Jocelyn Green – Ten Tips for Time-Starved Writers

Green_21_smallerTen Tips for Time-Starved Writers

by Jocelyn Green

I should have known better. But when the local reporter came to interview me about my novel, Wedded to War, I told her that my kids, ages 3 and 6, would be home with us, but that they “knew how to stay quiet.”

Can you guess how that interview went? Let’s just say that by the end of it, the reporter shifted her line of questioning from the Civil War inspiration to: “This is your fifth book since I was here last time. How do you write with two little kids running around?”

Great question! I’m practically starved for writing time most of the year, and if you have a family or a job or some desire to do anything other than write, I know you can relate.

I do have one writer friend who, when a book deadline approaches, packs up and heads to her cabin in the mountains for weeks at a time to just get ‘er done. How nice for her.

But since we can’t all have the cabins of our dreams, and the time to use them, what’s a writer to do?

The only answer is to maximize the time that we do have. Here are ten tips I’ve picked up over the past several years.

1) Write without editing yourself. (Yet.)

I was an editor before I wrote any books. But when I let my editor’s brain take over my writer’s brain, I played a mental tug-of-war on the page, rewriting a scene (or even—dare I say it?—a single paragraph) several times and not making any actual progress on the word count in a given day.

Since then I learned that we write with one side of our brain, and we edit with the other side. So don’t try to do both at once. Just write the thing first. You can edit later.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says:

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

I have gone through more than three drafts, I’m sure, but that’s beside the point. The point is—get it down. Editing slows the process in the initial stage.

2) Don’t do the laundry.

At least, not during your writing time. Writing from home, it’s so tempting to “just throw in one load.” But if you put a load in the washer, you’ll probably want to put it into the dryer. And if you put it in the dryer, chances are, you’ll want to fold the clothes before they wrinkle. The interruptions pile up faster than the laundry.

The same concept goes for washing the dishes, dusting, etc. It might seem like just a few quick minutes to straighten up, but if it’s taking away from your writing time—and more importantly, from your focus—it’s not allowed. I read somewhere that after every interruption, it takes about 20 minutes to get fully back into the groove of your previous momentum. I can’t cite this source, and I’m not sure how they did this study, but it feels true enough, or close enough to the truth, for me to ruthlessly squelch the urge to do just a tiny chore during writing time.

3) Set goals.

And make them just beyond what you think you can achieve. Whether you try to hit a word count or write a certain number of scenes per day, aim for something. If you’re at a loss in this area, the book 90 Days to Your Novel spells out all the daily goals for you. You can adjust the timeframe as you see fit.

4) Write “as the bullets fly.”

I’m stealing this phrase from Pamela Redmond Satran in a recent article she wrote in this month’s Writer’s Digest. She shares how after she had a baby, she waited until the quiet moments of nap time or after bedtime to write, but it was never enough. Then, she had an epiphany. She says:

“Forget about waiting for the quiet moment alone in the pristine room: I was never going to get that again, at least not for a long time. And so rather than stealing writing time in my office, I moved my laptop to the living room. Instead of writing late at night or early in the morning before my child woke up, I started doing it while she was right there. I wrote while I watched the 802nd viewing of Cinderella. . . ”

And the pages added up.

This is something I am learning to do right now. My “office” (aka laptop) now travels with me to the playroom, the family room, and the backyard. I use to access the files and email on my desktop computer.

5) Be anti-social.

When you’re up against a deadline, shut down your email, turn off Facebook, Twitter, etc. One writer I know deactivates her Facebook profile when she’s writing, and reactivates it once she’s done. If you really can’t go totally dark, tell yourself you will only do social media during one (or two) designated small slots of time a day.

6) Write when you’re fresh.

If you do your best writing in the morning, don’t whittle away that time responding to emails. Write first. The emails can usually wait. I used to tell myself I could write in the evenings, but I’m so exhausted by the end of the day, one hour in the morning is worth three hours at night!

7) Get up earlier.

Hey, I’m not a morning person either, but I found that by getting up at 5am instead of when my kids get up at 7, I can double the amount of writing time I usually get in a day. Amazing!

8)  Skip writer’s block.

If you have trouble writing a certain scene, skip it and move on to something else you can get into. You can always go back to that trouble spot later and fill it in. Just keep writing.

9) Create time.

What can you delegate to others to free up more writing time for yourself? Would it be worth it to have a maid service come in so you can use that time to write?

Child care is always a dilemma when they are young. I hired a babysitter (make that seven babysitters—long story) two summers ago. Last summer I bribed them. If they were good in the morning, we went bowling or to the water park in the afternoon. I’m also learning to write as the bullets fly! If your kids are too young for this to work, you might want to find another mom and swap kids a couple times a week.

The other relentless time-consuming issue is meal preparation. I don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen before and after we eat dinner, but I also don’t want to resort to fast food or take-out. So I make meals ahead of time and stock the freezer with them. Check out the book Don’t Panic! Dinner’s In the Freezer for plenty of recipes.

10) Pray.

This is the easiest thing to do, and so important. Before your fingers touch the keyboard, pray. Pray that God will give you focus, clarity, creativity, whatever it is you most need on that day. And ask others to join you! Many writers, myself included, have a prayer team supporting them throughout their writing project. Or just ask a few trusted friends for prayer on a more spontaneous basis. I cannot even count the number of times I have asked friends to pray, and then within days (sometimes within hours) that specific request was answered above and beyond my expectations and hopes.

Stories are powerful. Jesus used them (parables) to communicate profound truths. Why not pray that God will help us tell the story He wants us to tell, the way He wants us to tell it, and that He would help us do it before our deadline? If he could feed the five thousand from two loaves of bread and five fish, He can help us make the most of our writing time.

Meet the Author:

Jocelyn Green is an award-winning author of multiple books, including Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives, and Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front, which inspired her Civil War novels Wedded to War and Widow of Gettysburg. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Military Writers Society of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, with her incredibly supportive husband and two adorable children. Visit her at Connect on Facebook:

Her Heroines Behind the Lines series is inspired by real women who played important roles during the Civil War. For more about the series, visit For information about purchasing the novels, click on the book covers below.

Widow cover 3 mediumWedded-to-Warlarge


19 thoughts on “Jocelyn Green – Ten Tips for Time-Starved Writers

  1. Jocelyn, this is the most encouraging post I have read this week. I have a 5 year old and 9 month old at home. I get up at 4am to write but its still not early enough lol:) I homeschool and I babysit on the side to help supplement my husband’s income. I’ve been told by some t hat I should put off my writing until later in life, but the truth is, I can’t not write. And so, I flip on the pot of coffee, open my laptop (which is on the couch) and type away. This is usually accomplished while I am hunched over a boppy pillow that is topped with my 9 month old who refuses to sleep unless she is in contact with me. God bless you today, and thanks again for the encouragement.

    • Hi Sara! Oh how I wish I could give you a big hug right now (unless you’re not up for more touching considering the constant contact required for your baby to sleep, ha ha). Writing and parenting small children is h-a-r-d. Both of them hard, separately! To do both at once is taxing indeed. I applaud you for getting up so early! It may not feel like enough now, but you are proving that you have the discipline it takes to accomplish much. You may not see the fruit right away, but I can’t tell you how many people I have met who just “wish” for their big break but don’t want to put in the time writing, rewriting, etc. You homeschool and babysit on the side–wow! I need another cup of coffee just thinking about all of that! So glad that my post could be an encouragement to you. I prayed for you today.

      • Hi,Jocelyn! Thanks for the prayers and hugs! I need both:) I will pray for you too in your writing. Oh, and Tamera, I only discovered your blog a couple of days ago and have to tell you I am loving it! Thanks for having a place where Christian writers can be sharpened and encouraged.

  2. I’m enjoying these opportunities to learn more about Jocelyn. Wedded to War is on my TBR pile and I anticipate it will be one of those stories ‘I wish I wrote’…
    I have learned to love the word SOMETHING. When I’m doing a rough draft, if i’m searching for the right word and it doesn’t come in under 30 seconds I use SOMETHING.
    I totally agree that when you stop to do a task , you lose so much momentum. I’m buzzing through a rough draft this month. Perfect timing and reminders but anyone writing with children in the house is on a pedestal for me!

    • Hi Debra, so glad to see you in the blogosphere again! Love your tip on just writing “something” when the right word doesn’t come to you. That’s very useful–I do the same thing but with an asterisk, and I do it for dialogue that needs to be changed or other sentences that just don’t flow well–and I have learned to especially do it for fact checking. I used to stop writing and look something up (dates, distances, typical food, plumbing, etc.) which was a total drain on my time. It is a beautiful thing to just flag it and come back later! Way to go buzzing through your rough draft this month! Now off with you! 🙂

      • Yes, I try to ignore that too but if I’m not racing to the end, I find that I might build a scene using an anachronism — I recently had my heroine listening to a radio report on the war (1915) when it was almost a year later that broadcast began…
        Oh, but it’s so easy to start down a new bunny trail, isn’t it?

  3. Debra, yikes! I know the feeling. In Widow of Gettysburg, I had a reporter learn of some news via telegraph to his office, only to find out right before it went to print that news from that particular area didn’t use telegraph but went by ship, which meant I had to move the timeline back a week for the rest of the book–what a headache! And yes, it’s so easy to go down the bunny trails! Sometimes they lead us to gems though, so… heaven help the historical writer! Ha!

  4. Excellent advice. Years ago I heard Randy Ingermanson comment on the two hats/brains: writer and editor. He agrees with you. Don’t let those two people get together in the same room at the same time.

    • Hi Davalynn, thanks so much for popping over! I had to chuckle when I read that Randy agrees with me. It’s more like I agree with all the other wise people who have said the same thing already. 🙂 It’s really hard for me to keep the editor away! She’s so bossy and critical.

  5. I needed this article. Thank you!
    Love this quote: “it takes about 20 minutes to get fully back into the groove of your previous momentum.” SO true!
    And amen about praying before writing. It really does make a difference.

    • Kathleen, great to see you! YES that interruption thing can really get you. I had to remember that last night as I was trying to meet a book deadline of this morning–that’s why I waited until now to reply to some of these comments. 🙂 I thought it would be just too ironic if I didn’t follow my own advice! (BTW, book turned in last night at 8:46pm, woo hoo! Not another novel, though–a nonfiction book, which I find SO much easier to write.)

  6. I’m so glad other people/writers struggle with the same things I do! 🙂 I gave up writinig when my children were young and I worked as a state licensed contractor, unless you count the times I stayed up until 2 trying to write while it was quiet. I still have that book and may revisit it at some point in my life. I’ve found that capturing time seems to be a struggle with every phase of my life. I just get lost in the 1800s and suddenly it’s time to go pick up modern grandchildren at the high school and then the grade school, plus watch a first grader for the afternoon. Oh and then the husband comes home and wants to talk about his day. Supper must be prepared (unless we go out–which takes more time than eating at home), dishes scream at me, the dog and cat demand attention, clothes try walking to the washer by themselves, the chickens think I must feed them, etc. 🙂 Oh, and add worry, because my elderly parents take off on a three hour trip so they can visit a barn/house in the woods that needs some repairs, etc. And other relatives need assistance getting to the clinic or to the store, etc. The neighbor calls to talk for an hour because she’s stuck in the house with a sickly husband who is driving her crazy. Need I say more? Nope. Ha. But I still write … and wait for that publishing house to reply back! I’m sure they have nothing better to do besides read my books! (Sigh)

    • Oh my goodness Karen! With all of that going on, you still write. I applaud that! I hope that every once in a while you can make it to a writers conference for some refreshment which you so richly deserve, and perhaps meet some agents or publishers face to face. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and share!

    • I’m thankful it was encouraging to you, Carole! Yes, that saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is something I grew up repeating back and forth with my mother. 🙂 I combine that with “God’s will be done” and “I can do all things through Christ” because I know on my own, apart from Him, it would all fall apart. I really feel it when people pray for me. Happened again this week-I had two sick kids home from school and a book deadline today. Yet it all got done without panic. So grateful.

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