The 15-Minute Writer: Help for Harried Aspiring Authors

I’ve never had the luxury of uninterrupted time to write. In fact, while finishing my first book, I had a five year-old, a busy hubby–and morning sickness (which lasted all day, throughout the whole time I was pregnant with my second son). Since then, I’ve worked a variety of part- and even full-time jobs while continuing to build my platform and hone my craft. And out of sheer necessity, I’ve become a master at using hidden pockets of time to further my career.

If you’ve got all the time in the world to research, read, and write, then skip this post. If you’re like me, however, I hope you’ll find encouragement for reaching your writing goals–fifteen minutes at a time:

—Write whenever, and wherever, you have a few spare minutes (during lunch hours, while your kids are at soccer practice, in waiting rooms). During these “cram sessions,” don’t edit; just write as fast as you can.

–Or just edit. Read a draft of a poem, filler, or blog post (preferably out loud) and make a few quick changes.

–Browse the writing section of your local bookstore or library and pick out a few gems to read in fifteen-minute spurts. I can highly recommend Writer with a Day Job.

—Hire a teenager to watch your kids, clean house, or do your errands. And later, use the time you just saved to write!

–Create a spreadsheet. Like this.

—-Look for an online writing support group. The members can provide support, tips, and tricks. (If they instead give you spam, aggravation, and passive-aggressive “critiques,” you can always un-join. That would only take five minutes.)

–Save a few templates of frequently-used pitch letters and customize a query to a specific magazine or agent.

–Create a rough draft of a new writing resume.

–Update your LinkedIn account with recent writing jobs.

–Flip through the newest issue of your favorite magazine, and list a few ideas for features you could pitch to the editor.

–Think about the unique ways you organize your kitchen, kids’ rooms, or office. Draft a filler to send to an appropriate magazine.

–Have a great idea for a greeting card? Check out Hallmark‘s website to see what contests they’re currently running.

—“Backwards plan.” Take a deadline, or set one for yourself, and mark it on your calendar. Then write down all the tasks you’ll need to complete in order to meet the deadline—interviews, outlining, writing a rough draft, revising—and decide how much time you’ll likely need to complete each one. Finally, plan backwards, setting yourself mini-deadlines. (This tip has saved my sanity—and my family life—on several occasions!)

From my busy-but-very productive writer friend, Glynn Young, here are a few final suggestions: “Find and follow three writing blogs, like noveldoctor or Jeff Goins. Read one chapter of a book about writing. Read three poems. Read one author’s entry on Wikipedia. Read the current post on The High Calling.” [where Glynn and I both serve as editors]

See how much you can accomplish in short spurts? Who knows–your mini writing sessions might just lead to your fifteen minutes of fame. Either way, you’ll never regret the time you spent pursuing a passion. I promise!

Now it’s your turn. What ideas do you have for using small amounts of time wisely?

26 Replies to “The 15-Minute Writer: Help for Harried Aspiring Authors”

  1. Hi, Dena. I’m naturally drawn to organizing posts. Thanks for this one. I love your ideas for using short bursts of time. Most of us spend more time than we think doing unimportant things. Focusing as you describe helps prevent that.

    1. Janalyn, you’re so welcome. I still fritter away lots of time, but when I do capture bits to use for writing, it’s amazing what I get done! 🙂 Thanks for taking time to respond.

  2. At events take your iPhone and make point form lists for your post the next day. I did this during a poor performance at a music festival and during the gaps when the adjudicator was writing notes. Then I wasn’t resentful of time wasted as I would have been if I hadn’t been able to refocus. The great performances had my full attention and it was a rewarding night.

    1. I am counting the days until I can trade in my Droid for an iPhone like husband has. He has gone to all the work of learning how to use it. LOL.

  3. Loved this post! I tend to write during down time at work (mine’s a hurry up and wait kind of job). Once I get home I try to write, but family takes precedence. I also pull out my phone and jot down thoughts, quotes I like, and scenes when standing in lines or even if my mind wanders.

    1. Ann, good for you. Those little bits DO add up, don’t they? And family needs to be first–otherwise they will end up resenting it. Thanks for your tip, too. I’m still learning to use my IPhone and like yours and Elaine’s advice!

  4. This was good advice. Winston Churchill was once asked during WW2 how he found the time to write the epic ‘History of the English Speaking People’. His answer was short. “How? 10 minutes here, ten minutes there.”
    Fred Hurr

    1. Sharon, isn’t technology wonderful? So many good ideas and resources…if we use it wisely and don’t spend all our 15 minutes just exploring. 🙂 I’m glad the links were useful.

  5. Great post! Thanks for the ideas! Here are my tips as a writer with a full time day job:
    -I use Google Reader to keep my blogs in one location, and I check them on my phone at work when I’m on break, while waiting for appointments, or while cooking dinner.
    -I also catch up on emails and do some google searches during the above times.
    -I linked my tumblr to my Facebook and Twitter accounts so when I post on one, it shows up on all three so I don’t have to go to each account individually.
    -I use Query Tracker at to keep track of my submissions, and I also use their forums which are wonderfully supportive.

    Good luck to everyone on their writing journey!

    1. These are so helpful, Kimmy. Thanks for your input! We appreciate you coming to the Cooler! Hope you’ll be back soon. And good luck to you.

    1. You’re very welcome. I’m glad you found this post…and thanks for the blog link!

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