While one common writing tip is ‘Write every day’, it’s just not always possible. I wrote it in a blog once too. For some, it works great and it’s needed to get into the habit. For others, this advice is contrary. I can write every day. My NaNo wins have proven that. But I can only do it for a limited time because I feel the burnout coming on after three weeks of daily writing. It’s not that I don’t like writing, or because the activity (sitting down and type) is hard on me. It’s the mental energy. It’s the creative drain, the self imposed pressure of doing NaNo, that causes me stress.
I already have limited energy and I need to spend it wisely. And that’s where priorities come in. By setting priorities and making a list of things you’re willing to sacrifice If your energy or time are even more limited than a healthy 9-to-5 day job/writer, then these tips might be for you.
The first thing you have to do is identify your priorities. It doesn’t matter what they are. Family, kids, pets, day job, volunteering, other hobbies. Make a big list of the things you love to do. Don’t forget to include sleep, eat, and self care too. If you need a massage every month, put it on the list. Even the smallest things.
Then highlight the things you can’t cut out of your life. Like that massage or eight hours of sleep. And you still need to feed the kids, spend time with your partner. Your day job might also be a thing you can’t work around. Write down how many hours per day, per week, or per month you need for these priorities. What’s left is what you can spend on lower priorities.
Writing might be one of those lower priorities but that doesn’t mean you can’t finish a book. You just have to optimize the little time (or energy) you have available.
Optimize your writing time
You don’t need one hour every day, or two, or more. Even with two hours every weekend, you can still finish your book. Just be sure to set those hours and treat them as an appointment. If your daily life is completely filled up, then you have to find the lost moments in between and learn how to use those for your writing time. Write during your commute, dictate when you go hiking or for a walk with your dog, secretly type on your phone in the company bathroom. Those five minute writing sprints add up. If you learn how to trigger your brain to be creative during your lunch period, or when you stand in the elevator, you can type 50 or even a 100 words every time. Just a sentence or two. That’s two more than you had before.
If your life is a flexible as mine, you might not be able to set a schedule or keep a routine. I don’t even know what my day will look like when I just woke up, so I can’t plan a whole week in advance. Keeping a schedule is tough. I still have my priorities though. If I feel good, I’d rather use that energy to write or edit than read a book for a book tour. Your energy can only be spend once, so making sacrifices is part of it. But don’t sacrifice any activities that benefit you as a person. Family time, sleep, and exercise are important. If you’re already a bad sleeper, don’t think you absolutely have to get up at 5 am to write for two hours before the others get up. That’s only going to hurt you long term.
In the end, you have to find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to mix things up, experiment, see if you can write your story by dictation. It’s still the fastest way to get your first draft done since most people speak faster than they type.
Find the right tools
One thing I’d recommend to everyone is getting a planner, either an analog or a digital one. Whichever works for you. As long as you can keep track of your appointments, write quick notes, and track your process. When you’re in the phase of experimentation, you need to know how often and how much you write. How do you feel about writing during your commute? Does dictating make you feel awkward? You need to know the answers to these questions when you’re planning your next step. Which methods would you use again or would you want to turn into a habit?
You can keep a tracker in your planner but there are multiple apps that can help you out too. I’ve made a list of apps you can use to plan your writing so be sure to check it out. It’s hard to improve when you don’t know what the baseline is. So find that base line and then start thinking about goals.
Another tool you’re going to need is your writing tool. If you’re going to dictate you need other tools than when you want a notebook to scribble in whenever, or Google Docs that you can access from various devices. There are many more, some paid, some free. I can’t dictate so I can only recommend word processors: Scrivener, Google Docs, and Microsoft Word. But these are just three while there are dozens more. There are free alternatives to Word, and there are more and more websites where you can write your story and keep your story bible in one space. WorldAnvil is one of them. If you struggle with accountability or motivation 4thewords might be of interest.
Even after all of this, there is no one piece of advice that works well for everyone. There are fulltime writers who only write two hours every work day. There are others who write more or less. But this isn’t about them, it’s about you. You have to find what works for you and that means figuring out more about yourself. Look at the writing process of others but never think that’s how it should be done. Find your own path. Find the things that work for you and write them down. This information will help you become more productive in the end.