Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time

If you’re writing a novel or planning to, you’d probably love to write every day for 1-4 hours. The reason an hour, or at least 30 minutes, is ideal is that most of us need a few minutes to get focused, immerse ourselves again in our story, and write.

If you only have 15 minutes, though, you can make a lot of progress on your novel, no matter where you are in the process.

Below are 10 suggestions for what to do with 15 minutes:
  • Think about a scene you’re struggling with. What does each character in the scene want?

If the characters’ goals don’t conflict with one another, change one goal so it does and reimagine the scene. Try out any idea for the new goal, no matter how out there. It’s only 15 minutes!

  • Imagine the next scene you plan write. You probably see it, right? Now engage all your senses. 

What do you hear? What do you smell? If your character is eating, how does the food taste? What can your character(s) feel? Is the air warm, freezing, humid?

  • Think about the last scene you wrote or the next one you plan to write. Imagine that scene from a different character’s point of view.

You may discover it works better, and if it doesn’t, you’ll still have gotten an important perspective on it that will make your original viewpoint richer.

  • Brainstorm (or write down) 3 obstacles that block your protagonist from achieving her or his main goal in the novel.

If you already have obstacles to the goal, imagine ways to make those obstacles more formidable.

  • Imagine your protagonist on a 30-minute coffee date with someone she or he wants to make a good impression on.

What are 3 things your protagonist would make a point to avoid saying about herself or himself?

  • Same question for your antagonist.
  • Midpoints in novels are a challenge for many writers. A Midpoint typically requires a commitment or vow from the main character (think of Scarlett O’Hara vowing to never be hungry again) or a major reversal.

Brainstorm ways your character could make a commitment or suffer a reversal at the Midpoint of your novel.

Beginnings and Endings
  • Brainstorm first lines for your novel.

If you’re having trouble, remember first lines you’ve loved, search for classic first lines on your phone or laptop for inspiration, or look at books on your shelves if you have access to them right now.

  • Think about the first scene of your novel (whether you’ve written it yet or not) that features your protagonist. What does the protagonist want  in that scene and what is blocking getting it?

If you’re not sure, experiment with different options. If you know, come up with 3 ways to make the character’s goal more significant or the obstacles to achieving it greater.

  • Brainstorm strong chapter endings.

A good chapter ending urges the reader on to the next chapter. This can be a hint of things to come, an open question (why is the police detective calling the protagonist?), or a genuine cliffhanger.

Finding 15 minutes

The great thing is that you can think or write about most of the above suggestions wherever you are–standing in line, riding a bus, waiting to pick up your child from school, walking to or from the store (though be careful not to bump into anyone).

If you’re about to check your email or social media account and there’s no need to do so, you can think or write for a few minutes instead.

Also, if you just got home from work or put your two-year-old down for a nap and you feel too worn out to write, you can choose an option from the list above to consider.

If all you do is think about it for 15 minutes, you’ll have made progress on your novel. If it reenergizes you and you’re able to carve out some more time to write, that’s a bonus.

Until Friday–


L.M. Lilly

P.S. For help plotting a few simple points so you make the best use of your writing time, you may want to check out Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel (available in audio, workbook, and ebook editions).