Saturday, September 17, 2011

RMFW Lesson #1: Time Management for Busy Writers

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
For my first installment of "Lessons from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers," I'd like to share some great information I learned during Becky Clark's "The Faster I Go, the Behinder I Get" time management class.

I know very few writers out there who DON'T struggle to find time to write.  We're spouses, parents, workers, cooks and friends, and it's exceedingly difficult to juggle all our roles while still finding time to squeak out 50,000-100,000 words through multiple drafts, query and revise, self-promote and network.

The conference's closing speaker, Allison Brennan, had the best quote of the weekend, I thought, when she said, "I can't tell you how many times someone comes up to me and says, 'I would write a novel myself if I could only find the time.' I've gotten to a point now where I simply look at them, nod and think, 'What a dumbass.'"

She went on to say that if you are really a writer, you WRITE. Not because you have time or even because you always want to, but simply because you can't imagine doing anything else.

This is where Becky Clark's lesson comes into play. She often struggles to juggle all the roles in her life, so she has come up with a great system to help her prioritize what's important and what isn't. Here are some of the tips she shared with us:

  1. A timer is your best friend. Use an egg timer or a stopwatch, and tell yourself you deserve this time. Don't compromise by focusing on anything else.
  2. Respond immediately to emails that will take you less than two minutes. If an email requires longer, schedule specific time later in day.
  3. Set your Yahoo groups or Google Alerts to a weekly digest. 
  4. Only check your phone messages at designated times and make sure your kids/spouse/parents know when that time is. Unplug when you are writing.
  5. Don't play Facebook games (they'll suck the life right out of you), and set your timer to make sure you only stay on Facebook for a specific amount of time.
  6. Bribe yourself when you hit a writing milestone. Desserts, pedicures, bubble baths... Anything you can look forward to while you're writing.
  7. When writing, make it easy to pick up where you left off. A great idea is to stop writing midsentence when you stop for the day/lunch. That will keep your head in the game until you return.
  8. Start anywhere. Lots of writers start with a scene or with the ending. Just start. 
  9. Reframe your thinking about writing. Yes, it's difficult to write a novel, but it's not TOO difficult, because people do it every day. 
  10. Determine your top priority for the day--the one thing you'd sacrifice everything else to achieve--and focus on it. If your "To Do" list won't lead you there, cross items off or re-schedule them.
  11. Tackle your hardest job first and save your favorite tasks till the end so you look forward to them.
  12. If you feel like you are being pulled in a million writing directions (writing, blogging, querying, networking, etc.), prioritize your tasks like they do in business. Ask yourself which task makes you money. If the tasks seem equal, ask yourself how long will they take. What's the return on your time investment? When's the deadline? 
  13. Learn selective perspective. Which things really need to be perfectly (query, synopsis, manuscript) and which can be good enough (housecleaning, store-bought cupcakes for bake sale)? 
  14. Multi-tasking is a myth. Don't confuse multi-tasking with doing a lot of stuff. Multi-tasking is trying to do all those things at the same time.
  15. Your brain simply can't focus on two separate things unless one of them is completely mindless. People multi-task because they're worried. Seems better to work on everything so 100% of your tasks are 50% done. But you'd feel much more in control if 50% of your tasks were 100% done and you know you have a plan to finish the other 50%.
  16. Don't confuse activity with accomplishment. Focus on one job till it's done or your time is up. Then focus on another one. 
  17. Your first defense against interruptions is education. Set aside time when people have unconditional access to you, and set aside time when you will be unavailable. Give your loved ones a head's up by saying something like, "I'm going to shut my door and write starting in about 10 minutes. Do you need anything before I go?" Be consistent and firm, and set your timer. 
  18. Don't interrupt yourself, either. When you are writing, never stop to look something up, check your blog or check your email. Don't give up momentum.
Many thanks to Becky for so many great ideas. I've already started stopping my writing in mid-sentence, and--although it drives me crazy--it DEFINITELY helps keep my head in the game.

Now, it's your turn. How do YOU juggle your time when writing??


Marewolf said...

Great post! I love conferences. I have received the best advice and the most motivation to write at conferences.

I have two kids (three if you count my husband, which I do) and a full time job.

I wake up early. Between 6 AM and 6:30 PM is my writing time, because normally by then hubby is gone and the kids are still sleeping. If they happen to wake up, I tell them it's quiet time and they can either chill out or go back to bed. I *can* crank out up to 800 words in that half hour. I think I'm actually more efficient because I know it's the only time I have. Oddly, on the weekend when I have more time, I tend to write less.

I also have a notepad app on my phone. If any writing epiphany comes to me during the day, I make a note in my phone for later. I think about my plot/characters while I'm commuting. I try to take walks on my breaks at work and I use the time to think about what I'm going to do next with my story (and I bring my phone in case I need to make a note).

I also have notebooks and pens strewn throughout the house because some of the best ideas come to me while cleaning, brushing my teeth, or in the shower.

Um...I think those are all my time saving techniques! Thanks for the post LisaAnn :)

homecomingbook said...

As a fellow Alaskan, writer, former dog trainer and having had two horses I love the name of your blog. I've put a bit of animal experience in my books.

Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC said...

I love all these tips! I usually use the "just do it" approach---sitting down and writing something every day, but I think these suggestions are worth trying.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i'm right there with you. If it's important to you, you'll make the time.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I SO needed this! I think my hardest ones are 12 and 13. They're ones I always struggle with, and haven't seemed to find the right balance yet.

And my son was enthralled with all your pictures down the right hand side. He thinks you have the best job in the whole world.

Christa said...

I seriously need to set my yahoo group to digest. It is brutal how many emails I have to filter through. I love ALL this advice.

Lora R. Rivera said...

"If you are really a writer, you WRITE."
My first ever creative writing teacher hammered this into me so hard, I think I still have a bruise. So true,

"Unplug when you are writing."

A must. I love twitter, but I can't write when I'm constantly hearing those birds twittering away. Since I use Chrome, I like to use extensions like Stay Focused.

Great advice!

Sheila Deeth said...

Weekly digests sounds a good idea. I wonder if I can do that with FB too.

I'm just coming back from a vacation with no writing, almost no reading, no internet, no cell-phone... Now there's lots of washing, shopping, cleaning and other distractions, but my fingers are itching to write and my brain's full of stories waiting to drip onto the page.

Dinda Amanda said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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