I am writing this blog post during my normal working hours (at my day job). I am writing thi s blog post during my normal working hours (at my day job) because I have about 15 minutes before I can move on to my next project (long story). And I don’t have time to just sit around and wait.
Okay, well, technically I DO have time. Minutes are minutes, and no one would fault me if I spent 15 of them browsing the internet for story ideas while I waited to be able to move on to the next thing.
But if there is one thing I have learned about productivity over the past eleven months, it is that if you want to get as much writing done as possible, you can’t just wait until it’s most convenient. You can’t wait around until you’re “in the right mindset” to do what needs to be done.
I have 15 minutes. So I am going to spend 15 minutes working on a blog post — a blog post I would have taken the time to sit down and write at some point before sundown today anyway.
It’s only 15 minutes. But you’d be surprised how many words you can write in a short amount of time when you really set your mind to the task.
Most writers aren’t trained to make good use of the free spaces in their days. But that can change.
Distractions. Bad attitudes. False beliefs and misinformation. There are many reasons large numbers of aspiring writers aren’t as efficient or productive as they could be in their work.
If you want to make better use of your time throughout your day, here are a few key things to keep in mind as you go. Maybe you’ve heard them before. Maybe you haven’t. It never hurts to be reminded of what you should be practicing, or to learn something new.
Writing misconception #1: You can only write when you’re “in a good mood.” No. Let me say it again: No. One more time in all caps: NO.
I’m sorry, but when did it become acceptable to not do something because you’re in a bad mood? What if you’re in a bad mood all the time? Does that mean you’re never going to get anything done? Trust me, I understand what it feels like to have the weight of the world and the stresses of multiple other people weighing you down. Welcome to reality. You can’t just stop writing every time you’re upset.
Guess what? I’m not fully caffeinated yet. I’m cold. I haven’t eaten breakfast. I haven’t checked my email. I would much rather not be writing a blog post right now. That does not mean that I can or should not write one, or that what I end up writing will somehow come out worse than if I waited until this afternoon or evening to get it done.
I’m going to write the post anyway because I have the time. The space is here, it’s empty, and even though I could very easily fill it with mindless tasks that really don’t matter, I’m going to use the time that I have to Make Words Happen.
Add to it the fact that I am automatically in a better mood once I start writing. Maybe that’s just me. But sometimes the reason you don’t “want” to write right now is because the thought of having to start is stressing you out. Stop stressing. Just write!
Bottom line: You can write anytime. When you’re sad, when you’re overwhelmed, when you’re questioning whether or not your life is ever going to turn out the way you planned and/or hoped. Don’t wait until “everything is taken care of.” Nothing will ever be “taken care of.” Things always come up. If you have 15 minutes, use them.
Writing misconception #2: You need hours of free space and time to get your work done. I understand where this one comes from. Some people have a really hard time getting focused, even if they don’t have trouble staying focused once they get into “the zone.” And once they’re in that zone, they don’t necessarily want to just stop once they are on a roll.
Here’s the reality, though: As much as we would all love to have large blocks of time set aside to write thousands upon thousands of words without stopping, most of us (myself included) don’t have that and never will. Maybe at some point you were told “successful” writers had this luxury and that you could, too. It’s all part of the fantasy. The truth is, it’s fantasy because it’s probably not going to happen to you in real life.
As a writer, you have to learn to write whenever and wherever you can — at least, that’s the case if you ever want to meet even your absolute minimum writing goals. This means training yourself to write on the subway as you ride into work regardless of distractions. It means you have to train yourself to write with background noise (e.g., very obnoxiously loud televisions). You might have to write in the morning when you’re not usually a morning person. You might have to write at night when you would much rather snuggle up with popcorn and a movie.
Don’t toss your writing plans for the day aside because you don’t have three consecutive hours free to get lost in your story. Sometimes busy schedules mean you have to use the 15 spare minutes you have in the middle of your day to write a few hundred words (or more).
And if you’re one of those people who has a hard time getting focused? You can train yourself out of that, too. I’ve taught myself to just start writing as soon as I open a blank document, even if I don’t quite know what I want to say yet. You don’t have to start at the beginning, and your first sentence is probably going to sound like garbage anyway. Just jump right in without giving yourself time to get distracted or start second-guessing yourself. Start writing, and you might be surprised how quickly the time flies … and how many words you manage to write as it passes.
Writing misconception #3: You can’t write anything good when you write fast. As a National Novel Writing Month participant and winner since 2008, I have to beg to differ on this one. Writing fast does not (always) mean writing terribly.
Now, don’t get me wrong: When you’re writing quickly (whatever “quickly” means for you personally), mistakes are going to happen. You’re not always going to word things in the best way possible, you’re going to miss things, and it’s very possible what you do write might come off as rushed or “shallow.”
And hey, that’s the price you pay for trying to write a lot in a short amount of time. What’s important to remember in this context is that it’s fully acceptable to write while you’re at 50 percent and go back and edit and/or rewrite later when you’re at 110 percent. No writing time is wasted time. Sometimes you have to get something down on paper before you can take the time necessary to mold and shape it into something great.
Besides, who says just because you are going to spend 15 minutes working on a project, you have to work quickly? Big things should always be broken down into small pieces, even if that means only working on them for 15 minutes at a time. You don’t have to “finish” something every time you start writing. Setting a goal to write for 15 minutes and achieving that goal technically means you accomplished a thing. You win! Now get back to work!
Use your time wisely. All day, every day. If you have a list of goals, and you have 15 minutes free, don’t just use it to watch YouTube videos and eat potato chips. Write 500 words while you eat chips and have a video playing in the background. I don’t know how you work, I can only speak from my own perspective here.
The point is that if you have free space to write, write. If you’re not in the right mindset, chances are, you’ll be there by the time you’re almost done writing. Don’t psych yourself out before you even get started. You have a lot to do. You can get it done — even if it means doing it 15 minutes at a time.
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.