How to Write a Book When You’re Really, Really Busy

I am, as my mother would say, “a busy little beaver.” While writing my most recent novel, I was working full-time, going to school at UCLA and training for a 50 kilometer footrace. I also slept, ate, saw friends, posted on Twitter and Facebook, blogged, belonged to a book club and watched a number of “Mythbusters” episodes.

With that kind of schedule, one question comes up a lot, especially from other writers: “When do you write?”

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Guest column by Ashley Ream, who got her first job at a newspaper
when she was 16. After working in newsrooms across Missouri,
Florida and Texas, she gave up the deadlines to pursue fiction. Her
debut novel, LOSING CLEMENTINE, which sold at auction, was a
Barnes & Noble debut pick and a Sutter Home Book Club pick. She
and her books have appeared in L.A. Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine,
Bust Magazine, the Kansas City Star and Marathon & Beyond Magazine.
She lives in Los Angeles where she works at a nonprofit, runs
ultramarathons and is finishing her next novel.


The short answer to that is most days after work and on weekends when I get behind, which happens more often than I’d like to admit. But what I think these folks mean is: “How do you write enough?” The truth is I plan. I plan extensively. I have a spreadsheet. People don’t seem to believe this, so here it is for my second book, which I recently finished.


When I start a new book, I sit down with my calendar and block off all the days when something out of my control will make it impossible for me to write that day. Sometimes I have to travel, sometimes it’s a big project I know will drain me, sometimes I have a family commitment. Whatever the case, I don’t kid myself. I know when I’m not going to be able to get my word count in. I also take two days a week off to have a life and do all the other things that aren’t the novel but are part of the writing business, like writing this article. So now I know how many days I really have in the next several months to work.

Then it’s just math. Do I have a deadline? In this case, my agent wanted me to have the book done very early in January. I’ve done this enough to know I like two editing passes, so I figure that in. How much time does that leave for a first draft? Divide probable word count (a little over 100,000) by number of days to get words-per-day. In this case, it’s 2,000. I ask myself “Is that reasonable for me?” In my case, it is. Every writer is different, and it’s not much help to lie to yourself.

(Learn why “Keep Moving Forward” may be the best advice for writers everywhere.)

Then I stick to it. I rework the schedule only if something shocking happens in the manuscript. That happened in this book. I trashed 50 pages and a complete outline when I realized my main character needed to age 10 very important years. Sometimes I have to be flexible, but I don’t allow myself to be lazy. There’s just not enough time. If I don’t get my pages done during the week, I pay for it on the weekend. There went my days off.

Writing a book is hard. Writing a book while having a day job is harder. Writing a book while having a day job, hobbies and a life requires a strategy – a strategy and a spreadsheet.



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7 thoughts on “How to Write a Book When You’re Really, Really Busy

  1. KLTickle

    I created a monthly calendar in spreadsheet form. I felt it was my accounting training coming out, but it is good to see another writer doing it. My problem is allocating a word count to each day. I found doing that stopped my flow. So now I try to write every day, but I’m not counting my words. It’s interesting to find out what works for others.

  2. DarlaWrites

    Thank you, Ashley, for your spreadsheet idea. You inspired me to create a version of my own. I wrote about this article today on my blog that includes a link to the spreadsheet that anyone can download!

  3. OMGImawriter

    Great idea! As an engineer, I’m so into spreadsheets, just never thought to adapt one for scheduling my writing time. Excel is my friend! Great post, Ashley.

  4. havingfun

    My first reaction was, “Holy cow…do writer’s really do this?!” It seems so, well, scheduled. And at first I thought I could never write that way. What would happen to spontaneity? Besides, what happens if the plumber has to be called or the baby gets sick or…? But then, on second thought maybe this could really work..even for me. I like the word count goal. I could at least plan that out better. hhhmmm. I’m going to give it a try.
    Thanks Ashley.

  5. spiritualmom

    Ok Ashley that is inspiring.

    I’m raising 2 girls, writing a self-published blog and growing my writing muscles. The word count thing is a great idea.

    Thanks. Tempted to buy your book for summer break too!

    A Mom On A Spiritual Journey

  6. petpoet

    These are great ideas for writing a book when you’re busy. If readers want even more, they can visit a website my husband and I set up to help writers. It was named one of 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest. The site is Lots of tips and suggestions from writers around the world.


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