Time Management for Writers

July 3rd, 2013

WPF SymbolPhaseFinalColorWriting is all about anticipation. A writer spends months writing a book that might see publication in a year, might garner good reviews sometime after that, and eventually – over the course of a decade – might contribute to a body of work that will define a career. It is, as fantasy author Jim C. Hines has said, “a marathon, and very much about long-term persistence.”Time Management2poke

And therein lies the central dilemma for writers in the 21st century, for in an age of social media, why spend months writing a book that might get noticed in a year when you can take a  few seconds to write Facebook posts that generate likes, pokes, shares, and comments within minutes?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to ponder this question in a presentation for Seton Hill’s In Your Write Mind workshops, part of a retreat that runs concurrently with the University’s summer residency in Writing Popular Fiction.

During our time together, the attendees and I considered how easy it is to waste time while writing. Such wasn’t the case in the days of typewriters and postmen who only rang twice. Back then, a writer could close the door, roll a sheet of blank paper into the platen, and work without interruption. Today it’s a different story, one that the people at StayFocusd – a time-management app for writers – sum up this way:

StayFocusd_300x300You sit down at the computer, and you swear you’ll be productive.  Next thing you know, it’s twelve hours later. You’ve checked your email, updated your Facebook status, browsed the trending topics on Twitter, read your RSS feeds, looked up your favorite band on Wikipedia, vanity googled yourself, cyber-stalked your ex, looked at all your high-school crushes’ Facebook photos, watered your plants on Farmville, and lost a week’s pay playing online poker.

What you haven’t done is WORK.

Sound familiar?

Of course, you might not need an app to channel your writing behavior. It’s all about being honest about how you are spending your writing time.

Along the way, we discussed the importance of minimizing interruptions, taking short breaks, and setting firm quitting times. I usually allow time at the end of a session for a Q&A discussion, but the presentation’s 50-minute window left little room for that. Instead, I encouraged the attendees to submit questions and comments for consideration on this blog, and so – at the risk of creating one more digital diversion in your writing day – here are a few of the questions and comments I received.

Do you have any advice for English teachers who write? How can you find time for your own work when your life seems to revolve around assessing the work of others?

I think that the same time-management guidelines that make for a productive writing session can also aid those of us who juggle full-time teaching with professional writing. Give yourself two-to-three hours at the end of the day to read and grade papers at your desk. Set a firm quitting time, and leave when you hit it. Don’t take work home. If you aren’t able to finish the day’s work, go in early the next day and wrap it up then. By doing this, you should be able to reserve a solid 90 minutes for writing in your home office. And let’s not forget that teachers generally have as many as 180 non-teaching days during the course of the year, which is time that can be devoted to full-time writing. Teaching and writing are both demanding professions, but with a little planning they can work together quite well.

I recommend treating yourself if you hit your writing goal for the day. Allow yourself to do or eat something you enjoy. Reward yourself for getting the writing done first.

Excellent advice. In this way, potential distractions become incentives for getting the job done first.

I recommend using the program Write or Die.

Thanks for the suggestions. Here’s a link for those who are interested: Write or Die.

As an aside, I must admit that I have always had a problem with the phrase “write or die,” which implies that writing is somehow unpleasant. I think “write and live” makes for a much better dictum. Don’t you?

I’ve gotten really good at writing X-number of words and completing goals. Editing, however, is another matter. I can’t figure a way to quantify editing in a way that’s as satisfying.

Ah, yes. Editing! That’s a topic that I addressed at length in my Sunday presentation for the WPF program. We’ll cover it in my next blog post. Provided, of course, I can find the time.

Until then, keep focused, keep writing . . . and (if time permits) rock on!

  1. This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 at 4:48 pm and is filed under 21st-Century Scop. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.

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