I began my writing career at twelve years old. I look back on those teen years and remember endless hours spent at the keyboard in my mother’s house – no responsibilities, and unending time to learn my craft and have fun.
After graduation, I had plenty of time to write. Yet, I still remember feeling stressed out trying to juggle writing in the midst of a full time job and a crazy social schedule. I finally published, then got married and got pregnant. I continued working and thought of my maternity leave as a wonderful time to write more. After all, I had never experienced whole days of being home. I heard newborns slept most of the day. How hard could it be?
Yes, I can hear all of you laughing from here.
Needless to say, one baby blended into another and writing became a few hours in the darkest of nights while everyone slept. I switched to part time work. Things didn’t get easier – the time gaps only got sucked up in endless hours of child rearing and daily tasks. Writing was like a stolen lover – precious and sparse, but our time spent together was soul fulfilling. I finally managed to sell another book.
Then I was laid off.
After the shock wore off, I began to think of my new unemployed status as a sign. I COULD WRITE ALL DAY. One child was even in school! I could finish a book in half the time, and have an opportunity to sustain a full-time writing career.
Being at home was harder than working. When I worked, I was a Nazi with time management. Because I didn’t have enough, the time I had off was more organized and I protected the writing. Being home, I got lazy with my time. My one toddler at home was as difficult as five. Interruptions were constant. I cleaned the house more but it was still dirty. I did more errands which were thankless and made no difference in my life.
Then the lightbulb went on.
There is never a right time in life for writing. Ever.
We make the time. We squeeze the digits mercilessly between our busy lives and find a way to get the work done. Single or married, children or no children, part time or full time, – the conditions simply do not matter. There have been writers more productive raising children and working full time because they honor the work time and get organized.
Time is like money. The more you have, the more you use, and the more you need.
So, I’m going back to the beginning. I’ve come up with a list to help with time management – no matter what status you find yourself in.
1. Know Thyself. Writers need to know the type of writers they are. Some write better at night and others in the morning. Some writers need quiet and others music. Some can work in chaos, still others need to find a distraction free zone. Before you can tweak the schedule, you need to know who you are.
2. Adjust the schedule accordingly. Yes, this is in direct conflict to number one. But if you are too stringent on the environment needed, you may never work again. Work, kids and life always get in the way. I used to write in the late hours, loving the quiet and the dark. Now, I can’t keep my eyes open past 10. I switched to mornings – when my kids are at school or settled with breakfast in front of the television, I grab my coffee and work, even for an hour. I needed to learn to write in a variety of environments, and I did – almost like combat training. It’s not my choice, but I’ve taught myself to write a love scene while my kids bounce on the couch behind me.
3. Protect the work. Time is a slippery thing. I began to notice when I was home, I thought I needed to consistently clean up. When I held an outside job, I cleaned in mass intensities: taking an hour to go through the house like a maid hopped up on crack. Then I was done. When you find yourself with an hour of time, write. Let the laundry go, the new book you can’t put down, and write. If this is hard – practice. Being home doesn’t mean your writing time is less important than someone else’s.
4. Measure the work. This is harder to do if you don’t have a set schedule, but it’s needed in order to chart your progress and make the writing work. At the last RWA conference, Susan Elizabeth Phillips shared her need to find a way to “end” her day. At a normal job, the clock strikes a certain time, and you are done. Or, you finish the tasks on your desk and leave. Your working day is over. When you’re at home, or writing in brief lapses of time here and there, it becomes harder to measure when you are done for the day or the week. Phillips found using a timer helped. Two hours of writing was her day’s quota. This did not include anything that put her butt out of the chair. If she needed to take a break, she stopped the clock. After two hours, her day was done, and she felt productive. Every writer needs to feel she had a good day or week. Here are some suggestions:
a. Use a timer to clock in a certain amount of hours of writing.
b. Use page count. If you finish two pages, you’re done for the day. Use whatever page count is comfortable for your current schedule.
c. Use a weekly count. Begin Monday to Monday. You need to have one chapter completed each week. If you get to Sunday night and you still have not met your quota, – you’re pulling an all nighter like you did in college. You’ll suffer the next day, but I bet those pages will be done the next week.
d. Use the calendar and schedule writing classes. Again, like school, when you leave the house to take a class you are no longer available. If writing at home is difficult, take your laptop to the bookstore or coffee shop and pretend you are in writing class. Block the days and times on the calendar in pen and arrange coverage. For instance, Tuesday/Thursday from 6-9:00pm you are not available. Leave the house, lock the door to your office, do whatever needs to be done but this is your sacred writing time – your “class” time.
5. Reward yourself. When you complete a big project at work, hopefully you go home satisfied. Writing is an endless flow of projects – when you’re done with one – you need to revise, market, or compose the query. Make sure you take time to reward yourself for the big steps. Once you type The End on your first draft, take a break. Call a friend and go out to dinner. Buy yourself a new outfit. Twitter your good news. We need to reward ourselves for our victories, because we certainly beat ourselves up enough over our failures.
6. Get advice. When I switched my schedule, I had no idea what to expect. When I realized I wasn’t writing the way I wanted, I got depressed and felt discouraged. Talking to other writers in the same situation helped me. I received helpful advice and suggestions on how to write with my new schedule. Like critiques, I didn’t use all of the suggestions, but I was able to sift through them and pick the ideas that resonated with me.
7. Restrict social media. I believe this is the biggest time suck of all. But it’s necessary. Our writing generation depends on social media for marketing, making friends, promoting and learning. Facebook, twitter, guest blogging, our blogs – all our key in this day and age and we need to learn and use them effectively. But if there is not much time in the day, writing needs to be a priority. Constrict use of social media to ONE HOUR PER DAY. If you’ve done your pages, you’re free to go crazy for the rest of the day. By limiting yourself to one hour, you are more apt to write. Without new work – there is nothing to sell or tweet about. Writing your blog is also important, but it is part of the daily work and should not be included in your regular writing time.
Time is always moving forward and doesn’t change for anyone. We must use the schedule we are given to be the most efficient and happy writers we can be. Drop me a comment if you’ve found things that work for your schedule, or are struggling with this topic.
Jennifer Probst is published in contemporary romance, both sexy and erotic. Her first book, Heart of Steel, was published by LionHearted Publishing, and her novella, “Masquerade” appeared in Red Sage Secrets Volume 11. Her first children’s book, Buffy and the Carrot, was co-written with her 12 year old niece by Eloquent Books. Her new e-book release, “The Tantric Principle” is available now through Red Sage.
Please check out her website at http://www.jenniferprobst.com
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