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.