How To Write When You Don’t Have The Time

Mercedes M. Yardley wears red lipstick and poisonous flowers in her hair. Her first short story collection, BEAUTIFUL SORROWS, was just released and is available on Amazon. Mercedes works for Shock Totem Magazine. You can contact her at www.mercedesyardley.com or follow her on Twitter as @mercedesmy.

Let me just start off by stating that I’m writing this with a baby on my lap.  She’s sick.  As is my husband.  As is my son.

The laundry is strewn all over the house in various states of washing and folding. (That’s what two family trips interspersed with violent bouts of the flu will get you.) I need to put together a costume for a Halloween book signing.  I also need to love on the sickies, make a bunch of crafts for a craft day that I’m in charge of, and, oh yeah, WRITE AN ENTIRE NOVEL in the next six weeks.  Not to mention reading slush for the magazine, doing a blog tour for my new book that’s out, and putting up reviews and articles that I committed to.

The subject of this particular post? Writing when you don’t have the time.  Cue wild laughter.  Cue high fiving the Universe because the irony is just so freakin’ awesome.

Time is a writer’s currency.  Nothing else is as precious.  Time will never fall into our laps; we have to make it. And how do we carve out huge swaths of time when we’re so incredibly busy?

Perhaps we need to ditch the concept of giant chunks of time.  We’d likely fill it up with other things, anyhow.  So learn to make the minutes count.

  1. Multitask.  I’m writing AND rocking the baby. Sometimes I write and get up every few minutes to stir the soup, or unload five things from the dishwasher.  Did I mention that my computer is currently in the kitchen?
  2. Prioritize. The good thing about a time crunch is that we learn what’s really important to us. If writing is your life’s blood then you’ll figure out a way to shoehorn it in.  Something has to go, so what will it be? Television?  A few commitments that you felt guilted into anyway?  Pick something and jettison it. You’re giving up something good for something fantastic: your writing career.
  3. Guard your writing time ferociously.  Bare your teeth and snarl.  When you’re home writing, everybody seems to think that you’re just playing on the Internet. The phone rings. People come to the door.  And why wouldn’t they? If you’re not going to take your writing seriously, why should you expect them to?  Turn your phone off.  Nail the door shut. Let the outside world know that you’ll get back to them when you’re finished.  And then write.
  4. Reevaluate. Is this worth sacrificing for?  If so, keep on keeping on. If not, consider cutting your losses and walk away. There should be some joy to this process.
  5. Open a can of soup for dinner. When you’re under a particularly harsh deadline, don’t have unreasonable expectations for yourself.  You can’t do everything wonderfully all of the time. Some other things will fall by the wayside every now and then, and it’s okay.  But never let your family fall, and make sure you get a little writing in every day, even if it’s only a sentence or two. Make that sentence beautiful.  Make it shine.

Dispatch by Lightsaber Light

Shoshana Kessock is a freelance blogger for Tor.com.


Power went down here in the Greenville section of Jersey City, NJ around 9 p.m. this evening. I’ve been holed up with my friends at their apartment since the beginning of the storm, prepared with candles and groceries. We were just finishing dinner when the lights went out and moved into the room downstairs that have the least amount of windows.

Three hours later we’re still without power. There are trees down outside on the street but we have had only minimal damage. However, a friend of mine Sean Jaffe took his dog for a walk and witnessed a billboard flying down Bentley Street nearby. Many blocks in the surrounding areas have trees down with damaged cars and there is damage to local businesses with front windows smashed and awnings ripped down.

More information has been coming to me over Facebook from friends across the New York/New Jersey area. One friend had a tree down in their backyard destroy windows in three cars and block them into their house. Another friend in Astoria, Queens passed along word that their neighbors entire roof was ripped off and landed in the middle of their street, narrowly missing cars.  Still another friend reported power outages in downtown Manhattan just before power went out here and later reported seeing the explosion at the ConEd power station on Manhattan’s East Side. The only way to keep in contact seems to be by Facebook and Twitter right now, and the reports out of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan are nerve wracking to a NY native.

In the meanwhile, we are parked in the dark eating Halloween candy by candlelight and playing Fiasco, a storytelling roleplaying game, while listening to the wind howling outside. Folks are out in their cars outside, providing the only light in the neighborhood at the moment. I am choosing to stay inside with my friends, telling spooky stories in the Halloween tradition and lighting the room with toy lightsabers.

Hurricane Sandy sweeps publishing capital of the US

Sandy, now classified by the National Hurricane Center as as a post-tropical cyclone, made landfall the evening of Monday, October 29th, on the southern coast of New Jersey. The arrival of the cyclone has already been felt by several states on the east coast, in addition to areas of Canada. Numerous publishers and professionals in the publishing industry live in New York, and a number of the surrounding states facing severe weather conditions tonight. Booklife Now will be following the short and long term impact of Sandy on our industry.

The thoughts of the staff of Booklife Now are with everyone impacted by these events.

Priorities and Time Thievery

I’m not a write everyday kind of guy. I wish I was, and I have been at times (working on a novel seems to bring that out of me). I read comments from other writers who put in at least a few hours every day (if not more), working on their craft. I kid myself at times by thinking “they’re professional writers, that’s their job,” and while there’s a kernel of truth there, I know they all suffer from the same hecticness and interruptions as I.

The ideal is just that—writing for several hours a day, uninterrupted, churning out so many thousands of words at each sitting. During these times there would be no email, or phone calls, and no other projects demanding their share of time.

The reality for most of us is that life can’t be put on hold. There’s family, and work, other commitments, and other distractions. For me specifically, I work for myself—which means I need to be responsive to clients if I wish to continue working for myself. My work is full of ups and downs (busyness wise), and when I’m busy it’s best that I remain busy.

It is during these times when you need to realize what your priorities are. Is writing—or some other creative endeavor—critical to you? Is it worth sacrificing at least a little time to keep it going? I assume if you’re reading this then it is—I know it is for me.

There’s the big solutions—organize your time, plan, prioritize, keep lists, block out your calendar, etc. Or, you can take smaller steps—take snippets of time from other activities: write while watching TV (if this is family time, join in on the TV watching but wear headphones so you can focus on your work), while eating breakfast or lunch, during your commute (please not while driving!), in bed before falling asleep or when you just get up. Steal a half an hour here, an hour there, whatever you can get away with.

I’ve written in bed fairly often (where I started this)—before falling asleep, after having slept for a while, and first thing in the morning. I’ve written the first moment out of a shower, while on the can (go ahead and judge), while waiting in line at Chipotles, in front of the TV, on the road, and in the plane. One of my favorite places is lunch (I’m currently writing at a small bakery in Sedona)—there’s often a nice but non-distracting hum of activity.

You should also keep tools around to enable these stealing of moments—a pen and pad of paper if you’re a hand-writer, or electronic tools for the rest of us. Find a good app for your phone, or carry a tablet with you everywhere you go. Keep your data in the cloud (I personally use Dropbox and an app on the iPad that syncs all of my writing to it) so you can work on your current projects or start new ones where ever you are.

And if you do time steal, don’t get hung up on word counts—in fact, I don’t think it’s worth worrying about those normally unless under specific deadlines (don’t create more things to discourage your writing). Be happy that you perfected a sentence, eeked out a paragraph or two, or jotted down some new ideas. Any and all progress is good.

If your writing is a priority, you will find ways to make it happen.

My own results are mixed, of course—I’ve gone a week or more without writing a single word. More often than not, though, I do add to something at least several times a week. During this past week, while being on vacation, I’ve finished a first draft of a short story, made additional notes on some other projects, and pushed this blog post out (a few days late, sure, but who’s counting). This all came during breakfast, lunch, in the plane, and hanging out at my father-in-law’s house. Perhaps I sacrificed a bit of conversation time, but that’s how my priorities roll.