As I sit down to write this post, I’m racing the clock. I have an essay due for Writer’s Digest, pages due to my writing partner for a book we’re doing together, a full manuscript edit for a client, and my critique partner just sent me her novel for feedback. To say nothing of my children’s activities. Thank God I just unloaded my latest novel on my agent. Writers are busy. We’re stressed. We’re anxious. No matter how much time we have to write, it never feels like enough. So how do we survive it at all?
Below, I’ve shared a few tips that have helped me stay afloat over the years. Also? Drink coffee and wine. Lots of it.
THE WRITER WITH A FULL-TIME JOB
There’s no doubt about it, having a full-time job takes up the majority of our waking hours, making writing a challenge. I would suggest making a list of priorities and how much time you’d like to spend on each activity. Once you’ve done that, create a writing calendar of some sort. (I use a separate planner from the family calendar to keep it all straight. Anything writing-related from blog posts to speaking engagements to actual writing, I fill in on this calendar.)
Treat your writing time as if it’s a non-negotiable appointment. If you tend to get home and want to crash with fatigue, try staying at work one extra hour in the evening, or getting in to work an extra hour early and spend it writing. This way when you come home, you’ve accomplished your writing and can shift into relaxation mode. Perhaps you prefer some down time first, and then write late at night. Set an attainable goal, check in with a writing partner, and get busy.
It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, it just needs to be effective, focused time.
THE WRITER WITH BABIES
I started writing with a two year old and an infant. Luckily, I didn’t work full-time on top of this, but I did do part-time teaching and tutoring, and had no money for daycare and no family nearby. This is a toughie. You’re exhausted from the lack of sleep and barely keeping up with regular routine chores. How in the world can you fit in writing time? Everyone says to write while the kids nap, but for me, that wasn’t possible. I needed sleep then as well. What worked for me was to find an hour or two every other day or so when my husband came home from work. But the bulk of my writing didn’t happen until the weekends. I committed to write every Saturday and Sunday morning from seven to noon. I left plenty of milk in the fridge, packed my computer bag, and parked my derrière at Starbucks. Every.Single.Weekend. It helped eliminate distractions, and my leaving the house became a routine the family grew to expect. Just like a regular work or school schedule.
The most important thing to do during this time is to be kind to yourself. This sort of survival existence won’t last forever, though it may feel like it at the time. Take the time when you can, knowing you plan to move into a more regular schedule when the babies either sleep through the night, or go off to school.
THE WRITER WHO JUGGLES MULTIPLE JOBS
This type of schedule presents its own problems. With fits and stops dispersed throughout your day or work week, it can be tough to find your flow. But just like the others, it’s important to block off chunks of scheduled time that are non-negotiable. Also, consider setting up a strict routine that helps you shift your brain into fiction mode. Clear off any clutter on your desk. Make a soundtrack associated with the book that you play each time you sit down to begin. Light candles. Prepare your mind space with this series of signals that mean “fiction time!” This sort of repetitive practice has been studied at length and is proven to work. It may help you make the most of your truncated time.
THE WRITER WHO WRITES FULL TIME
Believe it or not, many who write full time wrestle with time management. It isn’t that they don’t have enough hours in the day, it’s that staying focused for long periods can be a challenge. For one, everyone is online during the week so Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are pinging like crazy. Your inbox is flooded with emails. There’s also this notion that writers don’t really “work” so friends want to meet for lunch, family wants to drop by, and so on. Distractions abound. Sometimes having less time means you’re more devoted to your writing periods. Isn’t there a saying about the busier you are, the more you accomplish? To you full-timers I say this: make a daily word count goal or page number if editing. Work in blocks of time, just like the others scrounging up time.
For example, my schedule looks like this:
7:00-8:00 is kids, coffee, and social media.
8:00-9:30 is some sort of exercise.
9:30-11:30 is writing time.
12:30-1:30 is lunch, emails, and perhaps a walk or some sort of movement.
1:30-3:30 is writing time.
3:30— Kid pickups. If you don’t have kids, take a break for an hour and then sit down for another hour or two, or until you accomplish your goal.
- The studies show we stay focused better for shorter chunks of time and that three hours is the maximum quality time spent on a project at one time. Breaking up the day keeps productivity at a maximum.
- Find a writer friend who shares the same schedule as you do. Check in with each other the same time every day and do sprints. You can sprint against each other for highest word count, or you can just set goals for the hour and check in once the hour is concluded to check each other’s progress. Being held accountable to someone is a terrific way to stay motivated.
- Establish a routine to get your mind into fiction writing mode.
- Set a timer after 30 minute or one-hour time periods so you feel the ticking away of valuable time. It’s this weird psychology but it works.
- Use internet-blocker software to keep yourself off of social media.
- Set up a system of rewards when small and large goals are accomplished. (ex: If I write 350 words this hour, I can spend 10 minutes on social media.)
What it all boils down to is HOW MUCH YOU WANT THIS. If you’re passionate about writing, you’ll make time, even in the smallest increments, to spend with your characters. If you find you’re constantly frustrated about how little you’re accomplishing, it might be time to reassess your priorities. Perhaps there are changes you can make to your schedule to maximize productivity. Above all, keep at it! Persistence in the face of frustration is the key to success.
What are your tips for maximizing your time? What challenges do you face when trying to write?
Heather Webb writes historical novels for Penguin and HarperCollins,which have been translated to three languages and have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan magazine, France magazine, and Reuters News Book Talk. BECOMING JOSEPHINE follows the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the French Revolution, and RODIN’S LOVER released Jan 27th, chronicles the passionate and tragic story of Camille Claudel, sculptor, collaborator, and lover to the famed Auguste Rodin. A FALL OF POPPIES releases in 2016.
Heather is also a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.