Time Management Tips for Serious Authors
“We all have the same 24 hours.”
Many writers are also primary caregivers to young children or older parents. Others face mental or physical limitations. Authors with anxiety or OCD may take longer to begin a priority task. Some of us simply need more sleep than others in order to function as effectively.
These are legitimate struggles that eat into our time—limiting what we can get done in a day. A writer challenged by one or more of these, or something else, should not compare his or her output to anyone else’s. None of us should do that. Nor should we exploit our limitations as excuses not to put forth our best effort—Every. Single. Day.
You probably know about the power of visualization and the importance of setting small, attainable goals. What do you want? Picture it clearly in your mind. How will you get it? Working backward, map out a series of clearly defined goals or milestones that you can actually accomplish—not what New York Times Bestselling Author So-and-So has accomplished in equal time, but what you could reasonably achieve with the resources at your disposal, especially time.
There is no good reason to never work toward your dream. And yes, it will often feel like work. Publishing books is hard work involving a great deal of sacrifice. It’s important to recognize which of your limitations are legitimate, and which ones are simply excuses.
For instance: I would love to get 9 hours of sleep at night. I perform just as well with only 6 or 7. Every morning I wake up early is a struggle, but I get more accomplished in those quiet hours than I can get done in twice as much time during “business hours,” so I keep doing it. “I need more sleep than others” may have been true at one point in my life, but somewhere along the way it became a false limitation—my own bogus excuse not to get my butt in the chair and get to work.
I’ve learned other ways to maximize productivity, some from my own experience, but mostly from working with dozens of committed, hardworking, high-output authors who demonstrate the following methods. You’ve heard all of these before. Hear them again—and then actually do them!
- Be consistent. I can wake up early six out of seven days every week. If I miss one day, I don’t beat myself over it—maybe my body really needed the extra sleep. If I miss two days in a row, I’m officially spiraling out of the habit. I don’t beat myself up over that one either (see point #5) but I do perform a quick check: Is my goal still important? (Yes.) Does waking up early help me to achieve that goal? (Yes.) Was it just as hard to wake up at 7:30 as it’s been to wake up at 5? (YES; in many ways, it’s more difficult to wake up later.) Whatever consistent goals you’ve set—maybe 100 words a day or 1000 words a day; maybe waking up early to write or waking up early to exercise—do it consistently. Whenever possible, do it every single day.
- Make your bed. Your mother was onto something. 😊 Making your bed takes 5 minutes and the “side effects” can last all day. A made bed formally declares the day has started. You’ll feel an immediate sense of accomplishment, galvanizing your efforts to check-off greater and more meaningful tasks throughout the day. You may also start to feel “put together” and therefore ready to carry out the rest of your morning and/or pre-writing rituals. These rituals—like making your bed and then starting the coffee—prepare your mind and body for a productive day. Try to avoid adding rituals that don’t help but hinder time-management goals. (Maybe you don’t need to check your email first thing—see point #6.)
- Clear your mind. You already know regular physical activity and healthy eating contribute to both mental and physical wellness. You know that when you feel better inside and out, you can focus and work more effectively. So take care of yourself! Exercise daily. Cut down on alcohol, caffeine, and junk food. Examine which of your relationships are healthy and which ones are toxic. Take a “time out” every day to just breathe. Read before bed to promote sleep. And for the love of your writing, turn off the dang TV (and Facebook, and Instagram, and Snapchat 😉). Feels better, right?
- Tell a friend. “I want to be a writer” is an excellent dream, but don’t tell your friends that. “I’m going to write for one hour every morning” is your intentional effort to meet an established goal—and that is what you’ll share with a friend. Talking about our intentions makes them real. You can also ask your friend(s) to hold you accountable. What’s better: find someone with a similar intention and hold each other accountable. Writers’ groups (local or online) often implement systems for peer accountability—like weekly word-count check-ins. This differs from writing in groups. Writing is a solo effort and in-person groups are very distracting. Meeting other writers to hash out plot concerns and bounce around character ideas can certainly be productive and fun and even help with point #3—but writing the story is 100% on you.
- Reward yourself. Self-doubt, a splintered self-worth, and persistent depression can do little more than cripple a writer on their journey toward publication. Don’t fan that flame by punishing yourself for sleeping in late or feeling lazy one day or missing your word count goal for the week. Recognize when you stumble and resolve to do better or tweak your goals if you’re regularly falling short. But don’t verbally abuse yourself. Instead, reward yourself when you do well—when you accomplish a meaningful goal or come really close to doing so. Healthy rewards won’t compromise your continued commitment to stay mentally and physically well. Have a drink, but don’t get wasted; sleep in one day, but not for a week; take yourself out to a movie or a spa day—whatever makes you feel truly rewarded without stalling forward movement.
- Write first. I fail at this one more than any others. In fact, this very blog post is evidence of my failure to write first. Yes, it is some form of writing, and it is (hopefully) helpful to writers who read it, but it’s not the romance novel-in-progress I am committed to working on first thing. It’s not my priority; important as it may be, in this moment it’s a distraction. So is checking your email and mulling over your to-do list and catching up on Facebook. You can do those things, but first, write. Determine whatever pre-writing ritual helps you make the most of this time, and when that’s complete, just write.
These principles really work.
I have two preschool-aged children and a stack of romance novels—some I need to write, and others I need to edit. I have other friends and family (and a furry pup) who count on me in various ways. I love all of these things, but they add up to one chaotic, crazy-awesome life. Other people have lives two or three times as chaotic as mine, and their productivity overwhelms my own. How the heck do they do it? The answer: somehow. It only matters to the extent you can learn from their behaviors. Stop worrying about other writers—about other people. How will you get it done?
I examined “success stories” and inventoried my own strengths and limitations. I determined I can write a little bit most mornings between 5:30 and 7. The larger goal: to complete 2 novellas and 1 novel in 2019 (I’m ahead of schedule 😊). You might finish one book every one or two years. You might finish one book every month for six or twelve or more months. Your life might tug you in other directions for a time. Be patient when that happens. Tweak what you set out to do. Reward yourself when you do it.
My personal pre-writing ritual is: wake up at 5am, brush my teeth and start the coffee, make my bed, then fire up my computer and immediately open my manuscript file. I write until the littles wake up, about 2 hours later. I don’t plot or research. I don’t post in my writers’ groups. I don’t send chapters to beta readers. I don’t check emails or the news or social media. I don’t work on the latest post for my book-editing blog…except when I do, and when that happens, I never berate myself over it. I resolve to do better tomorrow.
And tomorrow, you can bet I’ll be indulging in one hot, frothy, delicious cinnamon latte. <3
Just do it, y’all.