Friday, April 22, 2016

Finding Time to Write

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

On Wednesday, I talked about balancing work and writing. I’d like to follow that up with some specifics about how to find the time to make writing a priority.

We often have more time in our days than we think, but a lot of our free time gets lost without us seeing it slip away. The most productive people I’ve ever met in my life have also been those with the busiest schedules—not in a “they do more each day” way, but they have a lot to do so they schedule and plan for it, and make better use of the time they have.

If you’re trying to find time in your schedule to write, try this:

Step One: Track Your Week

For the next week, write down everything you do each day and the time it takes you to do it (and that includes X minutes per day to write down what you do -grin-). It doesn’t have to be to the minute, just keep a record of where your time is going.

You probably don’t realize where your time sinks are (or you would have plugged them by now), and this will help you find them. Use a notepad, your phone, or whatever is easy to keep with you.

It’s okay to be general for larger tasks such as “work: four hours” or “helped kids with homework: 45 mins.” For example, you might label “work” or “kids to bed” as one task, but separate the TV shows and time per show you watch, as work and kids can’t change, but cutting back on TV can.

Step Two: Examine Your Week

Once you have your data, study it to see where your time is going. Are you spending a lot more on email or social media than you thought? Are you working more on marketing your books than writing them? Are you watching too much TV? Go through your week and ask:
  • Where are my biggest time sinks?
  • What tasks are taking too much time to complete?
  • What tasks are critical? 
  • Where are there holes in my schedule?

After you get a good feel for what your week looks like, move on to…

Step Three: Adjust Your Schedule

This could be a rough step, so don’t worry if you have to make hard choices. But for many, this can be liberating because you’ll see where your time is slipping away and where your writing time can come from.

Go through your schedule and cut back on what isn’t important, or reorganize tasks to be more effective.

Here are some tips on things to look for:

Recurring small or “easy” tasks spread out over the entire day: Checking email or social media feels like it only takes a minute, but it disrupts our train of thought, and takes time to do. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of the day, if that happens four times a day it’s an hour lost.

Daily tasks that don’t need to be done daily: If it doesn’t have to be done every day, let it slide. Figure out how often you really need to handle that task and plan accordingly.

Tasks that take 15 minutes or less: Small time wasters turn into a lot of lost time. Many of these we can eliminate from our routine, or we can set aside some time each day (or every other day) and take care of them all at once.

Tasks that take over two hours: Things that take a lot of time are good candidates for an efficiency checkup. Are you being the most effective with this task? Could you streamline the process so it takes less time? If this is the task that’s exhausting you so you can’t write, can you break it into smaller more manageable chunks?

Tasks that require waiting: Long commutes, picking up kids at school, sitting in waiting rooms—these could all be used to either write, or do some of those tasks that eat up your writing time.

Empty time: Odds are you’ll find small bits of time throughout the day where you’re done with one task and it’s not time to start the next. These are also good candidates to use for tasks that eat into writing time, or good times to take breaks so you’ve got the energy when you need it.

After you’ve analyzed your week and made adjustments, determine if you have the time you need or if more is required. If reorganization isn’t quite enough, consider getting up (or staying up) an hour early each day, or even just a few times per week.

(Here's more on the value of ten minutes)

Tips on Finding Time to Write

Much of finding time to write is about time management skills. Know what you need to do, want to do, and have to do, and schedule them according to their priority.

Group similar tasks: Getting started and wrapping up a task takes time, so spreading it out all day unnecessarily duplicates the work. Set aside half of what you spend each day and do this task all at once. For example, if you spend an hour checking social media over the day, plan to check it for 30 minutes once per day.

Prioritize email: This is a huge time sink for me, so I split email into two tasks. I set aside 15-30 minutes to handle the time-sensitive and important emails first, and leave the rest until I have time. Sometimes they sit for a day or two and that’s okay. If you have a habit of getting sucked unto email, try looking at it after your writing is done.

Set aside specific days to deal with non-critical tasks: Some things we have to do right away or by the end of the day, but others can be done once or twice a week (like non-critical emails). Marketing and blogging can often be handled a few times a week instead of daily.

Take 15 minutes in the morning to energize the muse: Plan what you want to write that day, so you’ll be both prepared when the writing time comes, and anticipating it until it arrives. You’ll want to write, so the odds of you doing it go up.

Don’t forget the breaks: Pushing yourself all day long is exhausting, so take breaks throughout the day. It might seem counterintuitive to finding time, but if you’re always too exhausted to write, giving yourself a little downtime could leave you more rested when your writing time rolls around.

Say no to things you don’t have time for: This is a classic time-saver for everyone. We often take on more than we need to, and it eats into what we want to do. This also holds true for things such as TV or even reading. Yes, writers need to read, but if that book is keeping you from yours, maybe cut back while you’re finishing that manuscript.

Turn time wasters into time savers: If you have times during your day where you’re waiting or stuck in traffic, consider how you might use this time to your advantage. If your work commute stinks, try getting up early or staying late and writing near your office. You skip the bad traffic and arrive about the same time anyway.

Delegate or ask for help: If there are those in your life who can and want to help, let them. Maybe the kids can handle one more chore, or you can combine writing with homework so you’re all “working” at the same time. Ask the spouse to back you up or handle things for an afternoon a week or an hour a day.

Ask, “could I be writing instead?”: Sometimes we’re just not aware of when we could be writing because we’re not thinking of that time as “writing time.” Try questioning the things you do each day and ask if that time would be better spent writing.

It can be hard finding time in our schedules to write, but we always seem to find the time for things we want to do, don’t we? As a bonus, we’ll probably become more effective overall, which can take some stress off of the rest of our week and make us happier in general.

How do you find time to write?

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. My problem is not actual time per say, it's getting in the mindset to write after an exhausting day and stresses of life... I need to get hypnotized so my mind clears to a specific song or something, if I could figure out a trick to harnessing my writing mojo on demand... Life would be gravey.

    Sadley the thing I love most and calms me ( when everything flows) turns out to cause me stress, because I can't create with aloted time.

    1. That is sad :( If you're too tired by the end of the day, would writing in the morning help? Or maybe meditation or a set "quiet time" to relax after work to get into that mindset?