Seven Strategies to Keep Momentum When You Don’t Have Time to Write

Over the past week, I’ve had a flood of freelance and contract writing—which is wonderful and fun, but makes it much more difficult to maintain momentum on my work-in-progress (WIP). Back in January, blogger Jill Kemerer wrote about how momentum is vital to success


I wholeheartedly agree. When I lose momentum on a project, I often dread returning to it. I know it will take me days to get rolling again, and I’ll be plagued by the ghosts of ideas that I meant to write but can’t quite grasp anymore. So how do you keep writing momentum when your time is limited?

Here are a few tricks that have worked for me:

  1. dropbox-150x150Keep your WIP nearby, whether as a printout on your nightstand (or, if you prefer longhand, your notebook and pen) or as an electronic file carried on your smart phone, iPad, netbook, or laptop. (I particularly like Dropbox for carrying my WIP on my phone. I don’t usually edit on the phone, but it’s great for when I have 5 minutes to re-read a chapter. More here.)
  2. If you use an outline, keep that with you in your computer bag, purse, backpack, or electronically like your WIP. I used to write scenes longhand on index cards—I like being able to rearrange plot elements manually—but I got tired of rewriting the cards every time I made a change. Now I type scenes into a Word template, print onto Avery labels (or onto paper, which I cut & paste, if I’m feeling more frugal), and paste onto index cards. Plot Cards
  3. End your writing time with a plan for the next writing session—a scene to work on or a question to answer.
  4. Keep a list of “short assignments”—plot questions to unravel, characters to explore, details to fill in—on index cards for 15 minute time slots.*
  5. Schedule brief brainstorming sessions throughout your day.
  6. collageCreate visual reminders of your story: a vision collage (more here, here, and here), a timeline posted on your wall, or even a picture on your computer desktop. The key is to pick image that will make you think about your characters and story. Even if you don’t have time to sit down and write, keep your subconscious working!


  7. Create a story shelf: a space where you can display symbols and memory-joggers for your WIP. For instance, for one project I had a shelf covered with a dragon figurine, a silver unicorn necklace, a magic wand, and coins. This project goes beyond visual reminders, giving you concrete symbols to manipulate.

What about you: what strategies help you keep momentum when your time is limited?

*Photo courtesy of andy_c on Flickr Commons

Page after Page**Inspired by Page after Page author Heather Sellers, a great resource for keeping momentum all the way through your writing project.

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  1. Aron White says


    Really great post :) I agree that it is often a struggle to keep the momentum going, particularly if writing is not your day job. I've found recently that there are 2 things that have helped keep me from straying too far.

    1) Making an effort to post several times a week to my blog helps keep me in the practice with writing, even if the subjects are different from each other because I constantly have to create an idea for each post and figure out how to write it in an interesting way.

    2) I try to brainstorm in 5 or 10 minute sessions every day similar to what you mentioned and I keep an outline doc file on my computer as I work so when I get more ideas, plot points, etc. I jot them down.

  2. Jill Kemerer says

    These are phenomenal tips! I love how you print out your scenes and paste them onto notecards. What a great idea!

    I've recently started using Microsoft Office's OneNote. It's like a trapper keeper for my WIP. I keep tabs for my scene lists, character notes, research, writing log, and anything else I can think of. Just opening it and scanning through a few notes keep my mind engaged during those off times.

    Thanks for referencing my article, and thanks even more for the great tips!

  3. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Aron,

    Blogging definitely helps keep my writing muscles warmed up–I should add that to the list :). Thanks for sharing!

  4. Cheryl Reif says

    Thanks, Jill :) Hmm…I use OneNote for my nonfiction projects, but haven't ever tried it for fiction. It's a great tool, and perfect for organizing all the pieces you need to track for a story. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Jenny Torres Sanchez says


    Fantastic advice! I totally agree with you that even when you don't have time to write, just keeping your WIP in mind is incredibly beneficial.

    Something that works for me- I make playlists that have the same feel/theme of my WIP. Then even when I can't write, I listen to the songs and they me think of my story and characters.

  6. Cheryl Reif says

    Oooh, I like that, Jenny. That would definitely work for me. I think my life is a musical sometimes–if there isn't music playing, I'm singing or whistling or humming :). Thank you for a great idea!

  7. Deborah says

    I'm so glad someone in my feed RT'd this! Until I read this, I'd found myself thinking, "I probably don't want to go back to it because my WIP sucks. Yeah, that's it."

    I've been doing a great job writing daily for weeks, but got waylaid on Monday. With each passing day, I've found myself more and more reluctant to return to my W(n)IP. Just as soon as I bookmark this, I'm changing that W(n)IP to WIP, and holding these tools in pocket for the next time I need them.