12 Ways to Write When You Don’t Have Any Time

I have an absolutely lovely writing desk that was purchased from an antique shop and is a fabulous addition to my home. But because of my busy schedule, I don’t ever seem to have time to sit down and use it. Instead I find myself writing in various places, a habit that I think I developed when my children were wee babies and I was constantly running from one thing to another (they have grown up a bit, but the running hasn’t stopped). Today I’m sharing various ways that I and some of my other writer friends manage writing on-the-go, especially during those particularly busy days.* All you need to accomplish your writing in these ways is something portable — your phone, tablet, laptop, or perhaps a notebook and pen — and the will to do it. Note that some of these ways are mostly good for getting quick words down, while others are more amenable to longer sessions of writing or revising.

*For a couple of these, writing locations may be less about hectic schedules than personal preference; see #9 especially.

1. Waiting time is writing time
We write while waiting for a job to spit out of the copy machine at work, while waiting for that staff meeting to start, while sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room or in the E.R., during pre-curtain time at performances, while waiting in the car for our kids or to pick up food at a busy drive-thru, or while standing in long lines at the coffee shop or at Disneyland.

2. Travel time 

Travel specifically can come with its own waiting/writing time. We write while riding shotgun during long car rides. Airport layovers and flights are ideal for writing — in the words of one of my critique partners, “Being stuck in a chair with no internet? Heck yes!” (Note: you may want to pop in your earphones if you have potentially chatty seat mates.)

3. Outdoors inspiration
Inspiration can strike anywhere, and beautiful scenery can not only make for a great adventure but also serve as inspiration for setting or simply perk up your mood. We write on the tops of mountains and on our balconies, while canoeing or river rafting. We dictate dialogue while riding horses (yes, according to one of my writer friends, it can be done).

4. Dictate some dialogue
Dictate, do I say? We aren’t limited to writing on paper. We use our memo apps on our phones or a specialized app (like Dragon Dictation for iPhone) to record notes or to play around with dialogue. Long freeway commute? Cleaning the bathroom? Changing a diaper? Walking the dog? Dictation comes in “handy” when we need to write hands-free (pun intended).
5. Solo lunch dates

Not to portray ourselves as completely antisocial, but we love to occasionally take our laptop out on lunch dates. What better way to pass the time waiting for our food than to hammer out a scene and then have something yummy arrive at our table as a reward. Alas, this doesn’t work so well for fast-food restaurants.

6. Playtime

If you’re a parent, do not feel parent guilt for writing at the playground. We find a nice bench on which to plunk ourselves down with water and snacks. If you try this, be prepared to take breaks, as even the most well-behaved children can have Lord-of-the-Fly moments when running around in packs. (I wrote a large portion of my fourth book during a weekly playdate at an indoor play place one winter.)

7. Coffee shop detours
While I love dedicated writing sessions at the coffee shop, I say “detours” here because this is a post about those super busy days. Some of us love to pop into a coffee shop while running around town. We take twenty minutes to enjoy the boost of a caffeinated beverage while managing to write a few hundred words.
8. Library detours
Coffee shops aren’t the only suitable place for a little pit-stop when running around town. We love to duck into the library for a few minutes of quiet, a comfy chair (or even an actual desk!), and books all around for lovely sources of inspiration.

9. Under the covers of darkness
Some of us do a fair share of writing not while running around, but while in bed. Some of us prefer to write in the fetal position. Writing under the covers happens to be one of my personal favorites. I spend the last few minutes of nearly every night typing out those last ideas of the day before I fall asleep. I keep my laptop right next to my bed, and when I wake up in the quiet of my house of 5 a.m., I write (Insomnia isn’t always a curse). Oh, and did you know that you can invert the colors of your screen so it’s not so hard on your eyes when you’re writing in the dark? I discovered this nifty feature just a few months ago, and it blew my mind! (We think this is great for movie theaters and for those times you have to sit with your child for hours in the middle of the night when they wake from a scary dream about birds.)


10. The magic of bath crayons
Relaxing in the bath? Not a problem. We love to outline ideas on the porcelain with a set of bath crayons, which by the way, also work wonderfully in the shower. If you wish for something more portable and also private, use a waterproof notepad like Aqua Notes and whisk them away with you when you step out of the tub or shower. 🙂

11. Come to think of it, write on anything you can
I mentioned a portable writing device at the beginning of this post, but there are so many other things that will work. We’ve used kid’s placemats or napkins at a restaurant, scribbled down ideas on a diaper (we think it was a clean one) and have even written on our hands, arms, jackets, and pants legs when in a pinch.

12. Last but not least, potty time is…you guessed it…writing time

Yup, I’m going there, and according to at least one of my critique partners, I’m not alone in *ahem* not flushing down this opportunity to be productive. People read magazines, books, and newspapers while sitting on the toilet. My husband plays his guitar. And I write.

p.s. I finished the draft of this blog post while waiting for my son’s choir performance to start. How fitting is that? At least it wasn’t on the toilet! 🙂


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.


3 thoughts on “12 Ways to Write When You Don’t Have Any Time

  1. Prior to this year, I've been a pretty stable location writer. Desk at work, kitchen island, a certain table at the library. But I did NaNoWriMo for the first time this year and it forced me to write on the go. Travel time was a new one for me this year, and it was great! Thanks for more ideas!!


  2. Pingback: How to SCARE Away the NaNoWriMo Heebie Jeebies | Thinking Through Our Fingers

Comments are closed.