How to find time to write when you’re always busy

Do you struggle to set aside time to write? Tobsha Learner, author of The Magick of Master Lilly shares her top writing tips for when you're short of time.

Illustration of a woman writing by Naomi Wilkinson

If you’ve always dreamt of writing a book, but find it impossible to fit it in to your day, then we’re here to help.

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There are lots of different – and clever – ways to get started, from finding your perfect writing time to discovering your creative side in surprising ways.

Bestselling historical author Tobsha Learner has put together some helpful writing tips to help you make your dream into a reality.

Writing space
Unsplash/Ella Jardim

11 handy hacks to build writing time into your day

1

Make writing a daily habit

You need about four hours a day to write the first draft of a book in three months. This might sound intimidating, but there are ways of stealing the time. The less time you have the more time you make – because you have to.

Remember – how do you eat an elephant? Answer: Piece by piece. Writing a book can be daunting, but write every day and before you know it you have enough pages…

2

Learn to love the habit of writing

Work out when your most naturally creative time is. For some larks it’s early in the morning, for owls it might be late at night, or sandwiched between the kids bath time and that Netflix hit at 9pm. Some might want the mid afternoon when the kids are doing their homework and before dinner.

Whatever it is – fight for it, even if it is a couple of hours it should be yours uninterrupted. Develop routines – they can be liberating as they create an expectation and rhythm in which to be creative.

Woman sitting at a laptop thinking
Getty Images/simonapilolla
3

Find your sanctuary

Make your desk or writing place a sanctuary me-space that is husband/partner/grabbing childfree. Make it somewhere you will end up yearning to sit and write at – define it with scented candles, fresh flowers, crystals… whatever triggers your creativity.

Think about the colours and light around you that will help concentration – you don’t need a view, the view will be the world you’re creating on the page.

4

Turn off your social media, emails, texts and phone

Tell the people most likely to disturb you that this is your writing time so that they respect the process. This is non-negotiable, even with your mother.

Notebook on bedside by Bruce Mars

5

Keep a notebook or recording device by your bed, office desk and in your handbag

Start collecting those amazing revelations or sentences that come to you first thing in the morning, in the middle of the night, a little drunk after a bad blind date… whenever it is, catch and immortalise that thought/phrase/idea.

Inspiration strikes at the weirdest times, be prepared and get into the habit of collecting ideas, great phrases or snippets of dialogue you’ve overheard. You might not yet realise how you will use them in the future but a good part of writing is observation and you can do this anywhere.

6

Have your laptop open while you cook

It’s surprising how long a chicken takes to roast or a stew to simmer, a good time to make notes or sneak a couple of pages of a rewrite in.

Gouache flowers step 5
Woman writing early in the morning
Unsplash/Lonely Planet
7

Start early

Some authors with day jobs write from 5 am until 7 am before leaving for work. The beauty of this is that the rest of the world is still sleeping and silent and your time is truly yours alone.

8

Make the most of your commute or waiting times

If you have a long commute this is the perfect time to put on some sound cancelling headphones, get out a notebook or make notes on your iPhone – map out your plot, develop characters, or even break a chapter down into bullet points. A one hour commute both ways is potentially two hours of writing time.

Woman writing in a cafe
Unsplash/Wenni Zhou
9

Find your writing space

Have several writing places – not just your desk. Places where you might be able to steal some time during your lunchbreak. Some people like the background buzz of a café as it connects them with community but doesn’t distract them from living.

Develop a relationship with a particular café and a particular table. Make it your other writing space and your imagination will start to be triggered by the association of sitting there.

I have different places I like to write in at different stages of a draft – at my desk for the intense first drafts, then in a garden for the final polishing drafts.

10

Take a bath

Have a long bath and put a recording device next to it. Tell your story out loud and record it for later reference. This can include descriptions of your heroine, scenes that come to mind, what themes you want to convey and how you might make these manifest in storylines.

Observations of characters/people you want to incorporate. Just make sure your husband hasn’t got his ear to the door in case he might think it’s a clandestine phone call!

11

Write at the hair salon

Next time you have your roots done, instead of reaching for a Vogue or Cosmopolitan to revel in the latest celebrity divorce, get the notebook or manuscript out and start your mark-up. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve in the 15 minutes or so, and frankly sometimes a complete change of location can be just what you need to solve a plot point…

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Tobsha Learner’s new book The Magick of Master Lilly is out now, published by Little, Brown Book Group, and priced at £8.99 in paperback and £7.99 in e-book. For more information visit tobsha.com.