Incidental Writing: How To Write When Life Keeps You From Your Keyboard

When you’re a writer who works full time and/or has tiny humans to care for, sitting down to write can be impossible.

You can go days without ever getting near your computer, let alone time to scribble a note on your phone or a scrap of paper. When you hit a rut like this, it feels like you’ll never make progress again, and you’re scared your muse will pack up and leave, sick of waiting for you to show up.

On days, weeks, months—even years—like this, the only hope of creating anything that resembles a sentence is with incidental writing, aka, slotting in writing whenever and wherever you can!

Incidental Writing

School Pick Up

If you’re introverted (which, let’s face it, most writers are) and don’t have anyone to chat to while waiting for the kids to be released, work on your words. The same rule applies if you wait in your parked car for the kids to come to you. That precious time—even if it’s only ten minutes—might be enough to crack that plot twist.

Meals Times

Split your lunch break into an eating session and a sprinting session. Write for fifteen minutes straight and reward yourself with food!

Or you can get into the habit of writing one sentence every time you finish eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks. By the end of the day, you’ll have a paragraph. By the end of the week almost a page. Even if that one page is all you manage, it’s better than having no page at all.

Early To Rise. Late To Sleep

Wake up ten minutes early and write some words down. You don’t even need to get out of bed! Drunk on dreams, you may find your creative brain functions great first thing!

If early mornings aren’t your thing, spend the last ten minutes before you switch off the light penning some words in a notebook. It all adds up!

Waiting Room Writing

If one reason you can’t regularly write is regular appointments, ditch the years-old magazines, mindless scrolling on your phone, and watching the infomercials on the waiting room TV, and plot out some paragraphs!

Shower Time

While technically you can’t write while in the shower, and I don’t recommend that you do or try to, you can think about your story. In fact, most ideas are born this way. The trick is remembering everything when you get out so you can write it down.

Social Media Swap

If you think about it or use that screen time app that holds a mirror to your soul and shows you how much time you really spend on social media, I’m sure you’d happily swap that scrolling time for writing time.

What you thought was five minutes of checking Facebook here and there is really an hour of your whole day—wasted. Make sure you swap some of that time-suck for progress on your MS instead.

Chore Bore

While cutting chores will give you time to write, there’s only so much vacuuming you can put off before you realize your carpet isn’t really that color gray. Lucky for you, thinking about writing totally counts!

You can plot many a twist when cleaning, cooking dinner, and washing dishes. Thinking about your story and getting a feel for the characters while doing mindless tasks usually results in everything pouring out when you finally get the chance to write. And you’ll have boring chores to thank for that!

Cash In On Your Commute

If your commute to the day job requires sitting on public transport, use that time to get at least one page written. It all adds up over the course of a working year, and you could have a book at the end.

You could also use your stint in public to people-watch, improve your character description skills, dialogue (who hasn’t overhead an interesting conversation while sitting on a train?), and settings by watching the scenery out the window.

When it comes to crafting words when you can’t get to your keyboard enough, incidental writing is your best friend. It allows you to chip away at each sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, and eventually a whole manuscript. It’s slow, but it’s progress, and as they say, you can’t edit a page if it hasn’t been written.

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

30 thoughts on “Incidental Writing: How To Write When Life Keeps You From Your Keyboard

  1. Great points! I know this isn’t about writing, but I learned a great deal listening to audio books while I commuted an hour+ to and from work. It’s all about maximizing your time. Another thing that would work is doing audio recordings of your thoughts while you do other things. I have all kinds of ideas pour into my head when I am working out or doing something boring like mowing the lawn. Great article!

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  2. Pingback: Incidental Writing: How To Write When Life Keeps You From Your Keyboard | wordrefiner

  3. Good stuff. It’s all about finding those tiny pockets of time. Those pockets add up but the key is consistency. This field that we chose is tough and we have to fight through all kinds of distractions.

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  4. As a full time worker, this is very reassuring. Those snatches of time on public transport and during lunch break all add up and I agree that thinking about writing is as good as actually writing. #amthinkingaboutwriting

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  5. Great advice. Finding pockets of time to write that I otherwise never would have used is becoming more and more common for me these days. I can definitely speak to using things like commute time to at least work through story ideas. The tough part is remembering all the details for when you get to a keyboard or notepad.

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  6. I laughed out loud at “that screen time app that holds a mirror to your soul.” 😂 These are all such great tips! When I was in high school, 10 minutes after waking up and 10 minutes before bed was all I really had the energy to do, and I actually managed to get a lot done! Like you said, it all adds up. I also find that once you start writing and get momentum, it’s easier to move writing higher and higher up your priorities list. For me, progress is always so motivating. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. 🤣 it really does show you how much time you spend on your phone. I was so horrified I turned off the monitoring. Totally agree with you on the progress thing. I also find that once I’ve made progress, wanting to spend my time writing is definitely more of a priority. Go on you for for making so much progress in 20 minutes a day 😊.

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  7. I’m trying to retrain my brain! I tend to be a “binge writer” and feel like ten minutes isn’t enough, but you make great points (of course!). So now I’ll be working on becoming a better incidental writer! Great motivating post!!! 😀

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