Eeking out time to write

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

It’s mid-November and the scent of NaNo is in the air. No matter the chill northerly breeze pulling the last leaves from skeletal trees, I keep getting whiffs of that funky mixture of exertion, stress, and self-doubt that fogs high school locker rooms at half time.  And the scent of hope – of potential victory – tingles at the edge of our senses.

But you’re against the clock! The minutes seem to fly by in the blurred manner of hundreths of seconds. You’re frozen by the escape of time, watching the flock of numbers wing south, while you gape at the white expanse before you.

No fear! You’re already deep in and the only way to truly overcome this challenge is to slay it. YOU CAN DO IT! Even if it feels like time itself is arranged against you, here are some bona fide cheats that can help you bring your manuscript (whether it’s a NaNo enterprise or other) home before the clock runs out.  And because the holiday season is practically upon us (another period when writing time runs thin as deadlines draw near), think of these tips as gifts you can give to yourself.

1. Give yourself five minutes. If the average writer can hack out 50 words per minute, then five minutes will give you 250 words. Now, clearly 250 words per day isn’t going to get you to 50,000 words in a month. But if you can give yourself 5 minutes to write, 5 times per day, that’ll get you to 37,500 words by the 30 day mark, which is getting pretty close. So even on the days when you feel like there is JUST NO TIME to write (or do much of anything else besides survive), challenge yourself like this: get up five minutes earlier and use that time to write. Stay up five minutes later, in order to write. See if you can squeeze five minutes of writing into each meal, and voila – you’re on your way. (Don’t believe me – check out Jeff Somers’ great article “The 9-Minute Novelist” in Writer’s Digest. The numbers don’t lie.)

2. Give yourself a break. It’s true that you can’t do everything – at least, not until you get your hands on Hermione’s time turner. You’ve got to focus on the thing you want to win. Every coach and every player – every fan even – knows that you’ve got to have your head in the game if you’re going to stand a chance. The player thinking about that school assignment, or the crush of their dreams, or whether they’ve got the ingredients to make mac n cheese from scratch, because even though it’s yummier, the mac n cheese from the box is probably loaded with chemicals – THAT PLAYER – is going to miss the chance to shine. So order take-out for the family (bonus if you can get someone else to pick it up), let the dust bunnies frolic for another week, and focus on what counts (your words!).

3. Give yourself permission to say ‘yes.’ We all know that kids aren’t supposed to have unlimited screen time anymore (even though Scooby-Doo and Johnny Quest were my after school nannies and I think I turned out fine…more or less). But that doesn’t mean that if you let them binge on a little extra TV or game time in the next two weeks that their brains are going to be forever damaged. In fact, isn’t this why you regulate their electronic consumption the rest of the time: so that you’ll have the spare hours to toss at them when you need it? Well, your need is now. Spend that credit.

4. Give yourself permission to say ‘no.’ To ALL the other stuff. The invites for coffees, the school board meetings, the requests to volunteer just an hour of your time at the worthwhile event for the group you normally love to support, the date night. These are all things you love, and it’s hard to say ‘no’. It guts me every time. The good news is that saying ‘no’ one time doesn’t mean you’ll never be asked again, or that there will never be another chance. Especially if you explain to the person asking that you’re tied up this week with a time sensitive project, one you’d love to tell them all about the next time you see them, which can be any time AFTER your deadline. The awesome part about this, is that the week after you’re done, you’ll have a backlog of people to catch up with, and humblebrag to, about what you’ve just done. Cue victory music!

5. Give yourself the gift of solitude. This may seem extravagant, but trust me, it’s necessary. It may even mean seeking outside help: from a partner, a family member, a babysitter. It could mean swapping kids with another friend for an afternoon or a day. No matter that you may end up with six kids in your house one rainy Saturday (after your deadline, of course), get yourself away from those who interrupt you now. Leave them at home and head to your local coffee shop or library. Find a beautiful spot to park and write in your car (not while you’re driving please!)  — it worked for One Beautiful Dream author Jennifer Fulwiler. Or send all your fantastic little time sucks whom you love so very much to the movies with another trusted adult. Because at some point you will need more than five minutes, five times a day, to get your work done. You will need an extended period of time to make sure your snippets are coherent, that they are in the right order, that they come together to tell the story you’ve been needing to tell. So when you get to that point, beg, borrow, or bargain your way to giving yourself the time necessary to get yourself to the two magic words you’ve been dying to write:

The End


I love these tips! Let’s see, it’s November 15 as I type this…which means I have 15 days to implement all of these in order to cross the Nano finish line! Who wants my fantastic little time sucks?! Kidding. Sort of. I don’t have any good tips to add to Thea’s awesome list…which would be obvious if you saw my Nano word count…BUT her reference to Mac and Cheese from scratch made me think I should share the very best recipe for you to try…AFTER you’ve hit the deadline! Just substitute the American cheese for a brick of Colby Jack. Bon Appetit and Happy Writing!


2 Replies to “Eeking out time to write”

    1. You’re doing amazing on so many writing goals, Cara! I know you’ll knock it out of the park whenever you decide to take the NaNo plunge.

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