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The Busy Writer's Guide to Time Management

Thursday, February 23, 2012


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?

40 comments:

  1. As you well know, Jody, this is the time of year when I struggle with this the most. Finding a balance between the many activities that need my attention is a challenge, for sure.

    There will be about a month to a month and a half where I will let a few of the daily writing responsibitlites go to make way for the many hours I spend on the paying day-job.

    But I am much more productive when I'm on a schedule. And I'm much more appreciative of the blocks of writing time when I find them.

    Love the picture you paint of your afternoons. I know those sounds well, and dogs do come in handy.

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  2. LOL... let the dog clean it up! Oh, how I love thee, my fellow multi-pet household mother. :D Thanks for another great post. Indeed, time management is an area of struggle for me, and I appreciate learning from one of the masters. I especially relate to #2. It's funny how I can suddenly crank out the writing when I know my kids are about to come home from school! And since is the year I'll most likely go back to work after all the years as a SAHM, I'm hoping that in itself will force me to designate specific writing time and stick with it.

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  3. Jody...thanks for a good chuckle to start the day!:-) Everything you said resonates, even for busy Moms who don't also write full time. Time management is a constant challenge, particularly for those who want to make good use of every moment of life we are given.

    And my, how time flies! I believe your children are growing up faster than mine. I must meet these two extra teenagers of yours someday.:-)

    Perhaps a good follow-up post might be...how do you not only stay sane with all the interruptions, but stay calm, kind, and not lose your patience with your clan?

    ~ Betsy

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  4. I had a pretty big interruption in writing my second novel last year. Going over it for re-drafting now, I can't find the spot where I stopped. It's so weird.

    We definitely have to keep writing whenever we can, accept that sometimes we won't get to do as much as we would like, and have faith that if we keep working, it'll all come together.

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  5. Bahahaha!!!!!! You are so funny! And please tell me you didn't really make the dog clean it up! Oh my goodness!

    I loved this post. I still struggle with time management and I know it is something I need to learn and CAN learn. I always seem to be waiting for that large chunk of time instead of just plowing through with the few moments that I have.

    Thanks for the encouragemnet!

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  6. My dog is my vacuum.

    Grabbing it whenever I can. Making the most of it b/c there's only so much of it out there to be grabbed.
    ~ Wendy

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  7. This post was awesome. Totally made me smile.

    Weird phenomenon:

    I'm way more productive when I have a deadline. Way, way, way more!

    When there's no urgency behind a project, I turn into the lazy dilly-dallier.

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  8. Managing my time has become absolute chaos some weeks as I deal with unexpected illnesses, hospital visits, and juggling it all to remain productive. Great blog!!

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  9. Kid #2: Mom, the cat just puked on the floor. Me: Go get the dog and she can clean it up.

    First of all, thanks for my morning laugh from this. I love your ingenuity!

    I really loved this post. Now that I've been unemployed for the last couple of weeks, I'm finding that writing full time at home is a huge change. Part of it is the lack of 'you've-got-1-hour-get-it-done' pressure that I had when my time was much more precious because I was out of the house for 8 hours a day. I'm setting a 3K/day goal, and meeting it most days, but sometimes it's a struggle and I can waste too much time. Thanks for the reminder that budgeting even larger blocks of time is still crucial.

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  10. I'm one of those personalities for which organization comes more easily. It's my bread and butter. But I think I'm going to have to get creative and more flexible when kids come along. Sigh. I plan to be a SAHM, so I'm a little worried about how I'll be able to fit in writing amongst it all, but if you can homeschool AND write two novels AND do major rewrites...well, I think there's hope for us all! Thanks for the encouragement and tips, Jody. :)

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  11. This is all so very true! LOL...types the writer mama with two boys, almost-3 and 12 weeks respectively, sitting on my lap and leaning on my typing hands, causing this comment to take five minutes to type instead of 30 seconds...

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  12. Oh man, that snack question every two minutes...You just described my life. :)

    These are awesome tips, Jody. And I agree with what you said about a busier schedule. I've found that I'm more productive with a fuller calendar too.

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  13. Great thoughts, Jody,
    Time management is really difficult for me. You said, "Sometimes trying to find more time is as impossible as whittling away at a metal beam with a rubber spatula." I can relate to that. All I know is somehow we find the time to do what we really want to do even if it just about kills us in the doing.:) I don't have a "normal" life, but who does these days. If I could work toward my own advice it would be to make a habit of writing. That's why we're told to write every day. A bad habit becomes failure, a good habit becomes our success. Here's to good habits. :)

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  14. Oh, Jody, we are sisters separated at birth! I have six who I homeschool, and my afternoons are just the same. My husband and I were just talking last night about planning and scheduling, and your breath of encouragement comes at just the right time for me. Thank you.

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  15. As the oldest of 8 I can very much relate :) Your management tips are awesome and very practical, but its still incredibly impressive you managed everything you managed. Props to you, hope to take a leaf from your book :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  16. My kids are pushing for a dog and you're great at selling the finer points of ownership. Fun post! :O)

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  17. Reading about your kids' interruptions was cute...but made me so, so, so grateful that I've got a toddler who still takes a 2-3 hour nap every day! I commend you for being so productive in the absence of rock solid naptimes! :D

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  18. Awesome post, Jody!! I laughed at having the dog clean it up. Our floors are much cleaner now that we have Sophie!

    I took the month off of writing to study and recharge, and it's been delightful! It finally gave me the energy and time to try a few things I'd been considering--vlogging and Pinterest. I have to admit, though, I'm getting very excited to get back into writing. Deadlines DO keep me productive!

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  19. Great words of wisdom here, Jody, and so helpful! I must admit to being much more productive when I have a deadline. Otherwise, I could revise and rewrite until the cows come home.

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  20. Jody, this post is TOO funny.
    Sometimes it's not the amount of time that's the problem, but it's the timing. My kids are in school all day, so I could choose to write for hours if I want. But I can't. I'll fall asleep if I try. Even when I wrote for educational publishers and had a deadline, I couldn't write for long stretches of time. I can only write in short increments. The only time I can write for long stretches is late at night after everyone has gone to bed. I don't know why, but I can write for hours without stopping between 10PM and 3AM. But I can't do that between 10AM and 3PM.
    Thanks for the good laugh.

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  21. Thank you so much for these great tips. I have had a hard time with time management lately. I find that certain days are better than others. Thanks again.

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  22. I can relate! I just sat down to write for the afternoon, but first I had to unclog the bathroom toilet because my two year old twins had a hay day with the toilet paper! And last night one of the twins decided to wake up at 1 am and didn't want to go back to sleep. We were both up until 3:30.

    Our dog is the next best thing to a maid - we call her the clean up crew. I tell my older girls that our dog is the best behaved of all the little creatures in my house (kids included) - she comes when I call, she stays where I tell her to and she cleans up after herself and the rest of us.

    My manuscript needs to be edited and I've wondered when in the world it will ever be done, but reading your words today gives me hope. Thank you!

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  23. To all you busy moms out there - you should watch (on Youtube) "nicole johnson hats". She is a Christian comedian for "Woman of Faith". I saw this live last Oct. Funny and Oh so true.

    Jennie

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  24. When I was writing my first book, I was in school full time, working part time, and a mom to a 9yr old who was active in sports, etc.

    I usually forced myself to write from 10pm to midnight a couple of nights a week.

    Now that my son is in high school and I am done with school...I force myself to write from 7pm to 10pm most nights.

    It helps to organize your time into segments if you need to. I do find that this helps keep me from going insane!

    My family appreciates that. :)

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  25. I'm definitely more productive when I have more to do. And I'm so thankful I learned some discipline and time management in my writing before publication. But publication ramped that up to a whole new level! Hasn't been easy, but it's been good.

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  26. Dogs are so useful, aren't they? My 2 guys and little girl are super vacuum cleaners. As for time, I struggle with budgeting wisely, and the more free time away from my daughter or kiddos I watch, the worse I am. I can whittle away so much time dinking on the computer or doing something else mundane, and somehow I've got to find the discipline to just stop. Part of my issue is that I'm a mood writer, and I get into periods where I don't "feel" like it. And I know that's not going to work any more.

    Love these tips!

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  27. I just wrote a blog about Point #2 this week! I always feel like I get more done when I'm busier. I really admire how much you've accomplished in the last year and can only hope I'll be able to juggle it all with as much grace as you when I get to that point. Thanks for sharing some of your secrets. ;)

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  28. I'm one of those weird people who likes being productive without deadlines. I feel rushed if I don't have something turned in a week early. I know, I'm probably crazy. But I had to laugh at Jody's description of writing interruptions. The I'm hungry scenario happens all the time at my house, and our dog's the one who gets sick, not a cat.

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  29. Your house sounds like my house!! And yes, dogs can be a HUGE blessing in cleaning up! LOL ... Deadlines do help me to focus, otherwise I tend to focus more on other things "because the kids are awake and surrounding me". Sigh...

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  30. I love the description of your writing time! I'm one of your #2 types... more efficient when I'm busy and *have* to make time for tasks. I'm a list maker, but use to prioritize and start at the top of the list all the time... thus, consistently ignoring the less pressing chores. A couple years ago at Christmas time I created three lists: a "must do now", another "should do soon", and a "would like to do, but it's not a catastrophe if it doesn't get done for a while" list. Then I started at the top, but of all three lists, picking off one from the top of each. It was a good solution for me and it works for my writing, too, when I apply it. :)

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  31. Funny - I always say that's why we have the dogs. They watch the kids in the backyard and clean up spills! Now if we could only teach them to pour juice and drive the kids to basketball practice....

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  32. Great post, Jody.

    You know, I've discovered that I work best when I have distractions. If I have a block of uninterrupted time, I distract myself, but when I only have short bits of time, I get right to work.
    I've currently got a goal of 1,000 words a day and that keeps me honest.

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  33. Love the picture! That's what I call team work! It's also one of the bullet points I have on my "How to manage my time". Without the help of my home team (aka family) I couldn't get through points one through three. Seems like you've got the right idea. Dogs really do help.

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  34. Great post!

    The only "wuality writing time" I get is the early morning, before we have to get ready for work. I get up an hour earlier than the BF to do so. Whenever I try to write with him home (for example on weekends), he keeps interrupting the words to come cuddle or show me something on his iPad... and we do not even have kids yet! Don't know what to do about them... but we'll figure that out in time.

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  35. Yes, Yes, BIG FAT YES! I have never been more productive at writing since the birth of my second child. Having two children under three has created this pressure cooker where every free chance I pound the keyboards in a frenzy resulting in my first finished manuscript. However, I do find editing harder to sit down and concentrate on in short snatches of time. Any advice?

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  36. Lila, editing is a different beast altogether! I have often complained to my husband that I need to concentrate much harder when I'm editing (especially when I'm doing rewrites from my publisher). During those rewrite times, I often have to call in reinforcements. I pay my older kids to babysit the younger ones. I put in movies. My husband watches the kids more often. We eat out more. But we all know it's not long term, that the concentrated editing will end, and therefore everyone can put up with me holing away a little more during that time. No body is ruined because of it!

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  37. Thanks for the post. I'm a freelance editor and writer... when being a stay-at-home dad with a 17-month-old daughter allows. I'm up by 6:30am and she doesn't go to bed until around 9:00pm, and it's pretty non-stop between those times, then cleanup and finally say Hi to my wife at that point. However, I'll now strive to make more productive use out of those slivers of time I do get.

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  38. a. you have 5 kids???
    b. Me too!!!
    c. do you feel us bonding ??

    OK too personal too soon. But thanks for the post. I'm insane about getting it all in. I scheduled days to post, even prepicked the topics to keep me moving but some days I feel like ....
    it will never get done. I hate feeling behind the ball all the time. I hate it.
    Thanks for the reminder that I can manage me time better!
    Good word for me today!

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  39. Stephanie! LOL!! Another mom of a large family recently told me, "Every day is a miracle." And I have to agree. I take it one day at a time and do what I can. And when I get it all done, it's a miracle. :-)

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  40. A vital part of all organizations involves the theory of time management. time management can be explained in many ways, but always involves prioritizing the way time is used. It often includes principles, plans and skills, and always aims at getting the most value out of the time you have.

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