If You Have No Time to Write, Do This

“I don’t have enough time.”

That’s the number one reason people give for not writing. I’m guilty of it myself. I believe that if we can write every day, even if it's only a very short amount of time, we will have success in the long run. This can only happen if we get past the obstacles of busyness and lack of time.   

Short Sessions for Long Wins

The key is to write every day, or as close to it as possible. (I think it's good to take breaks occasionally, as long as the break does not derail your writing routine.) Even if you're writing for only 10 minutes a day, it will make a difference. Obviously, you can't make a lot of progress in that amount of time, but if you compound what you write for 10 minutes over several weeks, it becomes a significant amount of text.  

When you are just beginning a systematic routine, you will probably only be able to produce a small amount of writing in a single block of time. Once you get into the flow of that routine, however, you will be more productive in that same small block of time.  

Let's say you're writing for half an hour every day. Almost anyone can find half an hour each day. Is it ideal? Not really. An hour is better than a half hour, and two hours would be better still. But when writing is something we must squeeze into spare moments, I think a half hour is realistic. If you're smart and disciplined, you can probably find the space of half an hour at more than one point during your day, bringing your total to an hour or more.

Many people complain that they can't make progress writing in a short amount of time, such as a half hour. I agree that it’s difficult, but one can become skilled at writing in short bursts with practice. Unfortunately, most writers try writing for short amounts of time once or twice and then declare that it's impossible. Don't give up before you’ve given yourself time to learn the skill. 

Two Techniques for Effective Sessions

One important technique is to do as much planning and prewriting as possible during the times that you can’t write. If you’re driving, plan what you will write the next time you can get to your manuscript. Jot down short outlines on scraps of paper or on your smartphone. 

Another technique is to practice Hemingway’s method for ending sessions: always stop in mid-sentence. If you force yourself to stop in the middle of a sentence, while the ideas are still flowing, it’s very easy to resume writing later. We typically waste a significant amount of time warming up at the start of a session. By stopping mid-thought, you’ll always be able to jump into the writing.

Success from Writing When Time Is Short

I used to be of the opinion that I couldn’t make progress by writing if I did not have a block of time at least 90 minutes long. Now, I still find that I’m more productive if I have 90 minutes. However, I usually don't have that much time available on a given day. So the fact is, I'm far better off writing in small spurts that I complete on a daily basis. Those small sessions, compounded together, add up to a lot of writing. Even though it sometimes feels frustrating writing for those short sessions, it works. Previously, I’d go for an entire week without writing because I couldn't find my ideal block of time. Now I'm making progress on a daily basis because I have learned how to squeeze writing short amount time. 

I love the example set by Jane Austen, one of the most famous novelists of the 18th century. Part of the reason that Austen is famous is that she lived a very ordinary life. Her father was a clergyman, and she lived an ordinary woman's life for that time, along with her mother and sisters. She spent a great deal of time reading, sewing, and engaging in social activities. In that era, very few women spent large amounts of time writing fiction in solitude. As a result, Austin had to find a way to write her novels in short spurts during the day. Visitors described Austin hiding manuscripts underneath her sewing projects. She would be seen sewing in the company of her mother or her sisters, but when people weren't watching, she’d pull out the manuscript and continue writing. In other words, she found a way to squeeze writing into the spare spare moments throughout the day. 

Jane Austen authored several novels that continue to be read and celebrated to this day. If she could find a way to write in short, scattered sessions, so can we. Don’t underestimate your ability to make progress in your writing because of the limitations of time. If you really have something to write, you will find a way.