RMFW Lesson #1: Time Management for Busy Writers

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
For my first installment of "Lessons from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers," I'd like to share some great information I learned during Becky Clark's "The Faster I Go, the Behinder I Get" time management class.

I know very few writers out there who DON'T struggle to find time to write.  We're spouses, parents, workers, cooks and friends, and it's exceedingly difficult to juggle all our roles while still finding time to squeak out 50,000-100,000 words through multiple drafts, query and revise, self-promote and network.

The conference's closing speaker, Allison Brennan, had the best quote of the weekend, I thought, when she said, "I can't tell you how many times someone comes up to me and says, 'I would write a novel myself if I could only find the time.' I've gotten to a point now where I simply look at them, nod and think, 'What a dumbass.'"

She went on to say that if you are really a writer, you WRITE. Not because you have time or even because you always want to, but simply because you can't imagine doing anything else.

This is where Becky Clark's lesson comes into play. She often struggles to juggle all the roles in her life, so she has come up with a great system to help her prioritize what's important and what isn't. Here are some of the tips she shared with us:

  1. A timer is your best friend. Use an egg timer or a stopwatch, and tell yourself you deserve this time. Don't compromise by focusing on anything else.
  2. Respond immediately to emails that will take you less than two minutes. If an email requires longer, schedule specific time later in day.
  3. Set your Yahoo groups or Google Alerts to a weekly digest. 
  4. Only check your phone messages at designated times and make sure your kids/spouse/parents know when that time is. Unplug when you are writing.
  5. Don't play Facebook games (they'll suck the life right out of you), and set your timer to make sure you only stay on Facebook for a specific amount of time.
  6. Bribe yourself when you hit a writing milestone. Desserts, pedicures, bubble baths... Anything you can look forward to while you're writing.
  7. When writing, make it easy to pick up where you left off. A great idea is to stop writing midsentence when you stop for the day/lunch. That will keep your head in the game until you return.
  8. Start anywhere. Lots of writers start with a scene or with the ending. Just start. 
  9. Reframe your thinking about writing. Yes, it's difficult to write a novel, but it's not TOO difficult, because people do it every day. 
  10. Determine your top priority for the day--the one thing you'd sacrifice everything else to achieve--and focus on it. If your "To Do" list won't lead you there, cross items off or re-schedule them.
  11. Tackle your hardest job first and save your favorite tasks till the end so you look forward to them.
  12. If you feel like you are being pulled in a million writing directions (writing, blogging, querying, networking, etc.), prioritize your tasks like they do in business. Ask yourself which task makes you money. If the tasks seem equal, ask yourself how long will they take. What's the return on your time investment? When's the deadline? 
  13. Learn selective perspective. Which things really need to be perfectly (query, synopsis, manuscript) and which can be good enough (housecleaning, store-bought cupcakes for bake sale)? 
  14. Multi-tasking is a myth. Don't confuse multi-tasking with doing a lot of stuff. Multi-tasking is trying to do all those things at the same time.
  15. Your brain simply can't focus on two separate things unless one of them is completely mindless. People multi-task because they're worried. Seems better to work on everything so 100% of your tasks are 50% done. But you'd feel much more in control if 50% of your tasks were 100% done and you know you have a plan to finish the other 50%.
  16. Don't confuse activity with accomplishment. Focus on one job till it's done or your time is up. Then focus on another one. 
  17. Your first defense against interruptions is education. Set aside time when people have unconditional access to you, and set aside time when you will be unavailable. Give your loved ones a head's up by saying something like, "I'm going to shut my door and write starting in about 10 minutes. Do you need anything before I go?" Be consistent and firm, and set your timer. 
  18. Don't interrupt yourself, either. When you are writing, never stop to look something up, check your blog or check your email. Don't give up momentum.
Many thanks to Becky for so many great ideas. I've already started stopping my writing in mid-sentence, and--although it drives me crazy--it DEFINITELY helps keep my head in the game.

Now, it's your turn. How do YOU juggle your time when writing??