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Making the Most of a Minute: 5 Life Hacks for Busy Writers

Although some people believe authors live glamorous lives, the truth is that we usually have full-time jobs and other obligations. I have a pretty demanding full-time job that requires me to get on conference calls with a variety of international timezones. And on top of that, I have a very adorable but very clingy seven-year-old that enjoys staying up way too late.

As a result, I’ve learned to make the most of my writing time so that I squeeze every ounce of productivity out of it. Here are some of the tricks:

1.) Squeeze in bursts whenever you can.

For me this means writing a few paragraphs between meetings, on my lunch break, or before my daughter wakes up in the morning. It means lugging my laptop to her tennis practice and mastering the art of typing while watching her smash the ball over the net. I write on the train to NYC on days I go into the office. I’ve written quick sentences on my phone while standing in line at the grocery store. If I have five minutes to spare, I use those five minutes. Five minutes here and there throughout the day adds up quickly, and you’d be surprised how much you can accomplish even if you think you don’t have any time.

2.) Get an accountability buddy.

This is ideally a friend you can either chat with online or via text. Each day you start by telling each other your daily goals and then throughout the day you check in with each other and encourage each other to make progress. When you tell someone your goal and then you fail to meet it, you’re disappointing not only yourself but your buddy, and I find this to be very motivating. My buddy and I will also set 15-minute timers and each write during that time, then report back on progress.

3.) Reward yourself.

I find I’m way more motivated to write when there’s a reward at the end of my writing session. The reward can be as simple as getting to check the internet for a few minutes. Or getting to have that snack you’ve been hungering for. Or reading a chapter in that book you’ve been dying to know what happens next in. I use those types of rewards for shorter, daily goals, but I also give myself a big reward to look forward to once I complete my draft. This is usually in the form of something I’ve wanted to buy for myself but have been holding off. Or maybe it’s getting to binge that show I haven’t had time to watch while on deadline. Dangling a carrot in my face always makes me more motivated to complete my goals.

4.) Plan out writing in advance.

I’m a big planner and I find the more up-front work I do, the faster and easier the book is to write. This means not only taking the time to write out detailed outlines of the book, but I love to take five minutes before each writing session to brainstorm ideas for the scene I’m about to write. My five minutes is split into one minute of brainstorming settings (if not already known); one minute of brainstorming objects that can be found in the setting I choose; one minute of brainstorming ways to describe that setting; one minute of brainstorming actions that the characters can do in that setting; and then one minute of choosing a couple items I wrote down for each category and trying to find voice-y ways to write them.

Once I have my arsenal of vocabulary, actions, and descriptions to use in the scene, it becomes a quick process to bang it out. One other trick I do is try to play out the scene in question BEFORE I write it. This might happen on a walk outside or in bed the night before or while getting dressed that morning. I try to brainstorm the scene during times when I can’t do anything else so that when I sit down to write it, I know exactly what needs to go on the page.

5.) End the writing day in the middle of a chapter.

This is a quick trick to get me started the next day. Instead of finishing up my writing work for the day at the end of a chapter or a scene, stop in the middle. This way when I start again the next day, I know exactly where I left off and where I need to go. It’s much harder to start a brand new scene than continue an existing one and by the time I’ve finished the scene, I’m warmed up and ready to tackle the next one.

These tricks help me balance my writing life with my work life and personal life! What tricks do you use to make the most of your time?

Author spotlight

Shana Silver

Rachel Shane (writing as Shana Silver) studied creative writing at Syracuse University. She's been a computer animator, an e-book creator …

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