You are sitting there, out of town, with three other people in the room, all of them talking at once, and a TV show playing in the background. At nine at night, after a long day’s drive.
The video card on your laptop is overheating and burning your leg. Someone just cut his finger fixing a late dinner and may need to go to the ER.
You are trying to get some writing done.
This is, overall, a poor plan. But sometimes your day (week…month…year…life…) is so filled with must-do activity that it’s hard to find the time for writing.
There are lots of time management strategies out there on the internet, and a writer could spend many an hour reading them instead of writing. Some of those articles recommend you take quizzes to understand your time-wasting tendencies, and others recommend you print out a time-log and journal what you’re doing at every moment in your day.
While interesting, quizzes and logs are just another form of procrastination, as are reading numerous articles that all say “turn off your Internet and don’t answer the doorbell, the end.” These sorts of tips certainly don’t work for everyone—and, we’d argue, they turn most people off of time management strategies altogether.
Every writer is different. Some struggle to get words on the page, others struggle to edit, and some word magicians can write several chapters a day and still raise infant twins and work full time. But we would guess that those amazing writers are not intrinsically more perfect than the rest of us—it’s only that they have made writing a habit, and they have found a routine that works for them.
So what are some things that we can all do to help increase our writing output?
Do it first.
Barring a painful emergency or a bathroom break, nothing that needs to be done now will be harmed by it getting done in 15 minutes or a half hour instead. We know you have a little plastic egg timer sitting in the junk drawer in your kitchen. Wake up every day, pour your cup of coffee, and set the egg timer for a very brief 15 minutes. (Or get home every evening, pour yourself a tumbler of whiskey, and do the same.) You don’t have to spend hours writing, but you do have to make your writing a small priority. There’s always something to be done around the house, and if you put those somethings ahead of your writing, you’ll never get to your writing. And the hardest part is opening the document up—often when you hit the end of that 15 minutes, you find you’re on a roll and want to keep writing.
Here’s an incredible statistic: If you write an average of just 50 words a day (not difficult to do in 15 minutes), you’ll have written a full-length 75K word novel in a little over four years. If you can manage 100 words in your 15 minutes, you’ll have your full-length novel in just over two years.
Make it a habit.
Regardless of when you write or how long you’re writing for, it must be a habit. It could be specific (at 8:35 every morning), or nebulous (as soon as the kids are in bed), but if you don’t have some sort of habitual time slot, it’s incredibly easy to put your 15 minutes off, and off again, until it’s past bedtime and you’re too exhausted to think. Too, you might be able to carve a habitual time slot out of your life with a single change. An LSM Books author takes the bus to work and writes on her commute every day. It’s a brilliant idea—save money, save the earth, and gain two hours of writing time five days a week.
Get a writing buddy.
In some cases, there’s a lot to be said for guilt and peer pressure. This is one of them. If someone you care about is asking you every afternoon—very nicely—when they’ll be able to read the next chapter of your awesome book, you’re much more likely to feel accountable to your writing and get it done. While it takes a dedicated and goal-oriented person to feel accountable to oneself to the same degree, and it’s easy to rationalize not writing in your own mind, nobody wants to disappoint a friend.
Use procrastination to help you, not hinder you.
For most people it doesn’t matter what you need to do—whatever it is, as soon as you have to do that task, you want to do anything but. So recently, the idea of “directed procrastination” has emerged. Leave your manuscript perpetually open on your computer. When you feel like you need a break from a necessary task (or you start to procrastinate by clicking over to Facebook), simply sit down at your desk (or click over to your manuscript instead) and add a few lines.
What other writing management tips do you readers have that could benefit writers of all styles?