20 Ways to Write When You Can’t Find the Time

Have you ever felt that you just can’t find the time to get those words out of your head and down on paper?

It’s not that you lack ideas, or inspiration, or writing skills.

What you lack is the time.

You have to deliver content, but your latest novel sits on your hard drive unopened, your blog is a few days behind schedule, and your Facebook updates are a few days—or weeks—old.

Your regular readers (if you have any) message you asking what’s wrong with you. They are genuinely interested, and some even offer help.

But there’s simply too much to take care of in your life. The day job. The family. Just the basic sleep.

And on top of all that, you must write.

But how?

Look at me.

You think I have it easy?


Let me give you some context.

I work for a major multinational corporation in a high-pressure leadership role. I’m accountable for people around the world, from Costa Rica to Papua New Guinea to Tunisia to Finland.

My usual office day lasts 12 hours, and frequently I have to work at night. Sometimes I sleep only 3-4 hours because I work on my recommendations, presentations, and other corporate things after my family goes to sleep.

Sometimes I don’t get to sleep at all.

I come home, eat dinner with my family, put my kids to sleep, work, eat breakfast, wake my family up, go back to work.

At other times I come home and collapse.

My kids joke that Dad snores in random places around the house. I don’t find this funny. I think normal sleep is important, but my day job demands a lot from me.

I have three kids. They’re needy little demons who love to ski, skate, hike, and go to amusement parks. Every damn weekend.

My wife believes that “writing” is a waste of time and that I should wait for my retirement at 65 to “write.” It would be a nice little hobby to keep dementia at bay. Because what if I get distracted with “writing”—or, gasp! blogging—and lose my job in this economy? Oh my.

She’s a loving and supportive woman, and I adore her. She works the same hours as I do, and she runs our household in her own “free time.” She’s a trooper.

It’s just that she gets really tense when she catches me with my Apple laptop. Because she knows then that I’m wasting my time writing. Again.

And yet….

I’ve managed to publish two books in the last two years, and I’m working on three more.

I run a flash-fiction contest at my website, which takes at least an hour every night, sometimes two, to manage.

I even blog—and, yes, I also “do” the social media where I try to appear relaxed and in control, as if writing stories is all I do the whole day.

Net? Among the madness that I call “my life,” I still find 2-3 hours every day to lock myself up and write.

I hope that you won’t discount my 20 tips as bullshit. Because they work for me.

I’ve split my list into three parts: Mindset, Habits, and Tactics.

Let’s dive in.


A. Mindset


1. Imagine the goal.

Why do you write? Seriously.

Is it to make money, to get famous, to express yourself? Are you aiming to write full-time, or are you okay with its being a hobby?

How badly do you want to finish that book, develop that brilliant blog, build that freelance writing business?

Decide right now.

If you want it badly enough, you’ll find the time.

By the way, do you know what’s the #1 regret of those about to die of old age? It’s rather obvious, if you think of it: “I never pursued my dreams and aspirations”.

The point is to imagine the life of your dreams. Visualize yourself in that seaside mansion, feel how it is being famous . . . or whatever floats your boat.

Write that vision down and read it aloud before you sleep and after you wake up every day.


2. Recognize that time is the most precious asset you have.

We come to this earth for a short time only. It’s a fact.

I feel as though I was born just a few days ago, yet I’m already 40. Time has been slipping away from me.

Everything else can be recovered: money, property, friendships, and even, to some extent, health.

But time simply goes away.

Whether you write today, or you don’t, the day will end. There will never be another one like today.

You may chose to end today with a few thousand new words in your book file, or without them. In either case, your time will be spent.


3. Develop a blueprint.

Yeah, it’s self-evident.

Don’t start writing until you’ve developed an outline that you’ve fallen in love with. Be the project a full novel or a series of blog posts, keep working on your outline until it seems perfect to you.

After this step the actual writing becomes an administrative exercise that is almost guaranteed never to go off track, saving you weeks or months of hard but utterly pointless work.


4. Be intentional.

If I’ve learned anything in my 17 years of working with highly successful business people, it’s this: be intentional.

When you sit down to write, actually write. Close Facebook. Social media won’t write your books for you.

When you’re not writing, focus on whatever else you’re doing. Perform well in your day job. Be a good husband. Play with your kids. Don’t let the fact that you’re not writing bother you.

Take full accountability for each moment of your life and make it your best moment ever.

Because in the next moment you may die. I don’t know about you, but I want to do everything my life can offer before that happens.

So either write or don’t write. Be intentional about either choice. You’ll be a better writer.


5. Embrace being busy.

In my company we have 3 performance ratings: the top 20% of winners, the bottom 6% of losers, and everyone else in-between.

Early on in my career my first boss said something that has stuck in my mind for 17 years: when you have to delegate, give your work to your busiest person.

This advice has helped me to be rated among the top 20% of leaders in my company for most of my career. That’s largely because I always delegate to my busiest people.

And you know what? They never fail to deliver the fastest.


Because they know how to produce well under pressure. They don’t waste their time being resentful and grousing with buddies at the water cooler.

They do things and move on.

My point is: delight in being busy.


6. Don’t sweat slow progress.

Conversely, if you can’t write much every day, know that even 100 words written before you go to sleep is 100 words you didn’t have when you woke up.

A slow runner beats the guy on the sofa every time. I don’t remember who said it, but I like the sentiment.

As long as you produce every day, you’re ahead of most other humans.


B. Habits


7. Write in 15-minute bursts.

I wish I had lived in the 19thth century as a rich Russian landowner like Tolstoy.

I would have taken long walks through the woods and dedicated the hours of my leisure to the respectable activity of writing epic books.

Unfortunately, I live as a 21stst-century corporate zombie. I have only one uninterrupted hour in the day for myself (more on this later).

I have found short bursts of writing incredibly effective. The only thing I need is a clear plot outline that lets me pick up my thread at any time.

This has the added benefit of keeping the book in the back of my mind at all times, bringing tons of ideas and building anticipation of the moment when I can finally hit the keyboard again.


8. Insert two 15-minute writing breaks into your day.

Even in the busiest jobs we take a few breaks each day. Take that coffee or glass of water and retreat into a quiet corner with your laptop.

In 15 minutes I can bang out around 400 words. After two such breaks I have 800 words I didn’t have in the morning.

Because I always have my detailed outline, I don’t have to waste any time thinking about what to write.

And because I know that I have only 15 minutes, I write damn fast.

Once or twice I stayed home the whole day so that I could write. With the rare prospect of endless hours stretching out before me, I just couldn’t get into it. Social media. A walk in the park. Social media. A cup of tea. Social media. Some research. And then it was time to sleep.

A reasonable level of stress is a superb motivator. Use it to propel your writing.


9. Write amid chaos.

You may be the lucky person who writes in a quiet study surrounded by your favorite books. I don’t have that luxury. My study is also my daughter’s piano room. And, boy, does she like playing that piano.

I used to have the idea that a writer could only write an inspired text when he had isolated himself in a quiet spot.

That idea has proven to be wrong.

I’ve discovered the joy of writing in our living room while my kids watch the latest rerun of “Strawberry Shortcake.” I’ve fallen in love with writing in airports, planes, trains, restaurants, and on park benches.

I write during management webcasts in my office.

The danger of distraction is real when writing among chaos. If anything around me does succeed in seizing my attention, I have two choices: get annoyed and stop writing, or welcome it with joy and build on it. I choose to welcome these distractions with joy.


10. Meditate.

This one’s a biggie.

Yes, I’m suggesting the addition of another activity to your busy schedule.

Over the last few years I’ve come to understand the meaning of that old saying, “Knowledge lies outside; wisdom lies inside.”

Inspiration lies inside too.

Half an hour of meditation a day will focus your mind. In my case this time investment pays me back with more fluent, insightful writing, a deeper understanding of my characters, and sometimes even better titles for my books.

I especially like meditating in front of fire.

Try it. You may love it.


C. Tactics


11. Cut out TV.

No kidding.

You can get the latest news on your car radio while you drive home or via a 5-minute scan of your favorite news website.

There’s no need to watch TV for news, or for anything else, if you think about it.

This tactic won’t only free up loads of time for writing but also will liberate your mind from all the crap with which other people want to saturate it.


12. Schedule your movie nights.

Don’t watch every movie the entertainment industry pitches. Select only those movies you’d love to see and schedule time to watch them, ideally right after you finish the book you’re writing.


13. Plan your social media.

Here’s a challenge. Every time you log into social media, mark the time. Then see how many hours a day you spend liking cute cats, insta-gramming your biceps, and re-pinning the latest shoe models on Pinterest. Then calculate how many words you might have written during that span of time.

As I mentioned before, my average is 400 words per 15 minutes. With a break I usually crank out 1,200 words each hour.

Is tweeting recipes worth losing 1,200 words that can bring you closer to the life of your dreams?


14. Use your gadgets.

Who said that it’s impossible to write a book on an iPhone or an iPad?

I’ve written most of my latest book on these two devices. They may be small, but they’re disarmingly easy to tap on while standing in a cafeteria line.


15. Lunch alone.

Speaking of cafeterias, we office folks usually get about an hour for lunch.

A whole hour. Every day.

I bring a few papayas or bananas from home so that I don’t have to line up in the office canteen. I then retreat for the duration of that blissful hour to an empty meeting room.

By way of reward I get my only uninterrupted writing hour in the day. Oh, the joy of it!

Conceivably you might say that I’m screwing my business networking this way. After all, the corporate wisdom is “Never eat lunch alone.” But I have the rest of the day to network with colleagues. The lunch break is mine.


16. Write while they sleep.

I don’t condone a lifetime of broken sleep, but I do believe that the best writing is done in the half hour before your family wakes up.

For you it might be the opposite—the half hour after they go to bed. But, as I said earlier, I love my wife and prefer to spend my late nights at her side.


17. Don’t write at all.

Download Dragon Dictation onto your smartphone or simply talk into a recording device. Then hire someone at www.elance.com or even www.fiverr.com to transcribe your words into readable text. If you wish, hire someone to edit the transcription.

This tactic will require cash, but it does save time. And, as we’ve already established, time is the single most precious asset we have.


18. Outsource.

Although I don’t outsource my writing, I know that some authors do.

They do so because outsourcing is scalable, allowing them to have several books written at the same time. This may be a good business practice, or a misleading one, but I don’t want to judge.

What I do outsource is the editing.

Although I can write damn fast, I get bogged down with editing my texts because I’m a perfectionist. It took me 10 years to write my first book because I wanted each word to be perfectly chosen.

It took me three months to write my second book. And I didn’t even hate it, as I did my first one.

The good news is that there are wonderful professionals (for example, see www.edit911.com) whose job is to make your texts sparkle. I routinely seek their help, and I love the mutual win.


19. Reach your target word count for 21 days.

Back in my driving school, they told me that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, so I only had to remember to put my seatbelt on for the first three weeks. After that the habit became automatic.

The point is simple: set a daily word-count goal and deliver on it, despite the pain, each day for the next three weeks.

Write while you’re tired, busy, drunk, or sleepy. Go all out. Meet that target every day.

You’ll see that when week #4 rolls around, you’ll be wondering why it had been so difficult to find time to write in the past.


20. Compete with yourself.

Some authors like to compete with others in grabbing the attention of readers. I like to compete with myself.

My personal goal is to become a prolific, entertaining, and insightful author who writes in English.

Ten years ago I couldn’t slap a sentence together in this language. Now I can compose a 2,500-word blog post before breakfast.

Every day I aim to write a little more, a little faster, and a little better than I did the day before.

I don’t want to compete with you. There’s no need. There are enough readers in this world for both of us.


– – –


Does my list make any sense to you?

If even a couple of my 20 suggestions resonate, what are you waiting for?

Go write some words.

  • https://www.facebook.com/NWRUG Nili

    #3 and section B so important.

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Thanks so much, Nili :)

  • Jeanne Lynn

    I love your ideas! I’m going to implement them in my life. I actually do have several hours to write a day, but I’m always getting distracted by something!

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Thanks, Jeanne! Glad you find some ideas useful. Having several hours a day to write – such a luxury for some of us. *Envious*

  • http://www.creative-real-estate.com Richard Gillman

    This is definitely a must read for anyone who wants to write about something whether is be a book or simply on your blog. All of the information here is invaluable and one of my favorites is #17. I did not know I could do this but will be doing it from now on. Thank You!

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Thanks a lot, Richard :)

  • http://makemoneyconsulting.com Yanko Karamanov

    Very useful info.Thanks Austin.I realy bookmarked this article and going to read it again.

  • A. Partridge

    This is an inspiring piece. Numbers 1, 4, 10 and 11 (I’ve already cut out TV and it frees time and my mind — my contention is that all advertisements are criticisms of who we are) really resonate with me.

    I’m going to take advantage of my life right now, while I do have precious TIME.

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Haha, like your point about advertisements :) Thanks for your comment!

  • http://seattledesigner.blogspot.com Terri Nakamura

    Austin, wow.

    This is a comprehensive strategy for reaching one’s writing goals.

    Thanks for sharing and providing people of every stripe with a way to accomplish their writing objectives OR to decide maybe it’s not the right thing to do.

    I loved your No. 5 point about embracing being busy. “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person,” was long ago shared with me by one of my close friends, former SVP for the Westin for 30 years, and I’ve found it is ALWAYS true.


    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Hi Terri,

      Thanks a lot for your perspective. It’s amazing how it works, isn’t it? You reach a point when you may think that you can’t possibly do more… and then you find yourself having done it.

      Although I find the quest to success as an author more difficult than corporate life, I’m still going for it.

  • http://ejwilliamsjr.wordpress.com EJWilliamsJr

    What an Awesome read………and truly great ideas………!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for the inspiration…….!

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Thanks so much, EJ! I’m glad I’ve stirred up some emotions :)

  • Mark Bern

    I found this to be a very insightful article. I especially like the parts about writing in 15 minute bursts and creating an outline. I take a walk nearly every day and my best writing tends to happen right after those walks because when I walk I think; that very essential component necessary for good content.


    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Hi Mark, thanks for another idea – I love doing that, too. It’s getting warmer here in Geneva, and I’ll soon restart my 5-am walks through the fields around our village. In a way, long walks are a sort of meditation … Once I structured a whole novel during a one-hour walk, soon to be completed.

  • Bree Hoge

    Especially like the Embrace being busy. Much better to have a lot to do, than nothing to do. Keeps the mind exercised and ready to receive ideas. The idle mind because stale.

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Hey Bree, thanks for your comment. I share your philosophy :) although I believe there should be a limit. Lately, with the constant (necessary) people reductions in my company, I’ve started noticing how smart people hit the tipping point into what I can only call mental disability.

      It’s been happening to me, too. The volume of work gets to such a high level that I feel like I’m an amateur in almost everything I do.

      I hope to scale back to a happy balance some time soon :)

  • http://tigerict.com/george George J Lloyd

    Respect! Impressive job and good advice, Austin. Thanks!

    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Thanks for your support, George!

  • Isobelle Carmody

    Hey Austin,

    that was incredibly impressive. Your little site appeared alongside my fb feed and I thought oh yeah another book on how to write. But something made me tap on it and it was not, after all, a how to write book, just some amazingly good and solid advice from a fellow writer. Your comments about your wife made me smile because you clearly love her and also you get so well why your writing makes her uneasy- I feel anyone with this much insight and warmth has to write well. I am lucky because my partner is a poet and muso so the question of whether writing is or is not a real thing to do simply never arises for us. We are both addicts.

    I am so impressed with this blog that I will tweet and fb it. And I will buy your book and read it because it made me curious about you and you work.

    I say this who have written more than 30 books, published with Penguin and Random UK and US, and who write full time. I have won a lot of literary awards and I get flown to talk at writers festivals and genre conventions all the time. In short, I have that dream life you talk about and yet I still struggle to pin myself down. You advice hit me where I live. Reading though your suggestions was like giving myself a mental shaking up.

    All I can say is, thank you.


    • http://www.austinbriggs.com Austin Briggs

      Thanks Isobelle, I’m humbled with your response. I found your Amazon page, what a great line-up of books!

      I also noticed that, at least in my understanding, you’ve achieved another dream that many of us writers aim for – you seem to have kept the digital publishing rights for Greylands while a publisher distributes it in print form. Impressive. I liked the description and bought a copy.

      Thanks for your kind words, I’m glad you found some of my thoughts helpful.

  • http://danijcaile.blogspot.hu/ Dani J

    B9, always B9!!!