It’s All About Momentum – Writing Effectively and Productively Amidst a Busy Life

by Corrine Kumar

One of the biggest challenges writers face is finding time to write amidst a busy life. For many years, my strategy to overcome this was to sacrifice other parts of my life that I enjoyed. But, as my schedule grew more and more demanding, this became harder and harder to do.

What I finally realized is that writing is a long game—particularly if you want it to be your career. It’s not like studying for a mid-term where you can buckle down, pull an all-nighter or two, and skip fun activities for a week before getting back to your normal schedule. Pushing yourself to the brink and giving up everything else that matters might work in the short term, but in the long run, just makes you miserable and steals the joy from the writing itself. And that defeats the whole purpose.

Instead of focusing on creating as much writing time as possible, my strategy has pivoted to being as productive as possible within the limited writing time I do have. The key is creating momentum, so I spend less time staring at my computer screen, and so the words flow more quickly during a writing session. Here are my top tips for creating more momentum in your writing process.

1. Make Time for Activities That Inspire Your Writing

This is hard. When you feel like you have so little time to write, it feels like you can’t afford to spend the time you do have on other things. However, making time for these activities—such as reading, music, art, video games, hiking, watching movies, etc.—make the words flow faster when you sit down to write.

2. Utilize Dictation Software

There certainly is a learning curve with dictation software, but it can be an incredibly useful tool. Because our brains often outrun our ability to type, dictation can allow you to get more words on the page during a writing session. As an added bonus, saying the words aloud forces you to better visualize the scene, better connect with your characters, write dialogue that is more natural, and notice when your sentence constructions are awkward.

3. The Bracket Method

Bracketing is something you can employ for any information you don’t yet know while writing. Here is an example from my current novel:

[TUTOR] wore his usual blue and gold [ACADEMY] robes, even though he hadn’t taught there in over [TIME] years.

Using brackets allows you to keep your momentum (rather than stopping to fill in these details) and spend more of your writing session actually writing without detracting from the meaning or quality of your sentences.

4. Jump Around

When you get stuck in the middle of a chapter, it’s tempting to spend the rest of your writing session trying to push through the block. Instead, similar to the bracket method, just type [CONNECTION], then skip to the next part of the scene you do know how to write. Once you’ve completed the chapter, you can often see the big picture and more easily go back and fill in the [CONNECTION]s rather than trying to force them in the moment.

5. Set Word Count Goals

Word count isn’t everything, but setting word count goals can be a useful trick. One thing that can affect your productivity is the internal editor in your brain that keeps you from moving forward because it wants every word to be perfect. Knowing you have two hundred words to write in twenty minutes forces you to turn off your internal editor and just get the words on the page. In the end, the words you put down are actually good, and you make more progress toward your goal.

6. End in the Middle

The hardest part of a writing session for most writers is the beginning. This becomes even harder when the beginning of a writing session involves starting the beginning of a new chapter, scene, or section. So, whenever you are finishing a writing session, use the momentum you have to start the next chapter so you have something to build off of next time. Pausing partway through a chapter can also trick your subconscious into working on what happens next in the meantime, which makes sitting down to write the next day even easier.

7. Small Consistent Steps Add Up

When you don’t have much time on a particular day, it’s tempting not to bother sitting down to write. But if you write just two hundred words a day, at the end of the year, you’ll have 73,000 words on the page. That means a completed manuscript every one to two years, depending on what you write. Just from two hundred words a day. It may not feel like much at the time, but it adds up fast. Being consistent, even if it only means producing a small number of words per day, also adds to your momentum and makes subsequent writing sessions more productive.

8. Rehearse the Scene Ahead of Time

Visualizing the scene as much as you can beforehand helps prevent you from getting stuck in the middle of a writing session and helps the words flow faster. Even if you can only spend 5-10 minutes doing this while getting ready for work, during your lunch break, etc., it can give you a significant momentum boost when you sit down to write.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are my top tips to give your writing momentum and be as productive as possible in the limited writing time that most of us have. All advice here, of course, comes with the caveat that no writing advice is universal. However, I hope at least one strategy in here resonates with or inspires you to try something new.

Corrine Kumar is a science fiction and fantasy writer with a love of martial arts, cooking, and learning languages. Her greatest writing influences are Brandon Sanderson, V. E. Schwab, Nick Martell, Fonda Lee, and Mary Robinette Kowal. She studied Chemistry and Neuroscience at Indiana University—Bloomington, graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine, and is now a Pediatrics Resident at Riley Hospital for Children. She is an alumnus of the Futurescapes Writers’ Workshop, and her article “Active Reading to Step Up Your Writing” was previously published by the SFWA blog. Corrine can be found on Twitter @Corrine_A_Kumar.