What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge: Finding Time to Write

Every writer faces at least one writing challenge—something that dogs him or her all of their writing life and interferes with productive writing. Some of us struggle with more than one big challenge.

That’s why our 2015 year-end survey included this question:

What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge?

A lot of you answered that question.

The amazing thing is that most of the responses revolved around one issue.

Even more amazing, I’ve struggled with that problem myself.

What is it?

Finding Time to Write

2015-02-04 Watch (2)It won’t surprise anyone that this was the number one response. It’s such a widespread struggle, that I recently wrote about it here at Indie Plot Twist. That post was more about my attitude on the subject than with tips for solving the problem, though. So today, I’ll offer a few additional suggestions.

In the article Finding Time to Write, I mentioned two good ways to find time:

  1. Look for activities you can give up to make more time available for writing
  2. Look for “spare moments” throughout the day when you can write

Both are good places to start, but they are just a beginning.

So what should you do next?

Diagnosing the Problem

2016-04-20 writing writer pen paper page book journal notebook coffee mugFinding time to write often begins with taking the time to record how you spend your days. Don’t change anything—just make a note of what you do each day and how much time it takes. I did this once for work and was stunned at all the “free time” I was using in unproductive ways.

It’s easy to track how you use your time. If you have a Smart phone, dictate each activity, when it starts, and when it ends.

lined-paper-and-penIf you don’t have a Smart phone—yes, we are out here!—or prefer a written record, carry a note pad and pen or pencil. Jot down what you do and for how long.

What should you include? Everything!

  • The time you work
  • The time it takes to commute
  • Shopping time
  • Cooking time
  • Reading time
  • TV time
  • Everything

Keep a record for a week then tally the results.

You’re likely to find a remarkable amount of time spent doing things that aren’t productive. I hesitate to say wasted, but I did find a lot of wasted time on my list. It was revolting!

And revealing.

Solutions to the Problem

Now look for ways to convert that wasted or unproductive time into writing time. You won’t be able to dedicate all of it to writing but you should look for ways to redeem as much of it as possible.

outdoor-cafe-at-twilightTake a look around. Are there people around you? What are they doing? What’s the first thing you notice about them? Take notes and/or use those observations to create a fictional character.

If there aren’t people or if the setting is of more interest, describe that in as much detail as possible in the time you have available. Learn to describe what you see, hear, smell, feel, and maybe taste, then use those details to create a fictional scene.

Do a little research. You can consider the exercise above to be research. After all, you never know when someone you’ve seen or a place you’ve been is perfect for adding interest to your novel. But I’m talking about actual research. If a lack of information on something is keeping you from advancing your book and if you have a few minutes, get online and do a little research. You won’t be able to conduct in-depth research in your spare moments, but everything you learn can be put to use sooner or later and the time you spend is time that won’t be taken away from writing time.

editing-printed-pagesEdit. One of my favorite things to do when I was working was taking a printed copy of whatever story I was working on to work. I’d eat lunch in my car and edit the manuscript in half hour increments. If I didn’t have anything to edit, I’d write chapters or explore plot options long hand. Quite often, by the time the work day ended and I could write, I was ready to write with revisions or fresh ideas.

Dictate. Whether you use your phone or a tape recorder, you can always dictate notes or entire scenes in small increments of time that aren’t suitable for any other writing-related purpose.

Blogging. If you blog as an author—and you should be blogging somewhere—use some of the unproductive time in your daily or weekly schedule to draft posts off line. I’ve discovered that drafting posts off line and sometimes in other locations is great for finding new topics and keeping my writing voice—and blog content—fresh.

Social Media. This can be a biggie. If you find it difficult to set aside dedicated time for this activity, use your spare moments to check your social media and interact. You can stay in touch and engaged without taking time away from writing. And, hopefully, without guilt!

For a couple of other tips, check out Finding Time to Write.

What’s your biggest writing challenge?

Finding Time to Write

What’s the biggest problem confronting most writers?

Finding time to write

Most of us juggle a full family life, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities. We’re already busy. How can anything else—even writing—be squeezed into an already jam-packed schedule?

Finding Time to Write

I don’t have a solution that will solve the problem for every writer. Lives and schedules are too varied and complex for such a simple solution.

But I would like to suggest that the first step in finding your solution is changing the way you look at the problem.

For me personally, the real question was not how do I find  time to write, but how can I make  time to write. Why is that distinction important?

2015-06-17 Clock fleur de lisI’d always treated writing as something I did when I had large blocks of time available. Thirty minutes were good, but an hour was better. Even back then—before marriage, a major move, and new family obligations—there weren’t very many days when I could block off an hour of writing time unless I got up early or stayed up late. (Legitimate ways to make time to write, by the way.)

I had to stop trying to find large blocks of time and instead look for ways to make time to write.

2015-06-17 ClockMinutes Add Up to Hours

The easiest way to make writing time was to look at my daily routine. How was I already spending my time? What activities could I stop doing to make more time to write? Things like watching TV, for example. If I gave up one program a week, I’d have 30 to 60 minutes to write. That much extra time a week adds up pretty quickly.

But what about odd-and-end minutes throughout the day?

I worked at the local newspaper and usually ate lunch by myself. Sometimes in my car at a local park. It turned out that time was perfect for proofreading printed pages. I started carrying a notebook and red pen and proofreading while eating lunch. If I didn’t have something to proofread, I wrote longhand (this was before the days of laptops).

I also found bonus writing time just by keeping a pen and paper with me at all times. Jotting notes on things I saw or heard, ideas for new stories, or thoughts on the current work-in-progress allowed me to turn any moment into a writing moment.

Optimizing Time

Learn how to optimize even short blocks of time and you’ll find all kinds of room in your day-to-day schedule for short spurts of literary creativity. Here are just a few:

Are there five minutes in your usual morning routine? Maybe between the second and third cup of coffee?

How about lunch? Are there five or ten minutes to spare in that routine at least once or twice a week?

Your turn to cook tonight? Once the ingredients are assembled and you’re in a waiting period for something to simmer, heat, or roast, why not use that time?

Waiting in a doctor’s office? Forget the magazines. Do some writing.

With modern technology, it’s easier than ever to turn spare time into writing time. Dictate notes to your phone. Snap images of interesting locations. You can even record scene ideas or scenes if you wish and transcribe them later.

Make use of those odd moments scattered throughout most days and you’ll be surprised how much you can get done.

Daydreaming Run Amok


2016-04-27 daydreaming woman bubbles floating happy green blueOne of the top reasons why I struggle with time management and productivity is because my mind wanders way too easily. I’m never thinking about what I should be thinking about–a.k.a., whatever project is right in front of me at the moment. I daydream! So … assuming you want to quit daydreaming … is there a way to curb it enough to get the work done?

2016-04-27 Daydreaming Run Amok

A Brain Run Out of Control

2016-04-27 raining light sad dramatic intense dark circleI talk to myself. Let’s just be honest about that up front. (Then again, don’t most authors talk to themselves?) There’s a conversation going on inside my head at all times, and there’s never any knowing where the conversation will go next. My brain runs out of control! And it’s so much easier to just follow my brain wherever it may lead, rather than try to curb it and focus on things like writing blog posts or the next book.

Radio Silence

2016-04-27 woman happy flowers colorfulBut there was once–for the first time ever–when I had the experience of complete radio silence in my head. It came after several hours of being so dazed that I truly had nothing to say. It wasn’t a distressed dazed, but a peaceful dazed, because something unexpectedly good had happened. When I sat down to my writing after that, I got twice as much work done in half my usual time.

Getting in Control of Your Mind

2016-04-27 coffee woman happy smile peaceful quiet redMore recently, I read an excellent book (Self-Made Success by Shaan Patel) in which the author talked about gaining control of your own mind. “Try to become a third-party, objective observer of the thoughts that occur in your mind,” Patel wrote. This idea really struck me. I don’t have to be carried about by the changing tides of my thoughts! All I have to do is stop and think about my thinking.

My usual habit is to jump into my pile of work and tear away at it until it’s done, without stopping to ask myself what I’m doing. This never quite works, because I end up daydreaming. Instead, a better way to start the work day may be to simply sit quietly and let my mind wind down for at least a few minutes. Get in control of my thoughts.

Then start writing.

What about you? Do you daydream when you should be working on something? What do you do to curb it?

How to Revitalize Your New Year’s Resolution

2016-01-27 roads, mountains, journeyThe first week of January saw a flurry of blog posts all across the Internet on the same topic: New Year’s Resolutions. Lots of people are thinking about what they want out of the year to come. For us authors, we’re thinking about how many books we want to finish – and how many we want to sell. Maybe some of us have even turned out an official Production Schedule to keep on track.

Me? I have many personal and business-related bad habits I want – NEED – to kick. Those of you following the blog know I suck at time management! I fail at this over and over again, too.

When we miss our goals, it’s easy to get discouraged and conclude that we don’t have it in us after all to do the things we want to do. But is that true?

2016-01-27 How to Revitalize Your New Years Resolution

New Day’s Resolutions

2016-01-27 sunrise, sunset, mountain, day, light, hopeI don’t actually believe in New Year’s Resolutions. We start with awesome intentions on January 1st, but before long, we’ve either forgotten or become discouraged.

That’s why I believe in New Day’s Resolutions. Same thing exactly – but on a daily schedule.

I recently watched a documentary about a group of adventurers skiing to the North Pole. (Apparently, casually skiing to the top of the world is kind of a thing – The Last Degree Challenge. Must try it!) A member of their team had done it many times before. On his first expedition, he and his companions self-evaluated every 12 hours, asking themselves how they could better optimize their efforts. During one of these evaluations, they decided to reduce the last bit of excess weight they carried by taking the plastic sleeves off the ends of their shoe laces.

I was humored because I do the exact same thing – only without the sub-zero temperatures. At least once every 24 hours (often before bed), I reflect on the previous day and ask myself two questions:

  1. What did I do well?
  2. What did I do badly?

All I have to do then is adjust my course the next day.

Avoiding the Guilt Trap

2015-08-05 girl in sunshineEvaluating myself every day could get really depressing – because if there’s one thing I do faithfully, it’s miss goals. I could wind up constantly beating myself over the head because of stuff I didn’t get done and stuff I did wrong.

That’s why I’ve learned the fine art of goal forgiveness. When I miss a goal, I simply don’t dwell on it. I re-shuffle my schedule and try again, as if nothing happened. After all, beating yourself up over failure is a pure waste of time. Nothing is gained until you do something about it.

Write a month’s worth of blog posts in one week? Yep. Didn’t happen. I reshuffle and try again.

Contact five bloggers every day about reviewing my book? Also didn’t happen. I reshuffle and try again.

Spend half my day every day adding words to my WIP? … Actually, I’ve been getting pretty good at that goal! You’ll never guess. I reshuffled my schedule and tried again. Success!

The All Important “Why?”

2016-01-27 roads, mountains, journey, twisting, confusedIt’s one thing to look back over your day and say, “Yep. That went wrong.” It’s another thing to keep it from happening again. Just how do you do that, anyway?

By asking yourself, “Why?”

Why didn’t I work on my WIP today?

In my case, one major reason why I was failing at this over and over was because I was putting other tasks on the roster first – ahead of writing. Social media, email, blogging, and admin were all scheduled to happen before writing. And guess what? Work has a way of generating more work.

“Oh, I can fix that bug in five minutes.”

Yeah. Two hours later …

As soon as I put writing first, I was finally able to hit that goal of writing every day. All because I’d stopped and asked myself why  my goal wasn’t happening.

Keeping Your Chin Up

2016-01-13 joy, happy, smile, smiling, runningAnything you try in life is going to come with a fair share of backsliding. How do I manage to keep my stick-to-it-iveness despite failing so often?

  1. I focus on my successes instead of my failures. So I didn’t prep fifteen blog posts and two newsletters in a week? Hey, but I did ten!
  2. I leverage my failures. By asking “Why?” I find the key to success next time.
  3. I remember my favorite quote from Anne of Green Gables: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

So what if I failed yesterday? Why does that have any bearing whatsoever on tomorrow? I can be a brand new person tomorrow, if I feel like it. And I do.

So I will.

Keep your eye on the big picture. My goal isn’t really to write fifteen blog posts in one week this week, but to build up my writing endurance and my writing habit until I can successfully churn out fifteen blog posts in one week. Of course I won’t succeed the very first time I try – or the very first several times I try. But if I keep  trying, eventually I will get there!

When you fail, brush it off. It’s not a reflection of your abilities in general – just your abilities at this moment. You will do better tomorrow.

How do YOU keep motivated, despite setbacks? Tell us in the comments!