Writing a Book: Getting the Most from Your Writing Time

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If you’re a semi-pro writer, you’re always looking for an edge, some way to squeeze just a little bit more productivity out of your limited writing time. Individual situations differ, so your mileage may vary, but here are some basic principles for getting the most quality writing done in the time you have.

Take What Life Gives You

If you’re a semi-pro writer, writing isn’t your job, you don’t get paid for it directly. But it is serious, and you do it to enhance your business or career. One of the secrets to getting the most out of your writing time is to take what life gives you.

Some writers can write every day. They squeeze out an hour before they head for work or stay up late to get some writing done. Other writers block out an hour or two on Saturday or Sunday, or both. Many writers make do with the scraps of time they get on no particular schedule. Parents write when their kids go down for a nap. Other people grab 15 or 20-minute snatches in the course of a regular work day.

The truth is, you probably aren’t able to change your situation, but you can change your attitude. Instead of worrying about when you can’t write, concentrate on when you can, and getting the most from it.

Write, And Nothing Else

When it’s time to write, write, and nothing else. I call this the Raymond Chandler Rule because that’s what he advised a friend in a letter. You don’t have to write when it’s time to write, but you can’t do anything else. Chandler says you can “writhe on the floor,” but you can’t do anything productive, like write checks or surf the internet. The more you’re prepared when it’s time to write, the more good writing you’ll get done in a limited amount of time.

Use the Time Between Writing Sessions to Prepare

Do a bit of research here, and some outlining there. Capture a glittering phrase that comes to you while you’re walking the dog.

If you do this consistently, you’ll develop a system for preparing to write. One client of mine wrote for two hours every Saturday morning until her book was complete. After a month or so, she developed the habit of spending 15 minutes or so on Friday night pulling her notes, so they were right there when she was ready to start writing Saturday morning.

Warning: Ideas will come at you at the weirdest times, and if you don’t capture them, they will flit away like butterflies on the wind. So, have a small digital recorder, index cards, or a small notebook with you all the time, so you can capture your excellent phrasing and grand ideas.

Make Your Writing Session as Productive as Can Be

The details vary a lot, but most of the productive writers I know do three things in their sacred writing time.

Block out the distractions you can control. That means turning off the phone and shutting down any screens within eyeshot or earshot. That includes signaling to other people around you that you’re not to be disturbed. When my youngest daughter was little, there was a special sign that I hung on my door showing a little stick figure typing on a laptop. When she saw that sign on the doorknob to my writing space I hung that on the doorknob, she had to find someone else to play with.

Get right into writing. You’ll probably develop a habit for how to start, too. My method is to read the last page or so of what I’ve written last, and then get right to work. If I’m starting something new, I’ve got a short outline of what I want to accomplish to review.

When you’re done writing, you’re not done with your session. Your last official act before you go back to your other life is to decide what you’re going to write in the next writing session. Knowing what you’re going to start with makes it more likely that you’ll start.

Bottom Line

It’s hard to write when you have lots of demands on your time. But you can do it. Thousands of people have done it, and it doesn’t take any special skill. It does take some planning and discipline, though. Take what life gives you in terms of time to write. Use your writing time to write, nothing else. Then, block out distractions, get into your writing. Finally, decide what you’re going to write in your next session.

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