Time Management for Writers

And now we come to the most slippery writing tool/technique of all….

Once you’ve got your character pics laid out in front of you and you’ve turned on your mood music you’re ready to move on to the most difficult part of all of writing….

Finding time to write.

Finding time to write feels like this sometimes

I managed to write the first draft of The Loyal Heart in about a month and a half at the beginning of 2008.  And the first draft was 250,000 words long.  I worked on it for three to five hours in the evening on weeknights and roughly eight hours a day on the weekends.  How the heck was I able to find all that time do to it?  Well, I’ve just broken up with a serious boyfriend, I was getting over months of crippling depression in which I’d managed to push all of my friends away, and I had no extracurricular hobbies or interests at all.  In other words, I had no life outside of Aubrey, Crispin, Jack, and Ethan’s lives.

I’ve also heard, as I’m sure you have too, that a writer’s life is a solitary life.  You know, there’s a lot of truth to that.  Generally speaking, writing is not a collaborative process.  It’s something we have to knuckle down and do on our own with as few distractions as possible.  Unfortunately, life is full of distractions.

So how do you put your Nike’s on and just do it?

I am a firm believer in the fact that part of that answer lies in the whole philosophy behind NaNoWriMo.  NaNoWriMo, for those who don’t know, is a yearly writing challenge hosted by The Office of Letters and Light.  Every November participants from across the globe take up the challenge to write 50,000 words or 50,000 words worth of a larger story before the end of the month.  The trick to winning NaNoWriMo is to write a little bit each day.  It doesn’t matter if that little bit is any good.  The point is to write it.  If you do the math it comes out to about 1,666 words per day.

In other words, the key to getting something written is to set yourself a word count goal for each day.  When I’m drafting a story I set myself a word count goal of 2,000 words.  Secretly in my mind that’s actually 2,500, but if I make it to 2,000 I’m happy.  I do a pretty good job of sticking to this goal.

But time.  I still haven’t created more hours in the day for us all to work.

Ah, see, that’s the thing.  I’ll confess right now that I haven, in fact, done most of my writing while at work.  The company I work for had a bit of a slow period, and since there wasn’t a ton of other stuff to occupy my time and mind I wrote.  I wrote a lot.  So does this mean I got paid to write?  Mmm, maybe.

Then all those nasty layoffs happened.  In the last month and a half I haven’t had time to breathe at work, let alone write.  And yet here I am grinding my way through revisions of a delightful little historical romance that takes place in Montana in 1895 called Our Little Secrets.

How do I have time to do this?

I ask myself that same question all the time.  But really the answer is all about sacrifices.  If you’re a writer you have to give up a few things for your art.

I stopped watching television (live) on December 21, 2007.  I knew I was going to start writing soon and I also knew that television was a major distraction for me.  Watching TV was also something I did with my ex-boyfriend and as we were about to enter an election year the very last thing I wanted to do was sit through political commercials.  So really I had several reasons for quitting the boob tube.

The end result, though, was that without “my shows” tying me down I had hours and hours to write.  Believe me, cutting out TV made an incredible difference.

And I hate to say it, but when it’s time for the rubber to hit the road, when you have something you absolutely must write, whether by your own dictate or because you have an editor dangling a deadline in front of you, gone are the yoga lessons, the coffees with friends, and the long chats with family.  Say goodbye to nights out at the movies, videos from Netflix, and rolling around with the cats.  When that time comes, writing is not just your job, it’s your life.

I wish I could remember who it was recently that said to aspiring and indie authors these magnificent, oh-so true words:  The habits you develop when you are just starting out will become the habits you have when you are under contract with a deadline looming.  If you can’t treat this as seriously at the beginning as you would were you being paid big bucks then you’re never going to make it.  Harsh but true.

So there you have it.  My methods of time management for writing involve varying stages of doing what needs to be done to meet word count goals and sacrificing other things I like to get the damn thing done.

And now, since Our Little Secrets is due at my editor on March 26th, I’m going to stop writing blog posts and put my revising hat on.

But how about you?  How do you find time to devote to your writing?

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9 thoughts on “Time Management for Writers

  1. I find it very hard to behave as if I’m earning “big bucks” especially when those around me don’t really understand the need to behave that way. Great post and thanks for the harsh reality
    Good luck with your revision.

    • That’s totally the hardest part of all. I think that artists don’t have a good track record with getting non-artists to understand them. I’m shocked by how little imagination most people have on a daily basis!

  2. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to finding time. I actively distract myself, and then complain I haven’t got the time to write. Like right now – I switched on my laptop to write, and I’ve got sucked into reading lots of blogs. So, I’m off… Thanks for the shove in the right direction 🙂

    • No problem! I routinely sit for hours looking at web-stuff myself. Lord help me if I ever re-install The Sims on my computer! It’s not there anymore for a reason.

  3. Awesome inspirational post, Miss Merry Farmer! I love it! I, too, believe that you have to actually workworkwork to write. Writers, before we “make it” have to juggle a minimum of two jobs – day jobs (where we makes da moneyz) and writing (where we let our souls breathe). I just force myself to write for at least an hour everyday – and go out of my way to take writing workshops all over the place so I can pick up new techniques and meet people in the field.

    • Oh my gosh, writing is SUCH a job. I don’t think most non-writers understand how much work it really is. And even more so the higher up the ladder you get.

  4. You’re spot on for turning the TV off. I tend to use it as a way to “de-stress” from the day (with a glass of wine) and it’s such a major time suck, I always end up feeling bad afterwards. I once read a line that I now quote to my husband all the time: “if it’s stress-relieving it’s probably not goal-achieving.” With the exception of Smash, and Mad Men yet to make an appearance, there’s really nothing good on, anyway. Might as well write!

  5. I’ve often wondered how you have time to work, pen novels and write a solid, versatile and fairly prolific blog, so thanks for the insight.

    I’m wondering about the differences between fiction or novelists’ writing careers/pursuits and journalists’ work. As someone who actually does write for my living, I find that the actual writing, while undoubtedly time-consuming, is a pretty small percentage of my overall work. I spend more time researching pitches and articles, tracking down and scheduling interviews, attending events and conducting interviews than I do writing (which also isn’t even counting the things like maintaining my records, filing invoices and bugging the financial departments when my checks are delayed). So in this arena of writing, anyone who wants to get into it should realize that your time commitment is far from just the time you spend writing. I’m sure this applies to fiction writers too, b/c they’re increasingly responsible for marketing their work.

    Your words on the necessity of focus and solitude are interesting – probably another major difference between journalists and novelists. My writing work inevitably propels me into the world every day to meet millionaire entrepreneurs, farmers, dog-trainers, designers, you name it… I don’t think I would like my work nearly as much if I were shut in at my screen. It must be a whole other (possibly wonderful) thing to write when all you need is your brain and a computer or notebook, not a mess of networking, interviews and ten different editors’ e-mails.

    I don’t watch TV either. Now I need to get back to work…

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