Rescuing time: How I became a time scavenger for writing

How I did with my goals for this week, details about my writing process, all about the benefits of rewards and, of course, next week’s goals. Time was a serious focus for me this week, and that made the world of difference.

Goals for this week

✔️ Write my (morning) pages: 750 words daily

I did as much as possible before I left the house, and otherwise finished doing my 750 words whilst commuting.

Some things that helped:

  • 💡 Writing a short list of things I wanted to think more about. These were helpful prompts when I sat down to do my pages and my mind went blank
  • ✍🏿 Doing a daily poetry challenge as part of my pages, thus getting words for my pages *and” for the poems at the same time
  • 📈 The daily tracker in 750 words spurred me on to continue

✔️ Write 500 words whilst commuting home

I didn’t do this on Monday; I did it every other day. The goal for me was to write 500 words daily. Writing whilst commuting was the how, which I later changed to whilst commuting home.

Here are charts of my word and time counts for the week. I’ve deliberately excluded the actual numbers to eliminate opportunities for comparing with other people. I’m competing against myself, no one else 😊 What I want to show and share is that both words and time trend upwards as the week progresses.

Some things that helped:

  • Being more specific and realistic about what I wanted to achieve. I worried about being late as I navigated new commuting routes, so writing in the morning was hard. Writing on the way home only was more realistic. I started getting the bus home because it meant I could get a seat. Which made writing a significant amount achievable.
  • Setting a 20 minute timer, writing and counting my words when I finished. I have a better understanding of if I’m likely to reach my goal or not because I kept track of my word count.
  • Putting lots of prompts into a Google Doc ready for me to dive into as soon as the time came made a massive difference. I keep this open on my Chromebook at all times.
  • I stopped drinking tea during my commute. Instead, drinking 2 cups, instead of my usual 1, before I left the house. This meant I could write (or do my pages) as soon as I got on the bus.

✔️ Re-draft my outline using The Plot Embryo

I did this on Monday. I watched a video that reminded me that it’s important not to spend too much time planning. So then I decided that I’m not finished with my outline, but I’m done. In other words, that’s enough time & effort on that, now, it’s time to just write 😁

More about how I’ve found outlining surprisingly useful in last week’s On the Importance of Wellbeing, Sustainability & Perseverance for Writing and the previous week’s From 0 to 50K: How I’m preparing to win NaNoWriMo.

✔️ Publish article about my experiences of Preptober for NaNoWriMo

I did some work on this on Monday, and then realised it was the lowest priority on my list. So I didn’t come back to it until Saturday, except for jotting down some notes sometimes. Mostly, my notes were commentary on my progress with my goals.

On Saturday, I spent 3 x 20 minute blocks writing fiction over the course of the day. After that, I rewarded myself with a writing video. Whilst I watched, I worked on my outline for this article, throwing down ideas. I Jot. Bin. Pantsed. it 😂

After the video, I spent 3 x 30 minute blocks writing and editing the article. On Sunday, I spent an hour editing and formatting the article.

And here it is 🎉

Some things that helped:

  • Achieving my priorities (i.e. fiction writing) cleared the way to spend time on this
  • Getting inspired by the video about writing motivated me to write some thoughts
  • Making notes throughout the week helped me not feel overwhelmed when I sat down to write
  • Planning my Sunday helped keep me on track and focused so that I sat down to edit, format & publish the article on time

🎯 Write poems in response to OctoberFalls18 Poetry Challenge prompts

I did this every day, except Friday when I forgot. Pretty happy with that. Because this week I did 6 of 7 days, whereas the previous week I did 3 of 7 days.

My writing process

This week, I’ve written more than twice as many words as I planned. How? Writing exercises, a writing buddy and 20 minute chunks of time.

When November starts, I’m planning to write in 20 minute blocks. Because there are many times during the day when I can fit in 20 minutes of writing. So, this week, I wanted to get into the habit of finding and using those 20 minutes throughout the days.

Here’s how…

Ready, Set… Write!

  • I take my Chromebook with me everywhere. I write on my phone when I can’t get to my Chromebook (e.g. when it’s standing room only on public transport).
  • I set a timer for 20 minutes. When I had wifi access, I used an Online Stopwatch. Otherwise, I used the timer on my phone.
  • I had a google doc with lots of prompts in it ready for me to write as soon as the opportunity arose.
  • If I felt distracted, I put classical music on. I downloaded some playlists so I’d have these available at all times.
  • By tracking my time, I’ve learned that I write roughly 500 words in 20 minutes. This week, the number of words I wrote in 20 minutes ranged from 295 – 704 words. So, I know that to write 2000 words most days, I need 4 x 20 min blocks of time most days.
  • I did some shorter word sprints too, writing for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes. The poetry challenge helped with this – often I wrote some throwaway lines for a few minutes, then stopped. This helped quiet my internal critic and censor.

Writing exercises

As I’ve described, I did these alone, using writing prompts I found online or made for myself.

But also, I had 2 virtual writing sessions with a friend. In one, we did the same thing I’d been doing alone, and responded to a prompt.

In another, we did an exercise Ray Bradbury used to write the novel ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’: You generate a list of 20 nouns – random things, whatever you like. Then, you write 100 words on each of them. I found out about this exercise from this NaNoWriMo video. We did as much as were able to do in a timebox of 20 minutes.

I loved this exercise. Particularly, because it gave me a bunch of prompts (my own and my friends) to continue writing the next few days. But also, just the randomness of it all.

If you want a writing buddy, check out events local to your area and/or virtual events online. I recommend that you do what I did too and ask your friends & colleagues if they’re interested in writing a novel in November. You never know who’ll say YES!


I’m so excited about this one.

When reading about some of the things teachers do to reward kids, I learned that anything can be a reward. So, I made a list of things I enjoy doing and I made a list of goals. Then I linked them together.

For example, here are some of the goals & rewards I set myself:

  • Reached daily word count goal? Watch a writing video:
    On Saturday, I chose NaNo Prep Webcast: Find the Time to Write! I’ve just increased my daily goal to 1000 words. Next week Saturday, I’m ramping up to 1500 words, and 2000 words from Sunday. Wish me luck!
  • Written for 20 minutes? Watch a budgeting video:
    I’m a giant nerd and love budgeting, so this is actually rewarding for me 😅 (PS I used to hate budgeting; until I started using YNAB. This is a referral link; if you use it, we both get a free month of YNAB.)
  • Totally smashed goals & feeling smug? Schedule an Artist’s Date:
    Today, I’m taking myself out for a nice meal 💅🏿

I don’t take all my rewards all the time. The way it works for me is to have LOADS of rewards on offer, for all sorts of different goals. So, I never feel like I’m punishing myself by withholding stuff I enjoy. Then, I can choose as many of the available rewards as I want.

I try to make sure that my rewards fit my achievements. For example, I was going to make watching an episode of The X-Files a reward for writing for an hour, but that doesn’t work because the episodes are about an hour themselves.

I write down what rewards I take – and why – next to my word count & time counts in my activity planning spreadsheet. It’s so lovely to look back and read over these. I often find it difficult to reward myself or I forget, so this is a simple way to remind myself to do it.

Get help wherever you can

I’ve heard some things this week that resonate with me. The quotes are from the Nano webcast video or its comments. The links are from my journeys around the interwebs.

  • “Instead of watching tv, if you can’t write at night, go to bed earlier and write in the morning” – Laura Vanderkam, author. I’ve added her TED talk, “How to gain control of your free time” to my rewards list 😁
  • Write “in the ‘nooks and crannies’ of the day” – Grant Faulkner, NaNoWriMo’s executive director
  • “you can fix everything but a blank page” – Nora Roberts
  • “Action Cures Fear” – Passion Planner
  • 6 Ways To Prepare For NaNoWriMo In The Week Leading Up To November
  • Prepare Eating for NaNoWriMo
  • Get creative with these ideas for Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

My goals for next week

  • 🎯 Write 1000 words daily – before work, commuting, lunch time…
  • 🎯 Attend at least one virtual write-in event
  • 🎯 Write poems in response to poetry challenge prompts
  • 🎯 Publish article on my experiences of Preptober for NaNoWriMo (Sunday)
  • 🎯 Place a groceries delivery order so I’m well stocked before November