As a writer, one of the biggest limitations you face is time—or rather, the lack of it. It’s rare to find a writer, especially of fiction, who has all the time he or she wants to work. That means that an efficient writer has a huge advantage over those who wind up frittering away their writing time.

As a fulltime freelance journalist and author, I’ve learned to work as efficiently as possible, which means I can make more money during the hours I work. However, these strategies apply to writing fiction as well. Besides writing for money, I write for love, too. I’m a published novelist, and I write fiction and essays occasionally.

However, between my day job as a freelancer, two little kids, and a busy life, I have little time left over for the work that calls to me, whether it’s a novel in progress or an essay I want to write. So I make the most of my limited time with techniques like the following:

  • Use a three-draft process. Forget getting every word perfect right out of the gate. Employ a three-draft process instead. With the first draft, you simply get the words down, no matter how rough, or unfinished, or dreadful it sounds. Then you take a break—a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks in the case of a book, and return to your project to tackle the second draft. During the second draft, you clean up the mess of the first draft and make the language as strong as possible, and make sure the overall story holds together. Then in the third draft, you fine-tune the manuscript until it’s close to perfect.

  • Forget perfect. There’s no such thing when it comes to writing. Believe me, you can improve upon anything, so set a standard of “pretty good” when it comes to your work. Early in my career, I rewrote articles six, seven, even eight times, striving to make each piece as good as humanly possible, but it didn’t matter to my editors. If I can write a pretty good piece in three drafts (see above), that’s good enough for my editors—so why kill myself striving for (unattainable) perfection?

  • Use TK. If you’re stuck trying to come up with the right word, or want to add something to your work, don’t get bogged down. Use the old editor’s “TK” trick. If you get stuck, type the letters “TK” and keep going. The TK means, “to come;” it’s basically shorthand for “fix this before it goes to print.” Then, when you edit your initial draft, you can fix the TKs. (The letters TK don’t appear together in any word in English, which makes it easy to locate them by using the “find” function in Word.)

  • Keeping your writing time sacred. Let’s say you have 30 minutes during your commute that you can write, or 15 minutes while you wait for your son to finish swim practice. Use that time to write! Don’t jump on Facebook “for just a minute” or catch up on email. You can always do that at another time. Open Word, keep every other application closed, and “type your words,” as my four-year-old daughter tells me.

  • Give yourself goals. Don’t say that you’ll write when you have the time—you’ll never find it. At the beginning of the week, look at your schedule and write down when you’ll write. Then make a note of it in ink on your calendar or type it into your electronic calendar. Keep track of every time you write you said you would, and give yourself a reward occasionally for doing what you promised yourself you would! Those little rewards will help you build confidence in yourself as a writer, and meet your overall writing goals.

Your time as a writer may be limited, but the ways you can make the most of it are all but endless. Don’t complain about how little time you have to write; instead, plan to make the most of every minute as you pursue your writing dreams.

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