By Rachel Beck
We’re all busy, right? If you say you’re not, I don’t believe you. Everyone knows that pursuing a creative career, passion or hobby requires sacrifices. And time is the #1 sacrifice. Time with loved ones, time making money at a day job, time watching TV or sleeping or reading. Luckily, there’s a solution that doesn’t involve ignoring your children or your spouse for the sake of your novel. But it’s a scary phrase: time management. Mastering this elusive phrase may feel like finding the pot at the end of the rainbow, but it’s possible!
If you spend more time being jealous of the prolificacy of Stephen King than you do actually writing, don’t worry. You might not put out a whopper-sized book every three months like he seems to, but with some clever tricks, you can be just as productive as you’d like to be. Here are some short and simple tips for time management when it comes to juggling family and other commitments with writing, not to mention social media promotion and all those other things writers have to do other than writing. Enjoy, and happy goal-setting!
- Figure out what time of day works best for you to be creative. Some people are early birds, some are night owls. Syncing in to this ideal time, as much as your daily schedule permits, will allow you to more productive, ultimately saving time, because everyone has a window when they’re naturally more productive, particularly where the unique brain power of creativity is required. Can you wake up two hours before your kids get up and get your writing time in then? (This’ll likely mean a sacrifice of sleep.) Can you stay up two hours after they go to bed and get to work then? (This’ll likely mean a sacrifice of TV or reading or other “veg” time.) Sticking to more or less the same schedule day after day will make it feel more like a job, and the routine will help you to stick with it.
- If you have young kids, work around their schedules. Unfortunately there’s really no choice in this — young children have this power over us! Two words: Nap. Time. Most kids sleep on a pretty reliable schedule, so as soon as you put your kid down for sleepy time in the middle of the day, have that laptop ready to go — whether it’s for a forty-five minute writing sesh, or a three-hour one! Use it or lose it!
- Word in shorter, more focused bursts. If you need to bang out some chapters, try a method such as writing for thirty minutes, in a hyper-focused, no-interruptions kind of way. Set a timer, silence your phone (or better yet, put it in another room!) and do not allow yourself to go online. Consider even disconnecting from Wifi so it’s not even a temptation. Then take a five-minute break to go on Facebook, make a cup of coffee, flip through a magazine or make a quick phone call. Or do this in one hour/ten minute intervals. Whatever works best for you. But it’s likely more mentally rewarding than being seventy-five percent focused on writing for an entire day, while that other twenty-five percent of you constantly has one eye on an email or some other distraction. Or, if you can’t go totally off the grid in these bursts, consider a strategy where you only interrupt your writing for a different task if it can be completed in five minutes or less. If it will take longer, set a time later on to take care of it.
- Set parameters for social media. Some of you love social media, some hate it. Fact of the matter is you all have to use it for promoting your books. If you enjoy it, the balance between using it for promotion and writing may come naturally. But if it doesn’t (maybe you even dread this part of being a writer), tell yourself that you will use it for 30 minutes each day for promotion. That adds up to 2 ½ hours per week. Not too shabby! Sure, it’s not as much fun as actually writing, but it’s part of the gig.
- Set weekly goals for your writing. If you have a contract with a publisher, they’ll provide deadlines for you. You know when you have to turn in a manuscript, so you’ll work toward that deadline. Because, well, you have to. But here’s the thing: If you’re uncontracted, working toward a deadline just as if you had a contract can really help you along mentally. Otherwise, if you continue to think of it as a hobby, or just something you’re futzing around with in spare moments, you’ll never finish. And whether you’re contracted or not, setting weekly and/or daily word count goals is an excellent way to help yourself stay on track in more digestible bursts, gives you a tangible way to measure progress, and plus it’s great mentally, as you see yourself inching closer, every day and week, to your target word count for the novel! Plus, nothing feels better than meeting a goal or crossing something off a to-do list
- Finally, reward yourself! If you meet your goals, treat yourself to something! Maybe you have a small, different reward (a scoop of your favorite ice-cream flavor) each week on Friday night if you meet the goal you set on Monday morning. Maybe it’s fewer but bigger rewards (a bigger purchase, new clothes or a pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on) if you meet three different, important goals along the way toward The End.
Following a few or all of these tips can really help with mastering the art of time management in a creative field, where parameters and guidelines may not be the first thing you think of when you set out to get that book written. Now go forth and set some guidelines for yourself!