Are you a writer? Do you struggle with time management?
Here’s a better question: Do you feel like you aren’t making the time to write, even though you know you technically could, and you’re so frustrated by this knowledge that you’ve started seeking Google, Fixer Of All Problems, for the solutions to your woes?
I may not be a published novelist or make money blogging or be considered a writing “expert.” But I have officially written almost 700,000 words so far in 2019, out of a target 1 million, and GOSH DARN IT FELLOW WRITERS DO I HAVE SOME TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS FOR YOUR DESPERATE EYES.
Make a list of things you want to have time for but don’t (right now).
You know what I would love to do? Spend an entire day playing Minecraft in my pajamas with a Star Wars marathon in the background. I got excited goosebumps just imagining it. Not because I will never get to have another day like this, but because there simply isn’t room in my life for one. At least, not right now.
I also love to imagine all the projects I would work on if I had more time to work on more projects. All the videos and podcasts I would make, all the things I would fill my days with if I had time to spare.
At the moment, I just don’t.
Time is limited. We only have so much of it, and we’re never going to learn how to manage it properly if we keep filling it with things that aren’t priorities — things we really, really want to do RIGHT NOW, but can afford to put off to the side until more room in our lives opens up.
If you want to “master” time management as a writer, you have to start by admitting to the things you just can’t do right now. Physically list out, on paper, the projects or tasks or hobbies you will get to someday, but not today. Video games. Star Wars marathons (unless it’s, heh, kind of your job?). Podcasts. You know. All the things.
Think of this as giving yourself permission not to do the things you’ve told yourself a thousand times not to keep putting off. Some people put way too much pressure on themselves to be and do everything. That’s not productive. It’s definitely not healthy. And it’s going to take valuable time away from things that are, at least currently, more important. Like, you know, writing.
Saying “someday” to things you want to do isn’t lazy, it isn’t irresponsible, and it doesn’t mean you will never get around to doing them.
Make a list of things you can do less of to make more time for writing.
For a long time, I have been saying I “don’t have time” for creating a weekly email newsletter. There are plenty of other reasons I haven’t made one, and a few reasons I’m not quite ready to launch one (but more details on that to come — fingers crossed). But saying I “don’t have time” to write a few hundred words of encouragement and paste a bunch of links into a template isn’t a reason. It’s an excuse.
Writing a weekly email newsletter is something I have wanted to try doing again for over a year now. (This blog used to have one, but I didn’t know how to do it right and it was terrible, so I let it die.) Feeling as though I don’t have time to start one up again — and do it well — doesn’t mean I don’t have room in my schedule. It means there might be something I can “swap out” in order to make that room.
Twitter is currently what comes to mind when I think about things I could afford to give up in order to use my time more productively — e.g., for more writing. It’s not that I need to quit Twitter completely. At some hours of the day, there are just more important things than getting distracted by Star Wars Twitter drama. (It exists.)
Think of all the things you could accomplish if you spent less time on Twitter, or Facebook, or playing video games, or watching football, I don’t know what you do with your life outside of writing — just pick something.
You really could do more writing if you cut back on some of your other “things.” I’m not saying “quit cold turkey” here. I don’t believe in that, at least in this context. You don’t have to give up the things you love to achieve your dreams. You just have to do less of the less important things. And just because they are technically less important now does not mean they can’t be more important later. Priorities can, and do, shift.
Plan out what you’re going to work on and when.
I know, I know. Many writers do not like to plan ahead. And in many cases, there’s no reason why people who don’t like to plan should feel like they have to.
But when it comes to overall writing productivity, even pantsers can learn to plan — that is, people who prefer not to outline anything in their writing lives and just “wing it” can learn to be selectively spontaneous.
Let’s get real: The idea of writing only when inspiration hits you unexpectedly, sending you scrambling for your laptop in hopes of catching an idea before it passes you by, is extremely romantic. And even though this kind of spontaneous creation does happen, if you want to get to a point where you can fit writing into your schedule no matter what might be going on in your life, you have to do a little planning.
Everyone is different, and every writer benefits from different “levels” of planning. Some set a word count goal for the week and casually chip away at it as the days go on. Others need to know ahead of time that they are going to wake up at 6:00, start writing at 6:30, finish writing at 7:15, and get on with the rest of their days.
How much you plan really depends on what your individual writing goals are. But do try to have some kind of plan in place. Even if you don’t end up following it to the hour, you’re still increasing your chances of actually following through on a goal if you have some kind of roadmap.
You decided earlier this week that on Thursday night at 8:00, you were going to sit down at your desk and write for one hour. It seemed like a great idea at the time — you were even looking forward to it.
But now it’s Thursday night at 8:00, a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy has just ended, you’re heartbroken, you don’t want to function … but you promised yourself you would sit down and spend an hour writing. Should you still write, even though you really … REALLY … don’t feel like it?
Here’s the truth: Sometimes when you have things that need to be written — whether they are just for you or you are writing them with the intention of sending something off to someone else — you have to sit down and write them whether it’s the most desirable thing in the world or not.
Sometimes, you just have to show up. Do your best. Make the most of the situation you’re in.
Don’t waste the time you’ve set aside for writing complaining about how you don’t feel you have enough time for writing, or the energy required for writing, or even the desire to write. Just show up and write. Make the words happen, do the work, do the best you can.
“Just write anyway” has ended up being a much more controversial topic than I ever expected — people don’t like the idea of writing when they’re in a bad mood or tired or stressed because “what if the writing turns out bad?” I just don’t agree with the assumption that the sun has to be shining in order for you to get anything done. In my experience, you feel much more “sunny” when you get your writing done and can move on to other things.
Schedule breaks and time off — and remind yourself you’re doing a good job.
Breaks are important. Time off is important. Taking care of yourself IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.
But if you’re anything even remotely like me, you’re absolutely terrible at taking breaks. The idea of not working — not writing — is so much more exhausting and painful than actually doing the work.
Problems arise when you work too hard and don’t make time for playing.
Notice I said “make time.” Not “relax only when you’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open and you barely know what day it is.” Not “rest when you’re all caught up on your work.” Not “only slow down when you’re finally ahead.” Make time for rest, as in, put it in your schedule and make sure it happens no matter what.
This might mean you physically have to write “relax” somewhere in your planner so you will actually do it and cross it off. I do this all the time, and most days, it actually works. There isn’t always going to be someone around to remind you to give your brain and body much-deserved breaks.
Making down time part of your routine is going to help you make better use of your work time, whether you realize it now or not. Imagine starting a writing session immediately after you just got off a ten hour shift — sure, sometimes you don’t have a choice, but it’s definitely not a pleasant experience. You have to give yourself room to breathe, and your brain room to process everything you’ve shoved into it.
That way, when you do start writing, you’re much less likely to spend the first ten minutes of your allotted writing time scrolling through Twitter, thinking about how tired you are, wishing you could take a break, wondering if you will ever end a day not feeling like you want to quit …
And finally … give yourself a pat on the back every once in a while. Reward yourself with a break, with a toast, with some kind words, with some of your favorite things. Positive reinforcement works even when it’s coming from yourself. Learn to associate a job well done with good things, and your brain will start to recognize that when you do the work you said you were going to do, you will feel good. It does not easily forget.
Be kind to yourself. Plan ahead as best you can. Be honest about what you want, what you need, and what you can and can’t handle right now. Do the best you can today, even if it isn’t YOUR best. Use the time you are given, and don’t forget to remind yourself it’s all going to be worth it someday.
You got this.
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.