Time management is the bane of most authors I know. In fact, it’s a real challenge for most people I know but authors have their own particular issues, which is what I’m going to talk at today. You see, writing eats up time. You can sit down with one good idea that you’re sure you can pound out in ten or fifteen minutes and an hour later realize you were planning to eat lunch in there at some point but now it’s time to get back to work (as in, your paying job). Even a writer in a full-blown spark induced fugue state can loose large chunks of time in exploring an idea, throwing out poor developments (or just poor word choices) and crosschecking ideas against other parts of the story.
As a result, many writers labor under the impression that writing anything is going to be a long and involved process and that they must set aside a large (sometimes an impractically large) chunk of time for in order to get anything done. I myself used to think of writing as a process involving five to ten minutes of focusing followed by an hour, minimum, of writing and twenty minutes of rough editing.
I can now confidently say that this was because I was a moron.
Not that I’m a whole lot better now, but I have at least reached the conclusion that the assumptions I had about the time required for writing were not true.
For example, at my job I receive two 15 minute breaks every day, in addition to my lunch break. I used to think that was too little time to do anything of value, writing-wise, and so that time was effectively lost to me. (Well, not entirely. I still used the time for reading, sketching and other activities that are good for me and/or ultimately inform my writing. But I wasn’t spending it on writing, which is the gold standard for being a, y’know, writer.)
Now, with a lot of focus and determination, I’ve managed to pull about ten minutes of writing out of that half hour of break time, at least when I’m planning to spend my free time at work writing. I still spend time at work doing those other things, because they’re good things, but I feel that getting another half hour to forty-five minutes of writing time a week is a good thing, too. If you’re prepared and ready to roll, even that little time spent writing can yield great results.
So what are some things you can do to get prepared and ready to roll? Well, here’s three suggestions:
1. Prime the pump. Think about what you want to write before you sit down to write it. Not just a little, a lot. If you have some sort of secretarial job or one of the dreaded customer service positions this may not always be practical for you, but try and find at least fifteen minutes a day, say on your drive to work or while you’re engaged in mindless lifting or filing, where you can think about something you want to write about. Turn it over and over in your mind, ask yourself questions about it, revise it and toy around with how it fits into the bigger picture. At the very least, you should be able to do this while lunch is in the microwave and while you’re eating.
2. Do some editing (but not a lot). When you open up your document or pull out the notebooks start by going back to the start of the last paragraph you wrote and rewrite it, focusing on clarity and word choice. Make bigger changes if you think they’re necessary. Hopefully that will get you in the mood to write and remind you of what you were saying when you left off. Sure, rereading does that too, but something about the act of writing things out really gets the neurons firing.
3. Bring the right tools. I didn’t really do a good job of writing on my break until I broke down and bought a tablet that I could easily take to work with me and cloudsync my files so that I didn’t have to be constantly retyping handwritten pages from work. I was very skeptical at first but the money invested was more than worthwhile. A corollary of this: Don’t use a Swiss Army Knife when what you need is an X-acto knife. If your tablet is a writing tool, don’t clutter it up with games and other distractions – keep it as a writing tool. With maybe e-mail and blog software on the side…
Hopefully you’ll be able to use the advice here to make some inroads into turning spare minutes into productive writing. Or maybe you already have. If so, by all means, please share! I know I’m always looking for more ways to squeeze writing into the cracks.