Figure out how many words you need per day

I’m grateful to Karen for this advice. Instead of being overwhelmed with writing 200 pages over five months, I figured out that if I wrote 500 words a day, I could finish the book in a little over four months and still have time to edit.

Anyone can write 500 words a day. Anyone. Keeping things down to a manageable amount allows you to hit your goal and to celebrate small victories every day along the way.

2. Leave yourself reminders to keep fighting

I didn’t shave for five months while I wrote the manuscript. This reminded me to keep writing.

During the Major League Baseball playoffs each October, many of the players don’t shave their beards until their team is out. I took the same idea and extended it. Every time I looked in the mirror or scratched my face, I was reminded that the work was not done.

With so much going on, I had plenty of days in which I was tempted to give myself a day off. I never did, and having a constant reminder to keep at it was invaluable.

3. Get enough sleep

This seems counter-intuitive, I know, because it makes sense to lose a lot of sleep while writing a manuscript. But doing this is a bad idea. No one can write a good book — a good anything, really — without being able to focus.

I still recommend coffee or some other caffeinated beverage to get the juices flowing while writing, but this doesn’t mean you should avoid sleeping. For me, getting seven to eight hours per night was vital to writing a comprehensible manuscript.

4. Always be ready to capture ideas and quotes

The best ideas always come at the worst times. You never know when you hear something that has to go in the book. You never know when a brilliant idea will come for a chapter that you won’t write for another two months.

I recommend Evernote for this sort of note-taking, because it works from phones, tablets, and computers. A small notebook that you always carry with you isn’t a bad option, either. You can never take too many notes as you’re writing the first draft.

5. Never surrender

This has to be the mindset you take on while you write. Of course, you can and should take days off. This is necessary for the sake of your sanity. But the minute you have “writing” on your calendar and skip it is when failure becomes a possibility.

Don’t give failure the chance to seep into your head.

6. It takes discipline

Every skill takes discipline. The most important things in life require time and effort. Book writing is no different.

Most novels aren’t written in a weekend. No, this work requires the will to plug away at it every day, even when the finish line is far off in the distance.

Unless you’ve “arrived” (and most of us haven’t), those of us with other jobs and responsibilities that aren’t just writing must be disciplined. Following these habits will help you.

What habits help you write when you don’t have the time? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • I find #3 hard especially when you have ideas in your head. Sometimes I just have to get up in middle of night and start typing away. But it eventually it does catch up with me too. Excellent point you make with that one.

    •  ditto

    • I hear you Lisa. I wrote that one and even I find it hard. I kick myself all the time because I forget to write down ideas a lot.

  • Gideonsfort

    Great one. The point about being ready to capture ideas is a very valuable one. It is amazing at what times and places ideas pop up. And how easily they could pop off if not captured.

  • Love this! I especially #2 and #5. I think it is a great idea to give yourself a constant reminder to write. I’m in high school, and with all the homework we have, time can slip away without even noticing. Thanks for posting!

  • My issue is that I don’t think I could be interesting enough about one topic to write an entire book!!  🙂  I can write 500 words a day and make them entertaining, each by themselves, but how in the world could I create 500 words each day that add on to the 500 from the day before and the day before that and the day before that?  It’s mind bottling.

    But I’m feeling you, Tyler, on the no time.  I’m also working full-time, school full-time, church responsibilities, etc.  It sure makes the time go by quickly, but the thought of adding other things into the mix gives me ulcers.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing.  Good luck with the release!

    • I too struggle with staying on topic and continuing to expound on a topic for thousands of words. This kind of gets at the question of: how do we continue to create when everything about us tells us we can’t? I don’t quite have an answer for that yet. Still processing.

  • I love number 5, finishing strong is what I need to do and not surrendering is part of that!

  • Good post, and congratulations on your book. =)

  • Dave

    I love simple and this gave my current dilemma a simple path to completion (although my wife won’t go for the beard thing!). Thanks for the guidance.

  • Thanks for this post. I am putting Evernote on my IPhone literally as I type this. You are so right that the best ideas come at the worst times. Hopefully I’ll get better at capturing them now!

  • Hannah

    What about all the thinking/planning/dreaming time? How do you get through that and work out the structure? It all has to be done BEFORE you start writing…?

    • This is a great point Hannah. I know for myself, this is vital. I spend as much time processing through thoughts and ideas as I do writing about them. In the summer I liked to sit on my porch and read and then just sit to give my brain time to think. In the winter-time I do this with some coffee 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing this. Good reminder I needed to keep me motivated. 

  • This is a fabulous post! I know I want to write a book but couldn’t even begin to get my brain around it. What you presented here actually makes it doable. Thank you!

  • Another great post, Jeff!

    I recently wrote a speech and have this to add to your list of six habits:  never, ever, delete anything you create.  Whether it’s handwritten notes or entered into your PC via keyboard, DO NOT delete text.  Simply continue to write and add new pages. 

    Even if you think you’ve written a bunch of jibber-jabber, there could be a diamond in the rough that you don’t immediately see.  This happened to me during my speech-writing project.

    Hitting the ‘delete’ key should only be done when you are absolutely finished with your writing project.  (And, even then, I keep a ‘draft’ version of the project…just in case.)

    Thanks again for the great tips!  Best of luck on your book!

    •  I think that’s a great principle for writing. At times it can be difficult to decipher out of everything, what is worth keeping, but rarely do I write and not have anything worth keeping.

  • Brooke

    Great post.  #1 really jumped out at me.  I’ve just spent six months living thru a difficult situation, although still had time to write.  “If” I’d kept writing those 500 words each day I’d at least have something tangible to show.  Thank you!  And congratulations on the book 

  • When people at my day job ask me how I write a book, blog and am still able to spend time with my wife and kids, I tell the them, if you want something bad enough, you find the time. 

    I recently changed my writing schedule so I could get more words in, and it changed the way our house feels. I get up and help her with the kids for a little while, she takes our son to school and I get twenty minutes to write. I usually get and extra 300 words or more in this way.

    Great post.

    •  Amen, Brian:  “…if you want something bad enough, you find the time (to do it).”

      Sometimes it’s hard to admit, but life is all about choices.  At fifty, I’m still learning that lesson.  Daily.

    • I emphasize that principle of “you make time for the things that matter” all the time. Good thoughts there Brian.

  • I’m balacing six writing jobs (none fulltime in contract but all time-consuming), so the opportunities to write my own stuff isn’t very frequent. Yet still the desire to write has not faded. I agree with all of your advice. Especially the keep a notebook/notepad handy, get plenty of sleep, and keep moving even if it’s only slowly. The hardest part for me is decided to blog or to book-write if I only have a short amount of time.
    Katie

  • Joy Billings

    I recently downloaded Evernote to my phone, and as my kids were playing outside yesterday; tired and uninspired, I just started chronicling what I saw… I didn’t get far, but after getting back to it last night, I found it taking me in a whole new direction…an inspired one.  I was starting to wonder if the bits and pieces here and there were worth anything, but the 10 mins in the morning were a catalyst for new focus.  I know that this may not be my season for much writing, but your post helped me to see that if I keep “practicing”, I’ll be ready for it when the munchkins are more independent, and the dream isn’t dead here… Thank you. =]

    •  This is so great Joy. Thanks for sharing.

    •  Good example of doing the small things in preparation for the big things. I wish you well in your writing journey and thanks for sharing.

  • Joy Billings

    I recently downloaded Evernote to my phone, and as my kids were playing outside yesterday; tired and uninspired, I just started chronicling what I saw… I didn’t get far, but after getting back to it last night, I found it taking me in a whole new direction…an inspired one.  I was starting to wonder if the bits and pieces here and there were worth anything, but the 10 mins in the morning were a catalyst for new focus.  I know that this may not be my season for much writing, but your post helped me to see that if I keep “practicing”, I’ll be ready for it when the munchkins are more independent, and the dream isn’t dead here… Thank you. =]

  • I so needed this today. You have NO idea! Thanks!

  • Kimberly

    This was very timely since my 4 children just finished the school year. I needed that push of encouragement that I can still be productive despite 4 excited little people under the age of 12! Thanks so much!

    • Melissa Diskin

      I have 3: 6, 4, & 2.5. I used to get up at 4:30 to write for 3 hours, and felt like I knocked out more during that time than in any other span. (But I love being awake early!)

  • John H Harbison

    I have a screensaver of The Avengers pointing out from the screen which says “You should be writing!”

    • Hannah

      Can I have it too??!?!

      • John H Harbison

        Sure Hannah. You can find it here:
        pinterest.com/pin/260857003386907006

        Enjoy!

  • A. Gonz

    I was JUST saying to myself how I’ve committed to writing everyday but just never seem to have the time!  To add to that, my computer crashed 3 days ago and I didn’t get it back until yesterday.  Gotta continue to show up!

    • Write in a notebook. They don’t crash.

      • A. Gonz

         This is very true!lol  It’s actually what I did the first day my computer crashed, I just need to stop focusing on the day I missed and continue to “show up”.

    • Meg R.

      ever heard of pen & paper?

  • TylerHess

    I would like to write a novel in a weekend…what do I need to do, write 20,000 words a day? No sweat. I’ll just need about 14 bottles of 5 hour energy. The only reason why I’d want to do it so quick is because when I try to grow out a beard it just doesn’t look right past the third day

  • Am I missing something? The title says 6 habits, but I only see 5. Not complaining as the recommendations are great and I plan to work on them . . . just an observation.

    Everyone have a great weekend.

    • It Takes Discipline is #6. Just without the number.

      • You’re probably right, but the last sentence in the post left me wondering . . . 

        • Sorry for the confusion Russ. I can see where that didn’t connect. It Takes Discipline is #6 but really that one applies to the previous 5 because they all take discipline.

          • Absolutely no worries, Tyler. Great article and thanks for sharing all SIX habits 🙂

            Have a super Memorial Day weekend

            •  Hey Russ. That’s my bad. Tyler wrote out all six habits, but I accidentally wrote “five” when I was editing this post.

              • No one’s bad, Jeff. I’m glad Tyler wrote the post and happy you shared it on your blog. 

                And congrats to you and your wife on your beautiful baby boy.

  • Thanks for the tips Tyler. Very helpful.

    • I tried writing this post while laying on rolls of TP like you showed but it didn’t work as well for me.

  • These are great tips Tyler. Sometimes I have to wake up earlier then my family to have some quite time to write.

    •  Me too. I had to change my sleep schedule to find time to write on weekdays that were filled with work and school.

  • All excellent ideas. I like #1 the best. And definitely getting enough sleep is key to stay focused. 

  • Sir, you are standing on the other side of a threshold that I, too, must cross.  I have full time school, work and family commitments and that usualyl leaves me just enough time to sleep. I’m in the process of literally scheduling my life and trying to fit in writing is going to be a challenge but I’ll do it…probably.

  •  I found out the hard way about getting enough sleep!  I was wondering what Evernote was (just upgraded to new programs). I will definitely be using that!  Thank you for these tips. I’ve printed them out and have them where I can see them.

  • Great post!
    Another great reminder of how simple organizational skills can greatly enhance our productivity.
    Reminds me of the saying: “We already know more information than we know how to put into practice!”

  • Hey, I want my sixth habit. The five you offer, Tyler, are right on target though. And after a good night’s sleep (which I’m looking forward to very, very soon and which you note is a good habit to get into) I may have that sixth habit all figured out.

    • The “It Takes Discipline” point is #6, but applies to the first 5. Sorry for the confusion there.

      •  No need to apologize. I needed that good night’s sleep (which I did get despite the dog’s desire to bark at the wind around two a.m.) to get the brain percolating (along with the coffee). You just made us all have to think a little harder (Is “It Takes Discipline” a point or a summary?–that’s me thinking, not an actual question). I thought you might even end with “… and the #6 habit is up to you to share with the rest of us …”

        Good stuff. Way to take on the challenge of guest blogger.

        • That was an editorial snafu on my part.

          •  I think you’ve had more than a barking dog change your sleeping habits. At least, if memory serves me well, sleep became a rare commodity the first month of fatherhood. The “6 Habits …” and the lack of a #6 only highlights the points all the more. Some snafus actually work for you and not against you. I think you know me well enough, Jeff, that I’m more tongue-in-cheek than critical spirit.

  • I love the beard idea, sadly as a woman I can’t copy it and I imagine my husband would be none to impressed if I tried to replicate it with my legs ;p
    Number 4 and 5 ring so true with me, and – as a new dad – they will surely be very important to you also. Good luck with number 3 the next few weeks. The first few weeks after bringing my baby home last year were the least sleep filled of my life (that includes my youthful partying days). Congratulations again and thanks for a clever post.

    • Kae Be

      Well I doubt that Tyler’s wife was impressed by the beard. Go for it and do you.

  • This is very impressive. Like you say, though, split it up into small chunks and it’s amazing what you can achieve. 

    Great job 🙂

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  • Digginsmo

    It seems so self evident, but I write sticky notes to myself and will post one or two on my bathroom mirror just to remind myself of the work at hand.  Notes are changed often.

    • If it’s a system that works for you then that’s great.

  • Great Post.  I got my book deal, 3 days after we adopted our son.  It was overwhelming, but I used many of the same techniques…. but I did  shave 🙂

    • I’m sure many were grateful that you did Heather. I’ve never received so many foul looks in my life 🙂

  • De jold

    Excellent post! Establishing a routine helps me focus. This includes writing. Waking up at the same time everyday helps me get into the groove much faster. Creative juices flow naturally when I start working at the same time, same table, same computer, Etc…       

  • Forcing myself to get up early to write is one of my main habits. If I don’t do it, it’s much harder to work on my writing projects at night. 

    Good idea about not shaving while you were writing!

  • chetogt

    I never thought about the reminders as something annoying as the beard. It’s interesting how you can use it as a reminder and as a motivator. I just need to find that “something” for me. How do you like this quote: “If you’ve found your discomfort zone you have some place you need to leave”

    • Interesting quote. I guess it would depend on whether the discomfort was truly negative or just our reaction to ultimately wanting to shy away from responsibility and opportunity.

  • I’ve learned to trick myself into just getting started. Once I get going, I know I’ll be fine. 

    Also a few minutes of long hand before getting on the keyboard helps. 

    • Jill Kirchner Avey

      what tricks do you use?

  • This is a great post and I love the beard idea. I’m a woman so that won’t exactly work for me, but I love the concept nonetheless. I’m planning to adopt the plan of writing 500 words a day. You’re right, anyone can do that. Even a super-stressed scatterbrained gal like myself.

    • Kae Be

      Do you shave your legs? If so, you can definitely use that tactic as well.

  • I find that writing is a lot like working out: you have to MAKE time to do it, something I learned from my brother. There are a few basics I have learned to carry over from working out to writing: 1. Make a plan of action, an outline, like “I am going to write/work out 4 times a week.” 2. Stick to the plan, the more you do it, the more it becomes a part of your life style and you eventually adapt. 3. Be flexible. Don’t let the schedule of writing/working out drive you. With that perspective, it always becomes something you dread rather than something to look forward to. 4. Live. Be intentional with your writing/working out. The more you actually take the time to live in the moment of whatever you are doing, the more you will get from it, and the more you will want to do it. 5. Don’t burn yourself out by biting off more than you can chew.

    I love your points here. I will be applying each one towards helping me write more consistently. 

    • Jennifer Ayoub

      great insights! This will help me to write more consistently.

  • Thank you for that great post!! So helpful. I also want to add something new I just did last week helped me so much! I made a rough schedule of what to do each day and how much time to spend. Ex. Monday – write a blog post for for Wednesday, spend 30 minutes on publisher research; Tuesday – 30 min. of studying the craft, 30 min. of platform building…etc. You get the idea. Each day when I sit down to work, I feel like I never know where to start, but with just a couple of tasks mapped out, I began something and suddenly found I was doing so much more. I also try to write 1000 words per day. It averages out. Some days nothing, other days a few hundred and on occasion I’ve turned out 3000! I guess the point is ‘do something’ even if it is a little something. Each step takes you somewhere.

  • Excellent stuff, Tyler! Congrats on the guest post and the upcoming book!

    Being able to capture ideas (Evernote) and discipline are definitely key. My biggest challenge is getting enough sleep. Between work, family and stuff I only get about 4-5 hours a night on average. The last two nights have been 6-7, and it’s been amazing the difference. However, I struggle with the lost activity in those hours. The question is “how productive am I really with that time anyway?”

  • Flora H. V. Adams

    I prefer Simplenote over Evernote.
    Also, I’ve been taking 2 hours in the day to write 200 to 500 words. One hour in the noon, another after dinner.

    I hide the screen with a “Jedi Cloaking Focuser” (an old shirt or towel) so I don’t have to read what I’m writing. I’d assume turning off the monitor would work too, but I don’t know how to do that.

    The Jedi Cloaking Focuser works on a computer, but I dunno if it would work on those new fangled tablets that people keep talking about. (Can you write a book on those?)

    Once I write everything I need for the hour (or half hour,) I take down my Jedi Cloaking Focuser and then I do my light edits, like fixing messed up words and adding or taking away sentences. I built up over 2,600 words in one project in the past couple of days trying it. 🙂

  • Jacob Aliet

    Thanks for this Jeff!