One of the most common questions I am asked is ‘how do you keep up with everything?’ For a writer, it all comes down to time management. While no one ever says it will be easy, I don’t know that anyone ever says it’s this much work either. I have no complaints as a writer, but I do wish I had more than 24 hours in a day. As much as I try my best to manage the time I have wisely, there is just never enough time in a day to get it all done.
So, what’s a writer to do? Prioritize. It’s easier said than done and many days I feel bad for having to move an item from today’s to-do list to tomorrow, but that’s usually the case. A girl can only get so much done in one day, after all. So at the start of each day I run down my list of tasks, designate their order of importance, and get through as much as I can. Whatever is left over at the end of the day moves on to tomorrow’s list, and the cycle continues.
For a writer, it’s not only about writing. That would be pure luxury. In reality, though, there is essentially a whole day’s worth of activities that has little to do with writing – directly at least. It all relates back in some way. A writer has to promote, market, and network in order to stay active in reader’s minds. That means social networks, media releases, bookstore events, and all of those things that involve other people. Then there’s the website updates, submissions to new publications, chats with editors and agents – all very important parts of the business. In order to sell a book, one has to be a sales person in some regard – whether to an agent or editor, or a magazine or store manager. These are necessary tools for success.
How do I keep it all in order? I do. And I don’t. I will admit there is a certain amount of chaos that keeps me working like a frantic person, worried I will never get enough done in a day. In a way, that busy feeling is the adrenaline push I need to make sure I get maximum productivity in for the day. If I were to wake up one morning and only have two things to do, I’d definitely work at a slower pace… and come to think of it, that might actually be nice for a change… but I would likely drag a bit, procrastinate, take my time, and do all kinds of things instead (like watch tv, nap, read horoscopes, etc). Now, I am not saying I am a workhorse, but I think the more I work, the more I work. The more I write, the more I write. That may sound a little silly, but there’s actually some sense to that. If you keep adding fuel to the fire, the fire keeps on burning all through the night, right?
What are some of the tricks I do to keep organized and under control? While it’s demanding to keep up with the social networks, I limit myself to one day a week for posting and responding to my various groups. Maybe that’s not as active as some people, but it keeps me in the loop without sucking up too much time. I clear my email inbox at least every other day; otherwise I’d be drowning in a backlog of replies-to-do. And as much as I am an advocate for attending real live literary events and readings, if I have already been out to three events in one week, I cut myself off so that I don’t spend an entire week away from my desk. The thing about prioritizing is setting limits, saying yes to some things, and – sadly – saying no to other things. Because at the end of the day, I still need to be able to say I did at least one thing – write. Yes, that other big part of being a writer. Making time to write.
Even if it’s a 1,000 word portion of a chapter, even if it’s just a paragraph or a few key sentences, I have to have made time for writing. Or else… why bother with all the other stuff? It’s all too easy for a writer to get caught up in the promotional side or spend a large portion of time networking. These things are important, but only if the writing can back up all the hype. One poem or a paragraph a day will keep you focused and on track. It adds up quickly too. A paragraph here and there soon becomes a chapter. A few chapters later, there’s a book in progress.
No, I have not mastered my time management skills, nor have I figured it all out. I am my own work-in-progress. But I try. I have a silly little to-do list to keep me in check and I strive for balance and aim to have fun in life outside of my working hours. Do I wish I had more time to work each day? Yes, but I also won’t compromise what little sleep I get or the time spent with friends and family. So I do what I can and hope for the best.
What about you? How do you balance your time? Do you make time for play? Do you keep a to-do list or prioritize some tasks over others? I’m curious what works for you and what is a challenge. I hope you’ll share your own plan of attack. It’s always interesting to hear tips from others.
Speaking of tips from writers, there’s a specially scheduled author Q&A on Tuesday, this week, with author Allison Winn Scotch. She’ll be chatting about her novel Time of My Life and share a few tips for emerging writers, her own path to publication, and lots more. So be sure to stop in for this extra Q&A for the week, in addition to the Wednesday feature. You won’t want to miss it!