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Time Management for Writers

Guest post by Zena Shapter

Time – as writers it’s probably our most precious commodity. We need it to write. We’d give anything to have more of it. We juggle it. We savour it. We devour it.

Sitting down at my computer to write, time can vanish in an instant – you know the feeling, don’t you? I’m often so deep in the world of my characters that hours can disappear, to be replaced only by words on the page (lucky page!).

These days, writers are also expected to do a lot more than write if they want their writing careers to flourish. Being heard above the noise is the name of the game and elegant promotion is key. But where do we find the time to do all that? Going to writing events such as writing festivals, book launches, talks and awards nights takes time – time away from our writing. Getting on social media, writing blog posts and chatting with fans takes time too. How do we put our writing first, yet also stay on track connecting with fans online and in the flesh?

Here are some basic tips:

  1.  Know roughly what you’re going to do with individual slots of time. Many years ago, I used to be a lawyer and lawyers (generally) have to account for their time every six minutes. Every – six – minutes. It’s the only way to charge clients fairly for time spent on their cases. That said, lawyers can’t simply spend as much time as they like on each case, they also have to be wary of whether their client would be willing to pay for the work done. The same is true of promoting yourself as a writer. How much time are you willing to spend away from actual writing in order to promote yourself? Decide in advance what seems fair to you, then stick to that time slot. For the rest of your writing time – write!
  2.  Don’t get distracted! The internet is a dark and dangerous place. For this reason, and because I can’t trust myself (after all, I am part-cyber), I write far away from the internet. What easily distracts you? Are you tempted by housework or the television? If so, write somewhere you can’t see it! Your writing time is precious, remember – so treat it with the respect it deserves.
  3.  Be an artist. Even when you’re not writing, give yourself permission to be an artist. Artists are renown for being obsessed with their craft, for thinking deeply and extracting life experiences for use in their art. Does that sound like you? It should! And that’s okay. Take down notes when inspiration strikes, even if you’re at a dinner party! Memorise the things people say in cafés, in arguments or on the bus. Then, when you come to write, you’ll be able to use your writing time more efficiently. You’ll saturate it with life lived and duly noted 😉
  4.  Clear your mind of other obligations. I do this by keeping a to-do list and an up-to-date calendar (a paper one, if you must know). I’m constantly shuffling around my priorities, so that I can juggle effectively. But staying organised in this way also helps free my mind for when I write. The only thing I want on my mind when I sit down to write is my character and what they’re going to do about the mess they’re in. So do yourself a favour, and keep both a to-do list and a note of when everything on your list needs to be done.
  5.  Find hidden opportunities to write. For example, have you tried writing while in transit? I don’t drive (yes, yes, stop rolling your eyes!), so try to squeeze in extra writing time as I travel from place to place. I do get motion sickness, but it’s not so bad if I sink down in my seat until I can’t see anything passing by outside. Try it!
  6.  Be selective with your self-promotion. You don’t have to do everything all at once – pick and chose. When it comes to social media, for example, pick your favourite and stay most up-to-date on that. I love my blog and facebook page (come visit me at www.facebook.com/ZenaShapter!), so I’m always on those. If I don’t manage to reply to people on Twitter or Google+ for a while, I forgive myself. You should too. Don’t spend too much time on your business instead of in it.
  7. Finally, get yourself an understanding family, who gives you guilt-free writing time. There’s enough obstacles in your way as it is, so once you have that time to write, don’t reproach yourself for enjoying it. Don’t think about the time you should be spending with your children, your parents or your partner. Just give yourself permission to be with your characters, and get writing!

Good luck!

3 Thoughts on “Time Management for Writers

  1. Joanne M McCarron on May 15, 2014 at 8:19 am said:

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks for posting this; thanks Zena. Some very helpful tips. Especially about deciding how much time to spend on writing and promotion and being selective about self-promotion.

    Kind regards,
    Joanne

  2. An understanding family is absolutely essential if you ask me, especially as my books, ultimately, are for them. My wife enjoys (almost) everything I write, and my children (5 and 9) urge me to write because they love the books aimed at them. My 9 year old actually wants to become a film director so he can make films of my books, and although the 5 year old is too young at present for any of my writing, he knows their basic premises and knows they have been written FOR him.

    I also agree completely with the hidden opportunities to write point. Internet distraction is a nightmare too. Speaking of which, time to end this comment.

  3. I know I said different on facebook, but I really did read this, and it is very good. 🙂

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