How to Write ‘Less’ and Do ‘More’

It’s possible to find balance in the midst of a busy schedule.

I used to write too much.

And I bet, at first glance, that seems like an odd problem for a writer to have.

You might be sitting here thinking, “What’s wrong with that? I’d love to have to try cutting back on how much I write. I can never seem to force myself to write ENOUGH!”

I know, I know. But writing “more” isn’t always better.

When I bring this up, I usually tell the story of my novel about bees. (It wasn’t really about bees. But sort of. You’d have to read it to get the metaphor.)

In July of 2012, I wrote an 130,000-word novel in 14 days. That’s all you really need to know. There were other things going on, my brain wasn’t in the best shape, neither was I. But I was so proud of that accomplishment, even though I barely ate or slept, barely talked to anyone, barely left my house.

Imagine what would happen to you if that’s the way you lived all the time. Not just for two weeks out of a year. But every single day.

I can almost guarantee that the majority of working writers spend too much time working and not enough time expressing their creativity in different ways. Or they exhaust themselves so much with responsibility that when they do get a chance to “relax,” they’re too tired to actually enjoy it.

No more of that nonsense. You deserve to do good work while also feeling good about things when you step away from your words.

Here’s how to write less … which might actually end up helping you write more, better, over time.

  • Give yourself a goal — and a limit. When I worked on a novel during NaNoWriMo 2017, I set a goal to write 2,000 words each day in November. But, unless it was a weekend or I’d finished everything else on my to-do list, I wouldn’t let myself go more than 100 words or so past that point. This kept me writing consistently without completely overwhelming me. At the end of the month, I’d accomplished a lot, but didn’t feel burned out or sick of my book. A little at a time, with limits, is perfectly acceptable.
  • Dedicate one day a week to “not writing.” For awhile earlier this year, Sundays were my “do nothing” days. I’d love to get back onto that schedule at some point. I’d work as hard as I needed to the other six days of the week to get everything done … but then I’d have one day that allowed me to rest and reset so I could start all over again on Monday. You don’t need to write every day. In fact, there are many writers who really shouldn’t.
  • Remember that you can tell a story without actually writing it. Sometimes at the end of a long week, I get a new idea for a story I want to tell. But I know that if I try sitting down to write it, I’m only going to exhaust myself more and have a harder time getting things done tomorrow. So instead, I do a quick outline on my iPad about the story’s message or its characters. Or I sketch a scene with my terrible lack of drawing skills. Sometimes, I just do a quick character profile. I’ll either return to it later or just leave it alone. What matters is that I paid attention to an idea without stressing myself out too much.

Work is important. But it’s not everything.

And I’ve found, personally, that the less I write in a day, the more I open my mind up to the possibility of new ideas to tackle during my designated writing time.

Don’t wear yourself out. Writing should be about feeding off your creative projects and thriving as you work on them, not letting your projects feed off of you.

Struggling to balance writing and life? You might relate to these posts.

How to Balance Quality with Quantity to Write More, Better

How to Make Time for Reading, Writing, Tweeting ... and Everything Else

Why You Haven't Been Able to Make Time for Writing -- and How to Fix That

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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10 thoughts on “How to Write ‘Less’ and Do ‘More’

  1. Very timely for me, fretting about not enough writing time today. Sometimes you have to stop and let the ideas come, the right words, images. Sometimes when you’re doing something completely different. Just take a notebook…

  2. “Remember that you can tell a story without actually writing it.”
    This one really stands out to me. I think it’s very helpful to validate an idea, and get the essentials down that you have now, so that you can continue at a later time, while still staying mostly focused on your current project(s), and not feeling like you’re losing ideas by ignoring them.

  3. great writeup! this reminds me of what i told a novelist friend of mine. well, she’s trying to become a novelist. she is always writing. always looking at that huge wall of a novel to tackle. I told her to maybe write short stories of maybe 5,000 words and publish them. JUST DO IT! That way you’ll get work out there faster. Don’t worry about the large projects you may never tackle. Publish many small items with quality. Sense of accomplishment will be huge!

    1. I love this advice! Nothing wrong with starting small. You’re absolutely right – it gives a writer that sense of accomplishment that might motivate them to continue on with bigger/longer things.

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