Four tips to help you write a book if you have limited time

Love to write a book but just can’t get round to it? Here are four tips to help you write a book if you have limited time.

It doesn’t matter how many times people say they’re going to do it, or how many times you tell yourself it, wanting to write a book and actually writing a book are two very different things.

More often than not, people write on the side of working on something else, be it a full-time job, a couple of freelance gigs, or even handling all that while taking care of a family.

If you’re thinking of becoming one of those people (kudos to you!), here are several tips that might make your life that little bit easier. 

1) Plan your book out

If you’ve ever worked on anything that has a bigger scale and longer timespan, from starting a business to working on a house renovation project, you’ll know that planning is crucial to your success. A good plan guides your way, keeps you organized, and makes work more efficient. 

In a way, this applies even better to the process of writing a book. Why not write a book summary to get an idea of the plot, storyline, and main characters?

In planning out the things you want to cover (for a nonfiction title) or the story that you want to tell (for a fiction piece), you’ll spend less time everyday wondering what to write about next – and so spend more time writing.

With a big picture in mind, you’ll likely be able to write faster, since you know the point you want to head toward. 

And as an added bonus, if you find that you’re too busy, you can always pass that plan along to a ghostwriter. (A ghostwriter costs about $20,000 to $40,000, though it differs depending on your book genre, its length, and the experience of the writer.) 

2) Set a daily writing ritual

Setting a small and achievable daily goal (it can simply be sitting down and writing for 20 minutes) is the best way to get you into a habit, and it works very well for writing. What will help you even more is if you have a designated time, and even place for it. 

Some important criteria to fulfill for the time slot are: firstly, this should be the time when you’re most in touch with your inner writer. It may take some experimenting to find out when this is, but when you do, your brain should be clear, and you shouldn’t have to waste minutes trying to find the right adjective for a single sentence (more on that later). 

Secondly, you want to find a time that’s as much yours as possible. In other words, minimize the chances of someone disrupting you — and that sometimes means telling your family or friends that this is the time you’ve set aside for your book. They’ll surely have your back! 

Just as important as the timing is the location you choose for writing. While it’s tempting to take any chance that you get to write anywhere that you can, you’ll probably produce prose that you like better (and is more consistent) if you have a specific space to get you into the right mindset.

A clear space with some nice, fresh decorations or music that helps you focus tends to be the way to go for most writers, though do experiment and find what works for you. 

And of course, all this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t write when inspiration strikes — where would J. K. Rowling be without that fateful delayed train ride from King’s Cross Station, right? But having a set schedule will definitely get you to that finished manuscript faster than waiting for that urge to write to come to you.

3) Don’t aim for perfection

Have you ever gotten too occupied with one particular sentence to move on to the rest of the paragraph? 

Sometimes it’s just a word that you realized you’ve used too often, and other times it’s a sentence structure that doesn’t sit well with you. Not being able to perfectly figure that particular sticking point out (which does happen now and again) can really demotivate you. Which is why you shouldn’t aim for perfection, and instead should try to just write down what you’re thinking. 

What happens once you finish a manuscript is the revision. You’ll go through everything again, straighten out the sentences, make sure that everything is coherently covered, and then you’ll work with a professional editor to polish things even more.

The point is, your first draft isn’t going to be the final product you give to readers, but it will be the base for you to work on. Think of it this way: you can’t get fixated on trying to choose a wallpaper colour or which sofa you’re going to get if you haven’t yet built a house. 

Then, there are lots of amazing apps out there to help you edit your book. Fictionary, one of our favorites, will help you assess your Story Arc, Story Climax, and 38 other Story Elements. So thrash out a first draft and then get systematic with editing, making it unforgettable.

So sit down and write your book. You will get plenty of chances to edit and perfect each sentence in it later, possibly even with professional help.

In case you’re wondering, freelance editing rates often vary from $0.01 to $0.025 per word, though the specific number varies according to the genre. But until you’ve got that completed manuscript, you won’t have anything to substantially edit.

4) Use a writing drink as your secret weapon

This is more like a bonus tip, and it might be subject to personal preferences. It is, however, a good way to build a habit. 

Imagine having a hot drink by your side as you write – tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or any other beverage you like. It provides the perfect appeasement if you find your limbs itching to do something else: all you need to do is reach out and enjoy a sip of your drink, and then return to your writing.

It’s your temporary break, your mini pressure-release valve in case you’re not totally in the mood to write but don’t want to take an extended break and lose focus. A hot drink is also nice because you can’t down it all in one go, so you have an extra reason to take your time there and write. 

Eventually, if you do it enough times, you’ll also have built an environment in which you’re conditioned to write in. Having specific sensory stimulation like a particular taste or the feeling of holding a hot mug associated with being productive has been shown to actually make you more productive, so you can pack in more writing in your limited timeframe.

Plus, writing a book takes time and diligence, and a lot of the process comes down to enforcing a habit that you can enjoy — so why not add a nice beverage to your routine?

Hopefully, these little tips can help you on your journey to writing and publishing a book. It does take time, but it’ll be worth it when you see your name on that book cover at the end. Just work at it a little everyday, embrace the process, and you’ll get there! 

Thao Nguyen is a writer at Reedsy, a publishing marketplace that connects authors with top editors, designers, and marketers in the industry.

Photo by Bernard Hermant