Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 7] —Time Management

December 24th, 2013 by

We pick up from last week with our year-end attempt to help GITS readers set and achieve their writing goals for 2014. To revisit the process of self-reflection from last week, here are the links:

Part 1: Looking Back

Part 2: Assessing Where You Are

Part 3: Where Do You Want To Go As A Writer

Part 4: Practical Matters

Part 5: Going Public

This week we shift the focus to a more pragmatic part of the discussion, considering a variety of tips about how to manage time and projects more efficiently. Here is what we have thus far:

Part 6: Schedule

Today: Time Management

If there is a consistent refrain I hear about the problem with writing — and one I find myself muttering as well — it’s this: “I don’t have enough time.”

The simple fact is that may be true, especially so for writers who are working on the craft as an avocation or second job. While writing may be their number one creative priority, there is the small matter of keeping the lights on and the rent or mortgage paid, so on the fiduciary front, writing by necessity must take a back seat to bringing home the bacon. Depending upon the amount of hours they have to pull to cover their work, combined with family, friend and significant other responsibilities, their desire and energy for creative writing can run into a daily buzz saw of zero time.

What can a writer do in that situation? For one thing, reassess their goals. Perhaps they have to scale back their expectations. Instead of pounding out a spec script every two months, what about a more realistic goal? Remember it’s possible to create two scripts per year by writing 1 page a day.

But for a majority of people, including even those who appear to have no apparent time to write, there is another reality: In fact, we do have time, we just aren’t using it efficiently which in effect dissipates the amount we think we have.

Let’s imagine a writer. We’ll call him Sammy Glick. He is working on a spec script. He sleeps 8 hours per night. He works at his white collar job 10 hours per day. Let’s knock off another 2 hours for eating and handling daily household related chores (e.g., paying bills, laundry, bathing the dog). That leaves 4 hours per day of what we may call ‘discretionary’ time.

But what about exercise? Free time? Watching movies? Reading scripts? Yes, Sammy needs that, too. Okay, so let’s cut away another couple of hours leaving him with a mere 2 hours to write each day.

Here’s the thing: Sammy can do amazing things in 2 hours. If he’s in first draft mode, he should be able to write a scene every hour, maybe even more [depending upon the type of scenes, of course].

I think it’s fair to suggest the issue isn’t so much about Sammy not having time, it’s Sammy managing the writing time he has. Therefore, I’d like to offer three suggestions, starting small and working my way up in scope:

* The Timer Approach: You may remember my posts about the Pomodoro technique, where a person works on something for 25-35 minutes, then takes a 5 minute break. Each work segment is called a pomodoro and I’ve found it extremely helpful when I’m doing non-’creative’ writing [e.g., blogging, lectures, email]. In fact, I can look at my daily list of tasks and break them down per how many pomodoros I think each will take. Since 35 minutes is too short, at least for me, in terms of creative writing, I use a timer and set it for an hour, ninety minutes, two hours, however long I feel the scenes / pages ahead of me require complete concentration. The key here is once you start the timer, that’s it: You write. No distractions.

* Daily Routine: Setting a specific time — the same time — every day provides perhaps the biggest bang for your buck in terms of maximizing your time writing. Why? Because you create a pattern to which you become accustomed psychologically, even physically [I know plenty of writers who say they literally feel antsy or out-of-sorts if they miss a scheduled writing session]. I don’t have any facts to support my thesis, but I am willing to bet every single cent I have made hosting this blog that writers who have a regular routine get more accomplished with their writing than those who write only when they can find the time. [Note: That is safe bet for me seeing as I haven't made one thin dime from GITS].

* Prep-Writing: This is how Sammy Glick used to write: He would do a minimal amount of research and story prep, then super excited to get started on his story, he would type FADE IN and leap into page-writing. However most of his writing sessions were frittered away staring at the monitor because he didn’t know what to write. Then Sammy became a prep-writing convert. Once he started cracking the story and putting together an extensive, detailed outline before he typed FADE IN, Sammy rarely got stumped in his writing sessions, instead he was able to jam through a first draft by making the most of his precious few hours a day to write.

Here is how I have come to think of my writing time: It’s not so much managing it as it is protecting it. When I have those hours blocked off and I shut the door to write, I fight to preserve that time.

How about you? How do you manage your time? Do you have any software programs to recommend on this front? There are even programs that will shut down access to the Internet for whatever time period you set. And since we know the word “Internet” is actually technobabble for “Distraction,” whatever advice members of the GITS community have specifically on the Web front will be greatly appreciated.

See you in Comments for your thoughts and advice.

Tomorrow: First Draft.

4 thoughts on “Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 7] —Time Management

  1. […] This week we shift the focus to a more pragmatic part of the discussion, considering a variety of tips about how to manage time and projects more efficiently. Here is what we …read more […]

  2. Sott, just replied to the previous post on the subject but the timer approach I have been using more and more in 30-60 minute increments and it works really well. Also love the ‘freedom’ app on mac because it turns off the net (I will be honest, I don’t trust myself with turning off just wifi)

    Another more important thing that I keep on the side of my computer screen is a screenplay by a screenwriter more established than myself to guilt me when I go astray.

    Along with my yearly goals written down in giant CAPS on my desk.

    Works every time!:)

  3. Sammy’s got no choice but to run.

  4. cgusmann says:

    I use the Pomodoro technique as well, and it mostly works for me. I have a tendency to do prep-writing, but also research while I write so I’m not sure the Freedom app would work for me. Not only that, but I have a tablet I use as a second monitor to use as a research tool so it probably wouldn’t work for me.

    I’m hoping to get myself to a place where I can set a time to write everyday, but I’ve found my life isn’t structured enough to do that. It’s a weak excuse, I know (who controls the structure of one’s life but that person, after all?), but it’s true for me.

    Instead of the one page per day rule that Scott suggests, I’m hoping to take some inspiration from National Novel Writing Month next year and write 365,000 words over the course of 2014. That’s 1,000 words per day, which seems like a lot but isn’t so bad if you can get into a decent groove in a writing session. I expect most of those words will be rubbish, but there are bound to be a few that work as stories.

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