By Maddie Morrow and Savannah Grace
One of the most common tips writers hear is “Just write.” Though that’s a true sentiment, it’s also deceptively simple. How are you supposed to write amid school, family, jobs, sports, church functions, and other activities?
First and foremost, you must want time to write. Otherwise you’ll never rally the motivation to incorporate it into your schedule. Second, you need to experiment with different tactics to see which ones help you fit writing into your busy life. Together the two of us ladies have compiled a list that describes how to achieve writing productivity while balancing other obligations.
1. Set Priorities
Writers often feel like they have no time to write because of the responsibilities that obviously take precedence—schoolwork, church, and family. Every day you choose which tasks and relationships to focus on, but not all of your to-dos will be equally important. Analyze where your time is going and whether the investment is worthwhile. Would you rather play that board game or bash out a thousand words of your novel? Could you brainstorm a new character instead of aimlessly browsing social media? You’ll likely discover a few slots where you could substitute writing for something else—whether temporarily or permanently.
We can’t pinpoint where writing should fall among your priorities, because that will vary for each person. For some, writing will be only a hobby—akin to learning to play an instrument. They’ll need to practice, but missing a week or two isn’t a big deal. For those who aspire to turn writing into a career, though, regularity is a must.
The New England Patriots don’t show up at the Super Bowl after a year of lounging. They stay sharp before the game through rigorous training. That doesn’t mean they’re on the field 24-7. They still spend time with their families and engage in recreation. But they treat football practice as a priority. Writers should display this same mindset toward sharpening and studying their craft.
2. Establish Boundaries
Whether you’re still in high school or have a family of your own, you need to communicate your goals to the people closest to you. Is writing a favorite hobby or a career you’re pursuing? Help them understand how valuable it is to you so you can formulate a plan that satisfies everyone.
However, sometimes your preferences won’t align with the ideals of the people in your household, and you need to respect that. As a teenager, Maddie needed no encouragement to type at the computer for hours. If she’d had her wish, she would’ve hustled through her schoolwork and chores, then spent the rest of forever writing. But her parents prioritized family time. They allowed her to write for one hour in the evening, but after that she was required to join her family for supper, watch movies, and participate in any other activities that were happening.
Maddie’s parents realized that she dreamed of being published, so they made sure she had the privilege of writing every day and left room for adjustments. If she was close to finishing a story and her dad was watching a Civil War documentary for the thousandth time, the one-hour rule went out the window and she could write to her heart’s content. But setting the initial boundaries prevented writing from invading areas of her life that it shouldn’t.
Setting boundaries doesn’t end once you graduate and move out of your parents’ house, however. Now that Maddie is a wife and mom, she’s spoken with her husband about their goals for their home and relationship. Unless she has an urgent deadline, she doesn’t abandon essential housekeeping duties, puts the computer away when they’re together as a family, and tries to write while her son is asleep so he doesn’t grow up thinking his mom only stares at a screen and never plays with him.
Additionally, be careful not to overload your schedule. When you’re stretched thin, your writing will suffer. If you start feeling frazzled, don’t push yourself! That’s when you need to take a break or shed a task that’s tiring you out. You must know your limits to prevail at the grand act of juggling writing and life.
3. Start Small
If your writing habits are sporadic, you’ll need to build consistency with manageable steps. Don’t decide you’re going to dash off ten thousand words a day if your current average is a thousand words a month. You’ll burn yourself out and get discouraged. One hundred words per day (roughly the equivalent of one paragraph) would be a much more attainable quota.
Maddie concentrates the best early in the morning. But she’s also a stay-at-home mom with a rambunctious toddler and a house to maintain. Sleep is dear to her. If she’d suddenly begun rising two hours early, she would have died in her coffee cup. Instead, she set the alarm for fifteen minutes early, then half an hour, and so on. The gradual transition kept her from experiencing midday exhaustion, and her brain was alert when she woke up and needed to accomplish writing.
You can also carve out time by capitalizing on spare minutes. Have eight minutes before a batch of cookies is done? Twenty minutes before you leave for an appointment? Grab your laptop and type while you wait. The point is to write consistently, not lengthily. The results don’t even have to be good. But you commit to those few minutes. The more you choose to write, the more naturally it will come, and the words will add up. Soon you’ll be ready for longer writing sessions.
4. Hold Yourself Accountable
Having someone cheering you on and expecting updates can inspire you to hit your keyboard harder. This partnership doesn’t have to be so strict that you risk being disowned if you fail, though. You might ask a fellow writer to check on you at specific intervals, or the arrangement could be more informal, such as a friend you talk about writing with.
Author Skye Hoffert is one of Maddie’s best friends, and they both help each other be consistent. If Maddie isn’t in the mood to write, she can shoot Skye a message and tell her that she wants to light her latest chapter on fire. Skye will kindly offer to bring matches before assuring Maddie that the text isn’t as unsalvageable as she thinks, which is usually the boost she needs to persevere.
Mini challenges like word sprints and wars are excellent incentives too. These can last for as short as five minutes or as long as a month. When you need to report your progress to others, that can bring out competitiveness—or at least pressure you to write something so you won’t be embarrassed by a word count of zero.
5. Relieve Stress
What do various tiny responsibilities add up to when you lead a busy life? Stress!
Stress is one of writing’s most ruthless opponents. The easiest way to reduce it is to identify and remove the excess that’s causing the strain. And, before you sign up for anything new, evaluate whether you realistically have the time and the interest.
Are your mornings jammed because you offered to design a blog for a friend? See if you can reserve a day to finalize that project so you can devote your mornings to writing instead. Are your afternoons hectic because you update numerous social media platforms throughout the day? Delete two or three of your accounts.
Writing may even become one of those unneeded stressors. If you learn to recognize when you need a respite, you’ll be a more prolific writer. And if you seem to be carrying too many responsibilities on your back, don’t be afraid to share the load! (If you don’t hear that in Samwise Gamgee’s voice, Savannah is sorely ashamed.)
6. Schedule Writing Sessions
Writing every day, especially for long hours, can lead to burnout. By designating when you will and won’t write, you’ll stay disciplined and energized. For example, if you decide to write five days a week, you’ll be able to take a breather on the weekend without feeling guilty. When writing becomes burdensome, you’re more likely to lose enthusiasm and quit. Allowing for time off keeps it enjoyable.
Both of us ladies prefer a general weekly/monthly schedule. Maddie teaches guitar lessons on Saturday afternoons, avoids setting appointments early on Wednesday because that’s when she posts on her blog, and dedicates some of her morning writing time to the articles she contributes to Story Embers. Savannah is an editor for Havok but also a student who writes for Story Embers, so she drafts her SE article on her lightest school day (Friday), edits for Havok on three weekdays plus Saturday, and writes for an hour every morning at seven o’clock. On Mondays and Tuesdays, she can also put in an extra hour at night.
Other writers assign blocks of time to marketing, blogging, writing, and editing, along with schoolwork, meal preparation, church attendance, etc. This type of schedule is particularly effective when you have multiple ongoing responsibilities that can’t be crammed into a single day.
Ultimately, the trite advice is accurate. To be successful, you do need to sit down and pound out (or scrawl) words. But finding a strategy that increases your efficiency as well as morale will make the process more achievable.
Consistency is a writer’s best friend. It helps you finish a first draft, win NaNoWriMo, create regular blog content, and launch books smoothly. Instead of waiting until deadlines are breathing down your neck, cultivate productive habits in the beginning stages of your journey so you can continue moving forward and hitting milestones.
Maddie Morrow grew up with her mom reading to her and her dad telling stories about cowboys hunting Bigfoot. The combination sparked her love of writing early, and she’s been lost in her notebooks ever since. Aside from writing, she enjoys loud music, good horses, and hardcover books. She lives on a farm in Nebraska with her husband and son. Her gaslight short story, “Red as Blood,” won the 2018 Snow White retelling contest hosted by Rooglewood Press, and it released in December 2018 with the Five Poisoned Apples collection. http://www.maddie-morrow.blogspot.com
Savannah Grace is a Nebraska-born-and-raised author who loves writing—and reading—a good speculative story, because there’s no better place to escape than a book. When she’s not lost in (or creating!) other worlds, she can be found making a mess with watercolors, laughing way too loudly, or eating as much Korean food as she can get her hands on. She’s the submissions manager for Illuminate YA and an associate editor for Havok Publishing.
Savannah has had multiple short fiction pieces published in various places and loves helping writers hone their craft. You can find her blogging at savannahgracewrites.blogspot.com, posting sporadically on her YouTube channel (Savannah Grace), or finally finding a use for all her book pictures over on Instagram (@savannahgraceauthor). She’d love to chat with you!