Last updated Apr 24, 2024 | Author blog

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a writer walks into a bar and says, “Oh, me? I’m a novelist!” In response, a well-intentioned piece of smarm who’s had a bit too much to drink says, “Ah well, anyone can write a novel, can’t they? I’d do it myself if I only had the time.”

Hah. And on top of that, another Hah!  Nobody becomes a debut author because they’ve suddenly found themselves with too much free time to fill. Successful writers know that productivity comes from making the most out of the time that you’re given, because you have something important to say.

If you’re struggling to find the time to write your future bestseller, here are some tips to getting the most out of your writing sessions.

Create a writing routine

Did you think building healthy habits was only for long-distance runners and tech gurus? Bestselling authors know that the key to getting words down on paper in a sustainable and consistent way is to create a regular routine.

For you, this might be an hour every morning before you go to your day job. Or, it might be an hour each night before you nod off. Other writers might prefer to devote four-hour bursts one or two afternoons per week. You may need to experiment a little to find the schedule that works best for you. 

When you do, try your best to keep it consistent week after week. The more your writing routine becomes a standard part of your everyday life, like watching your favourite programme or doing the laundry, the less internal resistance you’ll encounter on the way. You’ll find it gets easier and easier over time, and before you know it, you’ve written an entire novel!

Find your ideal environment

Some writers need pin-drop silence to the point of sterility in order to be creative. Others flourish in the vibrant chaos of coffee shops, train stations, and other humanity-rich locales. Still other writers might work best with the naturalist soundtrack of their backyard, woodland, or local park. 

Try out different writing spaces and find the one that makes you feel most comfortable and inspired. If you’re writing from home or another private space, you can put your own personal stamp on it through images, colour schemes, and inspiring quotes. (Just don’t spend so much time decorating that you never start writing!)

Eliminate distractions

Once you’re settled into your perfect writer’s nest, it’s time to get down to work. That means mercilessly exorcising all the day-to-day distractions which are siren-songing you to literary obscurity.

See that Pinterest icon? Delete. Instagram? Delete. Your demanding mother-in-law who won’t stop calling to remind you of your dinner appointment that evening? Delete— just kidding. But do put your phone on silent. 

Working from a notebook, rather than a computer, is a great way to limit incoming distractions such as emails and notifications. If you are working from a computer, consider using an app or word processor that has a “silent mode” and minimal accoutrements so you can focus on what really matters: the words.  

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Experiment with goal setting

Above we looked at the importance of developing a consistent routine. Within this routine it’s equally important to set measurable goals for yourself. But, what these goals look like will vary from one writer to another.

In general, writing goals fall into one of three categories: word count, time, or project. Word count means deciding on a number — for example, 500 words — and writing until you hit that number. Time means deciding on a set time frame — for example, one or two hours — and doing as much as you can within that period. Project means giving yourself a particular concept to work on, such as finishing a chapter or writing a challenging scene. 

Each of these goal types resonate with different types of learning and output methods; what one writer does successfully might not be the right path for you. Try them out to see what approach feels most comfortable.

Know your limits

It can be intimidating to hear your favourite bestselling authors say things like “I always aim for around 3,000 words per day”, or “I write for eight hours, take a break, and then write for another four before bed.” These people are obviously doing something right, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that these herculean efforts are the only path to success.

If you can only manage a middling 150 words per evening, that’s 1,000 words per week if you do it consistently every night. That adds up to more than 50,000 words in a year! By contrast, if you set unattainable goals that aren’t a good fit for you, you’ll only end up getting down on yourself and feeling like a shlump. 

Know thyself. Get thy book deal.

Track your successes

When you do manage to hit your goals, celebrate! Some writers like to use a physical desktop calendar and attach a gold star for every day that they reach their word count or write for a solid hour. This way, you end up with a string of gold stars that encourages you to keep moving forward. 

You might also offer yourself weekly or monthly rewards, like getting an ice cream or going out to a show if you’ve hit all your goals for that period.

Hold yourself accountable

Often we do our best work when we have someone else there to hold us up and help us meet our goals. Consider finding a writing partner, a mentor, or a critique group to help keep you on track.

These people might check in with you to ensure you’ve hit your targets, give you feedback on your work, and cheer you on when you’re feeling discouraged. Depending on the type of relationship you form, you might also help do this for them — which will give you a new perspective and a deeper understanding of the writing craft.

Juggle multiple mediums

It can be challenging to stay engaged with a longform project like a novel consistently, day after day, for months or even years. That’s why some writers like to move between different types of creative output to maximise their productivity and keep things fresh.

For example, you might take a break from novel writing and recharge your creative batteries by writing a short story or a poem. Or, if you write and illustrate or work with graphic mediums, you might alternate between images and text.

Stay creatively engaged

If you’re starting to feel a bit burnt out by the sheer scope of your work in progress, keep your productivity moving by coming at it from another angle. You could work on drafting a structural outline of your next few chapters, or write out detailed profiles of your main characters to help you understand them better. 

You could also work on projects that support your writing life in other ways, like composing blog posts or articles for your author website! This ensures that even if you’re taking a brief step away from your main project, you’re getting things done and not falling into a creative slump.

Be kind

Finally: go easy on yourself. Life is hard. Writing is hard. Sometimes we run out of ice cream. These things happen. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re going through a difficult time or having trouble meeting your goals. Be patient, and remind yourself that you are doing important, powerful, and courageous work. The trick is just to keep moving. 

Fija Callaghan is an author, poet, and unapologetic daydreamer. Her work has been shortlisted and longlisted for a number of short story prizes, and you can find her writing in publications like Gingerbread House, Crow & Cross Keys, Corvid Queen, and Mythic Magazine. When not writing or helping other writers get the best out of their work, she can be found haunting her local bookshops or watching the tide come in.

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