The issue of time management and writing has been heavy on my mind these days. Time…there’s simply never enough. Well actually that isn’t always true. Sometimes there is plenty of time but a tired body or tired mind won’t let the writing flow. According to fellow writer Jinn, though, flow may not be as relevant as just getting the words down.
When I asked Jinn if she would agree to write a guest post on the topic of time management and writing, she told me that she’d recently adjusted her sleep cycle so as to eek out an extra four hours for writing each day. That’s pretty awesome. Here’s what else she said…
I sleep less than I’d like to. Same goes for writing. These days I have to be ruthlessly intentional about it. Writing, I mean (well—sleep too, but who cares about that?).
Some days are so full that I have 5 minutes between appointments. Fortunately I count writing among those appointments. Even so, it takes constant discipline to walk past the blaring TV, ignore the guys (and by ‘guys’ I mean the Internet), and also my pillow to write the next scene. “Stick like glue to your schedule,” I wrote across the top of my whiteboard, a message to myself for when I start to waver.
I also talk to myself. Lately it’s been about time. It’s not that I have less than anyone else, it’s just so many things compete to fill my time that I have to constantly remind myself what I want to focus on the most. Here are some things I’ve been telling myself lately:
Time management is self management. It’s small habits developed consistently over time. It’s doing what you know you need to do when you don’t feel like it.
Hunger is good discipline. Don’t reward yourself for doing part of the job. Do the whole thing, push through discomfort, then get the reward. You’ll build trust with yourself and your writing sessions will be more productive.
Avoid the television, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, until you meet your quota. It’s unbelievable how much more time you’ll have. The less you watch TV, the less you’ll feel like you need to watch TV.
Morning Pages (the three-page warmup) is the key to consistent progress. It’s better to have consistency than ideas. Ideas will come, and they’ll be awesome, but the habit of writing must be developed like a muscle. This takes time. There is no shortcut.
You don’t have time to write; you make time. Enough said.
Don’t be afraid of unorthodox writing hours. You’re not an employee, you’re a writer. The best time to write is the time you set aside for it. 6 am works just as well as 3 pm if that’s when you’re free. Midnight is not better just because it’s midnight.
Remember Asimov (he wrote over 600 stories) and become a scavenger of time. When the kettle is heating. When you’re waiting for someone. Waiting for the doctor. At the bus stop. Standing in line. During the ten minutes between appointments. These small bursts of writing add up to pages. You don’t need to be ‘hot’ to write. Just get the words out, right now. Your mind needs this random exercise to untangle ideas and thoughts. If you have two minutes, ask a question about a sticking point in the story, or a quiet character. Your mind will continue to work on it as you go about your business, and eventually will give you a solution; this won’t happen if you don’t ask for it.
Utilize a writing partner. You won’t quit, because they’re counting on you (This is how I’ve been able to write almost every day for the past 5 years).
Keep a calendar. Know your commitments. Write around them. Watch for patterns in your schedule. Keep doing what works. Adjust what doesn’t.
Plan ahead. Writing is a big rock, it goes in first. Each week, decide what you’ll focus on. It can change, but a target gets you moving forward. Set a weekly goal word count (right now it’s pages) and work toward it daily.
You’ll go through seasons. Sometimes you need to write in silence and solitude; other times, you need the presence of others, whether strangers or friends. This is natural and good.
Don’t IM or text while you write, unless you’re collaborating on a story with your partner. You always think you can write and chat simultaneously, but you can’t.
If you write in the morning, make breakfast the night before. Do as much as possible beforehand so you can grab it and start writing immediately on a full stomach. Prepare your desk ahead of time.
Get used to saying no to activities with friends or family that happen during your writing time. Make a time for them, yes, but don’t let these times just happen when they happen. If you were at a job, you wouldn’t think twice about missing some events, because you already have a commitment. Writing is your vocation and calling—commit to it.
Interest is not commitment. Many people are interested in writing, but they won’t tolerate pain and fear and fatigue and inconvenience to write. There is a cost to writing. It is high. Pay it, and you will become one of the few who earns a writer’s glory.
Pay it, and your books will stay on the shelves when the rest are being burned for fuel.
Pay it, and you will become immortal, alive in the thoughts of others.
Pay it, because you are a Writer.
Jinn Nelson started writing fiction at age 7, on a computer with a screen bigger than she was. At 16, she wrote her first novel while studying medical transcription. After high school she made a living typing doctors’ notes until she met a group of writers online and began writing fiction again.
She now lives and writes in Wisconsin with her husband and three cats. She enjoys knitting, rock climbing, loose-leaf tea, zombies, dancing, and the Internet. Her favorite country is Scotland.
Her first published novel, Fear the Hunted, will be available in early spring, 2012.
Connect on Facebook
Find excerpts and blog at: www.jinnnelson.com
Click here to read what Matthew Williams had to say about time management and writing.