The Silver Lining | Making the most of your time

(I haven’t already done this topic, right? I hope not! I usually have a good memory but my brain is a little busy lately.)

This topic is very apropos to me lately because, as you can see by my lack of blogging, I’ve been struggling to find time to write. Or even sleep. Every time I think I may have a few minutes or an hour, something interrupts me. My writing has suffered in the last few weeks because of this, and so has my ability to timely respond to emails. And then today I was thinking back to nanowrimo 2007 and how I worked 12 hour days, commuted to and from the city (15 minute subway ride with 20 minute walk each way), managed to watch all my November sweeps with a day of each show airing, read 1-2 books a week, and still ended up writing 94k in 26 days.

And really all this means is I’m not trying hard enough right now. So how did I squeeze in the writing time back then? Well, I’m going to tell you! And then I’m going to take my own advice because I’m determined to finish the draft of the super secret retelling rewrite by Sunday since I now have some other revisions to get back to on my book on sub.

1. Squeeze in bursts whenever you can. If, like me, you’re addicted to TV and can’t miss sweeps (though not a problem for me in the summer), I write during commercials. For those 3 minutes, I’m completely focused. I bang out as much as I can without stopping, without thinking. Now, this may not work for everyone. I like to pour out my first drafts as fast as possible, pretty them up later, operating under the philosophy that you can’t edit a blank page. So any time I can use for writing, I will. Other places I find time to squeeze in writing include: 12 minute subway commute. I sometimes bring my alphasmart with me, and if I can write without anyone interrupting to ask, "Is that a computer? What is that?" then I can usually bang out 750-1200 words on the commute alone. Oh, I should note that it helps if you type insanely fast. So fast that sometimes my fingers have to wait for my brain to catch up. So fast that anytime I freelance at a new place, someone comments on the speed. I do make typos, but I also don’t worry about those in first draft. Clean up is for revisions! But then you may ask, what if you’re lacking time for revisions, not first drafting? The same method applies. I can’t edit on my alphasmart, but in those cases I’ve found uploading my book to my Kindle or maybe even iPhone and reading it like a book and scribbling notes will help me be productive on my commute. Then I try to tackle a chapter a day. Or a scene a day. Whether it’s in short bursts or a long stretch. I can’t focus on pacing during the short stretches, but there are other things I *can* do.

2. An alternative method to squeezing in bursts is to write a paragraph or 3 or so lines of dialogue every 15 minutes or so. And by this, I mean do it while you’re at work. One paragraph is not that long. I can get that out quickly! Then I spend the next 15 minutes thinking over the next paragraph. You could probably squeeze in some actually work in there if you feel you must or if you want to keep your day job. (And if any of my bosses read this, I DO NOT DO THIS OR CONDONE THIS.) But if you write one or two sentences at a time throughout the day, I guarantee you’ll end up with a productive day. Sometimes I get over 3k like this.

3. Lunch breaks are the perfect time to get some extra writing in. Eat a bite, write a sentence. Wash, rinse, repeat. I actually don’t usually get a lunch break because I work on a live TV show and well, they need graphics constantly. But it does tend to slow down a little at lunch and so I do the bite/sentence thing when I can. But this is all about stealing time you might be using for other things. Multi-task!

4. Wake up a half hour earlier or go to bed a half hour later (or both if you choose). I’m not the kind of person who likes to sacrifice sleep, but I can justify losing a half hour since it doesn’t seem too daunting. But if you take this half hour, you must actually use it. Surfing the internet would be a waste of your time.

5. Use the internet as a reward. What I like to do is say to myself, "You can’t go back online until you write 500 words." Then I stick to it. I hit 500 words, I get my reward. Once my internet fix is sated, I do the 500 thing again. The key here is self discipline. You’re only hurting yourself if you play around during your work time. There are other rewards too. Chocolate works. TV. A book you’re itching to read. I personally don’t like to deny myself of anything I enjoy, such as the TV or reading. If I can find a way to do everything, I will. Obviously if a deadline is pressing and I need to complete something, I will give up on everything else. I’ve done that in day jobs many many times (such as pulling all nighters and sleeping for an hour or two on a work couch before getting right back into it–several nights in a row.) But I’m pretty good about time management (usually, not in the last two weeks) so unless unforeseen circumstances get in the way, I can almost always schedule myself so I don’t have to sacrifice anything. I think withholding something you enjoy might end up making you bitter about the project taking your time, and one thing I love more than anything is writing, so I don’t want to be bitter about.

6. Set goals and stick to them. Say to yourself that you’re going to write 3k today. Or an hour a day. Or whatever. Try your best to hit it. If circumstances beyond your control get in the way, then try to tack on the missed word count the next day on top of that day’s goals. I do this during nano and it really works for me. I also try to write a lot more words at the beginning of the project so I don’t lose steam on it. So on day one I might write 7k. Then by the end, I might only be writing 2k a day, but it still feels productive.

7. Have a writing buddy that holds you accountable. Tell her your progress each day. This is why I love nano so much, because everyone is encouraging everyone else. I tend to get competitive and that helps me. But when it’s just myself, I like to tell my crit partner my goals so that if I don’t hit them, I feel guilty about it. Because she KNOWS I failed! The last two weeks, I’ve been very bad at this step, but it stops today.

8. Plan your day’s writin in advance. This is the one I find the most helpful, but what I like to do is leave myself a little bit of time–like 15 minutes, to mull over the next day’s scenes while in bed. I play the scenes in my head like a movie, run through the dialogue, the blocking of the characters. I visualize it. If I fall asleep before I can do this, then I try to find some time to do it before I start writing. Maybe I think about it on my commute while walking to my office. Maybe I think about it in the elevator. But either way, I get the scene solidified in my head so by the time I actually need to write it, I feellike I’m transcribing it instead of floundering and trying to figure out what should happen in the scene.

9. If you’re stuck, make a note about it and move on. My first drafts are riddled with things like WITTY DIALOGUE GOES HERE or SHE NEEDS BETTER MOTIVATION. If it takes me more than 3 seconds to think of, I move on and come back to it in revisions. I usually don’t skip scenes unless I’m really stuck, but that’s where #8 comes in.

10. I find to-do lists that I can check off each scene helpful. Not only does it act as a quick outline, but it keeps me focused and shows me how much I have left.

My current word count on the super secret retelling is 75k. I suspect I have approx 10-15k to go. Though this is a rewrite, I started from scratch so it’s technically a first draft. My first drafts are always too long, and I always find at least 25-30k to cut in revisions, which leads to a much tighter 2nd draft. The goal is to finish these 10-15k by Sunday. Can I do it? We’ll see. I do have a busy busy weekend. But I’m going to find a way to squeeze in as much time as possible. Anyone with me?

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12 Responses

  1. Great tips! I already use some of them (planners and TV commercials are my best friends), but now I have even more ideas for time management. Good luck with your own writing!

  2. This is great advice! I’m going through the revision and rewriting process right now, and I needed to be reminded about all of this. So, thank you!


    • Wow, I thought I was the only one who did this. I’m glad I’m not alone! I love commercials for this reason and hate watching things on fast forward since it limits my writing time!

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