Monday, October 3, 2011

Eight Time Management Tips for Writers

Writing takes time. There's just no two ways around that. And most writers will have other activities and priorities vying for their time. It's a common complaint that someone wants to be a writer but can't find the time. There may be some cases where this is simply a excuse. Where there's the desire to say that a person wants to be a writer without putting any skin in the game. That's not what I'm looking to discuss here. That sort of thinking can come from a variety of sources but needs a totally different set of tools than the problem where someone is 100% genuine in their desire to find time to write but is struggling with putting that desire into practice.

With that in mind, here are eight tools that can be used to help writers manage their time:
  1. Have a goal. This may not seem like a time management tip at first, but it's an absolutely essential input to any time management planning you are doing for writing. Without having a goal, you don't know how much time you need to meet your goal. Another important input here is some idea of how quickly you compose. Be honest with yourself here. If you say "Oh, I can knock out 2000 words an hour" and that's wishful thinking, then your planning will be off.  I would suggest starting with a goal that isn't a huge stretch for you. You can always choose to exceed your goal and/or increase your goal later on. If you set an overly-ambitious goal and don't meet it, you can end up feeling frustrated.
  2. Have a way of tracking progress towards your goal. If you're doing a "word count per day" metric like I do, then the Seinfeld Chain which I previously discussed could be perfect for you. This gives you a way to track your progress which is easy and constantly visible. If you're more interested in tracking your overall progress towards a large goal (like completing a novel) then you can use a wordcount tracker. There's a very basic one which you can update by just changing one or two values (for words and target) in a link. The link/image reference
    will generate an image which looks like:

  3. Make writing time a part of your schedule. This can be especially helpful if you've got a busy schedule of activities. If there are already a lot of things going on in your day/week, making a point to explicitly carve out some of your time for writing should improve matters. Once you've done that, make sure to commit to following through with using that time for writing. Naturally, every once and a while a true emergency will come up and you'll have to skip a planned writing session. But if you find yourself doing that on a regular basis then you're probably not getting value out of scheduling your writing time.
  4. Minimize distractions when you're writing. This particular point may hit home especially with writers who have children around the house. (In fact, I'm trying to tune out the sounds of a couple of kids playing computer games as I write this blog post.) But there are plenty of other possible distractions. Social media sites, fun as they are, can be a distraction from writing. (I previously blogged about ways to examine whether you're keeping your social media use in balance.) For some writers having a television on while working could be distracting. The most important thing here is to know what distracts you and do what you can to minimize your exposure to that while writing.
  5. See if you can use "down" time for writing-related tasks. There's a non-trivial amount of time in most of our days that gets spent without really actively doing anything. This could be commuting time, time spent waiting for appointments, or any other type of time where you're occupied but not exactly engaged. Unlocking even half an hour a day of this type of time and turning it to writing gives you an extra three and a half hours each week. If you ride public transit to work you could potentially get some writing done if you had a writing tool which was small enough. Even if not, you could get productive time in as long as you have enough space to read -- take something you're reading for a critique group or partner along on your bus/train ride and give it an initial read-through. Do you spend a lot of time driving children to various practices and such? While I'd never suggest that you skip watching a game or a concert to get writing time in, I know that after the first dozen or two I've been to that watching soccer practices really isn't that exciting. And some things like personal music lessons are often just one-on-one time with the child and a teacher. If you're not already using that time for productive purposes, getting some writing in is a possible use for it.
  6. Don't waste your writing time by being unprepared. Be ready to go as soon as the time you've set aside starts. Make sure you have whatever tools you need to write at hand. For me, this means having easy access to my WIP documents. Between Google Docs and Dropbox I have access to current versions of what I'm working on any time I'm on a computer with internet access. Google Docs, especially, means that you can work on any Internet-enabled computer whether you have the ability to save files on it or not. Also, if you find that you have trouble getting started during a writing session, you might want to try deliberately ending each sentence mid-chapter, mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence. Then you have a natural place to pick up. For me, at least, that makes the subsequent words come much more easily.
  7. Know when you work best. For many people there are different times of the day during which they find be productive easiest. For me, the hours between about 9 PM and Midnight tend to be very good hours to get things done. Conversely, I'm not much of a morning person. A friend of mine, though, wakes up every morning before 5 AM to get writing time in before going to work. If I tried to do that, I'd probably fall face-down into my keyboard. So, consider the stretches of time you usually have available and try to work with those for your writing.
  8. Prioritize. If you've already tried a lot of techniques and find that you still aren't getting the time you want for writing, you have two choices: you can say "I'm not going to write (for now)." or you can say "What is in my schedule that I am willing to give up to have time to write?" No one can say which of these is right for you as it's purely a personal decision. An example: I've chosen to cut way back on my film watching to have time to write. Earlier this year I was watching 3-4 movies a week. In September I watched exactly one for the month. I like watching movies, and will probably watch more than one most months, but I don't have enough free time to watch a dozen movies a month and write a lot. For someone else, it might be decreasing time watching sporting events, or playing computer games, or some other activity. Again, this has to be a personal decision where you say "writing is more important to me than X."
Not all of these tips will work for every writer. After all, one size doesn't fit all! But hopefully through some combination of these tips and your own thoughts about time management you will be on your way to more productive writing time.

Do you have time management tips relating to writing which I haven't covered? If so, feel free to leave a comment with your tips!


  1. All very good tips. I love getting up early, where all the sound in the house is the ticking of the clocks.

  2. I like these- sometimes "challenges" help me. Writing and reporting progress lime the 1k1hr on twitter. Other times fear is a good motivator- fear that it won't get done, or sent off.. That sort of thing. Excellent article!

  3. Thanks for the time management tips. Thanks for the word meter link too! Great post!

  4. @Miranda, good that you've found the time that works for you! Quiet can be very helpful (though I often like music while I'm writing).

    @M. V., yes, those are some very good things to do! Having other people cheering you on/holding you accountable can be a HUGE boost.

    @Jennifer, you're quite welcome. I'm glad you liked the post and the link.

  5. Great tips, Michael. I'm pleased to report that I use every one of these writing productivity tricks! Admittedly, working from home and not having kids makes some of them easier for me than they might be for other writers.

    I'd even add a couple more.

    9. Focus on one project at a time. Some writers are good at juggling multiple writing projects at once, but many writers seem to never finish anything because they allow themselves to get distracted by a new shiny.

    10. Write the part that excites you *today*. If you can't wait to write a scene, then don't. Just write it, even if it comes later in the book. Good story planning makes it easier to write this way and keep track of how the scene fits into the big picture.

  6. Great post! #4 (minimize distractions)is key for me. Fortunately, I have an office door I can close and a big fat "writing music" playlist on iTunes.

  7. Once again, some helpful tips on finding the time to write. :)


  8. Thanks for your comments, Roger and scribblingpencil! Glad that you enjoyed the post.

  9. This is Arissah! FANTASTIC TIPS! These are really helpful. :3

  10. Glad that you found the tips helpful, Arissah! Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Excellent tips Michael! Thanks for the post, it's just what I needed. :)

  12. This was a great post, I definitely struggle with balancing my writing time and my other responsibilities! And thanks for posting the link!

  13. Karen, I'm glad that this was... heh... timely for you!

    Cortney, I think it's a pretty common thing to struggle with. I am glad you found it useful.