Some time ago, I wrote a few articles for the Writing Community for the SFFN, of which I'm Managing Editor. I only had links to those, from here, but for practicality I've decided to bring them back home, as it were. Here is one of them.
Let’s make an assumption here: writing is your thing and not your latest fad, but it takes you a lot longer to accomplish it because you cannot keep track of time. If you are that person, then keep reading.
The lack of time management is a lethal plague, especially these days when distractions are jumping at us from all corners. At times I feel like my day is all about moving from screen to screen, phone, computer, laptop, television, tablet, rinse and repeat. Not all of those activities are work related either – the digital social life we have built for ourselves takes a big chunk off from our day. The thing is, “Business” has moved into the digital world, forcing us to follow it there (well, it was us that put it there in the first place), and if your job is “Online” there is nothing you can do to escape the screen. There’s much more I could say on this topic, but it’s not for today, so let me time manage this article and get to the point.
Picture this: Your brain tells you ‘Time to write, kiddo’. Excitedly, you go to the kitchen and brew yourself a nice cup of coffee. You then look for a snack or two (healthy or otherwise) to go with it. You stride to your den/studio/corner, good intentions still high, and turn your machine on. While that happens, you pop into the loo quickly, so you don’t have to interrupt a potential writing-spree. On your return, you sneak a cheeky wee look at Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/whatevertakesyourfancy. Ten minutes later your brain coughs politely, reminding you what you came here to do in the first place. You minimise the browser and go into your writing folder. The document is there, waiting to be opened, and you do just that. As you take in whatever words are there, the computer alerts you that a fresh message/email/text/Tweet/etc has just arrived. Of course, you need to check that – it could be truly life-shattering and NASA may need you to destroy that asteroid speeding our way. Ten minutes later your brain coughs again, this time you detect a tone of impatience. You go back to the document and restart the process of reminding yourself where you were. Your hand goes on to the coffee cup, only to realise it’s now cold. Back to the kitchen it is then. At this point there are no guarantees that when you return to your document the whole process won’t happen again, or that your brain has in fact switched off, tired of waiting for you to catch up. Sounds familiar? By the way, you do need to get up and walk about every hour or so, but that’s a different story.
Some folks are naturally better at organising their time, and some aren’t. Both however, can make use of different tools to develop this skill. So what’s out there?
The most brutal way to learn time-keeping in writing is Nanowrimo. This is a project that encourages creative writing by asking the participants to write a 50,000 words novel in one month (November). It also helps the writer to follow up their first draft with the necessary next steps. Now, I have seen friends going bat-shit crazy during November: stress levels went sky-high, divorces were threatened, friendships were broken and insanity replaced logic. It’s a serious hard ask to keep this kind of pace, but for those who make it to the end, it’s possibly one of the most rewarding feeling they’ll ever experience. If you think this could be for you, check out their website.
I’ve been writing or editing and publishing a book a year since 2011, and so for anyone in my position, it’s Nanowrimo every month, not just November. Also when I started writing, this project wasn’t around, so I did it the old way and just got on with it. The fact that I inherited a knack for time management from my Dad, along with a touch of madness (when I start a project I steamroll ahead until it’s done otherwise it interferes with my sleep *groans in desperation*), has helped me greatly, believe me.
With that said, I also like to use something that tracks my progress when I write. There are plenty apps out there that can help you with that, most of which require payments to access the funky features. I have however found my personal favourite tracking spreadsheet online, courtesy of Svenja Gosen. Using her Excel skills, Svenja has created several tracking spreadsheets as writing resources. She has built them for Nanowrimo, but also for everyday use. You can download them for free from her website, and because it’s an Excel document, you can also customise font/colour/images to suit your mood. Most Mac users these days buy the Microsoft suit for Apple, which means you can use Excel without problems.
I must say, it has worked exceedingly well for me. I started using mine on the first of January and I love it. Every night I input the amount of words written and the spreadsheet calculates all the stats, showing you the progress you are making. To see the progress so clearly, keeps you motivated and wanting to do more. Stephen King has always advised writers to write a little every day, no matter what engagements you might have, and that is when tools like trackers come in handy. They are also very manageable. If you tell the spreadsheet you want to write 100,000 words in one year, it will calculate and update every page of the tracker to reflect that goal. You’ll learn that you need to write 274 words a day – it doesn’t sound so bad, right? – giving you monthly and daily progress stats. And there is a huge satisfaction when you write more than your quota, because it means you can afford to take a day off, and contemplate the page with a smug expression on your face.
I know, I’m getting far too excited about an Excel spreadsheet… but hey, whatever floats your boat, right?
What other things can you do to improve time management?
Keep a To Do list: update it every day and highlight deadlines.
Set goals: break it down into manageable tasks and go through them one at a time.
Use a time log: most calendar apps allow you to insert and colour code events. In the same way you schedule a dentist appointment, you should be able to schedule a sit-down writing session. I love agendas and diaries, proper paper ones. I find them quicker to use too.
Create habits: some people need a routine to get things going. If 9-10 PM is your free time on most days, claim that slot for writing sessions.
Talk to friends: sharing frustration, goals and achievement is a very powerful motivator. You may realise that there is a better way to keep time, than the one you are currently using.
Take breaks: stand up and walk, get your blood flow and stretch. Your physical wellbeing plays a big part in writing, believe it or not.
Avoid distractions: the world will not stop if you take an hour off from social media. Important news will reach you no matter what and if you are expecting a truly important call, chances are you are distracted already so you should consider re-scheduling the writing session.
Procrastination is a tell: if you do it every time, chances are writing comes way below in your list of priorities – you may need to reconsider why you are writing in the first place.
Review progress: if you don’t seem to be able to stick to your plan of action, perhaps you have set the wrong goals or broke them down into unmanageable tasks.
Hopefully there was something useful for you in this article. Writing is your thing, so don’t despair, but plan ahead and stick to it.