Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lisa: The Clock is Ticking

Whenever I get together with other writers and we talk shop, there is one subject that seems to come up more than any other.

Time.

How we spend it, how we waste it, how we wish we had more of it.

I find it fascinating how much writers think about time. Maybe it's because a lot of writers are juggling their writing around other things, and so it's a constant source of frustration. I certainly get that. For a long time, I wrote early in the mornings and on weekends, because I worked a day job and I had a family who needed me as well.

But even authors who call writing their job are often looking for ways to do it better, faster, whatever. Or they get mad at themselves for spending way too much time on facebook, twitter, pinterest, tumblr, etc.

Since I've been writing for over ten years now (about half of those as a published author), I've figured some things out for myself, and I thought I would share a few tips that help me with my productivity. In case you're curious, I have two teens who don't drive and need rides to various places. I have a dog who needs to be walked every day. I am the only person in the house who does any serious cooking, and I like to eat decent food, so I spend a fair amount of time on grocery shopping and meal preparation. I'm currently trying to write and publish two books a year. I do not work outside the home anymore, thank goodness!

1) It's best to schedule your writing time for when you have the greatest chance for success.

 Some might argue this shouldn't matter, when you have time to write, you should write. And maybe that's true, but I also believe if we plan to write at the time(s) we feel most energized and awake, we'll probably have a more productive writing session. I know a lot of writers who can't write until it's dark and everyone else in the house is asleep. That would NOT be me, by the way. I'm up early and once I get my kids to school and have gotten a workout in, I am ready to write. Mornings are my best writing time, and that is especially true on the weekends. I get up early on the weekends, and while everyone else sleeps in, I write.

2) Set daily goals.

When I'm drafting a book, my goal is 1,000 words a day. Every day. I tend to revise as I go, so sometimes I spend an hour on previous pages before I finally get to adding more words, but even taking this into account, if I'm focused, I find that goal is very doable for me. If I'm having trouble getting into the writing on a certain day, usually that means I need to take a time out and figure out where the plot needs to go. When I'm doing editorial revisions, I'll give myself a certain number of pages to get through (usually ten to twenty).

This is really no different than making a to-do list when you are working a regular job with tasks that have to be completed. I made task lists all the time when I worked in human resources. Treat your writing like a job and then do the work that needs to be done.

I also want to add that I think it's so, SO important to keep the momentum going when you're writing a first draft. Try not to take a day off. Even if you can only fit in 100 words some days, open the document and write.

3) Have a plan and make your re-entry into the document as easy as possible

When I'm drafting, I try not to leave off at the end of a chapter. I love leaving off in a place where I'll be excited the next day to get back to that scene. I also leave notes for myself in the document, to remind myself about what I imagine happening next. Maybe something new will come to me, but in case it doesn't, I have a place to start. I really think half the battle is opening the document and just starting in again. There is so much we are afraid of (that we don't even realize), but if we leave off in a place that makes it fun to get back to the story, we'll forget about those things we are afraid of and just focus on the story.

The other thing to think about here is that there's been lots of talk on the internet lately about how productivity increases when you know what needs to happen in your book. I think this is the original post that inspired all of that talk. So if you've always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, and you're frustrated by how slowly you write, you might want to try mapping out where you book is going, and see if that helps.

4) If social media is your problem, figure out if you need to get drastic or not

If you are spending more time on social media sites than you are writing, you probably do need to get drastic. You might want to download Freedom, which locks the internet away so you can write without distractions. It's only ten dollars, and it allows you to specify the number of minutes you want to be kept away from the internet. If you don't want/need to get that drastic, try using social media sites as a reward. Maybe you allow yourself 5 minutes of social media time after 45 minutes of writing time or something.

5) Keep your eye on the prize

For me, finishing the book is the biggest motivator there is. I've never been one to take months and months or years, even, to finish a book because I want to sell it and have other people read it. If you have some underlying fear about all of that, and it's keeping you from being productive with the writing, have a heart-to-heart with someone you trust about your fears and figure out what you need to do so you can make the writing a priority! One of the reasons I like the 1,000 words a day is because I know that if I stick with it, I'll have a draft of middle grade novel done in about six weeks and a draft of a young adult novel done in two months or so (obviously, I don't write very long books).

6) It's okay to NOT write all the time

In fact, I think it's healthier if you don't. Make time for friends. Go see movies. Exercise. Read. I try to have my 1,000 words done in a few hours, at most, so I have time for other things. I WANT time for other things. This is another huge motivator to get the word count done. When I'm revising, I'll have some long days, but I still make time to exercise and make dinner for my family and read. I always make time for reading. I've also found that, for me, I have months that are good for drafting a novel and months that are not good. I don't try to force it during the months that aren't good (like the month before  a release, for example. Or December. Or July and August, when the sunshine calls to me.) For the past four or five years, I've written a new book every fall. And then, after the holidays, I start up again and write something else in the winter months. It's not only my days that have a rhythm, but my months and year do too. If you feel like you're constantly swimming up stream, maybe you're trying to draft a novel at the wrong time. It's okay to take a month off if you need to - I certainly do!

And if life gets in the way - it's okay. Don't beat yourself up. Yes, your writing is important, but so are a lot of other things.

Okay, time to wrap up this blog post and get back to work. If you have tips or ideas for people around time-management or productivity, please share with us in the comments!

14 comments:

  1. I like your 1k a day idea--I've found that to be very doable. I also like to keep track of what I spend my time doing, since sometimes it surprises me.

    Now, back to writing!

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    1. 1k may be too much for some people, but for me it works well. I think the main thing is to have a goal and try hard every day to meet it. It keeps you accountable.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. Lisa, all the suggestions and tips in this post are gold! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. It sort of sounds simple, but of course we know, it's not. Mostly it comes down to making small, manageable goals and holding oneself accountable, I think.

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  3. Such great points! I especially love #3. :)

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    1. That re-entry can be so hard, we have to make it as easy as possible on ourselves.

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  4. Love this post, Lisa. You've just inspired me to rethink my daily plan. Thank you.

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    1. Everyone is different, and it's so important to figure out what works for you! But I do think consistency can really help. Good luck!!

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  5. I really enjoyed this post, thank you. I don't have a problem writing drafts (I get 2 days a week when the kids are at nursery and usually write 10-15k across those two days when I'm drafting) but I am terrible at revision. I can find 100 things to do other than revise my first drafts. Part of that is because I don't know how to set targets for myself (I'm very target driven!). I like the idea of a target of 10-20 pages of revision, that feels doable (although I'm meant to have revised my current WIP by November for a competition and I'm only 60 pages into a 300-page manuscript. Hmmmm)
    I also like what you say about liking to write a book and get it published rather than spending years and years on it. So many of the blogs I follow seem to be people who have spent months and years editing their WIP. I don't have that attention span! If I can't nail it in 6-9 months it gets shelved (which is why I have 3 unfinished books and only one complete one). At the moment I don't think my writing is good enough to get even the complete one accepted by an agent, but you give me hope that, when my craft improves, it might be acceptable to get books written and drafted in that timescale!
    Anyway, sorry for rambling on!

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    1. Yeah, revision is kind of a different beast. Some writers love it, some hate it. It sounds like it's not your favorite part of the process, but it is a necessary process. I hope you find something that works for you and helps you finish. Good luck!

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  6. Great advice - thank you! The 1k/day worked for me while drafting my first manuscript, but not the second. I'm not sure what happened. I do like the idea of getting your daily word count done early so you have time for other things. And #3 is right on! So many times I've stopped at the end of a scene and waste so much writing time the next day trying to get back into the flow.

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  7. Great list of advice and tips on time management!

    Thanks,

    Nas :)

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  8. Hey,

    Thanks for the reminder of the things I should be doing less and the things I need to do more :)

    Very timely as I work to finish WIP 1 :)

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  9. Great post and great ideas, Lisa. Funnily enough, our work schedules and need to do other things as well as seasons sound very similar - as is the goal for a YA and a MG every year. But you've still given me food for thought and motivation to change up my day's schedule more. I'm inherently lazy, a procrastinator, and too much addicted to the internet. ;-)

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