The Busy Writer's Guide to Time Management

Most writers struggle to find enough time to write—or at least enough uninterrupted time.

If you’re like me, you try to squeeze in writing around other life responsibilities. When I sit down to write in the afternoons, my “writing” time goes like this.

Kid #1: Mom, can I have a snack now? Me: No. You just had a snack ten minutes ago.

(5 minutes later) Kid #2: Mom, the cat just puked on the floor. Me: Go get the dog and she can clean it up.

(3 minutes later) Kid #3: Mommy, (sob, sob), I can’t find my other new pink sock. Me: Go find the dog. She probably has it.

(2 minutes later) Kid #4: Do I have to practice piano? Me: And exactly why do you think we’re paying the piano teacher?

(1 minute later) Kid #1: Mom, now can I have a snack? Kid #3: (Sob, sob, sob) I still can’t find my sock. Me: Why don’t you both go eat some candy or cookies or cheetos or all three.

(5 minutes later) Kid #5: Mom, I need you to drive me to basketball practice. Me: Okay, well since I’ve already gotten SO much writing done this afternoon, I might as well call it a day. (And no, my voice isn’t dripping with sarcasm.)

Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly the story of my afternoon writing time. But it’s pretty close some days! (And bonus lesson: Dogs are helpful.)

The reality is that it’s often tough to carve quality writing time out of our busy schedules. Sometimes trying to find more time is as impossible as whittling away at a metal beam with a rubber spatula. There’s just no place in our schedules for any flexibility.

I can completely relate. My schedule is impossibly busy at times. I homeschool, have five kids (including three teenagers), a jam-packed calendar, and play taxi mom in between mounds of laundry.

But amazingly, last year (2011), I completed two full length novels (100,000 words each). I had two sets of rewrites from my in-house editors. I launched my second book, The Doctor’s Lady (including a 50-stop blog tour). And of course, I somehow managed all of the other things like blogging, book signings, speaking engagements, etc.

So how do I do it all and remain sane?

Here are several truths I’ve learned about time-management:

1. Budgeting our time is something we have to LEARN.

Lately, I’ve been trying to teach my teens to budget their time. As they’ve gotten busier with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities, they have less time to dilly-dally. They can’t take their sweet old time on everything like they used to, otherwise they just won’t have time to get all their work done.

They’ve had to learn to organize their schedules and plan ahead. If they have a paper due on a particular date, they have to evaluate how much they need to do each day in order to make sure they get it all done on time (without having to stay up the last night and rush through it to get it done!).

As I’ve been trying to teach my children to be wise with their time, I’ve begun to realize that this skill may come more naturally to some personalities than others. But organizing our time, planning ahead, and working with diligence IS still something we can all learn, no matter our personality or age.

2. The busier we are, the more we’re forced to budget our time wisely.

When I’m writing a first draft with a daily word count goal, or when I’m editing with a daily chapter goal, I find that I work more productively than those times when I’m between deadlines and have “less” to do.

I think when we have more time, we grow a bit lazier, rationalizing that we can get to the work later. We aren’t in a rush, we get distracted more easily, and we often end up wasting a lot of time.

But when we have less time, we go into our writing time with more focus and with the determination not to squander the little time we have. Whenever something is precious to us, we tend to guard it more carefully.

3. Sometimes we just have to grab whatever time we get and make the most of it.

I’ve realized over the years that I have to stop waiting for the perfect moment and conditions before I write. Some days I really do have constant interruptions like the ones I mentioned above. But I write anyway—or at least I do the best I can.

When I finish my book, you know what? I can’t tell which scenes had a thousand interruptions and which ones had only a hundred. In the end, the story all weaves itself together.

Our job is to keep telling a little bit of our story day after day. And with perseverance and determination, eventually we'll type The End.

What do you think? Do you struggle with budgeting your time wisely? Do you find yourself more productive when you are busy? And are you grabbing whatever time you have and making the most of it?

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