When I wrote my first book in 2012, I had a lot of competing priorities. For one, I was in full-time graduate school, which included a full-funding assistantship at a scientific journal, meaning I was responsible to work there a set number of hours per week in exchange for tuition, health insurance, and a minuscule stipend. I was also building my business: working on a magazine editorial team and with clients to realize my dream of self-employment and put food on the table.
I basically went to class, worked, and studied from wake to sleep, with a few exceptions to go on long runs. I even worked on Thanksgiving that year, finishing just in time to rush over to the dinner we’d been invited to. I’m pretty sure I worked Christmas Eve that year too. While finishing the draft, I became pregnant—which was both super exciting and wholly overwhelming given the circumstances.
And yet, I finished the draft, and my first book was published just three months after my daughter was born.
From there, I went on to ghostwrite book after book and coach authors writing their books. When I coauthored my second book in 2017, I had learned a thing or two about book writing. By then, I had two young children, a thriving business, and I was traveling regularly. So I applied the principles I’d learned over the years, and wrote my first best seller, which eventually climbed the charts to stand in the top three next to books by Stephen Covey and Brené Brown.
Today, I have developed a proven system for writing books, which I teach in my accelerated author program, Nonfiction Book School. And core to that system? Teaching aspiring authors how to make time to write.
It turns out, making time to write is both exceedingly simple in concept and yet difficult for many in practice. If you’re looking to make time to write, it really boils down to a few simple strategies.
Create a clear, neuroscience-backed routine.
There’s no magic behind writing productivity, but there is neuroscience. Our amazing brains are dynamic, meaning that we can train them to get into the flow faster via new neural pathways. One of the best ways to train your brain? Create a writing routine. Along with the basics (same time of day, creative environment, etc.), be sure that you’ve created habits to lead into your writing time. For example, I drink 18 ounces of water every morning, roll out my yoga mat, read a nonfiction book (usually connected in some way to what I’m working on), and then sit down to write. These are cues to my brain that I’ll be writing soon.
Get up earlier.
Where my night owls at? *Raises hand.* I know, I know . . . getting up early is not ideal for those of us who are wired to be late-morning risers (science says it’s a thing). But, alas, getting up early is one of the best ways to make time to write your book.
My biological clock is naturally set to sleep from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. But with young children, getting up that late doesn’t always work—not because 7 a.m. is late but because my youngest is often up by then. So when I’m in the thick of book writing, I’ll sometimes get up by 5:30 a.m. to get some writing time in before both kids are up.
You may not have children, but you may have a job or other commitments that need your attention. If so, I suggest getting up at least an hour early—you’ll be amazed by the productivity you can muster in those quiet wee hours of the morning.
But what about writing in the evening or at night, after the kids go to bed or work is over? What if you’re actually a more productive writer later in the day? Even in these cases, I still recommend getting up early for one simple reason: you’re way more likely to get in your writing time if you do it first thing in the morning. Research published by Stanford University shows that willpower decreases over the course of the day. By the time you’ve worked a full day, parented, problem solved, and all the other things you do during the day, you’re more likely to throw your hands up in writing despair, with a pinky promise to yourself to write tomorrow.
Give something (or many somethings) up.
Writing a book is a short-term endeavor. If you are truly committed to your goal of authorhood, ask yourself, what can I give up for four to six months to accomplish my dream? Then ask, what is standing in the way of making time to write?
Some ideas: television, social media, social meetups, poor sleep, low-paid side-hustle work, emailing at night after the kids go to bed, alcohol, toxic relationships . . .
There are both simple and complex answers to this question. Take a good look at your life, and ask yourself how important your big vision is to you. Then make the changes you need to make to accomplish your dreams.
Communicate with your people.
More often than not, the people around us want to support our dreams. Your partner, boss, and colleagues are likely to rally around you if you paint an inspiring vision about what you’re working toward. Ask the people who impact your life to support you by asking them something like: “I want to talk with you about something important. I’ve always wanted to write a book, and here’s why: [share why/how this matters to you]. I now have a clear plan to make it happen. I will need to focus on this for about four to six months, which means I need your support.”
Then give a specific way they can help: let you start work an hour later or adopt a flexible schedule; be responsible for dinner four nights a week; take on laundry duties; take the kids Saturday and Sunday mornings so you can write. Paint a clear vision. Make a specific, clear ask for a set period of time, and you’re more likely to get enthusiastic buy-in.
If you don’t have support or a strong community, can you hire some help? Childcare, housekeeping, a personal assistant for five hours a week—each of these can support your ability to make time to write.
Commit to discipline.
Writing a book is less about skill than about showing up and doing the work. Yes, you need to learn how to write a book and continue to grow your skill, but you also need to take committed action to make your dream happen. I suggest writing down your commitment—something like: I commit to write from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. four days a week for the next five months.
Support that goal by creating a clear book outline and writing plan, and investing time into learning the skill of writing a book.
Then, show up and do the work. You’ve got this!
Stacy Ennis is a best-selling author, coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders clarify their ideas and harness their unique story to make an impact. Along with being the founder of Nonfiction Book School (www.nonfictionbookschool.com), an accelerated author program, her background includes ghostwriting for a Nobel Prize winner in medicine and leading as executive editor of Sam’s Club’s Healthy Living Made Simple, a publication that reached around 11 million readers. Her best-selling book, cowritten with Ron Price, is Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact. She’s also the host of Beyond Better, a podcast that explores how to create a business and life you love. Learn more at www.stacyennis.com.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit on writing nonfiction books. It includes checklists, templates, worksheets and more. Check it out!