Writing Goals: How to Meet Them When You Don't Have Time

“Killing time isn't as difficult as it sounds. I can shoot a hundred numbers through the chest and watch them bleed decimal points in the palm of my hand. I can rip the numbers off a clock and watch the hour hand tick tick tick its final tock just before I fall asleep. I can suffocate seconds just by holding my breath. I've been murdering minutes for hours and no one seems to mind.”  — Tahereh MafiShatter Me (Page 127)
Photo credit: Plonq on Flickr
A popular grievance amongst writers (and everyone else, to be honest), is about the lack of time in the day. And it's a fair complaint—time seems to race right past us, especially as we do workish non- writing things. Sometimes days go by so quickly that it feels like if you blink, you might just miss a couple hours. 

I'm sure many of you know the feeling. As most writers have other non- writing related jobs and responsibilities (i.e.: parenting, education, work...parenting while going to school AND working, etc.), it can sometimes be difficult to set aside time to write, which in turn can make meeting your writing goals significantly more difficult.Truth is, we're all busy people trying to juggle social life and work and family and writing and all those other things, and sometimes twenty-four hours in a day just doesn't feel like nearly enough time.

But as a rather wise, H. Jackson Brown Jr., said, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”  (via Writer's Relief's tumblr). 

The key isn't to try to cram more hours into the day (because except on Day Lights Savings, that's impossible)—it's to learn to fully utilize the time that we have. 

You see, we're really good at killing time. Whether it's zoning out in front of the TV or scrolling through Twitter during our breaks, we have a tendency of wasting precious minutes, then wondering where the day has gone. Or we look at the clock and say, "No, I don't have enough time to write before I have to do x" and we go enjoy some time-wasting activities during our free moments. 

But the truth is you really don't need much time to pound out a few hundred words a day. 

I've mentioned Write or Die before, and I'm going to mention it again because I think it's especially helpful when we're short on time. If you don't know what Write or Die is, I explain it in more detail in my secret fast- writing strategy post, but in short, it's an app (available on the web for free) that times your writing session and plays unpleasant noises and makes the screen turn red when you start daydreaming or otherwise do something that is not writing. And the best part is you set your own time (options vary from five minutes to two hours) and word count goal (which you type in yourself). 

So let's say hypothetically, you're going to work but you found you have some extra time before you have to leave. Most of the time, I imagine, those minutes would be spent doing things that don't involve writing. 

However! Those are precious moments that could be spent added some extra words to your WIP. Using Write or Die (or just a normal timer), you can plug in five minutes (or ten, or fifteen, or however long you have) and get some words written. It doesn't sound like a lot of time, and no, I don't expect you to write a thousand words in five minutes (nor should you expect that from yourself), but if you use the extra free minutes scattered throughout the day to write fifty words here and fifty words there, it starts to add up. All you really need are a couple ten to fifteen minute focused writing sessions to get a few hundred words written. 

Writing goals can be easy to meet if you use your time strategically. Because no, we writers aren't always gifted with huge amounts of free time, but as long as we take advantage of the free time we do have, we don't need an abundance of time to keep the momentum in our writing. We just need to use the time we have. 

Do you take advantage of your free time to write? How do you manage your time? 


Matthew Rowe said...

I'm awful. I hate doing "bits" of things. I want to sit down and get whole jobs done. Of course I can't write my whole novel in one sitting so I often put it off in favor of the other smaller jobs I can complete. Then I get to the writing when I have finished those... If I finish those. That may explain why I haven't done much for a long while. ... Time management is definitely something I need to learn. I might try timers. The closest I've got is sitting in a coffee shop until I get hungry. Then I finish and go home for dinner.

Ava Jae said...

I can certainly understand wanting to get large chunks of tasks finished at once, but as you said, that's significantly more difficult to achieve in writing. I know I've found personally that timers work exceptionally well when trying to improve time management--but I think it takes a little experimenting to settle on a time management strategy that works the best for you. Regardless of what you decide, I wish you the best with your writing!

Thanks for commenting, Matthew!

Lauren Shearer said...

Wow, this is really timely! I definitely need to follow this advice more often. There are so many times that I think I can't use for writing that I actually could if I tried. I might have to try that "Write or Die" website sometime.

The subject of wasting time reminds me of some advice that someone (can't remember who) gave. They said don't just make a to-do list; that won't get you anywhere. Make a "not-to-do" list as well. List all the things that you know you shouldn't waste your time doing, and then you'll be more aware of what you actually should be doing. :)

It seems that every time I come to this website you have a great new post about writing, Ava. I'm always happy when one of your posts pops up in my reader! :D

Ava Jae said...

I've found Write or Die to be very helpful, especially when I'm having trouble focusing or else not being distracted by non-writing things during my writing time.

I work with to-do lists all the time but I never thought of making a not-to-do list as well. Very interesting idea. Hmmmmm.

Thanks for the kind words, Lauren! I'm so glad you've been enjoying my blog. Do stop by and say hello again! :)

Nickie McCall said...

Thanks for posting about 'Write or Die'. I hadn't heard of it before,
and I tried it out yesterday (I had annoying music cut on a couple of
times -- shame on me!). Neat tool.


Ava Jae said...

Sure thing, Nickie! I'm glad you found it as useful as I have. (And I've been using it for a while now and I still have the screen go red on me. It happens).

Thanks for stopping by!

Daphne Gray-Grant said...

I've helped lots of people learn to write faster and I think the number 1 trick is to separate your writing from your editing time. DON'T edit while you write! (I tell people this is like trying to wash the dishes while you're still eating dinner.) Write or Die works really well for this, because you're "punished" if you slow down to edit. Another trick is to turn off or cover your monitor, so you can't see what you're writing.

Matthew Rowe, I just wanted to add that one of the joys of writing is doing it a little bit at a time. If you write 350 words a day, working only on weekdays, you'll have a book by the end of a year! Don't try to eat an elephant all at once. Go at it one bite at a time!

javacia of writeousbabe.com said...

Excellent advice, Daphne. I have often have to force myself to stop editing while I write. And you're so right, one of the joys of writing is doing it a little bit at a time.

javacia of writeousbabe.com said...

Great post, as always! I am a teacher so I have summers off and try to use that time to focus on my writing. But I've been out of school for a month now and haven't been nearly as productive as I should have been or as I had hoped. I've been murdering a lot of minutes.

Vicki Orians said...

Time management is an important skill to have if you're a writer. And it's HARD to manage time when you have a house to clean, husband to feed, errands to run, and work to get to. (Thank God I don't have kids or this list would be even longer). But one thing that helps me: I do not turn on the TV when I come home from work. And I keep a routine. Routines can seriously change your life, if you have the luxury to be able to have one.

And like one of you said, you don't have to write thousands of words in one sitting. I've noticed that I write better if I'm not worried about a word count. As long as you make sure you write even a sentence or two a day, you'll finish that book.

You can do it! :)

Ava Jae said...

I agree, Daphne. It is much easier to write quickly when you aren't worried about editing. I tend to adopt a policy of not looking back when I first draft--I know I can always fix or add things later while revising, and it takes the pressure off of trying to write a stellar first draft.

I also agree with you about writing a little at a time--in my experience it is much easier to think about writing x number of words a day than to think about writing an entire novel.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Ava Jae said...

I think we're all guilty of murdering minutes from time to time. Enjoy your summer and I wish you the best with your writing! :)

Ava Jae said...

Routines are fantastic for productivity--once you've developed one that makes good use of your time without completely burning you out, it can be much easier to manage your time.

I also completely agree about not needing an enormous word count for one sitting. Bite-sized pieces tend to be much easier to accomplish than enormous chunks.

Thanks, Vicki! ^_^

Misha Gericke said...

I try to wake up early every weekday before anyone else is awake to distract me. Get at least 2000 words done that way. Anything I add in the rest of the day is a bonus. :-D

Angela Ackerman said...

I find I always work best when I'm under a tight deadline. Otherwise, it is too easy to procrastinate.

Ava Jae said...

I've also found that waking up early really helps me to be productive in the morning so that I start off the day on the right foot. Plus it feels great to have written before the day's even started. :)

Ava Jae said...

I can definitely see that. Deadlines help remind us that we don't have time to waste.

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