Top Time Savers for Writing

Alarm clock in foreground demonstrates that time savers are important to writers.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I rely on a lot of time savers to help me stay productive. I’ve spoken to writers before who’ve asked me how long I spend writing each day.  I usually spend no more than thirty minutes writing, but that thirty minutes is enough for me to publish 2-3 books a year and get a head start on another.

I think it’s because of these time saving tricks. Not everyone wants to be a faster writer or needs to be a faster writer.  If you’re someone who is already trying to increase your writing speed, here are the things that work for me. Some of them help me stay on track and fight distraction. Some of them are memory crutches that help cut my revision times dramatically. 

Here’s my most general tip, but probably the one that works the best: write the genre you know best.  I think at this point that I could write cozies in my sleep.  I know how they tick: the pacing, the way the characters arc, how the mysteries come together to form a solution.

Second most general tip: write in series.  When you’ve gone through the investment of time and trouble creating a world and characters that live there, you may as well create more adventures for those characters in that world.  The time saving is huge.

My tips for each writing session:

Time your sessions and then take breaks. If you’re as easily distracted and restless as I am, try the Pomodoro method.  Actually, even if you’re not easily distracted, give it a go.  I keep reading more and more how important it is to keep moving and writing is incredibly sedentary. I adjust Pomodoro to fit my needs better: since my writing sessions are short, I’ll have a 15 minute writing session followed by a 5-7 minute break (usually I’ll do something active but productive and mindless during those few minutes…fold the laundry, empty or load the dishwasher, push the vacuum around).

Write the book description first. I frequently write the book description as early as a year before writing the book.  One reason I do this is to stay ahead with my cover designer (I commission covers that far out so I can stay current on her calendar).  Another reason is that it’s easiest to have the whole, global point of my story before I get into it. When I write a book and get deep into the words, I can barely see the forest for the trees. Copywriting before writing helps take care of the promo writing, helps me promote the book on my site far before it’s written, and helps me stay on point when I actually start writing the book.

Think about the story before opening the laptop. As I’m getting ready and coming downstairs, I’m already putting myself back in the story world. I’m remembering what I wrote the previous day and where I wanted to go.  By the time I open my laptop, I’m ready to go.

Use mini-outlines to bookmark your spot.   But, on the days where I don’t even remember what I wrote the day before (sadly, these days happen all too often), I have mini-outlines to lead the way. At the end of each writing session, I write 1 sentence explaining where I left off and 1 sentence reminding myself what I want to accomplish in my next scene.  Don’t overthink this part–it can be really general.  Mine sound like “Myrtle finished talking to Suzy Suspect and is sitting at the diner with Sidekick Miles hashing out what they’ve learned so far.”

Write straight through without editing or inserting chapter breaks.  This doesn’t work for every writer, but it definitely works for me. If I edit as I go, it’s hard to get myself out of left-brained mode back into right-brained, creative mode. And thinking about chapter breaks or other bits of formatting works the same way.

When running behind, work at a place that has no wifi (harder and harder to do). This was easier to do even as few as four years ago. Now I have to actually pass by cows in my car to find a place that doesn’t have wifi floating around (I do live in a city, so your mileage may vary). Or, if you trust yourself, go to a public place and just don’t log into their wifi network.

When writing more than one series (and alternating writing books for them, as most of us do): when finishing a book in Series A, outline the next book in Series A before moving over to write a book in Series B.  I mentioned this recently, but it’s worth another mention. I save so much time doing this. My head is still in the same story world when I create the outline and it goes incredibly fast…usually several days for a thoughtful outline. I’m always dying to move on to the other series, but I’ve learned to just put myself on a leash. It’s worth it.

Use a series bible.  Got lots of details?  You may have more than you think. Unless you want your supporting character with the cat allergy ending up as a proud cat owner (yes, this has happened to me), mark the detail in a Word doc for future use.  It may not sound like much of a time saver, but you’ll not only check it again and again, you’ll save sooo much time in revision work.

Back up the book.  The importance of this can’t be overstated. If you spend 2 minutes a day backing up, you won’t have to spend 3-6 months rewriting the entire book from scratch. And 2 minutes is all it takes to pull it to a thumbdrive/USB (I have one on my keychain), upload it to Google Docs or One Drive, or even email it to yourself.

This is what works for me…what works for you?

Last week’s time savers were on social media. Read that post here.

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20 thoughts on “Top Time Savers for Writing

  1. Great tips. Write without inserting chapter breaks – yes! That’s how I write. In fact I don’t even insert chapter breaks before sending the manuscript to my publisher. Yes, weird, but they seem used to that now.

  2. These are such good ideas, Elizabeth. And what I like most about them is that they work well no matter what one’s writing schedule is like. That is, even if you have only ten minutes, you can use it to sketch out a story description, or do a chapter outline, or whatever. And absolutely, the less one gets distracted by social media, the more productive one is…

  3. I started writing the blurb copy before the books a couple of books ago and that does seem to help. I’m going to try outlining the next book in the series before switching to my other series myself. It sounds like a great idea. Thanks!

    My tip? Get yourself a voice recorder or a recording app for your phone. Then you can ‘write’ anywhere. Get an idea down and transcribe it later or, if you use Dragon NaturallySpeaking or other similar software, let it transcribe it. I find it difficult for dialog for all of the punctuation it requires but I can still get the gist of a scene recorded, have Dragon transcribe it and then go back and fill in the details, any missing punctuation and such later. It’s been a real boon to word count too. Heaven knows I can talk a lot faster than I can type!

  4. I have a series bible as well as a bible for stand alones. It helps keep places and people organized. I love the suggestion of outlining book 2 of series A then moving over to a series B. I just wish I could create a stonger outline rather than the whimpy little blob I do now. :)

    1. H.R.–Hope it helps!

      I transitioned from being a pantster by pretending I was a young kid explaining a movie to an adult who hadn’t seen it: “And then this happened! And then that happened! And then this happened…” Somehow I could get the story beats down that way and give myself something meatier to go off of. If that helps at all, ha! It sounds a little crazy when I write it down.

  5. Hi Elizabeth – great ideas and I’ve noted … thank you – the Bible idea is a necessity really isn’t it – a record of all things … keeping us on track and steady … cheers Hilary

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