How to Write: Time & Motivation

There’s two hard parts of being a writer…sitting down to write, and actually writing! How do you find time to ensure that you write? And how do you make sure you use that time effectively?

When do you work best?

For me, it’s mornings and evenings, with a slump in the afternoon. I know that if I schedule writing time in for an afternoon I’ll most likely end up on Facebook…so I’m much better off accepting that my brain wants an afternoon nap (even if it can’t have one) and scheduling writing time in for a morning or evening when I’m more likely to focus.

When do you have time available?

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to pick a time. If you’re struggling to carve out time, can you make use of the small spaces between other things? Even half an hour a day is more than nothing, and will slowly build up. Can you wake up an hour earlier? (Horrible, I know, but it does add uninterrupted time to your day). Can you find a spare half-hour at lunch? Can you use a dictaphone on your commute, or take a notepad?

How do you work best?

I need multiple projects at various stages; if I get stuck on one, I’ll move on and work on another so that I’m never unproductive. But I know authors who focus on one project at a time and push that through to completion before starting another. What’s going to work best for you?

Where do you work best?

Most authors have a ‘place’ that is only for writing; the idea is that when you’re there, you associate it with writing rather than browsing FB or talking to someone, and it helps you to focus. Potentially you could also do ‘writing time’ and give yourself specific time Somewhere Else ( a library, or a coffee shop?) that you dedicate to writing. That might work really well if you get distracted at home a lot, and the walk will often help you think!

Do pressure or deadlines help you focus?

If you work better with a deadline, there’s a lot of different ways you could get them.

  • Use a graph or spreadsheet to keep track of your word counts (for example, I love NaNo‘s little tracker – you can see your word count rise each day!)
  • Set yourself wider totals; a number of submitted short stories per six months? Number of chapters written per month? A story planned by next NaNoWriMo, or a draft finished by Christmas?
  • Borrow a friend (or alpha-reader, or editor), and swear faithfully that you’ll have X work submitted to them by X date. They do have to be willing to check in and make sure you are doing it, but often having someone else waiting for a piece will be enough pressure to get it done.

However, pressure and deadlines don’t always help. I personally don’t find them useful; I write when I have the inspiration, and I’ll do a burst that could last hours or days or weeks and then not do much for a while. It’s the best way I have found that works for me.

Who is supporting you?

Having supportive and available alphas, betas and editors really, really helps with writing. If you send a piece out and get timely and relevant feedback in return, it helps with your motivation and keeps the momentum up on your work. Useful critique also helps you grow and learn as a writer, which then benefits the rest of your work.

A supportive community of writers also helps; writing can feel very lonely, and having people around that you can talk to about problems and queries is important. Find a local writer’s group, check out Twitter or Facebook or writing forums, or just make sure you have one or two people around who will give you a word of enthusiasm when you’re stuck, and cheer you on.


And some more general advice:

Keep organised

  • If they work for you, then use a submission manager. The Grindr and Ralan are two major ones, and they can help you keep track of what you’re working on or submitting.
  • Keep a spreadsheet. I’ve got one for short stories with in-progress, plotted, finished, submitted…it helps to see what I’ve got available and what needs to be worked on. If I’ve found a submission call, I’ll note the website and date too.
  • If you start submitting, definitely keep a spreadsheet of who you sent things to and when, along with their answer!
  • Back up your work. Seriously. Use an auto back-up system like DropBox or OwnCloud, or make sure you back up weekly and daily – I use a larger hard drive for monthly backups, and a small flash drive for daily ones on whatever I’ve recently worked on.

Don’t see not writing as failure

While ideally you do want to be using the time for writing, sometimes you do need a break. My personal philosophy is that as long as you are doing something productive – knitting, cleaning, going for a walk, administration, cat-stroking, whatever it may be – that’s still using the time. I personally see it as “thinking time” – if I’m doing something else I’ll often find that an idea just pops in, or a problem gets solved. Allow yourself some down-time, and allow yourself the breaks.

That said…make sure you do try to write first. Don’t let that “writing time” slip into everything else; keep it carved out and separate, even if you don’t end up being able to write during it. It’s better to be doing something productive with your writing time than to be wasting it staring at a blank screen.

While I hope that all of this is useful to you, your motivation and working style will be very individual; it’s entirely up to you to work out how you work best, and what’s going to make you most productive. If you’ve got tips and tricks that you think would help other people, let us know!

Green Sky & Sparks

by Kate Coe


Find yourself transported to a different world. The author really draws you in with her descriptions. I felt as though I could picture the whole landscape.
Sara Ellis

Kate Coe
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