How To Write Badass Posts, Even When You Can’t Find The Time

A clock, pen, notebook, and mobile phone, all in white

I’m probably not as busy as most of you on here, but recent obligations have been eating away at my writing time.

And these surprise attacks come from all angles too. Maybe a mentee needs an entire day’s worth of guidance. Or maybe the weeds have grown uncontrollably in the garden. Or maybe it’s work on the weekends.

Either way, my adult life is an insatiable blob that only has an appetite for my leisure time. And thus I’ve found myself having to sneak in little pockets of writing time throughout the day instead of having a dedicated hour like I’m used to.

But that’s a small problem for me, right? After all, I did put up this post about micro-writing, so all I need to do is just write, right?

As it turns out, it’s not the writing that’s the problem. It’s attention.

Attention residue

Have you ever started your day with the honest intent of writing, then feel so frazzled after work that you just can’t seem to put words on paper?

I’ve been feeling this way ever since work picked up, and I’ve moved my writing from morning to night because certain adjustments have to be made. Here’s my current routine at the moment:

0630: Wake up, morning pages
0715: Work out, mop the floor, get ready for work
0830: Class prep
0900: Start work or class
1300: Stretch and meditate, WordPress duties (like commenting and being active in the community)
1400: Work
1800: End work, but we don't really end on time sometimes
1900: House chores, playtime with doggo, maybe writing
2000: Dinner and dishes
2100: Prep for the next day (coffee machine, kettle, workout clothes, journalling and planning)
2200: Bedtime prep for doggo (potty, brush teeth) and myself (bathe and stuff)
2300: Write till I'm sleepy
2330: Read a book till I knock out

I have no idea how those of you with kids even find time to eat.

This is what I have to work with in my day-to-day. I have my first meal while I work at 4 p.m. as I’ve been intermittent fasting since 2019 or so. My weekends aren’t much different, except that I replace work with my volunteer programme obligations.

So every time I arrive at the blank page, I’m still thinking about my previous task, or my upcoming one. And switching modes doesn’t happen just like that.

But like any writer who wants to turn pro, I spent a week crafting this essay in spurts so that I can come back to you with a report, and hopefully help anyone in the same situation make the most out of their writing time, and you know what?

You very well can write effectively even when you’re short on time.

Photo of a busy highway at night

Believe it or not, you can make sense out of those racing thoughts in your head. Photo: Daniel Monteiro

Before you start

Even though we’ll be writing in short spurts, you need to know that it’s not all about writing. There’s also the pre-planning and the editing, and here’s what you need to spend time on before you start writing.

Get into the proper mindset

It’s important to note that you won’t be doing much deep work in the span of fifteen minutes. In fact, you’ll probably only start getting the zone when you reach the end of your sessions.

So how do you produce a decent output?

Let me take you back to morning pages. I’m glad I’ve started this practice once more, because it’s taught me how to start at the blank page and just go. A useful skill, seeing how you won’t have the time to mull too much over your story or sentence structure.

If you’re going to make the most out of your writing sprint, then you’ll want to turn off all judgement the moment your pen hits the paper. Don’t even stop for typos or research. Future you will take care of that.

For now, just leave perfection at the door.

Go with the flow

Just because you’re not writing doesn’t mean you’re not improving in your craft.

Your other hobbies do help you improve your writing too. I suggest you nurture hobbies you like that take a certain amount of focus.

Why? Because stealing little bits of time to write often means that you’ll have to be able to write anywhere. Maybe it’ll have to be at the back of a receipt in a restaurant, or on your phone while waiting for your Grab driver.

And having a certain focus will ensure the success of every mini writing session.

I’ll bet you know what that feels like. It’s that focus you put into aiming an arrow, landing that three-pointer, sparring an opponent, or observing your breath during meditation.

Or if you’re into art, it’s that moment when you swing your hand back and forth, preparing to put down a straight line.

The more you train your focus outside your writing, the better your chances of using it during. Personally, I’ve benefitted tremendously from meditation.

Outline everything

As a purebred pantser, it feels blasphemous to recommend this. But if you want to sprint, then you can’t go into a session not knowing your topic beforehand. So it behooves you to prepare some sort of roadmap before you even begin.

Award-winning Malaysian author Hanna Alkaf once told me that outlining her novel was a method born out of necessity. Because as a mother of two, she too had to steal time during the day to write. This often meant writing while her children were asleep, while waiting to pick them up from school, or even while cooking.

“That’s why I have to outline,” she said. “The idea is not to sit down and then be overwhelmed by the feeling of ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.'”

I tried it for this exact article, and this was what I could muster as a pantser:

  1. The challenges of not having time to write
    List my troubles of sticking to my blogging schedule
  2. Techniques I used to get more writing done
    I’m going to try various techniques and share what helped me best
  3. Lessons learned
    Self-explanatory

Now I didn’t exactly follow this plan to the tee, but it did give me some comfort knowing that I had something to fall back to in case the blank page became too intimidating.

A woman falling off a wooden bridge

What I’ll probably look like if I were to sprint-write without an outline. Even as a pantser. Photo: Pedro da Silva

The actual writing

Okay, so you have your foundation set. You’re now ready to sprint your way to a complete story, beginning, middle, and end included. Here are the techniques that have gotten me through the grind.

Write a letter

The heading says it all. You write a letter to a friend explaining what you’re writing about.

While authors like John Steinbeck wrote letters as warm-ups to their actual writing, I’ve found it to be pretty effective for the actual writing. That way, I trick my brain into writing by making it feel as though I’m not.

Then all I need to do is remove the ‘Dear Joe’ and the paragraph about the weather and I have myself a very usable section for the story.

Admittedly, I didn’t need to do this for the entire article, but it’s proven useful for the times when I had no idea where to start.

Go subconscious

I know you’ve probably grown weary of this statement, but morning pages have helped me heaps with my output. It’s through this practice that I learned the two modes of my writing: conscious and unconscious.

The first involves a lot of thinking—the message I want to convey, whether or not a sentence is beautiful enough, if there’s a piece of research that will better support a paragraph—and unfortunately, that’s also where the inner editor resides.

And we all know what happens when the inner editor clocks in.

The second mode, however, is when I just let my hand glide across the page, the words seemingly materialising out of thin air.

Weirdly enough, when I’m in unconscious writing mode, I can think of what I want to have for dinner while writing. It’s as if another consciousness is helping me with the work, and I’m just observing, kind of like when you zone out while you’re driving to work.

That’s where I want to be when I write. How do I do this? It’s hard to describe. Try writing longhand and not stopping to think. Do that long enough and you might notice two different consciousnesses, the one doing the writing, and the real you. I know how woo-woo this all sounds, but trust me, it’s there.

And the end result may not be entirely polished, but we’re sprinting right now, aren’t we? Besides, editing is future me’s problem (note from future me who’s currently editing this drivel: damn you, past me).

Treat each section as its own short story

In his book Consider This, Chuck Palahniuk mentions treating his novels as collections of short stories. He works on each chapter like a subassembly waiting to be fed into the main line.

So when you have fifteen minutes to write, you need to go micro as well. You can’t concern yourself with juggling the flow of your entire article while trying to crap out the words you need for a certain paragraph.

Take this section, for instance, I’ve forgotten what I’ve written in the previous paragraphs. I’m serious. All I’m focused on right now is coming up with a beginning, middle, and end for the subheading titled ‘Treat each section as its own short story’.

Do I know if it’s going to work for this article? I don’t know. Heck, I don’t even know if the article’s even going to be published (note from future me: yes it is). All I know is that I’m here, and I’m going to tell you a story for this exact section.

Sure, it may feel weird focusing only on these couple hundred words, but these things do add up. And pretty soon, you’ll have your own collection of subassemblies to piece and glue together into a shabby little model.

Then you’ll learn that writing isn’t about having a flawless run at a word processor and publishing a finished product the first time you sit down and try.

Sometimes it’s about building a house, brick by brick, even though it may not look like much every time you get to work.

The editing phase

I hate editing, so I don’t have tips for you here. However you want to approach it is up to you. Just know that it is possible to edit your story fifteen minutes at a time. The above advice about going section by section is gold.

It’s not just you I’m trying to convince

I’m a writer who can’t move on until I get a sentence just right, so writing this article with my new constraints proved to be a challenge, and even now, I’m still unsure if I’ve managed to assemble something decent for consumption.

That’s for you to decide.

But I guess I needed to write this article for myself as much as it was for you. To serve as a reminder that sometimes it’s not about going out and doing great things, but about doing the small things that lead you there.


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58 thoughts on “How To Write Badass Posts, Even When You Can’t Find The Time

  1. Wonderful article! I might start implementing some of those ideas myself. One of the things I do as well is keep a “bank” of blog post ideas in my Notes app on my my phone, tablet and MacBook. These are subdivided into categories such as mindset, writing tips, the books I want to cover, etc. This gives me ready made ideas to pull from each week, and allows me to jot down ideas for each as they appear. When the time comes to actually write the post, I usually have enough of a “rough draft” for me to turn out a post fairly quickly.

    • Oh yeah, it’s awesome to have a running idea list, because if you ask me to come up with a topic right now, I’d probably draw blanks, but once I open up my notes app, I have a ton that I’ve listed down and forgotten. Thanks so much for sharing your creative process! Always great to learn. I appreciate you stopping by, Kathleen!

  2. I’ve been trying to move into a less pressured way of writing and just write about something that I want to jot down instead of trying to write something cohesive every time. Sometimes its an observation, a thought, or a scene in my head. Last night I had that exact thing you mentioned where I just sit there and can’t come up with anything because I am tired and just done.

    • I find that when I’m in these modes, it’s best to ‘turn unconscious’, as in have a topic you want to explore (could be a blog post or a story), and just go to town with stream of consciousness writing. Again, this sounds woo-woo, but sometimes you just gotta turn off your logic mind to receive messages from the universe. Hopefully you find a way to get over the tiredness, because I totally get that feel too. And thanks for stopping by!

  3. This is great! Writing posts over the course of the week is what has worked best for me, too. And oftentimes I’ll start a post by jotting down a few of the main ideas, which then morph into headings. My biggest struggle is generating blog post ideas though.

    • I myself have the opposite problem. I find it easier to generate ideas than to flesh things out, lol. Great to see the differences between writers. And thanks so much for the kind words!

    • Aw yis, routines really do help the heck out of me. I used to think it was boring, but the only way I ever get anything substantial done is by hacking away at it, on a consistent basis. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Jim!

  4. I have just finished a 6600 research paper. I honestly didn’t think I could study and write at night after a full day of looking after kids with remote learning while in lockdown. But a change in mindset and writing in spurts, coupled with unconscious/conscious thinking during when I couldn’t write, made a difference. Sure it was different from my usual preference for writing (eg. Set hours with no disturbances) but it proved just as successful. Simply due to adopting a different mindset and “micro writing”. So I think you might be on to something with this post.

  5. The dreaded outline! But oh how much easier it makes those little spurts of time for writing. It was hard for me, too, but once I let go and put editing into it’s own time slot, it got easier. (But never 100% easy)

    • Letting go is really one of the most underrated skills in writing ever. In fact, I’ve actually only just learned it, as much as I’ve touted the shitty first draft. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing this comment!

  6. These are really helpful. An outline is super important when it comes to writing, and honestly I can’t do without it.
    I also dislike editing.🙂
    Great tips, Stuart. Thanks for sharing.😊

  7. This is fantabulous Stu! Thanks for sharing the secret to your success! And don’t sell yourself too short; your schedule looks as punishing as any of us with kids I assure you! Write on bro. You got this!! And I’m going to get this too by bookmarking this post for future reference. So many gold nuggets to unpack. Thanks man! Always a source of great delight, to see what next Mr Danker will write!

    • Hopefully one day I’ll be a man of nuggets and gems (speaking of, have you listened to Kevin Hart’s new audiobook yet?).

      Am always honoured to have your support, Kelvin, and your kind words this week are more than generous. Thanks for making my day!

  8. This post was packed with helpful information! I have three little kids (ages 2, 4, and 5) so I squeeze in writing whenever I get the chance. However, it can be difficult to fully focus. I’m going to try the ‘writing a letter’ idea.

    I’m super glad I found your blog. Your writing style is fun to read and easy to follow. I also love how you slip in some humor. 😁Reading your posts feels like I’m having a conversation with you!

    • Oh yeah, trying to write when your mind’s still racing around from the day’s activities can be pretty trying. Like I said, I have no idea how those of you with kids do it. And three children? I’m surprised you even get to find the time. Hopefully the letter method works out for you. I’m super glad that you decided to stop by and leave this lovely comment too!

  9. I never thought to write a hypothetical letter to get the writing juices flowing so to speak. I’m actually kind of looking forward to trying it out! My usual method is stare at blank page or word vomit and then add clarity and connectors later. Great article 😁

    • Word-vomiting is pretty legit though. No need to change if you already have a process that works, but yeah, it’s always great to try new things. Hopefully the letter method works out for you!

    • And I love that you always take the time to stop by from post to post as well. It definitely does keep me going. Hope all’s well on your end on living the close-knit life, and hope that your phone’s treating you well too!

  10. This post is very motivating! As the mother of a 17-month-old, finding the time and energy to write, exercise and clean the house every day is a challenge, and of those three it’s usually writing that gets the boot! You’ve made me want to get better at finding snippets of time to do things, even if it’s using speech-to-text in my notes app to plan while doing something else, so when there’s a window of opportunity it might be easier to get going 😅

    • I can only imagine the busy-ness of having to take care of a child that young. I’m surprised you even have the time.

      But yeah, it’d be awesome if you carved out the time anyway. I’d love to hear your story once you’re done with that.

      Speech-to-text is a great tool, though I find it a bit unreliable, with my Malaysian accent and all, so I just hop onto the voice recorder if I need to ‘write’ with my hands full, lol.

      And you’re definitely right about writing always being the first to go. Hope that changes!

  11. I’m been trying to publish a post every day in September and I’ve learned a lot about stealing moments to write because my job demands a lot of energy from me so I’m wiped when I get home, which means I need to hit the ground running. I’m also learning about having to produce something on a deadline rather than say I’m too tired, I’ll do it tomorrow. I like your post very much, will bookmark.

    • Yeah, I’ve noticed your increased output. And daily posting is definitely a challenge!

      It’s so much harder to do fiction because you need to actually create everything from scratch. For non-fiction, at least it feels like a diary sometimes.

      But I’m super inspired by what you said on producing something rather than say you’re too tired, because that’s how we get anything done in life, so thanks for the awesome vibes, Hetty!

  12. Your post makes the process of writing feel easier and less pressure going into it. I like the idea of making a roadmap and that’s something I’m going to practise for future posts. Thanks Stuart!

  13. The idea of writing letters as a warm-up is something that I haven’t heard of before, and it sounds so fun that I’m definitely going to try it out! I still write letters to my sister but sometimes can’t think of anything other that the “this is what I’m doing now, say hi to the dog and cats” to write because we still communicate primarily through messenger … I wonder if she would find these warm up letters an interesting change in what I send to her, haha. Two birds with one stone!

    • Lol to be honest, people like John Steinbeck and Abe Lincoln never sent their letters (the former had such letters turned into a whole book however), but maybe you can try writing actual letters you intend to send and see what happens. Let me know how it goes!

  14. I found this amazing! I used to be one of those who would spend hours or even a full day writing since I needed to get into the zone to write and continue writing. Recently I was a bit forced to write little by little simply because I could not do otherwise. I still need at least 30 minutes to an hour each time but as you said little by little becomes a lot. Also I recently started meditation and I find it really helpful. Thank you for this post! It is really encouraging!

    • Oh yeah I totally get that feel. I’m primarily a ‘long stretch’ kinda writer too, but due to circumstances, I have to either choose between short spurts or not writing and all, and we both know that the latter is just unacceptable, lol.

      How do you feel meditation has helped? I personally feel that it’s helped me get into the ‘observer’ mode, and when I’m there, I find that I can draft while ignoring the inner critic.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing!

      • Well I have always been one of these really stressed people who keep thinking a lot all the time. You know what they say that usally to much analysis before actually start doing something is like paralysis…..just thinking and never start doing.
        Thoughts of what I wanted or had to do kept coming in overwhelming rythm. Meditation helped me realize that these thoughts, although I had a feeling they were helpful, they actually weren’t. When it comes to writing the only thing that is helpful is to just start writing,

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  16. I think I’ve deleted more drafts than those that became published posts. I’m also going with much shorter posts these days. Like authors and so many readers, there isn’t time for writing and reading long-form blogs. Get to the point, make it crystal clear and don’t waffle-on. Already this reply is too long. Goodbye. -M

    • Interestingly enough, I myself enjoy long-form posts more than shorter ones. But yeah, time and attention is a precious commodity these days. Thank so much for stopping by, and I don’t think your reply is long at all!

  17. Hi Stuart,
    Another good article. I like that how you end the article by saying that you write the article for yourself as much as for the readers. The difficult part for me is compartmentalizing my time between shuffling papers at work and thinking about the stories that I never get round to finishing. The thing about writing intermittently is I have a tendency to edit the sentences whenever I return to the pages that I had started. It is true about allowing your conscious and subconscious mind to guide you along as you write. Indeed, I when I manage to get into that mode when words just glide out and you surprise yourself. Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh yeah, it really is hard to return to a story intermittently, because you feel kinda ‘disconnected’ every time you leave it and come back, and I’ll admit that I sometimes edit what I previous wrote just to remind myself of the story’s details.

      And yas, it’s so awesome when you surprise yourself. Thanks for such a thoughtful reply!

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  20. This is such a relatable post, especially the statement “my adult life is an insatiable blob that only has an appetite for my leisure time.” It is amazing how much time life can eat up before you know it’s slipped away!

    I really like your suggestion of writing a letter to a friend about your work! I recently watched a panel of authors sharing writing tips, and one of them said she wrote her query letters first to focus things. Since query letters are these Intimidating Official Things, however, I feel like the letter-to-a-friend approach would have less chance of backfiring into freezing up.

    • Oh yeah, I think query letters would be MUCH more intimidating than writing the actual thing, so maybe that could be a reverse-psychology thing for some to actually start writing, lol.

      Thanks so much for sharing tips from your own life. They’re definitely going to be useful, and I appreciate it!

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