Friday, December 5, 2014

It's About Time

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When it comes to being a writer, you have to deal with time management issues a lot.

If you’re a younger writer, in high school or college, you already have a lot of demands on your time.  Classes, homework, and extracurricular activities occupy a significant amount of your attention. Then, if you live at home, there are the chores that your parents insist you help out with.  If you’re at college, eventually you will have to deal with the fact that your dorm room is so messy that you couldn’t swear in a court of law that Jimmy Hoffa is not buried under your pile of junk. Plus, you probably have some friends or family who want to spend time with you, or your favorite show is on, or you want to catch up with all of the latest posts on lolcats or FunnyorDie.

If you’re an older writer, you probably have a full time job. You might be working on a post-graduate degree.  Possibly, you have kids.  You are solely responsible for taking care of your residence (unless you have a significant other or kids, but they make almost as much work as they help out with).  You have to do all or some of the shopping.  If you have a family or a significant other, there’s good chance that they’ll want to spend time with you, or your favorite show is on, or you want to catch up with all of the latest posts on lolcats or FunnyorDie, or, if you’re really sophisticated, you want to read the news.

Then, there are all the other things you want to do or might already be doing.  Say you want to get into an exercise routine.  Well, that’s at least another 30 – 45 minutes out of your day, or an hour if you’re taking some kind of class.  Maybe you want to pick up a musical instrument.  That’s an additional 30 minutes per day, if you really want to put practice into it.  Maybe you want to spend more time reading. If you want to get through a book in any decent amount of time, that’s going to be at least an hour a day, and maybe three or four hours on the weekend.

All of this in sixteen hours a day.  That’s already pretty stressful.

And you want to be writing on top of all of that?

When it comes to writing, I think that I and several of the writers that I know allow our writing to fall by the wayside before anything else.  Writing isn’t necessarily a priority, and even some of things we have to do are easy by comparison.  Exercising can be difficult, but you sure don’t have to concentrate as much while you’re doing it.  If you’re in school or work, you spend close to eight hours working your buns off on things that require a lot of concentration.  That can leave you drained.  What are you going to choose after that? Writing, or lolcats?

Probably lolcats, if that’s your thing.

Clearly, writing is difficult to make time for, at least once the thrill of a new project has worn off.  Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m speaking from my own personal experience and nobody else deals with this.  But I’m operating on a pretty strong hunch that I’m not the only one.

So how do you make time for writing? The same way you make time for anything else.  This requires planning ahead (something I’m not terribly good at). 

First, set a goal of how many hours per week you’d like to work on your writing. The most important thing here is to be realistic.  If you have forty hours worth of school, work, or whatever, don’t set a goal of twenty hours a week on writing.  Depending on how busy you are, ten hours might still be too much. But if you can swing it, five hours will still get you quite a long way.  Try to budget some time every day, but if you have a specific day where you have more free time, plan to do the bulk of your work that day.

For example, let’s say that you have a lot of time on Saturday mornings, most of which you spend sleeping in.  Get up earlier (but still later than you wake the rest of the time) and put in two hours of writing between when you wake up and noon.  If your goal is five hours a week, now you only have to divide 3 hours between the other six days. That’s only thirty minutes a day. How much time do you spend dinking around on the internet?  Probably more than thirty minutes.  If you normally spend an hour on the internet, cut that down to 30 minutes and use the other 30 minutes for writing.

It’s not about abandoning other activities in favor of writing.  It’s about balancing out the other ‘time wasters’ like video games, internet browsing, or whatever your favorite time-suck activity is.  As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  You don’t want to take away your favorite activities, or writing will not be fun anymore.  But if you cut down on some of your favorite things to make room for writing, you will still be able to have fun and you’ll be more likely to actually write instead of putting it off.

Now, five hours is not a magic number.  The truth is that ten minutes of writing a day is better than no writing.  (I’m always trying to convince my guitar students of this when it comes to practicing their instrument.)  If you can only swing 60 minutes for the whole week, that’s better than none.  It will take you much longer to get projects finished, but if you hadn’t been writing at all, 60 minutes is in fact infinitely more.  One minute a week would be infinitely more.  Math is fun like that.

If you want to make more time for writing, it can be done.  It’s not about finding time for it, it’s about making time for it.  And no amount of time is too small, unless that time is zero.

You will eventually finish something in ten minutes per week.

It is impossible to finish something in zero minutes per week.

On the other hand, if your schedule varies, you might put in no minutes one week and 10 hours the next.  This is okay.  Nevertheless, you need to plan ahead.  Planning ahead can be a pain, but won’t it be worth it in the end?

Develop these skills now, while you’re young.  You won’t regret it.

How would you describe your current time management skills?  What would be a realistic goal for you to set, and how could you divide that based on your current schedule?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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