Wednesday, November 11, 2015

HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO WRITE? - A Guest Post By R.J. Anderson

R.J. (Rebecca) Anderson is the author of nine published fantasy and science fiction novels for older children and teens. Her books include the award winning, UK-bestselling Knife (and its sequel Rebel, now reprinted in the US by Enclave Books), and the Andre Norton Award-shortlisted Ultraviolet. Her newest book is a magical mystery called A Pocket Full of Murder (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2015). Find out more at

Maybe you're doing NaNo right now, and struggling to meet your daily wordcount. Maybe you've been hoping to finish that novel you started a few months ago, but can't seem to get ahead. School, work, hobbies, friends – they all keep you so busy and leave you so tired, you wonder how “real” writers do it.

I know the feeling. I'm a mother of three young boys (two in music lessons), a caregiver to my two elderly parents, a volunteer at my local church, and I'm not a fast writer by any means – in fact, my top speed on a good day is somewhere between 400 and 500 words an hour. Yet I've just turned my ninth full-length novel to my editor, because I've learned a few things about time management and productivity along the way.

Set Your Priorities

Do I want to check my e-mail, find out what my friends have posted on Tumblr, and catch up on the latest episode of Doctor Who or Agents of SHIELD? Absolutely. But I've learned that if I want to get any writing done, TV and social media have to get in line. It's tempting to do the “fun stuff” first and write later, but if I give in to the siren call of Twitter or Netflix I can lose half a day or more and end up with nothing to show for it.

Are you serious about finishing that novel or short story? Make it your priority, and work on it for at least an hour every day before you allow yourself to look at anything else. If you can't resist checking your Facebook messages or looking up “just one thing” on YouTube, use a program like Freedom to lock you out of the internet until your writing session is done.

Start as You Mean to Go On

I am not a morning person, so for years I assumed that writing first thing in the morning was a bad idea. But lately I've discovered that getting up and writing for an hour before breakfast – indeed before I dress or shower or do anything much at all – is one of the best decisions I've ever made as a writer. That fuzzy state of mind actually makes me less uptight and more creative, and with an hour of good work under my belt I'm energized and excited to do more when I get the chance. It's worth trying, if you're not getting up at 6 a.m. already (ugh, 6 a.m. Whose idea was that?). And if you've got a full-time job or a busy school schedule, you can head off to it knowing you've already done some good writing that day.

Take a Break, But Make it a Real One

When I've got a deadline and an editor waiting for my latest draft, it's easy to feel like I have to write every spare moment or I'll never make it, and that stepping away from my laptop is somehow cheating – or worse, slacking off. But I've realized that after an hour or so of writing, my mental batteries get drained. If I don't take a break and do something else for a bit, it's easy to get stuck, become hyper-critical of my prose, or fall into any number of other mental traps that will actually hurt my writing and make me less productive in the end.

Going for a short walk, making myself a cup of tea or a sandwich, folding laundry for fifteen minutes or so – all of these things help recharge my mental batteries and give me a fresh perspective to bring to my next writing session. If I try to push straight through, I end up tired and resentful, feeling like I'm chained to my computer and often frustrated with my lack of results.

So set a timer for 45-60 minutes (or as little as 20, if you're having trouble getting started – this is known as the Pomodoro Method), and when it goes off, get up and walk away. Don't use the time to browse the web or look at e-mail (you can do that later), because that's too similar to working in your word processor, and your eyes and body need a break too.

It may seem counter-intuitive to “waste” time that could be used for writing, but it's not a waste, it's an investment. I get way more words written now that I take a 15-30 minute break every hour or so than I ever did when I wrote straight through.

Don't Break The Chain

If writing consistently is your problem, and you tend to work in fits and starts when you'd really like to make it a daily habit, try printing out a calendar to help you get motivated – or even just use the calendar you already have, if it's somewhere you can easily see it. Set yourself a simple, easy to meet daily writing target – like one page, or 30 minutes, or whatever best suits you. When you've done your work for the day, mark an X on your calendar. See how many days you can go without breaking the chain – it's amazing how something so simple can be so motivational.

The Sticker Method

Speaking of calendars, I've often found it encouraging to reward myself with a pretty sticker when I've met my daily writing target (usually 1000 words or more – I use this when I've got a looming deadline, so I try to set a target that will challenge me a bit). I don't earn a sticker every day; sometimes it's only one or two a week. But it makes me feel happy to see all those butterflies or flowers or stars or whatever, and it encourages me to keep moving forward until the manuscript is done.

As Mabel Pines from Gravity Falls says, "Stickers have been the backbone of many great civilizations." Or at least they've helped many YA writers like myself, Victoria Schwab and Erin Bow get our novels written, and that's close enough.

The Bottom Line

Some of these tips may sound dreary at first – getting up early to write? Putting off TV and social media? But I've found that they've actually helped me feel less stressed and overwhelmed by the writing process, and more able to enjoy my downtime when I have it. 

Give them a try, and see if they don't help you, too.

Jill here! This is great advice, Rebecca. I know I need to remember to stay OFF of social media---and the Internet altogether! I also like the idea of working an hour early in the morning. I'll have to give that one a try.

To thank Rebecca for coming on the blog, we're giving away a paperback copy of Knife, the first book in her No Ordinary Fairy Tale series. I read this book back when it was published under the title Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. It is a fabulous faery-meets-human tale, and Knife is a great character. Here's a little more about the book, and you can enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

Forget everything you think you know about faeries. . . Creatures full of magic and whimsy? Not in the Oakenwyld. Not anymore.
Long ago the faeries of the great Oak mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake.

Only one young faery--Knife--is determined to find out where her people's magic has gone and try to get it back. Unlike her sisters, Knife is fierce and independent. She's not afraid of anything--not the vicious crows, the strict Faery Queen, or the fascinating humans living nearby. But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she ever anticipated...

Knife is a gripping tale of lost magic, high adventure, and surprising friendship in which the fate of an entire realm rests on the shoulders of one brave faery rebel.

Previously published in the US under the title Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter.


  1. This post has wonderful timing! Thanks so much.
    Also, the story sounds awesome! One of the stories I'm trying to write is about fairies. :) I love fairies.

  2. This is a great post! Thank you. Your book sounds awesome. Whenever a breeze over to Enclave's sight I see them and want to read them.

    I'm already a early bird and I love writing early in the morning. I feel so much better knowing that I already have an hour or so of writing in my belt before the day even starts. It makes the entire day seem so much more productive, because any writing I might do later feels like extra.
    I find the social media tip very helpful. If I get kind of stuck or bored (with writing or schoolwork) It is so easy to just pop onto my hobby's forum or Pinterest and waste time I don't have.

    Thanks again. :)

  3. I count writing as school, so my GPA suffers if I don't fulfill my goals. Yay for homeschooling! : D

  4. Great post!

    Usually, I write during school whenever I have the time, which is mostly during study hall and lunch. But that's still 80 minutes every day, and I find that I get a lot more done than if I just try to do it all when I get home. Ironically, the only days where I struggle to find time to write are days where I'm doing absolutely nothing and have the all day to write. I think with the whole day in front of you, it's much easier to procrastinate and lose track of time. These are great suggestions for helping with these issues. I really want to try the sticker one!


    ~P.S. I almost died when I saw the Gravity Falls quote. Mabel is awesome! "The ancient Greeks used leeches for stickers! The more stickers you had, the cooler you were!" LOL!

    1. It's definitely true that the more time you think you have, the more likely you are to waste it. Efficiency expert Julia Morgenstern has a lot of good stuff about this in her book NEVER CHECK E-MAIL IN THE MORNING -- one of her first recommendations for people who feel overworked and overwhelmed is to give themselves *less* time to get their tasks done each day (i.e. if they've been going home each day at 6 o'clock, she tells them to go home at 5 or even 4) so that they'll make better use of the time they have. Because we all loooooove to procrastinate, even if we think we're busy.

      And yes, Mabel is the best. :D

  5. Thanks so much for your advice! I'm a morning person, so I try to get up earlier to get some writing done while I'm feeling most productive.

  6. Thanks for the advice Ms. Anderson! I normally write just before bed, or in the afternoon. Since I'm home-schooled, it's not terribly hard for me to find time to write :).

    ~Savannah Perran

  7. Thanks for sharing these tips! :) They were very helpful reminders.

  8. Great tips--I especially like the Pomodoro idea. Probably because it has to do with a tomato, and I like tomatoes.

    ...What can I say...

    :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. So I totally did the Pomodoro thing this afternoon finishing up school and I have to say it totally pushed me to work more efficiently/harder. Surprisingly, the 20 minute allotment actually made me work harder to get it all done in the 20 minutes so I wouldn't have to do another "Pomodoro" for the same subject. I love it already! :)

    2. That's great to hear, Amanda! Thanks for trying it and reporting back on the results!

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  9. When I did Camp NaNo back in July, I found that waking up early to write worked really well for me. I could usually write about 800 to 1,000 words in an hour or hour and fifteen minutes. It took some of the stress off of me, and it made me feel productive. In the past year or so, I've discovered that I don't write well at night because my brain is so tired and all I want to do is sleep.
    For NaNo this month, waking up early and writing is essential. With having to go to my classes four days a week and juggling homework, I highly doubt I could handle it otherwise. So far, though, I haven't ever missed my daily word count goal. :)
    Also, that book sounds really cool. In my NaNo novel, one of my main POV characters is a fairy. I'm trying to do a fresh take on them as well, and I'm having an awesome time writing them.

  10. So many wonderful ideas! I am so easily distracted by the web. I will have to try Freedom and actually get something accomplished.

    God bless, Anne Marie :)

  11. I've been having trouble keeping up with NaNoWriMo, so this gives me some good ideas. I have noticed that I tend to get more words in if I do it in multiple small writing sprints over the course of a single day.

  12. I just make time, but sometimes it is discouraging because I write so slowly. I use rewards of chocolate per 150 words to inspire me...

  13. Great advice! :D I won't lie, I can set priorities, but I'm really bad at keeping them straight... And I'm really easily distracted. I don't have any social media, but just about anything else about the Internet makes it really hard to get things accomplished.

    Also, I love Agents of SHIELD too!

  14. I love the premise of your story! It sounds very intriguing!

  15. This was a really fun post!
    I write a lot on my cell phone, and at night/noon as things start settling down and there is less to do. Sometimes I have to make myself find time to write by snatching an hour-or-so even if things are busy.

  16. I'd love to read this. Even if I don't win, I'll make sure to check it out. :)

  17. I like writing in the morning after some exercise (a walk or a run are my favorite methods). It seems to clear my head up enough to write. I don't like leaving it to the later afternoon when my creative energy seems to be zapped!

  18. I don't really write very often but when I do I make sure I have a clean shedule for at least an hour. Then I just write.

  19. I take advantage of every spare moment. :D

  20. Firstly, I am SOOOOOO starting the sticker idea. That seems like it would totally motivate me, because I'm 12 at heart ;) Who doesn't love stickers!

    I've tried to give myself a TINY goal, like, if I sit down, even if it's 200 words, I can stop after that. But once I'm actually writing I usually stay in the zone much longer.

  21. This is a great post!! I will most certainly be using some of these tips as I push through the last few chapters of my first draft. :D Thanks for the great post!!!!

  22. Super helpful tips! It's encouraging to see that another not-a-morning-person has made mornings work anyway. And I think I need to remind myself to take more breaks. When I get deeply involved, I forget to hit pause. XD Oh, and your advice to write for an hour BEFORE checking email and whatnot--fabulous.

    I like making wordcount goals for first drafts, or scene/chapter goals for editing. As for actually scheduling in writing time . . . I'm not really sure. I squeeze it in wherever I can between work and everything else.

  23. These techniques are really good ideas. I actually use some of them for school, especially the take-a-break-in-between-hours one. Maybe I'll start using the sticker one. It was always strangely effective with learning music. Thanks for the post!!

  24. This is great!!! Thank you so much for the tips :)

    Unfortunately I get up at 5:00 am everyday for school (it starts at seven) so I don't think waking up thirty minutes earlier will help me. I'm already super tired in the mornings most of the time!

    But the Chain and Sticker techniques? I think I'm going to try that! I'm most excited for the Chain thing though... I love competing (with myself) and I think it'll be very effective!

  25. The best time for me to write happens to be in the morning, alps. Just getting up early enough to so is the hard part for me :b.