By Lori DeBoer
I once met a successful mystery author at a conference in Tucson who told me she wrote all of her books in 15-minute snatches of time because, as a mom, that’s all she had. Her pronouncement horrified me. I was childless and working full-time at home as a freelance magazine writer. I could not imagine writing anything “artful” or “serious” without having hours of unrushed time to noodle over it.
Flash forward at least 15 years and my beleaguered mommy brain can’t remember the name of the author, but I remember her advice. In between running the Boulder Writers’ Workshop, working as a writing coach, homeschooling our son and attempting to keep the house in order, I only have small snippets of time in which to write. And I make the most of the minutes I have, poking away at my writing in short bursts. Last year, one of my short stories was shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize and appeared in the April issue of The Bellevue Literary Review. I also landed a spot in Gloom Cupboard. I started 2014 with a piece in Pithead Chapel and was recently asked to be a contributing editor for Short Story Writer. which is available in the Apple Store.
Not only do I not feel deprived because I don’t have whole days to write, I’ve found that working in short bursts really works. There is something satisfying about coming back to a piece of writing time and again and watching it unfold. Consistent effort, applied in short snippets of time, yields a pretty decent word count.
When you are looking for more writing time, consider piggybacking your efforts onto some activity you already regularly allow time for. Also, look for pockets of time that that would otherwise go to waste.
Here’s some strategies to get you started:
Arrive Early—Use the pocket of time before an appointment—whether it’s a doctor’s visit or a business meeting—to work on your writing. Instead of twiddling your thumbs, reading trashy magazines or catching up on Facebook, you could spend a few moments fleshing out a plot point or writing a scene. To maximize that space, plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early. As a bonus, you’ll gain a reputation for being well-organized and considerate; just don’t let on what you are actually up to.
Join the Gym—If exercise is already a regular habit, expand your discipline by writing for 20 minutes before or after your workout. Some gyms have a café you can write in, or you can hit a nearby coffee shop. When I was a single mom working on my collection of short stories for my MFA, I did most of my writing at the Lifetime Fitness Café. The monthly fee came with childcare and was more affordable than hiring a babysitter. As an added bonus, my son had some fun and I eventually started exercising after my writing sessions.
Write On the Go—Many great ideas and solutions to writing challenges come on the go. There’s no surprise there, getting out and about stimulates creativity and sends blood to the brain. Whether you are on a hike or standing in line at the bank, be prepared to capture your thoughts. Bob Early, my former editor at Arizona Highways, is a big proponent of carrying a writing notebook wherever he goes. Christina Antus, Colorado humorist, mom and BWW member, recommends a more high-tech approach of using the Evernote app on her smartphone. “ I can jot down ideas as they come to me. I do this through the day and can write from anywhere,” she says. “Evernote syncs to your online account so everything is on your computer when you are ready to tweak and finish up.” Colorado poet Rachel Abeyta Newlon uses a voice-recording app to record her writing on the run.
Make a (Secret) Lunch Date—Whether you spend your days at home or at the office, that regular lunch slot can offer another opportunity to make writing in snatches an ongoing habit. If you schedule a regular lunch date with your writing, as though it were a valued friend, you’ll be that much further along. Your office peeps may wonder who you are trysting with on your lunch hour, but they don’t need to know until your book comes out. Or ever.
Snuggle Up—With the advent of noise-cancelling headphones, laptops and tablets, there’s no reason you can’t snuggle up with your sweetie while working on your writing. Think of it as the adult version of parallel play. At our house, my husband watches football while I curl up on the couch next to him with my computer. He’s happy I’m nearby, doing what I love. As an added bonus, merely sitting through a game has given me wife points.
Sleep On It (Or Not)—Instead of counting sheep or worrying about the day’s events, use that time between wide-awake and drifting off to solidify your writing plan. “Before you drift off, think through what’s coming up next in your novel,” suggests Judith Robbins Rose, Colorado author of the forthcoming middle grade novel MISS and BWW member. “Don’t spend a ton of time, but consider the many different ways you can write that next scene.” Be sure to capture your ideas before you do drift off. As a bonus, putting your subconscious to work is likely to yield some creative ideas the next morning. Can’t sleep? No problem. “When you’re wide awake at 3:30 a.m. get up and write,” advises Mandy Walker, Colorado author of Untangling from Your Spouse: How to Prepare for Divorce. Plus, there’s no better fix for insomnia than writing a few hundred words.
Please weigh in. What are your best tips for sneaking in a little writing time? The writer whose tip gains the most likes will win a free hour of coaching, in person or over the phone. Use the little “Vote Up” arrow under each comment.
Entries will be accepted through Saturday, 1/11/2014. The winner will be announced on this blog on Sunday.
Lori DeBoer, a Boulder-based author, journalist and writing coach, is the contributing editor for Short Story Writer and director of the Boulder Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman, Pithead Chapel and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award. She has volunteered to help edit the RMFW anthology and will be sharing information about writing short stories at the educational workshop in January 2014. For more information, visit her website and blog at www.lorideboer.net.