How to Start Writing a Book: Use This Trick to Find the Time

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Anita’s giving away one copy of her new book, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing and Finishing a Novel. Comment on this post for your chance to win — after two weeks, we’ll randomly choose a winner to receive a free physical or ebook copy. Must be in the U.S. or Canada to receive a physical copy of the book. Update: Congratulations to Joanna B.!

Many people want to write, but can’t seem to find the time to do it.

Of course, you’re probably not one of those people, since you’re reading this article. But whether you’re writing a novel, nonfiction or magazine articles, it’s important to designate a considerable amount of your time to work on your craft.

There are lots of little things you can do to make time to write.

For example, you can create a writing routine and stick to it by putting writing on your schedule. You can join a writing sprint or a writing support group.

To find time to write, you’ll need to learn how to say no to doing a lot of other things. You can set a minimum word count goal or write in short bursts or on the go.

These and other similar strategies can make a real difference in your ability to put words on paper. But what if you’re looking for something simpler?

The one productivity tip that will change your life

How can you remember, day in and day out, how to increase the time you spend writing?

I’m so glad you asked.

To make it all easier for you, I have one tip for you that may change your life. By the way, this applies to all of your activities and not just writing. Are you ready for the tip? Here it is:

You have to differentiate between the urgent and important and do the important things first. Click To Tweet

It’s simple, isn’t it? Before you work on a new task, you should understand whether you’re working on something urgent or something important. Few tasks fall in both categories.

Even President Eisenhower used this

The idea of differentiating between urgent and important things is not new. Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower organized his workload and priorities in the following order:

  1.      Urgent and important
  2.      Important but not urgent
  3.      Not important but urgent
  4.      Not important and not urgent

The concept was later made popular by Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Of course, anything that’s neither important nor urgent is generally a time-waster, such as most emails. You should avoid doing these types of tasks as much as you can by eliminating them, outsourcing them and practicing selective ignorance.

Selective ignorance is not a new concept by any means. However, it’s gained popularity in recent years thanks to Tim Ferriss’ bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek. Selectively ignoring irrelevant information — emails, news reports, or other distractions — can boost your productivity.

Urgent tasks that aren’t important need to be scrutinized further. Can you delegate them or get rid of them? The thing about urgent tasks is that they always get done because they have to be completed.

For example, you’re going to do your job because your boss is breathing down your neck. But you don’t necessarily have to answer every work-related email. And you need to do grocery shopping because the kids are hungry for dinner. But some days you can ask your partner to take care of the shopping — or even call on a delivery service, in a pinch.

Don’t let urgent tasks run your life

We spend so much time taking care of seemingly urgent tasks that we don’t do what’s truly important to us. Let’s illustrate with an example.

You’re out of milk and eggs and other groceries you deem essential. Instead of running off to the grocery store right away (urgent), you should spend some time on doing the important thing first: creating a menu for the week and a shopping list.

Technically, you don’t need a menu or a list to go grocery shopping, but having them will make your trip much easier and more efficient. Plus, you’ll probably eliminate additional trips to the store for the rest of the week.

Label your to-do list

It’s going to take you some time to recognize the difference between urgent and important activities. You won’t always be able to do the important ones first, especially if some activities are truly urgent.

To use your time effectively, prepare a list of things you need to get done before you start your day. You can even prepare that list the evening beforehand.

After you’ve finished writing your to-do list, go through it and mark each item as either important or urgent.

Just knowing which items are truly important will make you pay more attention to them that day. Eventually, you’ll get into the habit of writing before you get overwhelmed with “urgent” tasks.

Stop frequently to ask yourself one question

Another strategy you should follow throughout the day is to stop and ask yourself the following question:

Is what I’m doing urgent or important?

Again, you won’t be able to ignore all of the urgent things on your to-do list. But you shouldn’t overestimate the importance of the things you’re doing. Just because something is urgent, doesn’t mean it’s worth spending a lot of your time on.

The good news is you don’t need to free several hours of your day in order to do the things you want to do. It only takes 15 minutes a day to write a book.

If you use this tip throughout the day, you’re more likely to accomplish the things you want to do, including writing. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to write!

Has Eisenhower’s method helped you get more done? What other tips would you offer for finding more time to write?

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Anita Evensen is the author of "The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing and Finishing a Novel" and co-founder of online writing app Novelize. Follow the latest developments via .

Novelize | @NovelizeIt

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Comments

  1. The problem I have isn’t tagging urgent or not. It’s tagging important-but-not-urgent things (like cleaning) as things that can wait while I write, but those things continue to be put off until they become urgent (I’m sorry, but when the dust bunnies mutate into dust jackalopes, gotta do something). By that time, all those important-but-not-urgent-but-now-urgent-because-I-keep-putting-them-off things have snowballed into an overwhelming mess. Then I need to stop writing (when, of course, I’m on a roll) to handle the other stuff. Oh, and that’s besides working around a full-time job.

    • Anita Evensen says:

      It might help putting those things that have to get done on a schedule. For example, you could designate a regular time slot on your calendar for cleaning, doing laundry, etc. If it’s not that scheduled time, keep writing. 🙂

      • Good idea, thank you! I’ll have to try that 🙂

        • Face your writing area away from the mess! Put an inspiring picture for when you look up which is related to your current project to keep you focussed and stick to your schedule. When I take a bath I schedule 7 more minutes for cleanup as the water runs and I keep cleaning supplies handy. Good luck!

      • Thanks…the “checking in” point keeps us on track…it seems like an easy thing to do but it doesn’t take much to derail the best of intentions.

    • Exactly the same for me!!

    • Tracey Lynn says:

      Wow, awesome tips! I’m always working too too much and putting everything first and getting sidetracked and then I complain I have no time to write. I started my book in 2003 and then set it aside. I’m getting older (40s) and now I’m afraid I’ll just keep putting it off and never write it…! I’m going to use some of these tips right away and keep inspired! I would love her book!! Thanks for giving a chance to win it 🙂

  2. Sonya H. Moreno says:

    It just seems like things keep happening and I have to push my book back. Hate it. It’s in editing and I feel like I’m at a standstill not knowing where to go. I want to get things going again. Thanks for this article, it helps. I just need some insight on where to go from here.

  3. Thank you for this helpful advice! Unfortunately I have a habit of putting everything into the important and urgent category. Your list will help me stop and think about what I’m doing and how to prioritize it. One of my major time wasters is my phone! If I’m doing something important, like writing, and I get a text I feel as if I have to answer it or at least read it.

    • Anita Evensen says:

      I can totally relate. Texts are so distracting. You could put your phone in silent while you’re writing. Or turn it off altogether. 🙂 You’ll probably find that the world is still turning even when you’re not plugged in.

    • Put your phone in another room. Working women cannot answer phones msgs during work. How do you view yourself? Are you doing a hobby or are you a writer? Writers are at work when they are writing.

      • I view myself as a writer and want others to view me as a writer, so shutting the phone off during my writing time is going to become a priority!

    • You might also sit down and list what your life entails such as cleaning tasks and to do lists and intentionally think them through to number their importance and then when the distraction comes remind yourself it is not feasible to trade a #3 for a #1

  4. I wanna try and i wanna win 🙂

  5. Writing is definitely something that is important to me- publishing a book is my number one dream. My problem is finding time- school, homeschooling the kids, work, and day to day tasks often leave little time. But when I do find a moment, it is glorious. I will use this idea of starting a to-do list and prioritizing; I know there is time wasted!

    • Anita Evensen says:

      I homeschool my kids, too. If I can do it, so can you! 🙂

    • When you give your kids assignments and they are on task…you sit down and write or jot down ideas or edit. Sets a great example for them.

      • Thank you for the advice. Unfortunately my kids are six and under so teaching first, K, and pre-k is all hands on plus watching my 16 mo old! But when they get up in the morning they always see me working on my schoolwork and when they nap that is when I try to write, or when they go to bed. I think a lot of my issue is prioritizing urgent versus important and I really think if I start doing that it will help.

  6. I try to do the sorting for physical tasks, but I am not so good at doing that for electronic ones. I really need to work on that so my writing can take priority. Thanks for the tips. I could also use Anita’s book so please enter me in the giveaway.

  7. I published my first book in November of 2015 by writing an hour a day to start. When my book began to take shape and ideas were flowing fast, I woke up with so much energy at 4:30 in the morning that I was able to commit more time to writing and get it done. Habitual writing creates a writing flow.

  8. I agree fully and try my hardest to use the principle of “important before urgent” at work. At home, however, I’ve got three young kiddos, so everything–according to them 🙂 — is urgent AND important.

    • Anita Evensen says:

      I know how you feel. My youngest out of 4 kids is almost 18 months, so I can relate. I have some suggestions in my book that might help you. I think the most important thing is to focus on the kids exclusively and wear them out (e.g. take them to the park) before asking them to give you some time to work. It also helps if you can take turns with your partner for getting some personal time in.

      • That’s great advice. The frustration occurs when you try to work on something else and they start realizing they’re not getting 100% of your attention. Outside of our days jobs, I write and my wife does ebay. It only works if one of us “distracts” while the other one works.

        Ours are 4, 2, and 10 months. Great kids, but wow. Busy.

  9. I really enjoyed this article. I am a procrastinator and have a hard time beginning things and when I do begin, I put off things that are important. I learned I need to realize what is important and go with that. Thank you for your insightful article.

  10. I love tips to help me be more organized and efficient. My personal favorite tip is to set a time limit for urgent tasks that sap your attention and workday. Set a timer for 30 minutes of chores. When the clock stops, you stop. Then start the good stuff – writing!

    • Darlene R. Marcucci-Miller says:

      I once read a great article about what can be accomplished in 15 minutes a day…if there is not a huge block of time, I write or do some research reading for 15 minutes or for as long as I can before appointments. I have a separate calendar for my writing pursuits and by having to make an entry every day I can’t “fudge” by trying to remember the last time I had a chunk of time to write in! It also corrals ideas for articles or stories. Ultimately, I SCHEDULE time to write and keep track of when I need to say NO to another distraction!

    • Anita Evensen says:

      I like the timer idea, too. 30 minutes will get most of the chores down. Everything else can wait. 🙂

  11. Before saying yes, making a commitment, or simply deciding to do something, I ask myself: ”Is this absolutely necessary right now, and Does it bring me closer to my most important goals?” With those two questions, I always have food in the fridge and clean clothes to wear, but I also focus most of my energy on my writing.

  12. The sentence that jumped out at me was, ‘It only takes 15 minutes a day to write a book.’

    Now that amount of time – I do have. Thanks for this timely reminder.

  13. I need to use this concept more in my life! Not just for writing, but all things! Thanks

  14. Your second paragraph made me do a double take because one of my distractions can be reading about the publishing industry instead of engaging in it.

    I do agree about what I learned years ago as The Tyranny of the Urgent. When I remember to prioritize, I get much more done. I often find myself slipping up in the area of relaxation. Periods of rest are important, but almost never urgent until we are on our backs in a hospital or at least set aside through some illness. Of course not all illness is the body’s revenge for overwork, but some of it is, and I am guilty of putting myself in this danger.

  15. I have found over the years, when it (whatever that is) becomes important enough it will get done first.

  16. Wow! This article definitely hit home, whacked me over the head, and blew my socks down the street! I am guilty of all of these sins against authorship and have got to mend my ways–now!

    I will turn 66 in approx an hour, fell in love with putting words on paper the day I learned to hold a pencil and form my first one, and have been “writing my book” for far too many years now. But I’ve always been too busy to finish it!

    Thanks to your tips, I feel more confident than ever that this is finally going to be that year!

  17. Amen to this post! I am the worst at letting urgent run my life. I am going to try this and I know it will help me. Thanks for the great post!

  18. I thought when I retired in 2006 I would have all the time I needed/wanted for writing my book. Not so fast–with six surgeries within the first two to three years, it was 2009 before I ever got started. Then I realized that when I was working fulltime, I also dreamed about keeping my home tidy and clean and helping in the yard and garden come summer. But which was urgent? Those things or my writing. For the last several years, I have let the house go and because of another surgery in 2011 I haven’t been very useful in the yard or garden. I still seem to be behind the curve on the book. So, I feel what everyone else is feeling in a variety of ways, but we have some excellent advice here. And I intend to incorporate it in my days. And nights!

    • maybe you can do a swap with another mother who wants some free time as well!

      • oops that went on the wrong one for some reason!

        I started attacking the issue of inability to focus when battling fibromyalgia…which also included not having the strength after daily tasks. I got a small recorder which I never fully mastered but recently I discovered the “record” program on my computer. Today I got down two scenes that are vital to my novel. They will need work but I felt good recording in my daily writing journal that progress was made. A recording device might help you as well especially on your “down” times. Scene by scene you can build a story.

  19. Alison figueroa says:

    I tend to schedule everything and get it out the way so my mind is clear. As a mother, if something is not taken care of, it is hard for me to comfortably sit down and write. My kids have a certain time to be in bed (an hour before me) and that is when I find the time to write. I would still love the book so put me in the drawing please. Any advice helps.

  20. ENOUGH of ‘waiting for the day it all starts’ to magically appear. It’s been years and years of aching to actually do the work and I know it’s not going to be some magical event that unfolds itself. The hard work will only get done by dedicating a daily time slot to nothing else but writing.
    I just signed up for your newsletter today and your post has the ball rolling, albeit ever so slightly. Thank you for your pragmatic approach, I’ll save the ‘magic’ for the words themselves.

  21. Thanks a lot for posting such a wonderful tips. They’re really helpful and I found some exactly for me!

  22. Great tips. I’ve become a recent convert to using a dayplanner with a prioritized to do list in it each day.

    I also try to get important things out of the way early – I’ve started getting up early to exercise, so I can do it before I can make excuses not to. Maybe I need to consider giving that coveted ‘first timeslot of the day’ to writing tasks…

  23. This is an awesome post! I will definitely be trying out this method, as recently I have let the rest of my life take me away from writing my novel. My tip to find more time is to watch less television. I decided to stop just watching one half an hour program that i used to watch just for the sake of it at the end of a busy day. It was hard at firs, but the more I did it, the more programs I stopped watching, and did not miss them at all. But yes will be trying this method to get back on track 🙂 thank you

  24. Great ideas. Would LOVE to have this book.

  25. I’ve been practicing this for a few days now and it’s brilliant! Yesterday, during my writing time, it suddenly became very important to scrub the floor. I have three little kids – the floor was a mess! It was definitely urgent to scrub the floor, but not important. I reminded myself that it could wait, and stuck to my writing schedule. I then enlisted the help of my kids to scrub the floor with me yesterday evening. They thought that was a blast! (One year old twins) I got the floor done, my writing done, and entertained the kids all in one day! Thank you!

    • Anita Evensen says:

      Awesome. If your one-year old twins can do it, I should have my kids doing that, too. 🙂 That’s brilliant. I like including the kids with chores. The earlier you start, the better, because they won’t have preconceived ideas about being a chore and not fun.

  26. I’ve seen something like this where you “categorize” your lists of things you want to get done in a day, but haven’t seen it explained this well. Thanks for this new way of looking at Important and Urgent things, because sometimes everything seems to be one or the other.

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