filed under How To Write A Book, Writing and Motherhood.

The lovely Allison Tait has invited me to be part of a “why I write and how I write” meme that’s doing the rounds on writers’ blogs at the moment. I’m going to answer all the questions, but in a slightly different way, by talking about how to fit writing into your life. Over the last week, I’ve had lots of people ask me how I fit everything in. So, I’ll give you 5 tips to help you do just that, based on my experience – I’ll open up the inner workings of my desk and show you what goes on there. I hope you enjoy!

What Am I Working On and How Does My Writing Process Work?

It might seem strange to begin talking about a monthly planner to answer the question of what I’m working on and how my writing process works, but without my planner nothing happens, so I’m going to start there.

Use a Monthly Planner to List Everything You Have To Do

Every month, I take out my enormous monthly planner (I bought mine form Kikki K). The first thing I do is block out unavailable time. If I have an event on a particular evening, then I can’t do any work, so I block that time out as unavailable. Then I know what my available time is. Now to fill that available time with prioritised jobs.

I move on to the right hand side of my monthly planner, to the To Do column. Here I write down every single work-related thing I have on, not just on this month, but for all months into the future. If I write it on the list, then I know it is going to be taken care of. If I don’t write it down, it will stay in the back of my mind worrying me and I’ll be forever wondering: when will I have time to do that?

Natasha Lester Author uses a monthly planning calendar to help her fit in her writing time.

Then I work my way through this list of jobs, assigning them to available times, day and night. I start with the most important things first. If I have an author talk booked in, then I have to prepare a speech, or at least look over the speeches I’ve given before and choose one to suit the occasion. If someone’s paying me money to talk to them that month and it’s all booked in, then that’s a priority for me and I start allocating tasks on that basis.

Writing books is obviously a priority for me too, so that gets put in next, along with tasks like writing this blog and newsletter etc. Eventually I get to a point where all the available time slots are full. There are always things in my To Do list that don’t make it onto the calendar for this month. I cross out all the things that have made it on and leave the ones that haven’t. Next month, I’ll transfer them straight into the To Do column and it might be their turn then.

As you can see, the calendar sits under my keyboard and trackpad so I can’t ignore it; every time I sit down at my desk, there it is, telling me what I’m supposed to be working on!

My Current To Do List – What I’m Working on Now

This month, I’ve written the following things on my To Do list:

  • Start writing a new book. (I have an idea jumping around in my brain and I think I’m ready to start on this now)
  • Write my blog. I blog every Tuesday and in my monthly calendar, I list the topic for each week so I know what I have coming up.
  • Write my newsletter. My newsletter goes out on Tuesdays too. I need to write the main article that elaborates on my blog, find links to writing articles from around the web, and list upcoming courses.
  • PhD. Yes, I’m doing a PhD. A Beautiful Catastrophe is the bulk of my thesis, but I have to write an essay as well. This month, I need to do lots of reading to get ready to write the essay.
  • Life Writing. I’m teaching this mid-July so I need to look over my notes and make sure everything’s ready to go.
  • Secrets to Publishing Success. I’m teaching this end July so need to do as above.
  • Purple Prose. I’ve had an essay accepted for an anthology, which I’ve drafted, but I want to redraft it this month and send it off.
  • Social Media. I’m having a Pinterest love affair at the moment so I do a bit of pinning each night, plus make sure I post something on Facebook and Twitter at least once every day.
  • Kids’ Book Project. I’ve done a decent draft of this now and had some time off from it so I’d like to read this through again and make notes on how to redraft it.

Given that there are 2 weeks of school holidays this month, I think that’ll have to be enough! I have a dozen things that will stay on my To Do list, ready to be allocated into my available time next month or the month after.

What Does My Writing Process Look Like On My Writing Days?

I’ve done a few things differently this year to give me more writing time. I now only teach on weekends and weeknights. I used to teach during the day too, but it cut into my writing time far too much. So I’ve created new courses and taken on more teaching work at night and on weekends to cover the income I lost from relinquishing day time teaching.

I did this because I write better during the day. I work every night, but that’s when I work on things like preparing new courses, writing blogs etc. I write more words per hour during the day than at night so, this year, I’ve maximised that day writing time to maximise my word count.

I also write more when I have consecutive writing sessions. If I write on a Monday and then again on a Wednesday, it will take me at least half an hour to warm up on the Wednesday. I don’t want to waste half an hour warming up. So I schedule my writing sessions onto consecutive days to keep the momentum going.

I certainly won’t write every day this month. Because I’m starting a new project I’m going to dabble in some planning and outlining. So I’ll probably only do some writing on a Tuesday and a Wednesday. If I’m in an intense phase, like a redraft, I will do some writing every day. And once I really begin to get into this book, that’s what I’ll do.

Essentially, my writing process is not at all glamourous. It’s about making time on consecutive days, and then sitting down to write. Writing time is for writing, nothing else. I turn off the WiFi and I get words to come out of my brain and into my computer. I don’t stop until I’ve come to the end of my scheduled session, which is often only a couple of hours. You don’t need a whole day a few times a week. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about needing only 30 minutes a day, every day.

I also set myself a goal for each writing session. I never sit down to write a book, because that’s impossible to achieve in one writing session. I sit down to write 1,000 words perhaps or, as I get more into a writing project, I set myself targets of 2,500 words per writing session.

I respond well to goals. I usually rise to achieve them. Your goal might not be a word count as such; it might be to write one scene. Whatever it is, set yourself some kind of goal so you know what you need to do when you sit down to write.

This is what I’ve done for years, writing for two hours at least three days a week while the kids were asleep. I’ve written three books and published two in that time. So it’s possible. Not glamourous. But achievable.

My 6 Tips to Fit Writing Into Your Life

So, to summarise. If you want to know how to fit writing into your life, my 6 tips are:

1. Write down everything you need to do for the next few months onto a To Do List.

2. Identify times you have available for writing. Block these out on a monthly calendar first, before you put any other tasks into the calendar. Ensure your writing times occur on consecutive days.

3. Transfer the other tasks that have to be done this month on to the calendar in order of priority. This will make your mind relax as you will feel comfortable that even though you’re taking time out for writing, everything else will be taken care of too.

4. Turn up to your scheduled writing time. Sit down and write. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired or you’ve been invited out for coffee or if you don’t think you feel like it. If you sit down and write on a regular basis, you will start to love it. Treat writing as a treasured appointment and don’t reschedule it for anything.

5. Turn off the internet. Don’t waste precious minutes of writing time on Facebook. Schedule social media or email time into your monthly calendar at other times. Then you know you will be able to do it, just not when you’re writing.

6. Know what you have to do when you sit down to write. Is it to write 500 words? Is it to write one page? Is it to write one scene? Give yourself a goal and, chances are, you’ll achieve it.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my desk and my life. Do any of my tips resonate with you? What do you do to fit writing into your life?

PS – The other question in Allison’s meme was: why do I write, which I’ve blogged about here.

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50 Responses to “How to Fit Writing Into Your Life: 6 Tips Based on My Writing Process”

  1. melindatognini

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this, Natasha. It was not only interesting, but really valuable as I attempt to better organise my own writing schedule.

    • Natasha Lester

      Thanks Melinda. Good luck with organising your writing schedule and congratulations again on winning Brooke’s book. I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Emily

    Turning off the internet is the hardest part for me… Some days I actually can’t focus unless I’m actively ignoring an open Facebook window. My friends get annoyed because they’re chatting away to me and I don’t reply! Emily

    • Natasha Lester

      I found that really hard too at first but now I’m an absolute stickler for it, having seen such an improvement in my writing output when the internet is off.

  3. Pia

    Hi Natasha
    This post is one of the most practical, nuts and bolts posts about how to prioritise writing time I’ve read. I really like it because it gives insight into how you juggle several different writing commitments at once. I’ll be putting a few tips into place, particularly the writing on consecutive days. I’m in the editing stage and do it while little ones are asleep. It feels like I’m just on a roll and then have to stop!

    • Natasha Lester

      Thank you Pia, that’s lovely feedback. I know exactly how you feel, doing writing when the kids are asleep. It’s just what I did for seven years and I’m sure you’ve made it work for you, just like I did.

      And yes, writing on consecutive days makes such a difference I think. I hope it works for you too.

  4. Lisa

    This is such a concrete way to show us how it all happens. I spend way too much time on social media but I have started to schedule my FB on Sunday nights so I don’t feel compelled to lose time there. Thanks so much for sharing.xx

    • Natasha Lester

      Thank you Lisa! And you’re not alone on the social media thing. I began to feel a few months ago as if I was just wasting too much time that I didn’t have to waste so I vowed to try the wifi off thing and it worked so well. I am much more productive without the internet being on, and I like knowing that I have internet time scheduled in, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

  5. Ingrid Rickersey

    Thank you for this enlightening post Natasha. It really is about prioritising and making writing a priority, not just something we do in our spare time – of which we have none anyway!

    • Natasha Lester

      You’re right, if we only do writing in our spare time, then we would never do it! Making it a priority makes such a difference, even if you only do it for a month or so at first just to see how it feels. I guarantee that doing that will make you want to keep making it a priority!

      And I hope you check your email soon because you might just find a nice surprise email telling you that you’ve won one of the books I was giving away last week …

  6. Karen

    Thanks, Natasha! It’s great to see a real life example of how planning can help you fit in writing. I usually write in kinder time but as it’s school holidays, I’m up early to try and fit it in before the kids wake. I think I do my best writing in my pjs!

    • Natasha Lester

      I bet you’re not alone there Karen!

      Yes, school holidays does mix things up a bit, doesn’t it? I tend to schedule different kinds of work during the school holidays, things that can stand a bit of interruption. That way, at least some jobs get done, although I probably wouldn’t schedule an edit in for the school holidays – I need more focussed quiet time to get through something like that.

  7. Dawn Barker

    Brilliant, Natasha! I am a big fan of the Kikki K stuff too – I use a weekly to-do list and prioritise things I have to do by dates. I tend to do an hour of emails/social media first thing, then write for 2 hours (if I have childcare!), then after lunch when I’m more tired, I do blogging/planning/more emails. It’s hard though, isn’t it?

    • Natasha Lester

      I always do my emails and stuff first too – I find I can’t think straight if that’s all sitting there waiting for me to check off. I do that for half an hour or so and then, like you, try to do a solid hour and a half of writing. It is hard and I always want more time, although I know I would then just take on more things to fill up that time!

  8. M

    Thanks this is brilliant! I love reading about process… I especially liked your point about it “not glamorous”, I think this helps with keeping any writing project doable and not so overwhelming. I also agree with having the internet switched off!

    One little question – what about reading time… leisure and for work? Or is that for another post?! Or is it ‘a given’ in any schedule?! 🙂

    • Natasha Lester

      Thanks for your comments. I agree, it’s not glamorous but then what is? Everything good is hard work when you get down to it. And as for reading, I really only fit that in at night before I go to sleep. Often I’ll make a conscious decision to go to bed half an hour early so I get a good half hour of reading time in at night, other days it might only be 15 minutes. I don’t watch much TV which helps I think – I’d usually rather read a book – or work!

  9. ingridrick

    I must say I too, had wondered how you fitted everything in Natasha. Thank you for the clarification and inspirational tips.

  10. Dianne 'Travelletto' Bortoletto

    Great tips, thanks for sharing. When I drafted my first book, I dedicated every Sunday to writing. Running my own business, I found writing durung the week difficult. The internet is what makes it most difficult.

    After reading the papers on Sunday morning, I’d re read what I last write, then take myself to my quiet spot, or outside if it was sunny or the library if not, and plan to write a scene. If I was on a roll I would just keep going. Some sessions is write 7,000 words, others 2,500.

    I write to music too. I can only write to music with no words and find piano movie themes the best. Bose noise cancelling headphones have been the best present I’ve ever received!

    • Natasha Lester

      Lots of people say they write to music – I’ve never gotten into the habit but I must try it one day, just to see what it’s like and how it affects my writing.

      That’s amazingly productive of you Di, to be able to write 7,000 words in some sessions. How wonderful that must feel when you’re done, to know you’ve just achieved so much.

      I’m so looking forward to the day when your book is in a bookstore near me! Are you getting close to pitching it now?

      • Dianne 'Travelletto' Bortoletto

        Thanks Natasha. I get pretty tired after smashing out 7,000 words – and it’s not every session. But when I’m on a roll, I just like to keep going.

        I’ve submitted my draft to the Tag Hungerford Award. I’m in Brasil now for the world cup. When I get back in 3 weeks, I’ll start working on pitch letters and do some research on who to pitch to. I expect that to take some weeks, maybe months, especially since i have to catch up on work.
        I cant wait to be a published writer and be able to spend my days writing rather than working 🙂 x

        I discovered music when I was trying to block out some background noise (husband watching football I think) – and found that the piano / some classical music actually made me more focussed. I don’t normally like that kind of music being a Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen fan, but for writing, it works for me. There you go, that would be a good blog post for you some day.

        • Natasha Lester

          You’re the third person I know who has submitted to the TAG Hungerford Award – I’m going to be watching out for that shortlist with a very close eye, hoping that all of you have made it on there!

          And yes, spending days writing is the dream isn’t it? Here’s hoping it comes true for you soon. x

  11. Rae Hilhorst

    Thanks for sharing your tips Natasha, personally I think you are Wonder Woman in disguise. I can see how you would need to be very organised, you are a very hard worker, an inspiration to many x

  12. Nadine Knight

    Hi Natasha, thanks for the great tips, I am a bit of organised person, but after reading how you fit everything in, can certainly redefine my program and be better organised. Most inspirational
    Thanks again – Nadine Knight

  13. Christine

    Thanks so much Natasha. This was a huge A-ha moment for me – Yes, I get it now. I was just trying to work out my own system and then your information arrived!!! Huge Monthly Planner here I come….

  14. Anita

    Hi Tash – this is a fantastic post and very inspiring! Knowing you as I do, I would have to add a couple of other elements to your nature that support you in staying laser-focused… they would be 1) respecting your sleep 2) drinking loads of cleansing water & teas 3) fitting in some yoga & swimming and 4) embracing your inner child with the kids – when it’s kids’ time, it’s kids’ time – I love that in you!

  15. Tamara

    Thanks for the tips Natasha! I am going to give your system a go. It’s too easy for me to let days go by without writing a thing.

    Also if anyone is interested the desk planner you mentioned is currently 30% off at Kikki. K 🙂

  16. Lee Kofman

    Natasha, thank you for this informative & inspiring post. So much to learn from you and… Do you ever sleep? 🙂 And how do you fit reading into your life?

    • Natasha Lester

      Sleep? Who needs sleep! No, I’m actually very particular about my sleep. I’m the sort of person who needs 8 hours every night otherwise I’m miserable. So I always get a good nights’ sleep, and I always read for half an hour before I go to sleep – that’s why I sleep so well, my dreams are full of the words I’ve just read.

  17. jkriterCatherine

    Thank you for such an inspiring post! So much for my excuse of not having time to write. After Reading this I can see that I must start MAKING time, not just waiting for time to magically become available without any planning…..

    • Natasha Lester

      It would be great if time would magically become available wouldn’t it?! And it’s so easy to always say, I’ll do it tomorrow when, or next week when, or next month when, but the reality is that tomorrow, next week and next month are all just as busy as today. Good luck with it, I hope the planning helps!

  18. annabelsmith

    OMG you’re so organised, that’s amazing. I have a system but it’s not quite as rigorous as yours. I do set goals though for each writing session. I set a goal of 500 words in a 2 hour session. I find having a low goal strangely motivating, as it makes me feel less aversion to sitting down and beginning. I also worked out if I write 500 words a day, 5 days a week, I can write 125,000 words in a year. So even with this low target I should still be able to write a book a year.

    • Natasha Lester

      I think with 3 kids there are 2 choices – be chaotically insane or be super over organised. I can’t do chaos so I have to go with the 2nd choice.

      And I do the same thing you do – work out how many words I can write in a year if I stick to a certain amount on my writing days. Of course, then I just have to make sure I stick to the plan!

  19. Abby Stone

    It’s true, keeping organized and making achievable goals is key. At ‘my real job’ I feel incredibly effective when I stay on top of tasks. I know this. I just need to apply it to writing! Thanks for the practical reminder.

    • Natasha Lester

      Pleasure Abby! And you’re right, sometimes it’s so easy to apply these ideas to other areas of our working lives and then forget to do it for writing. Good luck with it.

  20. Robert

    I am an artist but your organizing ideas work for me too! Sunday is my “art day”. My wife is my biggest supporter and she has her own dedicated “Yarn Empire” room. So I have my own dedicated art studio. I close the doors and “Voilà! ” No cat interruptions! We have four of ’em.
    Ok, enough. Today is Sunday.

    • Natasha Lester

      Great to hear that this works for other artists too! I think that, contrary to popular belief, most artists, in whatever art form, are actually highly organised in order to make their art. Good luck with yours.

  21. Roisin Black

    Superb advice Natasha and succinctly put! Thank God you mentioned the “warm-up” and writing on consecutive days – I thought that was only me! I also feel better knowing you have achieved so much on writing for at least two hours for 3 days a week. I get so frustrated when I miss out on my writing time. You’re a busy lady – thanks for taking the time to put this together 🙂

    • Natasha Lester

      Pleasure Roisin! I’m so glad it was useful. And yes, the warm up and consecutive days is really important to just accept and go with so that you don’t beat yourself up about it. Best of luck with the writing!



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