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Using Time Wisely

August 23, 2011 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified August 23, 2011

This one is coming from recent experience.

I’ve been swamped and then re-swamped with unusual tasks and duties the past few weeks. I can only say that I fully empathize with those who, while under deadline, get 20 other tasks dropped into their laps.

So, the article for today focuses on time.

We could all use a bit more of it. But since we won’t get that, maybe we can use the minutes and hours more efficiently.


When you’re writing, you’ll use a system that works for you. It might not be efficient, but if it keeps you writing and producing, then it’s the approach you need to take. But you need to know what that system does to you in terms of taking up your time.

Can you write ten hours a day and do research  for another two, write five blog articles, attend a critique group and a writing group and still get to the kids’ ball games and have dinner with the spouse and work in the garden and take that class on astronomy and enjoy eight hours of sleep every night?

Not likely.

And when something unexpected crops up or drops in or pushes to the surface, you may have to change your plans. Maybe just one. Or maybe all of them.

Time is finite. And while it can be used for different purposes, once it’s used, it’s gone.

Writing takes up a lot of our time each day. We’re either actively writing or thinking about a plot thread or checking into the Regency period—or some cool gadget we hope was around in our time period—or we’re brushing up on grammar or polishing our dialogue.

We may be talking to agents or editors or critique partners or the writing group at the local library.

We may be sending queries or pounding out a synopsis or figuring out who to approach with our newest manuscript.

The craft and the business of writing take time. And there’s much more to producing a good novel than just throwing some words together.

If you’ve finished one, you know exactly what I mean.

Instead of wrestling with time, can we put it to work for us in a way that allows us to control time rather than allowing time to control us?

I think we can.

Suggestions for managing our writing time—

Be flexible. And be ready to be flexible ahead of time. Preparation will save on stress.

Know what can be dropped and what has to be taken care of immediately.

Get help when it makes sense to do so. That is, if you don’t have time to change your oil because you’re supposed to be writing, then have it done by someone else. Now, if you get great ideas and you tend to work through plot problems when your hands are busy, have at it. Just realize no one expects you to do all of everything.

Schedule breaks while you’re writing. Whether this means daily or hourly or weekly or between projects, that’s up to you. But recognize that you are more than your writing. You have other purposes and you have a life. Enjoy that life while you write.

If you don’t have a breakthrough with a problem plot or reluctant character and you’ve been working at that problem a long time, turn to something else. Write a different scene, ask a colleague for advice, step out and get an ice cream. Unproductive time, if it remains unproductive, creates nothing but frustration and most likely bad writing.

Prepare for emergencies and setbacks and interruptions. No, we don’t want to waste time by building in too many allowances. But don’t pack your writing days so much that a little interruption causes chaos.

Give yourself enough time to do a thorough job, whether this means time for the first draft, time for editing, time for marketing and publicity or time for research. Think ahead.

Let your agent or editor know if you can’t meet a deadline. They need to plan too.

Take a real break when you can. You are not a machine, but you do need recharging. Know the activities or places that get your mind and emotions running in the right direction and immerse yourself in one or more of those activities or places.

Invest some of your day with those you love and those who love you.

Seemingly simple advice that we’ve all heard, probably have all shared. But reminders are good. As is the suggestion to step out of the chaos of life for a few moments and enjoy a moment of peace.

Or maybe you need to step out of the constrictions of your writing schedule and step into the chaos of the rest of your life and draw energy from the things and people that keep you jazzed.

Whichever it is, take the time to do something different and fresh while you’re writing. You are more than a writer. You deserve more in your days than deadlines and words.



Tags:     Posted in: A Writer's Life

4 Responses to “Using Time Wisely”

  1. anirudh says: