Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Five Ways to Put More Hours in Your Writing Day

Practice matters. That not-so-profound thought occurred to me while I was standing on the edge of a field recently, basking in the warmth of a glorious autumn afternoon and watching my 14-year-old daughter play soccer.

Okay, let's be honest, I wasn't standing so much as sitting in a lawn chair. I was also contemplating how much more fun it would have been if I'd thought to fill my water bottle, which was opaque, with something made from, say, hops. It's tough being a soccer mom, lipstick or not.

But suddenly, my reverie was interrupted by the activity on the field. I noticed the girls were in trouble.

They clutched their sides. They meandered to the ball when they should have run. They signaled to the coach that they wanted to be switched out of the game. "Wait a minute," I thought. "These girls are unfit." Well, duh. It was an early game in the season and they hadn’t had enough practice.

After the game -- a 1-1 tie because the other team was similarly unfit -- I said to my daughter, "I guess you'll be doing some laps around the track this week." She gave me that I'm-stuck-with a-mother-who-has-three-heads look and said, "Why?"

So, my question for you is: are you wondering why your writing isn't faster and easier? Do you avoid writing for days at a time and then try to churn out a newsletter or major report in 45 minutes? Do you figure that writing is a skill you should be able to turn off and on like a light switch?

Well, the bad news is that writing, not to mention life, isn't like that. You need to practice. And here's where most people will complain about lack of time. But the good news is that you have more time than you think -- if you make writing a priority. Here are five ways to find that time.

(These ideas will also work for professional writers who find themselves beset with too many phone calls and other administrivia.)

1) Get up earlier: Morning is a great time to write -- unless you're a night owl, which means you have my official permission to ignore this idea. If you're okay with mornings, however, you can write with confidence that phones don't usually ring before 7 am. What's more, there's good evidence that your "internal editor" is sleepier at this time of day, making writing easier. Save breakfast and your shower for later -- and avoid email as if it were poison.

2) Stay up later: Night owls, this one's for you. Hate the AM alarm clock? No problem. Just write at night. This will mean turning off the TV, putting down the book and steadfastly ignoring the siren lure of email and Google. Writing at night takes more discipline, but it's definitely doable for the right person. Reward yourself by taking the equivalent time off from 9 to 5, if you can.

3) Use lunchtime: Have you ever noticed that -- unless you're a stockbroker -- you can usually count on lunchtime to be quieter than the rest of the day? The phone stops ringing as your colleagues and clients disappear en masse to the taco joint around the corner. Not you! If you want to write, this is a great time to do it. Just remember: No email or Internet surfing. I recently heard from someone who had used this strategy to write an entire book (for which he found a publisher),  just using his lunch hour.

4) Use stolen moments: Too often we get caught up in the all-or-nothing attitude that says "It's not worth doing unless I can do it for at least 60 minutes." Wrong! Every little bit helps. Write while you're waiting for a meeting to start. Write while watching your son's hockey practice. Write while you're waiting for a call to be returned. If all else fails, pop on a set of headphones with the volume turned off, so no one wandering by will disturb you.

5) Write about something that really interests you: Don't feel that your writing practice has to be limited to "work." You can write about a vacation you've taken. You can pen a note to city hall about a political decision that really bugs you. You can scribble notes about a moment that embarrassed you or that exhilarated you. It's all writing and it all counts.

Practice makes perfect, says the tired old maxim. But the truth is, practice makes possible.

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday November 12th 2008, 5:21 PM
Comment by: Lynne F.
This advice is no surprise, but it's still valuable advice. So, thanks. I especially endorse the tip about using "stolen moments." I find that even if I have just 10 minutes free, I can use that time to write a lede, do some mind mapping or draft an outline, and that gets the writing going faster when I do have more time to devote to it. It also keeps the wheels in my head turning to fill in that outline, even when I'm away from my computer. Also, if I see or hear something when I'm not writing that relates to what I am writing, I'm more likely to connect it and be able to use it if I've done an outline to flesh out my idea a bit.
Thursday November 13th 2008, 12:54 AM
Comment by: David D.
I concur completely with all of these thoughts. Now if only I could do one of them. The email is bad for me. I cannot resist that internet link to everywhere and everyone. TV is easier. I can turn it off. Sometimes I will watch something for a bit and find myself muttering about how vapid it is ... and then I notice that I am the hapless viewer. Usually I do better and I do love the off season. Reruns are amazing; a replay of that which was nothing in the first place. I am confused within myself, however, tending to be a night owl yet almost always arising early. Which time should I try to write? The question is directed toward myself. Even so, my success in writing bits and pieces is by keeping a document in a window on my computer. If I succumb to email but then thoughts impinge, I just pop to the document and write for awhile. If I go do some gardening and then feel captivated with ideas, I just drop things and hit that document again. Of course, eventually I must edit things, winnow wheat from chaff, but the bits are not lost. It is all dreaming. But not dreaming in sleep where the dream is lost when sleep stops. This dream goes on and can be picked back up at any time. (Not my original idea. Haruki Murakami said that. He said, "That is a great thing, to keep on dreaming while you are awake.")
Thursday November 13th 2008, 10:37 AM
Comment by: Eliza M.
Thanks. Managing my writing time also leads to managing your strengths (e.g. editing, brainstorming) to your highs and lows of energy. I proofread first thing, brainstorm mid-morning, and edit and collaborate later in the day. And yes, build in breaks
Thursday November 13th 2008, 12:52 PM
Comment by: Billy G. (Santa Barbara, CA)
Daphne: Great advice - I have another non-writing writing tool: voice recording. Although I can't always sit down and write, my sunrise dog-walking stint is accompanied by a little Olympus digital device I picked up at Radio Shack (free plug but I don't own stock in the company). This allows me to capture ideas, phrases and outlines that might not survive the leap across the massive caverns of my 57-year old synapses.

Also, good to hear there are other mind mappers out there. I use mind mapping software religiously to get the bones in the right place.

Thanks for the insight; now to put it to use.
Saturday November 15th 2008, 9:35 PM
Comment by: James H. (Douglasville, GA)
I am going to try a new idea that one of my colleagues employed and it worked GREAT for him. He had the keys to a friend's condo and went there for 5 days. He wrote from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. He got the largest part of a new book fully outlined and four chapters written. He said it was incredibly powerful.

Have any of you done something similar to this? He was careful to cut off his cell and not use his aircard during the writing times.
Monday November 17th 2008, 11:01 PM
Comment by: Ariel D.
Thank you for the advice. Since I was a teenager, I have always wanted to become a writer, but I never took it seriously. I started a journal years ago, but I never went on with it. I have started to write again, and, now, I can’t stop!

If one wants to become an exceptional writer, one must practice. It goes with anything in life. If someone wants to master a skill, he or she must work at it, regardless if mistakes are made. I might be making grammatical mistakes as I type this comment, but that shouldn’t stop me from advancing in this skill.
I took it upon myself to start reading two short stories every day, and write my own short story afterwards. I would recommend The New Yorker. I believe that one can’t be a good writer if he or she isn’t a good reader. Both must work together. I know people who write, but don’t read often.

When one reads, he or she absorbs another writer’s skill. I’m currently reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. So far, I am thrilled by Dostoevsky’s style of writing. He drew me into Raskolnikov’s character. You see? Reading is not a chore; it’s a skill to be acquired as well. So if you write a lot, read a lot. They have to go hand-in-hand. I’m not necessarily saying that you have to imitate different authors, but learn from them. Take a little bit of everyone’s skill, and create your own. If you want to stand out as a writer, one must be original in every way.

So, I have put it upon myself to develop this skill. Wish me luck! I wish all of you whom are posting these comments to improve your skill as writers too, and I hope to read your next great novel soon.
Monday December 1st 2008, 11:49 AM
Comment by: Judy B. (Fort Collins, CO)
Note to James H --

Yes, this works; I've done it several times (and am doing it again this week). First time, I house- and dog-sat for a friend, staying at her place the entire week. It was only a couple of miles from my house, and my family thought it was a little strange, but they also knew I needed a break. I met them for dinner a couple of times during the week at area restaurants and touched base by phone and email the same way I would if I were on a business trip, which reinforced the "Mom is not available and she is working" mindset for everybody (including myself). I made tremendous progress at a time when I had been feeling stuck, frustrated, and thwarted, and I was also ready to go home at the end of the week. *And* I was able to maintain the momentum back home.

Since then, I've taken "vacations" from time to time, and I call them "writing retreats" both because that's what they are and people understand what that means (my clients don't expect me to reply instantly to their emails, for example). This week, I'm holed up in a condo about 3 hours from home. My husband is here (it's his official vacation and he's sleeping, reading, and eating), knows that I am on retreat and writing's my first priority. (And the fact that I do 99% of the cooking gives me leverage...if he turns on the TV or interrupts me, I won't fix supper ). These retreats are wonderful, and they are also not the only time I write! For me, they work best when I have a solid idea of what I want to work on, though sometimes I end up writing something entirely different (the muse can be a bully sometimes). I've never been good at "9 to 5" so the flexibility of writing all day/night, breaking when I want, not having to think about schedules, etc. is an enormous benefit for me.

The other important thing the retreats do is reinforce the fact that our writing is important work. It has value, and only when we declare to ourselves and the world that it has value can we make it a priority. Yes, I have to do that every day, but in my world, it's easy for that value to be overlooked (or run over). The retreats remind me, and help me establish and maintain my day to day writing spaces.

(And as a side note: my first full day here I finished my nanowrimo novel by writing just over 16,000 words--see nanowrimo.org for info on National Novel Writing Month.)
Wednesday December 10th 2008, 10:32 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Sorry I haven't been able to post until now. I was off quite sick for awhile and got behind on a whole pile of things...

In any case, you have to do what works for you. But I'd be wary of trying to write from 9 am to 6 pm every day. That sounds like burn-out land to me. Writing needs to be NORMAL. It needs to be something you can do -- in modest amounts -- every working day. If I did nothing but write from 9 am to 6 pm, I'd get freaked out and exhausted. And I'm a professional writer!

Pace yourself. Pace yourself!
Monday February 9th 2009, 9:57 AM
Comment by: Brad Heden (Ellicott City, MD)

You give excellent advice. The number of people who would like to be writers far exceeds those with the endurance to sit at a keyboard (or with a notepad) and actually put in the hours. Like Hemingway once said in an interview, "you have to get up every morning and just bite the nail." And yes it is a lot of work.

Like Judy I am a NaNoWriMo alumna and was totally against trying to write 50K words in one month, but now that I am going through and doing the revisions on an actual novel, I understand what a valuable experience it was. Much of the writing I did was no good, but at least I got it on paper, and I am now satisfied with the way that the rewrites are progressing. Another useful suggestion might be to join a writer's group or community of fiction writers. I host two such groups on Red Bubble, A Novel Idea and The Writer's Green Room. Belonging to a group of like minded individuals is a great support strategy and having that daily interaction, and a forum for sharing ideas and testing fictional concepts, has been invaluable.
Saturday March 7th 2009, 10:29 PM
Comment by: ANDRE O. (LISMORE HEIGHTS Australia)
In addition to this good advice I would add one to combat writer's block. Before you close your writing session, write a part or full sentence that will be the beginning of your next session. Helps me.

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