How to Write a Novel When You Have a Full-Time Life (with guest writer M.J. McGriff)
When it comes to making time to write, I have it pretty easy. My schedule may be frequently packed, but I'm an independent, childless woman who works from the comfort of her own home. I have a lot of opportunity to make writing a priority in my life — but my daily schedule certainly isn't universal.
Many of you have shared with me your struggle to find time to write in your full-time lives. So when Margaret McGriff, a writer I've long considered to be Superwoman, asked if she could share her top tips on this topic here at Well-Storied, I immediately said yes. I couldn't think of a single person who could better share such advice with you all.
So, writer, if you have a passion for storytelling but often struggle to make the time to write, this is the article for you. Without any further ado, I'll hand it over to Margaret...
How to write when you have a full time life...
"My life is so crazy. I have no time to write."
If all I had to do was sit down and write books all day — completely uninterrupted — life would be fabulous! A lot of us dream of writing creatively as a full-time job. But the reality for a lot of us is that we have school, a full-time job, and/or kids to take care of. That doesn’t mean that dream is out of reach. You can totally write and finish those stories burning in your brain.
As a full-time working mom of a preschooler, I was able to write and edit two full-length novels and a novella last year. I rarely burned the midnight oil, took my daughter to dance class religiously every Saturday, kept my house presentable and spend time with my husband and extended family.
My friends, it is totally doable. Here’s how:
Tip #1: Know How Much Time You Really Have.
This is when you have to get real with yourself and your schedule. Take stock of your day. Include every-thing you do in a week, including your kid’s scheduled activities and when you take your lunch hour at work. Also take into account upcoming holidays and vacations you have planned.
You want to have a clear picture of your days, weeks, and months. You’ll likely find that there are gaps in your day or that you can consolidate some of those tasks that seem never-ending.
For me, I have three good hours to write Monday through Thursday. That includes my lunch hour at work and two hours in the evening after my daughter goes to bed. The beginning of the year is a lot calmer than the end, so I do most of my hardcore writing then. I reserve my Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for family visits, movie days, grocery shopping, and all that adult-type stuff.
Whether you have four hours a week or just a solid 45 minutes every other day, working with your schedule instead of against it is key to making those writing dreams a reality.
Tip #2: Prioritize Your Time.
Now that you know exactly how much time you have, it’s important not to waste it. As writers, there are so many things we should be doing, especially if we want to make a real splash in the publishing world. At the end of the day, writing a good book takes precedence over everything else.
You can’t market a book effectively until you’ve written it. You won’t know how the book will appeal to others until you’ve written it. You won’t know your author voice or brand until you see it on paper.
If you’re fleshing out an idea, use that time to brainstorm and outline your story. If you’re in first draft mode, focus on meeting your word count goals. If you’re editing, all you should be thinking about is how to make your book better.
When I’m in first draft mode, everything else takes a backseat, from TV to social media. (Well, I do make an exception for #StorySocial on Wednesday nights!) Last year it was all about writing, and when I was in-between drafts, I was editing the previous WIP or outlining the next book.
The key is to make that time you carve out every day count.
Tip #3: Deadlines Are Your Friends.
We’ve got the time, and we’ve set our priorities. Now it’s time to hold yourself accountable with a good old fashion deadline.
This especially applies if you want to make a career as an author (no matter what publishing route you choose). That doesn’t mean just picking an arbitrary date and sabotaging yourself in the process. There’s an efficient and easy way to figure out how long it will take you to accomplish your goal:
The First Draft:
Over the next few days, pay attention to how many words you crank out in a day. Then take the average word count of a book in your genre and divide it by your daily word count.
That will give you how many days it will take to finish your book. Work out the number of days on your calendar from the first day you start and you’ll get your deadline. Give yourself an extra day or so to account for any time when life gets crazy.
Editing Your WIP:
Just like the first draft, assess how many chapters / pages / etc. you’re able to edit in a day. Then consult your calendar and count out the days it should take you finish. Since editing can be a tricky beast, it’s a good idea to give yourself a few extra days.
Other things to consider when setting deadlines? Give your beta readers a date to get their critiques back to you. Ask an editor how long their turnaround time is on your book project. That way you can schedule a quick outline session or start editing a previous project while you wait.
Tip #4: Embrace the Fast Draft.
For busy people trying to write a book, the fast draft is your best friend. Not sure what it is? To put it simply, it’s throwing that story onto the page without stopping, rereading, or editing as you go.
Don’t worry about finding the right word or even making it look pretty. The goal is to get the story down and go from there. That doesn’t mean throwing a messy novel together. The key to creating a usable fast draft is to do as much outlining and pre-writing before you start.
I know you pansters are cringing at that thought. But there’s was no way I could accomplish as much as I did without having a clear direction of where the story was the going. I didn’t have to ponder about what I had to write about next. I just sat down and cranked the words out.
At the end, I had drafts that just needed some cleaning up and additional details (as opposed to a complete overhaul). For more on fast-drafting, check out Kristen’s amazing post on the subject.
Tip #5: Word Sprints. Word Sprints. Word Sprints.
The best ally of a fast draft is regular word sprints. What are they? It’s when you sit down to writing for a set amount of time. No internet. No TV. No other distractions. Your fingers are typing away until that timer goes off. You can set it anywhere from ten minutes to a full hour.
The end result? Training your brain to write quickly and not to worry about going back to edit what you wrote. It also helps you up your daily word count without having to add in additional writing time.
When word sprints came into my writing life, I went from barely doing 1K words a day to cranking out 3K words a day using the same three-hour schedule. My first novel took three months to write whereas my second one only took two months. My 30K novella? Two and half weeks.
I’m telling you, word sprints are a lifesaver for people who don’t have much time to write.
Tip #6: Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot.
Kids get sick. Work gets crazy. I even became pregnant dead smack in the middle of editing my second book. Life is going to happen and when it does, the key here is not to get discouraged.
Give yourself time to get your head right whether that means scaling back or just taking a break altogether. Then, when you’re ready, break out that calendar, re-evaluate your writing schedule, and get back to it. Don’t be afraid or feel guilty about changing course.
This journey is about working with your life, not against it. In the end, it’s all about achieving your dreams — writing and finishing that book.
A huge thank you to Margaret for stopping by Well-Storied today to share her tried-and-true tips for pursuing your passion while living a full-time life. I hope you enjoyed her insights as much as I did. Happy writing, friends!
Author: Margaret "MJ" McGriff
MJ McGriff is a sci-fi action writer with a crazy addiction to TV and pizza. She’s the author behind behind the New Earth Series. The Mission: A New Earth Novella is available for free for her newsletter subscribers.
Follow MJ McGriff online using the links below!