Janey Burton


Editor & Contracts Negotiator


Organise time to write

Plan what you will do with each writing session

Try micro goals: a micro word count goal or a micro time goal

Designate a writing space

Get rid of distractions

Don’t put it off – start now

‘I’d love to write a book, if only I had the time.’ How often have we wistfully told ourselves we don’t have time to do a thing we want to do?

Starting a new project can feel difficult, especially if you’re busy with other responsibilities. It’s easy to keep putting it off, waiting for a better time. But time will never just appear: If you really want to write a book, you’ll need to make the time, and use it well.

If you want something done, ask a busy person, as the saying goes. In fact, needing to get the words down on the page because you have limited time can be beneficial – you don’t have two hours to dither over two sentences, so you’ll be more likely to just write.

Organise time to write

Set aside a particular time to write and don’t let other things intrude. Make it as important as any other part of your schedule.

If your schedule is very full, arrange for someone else to do a few of the things on your list if it will free up some time, or automate something you would otherwise do manually. Redistribute your burdens and drop any you can.

This is good advice in general, actually: as a society we’re all far too willing to overburden and overwork ourselves, and that leads to burnout. Even if you avoid burnout, it’s a miserable drudge of a life. Rationalising or delegating your tasks, or just not doing the unnecessary ones, is a good idea, especially if you can replace a few of them with something you find fulfilling and of which you can be proud.

Some writers get up an hour earlier in order to slot in their day’s writing around a day job, whereas others, night owls, find they are useless in the morning and prefer to schedule time in the afternoon or evening.

Naturally, it is easier to create blocks of time if you have complete control over your own schedule but, even if you don’t, organising yourself streamlines your life and frees up time which you can then allocate to writing. Make lists, be realistic about the time it takes to do a task, and remember multitasking is a myth – it’s faster to do one thing at a time.

The lucky ones among us need only reduce their leisure time to make way for their project. This is an easy way to make time to write a book: watch only one episode of the new streaming series instead of two or three, or limit your gaming time. But don’t limit your reading time, of course, as it’s vital to your writing.

I asked a prolific writer, a mother and grandmother who has always worked, how she found time to write several books as well, and she said, ‘You can always find time to write, even if you think you can’t’.

Plan what you will do with each writing session

It’s easier to get straight into a writing session if you’ve decided what you will do in that session.

Some writers don’t plan the book but start writing about an idea and then see what the characters do. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you don’t have time to waste, it’s risky. Jasper Fforde admits that he sometimes writes himself into a corner using this method, but then Fforde’s job is writing books, and he thanks his publishers for being patient and flexible with his deadlines. You are probably not in the same boat as Jasper Fforde, so some planning will be a more efficient use of the time you have.

Writing a full-length book is an enormous task. One way to manage it, when time is an issue, is to break it up into smaller chunks and focus on one at a time. Start with a general outline, maybe 500 words that explain what the book is about. Then map out the entire structure and decide how long the book should be. Then you can divide the word count between chapters, decide what each chapter should cover in its word count, and then write the chapters up.

When you’re in the planning stage, a task goal (such as outlining a pivotal section) might be more useful than a word count goal. Once you start writing, a daily word count or time goal will keep you motivated to get words down on the page, knowing you can edit later.

Writing a book includes research, planning, and editing as well as writing time. Some sessions could be devoted to researching some aspect of what you’re writing, but writing and researching (or editing) should be separate activities. Don’t break off from writing in order to research or edit, just mark the place so you can easily find it later. You could use square brackets around your question like this: [sentencing guidelines for manslaughter?] or create a code that marks places where more work is needed, then use Ctrl + F to find them again.

At the end of a writing session, spend a few minutes planning the next. You will look forward to your next session and it will help you beat writer’s block.

Try micro goals: a micro word count goal or a micro time goal

If you’re really pushed to find any significant period of time to write in, or you really struggle to sit down and write, try doing small amounts.

You can set your goal to reflect words written or time taken. For example, you could write for fifteen minutes on your lunch hour – just set a timer and write like mad for that quarter of an hour – or you could ask yourself for an exceedingly small number of words every day.

I know a writer who set himself a goal of fifty words a day. That’s tiny, two or three sentences. It’s deliberately tiny because it will convince you that you can definitely complete that every day. Inevitably, some days you’ll find you sit down to write three sentences and end up writing much more.

Setting such a micro goal is a slow way to write something book-length, certainly, but the principle is sound because even small amounts of words, or time, add up. After a month at fifty words a day and no more, you’ll have written 1500 words – perhaps not a sizeable portion of a book, but it might be a significant portion of a short story.

If you’re ready to give yourself a slightly bigger goal, set a timer for twenty-five minutes while your dinner cooks in the oven, then try to write without stopping. If you can find an hour, just one hour’s writing a day means by the end of seven days it’s as though you’ve written for a full day.

Designate a writing space

Just as knowing what you’ll do in a session helps you sit down and do it, knowing where you will write helps remove the friction between wanting to write and actually writing.

If you have a spare room, set it up as a writing room. If you have less space, put a desk in a corner and make it yours. Get a noticeboard to plan your scenes, or to put up inspiring pictures or quotes.

Write on the train to work, or at the kitchen table in between doing the laundry and starting dinner.

If you think you need noise around you to work, try putting music or the radio on, or going to a coffee shop to write. If you find you need silence, go to the library or wear noise-cancelling headphones.

Get rid of distractions

Don’t let the arrival of an email about a discount interrupt your flow. Your writing time is precious, so don’t waste it. Focus and write.

A novelist I know writes his first draft in longhand for this reason – there’s no way to absent-mindedly start playing solitaire or check social media when all you have in front of you is paper and a pen.

Turn your phone to silent and switch off your computer’s notifications. Turn off the Wi-Fi completely if necessary, or use an app to block the internet for the time you will be busy writing.

Don’t put it off – start now

The enemy of any project is procrastination. Don’t waste any more time wondering if it’s too late to write a book, or telling yourself it’s not possible because reasons – just start. Once you’ve started, looking at your progress will help you keep going.

Keep steadily setting and then completing your goals for writing the book, without looking too far into the future: when you’re still writing the first draft is not the time to daydream about publication day!

This post was first published on 14th March 2021.