Friday, July 17, 2009

Time Management for Writers

One of the biggest challenges that writers face is simply finding the time to sit down and, well, write. In fact, ask a group of wannabe writers why they haven't started the process and the majority of them will say, "I don't have time."

This could very well be the case. Demands of a spouse, kids, job, church activities, or any other volunteer commitments definitely put a strain on our schedules. But if writing is truly what you love to do more than anything, you'll find the time to fit it in between your other commitments.

I admit that I don't have many of the demands that most writers have. I'm single, have no kids, and I have a job that I leave behind at 4:30 every day--I don't have the type of job where I need to bring work home or put in extra hours at the office. But I do have a full-time job, go to grad school part-time, serve as president of my local writer's group, and have to fit in interviews and research time for articles and projects in between all of that. Oh, and there are those family events and alone time with the b.f. that I like to include, too.

But it can be done, even with a jam-packed schedule. Below are a few tips to help you say "I don't have the time to write" a bit less often.

  • Work backwards from your deadlines. If you're already churning out articles, try to get a definite deadline from your editor. If they don't have set deadlines (and some don't), set one for yourself and notify the editor when you expect to have the piece finished. This way, you're obligated to both the editor and yourself to put in the time needed to get the piece done. Set a timeline for research, interviews, and actual writing time working back from the deadline you've established so you leave yourself enough time to get each stage completed. You may feel less overwhelmed or stressed, too.

  • Develop a daily or weekly to-do list. This practice above all others has helped me stay on track with my goals and commitments. If you have more than one project going on at a time, work on them a little at a time. Include tasks for following up with editors, emails to sources, questions about photos, etc.

  • Set aside some time each day to write. Even if you can only spare an hour, make the most of it. If you work better in the early mornings, get up a bit earlier to get some tasks accomplished. I find that I get a lot of little things (emails, etc.) finished around 10 p.m. I prefer early Saturday and Sunday mornings for my actual writing time, and find that I feel this great sense of productivity all day! If you have kids, steal some time when they're napping, at their friends', or otherwise occupied.

  • Cut what you can out of your schedule. If you have kids and are used to chauffeuring them here and there, maybe you can work out a carpooling schedule with another parent. Or maybe you can arrange for a baby-sitter for your kids one or two nights a week. Look at your various volunteer activities--are you devoting as much of yourself as you can, or are you simply spread too thin as it is? Perhaps you need to reduce your time commitments, or just need to say "No" more often. You'd be surprised how much time saying "No" a little more frequently will free up!

  • Make the most of lunch breaks. Since I share an office, and work in fairly close quarters with the rest of the staff at work, I'm limited with my time during the day. This makes for tricky business when I have to schedule interviews or talk to folks during the workday. I do my best to schedule phone interviews during my lunch break, when I can have some time out of the office. As a last resort, I email questions to my sources. I much prefer face-to-face interviews, but obviously, geography is often a huge obstacle. As most writers will agree, the majority of interviews are done over the phone.

How do you manage your time when it comes to writing? Do you get it all in?

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