Being productive in a busy world

I’m often asked how I manage to find time to write when I have three kids. So because it is definitely not a question I’m tired of answering and I’m definitely not procrastinating from the structural edit I should be doing, here are some of my tips for fitting writing – or any creative pursuit – into a busy life, whether you have kids or not.

Don’t assume a big block of time is the answer

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It’s tempting to think that if you just had the chance to sit down at a computer for eight hours, you’d do all the writing and all your problems would be solved.

Firstly, it’s super hard to find this kind of time. Most people can’t afford to devote regular, whole days to unpaid creative work. Every once in a while, sure, but we all have commitments, whether it’s work, kids, family, partners, social lives, other hobbies, etc.

Secondly, and I’m sure this isn’t just me, but the more time I have the more reasons I find to procrastinate.

I’ll just check Facebook!

I’ll just make a witty comment on Twitter about how I’m supposed to be writing but am looking at Twitter instead!

I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first I have to engage in a conversation with three different authors on Twitter who are all doing the same thing!

Another cup of coffee! Better tidy up the kitchen! I’ve got so much time, I’ll just watch a bit of Netflix! Haven’t written a blog post for a while!

You get the idea. Sometimes I manage to be productive in these rare chunks of time, but more often my mind wanders to other stuff I should be doing. It’s hard to stay focused for such a long period.

Slide writing into the nooks and crannies of life

Following from the above, I find I’m way more likely to be productive if I only have a certain amount of time. It might be ten minutes while I’m eating my breakfast, or half an hour while one kid is at school, one watching a movie and the other asleep. Steal these moments when you can – when they’re few and far between, you’re not going to waste them on social media or house cleaning.

Set goals

In the past I’ve set words-per-day goals when I’ve been writing first drafts, and it’s been super effective. Better yet when you can team up with another writer friend and keep each other accountable. It’s a good way to keep the momentum going and stay on track, with the added benefit that you’re more likely to find extra time in your day so you can meet your goal.

Look for dead time that you can turn into writing time

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For years, I’ve periodically set my alarm for 5am to enforce a couple of hours of writing time. I don’t waste time on the internet, because if I’m up that early I’m damn well going to make it count. But I know a lot of people don’t want to hear that as a solution, so think about other chunks of time where you’re not doing anything else and look at them as opportunities to fit more writing in.

I work a seven day fortnight, so on my three days off with the kids I get up at 5 (sometimes earlier if I’m stuck with insomnia – I’d rather be productive than lying in bed calculating my number of hours of sleep if I fell asleep right that moment).

On work days I take my laptop with me and I write on the bus and in my lunch break. It’s a 30-40 minute bus ride, so that works out to around two hours of writing per day. And because I’m doing it in short bursts, I’m way more productive. Plus, I’m usually on a roll when I have to stop, so I’m always keen to jump back in next time.

As I also write for my job, sometimes it’s a bit much to be working with words all day. But more often I find the creative writing a welcome break from gov speak, and vice versa – the soothing nature of editing (or is that just me?) can be a relief from the pressure of creating a believable plot and characters.

Use non-writing time for planning

There are times when I’m stuck in a place where writing isn’t an option – driving to work, at a playground with the kids, going for a run, middle-of-the-night insomnia – and I use this time to percolate on plot holes or come up with story twists. Because I’m not sitting at my laptop and feeling the pressure to write, my mind is open to my characters’ voices (surely I’m not the only one whose characters talk to them, right?) and I have the emotional space to look at the story as a whole rather than the words on the page.

I’ve come up with more ideas, solutions and realisations of themes and deeper meaning using this method than any of the time I’ve spent wrestling with paragraphs in a manuscript.

Do something else

When the words aren’t coming and your brain feels locked, do something different. Write a blog post, write poetry (disclaimer: I never write poetry), write by hand (I don’t do this either), read a book you love, anything that might kickstart your brain.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

You’re not always going to be productive. You’re not always going to be inspired. Some days it’s like wading through quicksand and you wonder why you ever decided to embark on this writing caper because obviously you’re hopeless at it. Some days you’ll do no more than stare at the screen and wallow in self-loathing. Take a day off. Take a week off. Bitch to your writer friends about how hard it is. Then go back to the computer and try, try again.

So that’s my advice, for what it’s worth. It won’t work for everyone, but it works for me. Since I’ve started writing to and from work and in my lunch breaks, my productivity has exploded. I find I’m spending more time thinking about my stories and I’m almost always eager to get stuck into it every time I open the laptop.

Now, back to that structural edit…

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About Rebecca Freeborn

Writer, reader, feminist, horse rider, shameless word nerd, wine lover. Swears frequently. Debut novel Hot Pursuit out with Pantera Press in May 2018. View all posts by Rebecca Freeborn

One response to “Being productive in a busy world

  • Jo Carter

    That was brilliant! I totally agree and feel like I’m on the right track as I do those things do. My day job and concentration don’t allow for major blocks of writing at this stage, so I do snatch 15 minutes in the morning and half an hour to an hour at night. I also use the dead space too. I think plot lines over the car and I also check social media when I’m waiting for something like at the doctors or doing the banking run at work

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