I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the problem of making time for writing. We’re inclined to think we face the same kind of time constraints as agents except the workload originates from a different source. Balancing demands against time seems to be a constant challenge.
The complaint that crops up most often is there isn’t enough time to devote to writing because things like jobs, housework, family needs, community and sport activities, or church commitments create unavoidable interruptions.
To which I toss out the unpopular response, hogwash! Okay, I know that’s an antiquated expression, but you get my point. I know from experience if it’s important enough to you, you can make time for it.
So how do full time writers get their writing done and still manage to balance the task with everything else? After all, those twenty-four hours only stretch so far.
Here are four time management strategies to consider:
1. Organization — If you left the nine-to-five job behind and are writing from home, you may have left your desk appointment calendar behind, too. You need that calendar! There is always going to be shopping to do, library books to return and soccer games (substitute concerts, PTA meetings, doctor’s appointments, fishing trips or whatever) to attend. Life doesn’t stop just because you’ve decided to write. To create extra time you have to organize those things that eat into it. Make a list of the week’s usual activities, broken down into daily objectives. Instead of running out every time you think of something, consolidate the trips. Shuffle the not-so-vital errands to fit in around the time sensitive ones so you can accomplish them all in one efficient circuit. If you still have a day job, plan to combine as many errands as possible with your drive to and from work or on a single weekend outing. And if housework is a bane, remember that dust won’t eat the finish off your furniture. If it bothers you, enlist the help of a family member or indulge in an occasional half-day of maid service.
2. Prioritization — My husband has a favourite saying: “No is an acceptable answer.” Although men aren’t immune to it, women seem particularly prone to the Super Person complex—the need to be the perfect mother, wife, housekeeper, neighbour and employee. You have to accept that you cannot be all things to all people. Occasionally no IS an acceptable answer. Passing up a nomination or request to be the secretary of the condo management board, little league coach, or Sunday School teacher to ensure you have an extra hour or two for your writing is something you can do without guilt if you’ve taken your turn at accepting such responsibilities in the past. You should be able to say, “I’m sorry, but I have an extra work commitment this year and I can’t take on anything else.”
3. Commitment — There are three things to remember here.
- First, you won’t give yourself permission to make time for writing if you consider it a hobby that doesn’t deserve your full commitment. Making excuses for why you spend time writing stories indicates a self-esteem problem. The truth is if you don’t believe your writing is a worthwhile endeavour, nobody else is going to either. Your attitude will determine how you convey your need for time, space and privacy to friends and family and how well they respect that need. The effort you dedicate to your task, arranging for childcare if necessary, letting phone calls go to voice mail, refusing to respond to interruptions that aren’t emergencies, are all indications of how seriously you take your commitment.
- Then there’s procrastination. You can plan to write, set up a dedicated work space, read how-to books, do online research and networking, spend hours creating contest contributions and blog posts, and end the week (or month, or year) having written little if anything on your intended manuscript. It all feels like necessary preparation for the project, but in reality it is procrastination in disguise. If commitment doesn’t lead to action it’s misdirected.
- And third is the fact that once you are working with an agent or editor you will no longer have the luxury of making excuses. Establish good work habits now because when that day comes you will be writing on a schedule and to deadlines regardless of Aunt Dody’s annual visit or the baby’s colic.
4. Persistence — There will always be something that nudges you to put down your pen and abandon your projects. Whether it’s the much-maligned Muse with its infamous writer’s block, harsh critiques or enough rejection letters to paper the bottom of a lifetime of canary cages, it’s easy to let doubt creep in and wipe away publication dreams. When you are tempted to quit is the very time you must force yourself to persevere. Every published author will tell you that persistence is the key to success.
To fulfill your writing dreams you first have to decide not to let obstacles thwart you. You can’t wait until a more convenient time in your life. If you really want to write, utilize time management skills and get on with it.