In 2018, I moved to Japan to spend a year climbing mountains and writing both my next mystery novel and a nonfiction book about fighting cancer, facing fear, and breaking free from my old “safe” life to live my dreams. When I planned the adventure, it seemed entirely reasonable to climb 100 Japanese mountains and write two books in a little over 18 calendar months. (Spoiler alert: this was the antithesis of “reasonable.”)
As reality closed in and the months flew by, I realized I was going to need to up my writing game to deliver 160,000 edited, polished words (100,000 in the nonfiction, and 60,000 in my latest mystery) on that timeline. Travel and mountain climbing chewed up more of my time and energy than any full-time job I’ve ever worked, and I had to seek out new, creative ways to find the writing time I needed.
One year and two manuscripts later, here my top tips to squeeze more writing time from a busy day:
Use the Ride. Most of us work a day job as well as writing. For many of us, getting to and from that job involves a commute. I don’t advise writing and driving (via text or otherwise), but if you ride a bus or subway (train), or take a carpool, it may be possible to train yourself to write on the ride. I use the “notepad” feature on my mobile phone, and although it made me queasy at first I kept at it, in short bursts, and over time I learned to make it work. I still make quite a few mistakes on the tiny keyboard, but as long as I can understand it well enough to edit it later, the progress counts.
Mobile Writing Devices (including the phone) are a Busy Writer’s Friends. A decade ago, a writer friend introduced me to the AlphaSmart Neo, a battery-powered word processor with no Internet connection (read: no distractions) that weighs less than a pound. It has a full-sized QWERTY keyboard but its tiny, rectangular screen has room for (at maximum) four lines of text. While I can use it for editing (though it’s inconvenient) it shines as a first-draft workhorse. The tiny screen prevents me from second-guessing myself, and the portability means I can write almost anywhere. Between the Neo and my mobile phone, I’ve added to manuscripts not only in usual places like parks and coffee ships but also while standing in queue at the bank and sitting on mountaintops across Japan.
A Little Plus a Little is (Eventually) a Lot. For many years, I told myself I couldn’t write if I didn’t have a significant block of time. It felt too difficult to get my head back into the work, and I believed I couldn’t focus in short bursts. Unfortunately, that meant I often went several days between writing sessions. This year, with time at a premium, I went back to the way I wrote my very first novel (when my son was young and I still worked full time as well): in 10-15 minute increments. Even a little daily progress is better than none at all, and over time those short bursts of progress really added up. I still prefer more continuity, and blocks of time when I can get them, but when that isn’t a viable option, a little writing time is a whole lot better than none at all. [Read more…]