Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time Management for Writers

Just got back from Conestoga. Woohoo! Nothing like a convention or conference to get you fired up! I suppose I could write on any number of topics discussed at the writers’ track, but I think I’ll focus on the one I struggle with the most. Time management!

They made an excellent point that if you’re not getting paid for your writing or you don’t write every day, you can’t really call yourself a writer. You need one or the other, preferably both. If you write once a week, don’t get anything for it, and call yourself a writer, that’s like doing your own laundry once a week and calling yourself a launderer (not that that’s a real word to begin with, but it’ll pass).

You may think you don’t have time, but I’ve known women with three kids, a job, and working on their PHD who still found time to write. Just thirty minutes a day adds up to a lot over time. You don’t need access to a computer or anything fancier than a pencil and paper for the majority of the time. You can write in little five minute increments as you wait in lines. You can think about what you’re going to write during that annoying commute home, or better, actually write it down if you have the luxury of having access to public transit. That’s right, I call it a luxury! Just think of what you could do with that time if you didn’t actually have to pay attention to the road!

If you can, it’s best to set aside a special time of day (or night) so you get into a routine. When’s your most intellectually effective time? Know your rhythms, when you’re energized. Mine’s 9:00-11:00 at night. That’s when I do my best writing. If you can schedule your day in such as way as to do your boring, menial tasks when you’re most tired (grocery shopping, dishes, eating, etc), and doing your writing when you feel most alive, you’ll find yourself to be more productive. Of course many of us have jobs and responsibilities we can’t rearrange, in which case you have to find “stolen moments” to write, but the routine of it is the most important thing.

In addition to my regular writing, I set aside one day a week to do what I call “marketing and business.” I use that day to write query letters, research magazines, publishers, and agents I want to submit to, edit my manuscripts to fit their specific guidelines (thus I keep several versions of all my stories) and write my blog. That day is usually Saturday and I make my goal 1-3 submissions, depending on the length and complexity of the submission. (One time I spent three Saturdays preparing a manuscript for a specific editor. They required three different synopses, a chapter outline, a picture, a biography, and some really crazy formatting. I’ve since decided such hoops aren’t worth it.)

This should be a duh, but you’d be surprised how many people forget it. When you’ve set aside some writing time for yourself, turn off the doorbell and your cell phone, lock your door and shut out all distracters. You are not a terrible parent if for that one hour you tell your children not to bother you unless they’re bleeding. Disable the video games and your thunderbird email client or whatever else causes you to get random messages. Sometimes I turn off the internet all together to keep me from the temptation of looking “just one thing up” and getting carried away.

Goals are very important, and not just time goals. I say 1,000 words a day is good for those who are serious and can devote two or more hours a day, but it’s not a good model for working mothers, full-time working students, poets, or people with 60 hour a week jobs they can’t quit. In the end, you have to push yourself, but be realistic and set a goal you can consistently keep.

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