Today, T.C. Slonaker is here to help you with managing time while writing.
When to Write When You Don't Have Time to Write
I will never have a PhD. Not because I don't want to study for my doctorate - I love to study! - but because it should be a DPh, in alphabetical order like it should be.
So now you know about my sickness. Yes, I have been diagnosed with a mild form of OCD (which, I know, should be called CDO). It's called the "pure O," characterized only by obsessive behavior. I'm crazy, but don't necessarily need to do anything about it complain. Loudly. It drives me insane when the volume of the TV is set to a level of an odd number. But it doesn't majorly disrupt my life. Sure, when I run, I will have to run an extra mile to finish on an even number, and I must do it in an even time, but that is just minutes from my day. I don't require medication for this one.
And my dark secret? I don't really want to change. I'm okay with my obsessive behavior because sometimes it's helpful.
As my kids get older, I have accumulated more and more in my life for which I need to be on time. Therefore, I need to find the time to do it all. Along life's path, I have acquired two jobs, a few volunteer positions at church and school, a house to keep, kids to grow and manage, a few pets and a husband too.
As the kind of person who clings to the adage "A place for everything and everything in its place," I have found that less clutter in my life can make a life less cluttered. It sounds simple, doesn't it? Not when there are several other people in the house without those same convictions. Still, I press on, since it's the only way I can have control over the work I do and not let it overwhelm me.
Having less clutter in my house is one thing. Having less clutter in my schedule is another, since I can't always see it. So that's the first step in finding time in my day to write - looking at my time.
1. Know What You're Dealing With.
First you have to see what time you actually do have in a day. Calendars and planners are a saving grace. Without them, you spend too much time wondering what it is you aren't doing. Don't kid yourself into thinking you can keep it all straight in your mind. You can't. Something WILL get missed.
I have several types of calendars, myself.
a) Monthly calendars. These hold appointments, immovables like holidays, and just a general where the heck are we in the month? My husband usually works late during the first week of the month, so I need that reminder that dinner will be made a little later on those days.
b) Weekly calendars. Usually just extrapolated from my monthly calendar, I can take a look at the week as a whole to see if it is jam packed or if there is a little wiggle room in which to add the "fluffy" things, like cleaning out closets or taking shopping trips. People always ask me how I can be completely done with Christmas tasks before November even hits. Effective planning, my friends.
c) Daily calendars. I have two sets of these. One is a set of "sticky notes" on my computer that hold my daily chores (such as laundry, dinner, baths, homework, soccer, etc.) - one for each day of the week. I do it on the computer so I can change as needed. When soccer season turns to basketball, changes to softball… changing is quick and easy. Then there is another set that incorporates the special events from the weekly calendar and the monthly calendar. These are all kept on my computer because that's where I will mostly easy find it.
2. Now You Can Make Your Schedule.
Once you have all those things down that you need to do, you can assign them time slots for the day. Know who you are and how you best work. Are you a morning person? Pack your morning and leave some gaps in the afternoon. Do you stay up late at night? Make your schedule go a little later. Do you routinely have appointments in the afternoon? Don't expect to use the 15 minutes between them to get anything meaningful done.
Believe it or not, my daily list is not organized by exact time, but rather by time of the day. Mornings are for getting done the "moving tasks." Exercise, errands, household chores, and grooming are the items that fit in here. Sometimes I want to get moving right away, other days I want to get the vacuuming done first. As long as it all gets done by lunch time, I'm fine. After lunch, I do the "sitting tasks." Here's where my writing fits in, as well, as work for my other job, marketing, and blogging. Once the kids start coming home from school, it's "focus on the family time" (homework, dinner, showers, sports). When the kids have gone to bed, I can do catch up work or relax.
Others might be better with an hour-specific schedule, but that's too stressful for me. Any way you choose, however, keep clocks available wherever you are working so you don't get too involved in a task.
3. Stick With the Schedule.
Ironically, as I write this, I am off my schedule. I'm pretty sure God laughs at me when things like this happen. But since the thoughts are in my head, I must get them out. That's all I will do, however - get the thoughts out. Now is not the time to complete the entire post, or else I will not get to the next activity. And when I miss an activity, I get panicked and need to spend more time reorganizing, re-evaluating the tasks that remain, and catching up.
The point, however, is that if you get too far off schedule, you either have to re-do it or throw it out. Just like the classic Seinfeld episode at the car rental agency - "Anyone can take a reservation, but the point of the reservation is to hold the reservation." Why have a schedule if you aren't going to stick with it?
4. Don't Add What You Don't Have Room For.
I would love to do NaNoWriMo, but I know that if I am required to fit in a certain number of words a day, I will feel defeated when I don't. And when I feel defeated, I don't get other things done either. I've had my schedule for long enough that I know about how many words I can get written in my allotted amount of time. I would need to restructure the schedule to participate in that event.
Many things may come up that really are worthy of your time, but if you can't give your whole heart to it, face it, the organizer would probably be better off with someone else. And to add something else in means restructuring the schedule. If you are doing that, you have to realize something else has to go. More re-evaluating.
5. Give Yourself a Break.
Now that I have gone all time-Nazi on you with your schedule, I'll cut you some slack. All work and no play will leave you exhausted and bitter. Schedule in some things you enjoy! If they're scheduled, you must do them. It will help you be ready to tackle the important stuff with a fresh mind.
I can't start writing until I have played a few games of Bejeweled Blitz. I reason it like this: after you collect the like gems, they disappear. It's a game of cleaning up and organizing! I don't know why, but after I have played, I feel like my brain is wide open and ready to create.
Another way of looking at giving yourself a break is not getting down on yourself when you are off schedule. I know, I know. I said, don't get off schedule. But don't quit if you slip! Start fresh the next day. Just like a diet, you won't see results if you don't stay with it.
6. When Your Life Doesn't Fit the Schedule…
There are some amazing people out there who can do it all. They have to - usually there's no choice. I'm thinking of single parents, or those trying to get an education while working full time. I was a teacher before I had children. Now, I look back at wonder how the other teachers who had children of their own ever did anything else.
If writing is your passion, make time for it. It may mean giving up something else. It might mean less time on social media. It might mean giving up TV for a while. But if writing is what relaxes you and makes you heart happy, you won't miss what you've given up.
Once you have a schedule and work within it for a period of time, you'll be moving like well-oiled machine. Watch your word count go up, without letting the dust bunnies settle in. Who knows? You might have your Christmas cards ready to go in November too.
By T.C. Slonaker, author of Amity of the Angelmen, first of the Christian fantasy Angelmen series. Find it on the MSP Website.