Skip to main content

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?”

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?”

(When building your writer platform and online media, how much growth is enough?)


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.

Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title

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.

Image placeholder title

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.

500x500_janktom

If you're just getting started and want to build your
library of helpful resources, then check out our
special
Get Started in Writing collection. It has
8 instructional WD items (books, webinars) bundled
together at more than 80% off! Available while
supplies last.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

Your Story #120

Your Story #120

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

Author Sarah Grunder Ruiz shares how she fits writing into her life and offers 5 tips on how to achieve a sustainable writing life as a parent.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 621

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an animal poem.

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Not sure which way to turn when writing intimate scenes? Author Jo McNally shares how to write compelling love scenes that make sense for the story you’re writing.

How Can I Help You?

How Can I Help You?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, your character is a high-end retail salesperson.

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Award-winning author Phong Nguyen discusses his lifelong dream of writing his new historical fiction novel, Bronze Drum.

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

What happens to historical fiction when history repeats itself? Author Addison Armstrong discusses writing about the past and seeing it reflected in the present.

From Script

Art and Independence (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” television writer Vanessa Benton, Allegoria writer-director Spider One, Hulu’s Prey screenwriter Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg, and more!

Steven Hartov: On Shocking Truths in Historical Fiction

Steven Hartov: On Shocking Truths in Historical Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Steven Hartov discusses the surprising truths he discovered when writing his new historical fiction novel, The Last of the Seven.