Tuesday Ten: Tips for the Time-Strapped Writer

Writers: we have this tendency to be perpetually short on time.

clock Aaron Geller

Do any of these describe you?

  • Writer + Stay-at-home parent (a full-time job)
  • Writer + Teacher (another full-time job!)
  • Writer + Full-time wage-earner (elsewhere)
  • Writer + Writer—that is, you have a second (bill-paying) writing career
  • Writer + Caregiver (okay, all of these “second jobs” can be full time)
  • Writer + Full-time volunteer
  • Writer + _____________ (I’m sure there are other possibilities I haven’t mentioned, so please fill in the blank!)

I’m not sure whether it’s because we’re ADD, eternally optimistic, passionate about many topics, or simply because writing doesn’t always pay the best, but I don’t think I know a single writer who isn’t juggling more than one full-time endeavor.

Housework Clarkston SCAMPThis is on my mind because—you guessed it—I have so many terrific projects I want to write that I’m feeling the pain of reality. That is, that there are only 24 hours in a day and I have to sleep during a few of them.

Luckily, over the years of balancing fun work (writing!) with not-so-fun work (cleaning the bathroom), I’ve accumulated some time-saving tricks.

  1. Lower standards. I debated whether to include this one, because it’s kinda embarrassing.* But it’s also true. One of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself is the permission to be imperfect. The truth is that my family doesn’t care whether I serve macaroni & cheese once in a while. Neither do they care if the landscaping and decorating are perfect. If we each get 24 hours, I’ve decided to spend mine on the things I find most important—and writing ranks higher than housework.
  2. Pressure cooker. If you cook your own meals, consider investing in one of these wonder-devices. I finally broke down and bought a pressure cooker a little over a year ago, and have been using it nonstop ever since. It lets me create home-cooked dinners in less than half an hour and I only have one pot to clean afterward…satisfying both my desire to provide healthy victuals for the family and my desire to spend less time in the kitchen.
  3. Organization. As someone who isn’t naturally organized, this one’s a struggle for me—but if I *don’t* devote some time to organizing each week, I pay back the time five-fold later. Specifics include a go-to list of easy meals I keep on the refrig (for those days when I don’t know what to cook), a quickie meal plan for each week (to avoid those last-minute ingredient pit stops), and a weekly house meeting with my sweetheart-in-residence to make sure everything that’s *supposed* to be on my list actually *is* on my list.
  4. Google calendar. As my kids get older, I find it more and more difficult to track everyone’s activities. I set up a family calendar on Google, accessible from any computer with internet—and the result was even better than anticipated. I used to be in charge of updating calendars with activities, rehearsals, and so on; now, each person posts his or her own information. I used to spend time tracking down important details for each event; now, all info is collected in a single place. Plus the calendar eliminates all those “but you never told me that….” conversations!
  5. Delegation. If you take a hard look at where your time goes each day, you might discover that you’re doing work other people can—and perhaps should?—help with. One of my most effective time-savers is a list of household chores posted on the refrigerator coupled with a daily, 15 minute family “chore time.” Everyone pitches in, marking off completed tasks. It costs me five minutes to post the chart each week. It saves me two hours in chores that I’m no longer doing.
  6. The word “no”. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: we all get the same 24 hours, so be conscious of how you choose to use them. Although I don’t advocate being a hermit/writer (except, perhaps, for limited periods of time), avoid the other extreme as well. It’s easy to think of writing as self-indulgent, not “real” work, unimportant; but if you were writing for a boss other than yourself, would you let every request interrupt your work? Keep the word “no” in your writers’ toolbox. It comes in handy.
  7. Distraction-free writing zone. It’s so easy to find things to distract me from writing…getting coffee, checking email, hopping onto Twitter…I’ve found it a huge time-saver to limit my time online to a few distinct time slots. There are plenty of non-Internet distractions, too: remove them from your vicinity to reclaim disappearing time.
  8. Limit research. This is really a sub-category of a distraction-free writing zone—but some of us are really, really, really good at pretending our distraction of the day is actually work. Research is great—it can help you flesh out setting, build realistic characters, analyze markets, and more—but make sure not to overdo it. I give myself research limits to curb my tendency to follow my curiosity down every rabbit hole.
  9. Deadlines. When I’m on a deadline, the article that might take me three days to write gets compressed into an afternoon; I’ve found that my writing tasks tend to expand to fill the available time. Knowing this, I’ve starting imposing deadlines on myself—a bit of self-deception that ramps up my productivity.
  10. Exercise (& other important self-care crap). You know that old saying? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? It’s true. When I exercise, I have more energy for the rest of the day. When I take breaks, I avoid burnout. Just sayin’.

What strategies do you use to create more time to write? Please share!

*Plus, I believe that nothing tells your family “I love you” like a clean toilet to embrace when that nasty stomach bug makes its rounds.

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


  1. Kerri Cuev says

    Hi Cheryl! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Sign up on my linky tool if you would like to join the bloghop so I can get your email :)

    I have some Writer-take dogs out every two seconds.

    Writer-experts on all things caffinated.

    Lol, that was fun!

  2. Ms Saba (aka Teacher007.5) says

    Stress free writing zone!!! I NEED that! Great tips gonna have to try some of them for sure!

    New follower and fellow campaigner here!!! 😀

  3. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Kerri–thanks, I completely missed the linky tool :P.

    Ooh, Writer-who-takes-the-dogs-out (or Writer-who-scratches ears/plays tug-o-war/feeds/waters/and otherwise pays attention to the furry friends) should *definitely* be on the list!

    Hi there, Ms Saba. Nice to meet you! What does "Teacher007.5" mean? Sounds cool :)

  4. The East Coaster says

    I get annoyingly wrapped up in #8. I mean, I can spend days looking up the most mundane thing and then end up not using it.

  5. Sarah Pearson says

    I'm so with you on number one! I didn't know you could have a multi-access google calender. I'll check that out, thanks.

  6. Kathi Oram Peterson says

    Fun! I'm a writer working on social networking and trying to deliver my next book by the deadline.

    Just wanted to say hi to a fellow campaigner.


  7. traceybaptiste says

    A pressure cooker is a must-have for 30 minute meals. Now to get both kids to eat the same meal…

  8. Jill Kemerer says

    Awesome (and love your voice!!) post! I use a crock pot at least once a week, the kids do the dishes every night, and we pitch in to clean the house together.

    I have to limit my Internet too, or I could read blogs all day and not write. Which actually sounds fun… :)

    The biggest help for me is creating daily and weekly goals. It's made ALL the difference!

  9. S Wesley Steam says

    One of the things that's been of great help to me is Write or Die. The visual and audio cues really help, and some times we work best under pressure. That pressure is why deadlines work (for some of us.)


    Just the simple act of setting a time limit + word count goal aids the mind in focusing on writing.

  10. Elisa Michelle says

    These are great tips. I've been eliminating my online time significantly lately. The results have been great. Also, I don't do work in my bedroom or anything like that. I sit at a computer desk and treat my writing time like work time, and I make it so I can't get onto the internet at all (yay for that little disable wireless button on laptops).

    Will be passing this post on to my tweeps!

  11. TL Conway says

    For me, I'd swap "crock pot" in at number 2, but it's the same idea. Also, when it comes to Distractions and Limiting Research, I've learned that when I head upstairs to my writing room, I have to physically turn off the wireless router downstairs. That way, if I REALLY NEED to look something up, I have to go down stairs to turn it on and come back up. 9 times out of 10, I'm too lazy and will just make a list of things to look up and will keep writing.

  12. Kathryn says

    Thanks for all the great ideas! Love "permission" to limit research. I needed to hear that. Take care and happy writing!

  13. Cheryl Reif says

    @East Coaster-Glad to know I'm not the only one who can be hopelessly sidetracked by research :)

    @Sarah Google calendar is great! I sync it to my smart phone so I have it wherever I go, and then changes are automatically uploaded to the "cloud" version. There are ways to get it to sync to MS Outlook, too, although I've found that to be a pain.

    @Kathi, great to meet you! I'm looking forward to exploring your blog!

    @traceybaptists~right, that can be a problem at times. On the other hand, my kids tend to be contrary enough that if one hates a meal, the other is honor-bound to love it! I can usually supplement with enough leftovers to keep everyone from starving :)

    Hi Jill! Yeah, I love the crock pot, too…especially when I know I won't have *any* time to cook in the evening. I like the taste of food better from a pressure cooker, though, and I can cook a wider variety of dishes in it (altho that could just be me :P)

  14. Cheryl Reif says

    @S Wesley Steam –ooh, I've heard of this before but haven't spent much time on it. I'll have to play around with it a bit when I need to get something–anything!–on the page to get past a stumbling block. Thanks for mentioning it–you've given me an idea for my next post :)

    @Elisa, good idea on turning off your internet access–I like TL's suggestion of turning it off at the box, too. It would be easy for me to push that little button on my computer, but I'm less likely to cheat if I have to get up and trek to another part of the house to do it. Making a to-research list keeps me on track, and tends to limit my research time later.

    @Kathryn, come to me any time you need permission re. writing. I'm good at that! Happy writing to you, too :)

  15. Stephanie says

    Fellow campaigner saying hello.

    Without organization and deadlines I probably wouldn't get anywhere. It helps me keep track of everything that needs to be done, which prevents the wasted time of stopping several times a day to remember what needs to be done.

    Self-imposed deadlines might be the only thing that forces me to finish a novel, along with a prize when I meet my deadline :) This is also why I love Nano.

  16. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Stephanie! Yep, prizes help, too. Are you doing Nano this year? I'm getting geared up for it. I didn't participate last year–my work-in-progress was in entirely the wrong place–but I have plans to join the fun this year!