Time is a commodity of which I never have enough. Maybe you’re like me. I am constantly pulled between opposing forces as they try to steal my time. There is always more to be done than I can squeeze into one day. And I’ve taken pains to pare down my life to just the basics, which is why I have a feeling that many of you are even busier than I am. I feel your struggle.
In my own struggle to find balance and satisfaction, I’ve found several key things that greatly help make the most of my writing time. These are the top six:
If you have a scheduled deadline, such as a blog post, don’t wait until the last minute. I’m as bad as anyone at ignoring looming posts until the night before and then frantically trying to come up with a topic. This is not the best way. You’ll be piling unnecessary stress on yourself. And often the pressure of not allowing enough time for an idea to fully develop makes writing even tougher. I find that when I procrastinate, my posts usually take longer to write. Avoid it like the plague.
2. Editing As You Go
I know it’s tempting, but try to avoid getting hung up on the little issues when you write. No one gets it perfect the first time, and that’s okay. That’s what a second (and third, and fourth) draft is for. Rereading what you’ve written stops the flow. It’s a distraction that takes you out of writing mode and puts you into “fix it” mode. And it’s not helpful for getting words on the page. Remind yourself that there will be time to go back and tweak things later.
3. Over Committing Because of Guilt or Obligation
To make time for the important things, you have to cut out the things that aren’t as important. Step back for a minute and evaluate the activities in your life. The way I see it, there are two crucial categories: serving others and investing in your own purpose. Cutting either one for the sake of the other would have disastrous results. Instead, pinpoint the things that don’t fit into either of these categories. Surfing the web doesn’t benefit either one. Neither does going to a social function for the sake of obligation (if you’re going for your own enjoyment, that’s a different story).
As for serving others: I’ve learned to check my motivation before I commit to something. Serving others is important. Crucial, even. But it has to come freely, from the heart, not from guilt or from letting others take advantage of you.
As for investing in my art: If I’m going to a social function for the sake of being “seen” or because “everyone else is going,” that’s not good enough anymore. If going doesn’t either grant me a needed reprieve or contribute to my creative growth, it’s more efficient for me to use that time to work on my craft. I only go to the things that I really enjoy.
Planning what you are going to write about ahead of time is a huge lifesaver, whether you’re keeping up with a blog or writing a novel. Having a plan gets rid of the blank page syndrome. If you blog, make a list of possible blog topics with a few points under each. If you’re writing a book, a chapter outline of the plot will guide your way, keeping you moving when you sit down to work. (Simple or detailed, something is better than nothing.) When you’ve planned it out ahead of time, the writing flows much faster.
I found this out during National Novel Writing Month. I’d done a great deal of pre-writing, but hadn’t finished the outline before November hit. When I started writing, words flowed with surprising swiftness – until I hit the dead end on my outline. From that point on, it was a tough, uphill struggle. Do yourself a favor and figure out as much as you can before you start.
5. Schedule Large Chunks of Time Whenever Possible
I aim to write daily. Consistency is key to success. That said, with my lifestyle and family obligations, I’m not able to get more than a couple hours in an average day. I don’t have eight hours a day to dedicate to my craft.
The problem with writing a little every day is the time it takes to gear up and get into the “zone.” By the time I’m there and the words are flowing, it’s almost time to wrap things up. That’s why I make a point to schedule large chunks of writing time whenever I can. This is aside from my daily writing time – usually on the weekend when I can get out of the house for a while. Often my most productive writing time comes from those sessions when I sequester myself and just zone in on the project.
6. Treat Your Craft Like Work, Not Leisure
If you’re like me, you’re writing in your spare time because you enjoy it, not because you’re paid. You may have a full time job, or a family to care for or other obligations that keep writing from being your main focus. And that’s fine. But if you want to get published (or have a highly profitable blog), then your aim is for writing to be your job. Why not start treating it like serious business instead of a hobby, even this early in the game?
When I had an office job, I sat down at my desk and I knew what I had to do. There was no wasting time on Facebook, getting distracted by chores or saying, “Eh, I don’t feel like it today.” I was there for a purpose and I was accountable for my time.
Even though I might be considered a “part-time” writer by my hours weekly, I view writing as my job (one of several). I’ve even started keeping timesheets for my own record. I log the date, hours spent, project and wordcount. This is key because time often disappears without me getting anything consequential done. Filling out a timesheet is a way for me to make sure I’m being productive.Respect yourself enough to take your projects seriously.
Treat your art like a job and maybe someday it will become one.