Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Time Management Tips for Writers

Ah, summer! No matter where you live, it feels so fleeting. What’s an author to do?

I’ve known writers who refused to write in the summer—and not coincidentally, these writers haven’t published much. While writing’s not all nose-to-grindstone, it is hard work, and unless there’s anything other than a self-imposed deadline looming, most of us find it far too easy to fill our time with other activities.

Don’t get me wrong: For writers, breaks are important; in fact, it’s when you’re less task-focused that you’re more likely to experience “aha” moments of insight. Walking, in particular, has been linked to creative break-throughs. But beware distractions that keep you from the task at hand. Recognize them for what they are: a means of dodging the tough work of getting words on the page. Learn to recognize the difference between a break that helps you access the more creative parts of your brain and a break that’s merely avoidance. 

Know what has the greatest tendency to pull you away from your project, be it email or social media or even housework, to which writers have been known to resort when they’re feeling stuck, or when they’re dreading the hard part of beginning. Recognize that starting each writing session is the toughest part (which is why rituals help).

Once you engage in your work, it becomes its own source of pleasure, as long as you’re not overly hard on yourself. Keep your focus on process, not product. As you give yourself over to the act of discovery, the product will take care of itself.

In a recent interview on my book What Every Author Should Know: No Matter How You Publish, the interviewer kept circling around to questions of time and how writers should manage it.
Here, excerpts from that interview, with several tips on managing your writing time:

My favorite tip from your book is the 80/20 rule: 80% of your writing time on creative efforts and 20% on production and promotion. What do you use to keep track of creation/revision, reflection, immersion, community, and promotion and marketing time? How do you apply this rule if you suffer constant interruptions from what you call a “side trip” or other non-literary commitments like a full-time job or small children?

Mostly, it’s a matter of looking closely at how your days unfold, and then making adjustments where you can to preserve your craft time first, your time for creation and revision. When are you least likely to be interrupted? Alice Munro, one of my literary heroes, wrote short stories while her children napped. Once you’ve found that “sacred time,” be it 10 minutes or six hours, you have to commit to its purpose. No checking emails, no surfing for research, no staring at the screen for long periods. Just write. Everything else gets worked in around the crafting. Reflection is fun because it happens best when you’re going about the everyday business of living. I get my best insights while walking the dog, taking a shower, and right before I fall asleep. As for keeping track, all I use is a cheap spiral notebooks, one for each year. On each page I keep my to-do list for the week. What I can fit between those lines is about what I can get done in a week, after my creative time.

I’m most impressed with how you keep your web site and presence on a variety of social media fresh and engaging. How do you “systematize your involvement so it’s not a huge time-suck”?

I start my weekdays with 10 minutes on Twitter, then set it aside. I jump on Facebook only when I’ve got down time—when I’m waiting in line or enjoying a midday cup of tea. I set aside an hour or two every Thursday to draft two blog posts, one on an aspect of writing or publishing for The Self-Made Writer, and one on my work in progress for the WIP Wednesday feature on my website; I post both in advance. Cindy Dyson of Dyson UXDesigns recently revamped my website for me, and in addition to infusing it with this incredible energy, she also became very protective of my creative time, so she set it up to require minimal maintenance while still managing to maximize the ways in which I interface with readers. If I’ve got lots of news to share with friends and fans, I’ll use Buffer to schedule posts.

In the last section “Live the Life,” you offer important lessons you’ve learned about maintaining “bounce”: a blend of confidence and strategy. What tools do you recommend for generating ideas, managing promotional strategies, juggling several projects at once, and not giving up when you feel the universe is against your writing?

You have to believe not just in yourself but in the project you’re working on: that you’re speaking truth in the best way you know how, truth that in some way will better this world. You have to love what you do for its own sake. When I read about how writers need first and foremost to affirm themselves, it saddens me. What a set-up for failure! Writers are some of the least-affirmed people I know. But you know, sometimes when it feels like the universe is against our writing, maybe it’s actually trying to help us out, by prodding us to do the better work we can do if we forego the ego and take a learner’s stance with every project. The best writer’s tool, honestly, is joy: in what you do, in your approach to your life and your work. Regardless of external rewards, a writer, by virtue of her craft, enjoys a bountiful existence.

Deb's book What Every Author Should Know, No Matter How You Publish, is now $2.99 in e-book. It's also available in print.