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.
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.