Episode 3: Writing When You Have No Time


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Season 3, Episode 3: Writing When You Have No Time

Hi, my friends.

Welcome to Amie Kaufman on Writing, a short podcast that answers one question each week about how writers do what they do.

If you’re a writer, or you’re a reader interested in how your favourite authors craft their stories, then you’re in the right place.

This is Season 3, Episode 3: Writing When You Have No Time – a guide for busy people. My friends—I don’t use this word lightly, but this episode is important.

Here’s my friend and producer Kate with this week’s question. Hi Kate, how are you?

Hi Amie, I’m good!

This week’s question is from Caitlin, who says: I want to write. I sometimes feel like I NEED to write. I, however, have four small children (ages 8 to 18 months) and whenever I sit down to write it’s either the end of the day and my brain feels fried, or they’re awake and they come find me at that exact moment. Does writing in micro bursts work? Any tips for writing in only 5-10 minute chunks? Or do I just wait until they’re in school?

Hi Caitlin. First of all, let me say that if your brain only feels fried at the end of the day, then you are a truly impressive human, and I salute you.

I felt this question in my bones, and I thought a lot about my reply. I know a lot of people who are time poor will have listened to that question—whether it’s their caring responsibilities, their work, their health or something else that keeps them busy—and nodded along to your words.

It goes without saying that the large-scale societal beliefs and systems that put so many people in the position of compromising on their dreams need to change—but for now, I’m going to talk in practical, immediate terms.

You said in your question that you want to write, and you need to write, so I’m going to talk about the ways you can make this happen. But I want to start by saying to you, and to anyone else who’s tired and who’s listening, that it’s also okay if you don’t. It’s more than okay.

Whether you take a break for a week, or a month, or for years, you’re not any less of a writer. Life is full of seasons, and if you’re in a season right now when you just don’t feel the tug to write, that’s okay. You’ll come back to it—or you won’t, which is also okay.

So, listener, if this is you, please do away with any notion that you should be writing. Or that you’re somehow failing yourself or anyone else if you don’t. Life is a lot, sometimes, and you’re quite simply not obliged to make it any harder for yourself.

With that said, if you want and maybe even need to write, then the answer is that you can absolutely do it in micro bursts—and very successfully, no matter how you measure success. I used to write on my commute—I had a tiny little netbook, about half the size of a laptop. I’d start it up on the platform at the station, and then I’d grab a seat on the train and squeeze in 20 minutes of writing on the way to work every day. On the way home, no chance—I couldn’t get a seat—so often that twenty minutes was all I managed, but bit by bit, I’d eke out one chapter after another.

These days, I’d probably write on my phone—you can just use the notes app, or you can save what you’re writing to email drafts, whatever works—and if I wasn’t out in public, I’d draft using voice memos. There are lots of programs out there that will transcribe your recorded ramblings—I use one called Otter, but you have plenty of options—and you’ll be surprised how quickly you piece them together.

Depending on what kind of thing you like to write, you might find that short stories work better than novels for you right now—they flex all the same muscles, but you can hold them in your head more easily.

Remember that daydreaming is writing, and plotting and planning in your head is writing, and lots of things are a part of writing that don’t actually involve putting words down on the page. If you can use your moments during the day to plan out what you’re going to do, you can make the most of the few minutes you have to write it all down. You might find it helpful to figure out what you’re going to tackle each day—for instance, the paragraph or two in which Character A insults Character B—so that you know which way to direct your thoughts.

If there’s someone in your life—a partner or a parent, or even a friend—who can give you a hand with the kids for an hour, then ask them. There are one hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week. One hundred and sixty-eight. You’re far from selfish if you want one of them to do something that makes you happy. And not just ‘makes you happy, so you’ll be a better mum.’ Your happiness is a goal in its own right.

The writing world is full of people writing here and there, fitting it into the gaps, and I wanted to share as much wisdom with you as possible, so I put a call out for other writers in your position to share what worked for them. I got so many responses. They were long, too, paragraphs and paragraphs, and they all said the same thing. First, if it’s in you and it’s what you want, then you should do it. And second, you can absolutely write in micro bursts. I wish I could read them all, but the podcast would be hours, not minutes long, if I did. Here are just a few:

Gilly Segal is the NYT bestselling co-author of I’m Not Dying With You Tonight and Why We Fly. She has a full time job, and is a single mum to three kids. She talked to me about “writing in the cracks,” as she called it. Sitting in the car for a few minutes while someone’s at practice, or while she was nursing, or whenever she found a sliver of time, she’d write in the notes app on her phone. She writes it now, and edits it later. She told me that while it does take longer to write this way than doing it full time, it’s not wasted time or effort, if you’re enjoying what you’re doing.

Rachael Craw is a brilliant author from New Zealand, and the author of the Spark trilogy and The Rift. She had immediate sympathy for your situation—she talked about writing while the babies slept, and refusing to answer the phone, do housework, or anything else in those moments. She also talked about the value —if it works for you—of just accepting a messier house, because not writing was far more stressful for her than the mess.

Amy Doak is a freelancer and author, and she talked about how she used to spend hours at a desk, staring at the ceiling and chewing on a pen—but now she plans her words in her head all day, and then sits down at night and smashes them out. She told me that if writing keeps you sane, then you must keep going—the small pieces will add up.

Emily Skrutskie is the author of many books, including most recently The Bloodright Trilogy, which began with Bonds of Brass. She talked about how she writes about 300 words a day when she drafts, often in snippets on her notes app. It takes her about five months to get through a draft that way, but she also mentioned that because she’s had so much time to think about what she’s doing, her drafts are very clean.

So Caitlin, I hope you can see that you’re far from alone. There are so many people out there searching for the small spaces to write in as well. If it’s what you want, and what you need, then be fierce when you go after it. If you need a rest, then rest you should. Either way, you’re a writer.

Usually this is when I give you an exercise, but if this episode is relevant to you, you’ve got enough on your list, and plenty of tips in here to follow, so I’ll leave you to it.

That’s all for this week. Next week, I’ll be answering a question about three act structure.

In the meantime, I’ll remind you to subscribe, and leave the podcast a review wherever you listen. Both these things help new listeners find the podcast, and I really appreciate it. I’ll also remind you to check out Pub Dates, where Kate and I will take you behind the scenes on the countdown to launching our next books.

You can find me at my website, which is at amiekaufman.com – you can subscribe to my newsletter there, for behind-the-scenes peeks at how I write, and any other news about new books, events or the podcast. You can also submit a question for the podcast on my website. You can find me on instagram at @AmieKaufmanAuthor or on twitter at @AmieKaufman. This podcast is produced by the lovely Kate Armstrong, author of the upcoming novel Nightbirds. You can find her online at katejarmstrong.com.

For now, thanks so much for listening – enjoy your reading, and enjoy your writing.


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