Carving Out Writing Time

Writing is an occupation, a job, a business, a career. Whatever you want to call it, writing is hard work and time consuming. For some people it is a part-time job, for others a full-time one. For others still, it is a hobby which they are trying to turn into a real occupation. No matter what level you’re working at as a writer, you need some kind of sense of time management.

Each of us is drawn in so many ways. Whether you’re working in or outside the home at something beyond writing, so many hours each day or each week must be allocated for that. If you have a family (children at home), you certainly must have time apportioned for them and taking care of their needs. If you have pets instead of children, you need to set aside so much time for their needs. If you have a husband or life mate, certainly you need to allocate time for nurturing that relationship (keeping in mind that sometimes more time and care is involved with this person than with children). This isn’t even taking into consideration YOUR needs, desires, hobbies, interests, or anything else. Oh, and, actually doing some writing hasn’t been mentioned either.

So how do you manage your life and your work as a writer? First, you need to determine exactly what your daily or monthly life entails, the “duties” you must handle. Actually make a written list of them and include some "unanticipated duties." Then sit back and look at your list. Sure it might seem overwhelming, but we deal with this stuff all the time, probably have been doing so for a long time. Obviously you can do these things. What you’re doing now by looking at this list is figuring out the priorities for your life chores.

A lot of us already keep a calendar of some kind to generally keep track of commitments. If you really want to find time for writing, you need to do a better job at using a calendar. I suggest going a step beyond the 30-day calendar with big blank squares for each day. Invest in an appointment book with hourly divisions, or a weekly calendar that has time divisions or just plain more space for writing in more details. You can also use one of the various calendar programs for your computer, such as Outlook. If you feel the need to have a written copy of the calendar with you, print it out of the program.

Now take that new appointment book and write in as many of the “life” commitments you know about: doctor appointments, dentist appointments, your children’s soccer games (or whatever), community meetings you must attend, church time, etc. If you’re working (not the work of writing), “X” out your normal hours for that, too. And do not forget to allow special time for just being with your loved one or going out with a friend. There is, of course, all the other miscellaneous tasks we all do such as shopping for groceries, going to the drycleaners, getting a prescription from somewhere, cooking, cleaning, and lots more little tedious but necessary chores. But don’t put those on your schedule unless they have exact time commitments.

Next sit back and look at the “holes” in the schedule. These are opportunities for potential writing time. Maybe you are an early riser or can manage it if you really try. If you have an hour before your family needs you in the morning (even if you can only make yourself do this once or twice a week), plunk yourself down and work on your writing. At work, use your break time for quick notes on ideas for a project you’re writing, or use your lunch time for possibly writing a scene or whatever. After you get your nightly chores done or your kids to bed and your husband planted in front of the TV, slip off to your writing place and do some writing.

The more determined you are to be successful at writing, the more focused you need to be on creating a schedule that supports your goal. Some of the “life” priorities will need to shift a bit. More real time rather than just when-I-get-a-chance time should be carved out for writing, researching, or whatever other part of being a writer is necessary. Along with this, you should determine what your best time of the day is and try to schedule your writing work for then. I’m talking about the fact that some people are “morning” functional and get their best work or thinking done then. Other people are late at night oriented.

I haven’t gone into the breakdown of scheduling the actual various elements of what the writing career entails, like story creation time, writing the project, rereading and making revisions, writing a query letter and synopsis, submitting to an agent or editor, revising again, and all the myriad of promotional needs involved. Those items, too, can be woven into your schedule.

The point is if you don’t get a fairly good handle on time management, you’re going to drive yourself nuts. One of the things you need to consider is if you really want to be a writer, whether it is part time or full time. If you’re content with playing at writing because you enjoy it now and then, that’s fine. But if you honestly want to hone your skills and eventually get published in whatever manner, you must learn to carve out time for your writing career.


Joan Vincent said...

What a timely post. I've been frantically trying to clear my desk of "must do's" that are days late getting done so that I can finish up my outline for my (someday soon please God) WIP. You offer several good points and examples Starla.
Finding time to write for me, is all about commitment. There was a time I wrote 12 hours a day after I first retired. I got a lot written back then but at the expense of everything. I don't advocate that kind of schedule unless days out from a deadline with a lot to yet write.
Since I was critically ill in 2004 I have had great difficultly making any steady commitment and have written only two books and rewritten a third. Short on commitment I was also very short on output to my dismay.
Calendars are good for scheduling but the most important thing I have found is me and what I want. I had to take the time to work out just what I wanted to accomplish. Vague goals equaled no commitment. I also have to set deadlines for those goals. No end point means no completion or at least not in a timely manner. I find I'm more likely to meet weekly and monthly (like our WARA pot each month)than huge yearly goals so break I break the year's goals down to do-able portions. I need a haircut--I find time to get one. I have business appointments--I meet them. I want to succeed at writing--I set time to write. So simple and so complicated at the same time. Never easy, sometimes disheartening, but the rewards to finding time to and writing are many.

Pat Davids said...

Wow, Starla,
No wonder you get so many pages written each month. You're very organized.
I lack that skill horribly.
I'm a late night writer, but I need to move into the daylight hours, too, in order to boost my productivity. I'm good at making lists, but better at forgetting where I put them.
Thanks for this great reminder of how I can actually manage my time.

Becky A said...

Oh Miss Starla,
You hit the nail on the head for me. I get to feeling so overwhelmed sometimes when I look at my to-do list, that when I have a little time, I just goof off. This infernal machine, since acquiring the internet, has become more of a pacifier than a tool for work, and I'm not getting much done! I'd like to return to my unenlightened self just to get back on track but then I wouldn't be able to read your great blog and get a much needed kick in the rear.
Thanks for all the great ideas. Now will you come over and slap me once a day until I get with the program????

Roxann Delaney said...

Hi, my name is Roxann, and I'm a nightowl. :) I always have been and always will be. My internal clock says so and doesn't like arguments.

I work on websites and grandkids and other so-called normal things during the day, then writing is done at night. It isn't unusual for me to stay up until 2 a.m., then get up at 7:30 or 8 a.m. to start the next day. Don't try this at home on a regular basis! We need sleep!

I'm more dedicated when on deadline, whether contracted or one I create for myself. I need that goal to keep me on target, and that's when I'll have the most output.

Excellent post, Starla! Life does get in the way, but commitments must be met. We find a way if we make them important enough. If we don't, they go by the wayside. Thanks for sharing with us and making us think. :)

Starla Kaye said...

I researched about other writers' time management ideas, and then gave considerable thought to writing my blog...a half hour before I wrote it. I'm a deadline oriented writer, like I crammed the night before a test. So I used writing this blog to rethink my actual scheduling.

I actually am a very organized person, but I tend to start with a pile here and a pile there, a list here and a list lost. But by the end of each day I clean up those piles...and maybe find that lost list. I do keep a basic schedule in Outlook of both my "life" commitments and my various writing deadlines. At the end of some days, though, I have to shift a failed-to-meet deadline to another day. Because of that reality I have started putting the deadlines maybe a week in advance of when it really needs to be. My buffer time, as I see it.

I'm a morning person and get up around 5 am or so. I have trouble writing at home because I'm always fighting that "I should be doing this" or if I'm frustrated with the way a story is going and a deadline is approaching I'm more apt to frantically clean every room in the house than sit down and write my way through the problem. So I tend to go up to our office (where I work part time now instead of full time) around 6 am and write peacefully there until the rest of the staff shows up at 8. Then I can work fairly peacefully there most of the day, in between actual work duties.

To get a better handle on my writing work time with fewer distractions, I'm considering renting cubicle space at another local business. But I will need to put that allocated time in my schedule, too.

Did I mention how tricky scheduling is for a writer?

Pat Davids said...

Oh, how funny, Starla. That's exactly the way I am. As soon as a deadline is looming, my house starts to shine.

I've often thought about renting office space to go and write. At home, even if it's only Dave and I, things just come up. If you do it, let me know how it goes. I'd also be interested in the cost.

Nina Sipes said...

Starla and all,
I've been pretty pitiful the last year or so on writing goals. I've had to identify what's holding me back and I found several culprits. One, the big one was myself. I was afraid of success. Seems simple, but it isn't. No one said I would succeed anyway, but I've had a fear of change. I know what I'm doing now, and the embarrassment is handleable. If people paid too much attention to my writing, perhaps they would see what a hack I am. Getting over that is sooo hard. Then, there is the making a living thing we do that I'm a part of. Gotta eat and I'm the farm support staff. I've been so angry about not getting time for myself that I've been a bit hard to live with. I didn't realize how unhappy until a week and a half ago when I put writing first. Everything else, unless an emergency or direct order is next. The writing doesn't have to be long, but some!! I'm actually humming. Happy. My attitude is so much better I can hardly recognize myself. I think finding the time to write may be something I HAVE to do, not something I WANT to do. This is weird to me. I did not grow up with the idea I wanted to be a writer. However, I appear compelled to do it. Maybe I'm a lemming.;)

Roxann Delaney said...

I'm Queen of Procrastinators, but when it comes to deadlines, I worked out a system to keep me a serf.

I not only insist that I write at least 3 pages a day, but I make sure that 3 pages a day schedule will get the book finished with plenty of time to spare. 2 weeks, if possible. I've discovered that when I get into about the 2nd page of the daily goal, I've found a rhythm and can usually write a few more pages. Or, if I didn't write the day before because of other things that needed doing, I can make up those pages and get the rest needed. I end up finishing ahead, because I keep working past my daily goal whenever I can. I can always count on something or someone bringing things to a halt at some point.

That system paid off 2 years ago when my friend's husband passed away. He and I worked together on a website group for authors, but it was really his "baby." I ended up being the one to initially let all the authors know what had happened. There were two weeks when I didn't write a word. But because I'd written ahead of schedule by at least a month, I didn't have to worry. The same thing happened last year when my mom died...during another deadline. This year, I turned in MORGAN'S PRIDE almost 5 weeks early, which was good, considering what's happening with the new granddaughter. And if everything does go smoothly, without interruption, I get time to play! Or do those other things that didn't get done while writing.

It definitely pays off to stick to a schedule and shoot for that goal. Sometimes words don't come as easily, then the next time a scene will almost write itself. If it's possible, go with the flow.

I keep a chart of how many pages and words must be written and how many have been. I always know where I am with the progress of the book.

Now if I could only fix the rest of my life the same way, I'd be a winner!! At least I'm doing one thing right. ::grin:: (knock on wood)

Roxann Delaney said...

After all that I've said about setting writing schedules, I have a confession. I'm 3 days behind my schedule on a proposal deadline. That means that I won't get to enjoy the upcoming weekend as much as I might have.

I have excuses, though!!

(Inner voice: No excuses!)

Starla Kaye said...

Like I told my daughter yesterday (after I cleaned and vacuumed her house, while I'm in Sacramento visiting her and she works during the day), my house gets thoroughly cleaned (1) when I have company coming or (2) when I'm stuck in my writing or dreading a deadline. I cleaned her house partly to help her out and partly because I'm avoiding a deadline. I've got to buck it up today and just do it!

I don't write for one publisher (like Roxann and Pat do) or one as big as their publishers. I write in the smaller ebook market and have been for quite a while. Until last year I wrote mainly for one publisher that has several markets, which I write for all of those. Last year I added a new publisher (Red Rose Publishing) and have two published works out with them. Recently I added yet another publisher (Black Velvet Seductions) and have five contracted works coming this year from them.

I'm not bragging by any means here, what I'm trying to say is that I have to make sure my writing schedule now includes time to write for each of those publishers. And each editor is always asking me for my next project: when is it coming? No pressure. (lol) But I did this to myself. And I'm always making my situation worse because I hear about a publisher looking for something either I write or I'd like to try my hand at. The idiot in me can't resist such a challenge. Which means I need to keep time for writing for "whoever" in my schedule as well.

Like Nina, I HAVE to write. If I don't do some kind of writing for more than a few days...well, I'm cranky, frustrated, and best to stay away from.

Becky A said...

Thank you ladies. This keeps getting better and better! Now when I'm cranky and out of sorts I have another handy excuse. My husband is getting a little tired of the menopause one. :-) That said, I'm feeling more inclined to write now that I know we all struggle with the "time" issue.

Nina, I think for me it might be more a fear of writing something that no publisher is going to like or will publish. All that time and effort, pouring your heart into something that goes nowhere.
Anyone have a suggestion on how to get past that?

Nina Sipes said...

I can understand your fear, but I got over one like it by finding out a few things. Here we have hardly any people, so a writer that will admit to it sticks out a bit. I've two fans who do not read my work AT ALL. They have to have the copies as soon as they are off the press--(or if delayed too long, demand copies of the manuscript which I make them pay $35.00 for.) Why do they want it? One's mother wrote and when she died, one of the older siblings tossed the manuscripts. He was horrified. It makes him feel good to have someone's creative work in the house. The other guy (why are these guys? I don't know.) wants a copy because he doesn't know any other authors. He has me sign the book and he wants the first number. (I number and stamp the first 500 signed by me. They can even pick the number if they want.) I've met other family members (not my family) who had a writer in the past. The work that was left to them is very precious. So, writing is valuable, like grandma's hand knitted socks. They are a family treasure whether actually any good or not. Wasn't it Gone with the Wind that was discovered under a bed? Maybe the audience for our work isn't there yet. That might mean we don't get published, but that doesn't mean the work is bad. And even if the writing really stinks, it is precious to someone. And for another point. I've ferreted out some of the great romance writer's early works. Hey, they aren't so hot. That's ok. We grow as we go. So, I've finally internalized the notion that writing=good.

Pat Davids said...

My agent once told me the most important thing a writer can have is a positive attitude. Not talent, which I'm sure helps, not high productivity, but a positive attitude.

Shift into a positive gear, woman. It may not make a difference, but you're going to be happier in the mean time.

On another note, does anyone else try to imagine the meaning of those verification words you have to type in when you post? Mine, today, is volowly. I'm thinking a very cheap and but very well endowed hooker.


Roxann Delaney said...

Pat, that's good advice!

The other thing that must be understood and accepted is that rejection is an everyday thing in this business. You can't let it get to you. It happens to everyone. Those who never feel it in the beginning will probably experience it at some point later on.

Becky, think of it this way. Each time you write you learn something new. You get better as you learn new things. Those rejections we ALL get are like steps to the ultimate goal. Don't let them knock you down the staircase, let them make you more determined to get to the top.

Keep this in mind, because it's what kept me going. If you quit, you'll never know if that next work will be the one that sells.

Groups like WARA and other writing friends are here to cheer people on, celebrate the successes, and offer a shoulder to cry on when the news isn't the best. We pick each other up from those steps when the going gets tough and push to get each other up to the next one. :)

Joan Vincent said...

Becky, I'm with Pat. Don't worry about whether it will ever sell (not that that is totally possible) but enjoy the story for itself. You'll enjoy sitting down to write much more and also write many more words. While I have banged (metaphorically) my head on my keyboard a time or two over recalcitrant characters and plot lines I love seeing the story unfold. If you are positive about and enjoy your story there is a greater chance an editor will.
Pat I love your take on volowly--thought I was the only one who thought up definitions for the strange concoctions of letters we type in to publish a comment. Mine this time was very appropo--
alxwam. I just got a call from my sister-in-law begging us to come help harvest grapes. Since she and my brother are older and in about as good a shape we are we will. Don't want to find them keeled over in the vineyard! Take that alx and wam writing time this afternoon.

Roxann Delaney said...

Joan, don't most writers write for the sheer joy--and misery--of it? :) The first real book I ever wrote, back when I was about 18 or 19 wasn't written for publication. I did it for my enjoyment. In fact, I think only one person has ever read any part of it, and she had to twist my arm to get me to give it to her.

I still have 7 finished manuscripts (romance) that were never submitted to an editor and probably never will be. I consider them as "practice." Very, very few people sell their first written book. Those who do sometimes discover a second one is even harder. Some never sell again.

Those rejections are dues paid. (Ask Pat if that isn't exactly what I told her. ;) )

Be happy and proud you've finished a book, polish it until it shines, submit if you feel it's good (you will), then move on to the next and forget about the first. You'll probably discover you love the second even more than the first. Hey, we're fickle!

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for the tips, Starla. I'm not good about scheduling my time. And I'm such a procrastinator, that it isn't even funny. I do get more done if I have some kind of deadline.

Someone mentioned fear. Fear has me in its evil clutches. I'm trying to plan the town and first book of a new series. I'm getting nowhere fast. My brain just keeps locking up/shutting down on me.

My verification word is "alestic." Is that the opposite of elastic? Instead of stretching and growing, I'm shriveling and shrinking? (Creativity-wise, that is.)

The topic of this blog is so timely for me. A few days ago I began listening to an RWA 2004 conference workshop, "Have Your Cake and Eat It Too," on my drive home from work. The most recent part I listened to is about life balance and prioritizing.

The speakers had the attendees make some columns on a sheet of paper and label them with their life roles: day job, writing, family, you (time for yourself).

Then, they had the people present jot down their to-do list for the next week (obligations, commitments, things they'd like to do if they had the time).

Is one column longer than the others, especially "writing" or "you"? Go back and fill in more stuff for "you." (Ex: massage, long bath, reading for pleasure.)

Then, go through each column individually and prioritize each item using the letters A, B, and C. "A" means you absolutely, positively have to get this done. "B" for things you'd like to get done. "C" for things that maybe don't have to be done next week after all.

Note: Everything should not be labeled "A"s.

Do all of the "A"s (from all the categories) before you do any of the "B"s or "C"s.

Look at your "C"s. Which things can you defer, delegate, pay someone to do or not do at all?

Note: "Writing" is not "You."