3 Tools to Help Part Time Writers Work Smarter, Stay Focused and Track Progress

In a recent survey, 75% of Fiction Notes readers said they write part time.

You’re trying to find time to write.
You’re juggling writing time with family and other commitments.
You’re balancing a job, kids, husband and a passion for writing.

I feel your pain.

While I now work full time, I spent many years as a stay-at-home mom with lots of other commitments. Here are some things I learned.

You need tools to write smarter, to stay focused, and to track progress. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
You need tools to write smarter, to stay focused, and to track progress. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

Adopt the Right Attitude

I work! Over and over, I said this to people, “I work!”
Writing is work. I happen to love it, but unless and until you approach it as a job – even if it’s only a part-time job – you won’t be taken seriously. You need the support of the local in-house Warm Bodies (your family and significant others). They need to know that when you sit down to write, it’s not just a hobby. IT IS WORK!

That level of respect for your writing is necessary. If it isn’t there, sit down and have some frank conversations. Carve out a time to write and stick with it. Search, juggle, balance–do what’s necessary to create a time for your writing.

Pay attention to your creative process. Now, my work time isn’t YOUR time. When and where to you have the most success? Do you need to get up early, stay up late, or take a long lunch? Do you need a private closet, or can you write in a coffee shop? Think back to a time when your output was at its optimum. When and where were you writing? If your output is down, what changed? Can you go back to old habits. In this search for creative output, habits are your friends.

Your job at this point is to figure out how to do your work, your way.
It may indeed be a job to figure this out. It may take you some time to work through different issues:

  • Maybe you need to buy a computer for your writing instead of sharing a family computer.
  • Maybe you need to set the alarm for 4 am and write for two hours before anyone else in the house rises.
  • Maybe you need that frank conversation with your children, your husband, your mother-in-law, or your _______(fill in the blank)

Writing Part Time? 3 tools to help you write smarter, to focus, and to track progress. |  Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

This is your first task: figure out how to do your work, your way.

Use the Right Tools

Next, I’m going to make suggestions for some tools that can help.

Scrivener. First, you need to outline. If you write by-the-seat-of-your-pants, it’ll be harder to make it writing part time. You’ll save time and energy by learning how to outline and how to follow an outline. Your creativity will increase and you’ll be happier with your first drafts – which will save time when you revise.

Scrivener, the software for writers helps part-time writers outline and write smarter. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
This screenshot of Scrivener shows how I use colors to help organize my outline.

Scrivener's cork board view shows an alternate view of your story to help part-time writers work smarter. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
In the corkboard view of Scrivener, index cards show the flow of my story.

To outline, you probably need Scrivener, the software that is created especially for writers. The screenshots above show my work-in-progress. Besides these views, you can also get rid of all the outline stuff and have an empty screen on which to write, only coming back to the outline when needed. Lots of flexibility with this program!

I hesitate to recommend Scrivener because, well, it’s complicated. In the short run, you’re going to spend a couple months writing slower and learning the program. In the long run, though, part-time writers need to write smarter, and that’s what Scrivener facilitates. It’s not that you’ll write better just by using this software or that. But Scrivener encourages and makes it easy to create and use outlines. You need that in order to stay organized and write smarter. Especially as a part-time writer, you need this program.

WRITE SMARTER: Scrivener and Scrivener Resources

Here are some resources for getting started in Scrivener. You’ll need to invest in your writing career and take a tutorial, buy a book or something to get up to speed as quickly as possible in Scrivener.

Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. When you click, at no extra cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission. I appreciate your support.

Buy Scrivener. You definitely want to start with a trial version!

Buy Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X (Education Licence)

During your trial period, you’ll want to TRY the software. Use the interactive tutorial included. Scrivener also maintains an extensive YouTube selection of specific tutorials.

That may be enough for most of you, but around the Scrivener program, there has grown up a cottage industry of folks who provide extensive tutorials. You may want to find one that’s tailored to the type of writing you do. Anything you can do to get up to speed on the program will help down the line.

Scrivener courses. (Not an exhaustive list, but a place to start.)
Because there are so many options, look for reviews and look for features that specifically relate to the genre in which you write.

Scrivener books.

General Books on Organizing Your Novel: Outlining, Thinking it Through, and Smart Revising


I know. As soon as you fire up your computer, you’re tempted: Facebook, email, Twitter, Pinterest, browsing, cruising the internet. . .
No. Stop.
Your writing time MUST be your writing time. Nothing else.
For some people, they find that they need help to turn off the internet.

Freedom. Freedom is one of the many programs that isolates your computer from the internet for a specified time interval. It works for me. If you don’t like this one, or it’s not for your kind of computer, search for something similar. And use it. As with other software, do a trial version before buying.


Finally, you – the wordsmith – need numbers. You need some accountability and numbers give you that. You should be tracking your writing somehow so that over time you can understand your writing self better.

Scrivener tracks words per session. Scrivener easily tracks number of words per writing session. When you set up project tracking, you can set a goal of finishing on a certain date. Scrivener then says, “OK, if you want to finish by XXX date, then you must write ZZZ number of words per day.” It will tell you if you meet that daily goal and show you a progress bar for your project.

Toggl. If however, you want to track time, find a simple app like Toggl that tracks the amount of time you spend on a project; you can also track WHERE you were working. It’s simple and syncs between desktop and mobile. Reports are easy to set up for each project.

Tracking in and of itself will do little to help you. Instead, set up a schedule – weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly – to look over your numbers and evaluate. You may discover that when you write at a coffee shop, you can only concentrate for 15 minutes at a time; however, during that 15 minutes, you produce twice as many words as any other time frame. Whatever you discover, use the info to fine-tune your writing process.

Your Main Job

Remember, your main job is to figure out how to work on your work.
Then, your job is to DO your work.

These three suggested tools are just that, a suggestion. I know that outlining has the potential to increase your efficiency, while creating stronger stories. But if you absolutely hate it – do your work, your way. Don’t just discount this advice out of hand, though. Try it. Give it an honest shot. But if it doesn’t help, it doesn’t.

The same for the other suggestions. I like Freedom and Toggl; but find tools that work for you.
Basically, you need tools that help you write smarter (get more done in a shorter amount of time), help you stay focused (turn off distractions), and help you track your progress in ways that will make a real difference.

Writing part time is hard. But it’s doable. If you set yourself up for success–by using the right tools–you can do this.

Be sure to send me your good news!

7 thoughts on “3

  1. I couldn’t agree more. While I don’t use Scrivener, I use a dual-monitor setup with my outline on the left and my work on the right.

    Also, one can use Headings in Microsoft Word to label scenes and chapters and quickly sort them and jump to them in the Navigation pane.

    Thanks for emphasizing the importance of planning and outlining – it makes it so much easier to jump into a story in the midst of the chaos of work, family, and life.

  2. David:
    Yes, MSWord does have that option of a Navigation pane. I still write a lot in Word, but for the first draft, I find Scrivener better for me.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  3. Thanks for the mention, Darcy! Scrivener is great for plotters and those who don’t. In fact, those who don’t probably need the visual organization just as much if not more. Nice post. ;-)

  4. Wow, that’s a big question!
    MS Word is a word processor that defaults to a page view.
    Scrivener is a writing environment that defaults to an organizational view and allows exports to various formats such as MSWord, ebook formats and much more. It’s a more complex program, but many feel its more suited to the needs of a professional writer who must organize large amounts of text into cohesive documents.

    That’s a sort of high-level look at the difference.

Comments are closed.

Previous post Science Fiction and Fantasy Worldbuilding: Timeline Adds Crucial Details
Next post What Makes a GREAT Bedtime Story?