Time Management for Writers

I usually push chores aside, or do them halfway, to carve out time to write. Knitting fits into the small moments of the day, like waiting at the preschool for pickup. A project is easy to pick up and put back down (usually).

A friend with two kids recently showed me her silverware drawer. To save time, she decided to throw out the plastic insert. Now she just dumps the forks, spoons and knives in there willy-nilly. Her new system saves a few minutes every time she unloads the dishwasher, and it’s still easy enough to find the utensils she needs.

That got me thinking. What changes can I make to my daily routine to eke out a little more novel-writing time during the day?

Before becoming a mom, I set aside long blocks of time to work on my book. Having kids has forced me to work in 15- or 30-minute segments, usually during naps or first thing in the morning before anyone wakes up. Anything beyond that is a bonus!

It’s impossible to gauge exactly how much time I’ll have during a writing session. An expected 8 a.m. wakeup time might turn into 6:30 or 7 on any given day. So instead of waiting for a good long break, I plunge in and start. I don’t bother with optimal writing conditions any more, because they so rarely occur.

It’s freeing to train oneself to write in small, productive bursts. I prefer to work at 10 a.m., with caffeine and no noise, for two or more hours. But I don’t need that kind of setup. I can get something done between shoveling bites of cereal in my mouth and that first “Mom!” or “Waaah!” call. Although caffeine always helps.

I fit knitting into my life one row at a time. It often takes weeks to complete a small project. That’s sort of how I’m feeling about my novel right now. I’m aiming to do a little novel work every day. A few new sentences, some edits, or even reading James Wood’s HOW FICTION WORKS all count. It feels great to be writing consistently again, even though it’s slow and the luxurious 2-hour blocks are scarce. I could certainly use more time, but I’ll take what I can get and do my best to use it wisely.

Back to my friend and her silverware drawer, we all make time to write.  What are some of your life shortcuts? Have you given up any activities to devote more time to writing? If you’re a parent, how do you squeeze in your writing time?

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1bhaB-AR

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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29 Responses to Time Management for Writers

  1. Yuvi says:

    Love this, Laura! I’ve used that silverware trick before as well. But I also think the basic mindset you’ve discussed is essential as a parent or really for anyone juggling big responsibilities alongside the writing.

    • Did that trick work for you, Yuvi? I’m afraid I’d stab my finger with the knives, but I love the ingenuity of doing away with an extra step. Very true that parents and others with major workloads or responsibilities need to prioritize. For me the hardest part of being a writer-parent is how the kids’ schedules are so unpredictable.

  2. Emma says:

    I’ve hardly put any time aside to work on my own material so far this year. I think I’ve been putting too much time into my blog posts. Something is going to have go give if I want to keep writing fiction. I”m going to have to find my own little shortcut I think Laura.

    • I hear you on the blog thing, Emma! Writing regular posts can easily usurp time that was once reserved for fiction. If you come up with a workable shortcut, please share! I’m actually considering a short hiatus to get my revisions jumpstarted. But that doesn’t solve the dilemma.

  3. Like you, I gotta take it when I can get it. I’m not, however great at writing in short bursts, so I use those few free minutes during
    The day to write blogs. Evenings after the kids are in bed are when I work on the WIP. Thankfully, the hubster is super understanding an always willing to give me a couple hours alone. I used to sew, a lot, but that’s gone far, far to the wayside. I miss it, tho, a ton!

    • Thank goodness for understanding husbands! And it’s great that you can write at night, Myndi. That’s the one thing I can’t do very well–my brain goes to mush and I do like my sleep…

  4. tAmArA [_] says:

    The silverware thing … I don’t know if I’m down with that level of chaos. Isn’t that how the tines of forks get bent? From stronger hands than mine rummaging around violently for a dessert spoon?

    Here’s what I do: skip showers, don’t make the bed, don’t do laundry, eat meals at the computer, decline lunch dates … oh wait, that’s because I’m a slob. I have plenty of time for writing. I just don’t do those things because I’m lazy. 🙂

    But seriously, here’s my new trick: Instead of reading in bed, I bring my paper notebook to bed and write a few pages of my WIP, which I then type up in the morning. Strangely, this leads to better sleep and a lack of plot-related nightmares, though I do get some words swirling as I drift off.

    • I’m unnerved by the idea of bent forks, Tamara. More likely I’d spear myself with one of those tines, or gasp, accidentally grab a spoon for an obviously fork-centric meal. I love your list of what doesn’t get done, Tamara! I don’t remember the last time I made my bed.

      The idea of writing in bed is a brilliant one. I do better in the morning, so it’d be fun to wake up and write longhand for a few minutes. Your transfer from handwritten at night to typed in the morning is interesting. Do you edit as you type?

      • tAmArA [_] says:

        I won’t edit during the first draft (hard rule!) Writing a couple pages at night is a totally new thing I’m doing and I’ll admit I’ve added a few sentences the next morning.

        • Wow, you’re one of the no edits folks. I admire that! I’m a constant reviser to the point that people ask if my first draft is really a first draft. Sometimes I overpolish, and it’s hard to figure out what’s not working.

  5. Emma Burcart says:

    I have given up completely on cleaning. Now I pay someone else to do it so I don’t have to worry about it. I get up early in the mornings and write before the day job. I need my sleep, so I go to bed very early. I basically give up on my evenings for writing. Great post!

    • Having someone clean for you sounds like a lovely solution, Emma! I’m with you about sleep–I don’t work well at night and prefer having a full night of zzs before trying to write.

  6. Jody Moller says:

    As a Mum almost all my writing is done of an evening once the kids are in bed, I find I am particularly efficient when hubby is on night shift (why is it that he only wants to have a conversation when I am knee deep in edtis?) I am fortunate though that time is starting to be on my side – my daughter started school a few weeks ago and my son has just started preschool so on Fridays I have a few precious, child-free hours that I am dedicating to my writing. Lucky, lucky me!

    • Wow, you’re another evening writer! Any other moms out there write at night? I just can’t seem to focus, and my 4.5-year-old isn’t a strong sleeper, so there’s still the chance of being interrupted often. Congrats on both kids being in school, Jody. That’s fantastic! We’re looking forward to kindergarten this fall, but the little one won’t be in school for quite some time.

  7. Natasha says:

    Have you given up any activities to devote more time to writing?
    Unfortunate for me..it has been a full nights sleep. this has been my sacrifice. Not a good one but necessary to get my writing in.

    • Good question, Natasha! The only other activity that’s important in my life is knitting, and I fit it in during the day, a little at a time, as I mentioned, plus it’s a great reason to go out and see friends once a week (knit night). If I have a block of kid-free time, I don’t use it to knit; I write. Chores get pushed aside but I eventually get back to them.

      Sleep is overrated, right? Hmm. (Maybe.) We used to say that a lot to each other when our daughter was born. She had her days and nights mixed up for months.

  8. This is such a great post, Laura; I can relate. Since having my second child in August I’ve become more serious about writing, and strangely more productive, even though with two kids under three I technically have far less time than I ever did.

    I’m also an evening writer. Before I had kids, I worked most productively in the morning, but that has shifted somehow. Now, I work best in that wonderful hour after the dishes are done, before I get too tired to think! My husband also comes home from work an hour early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, allowing me more precious writing time then.

    Like you, I’ve had to come to grips with working in shorter spurts. The hidden blessing is that sometimes leaving a piece of writing “in progress” leaves me more motivated to get back to it, and more primed to find inspiration in daily life.

    • It’s amazing how having kids can increase productivity. My favorite expression of that idea is Yuvi Zalkow’s presentation on time management, http://yuvizalkow.com/presentations/failed2/, and I recommend checking it out if you haven’t seen it.

      Perhaps I should try evening writing. I find my brain gets so squishy after a full day! But mornings are so dependent on kiddo wakeups. What you said about leaving work unfinished rings so true for me. I get really focused on getting back to the page if I leave in the middle of working on something.

      • Laura, I love the presentation! It is right on target– everything he says, I’ve experienced. Funny! Thanks for sharing.

        • So glad you checked it out, Sarah! Yuvi’s presentations are all wonderful; click around when you have the time! His time management presentation came out when I found out I was pregnant, and it was the most perfect message when I was starting to worry about how life would change.

        • yuvizalkow says:

          Thanks for watching the presentation, Sarah! (And thanks for suggesting it, Laura.) I also learned how to write in shorter spurts when my toddler was born. Such a valuable trick. I keep trying to help everyone (with or without kids) to learn this habit. Pretty much anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of writing all day long (and who does?) can benefit from learning how to write between all the other things… Good luck with your writing!…

          • Thanks, Yuvi! You bring up a great point– no matter who you are, you need to be able to write “between all the other things.” I think having all those other things probably enriches our writing anyway.

  9. I’m really a morning writer myself, but I do a bit of blogging late at night. It’s mostly about keeping my backside in the chair and my hands on the keyboard long enough to get it done. Even though I don’t have young children at home now, you’d be surprised at all the ways I can find to distract myself from writing such as a silverware drawer that needs washing out in addition to reorganizing.

    • It’s so easy to find distractions–or perhaps they find us! I think that’s one positive about having little ones and so little time. I have to focus in my short bursts of time or I’ll never write anything. I love the idea of blogging at night; I can’t seem to write fiction then, but writing a post takes a different kind of mental energy. I’ll have to try that.

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  11. I comment on other blogs while I’m doing other things, like riding buses or being in the car. I make my calls while I’m walking. I throw laundry in while I’m dressing. I make breakfast while I’m making lunch. Recycle the junk mail before coming inside. No other way to do it!

    • Hurray for multitasking! I love the idea of making two meals as long as you’re in the kitchen. I do that for my daughter on lunch bunch days, and I should try it with my meals, too.

  12. Lisa says:

    Laura, this is one of the best blog posts I’ve read in awhile! “I don’t bother with optimal writing conditions any more, because they so rarely occur.” That is the secret, isn’t it? (I need to return to knitting.)

    • It’s so true, Lisa! I do miss the “good old days” after college when I could write for a four-hour block with tea in my favorite oversized mug, but I’m a more focused writer now. It’s amazing what you can do in 15 minutes if that’s all the day gives you!

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