Today, we're going to talk about how to write a book when you're busy as hell.
In this series, we've talked about 7 things writing a book's going to give you (and 3 things it won't). We've talked about the 5 necessary (and 1 optional) steps in writing your book. And we've talked about the 3 things you're going to need to be “ready”.
In our final installment, we're talking about fitting writing your book into your existing life, business and schedule.
Writing A Book When You're Busy As Hell
I write a lot.
I write this blog, pretty infrequently.
I write blog posts for other people a fair bit.
I write books for other people sometimes.
I write products, and launch content for those products, and paid classes, and free classes.
I do a lot of writing. I also teach, coach, and unschool a kid.
When you do as much writing as I do, and you have to fit it in around as much stuff as I do, you need to be a fast learner. You need to come up with some systems, processes and hacks that help it all get done.
So if you're embarking on writing a book – or you're thinking about it, but you're not sure how you're going to get it all done – I have some advice I can share.
Writing a book when you're busy as hell requires some time and life hacks in two areas.
You need to find ways to get the writing done a little faster, a little easier, and a little more efficiently.
And you need to find a little extra time.
So I'm dividing this post into two sections. The first is a set of ideas that are writing-related. And the second is a set of ideas that are time-related.
If you take one or two ideas from each category – if you pick things that seem like they could be fairly simple adjustments for you – you can write a book with us, and you can have it done by the end of May.
The Writing Stuff
1. Have a plan for every writing session.
When I was first getting started blogging, I got an amazing piece of advice from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. He was posting daily (it was the law back then) as well as guest posting up to 10 times a week. Oh, and he had six unschooled kids. (Pro tip about unschooling: When you unschool, your children never go to school. That means they're in your house. Yeah.) And his posts weren't trifling little things, either. They were meaty.
He said that every night before he went to bed, he opened and named all the documents he would be working on the next day. Knowing what he would be working on when he opened his computer helped him stay focused and hit the ground running.
As I started working on longer pieces – series, products, novels – I started applying this logic in a more granular way. Before I started a writing or outlining session, I would plan exactly what I was going to do. I would have a very particular objective. Earlier today, I had a session where my objective was to make the outline for this post. Right now, I'm insanely busy, so I'm writing this segment by itself. Just the “have a plan for every writing session” part.
In thirty seconds, I'm going to read Percy Jackson to Jack. But this one section? Now it's done.
2. End in the middle.
Once upon a time, Hemingway said this:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck … That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
Well some people take it a step or two further. Some people have extrapolated from this advice to end in the middle of a section.
Some people end in the middle of a sentence.
It's weird. It takes some getting used to. It takes a surprising amount of discipline. But in my experience, it works.
3. Reduce the number of steps required to begin writing.
Here’s a little math equation for you.
The number of steps involved in starting an activity is inversely proportional to its likelihood of getting done.
Wow. That was a little complex for a Monday morning! Let’s try it a different way.
Think of something you use all the time. A fork, let’s say.
Where are your forks?
I’m guessing they’re in the top drawer in your kitchen?
It’s a cool place to put forks. Whenever you want to eat something, they’re right there.
Now, imagine a life where your forks were in a box on top of your fridge behind the panini maker and the frozen yogurt machine.
Eating would suck, right? You’d put it off until it was absolutely necessary?
If you have to get out a metaphorical step ladder to start writing something, you’ll put it off until it’s absolutely necessary. Since writing a book will never be necessary, it will never get done. Bummer, dude.
However you write – on your laptop, on your phone, on Scrivener, in a notebook – make getting ready one step. Keep your writing supplies with you at all times – ALL OF THEM, even the weird, creepy ones – and make getting ready one step long.
4. Move from a completion bias to an action bias.
I have a theory on why people find writing a book so difficult. It has nothing to do with writing and it has nothing to do with books.
See, when we first start writing, we're in school. The assignments they give us are small. Crazy small. A sentence. A paragraph.
As we get older, our assignments get longer, but until university, everything we write can still be accomplished in one session. Essays became 500 words, then 1000.
If we blog, we can finish a blog post in a session. Even digital products can usually be broken down into one-session chunks. You can start section 15 and finish section 15 before you need to get up and pee.
Books often aren't like that. Sometimes you can't even research chapter 15 in one session. And so we have to change our default way of thinking about it. We have to break up with our completion bias – I want to get something done – and shack up with an action bias – I want to work towards it.
When you integrate this new reality – 742 words is 742 words, no matter whether the section got “done” or not – you start to look at writing in a whole new way. You can do it like you tidy your living room. Every little bit counts.
5. Leave the little things till later.
I picked this one up from the fiction community.
One of the fastest ways to derail a writing session is to slow yourself down with details. Details from your research, details like finding a Wikipedia page, even details like getting a sentence just right.
Details will kill your writing session. They will kill your writing session and raid its refrigerator while it lays cold and immobile on the floor.
Sometimes it's hard to know if what you're doing while you're writing is “slowing yourself down with details” or “thinking”. It's not always obvious. But I can tell you – if you've been thinking for more than 30 seconds? You're probably bogged in details.
(Oh, and for God's sake, don't look anything up. Ever. Nothing. Not once. Looking things up while you're writing is like heroin – just don't do it. If you cannot move forward in this part without looking something up, move to another part. Note what needs looking up and do it later. You could quadruple your word count this way. I'm serious.)
6. Fire your feelings.
Raise your hand if you have, or think you might have, some kind of Thing going on in your brain. ADD. Depression. Anxiety. OCD. The spectrum. Chronic fatigue. Bipolar.
Now that everyone's hand is up, don't we look silly on the subway?
One of the less discussed but spectacularly destructive aspects of Brain Stuff is that we have what are called “intolerable emotions”. That means that when we feel stuff? We FEEL stuff.
When we feel drained… or exhausted… or anxious… or bored… or like an impostor… or stupid… or… or… or…
When we feel anything negative about the task at hand, our brain processes that emotion as “intolerable” and we stop what we're doing to find emotional relief. We feel stupid, let's say, and that feeling is so intense that we “can't” keep going.
The only way to get anything of any consequence done with our lives is to fire our feelings.
If you can learn to write EVEN THOUGH you feel some manner of crappy, you'd be amazed at what you can get done.
The Time Stuff
7. First, quit everything you hate.
On the topic of time, Gary Vaynerchuk famously said, “Everybody has time. Stop watching ****ing Lost.” (He's referring to the then popular TV series.)
It's a great quote. Gary's a great guy. But I take a different approach. I don't watch Lost, but if I did, I'm not sure I'd want to give it up to write a book. I don't know that I'd want to make that sacrifice unless I absolutely had to.
And, see, there's only one way to find out if you have to sacrifice stuff you love. It's to try sacrificing the stuff you hate first and see if that takes care of it.
Every day, you do stupid crap you don't even like doing. You're reading old posts in a Facebook group. You're taking a jacket you don't wear to the dry cleaner. You're having lunch with that woman from that place. You're having a Zoom chat with someone who “reached out” to “connect.”
Consider not doing that stuff for a while, and spend the time writing instead.
If someone reaches out and says, “hey, I'd love to connect with you over Zoom sometime” and you think about doing it? Stop yourself. Say, “Wow – thank you so much! I'm really grateful you thought of me! I'm writing a book at the moment and I really can't come up for air, but I'm so appreciative of the invitation.” Then go to your calendar, find the hour you WOULD have spent “connecting” with internet randos, and put “WRITING” in that slot instead.
Do this with lots of things and you'll have lots of time. It's wild.
8. Consider writing 10 times a day.
This is a cool trick I learned when I was particularly busy and working on three projects at once.
I set a timer on my phone to remind me, 10 times a day, to do a little bit of writing. I would go and write a sentence, or a paragraph, or even a couple of paragraphs – just the next tiny bit of writing. The next couple of sentences. The next couple of paragraphs. Just a little something.
One of two things will happen if you do this.
One, you'll see if you're really as busy as you think you are. When the reminder comes, are you busy? Are you doing something important? Or are you reading complete strangers' comments on your sister-in-law's Instagram post?
Two, if you really are busy, you'll be on your knees thanking God that even in your busy schedule, you got an extra page and a half written today.
Either way, you win.
9. Create psychological transitions. (Or, treat writing like the spa.)
When you go to the spa, you have to release what you were doing and get centered in what you are doing now. If you don’t, you’re taking all that crap in there with you, and it’s a waste of time and money.
Spas know this, so they do a lot to create psychological transitions. They have soft lighting, and wooshy music, and aromatherapy, and bath robes. If they don’t, you’re going to get to the massage table still obsessing over Benson in accounting always taking the last of the coffee pods. They know that, left to your own devices, Benson and his plundered pods are going to be right there on the table with you. (Creepy.)
Writing requires focus. The longer you plan to write in a session, the more focus it’s going to need. You can’t bring Benson in with you. So do what the spas do, and when you’re writing for a longer session, create some kind of psychological, sensory transition.
Make the same tea in the same cup. Change your shoes. Put grapefruit and lime oil in a diffuser. Put Like A Prayer on repeat.
Start doing something to tell your brain, “Yo! You! The hot one! It’s WRITING TIME.”
10. Practice noticing weird time.
Time is like loose change. It’s everywhere. There’s a lot of it.
When we talk about “finding time”, we act like we’re trying to unearth the lost city of El Dorado. Actually, it’s like going on a scavenger hunt to see if you can find three quarters and a dime.
If you don’t have a dedicated change bowl, finding three quarters and a dime can actually be really hard. Our brain just sucks, and three grown-ass adults can scour the house for an hour and a half finding nothing but an old Cheeto.
The solution to this is to avoid the whole thing.
Instead of trying to find time today, for use today…
…practice noticing time, for use at a later date.
Before you start writing your book (if you’re taking Write a Book With Me, you can spend some of our first month on this) go through your life with an eye for where you could have been writing.
15-minute wait at the DMV? Could’ve been writing.
Car pool? Could’ve been writing.
Waiting for the tea to steep? Could’ve been writing.
It’s not about noticing the tea today and writing today. It’s about noticing the tea pattern, so you can start using that time for your writing in the future.
11. Start in other arenas.
Jack’s dad and I used to have a fun little ritual we used to do. Whenever his parents were coming over – let’s say they were coming on Saturday – we would estimate how long it would take to clean the house. Invariably, our prediction was four hours.
On Monday, we’d say, “We have to find four hours to clean the house.” Then we’d watch Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
On Tuesday, we’d say, “We have to find four hours to clean the house.” Then we’d watch Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
On Wednesday, we’d say, “We have to find four hours to clean the house!” Then we’d go to our local and drink beer and eat chicken wings.
By Saturday morning, we’d be hungover and panicking. We’d clean as best we could, and it would take 45 minutes. After his parents had left, we’d say, “Wow, we always do that! We always think it’s going to take forever, and it never does.”
There are two lessons here.
One, if you do it in little bits, you’ll never have to take four hours on Saturday.
Two, it never takes four hours.
If you have a hard time internalizing this with writing, start in other arenas. Time yourself cleaning the toilet. Set a timer for 15 minutes and see how much you can get done in the garage. Screw with the way you see time.
Then, when it comes time to write, you’ll be a little more rational about what you can really get done, and how long it’s really going to take.
12. Know your poisons.
Have you ever seen those activity trackers? Those things that monitor what you do all day so you can see where you’re spending too much time?
Whenever I see those things, I always think, “Oh my God, do people actually need those?” Because I do not. I am outstanding at knowing where I waste my time. My top three? Gardenscapes (a match-three game). Refreshing my Twitter replies. Rereading my own writing.
(Seriously. I read yesterday’s blog post to be all, “Oooh. That was funny! Oooh, nice line, Naomi.” Yeah. I do this.)
Whether you have to track it or you know it like the back of your hand, identify your poisons. What are the little, dumb, rabbit-hole distractions that eat your life?
Once you know what they are, there are a number of things you can do.
For some, awareness is curative. If you’re thoroughly disgusted with yourself for your iPhone game addiction, just knowing that can sometimes be good enough. Alternatively, you can get accountability from outside, you can take things off your phone, or you can use them for rewards for writing. Write 500 words, take five minutes cruising Buzzfeed hacks on Pinterest. Write 500 more words, click little hearts on Facebook for a while.
Congratulations, you wrote 1000 words!
And that's it.
Pick an idea or two from each list and incorporate a few small changes. Make the writing a LITTLE bit easier and faster. Make the time a LITTLE bit easier to come by. Bam. You can write a BOOK, baby.
Registration for Write a Book With Me begins tomorrow.
All of the details – pricing, timing, format – will be available then, and I'll email you when registration opens.
When you’ve had a chance to take a peek, if you have any questions at all, please email me. I'll be here all day. We can even chat on the phone for a bit and see if the group is a good fit for you.
See you tomorrow.