One of the things I’ve learned about writing in the last few years is that you never stop learning. Whether you’ve been writing for five years or fifty, you’re never as good as you need to be and you’re never as good as you can be.
When I first starting working on fiction, a common roadblock continued to pop up and get in my way. It went something like this:
I’d sit down at the computer, start iTunes and pick out some music that would help set the mood.
I’d crack my knuckles and open up a story from my “in progress” folder. Most of these “in progress” stories were in the 150-300 word range. In other words, less than a single page filled with some scattered dialog that I had dreams would eventually lead to a setting of some sort, or–even better–develop a plot.
So I’d stare at that page for a good ten minutes or so, rewrite one or two sentences, and then close the document with no idea how to move the story forward. I’d take a quick break to check my email, refresh my drink, pick out new music, and then open another document from the folder.
I’d repeat this for a few hours, and then give up and open a new blank Word document. And you know what I would do with it? If you guessed that I would begin a new story and write 150-300 words and then save it and go to bed, you win the prize.
So what did I do to fix this problem? That’s the big mystery.
Actually, it’s not a mystery at all. In fact, it’s not even a complicated riddle. And I certainly didn’t need a time machine.
The key to becoming more productive during a writing session was to simply begin each session with a plan.
Time is infinite, but ours is not.
There’s never enough time for anything, it seems, so when you’re trying to write on a limited schedule, you can’t waste a minute of it. Not even a second. When I look back at my writing behaviors in those first two years, it’s a textbook example of time wasting.
So what I’ve done to manage time better as a writer is this: Before I sit down to write, I have two things in mind.
- How much time (approx.) do I have to write.
- What can I get done in that amount of time?
In other words, if I know I’ve got an hour, I set an attainable goal of what I can do with exactly one hour. That might be to write 500 words, edit another story for Theme of Absence, create a blog post, work on revisions, or whatever. It doesn’t matter, as long as I have an idea of what I’m going to work on before I start, the chances of getting something done go up by a thousand.
There’s another benefit to this as well, and it’s one that I didn’t foresee when I started thinking this way. I used to think that it was a waste of time to even try to write if I had less than two hours. Much of that was because I spent so much time preparing (or pretending) to write, that when I finally started, I felt like I was already falling behind. A big cause for this was that since I had no direction, I spent way too much time sitting there trying to write, just as I said at the beginning of this post.
Now, if I have fifteen minutes of free time, I jump on it.
What can I do in fifteen minutes? I can search Duotrope for a place to resubmit a rejected short story. Or I can browse QueryTracker for an agent to query. Or I can visit my Theme of Absence slush pile and read a story or two. Or I can simply brainstorm a new short story idea.
See how easy that is?
Don’t sit down to write unless you have a tangible, achievable goal in mind.
Finally, to reiterate, the biggest key to time management for writers is to be prepared. Always be prepared.
When you know exactly how much time you have to write, and have a good idea of what you can accomplish in that amount of time, you’ll get so much work done that it really will seem like you have a time machine.
So what kind of tips do you have? How do you make the most out of the time you have scheduled for writing. Feel free to share in the comments section, and thanks for reading.