It’s no secret writers are busy people. Our lives have become fast-paced and demanding to the degree we are constantly juggling one thing or another. Sometimes, it may feel like a toss-up between our tasks and our writing.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. We can strike a balance and get more writing done. The trick is to manage our time effectively by understanding that time management is and will always be an ongoing process.
In a previous blog, “How Writers Can Balance Their Writing and Other Responsibilities?” I discussed the importance of factoring in who writers are now, the roles they play, and the responsibilities they have to figure out the best times to write. I recommend reading the blog before moving forward if you are serious about leveraging your time as a writer.
Once you have identified your best times to write, the next step is to figure out how to manage the time you have set aside to write. After all, your goal is to be as productive as possible every single time you sit down to write, right? Of course, it is!
Typical articles about time management usually tell writers to set realistic goals, create a schedule, and prioritize their tasks. While this is good advice, they neglect to inform you there are five important steps you must take to have a successful writing session every time. I don’t know about you, but my time is precious, and I need to be productive whenever I write.
Here are 5 tips for managing your time as a writer.
Tip 1: Decide on the Writing Task/Project
Since our time is precious, we don’t want to waste a single minute of it. After you have defined the time frame for your writing (the minutes or hours you will write), you need to pick the writing task you will complete.
You need to decide what your writing task will be in advance. Don’t wait until it’s time to write and think the words will flow easily. Minutes, possibly most of your time, will quickly disappear while you stare at the blank screen. We all have faced the dreaded blank screen at one point or another.
While I can’t say it won’t ever happen again, I can say you can minimize the death stare with a little preparation. In advance, think about the goal you want to complete. Do you want to write a poem, a blog, or a short story? Perhaps you want to work on a chapter or two of your novel.
This is where you need to be very selective and understand who you are. Don’t plan to create all your character sketches for your novel during your thirty-minute writing session if you know it typically takes you days, maybe weeks, to develop them. You are setting yourself up to fail.
Instead, pick a writing task you can realistically complete in the time you have set aside. Here is an example. If I know I plan to write for forty-five minutes on Tuesday, I might set a goal to edit one blog and craft an outline of another. Because I know myself and my abilities, I know I can complete my writing task in the allotted time and feel a sense of accomplishment when I mark it off my to-do list.
Does that mean you can’t work on a larger project if you only have a small amount of time? No. Managing your time means you can work on anything if you work smarter, not harder. Say you want to write a novel but only have an hour or less a day. That’s fine. We are busy people, after all. You should set small goals for each writing session, such as brainstorming ideas, writing an outline, drafting the first scene, and so on. This way, you feel a sense of accomplishment with each win and you’re using your time wisely.
Establishing your writing task in advance will help you avoid writer’s block and propel you forward during your writing session. So, what writing project do you plan to complete? Be realistic about how much time you will have and can accomplish within that time frame.
Tip 2: Decide Where You Will Write
Location. Location. Location. The place you decide to craft your masterpiece matters! I have a few go to locations that are my favorites. However, depending on the day and time, they may not be plausible. I love writing at my local coffee shop, but the odds of me getting a table during lunch hour is highly unlikely.
The reason you want to decide on a location in advance is so you can make sure the location is available and is the right one for you. Don’t bank on writing at your work or home office if you know people will constantly interrupt you. Don’t assume your favorite table or booth will be available at the last minute. Taking the time to plan this step will go a long way for you to leverage your writing time effectively.
So, here is what you need to do. Before your planned session, check out your location. If the location is outside your home, visit the area around the time you plan to go. Can you reserve a spot in advance? Sometimes, I like to write in one of the quiet rooms at the library. You can reserve a room for an hour or two at your local library.
Scout your location to make sure it will be available and that nothing will interfere with your writing. Where do you like to write? Is it available at your scheduled time and during the full time you plan to write? What is the noise factor? Is it a quiet place or noisy?
Which do you prefer? Are there any distractions to avoid (see Step 4 for more about this one)? It’s important to spend time in your location to make sure it is accessible and comfortable. Make sure it meets all your requirements.
Tip 3: Gather Everything You Need
As writers, we often prefer to use certain tools. Whether you use a pencil, a tablet, or a computer, you must get your tools ready before you sit down to write. Sometimes, I use a notepad; other times, I use a laptop. The tools I need depend on the task and my mindset at the time.
Either way, you don’t want to waste time looking for your materials when you should be writing. You also don’t want your computer to shut down or have to search for your charger or an outlet. You and I both know that is a stalling tactic to prevent you from writing. Don’t fall for it! Focus! You want to have a successful writing session!
Whatever tools you use, they should be ready to go. Prepare your tools beforehand. Sharpen several pencils, charge your computer, etcetera. Don’t waste valuable time during your writing session to do these things. If you use a certain software program, set it up in advance. Don’t use your writing time to find or load the program you plan to use. Remember, your writing time is precious.
If you are like me, you will also need to think about snacks. I am a snacker and love to nibble on food while I write. Don’t let a rumbly tummy be the reason your writing time is interrupted. Stock your favorite snacks in advance. While you are at it, grab a bottle of water too. I am a firm believer that snack-power fuels the imagination when all else fails.
Now is the time to prep the tools you need in advance. Don’t just think about the writing tools, but also think about snacks, music, and other requirements you may have. Trust me, you will be glad you did.
Tip 4: Get Rid of Distractions
Distractions are all around us. There is always something that needs to be done, someone to talk to, and even something to watch. The possibilities are endless. I am addicted to Pinterest. Tapping on one pin will surely cause me to tap on another, and another, and another. Before I know it, thirty minutes have gone by. It is easy to get distracted.
While distractions can be useful sometimes, you don’t want them to prevent you from writing. Protect your writing time! It is valuable and the only way you will reach your writing goals. So, when it’s time to write, turn off your phone and computer notifications.
Pesky updates and email notifications can be very distracting. Put your phone on vibrate. In advance, let friends and family know you will not be available. This will encourage them to not interrupt your writing time, and you won’t feel the need to check your phone every few minutes.
You can even take things a step further. Some of my writing friends swear by website blockers because they limit their access to certain sites while they write. If you choose to use one, set it up in advance. Don’t spend your writing time figuring out how these sites work.
Tip 5: Focus on Your Mindset
This might sound like an odd tip, but everything starts with how you feel about yourself. You will have already lost the battle unless you believe in yourself as a writer. When we don’t have confidence in ourselves or our abilities, it prevents us from being a success.
Do you believe you are a writer? Do you feel you can craft a good story? Perhaps you feel you are not the right person to write the story you have in mind. If you are questioning your ability, you must debunk your negative beliefs before you write.
Unfortunately, you are not alone in this way of thinking. The reason some writers find it hard to write is they don’t believe in themselves or feel they know enough to be a success. The key to success as a writer is believing in your ability to write well and visualizing your success. If not you, who? It is your story idea; only you can write it.
Before your writing session, make time for yourself. Take five or ten minutes to clear your mind and sow positive seeds to improve your mindset.
I like to meditate, but not in the way you think. While it is ideal to meditate for thirty or more minutes a day, my weekday schedule doesn’t allow that. I suspect yours doesn’t either. Instead, I snatch a few minutes throughout the day when I am in the carpool lane at my kids’ school, the drive to and from work, and my favorite, bath/shower time.
I take a few minutes to shut my eyes (except for when I'm behind the wheel, of course) and inhale deeply. Then, I focus my energy by listening to my breathing and envision my mind clearing, going blank. I concentrate on my body as I extend different muscles and joints. I visualize my hands typing, and writing as I watch the blank page fill with row after row of words I crafted. Positive vibes surround me.
I wrap up my meditation by saying my “I Am” phrases. Depending on the day, and my needs, the phrases I say change. Right before a writing session, I might say the following words, “I am enough. I am an excellent writer. I am a successful writer. I am the only one who knows Ariya’s story. I am going to have a great writing session.”
Don't neglect this final tip; it's a significant one. There is a reason I kept it until the end. No matter how many strategies you have, if you don't have the proper attitude, you won't be a successful writer. Believe in yourself, visualize your success, and know you are a writer.
Implementing the above tips can help you leverage your time more effectively and lead to increasing your writing productivity in the long run.