8 Tips for Writing a Novel (for busy people)

Hello Preptober!

Hey everyone!

Did everyone notice that it’s October!? DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!?

Oc·to·ber

äkˈtōbər/ noun

the tenth month of the year; also known as Preptober, the month when writers begin to freak out about their writing projects for the National Novel Writing Month.

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I’ve heard from many of you who are doing Nanowrimo this year so……… I will be doing more writing-related blog posts to get us hyped up about Nanowrimo! Even if you won’t be doing Nanowrimo (but want to write), I hope these posts will be helpful for you as well. Without further ado, let’s get started with today’s topic: How to write when we are super busy!

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Life can get pretty busy. More likely than not, we go to school or have a full-time job. We might have rent to pay, chores to do, families to feed, dogs to walk, and/or children to raise. We probably even have a blog to update, Goodreads reading goals to meet, and promising book and movie releases to keep on top of!

And oh, by the way, we also want to write a book.

But how in the world do we make time to write when we have a gazillion other things to do in a day?! We barely have time to BREATHE!

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A full disclaimer here: I can’t say that I am a super successful writer- I am not a professional or published (yet!!!) and I just do it for fun. I’m also not a super successful blogger or even a super successful dog owner. However, over the years I’ve learned a few things here and there about getting everything done and making time for what I love to do: I just finished my second novel this year, I keep this blog updated on a regular basis and my two dogs are still alive (last time I checked.) Yes! It’s possible!

So today, I want to share with you guys some of the tips and tricks I keep in mind when I am writing. Everyone works differently! What works for me might not work for you, but hopefully you will be able to take away one or two things that are helpful!

1. Take inventory of your time

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How much free time do we have on a regular weekday? How about on a weekend? Factor in necessary activities such as chores, extracurriculars, family time, and social events. Then factor in how much time you want to spend on your “must-do” hobbies. (For me, exercise and blogging are super important so they get priority.) Then, you get the amount of time you have to write.

Here’s the break-down of my regular weekday:

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No worries, you don’t have to do a spreadsheet! (I just make a graph for the purpose of this post, usually it is a mental tally.)

2. Set realistic and specific goals

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Given how much time we have on a daily and weekly basis, how much can we expect to write? Take into consideration how quickly you write (for example, number of words in an hour) as well as time required for thinking, plotting and character development.

Based on this, set a realistic goal. This is a point where it is easy to be over-ambitious and give ourselves a goal that is too difficult given the amount of free time we have. When we don’t achieve our goals, it is discouraging and de-motivating. Therefore it is important to be honest with ourselves here and consider what we are really able to accomplish.

Be specific with our goals. How many words or minutes of writing this month? How many per weekday? Per weekend day? Which time of the day or days of the week do you plan to write?

3. Make a commitment.

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Now that we have a goal, we have to stick to it. And sometimes that is the most difficult part! I believe making a commitment comes in two parts:

Make a commitment to ourselves. Yes, tell yourself that you are going to do this. Not, “maybe I’ll do this,” or “hopefully I’ll get this done,” but “I AM GOING TO F*&%*# DO THIS, NO MATTER WHAT.” Words have power!!

Make a commitment to other people. Tell everyone else what you are going to do. This can mean joining Nanowrimo or Camp Nano. This can mean telling your family and friends. This can mean making an announcement on your blog or social media. By making a statement to other people, it makes us want to stick to them.

4. Do not waste time.

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Are there time-wasters in our lives? Things that we do that don’t really mean much but we do them anyway? Well, it’s time to reduce our consumption of these things or get rid of them completely.*

Pssst……. For me, these things are TV and social media. I find that they don’t bring meaning to me, I don’t particularly enjoy them anyway, and they take up a lot of time, so out the window they go. (On the other hand, maybe you have a few shows you love and/or you want to keep up-to-date with social media, then by all means keep these activities. My point here is to find efficiencies in our time by eliminating activities that are not meaningful.)

*That being said, I think some amount of time-wasting is actually productive and healthy for our busy brains. Therefore remember to kick back once in a while and relax with an activity that you enjoy.

5. Make time for writing.

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You know what they say… when we don’t have time, we MAKE the time. Is there a way to optimize our time? Maybe this means writing during your commute or during your lunch break.

If you are tight on achieving your writing goal and you REALLY want to get it done, consider making sacrifices. Are there regular activities that you can sacrifice?*

*NOTE: I believe in a healthy balance of work/school vs hobby vs socializing vs sleep. Please be very careful in selecting what to skip. Good grades are important and we want to keep that paycheque! We all need sleep and a good dose of social interaction to keep our minds and bodies healthy and happy.

6. Keep track of how we’re doing.

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This holds us accountable! It is easy to miss a day of writing and shrug it off, but having to punch in “0 words” or “0 minutes” at the end of the day makes it a teeny bit harder.

This can be as simple as a list or a spreadsheet. I use a (very simple) Excel spreadsheet to track the number of words I write per day and how it stacks up to my goal:

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For those of you who are doing Nanowrimo, using the word tracker also works. During non-Nanowrimo months, there is also a nifty “Goal Tracker” option on the Nanowrimo website which allows you to set a goal for yourself and keep track of your daily word count: (Thanks to Sieran for this tip!)

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7. Surround yourself with other people who write!

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You know what they say, we are the average of the people closest to us. If we surround ourselves with people who love writing or simply people who are interested and supportive in what we do, then it will be a constant reminder for us to keep writing. (Pssst the online community counts too!!)

8. And last but not least… forgive yourself for the bad days.

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There are going to be days when we don’t get any writing done. There are going to be those zero-word days, zero-word weeks, even zero-word months (or in my case, 10 zero-word years.) And we want to beat ourselves up for it and there is that little voice in the back of our head that tells us that we’re not destined to be a writer.

Do not listen to that little voice! IT LIES.

The thing is, life happens. It’s okay. Just get back on the wagon again, your pen and paper (or laptop) are waiting for you.

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What do you do to motivate yourself to write (or to accomplish another goal)? How do you make time to write? Are you doing Nanowrimo this year?!

61 thoughts on “8 Tips for Writing a Novel (for busy people)

  1. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    These are such great tips! I think making a specific time when you can write really helps and keeping track of progress is good too (and very motivating) I think it’s also most important not to be too self critical and recognise that everyone has bad days!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Marie says:

    Sophie, this is such a great and very, very motivating blog post, thank you so much for writing this and sharing your tips and tricks! I think that finding and most of it all, actually making time to write is the hardest thing, because I tend to let other things take priority while I know that, by dividing my time more efficiently and maybe cutting back on some other things, I could try to fit in some writing, too. I hope that will happen someday ahah. thank you for the lovely post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Thank you Marie 🙂 Yes it is hard to find time to write, especially when there are so many other things to do. I’ve had to occasionally sacrifice other parts of my life to write more. To finish my last novel I did not exercise, check my blog or go outside for three days lol (though in my defence I caught a bad cold!) :’) That is probably an extreme example and I wouldn’t recommend it haha, but fitting in an hour or even 30min of writing per day might be doable 🙂 I think it is a matter of what we think is important and how much we value writing in the grand scheme of things.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marie says:

        Yes I think so too – I know that, for instance, by cutting down a bit of blogging time to write, I could do more, but somehow it’s complicated because I feel like I’d fail at blogging then?! I don’t know I’m just conflicted haha, but really your post motivates me. Thank you ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        I felt so guilty for falling behind on comments and posts on my blog however I liked having a few days where all I thought about was my novel (kind of going on a mental vacation lol?) It is definitely conflicting and I think the best way is to find a balance of both 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sieran Lane says:

    I’ll reply more, but aw, thanks for the mention. 😁

    I want to point out that writing-related activities can count in our daily/regular writing routine too. For example, editing, brainstorming, planning, researching for our story. We could possibly even count reading books and writing book reviews as part of our “writing” time, since every writer needs to read a ton too, not just write a ton. Yes, there’s the risk of excusing our lack of writing by spending loads of time reading instead. However, I’ve experienced the opposite risk, where I was so intent on writing so much, that I neglected my reading…which was bad for me as an author. Once again, balance is key. We can also have cycles, such as a period where we devote most of our time to reading, followed by a period of mostly writing, etc., and these periods rotate like a cycle.

    Another point I wanted to add, is that depending on your ambitions, you might want to include nonfiction writing time as well, where blog writing time would count as “writing”. So would time spent reading nonfiction books and articles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hi Sieran!
      Yes I definitely agree that other writing-related activities are super important and should factor into our writing time, and we should count it as progress even though we’re not physically writing down words. You’re right that we need to read a lot to become good writers as well 🙂
      I can see how blogging can count as writing time and it’s true that blogging can help strength our writing skills!
      For me, I find that the time I spend writing vs reading are actually independent of each other. I tend to (only) read or listen to audiobooks on my commute and when I walk my dogs, so how much I read really depends on whether or not I like the book! How much I write also depends on how much I enjoy the part that I am writing right now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sieran Lane says:

        Wow that’s so interesting that your reading and writing time are independent of each other!!

        I avoid reading on my commute, because my eyes need more time to rest. 😦 I hate my eye strain, ugh.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sieran Lane says:

        Yes, always be grateful for any abilities you have due to good health! You can also be healthy in some things but not in others. I have eye problems, but I don’t have chronic pain, for instance, for which I am grateful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sieran Lane says:

        Yes, I recently went through a quick health assessment, and the nurse called me a healthy guy!! That’s when I realized that I’ve been so fixated on my eye strain and insomnia problems, that I viewed myself as weak and unhealthy. Yet, I don’t have any heart problems, blood pressure problems, lung problems, stomach issues, infections, allergies, migraines, etc. I really only have my insomnia and eye strain, even though these two are quite distressing and often debilitating.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        That’s good to hear that your health assessment went well! I guess it’s all relative.
        However insomnia isn’t fun at all and eye strain sounds like it can get bothersome. Have you tried melatonin for sleep? It works well for me and it’s pretty safe to use 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sieran Lane says:

        Yeah I use melatonin, milk, AND reading at least an hour before bed. They only help me fall asleep faster (but no guarantees). But I still wake up too early and find it hard to fall back asleep. If I don’t use the milk/melatonin/novel-reading combination, my sleep is simply even worse.

        My “normal insomnia” is getting six hours of sleep at night. If I’m lucky, I might get 7. There are very rare instances (once in a blue moon) where I might get 8 hours. If I’m particularly stressed or excited, I would get like 5 or fewer hours. It sucks.

        The eye strain is super bothersome! I can’t watch YouTube videos, movies, or tv shows because they hurt my eyes. PowerPoint screens hurt my eyes. Any bright screens hurt my eyes, so I have to turn away or even close my eyes when someone nearby turns on their bright phone, ugh.

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  4. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    I need to bookmark and pretty much live and breath this post, especially given how close we are to the start of NaNo as well. 🙂
    In my mind you are a successful writer Sophie, you seem very dedicated to your WIPs and you have this insane and awe-inspiring ability to stick to your WIPs and actually finish them (which is something I still have to master myself).
    I think the things I struggle with the most are setting myself realistic goals and sticking to them, I think again this is part of my need to procrastinate everything I do as well but I’m working on that, or trying to. I’m going to say going forwards I’l set asides an hour of my day every day to focus on my writing and my WIP, I’m sure I can spare that amount of time and I guess I’ve got to start somewhere.
    I love this post Sophie, good luck with your writing and thanks for the advice as well. I’ll definitely be following some of these tips in the run up to (and the course of) November! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Aww thank you so much Beth ❤ For me the first novel I finished was the hardest. After that one, I knew that I could do it, so it became a matter of how long it will take to finish a novel rather than whether I will finish it. My pole instructor once said that our mind and body remember our successes and failures, which means that once we succeed, it becomes easier to succeed again and again. So long story short, I encourage you to go ahead and get through this novel!
      Yes! Setting realistic goals is hard because we have to be honest with ourselves. I think an hour in one day is a great goal to start off with. I find that if I make writing a daily habit, it becomes easier to keep the creative juices flowing 🙂
      Thank you Beth ❤ Good luck with your WIP as well! All the best for Nanowrimo! Let's add each other as writing buddies if you like (my username is portabelloxoxo 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

        That’s all right. 🙂 ❤ I guess in that case I just need to finish my first novel, then hopefully it'll be easier to finish all the others that follow. Ohh, that's actually really interesting. I'll have to keep that in mind next time I start writing, try and work towards remembering a success rather than a failure.
        I figured if I set a time as well, like say 8pm each evening, it'll be even easier.
        That's all right, and thanks Sophie. I definitely will, this week I need to register my this-year's novel onto NaNo so I'll definitely add you. 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

        The planning is going but slowly going. I feel like I’ll be in a good place to start at the beginning of November but yeah it’s so strange it’s nearly November already! You’re taking part in NaNo this year right? Do you have your new WIP all planned out? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        Glad to hear that the planning is going well! Slow and steady is key, right 🙂
        I am using the snowflake method again to plan my novel for Nanowrimo this time around. I’ve worked out the main plot though still need to iron out the kinks. Overall I think I am on track too. I’m super excited for November! Added you as a buddy as well 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

        Yay, we can cheer each other on as we’re writing then can’t we? 😀 And I guess if the snowflake method works go for it. I’m using my own planning method just because I’m not sure what will work for me until I try just planning in general. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. audreywritesabroad says:

    Great tips! I love this entire post! 😀 ❤
    I’m preparing for NaNo as well, and I’ve already been working an hour every day on my project since the beginning of October, I’m pretty proud, haha. What works best for me is to write first thing in the morning, before breakfast or even tea. I read somewhere that it was the best thing to do for first drafts since your brain is still half-asleep and instead of focusing on logical things like structure or grammar, it’s just floating on creativity cloud. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      That’s awesome to hear that you’re doing Nanowrimo as well! Sounds like you’ve some solid prepping so far, which is great 🙂
      I’ve heard other writers who say that they write best first thing in the morning, though it is the first time that I heard your theory about why it works (it makes a lot of sense!) I did try it at one point but I was too sleepy to string together sentences that make sense lol :’) I find what works best for me is to write before I go to bed. In any case, I think as long as we find something that works for us, we should stick with it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. J.W. Martin says:

    Ooooo! I didn’t know about the Goal Tracker on the NaNo site. THANKS! I’m planning on taking part in this year’s NaNo again. Last year I bottomed out at 27K. Not my worst attempt, but I’d like to hit that 50K for my third time!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        Nah I think Nanowrimo can be whatever you want to make it, whether you want to start a new novel or continue an old one! Do what your heart tells you!
        I’m starting a new novel and though I’m aiming for 50k I don’t think I can finish the novel within this time, so it’s kind of unconventional too 🙂
        My Nanowrimo username is portabelloxoxo if you want to be writing buddies!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Zoie says:

    Woo hoo, freak out time! 🎉 🎉 🎉 But at least we get to freak out together, which is always fun 😋 I find it so bizarre that social media + yt take up so much of my time when I know they don’t bring meaning to me… it’s so important to be aware of how we use our time so we can be more mindful about what we do & whether it’s important to us, so that’s amazing advice. Also, I’ve struggled a lot with setting realistic goals for myself in the past — I always tend to jump into the extremes and end of feeling disappointed when I don’t reach those goals. 😅

    Anyways, this was such a good post! I’m definitely going to refer back to this when I do further planning for nanowrimo later in the month! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hello Zoie!! Haha yes it’s freak out time- just a bit more than half a month left?! How is plotting going for you? I have a rough idea in mind but a lot of plot kinks need to be ironed out!

      Yes it took me a while to learn to set realistic goals. The hardest part is to not take on new projects that interest me, knowing that I won’t have time to get to them! However I feel more satisfied now because by setting more realistic and conservative goals, I am usually able to achieve them. Hope that you’ll find this post helpful for your nano prep 🙂

      Like

  8. Stefanie says:

    I would love to write. I used to have so much imagination as a kid and would get up at like 6-7 am to write at my little desk. But now other things consume my time and I feel so unequipped to write because I like rainbows and unicorns. I don’t know how to get gritty or make flawed characters. I have thought if I were to try writing, I would start small and at the children’s level where it’s not too complicated, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      I get what you mean Stefanie. Now that I’m an adult with a job and rent to pay, it’s hard to find time to write. I can only imagine how it is to have children to take care of too! However it does sound like a great idea to write children’s books if you have an interest in it- I think it is a different art form and it’s probably helpful to know how kids think and what they like!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sophie Li says:

      Yes, absolutely! I think one hour a day is a good amount of time to commit. I try to do one hour on weekdays although it isn’t always realistic, and I usually get the bulk of my writing done on weekends 🙂

      Like

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