Have you ever heard or read an interview with one of those writers who does everything? Specifically, I’m talking about those hip, independent authors who work a full time job, have a marriage, raise children, run a successful blog and/or podcast, do all their own book marketing, run a business, do charity work, and write (if not PUBLISH) at least four novels a year. Well, I have. And let me tell you: I feel equal amounts of bewilderment, envy, and admiration whenever I stumble upon them.
After happening across these individuals, I typically go through simultaneous phases of inspired and ashamed. I mean, these people are living my dream (give or take a few details), and I aspire to be in a similar position of my own design. Yet, at the same time, I look at my daily routine and think, I waste so much time. I will never get to that level. I mean, having a full time job, a marriage, a speck of a social life, and writing this blog exhausts me. How can I ever have a writing career on top of it all?
Well, it’s time to figure it out. And, considering it’s NaNoWriMo season, and there are hundreds of thousands of writers out there stepping into the boat with me, I daresay a few dozen of you feel the same way. I must admit, writer friends, I am no time management expert. However, I’ve done my research, wrangled up some common sense, and given myself a good pep talk. Now, I bring my process to you, and I hope it helps.
Figure out where you are wasting time.
For the list-oriented out there (like myself), I suggest making a quick outline of your typical week. For the non-listers out there, think carefully. How much time do you spend at work or school? How much time do you spend commuting? What social activities in your life are non-negotiable (ie: time with family)? What extra-curricular activities can you cut back on, at least for November (ie: playing embarrassing amounts of Pokemon on your Samsung Galaxy)? Once you figure out your schedule and what is mandatory, you can shuffle things around and find empty gaps of time to write.
When can you make time to write?
Most writers advocate getting up early or staying up late to write. While I love the romantic idea of stumbling out of bed and to the keyboard, I know myself, and I know this probably won’t work for me. Likewise, I have to get eight hours of sleep or I get terrible migraines, so staying up late (while easy) is not a good idea, either. If you can do either of these things, great, but if you’re like me and this isn’t an option, it’s time to get creative.
If you take a bus or a train to work, write on your commute. Or, if you drive or get motion sickness, bring a recording device to which you can dictate your work. Then, you only have transcribing time when you get home later. Other ideas: writing during your lunch break, writing between classes, writing while dinner heats up in the oven, writing on the toilet. Seriously, take any spare minute you can find and cram in a few sentences or paragraphs. It will add up faster than you think.
Know how long it takes you to write.
If you are going to carve out writing time, especially if you have a specific word count goal in mind, it might be useful to actually know how much time you need to reach it. To help figure this out, do a practice write. Find a creative writing prompt or other writing exercise that inspires you, set a timer, and go until you reach your word count goal. You might try doing this a few different times in a few different situations to get a better idea of an average time for yourself. Either way, once you have a general idea of how long it will take you to reach your goal, you’ll know how much to alter your schedule.
Write in your head.
Even if you don’t have a lot of time to physically put pen to paper, you still have hours upon hours to write in your head. Every moment that your schoolwork or job or other life activity doesn’t require 100% of your attention is a moment that you can spend brainstorming. Think out the scene you need to write next: everything from the action to the dialogue to the funny smell wafting in from your protagonist’s window. If you have some semblance of a plan ready when you can physically write, you will avoid the wasted time you would likely spend backspacing or staring at the blank screen and cut your overall writing time down significantly.
Be smart about your schedule. If you know there is a particular day (ie: Thanksgiving) where you won’t have a lot of time to write, make up that writing time beforehand. If you leave it until after, chances are, you’ll get overwhelmed, and you won’t get it done. Even if you don’t expect any writing disruptions, remember: life happens. If there is ever a day when you have extra writing time or extra motivation, take advantage of it and get ahead of schedule.
If you don’t have much time to write, you have to make every second count. Using a writing program, like “Write or Die” can help speed you up immensely. Essentially, it allows you to set a writing goal and then subsequently punishes you if you stop writing for too long. It’s a great way to force yourself to utilize your time and get words on the page.
Streamline your daily processes.
As you go about your day, think about how you do things and how long they take. Humans waste a considerable amount of time flitting between tasks, focusing on minute details, and just plain making things harder for ourselves. There are plenty of ways to shorten daily tasks to free up writing time. I’ve heard several NaNoWriMo writers talk about preparing meals before November, so they don’t have to spend time fixing food for dinner. You could also take showers instead of baths, shorten your shower times (but please, still shower), lay out your clothes the night before (or plan a whole month’s worth of outfits if you really want to go the extra mile), compact all your cleaning into one afternoon, etc.
Ask for help.
When all else fails, go to your support system. Explain to your loved ones that your writing needs to be a priority this month, and you would really appreciate their help. Ask your parents to cut you some slack on your chores, request that your spouse cook dinner or do housework, or ask your friends to keep gatherings limited to one activity. You can always return the favors once NaNoWriMo is over (and you’ve reassessed your routine to make writing a daily task, if you so desire).
NaNoWriMo is a perfect excuse to rearrange your schedule and, to quote founder Chris Baty, “make creativity a priority.” It is only one month, and if you are creative enough to write a novel, you should be creative enough to make time to write your novel for 30 days. Of course, once NaNoWriMo is over, you will have to reevaluate your writing routine and decide if and to what extent writing will be a priority in your daily life. But that, my writer friends, is a whole other post.
Interested in reading more about time management? Check out this great post on The Rocking Self-Publishing Guest Blog.
How are you making time to write during NaNoWriMo? What are your best time-saver tips? Let me know below!