Every successful nonfiction author must answer one critical question:
“How do you find the time to write a book?”
Time is precious for all authors. Nonfiction authors often face a conundrum: the same work that develops their expertise steals time from writing.
Many people write from a position of authority earned while conducting their careers or experiencing their lives. This authority is a double-edged sword: by the time you’ve accumulated the wisdom to share in a book, you’re busy doing whatever you’re good at.
Unless you plan to pen a post-career memoir, you may not feel you have time to write a book. There’s always something more urgent to do. So you put off the book for some future day, for a quieter spell, for a sabbatical, for retirement. In many cases that’s a missed opportunity.
When approached a learning mindset, writing a book will deepen your understanding of your topic. If you were knowledgeable before the book, by the time you finish you’ll be more so. Writing the book connects you with people beyond your usual, day-to-day scope. You may grow in unanticipated ways.
To experience those benefits, you have to escape the “not enough time” trap.
A 5-Step Plan to Finding the Time
Here are a couple things that won’t work.
- No one is slowing down the earth’s rotation for you, delivering an extra few hours per day. Cloning yourself is likewise off limits.
- Cutting back on sleep is a poor idea for many reasons. For one thing, the brain processes connections during Rapid Eye Moment (REM) sleep, which may feed the creative insights that make your writing better.
Ideally, you want to emerge from the process of writing the book healthy, sane, and still employed (or employable) in your career.
The trick is to rearrange your priorities and activities so that writing finds a place in your daily or weekly schedule. During those writing times, work as productively and efficiently as possible. Here are five suggestions for making time for the craft of writing.
One: Set Deadlines
Start by creating a plan, complete with goals and deadlines. Account for the entire process of writing a book—including research, outlining, drafting, and revision. If you expect to sit down fresh and write a brilliant book, you’ll be disappointed.
Set firm dates and deadlines for those plans. For example:
- Do 40 hours of research by August 15
- Create a preliminary outline by September 15
- Start writing the first draft on October 1, and write to 5,000 words per week until the draft is done.
Commit to those deadlines. Post them on your walls or make them part of your screensaver. Deadlines are your best defense against procrastination.
Two: Classify the Book as a Client
Work for other people usually seems more urgent than writing you do “for yourself.” Imagine the book as a demanding, valuable client that you don’t want to disappoint. The long-term rewards of completing a book may be deeper and more satisfying than the short-term satisfaction of a paying client or customer.
Three: Commit to Dedicated Writing Times
How much time can you put aside for writing a week—15 minutes a day? Four hours a week? Schedule the sessions, and when you’re in that time slot, work only work on the book.
Don’t open the laptop intending to write and then spend 40 minutes on LinkedIn or Facebook. (I’ve never done this myself, of course…)
Set a timer, shut down email, silence the phone, and focus on the writing until your time is done. If possible, work early in the day when you’re still mentally fresh; we have limited reserves of willpower during the day, and drain them quickly in a world of distractions and temptation.
Attention and focus are essential skills for writers in a noise-filled world.
Four: Write When You’re Not Writing
This is my favorite productivity trick. When you finish a writing session, think about the things you need to do: the next section, a problem, something you need to develop further. Make a short list of a few issues.
Then bring them back to your mind when you’re doing something that doesn’t require much concentration, like riding the train or washing the dishes. Let the problems drift around in your head. Part of your brain continues working on unresolved issues even as you do other things. Often you’ll come up with an insight or at least prime the next day’s writing. Psychologists call this the Zeigarnick Effect and it’s a great way to boost your writing productivity and creativity.
Five: Celebrate Small Successes
Writing a book is an exercise in delayed gratification. Find a way to celebrate small completions and victories: finishing a chapter, a section, or a phase of the process.
Remember also that writing is a journey that changes the traveler. Acknowledge any signs of growth, such as new contacts, lessons learned, and experiences outside your comfort zone.
The biggest barriers between you and a finished book may internal: the motivation to get started, maintaining faith in the process, and continuing to completion. These five strategies may help you with the inner game of writing a book.
Anne Janzer is professional writer and author of the book The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear. Find her posts on writing practices at annejanzer.com.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit with templates, worksheets and checklists for writing nonfiction. Check it out!