One of the greatest struggles almost all writers face is time.
We’re very busy people. I think it’s safe to guess that many writers out there are writing in addition to other personal and professional responsibilities rather than writing in place of them. Instead of spending eight hours a day writing, for example, a lot of us are probably lucky if we get one or even two hours at the end of a long day to jot down some of the ideas trapped in our heads.
But not having enough time — or feeling like you don’t — isn’t always the problem. Sometimes you have more than enough time to get your writing done, but you can’t figure out how to use it properly.
Maybe you get distracted by the smallest things — a notification on your phone; a noise outside your window; a reminder you forgot to set on your calendar (because of course you have to set it RIGHT NOW or you will forget again).
Maybe you even sit down excited and motivated to get to work on developing your story … only to realize that at some point between physically sitting down and starting to write almost a full hour has passed, which you have spent reading the parts of your story you’ve already written down without writing anything new.
Whether you have time to spare or barely enough to function — side note, if that’s you, and you’re making the time to read this post, bless you — learning how to make the most of the time you have is essential for excelling in all areas of your life.
When it comes to writing, it often helps to start by figuring out the things you might be doing on a daily basis that aren’t helping you get as much writing done as you could.
Your time is valuable, and so are you. You may not even realize that you’re not actually spending even half of your designated writing time actually writing.
To be clear: Not all time spent with something you are working on is actually spent writing. This is completely normal. If you’re writing a book, for example, at some point you’re going to have to write 80,000+ words. But you’ll also spend plenty of time plotting and doing character sketches and figuring out all the logistics that go into making a book into something other people can read.
This is different than blocking out an hour of your evening strictly for writing and only writing for 30 minutes of that hour. The problem is writing time management, and I think I can help you at least get started on your plan for taking better control of your hours.
So. How are you most likely wasting your writing time?
1. Rereading what you’ve already written. While this has plenty of benefits in certain contexts, for the most part, you don’t need to be doing this on a regular basis outside of any necessary proofreading (e.g., if you have to turn something in that another human will look at).
I’ve personally found that rereading some of what I’ve written previously — e.g., the few pages before the part of the book I want to start writing from — is a good pre-writing exercise. However, I try not to include this in my scheduled writing time. I’ll schedule 15 minutes of preparation, followed by, for example, an hour of straight writing.
Reading what you’ve already written can be fun and even rewarding — you just don’t want to do it when you’re supposed to be writing instead. Be honest with yourself: You (probably) don’t have time for that.
2. Hunting for “inspiration.” You might think that searching the internet for things that will inspire new ideas or motivate you to get your work done is a valuable way to spend your time, but in the end it’s going to waste more time than you’ll realize.
People do this as a form of procrastination, as a coping mechanism for anxiety, and a variety of other reasons a writer might give for putting off their actual writing. This is the “I’ll just check my Instagram feed again in case anyone has posted an inspirational quote in the last two minutes” kind of procrastination. You think you’re looking for a reason to write. You’re probably not going to find one.
You don’t go looking for inspiration. It finds you. And it most often finds you when you’re already busy writing something. That is why I recommend forcing yourself to write when you don’t want to, just a little bit. Once you get over the initial “I don’t want to” hurdle, everything really does get easier.
3. Editing as you go. Stop doing this. I know, I know — it seems like it’s helping. It’s making you feel more productive, and less like you have no idea what you’re doing. But chances are, it’s only slowing you down — and it could slow you down even more in the long term.
When you self-edit as you write, you run the risk of over-editing — and even more risky, over-editing when you aren’t even finished with the whole story. One benefit of saving your edits until the end is that you won’t have to go back over the whole thing a second time to “correct” things that may have changed in your story along the way.
There are going to be a lot of writers and editors who disagree with my stance on this — and that’s totally fine. I am a pantser at heart (I just write what comes to me, I very rarely plan ahead). A lot of my advice is from my own experiences, and though I try my best to cater my suggestions to the masses, there are just some opinions I’m happy to stick with.
Just keep in mind that the problem I’m trying to help you solve here has to do with saving time and writing more.
You can argue that not editing or taking your time during a first draft will take you the same amount of time to go back and fix later, and you’re technically not wrong. But in this context, if you’re trying to increase your writing productivity (writing more words, ideally in less time), save the editing. Just get the story out.
Time is extremely difficult to manage. There’s a lot of advice for writers out there, but that doesn’t always make it any easier to figure out.
Start here. Start by eliminating the time-wasters, or at the very least, reorganizing your time so that you give yourself distraction-free blocks of time dedicated to straight writing only. If there’s a particular productivity issue you’re struggling with, let me know — maybe I can help.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.