Editing your novel or piece of fiction is all very well, but what if you never manage to finish a project in the first place? One of the most common discussions in writers’ forums concerns finding time to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. This is a struggle I completely relate to; apart from writing blog posts, I edit fiction for other authors, write and publish multiple novels a year, write for websites and magazines, study for a masters degree, and I’m a full-time mum! Exhaustion and stress can kill creativity, but sometimes it’s just a matter of using your creativity to find the time and space you need in the first place. Here are my five top tips to help clear your schedule:
1) Understand your lifestyle.
It may help to break your day up into segments on paper: early morning, late morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, early evening, late at night. Now fill in non-negotiable activities that apply to each segment. For example, the school run, going to work, hospital appointments, classes etc. Depending on your lifestyle and commitments, you will either have lots of gaps of time left or hardly any. Your ‘free’ blocks might be during your commute on the train, your lunch break, or after eight pm. Or you might realise that a lot of your day is taken up with negotiable activities such as socialising, housework, or watching TV.
There’s nothing wrong with sleeping in now and then, relaxing with a box of chocolates and Netflix, or meeting friends for coffee. Some productivity-gurus try to tell you otherwise but cutting out all forms of relaxation is a recipe for a mental health crisis. However, the amount of time you spend on non-essential pleasurable activities can be altered to allow space for writing (arguably a pleasurable activity in itself). Consider:
- Record your favourite shows in advance to avoid wasting time watching adverts and mindless channel surfing. Limit yourself to one episode a night, preferably after you have reached your writing quota for the day.
- Rise earlier OR go to bed later. It’s crucial to get enough sleep and the right amount for you is a matter for you and your body clock to decide. Some people can cope happily with six hours a night, others can’t function properly with less than eight hours. There’s no right or wrong. If you’re a morning lark and can sacrifice an hour each morning, then try keeping a laptop or tablet by your bed to drum out some words first thing. Now that wouldn’t work for me because my son gets up at six am as it is, and if I so much as breathe loudly after four am he’ll be up and ready to play. Nighttime is my playtime, so most of my efforts have to be concentrated in the evening. Everyone is different.
- Prioritise close friends and family but don’t attend every single function happening in your extended social circle. Likewise, don’t feel you have to volunteer to bake cakes for the local playgroup or run afterschool activities if you don’t want to.
- Limit scrolling Facebook or other social media platforms to twice a day for no more than ten to fifteen minutes.
- Speed up your word count by investing in speech-to-screen software such as Dragon so you can use little pockets of time more effectively.
3) Childcare and Housework
Talking from experience, being a working mum (or dad) can feel incompatible with a regular writing schedule. Time-saving tips include limiting yourself to tidying and cleaning twice a day (e.g. after breakfast and dinner) and focus on one household task a day. Some jobs aren’t that important. For example, you don’t have to iron everything. Use the time your children spend watching a film or playing with their grandparents to work on your writing. Likewise, nursery and school hours could be dedicated to working if you’re a stay-at-home parent.
4) Break writing into small, achievable chunks
If you set out with vague goals like ‘finish my novel’ you may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Test yourself to see how many words you can reasonably write per hour, and calculate how many hours you can spare over the course of a week. Then set weekly and monthly goals based around this. Prioritise the most important projects too. For example, you may have six hours spare each week. That means you could write 5-6,000 words or 20-24,000 words a month. At that rate, you could write a book in a few months, plus time for planning and development. Not bad at all. But if you scatter your focus over six different projects, you may lose motivation and momentum because of the lack of apparent progress.
5) Give yourself permission
Some writers, especially if they don’t yet earn any money from their writing, feel secretly guilty about choosing to spend their precious time on such a ‘luxurious’ activity. However, I would argue that as long as you aren’t neglecting essential commitments, you owe it to yourself to fulfil your dreams. When you are happy, you are a better person to everyone around you too, and will naturally make a greater impact on the world. What more of a reason do you need than that?
That’s it! Let me know in the comments what your best time-saving tips are. We all love a life-hack, right?
Ciao for now,