Most writers I know work. Many full-time, a few part time. Some in paid employment, others as full-time parents and carers. A couple make their living writing freelance articles and features, but for the rest their day job has little or no writing involved. All of us have something in common: we squeeze our writing in around the everyday business of our lives.
Some people talk about finding the time to write, as if there were spare minutes tucked away at the back of your sock drawer. Others take the view that you must make time to write. You decide what activity to give up – watching television is a popular suggestion – and schedule that time for writing instead.
“Some people talk about finding the time to write, as if there were spare minutes tucked away at the back of your sock drawer.”
I’ve never seen any sign of spare hours rattling around like loose change. And with a new baby in the house there hasn’t been much television in my life for well over a year. (Apart from binge-watching Jessica Jones. But hey – that show was exceptional.) I do schedule writing time when I can, but I’ve also adopted another strategy to increase my productivity.
I call it salvaging time.
It‘s like diving for Spanish doubloons in the wrack of a sunken ship. You have to reclaim minutes from your day that would otherwise be lost forever. Like any salvage operation, it’s not always easy. It takes some thought and planning. But it can be done.
In fact, I’m doing it right now.
Step 1 – Identify salvageable moments.
What does a salvageable moment look like?
For me it might be time spent at the laundromat washing the dog blankets, or the sweet hours when Tiny One falls asleep on my shoulder. But it doesn’t need to be measured in hours. Some valuable writing activities can be comfortably completed in ten minutes.
“Like any salvage operation, it’s not always easy. It takes some thought and planning. But it can be done.”
Think about your day. Where do you lose ten minutes here or there? Waiting for a train, perhaps. Enjoying a quiet coffee break. Walking to work. Even stuck on hold waiting for the next available customer representative. (Actually, that last one often falls into the hour-or-longer category.)
A salvageable moment is any time when you could be doing something productive while you’re doing something else, especially if the something else is waiting.
What do the salvageable moments in your day look like?
Step 2 – Ask “what do I need to turn these into productive writing moments?”
This can take a bit of creativity. If your salvageable moment is half an hour spent washing dishes, then perhaps all you need is the conscious decision to spend that time plotting. Remember, time spent solving plot problems, or coming up with a character’s backstory, or choreographing a fight sequence in your head, all counts towards your writing. There’s no rule that says you have to do this stuff at your desk.
Other moments give you more freedom to actually get words down, once you learn to recognise them. Like right now, as Tiny One snores her adorable little snores by my ear. In this case, I need a way to write one-handed so I can cradle her with my other arm. I tried different writing apps on my phone until I settled on something that worked for me. Now I get quite a bit of writing done during nap times.
There are other tools I’ve found helpful in my salvage operations. I write on an iPad with an external keyboard, which is small and light enough to carry with me on a coffee break or to the laundromat. And I have a lapdesk (made by Logitech) which lets me write comfortably on the couch or in bed. So the range of moments I can salvage for writing is quite broad.
Step 3 – Prepare for these moments in advance.
Once you’ve established the kinds of moments you can salvage, and figured out what equipment or apps you need (if any), you are almost ready. The next step is to set yourself up to be productive in those moments before they happen. It’s no good getting to the laundromat and realising you forgot to bring your iPad. Or having the baby fall asleep while your phone is on the charger in the other room.
It might mean deciding in advance which plot point you are going to work on while doing the dishes that night, and keeping a notepad near the sink for you to jot down inspiration as it strikes. If you associate doing the dishes (or mowing the lawn, or walking the dog) with writing, and if you have a set goal you’re aiming for, you’re far less likely to just drift through chores without putting your mind to productive use.
If you’re looking at salvaging smaller parcels of time, it pays to have bite-sized pieces of research or writing laid out ready to complete when your salvageable moment arrives. You could make a list of things you need to look up for your current novel. Next time you’re on hold, check what’s next on the list and start Googling.
“It might mean deciding in advance which plot point you are going to work on while doing the dishes that night.”
Or lay out the structure of a few blog posts you plan to write. This can be a great way to harness those lost minutes on public transport or over coffee. You already know what you want to say, and a fifteen minute train ride is plenty of time to put some meat on the bones of an article. It may take a few days to build up the entire post, but it’s better than losing that time to candy crush.
Step 4 – Write!
Sooner or later it always comes down to this. You’ve identified the salvageable time in your day. You’ve got your phone, or laptop, or notebook and pen. You know what you’re going to write. You’re ready.
All that’s left is to write. Stack one word after another after another until, eventually, you reach THE END.
But wait! There’s more!
In case my notion of salvaging time isn’t doing it for you, here are a few articles I’ve read and benefited from on the topic of squeezing writing into a busy life. Don’t say I never give you anything.
- Allison Tait’s kick-in-the-pants blog post, you will never find time to write your novel.
- A very practical piece by Natasha Lester with six tips to fit writing into your life.
- Some creative ideas from Joanna Penn on where to look for time to write.
- This pithy piece by Melissa Tydell about how to find time to write.