Write A Novel When You Have Zero Time: 5-Minute Writing Tips

Does this sound like you? “I want to write a novel, but I don’t have any time. What do I do with all these ideas in my head?”

Writers are shocked when I say that they’re in the perfect situation to kick off their career as a novelist. Many famous novelists wrote their first novels despite having day jobs.

We discussed Anthony Trollope, who worked at the Post Office for 33 years and wrote 47 novels while keeping his day job:

Anthony Trollope began his writing day at 5.30 every morning, and would write for three hours before going off to his day job at the Post Office. He wrote 250 words every 15 minutes, pacing himself with a watch.

Write a novel in five minutes a day

You can write a novel if you have zero time. Most authors start out that way. Not only does the “no time!” factor force you to write, it also helps you to accept what you write.

When you write in those minutes you steal from your life, you can’t be precious about your words; you’re grateful to write anything in your limited time. You don’t have time to brood about your writing either, and that’s always a good thing.

Let’s look at some five-minute writing tips.

1. Be like Twyla Tharp: grab a box for your project

All creativity is messy. You need a discrete area to store your stuff. Grab a box.

From The Creative Habit — Twyla Tharp:

Tharp says that before you can think outside a box, you have to have a box. To organize her projects, she uses literal, inexpensive file boxes from Office Depot to store all manner of physical materials she accumulates in the process of researching for and creating a new dance.

In years to come you may have a luxurious home office, but in the meantime, your box corrals your creativity.

Things you can store in your box:

  • Notebooks and sheets of paper;
  • Print-outs of maps. Junk mail. Clippings you’ve torn from magazines, catalogues, photographs;
  • Post-It notes, receipts on which you scrawled an idea for a character or setting, index cards…

2. Schedule five minutes every day

You can schedule your five minutes in the morning, evening, or in your lunch hour. All that matters is that you schedule five minutes.

When your scheduled time arrives, open your computer or phone, and start writing. Start writing immediately — it doesn’t matter what you write. You’re building a habit.

Don’t be surprised if all those amazing ideas for your novel vanish like smoke. Suddenly you can’t think of anything. That’s OK.

Write about not knowing what to write, viz:

I don’t know what to write. Just this morning, while I was making toast, I had an idea about a man who….

Write. For five minutes.

Then stop, and go about your day.

If you’re using pen and ink, toss the sheet of paper into your box. Using a computer? Capture your five minutes of words in Google Docs, or Evernote, or even in the Notes app on your phone.

3. Discover your novel, word by word, and idea by idea

Whether you have too many ideas, or no ideas at all, you’ll discover your novel word by word, and idea by idea, just as every novelist does.

We talked about the difference between story and plot in this article:

Story is what happens. Plot on the other hand, is cause and effect. Unlike real life, in fiction there are always reasons for actions and events; it’s your job as an author to identify them.

Story comes first.

It’s unlikely that a complete story will come to you instantly. Mostly stories come bit by bit; those little bits often don’t make much sense. Trust your creative self.

Toss all your bits into your box. Sooner or later, your bits will spark off each other and you’ll have a story. Then you can start writing your novel if you’re a pantser. If you’re an outliner, outline scenes.

When you write a novel in five minutes a day, your time will expand

Inevitably, your five minutes a day will expand. You’ll snatch a few minutes while you’re waiting for a meeting to start, or at a coffee shop.

A tip: trust your invisible writing process. Get a bigger box. Before you know it, you’ll be a published novelist.

Godspeed. 🙂

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Updated: May 13, 2021