Time Management for Writers? What To Do

time management for writers

Did you resolve, on January 1st, to “get more writing done” this year?

Have you ever bought a book on time management, or read a bunch of blog posts on productivity, and tried really hard to make someone’s clever system work for you?

How did it go?

Chances are, you ended up disappointed.

Perhaps you felt like a square peg trying to squeeze into a round hole.

Or maybe you did get more writing done—but weren’t happy with the results.

Regular time-management advice is aimed at regular people in regular jobs. It’s for people whose days are filled with meetings, emails, phone calls and itty-bitty tasks.

It’s not generally aimed at people who want to spend hours writing… and it doesn’t take into account your need for creative energy and periodic rejuvenation.

(Don’t ditch all the advice you come across, though. One common productivity tip definitely applies to writers: minimize interruptions. More later on why that’s so important.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to spend your life as a writer in a stressed, procrastinating muddle.

You can absolutely be more conscious and proactive about how you use your time.

Here are the five key rules you need:

Rule #1: When You’re Writing, Write

However much or little time you have, you need to make the most of it.

I learned this rule early in my writing life, at university. I had to turn out an essay or two a week, and I had a pretty good system. I’d do the research, jot down key quotes, write a detailed plan, and hammer out a first draft of about 1,500 words.

Typically, I allowed two hours for a first draft; I was usually done in one and a half.

But on one particular day, I was chatting online with my cousin while drafting my essay.

It took me three hours to get that draft finished. Twice as long as it should have. All because I was distracted every couple of sentences, and never got into flow.

If You Do One Thing:

Turn off your internet connection while you write. It’s probably the source of most of your distractions… and you might be surprised by just how much you get done.

Rule #2: Minimize Interruptions

Have you ever sat down to write, with the best of intentions, only to find your efforts constantly derailed?

The doorbell rings. Then the phone. Then your spouse wanders in to ask you a question. Then you get a text from one of your kids asking for a lift home.

Even brief interruptions can knock you right out of the flow of writing. Longer breaks can eat up the whole of your writing session.

While having your very own office might not be possible right now, you can and should make the effort to get rid of as many interruptions as possible.

If You Do One Thing:

Ask one person you live with to help you protect your writing time. This might mean asking your spouse to take care of the kids, asking a roommate if they could answer the phone or door if needed, or asking your teens to fix their own dinner.

Rule #3: When You’re Not Writing, Get Enough Down Time

You’re probably a busy person: you’ve got chores, maybe a day job, or small children, or elderly relatives to care for, or other responsibilities. It’s easy to let down time get squeezed right to the margins of your life.

I don’t think you should even try to write during every minute of “free” time you have available. That’s a recipe for swift burnout.

Instead, make sure you get enough down time—whether that’s an hour in front of the TV, or an evening out with friends.

Make this a real priority, otherwise when you sit down to write, you’ll find yourself distracted, tired, and tempted to give up.

If You Do One Thing:

Keep the last 30 minutes of your day for something restful. Many writers find this a great time of day to read in bed! It’s something to look forward to, and a good way to unwind at the end of a hectic day.

Rule #4: Spend More Time Planning and Less Time Editing

This is another rule I’ve learned the hard way. I’m good at planning blog posts and non-fiction books, but I’ve always been a “pantser” when writing fiction.

This worked fine when I had a fair amount of time available, but these days, I have two young children. If I want to ever finish what I start, I need to have a solid plan upfront.

The more you plan, the less you’ll need to edit. It can be really disheartening to completely redo, or even throw out, months of hard work when you realize you’ve gone in the wrong direction with a project.

If You Do One Thing:

Don’t launch straight into the writing. Allow the first 5 minutes of your writing session to plan, or to review your current plan. If you have really short daily writing sessions—say, 30 minutes—then this might be tricky. Try to allow some time once or twice a week, instead.

Rule #5: Keep Learning About Writing

It’s easy to spend a ton of time going in a particular direction with your work, or struggling with a tricky problem, only to one day read an article or book chapter or blog post that solves everything.

I’m not suggesting you put off writing anything until you feel sufficiently educated about writing: that’ll probably never happen! Instead, carry on writing regularly, but set aside some time every week to learn more about the art, craft and business of writing.

This could mean:

If You Do One Thing:

Set aside 30 minutes this week and 30 minutes next week to learn more about writing. (If it’s hard to find 30 minutes continuously, try for 5 minutes each day – for example, reading one blog post.)

Making the time to write consistently, and using that time well, isn’t easy.

Even if you have days or weeks when everything goes wrong, keep trying.

Over time, you’ll build a solid writing habit—and a great body of work.

If you’re struggling with finding the time to write, or if you’re sitting down to write but not getting anywhere, know that you’re not alone!

Drop a comment below to tell us what you’re finding hard, so we can support you.

Please share the post if you found it helpful!

About the author:

Ali Luke is the author of “Lycopolis,” “Oblivion,” and “Publishing E-Books for Dummies.” If you want to get serious about your writing, download her free ebook “Time to Write” for practical, encouraging ideas that you can get started with right away.

 

Read below or Add a comment...

38 thoughts on “Time Management for Writers? What To Do”

  • This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the good work. I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea.

  • Judy says:

    Good stuff. I find the planning part the hardest. I actively resist it … procrastinate by doing almost anything rather than attempt the left-brain, analytical actions of figuring out a plan for a non-fiction book or project. Any tips?

    • Loretta says:

      I’m not an accomplished writer by any means, but I write nearly every day. I’ve found with longer works, like fiction books you need to set up index cards for the book, cards for each plot and subplot and update the cards as you write. If you need to move scenes around, you can simply change the chapter heading on the card and move it into the deck.

      If you get stuck on the plot, brainstorm for solutions on paper until you find another avenue that works. Always update those cards as you add chapters. And set a minimum word count per day. This will get you working towards a goal. The budget word count will vary around your routine. If you have small children, write when they nap and write 1,000 words per day. If you have more time, make it 2,000 words. Before you know it you will have a first draft written.

    • Melinda says:

      I encountered the same issue when planning for a historical fiction piece I was working on last year. Writers tend to lean naturally more towards the creative sides of projects, so I was able to really enjoy the planning part of the story by integrating the necessary research into my more right-brained plotting. While making plot diagrams and outlining character biographies/relationships, I researched the time period in order to emphasize the story and noted those facts in a different document. You’ll get so many more plot ideas if you derive inspiration from your research. Hope this helps!

    • Ali Luke says:

      I think Loretta’s suggestion of using index cards is a great one. If that doesn’t work for you, you could try brainstorming / mindmapping. Although I am a fairly left-brained thinker and I like linear outlines, I find that mindmaps are great for just chucking ideas down on paper and freeing myself up to be a bit more creative in my planning.

      From a mindmap, you can develop a linear outline, or put points onto index cards — whatever works for you.

    • Ali Luke says:

      I think Loretta’s suggestion of index cards is a great one. You might also try mindmapping (aka brainstorming) to generate initial ideas and to start forming connections between them.

  • David Throop says:

    Ali,
    I really enjoyed the way you finished each of your points with an actionable tip! It’s a strategy I hadn’t thought of using in my own blogging before and am excited to try it.

    With regard to your point (#1 – When You’re Writing, Write) – Stephen King wrote in his “On Writing” that he would use his lunch breaks at a factory job to work on his idea. That idea turned into his novel “Carrie,” which launched his career.

    Hugh Howey also discussed that he wrote many different pieces on his lunch breaks, including parts of his well-known “Wool.”

    It was a matter of prioritizing and finding the time.

    I agree whole-heartedly in finding enough down time.

    I know I pressure myself WAY too much that I need to write more when I haven’t finished a project, or done enough writing for the day.

    But I find that writing to be stilted, unimaginative and boring. I’ve learned that a little down time, recovery from writing, helps make the next day easier, more enjoyable, and much better writing than when I was trying to squeeze every ounce of free time.

    Thanks again for sharing your blogging style again. Don’t be surprised if I mimic it a little!

    • Ali Luke says:

      I highly recommend swiping great post structures when you find them! 🙂

      I agree that downtime is really important. The problem with writing is that you’re never really finished — even at the end of a project, there’s always something new to work on.

      Lunch breaks can be a fantastic time to write — in fact, I think any time slot in your day that has a natural start and end point works well, because it helps you focus.

  • Chris P says:

    I too am a pantser (I’m a fiction writer). I never plan any more than by deciding a few themes I want to incorporate – often at least one will continue from the previous novel in the series (or occasionally an even earlier one.)
    I then write scenes on those themes, which I’ll put to one side to use in the novel.
    Sometimes I’ll use one of those to open the book, or occasionally even use a scene from the previous book if appropriate, as a prelude… then I just write.

    I edit as I go, developing the themes into threads that run parallel (chronologically) in the plot. At some point I decide where I want the story to head and write a scene near the end. Then I’ll steer the various threads towards that scene… building tension into them as I go, which can be released as a climax when they all come together.
    At the end, I’ll add another twist… either on the last page, or as an epilogue, though on the novel I’ve just ‘final edited’, I made the surprise twist into a new very short (less than a page) chapter of its own. It worked better than the way I originally wrote it.
    Anything that needs referencing earlier on, I’ll go back and write in. (sometimes a whole chapter if necessary – I’ve even written a new chapter one to precede the old one once I’ve got an ending in mind).

    I never really know what’s happening until it does. I believe that if I have to keep turning pages to discover what’s going to happen next… so will the reader. It seems to work for me.

  • Melinda says:

    I realized late last year that I actually wrote less after I started to consider writing my job: keeping schedules for it, writing in lieu of allowing free time, stressing myself over too many deadlines than I could handle. When the creative, enjoyable, expressive, almost impulsive aspects of writing are extracted from it, it becomes a chore. This blog post helped! I’m sure some others have been struggling with this as well. Thanks!

    • Ali Luke says:

      This is such a tricky issue, isn’t it? A lot of people advise writers to “think of it as a job” and treat it that way — and that does make sense for some types of writing (e.g. if you want to be a full-time freelancer). It can really take the fun out of it, though, if you’re writing fiction.

      For me, there needs to be a balance between having some structure (e.g. working on my fiction writing during a specific time slot — 5.15pm – 5.45pm, at present) and also having plenty of room for spontaneity (e.g. writing later in the evenings if I want to, taking some time off when I feel the need to).

      I think every writer’s different here, and while “treat it like a job” might be right for one person, it’s certainly not good advice for everyone — as you’ve found.

  • I always enjoy reading your blog, and I also learn something. I agree with the above article. One of the hardest thing I find is increasing my word count and looking at my word count constantly.

  • Thank you, Ali! I had an amazingly productive day today and this is why: Without overthinking, I whisked my laptop into the back room with its 3+hours of battery time. I sat down on the couch, opened up Scrivener (which I am learning as I go), and set to work typing up the fiction that I’d written previously in a spiral-bound notebook.

    A couple hours later, I had written several chapters (1,000+ words) for my new romance novel, researched carousel horses, and found pics of scene and main characters to import into Scrivener.

    Thanks for the reminder to minimize distractions. Biggie for me! 🙂

    • Ali Luke says:

      That’s fantastic, Penelope — what great progress, and well done you for just getting on with it and keeping distractions at bay. Hope you and your laptop enjoy lots of focused writing sessions in your back room now. 🙂

  • L'aura says:

    I feel like it most challenging minimizing distractions as you said it’s one of the toughest things to do. When you sit down to do something like writing, as well as other hobbies, it is important to have some amounts of energy concentrating on the very thing that you are doing and if something comes up that pulls your focus away then it’s easy to just get in the habit of not being able to write because there’s always that one thing coming up or the internet holding you in a hole and before you know it you’ve used an hour +. Every sense I was little when I’d get my dads newspaper as well as during adolescents I’ve been fond of writing and want to do the drill more often. I would also say it feels especially hard now having small children but I also have that much more creative inspiration and longing for meaningful ideas to take form and help to shape their future sphere.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Small children are definitely a big challenge — though I find that (rather to my shame) I’m actually more productive now in my writing than I was as a student, with very few responsibilities. If I know I’ve only got 30 minutes to write before I need to get the kids’ bath running, it’s easy to stay focused — if I’ve got all day, I’m hopeless!

  • Deena says:

    Ali, this is terrific! I really like your approach, and the fact that you have tailored it specifically to writers, whose needs are truly different from those of, say, CEOs. I am going to share this with my writing class.
    Deena

  • Linda H says:

    My problem is blocking interruptions. I’ve a business so when the phone rings if I don’t answer it I might miss a new client. Yet that creates distractions that get me sidetracked. Often turns disastrous. Learning to forego answering the phone and just letting it go to voicemail, but then there are emails that keep me sidetracked too. I’m getting better, but some days are just drains.

    Also have time setting aside time for reading and learning the craft. I try blocking time but it always seems to get muddled. I’ll work on these and pull up an ebook to read for 30 minutes or so. Setting my timer helps keep me focused because I’m not worried about time.

    Your post is encouraging. So many things I need to focus upon and merely get done. More discipline and less concern about not getting something done. Great ideas, thanks for sharing.

    • Ali Luke says:

      That’s a tricky one where you genuinely need to leave the phone on. (I always get potential clients to email and schedule a call in advance — I don’t make my number available otherwise — but that obviously may not work well for you.)

      What do you normally do to re-focus after an interruption? Like you, I find that one interruption can all too easily lead to me getting distracted — I’m not sure I have a great solution to that yet! What does work for me, at least some of the time, is to try to notice and label distractions (e.g. “I’m about to check Facebook — that’s a distraction — I’m supposed to be writing right now”), and to try to get back into the work at hand as quickly as possible.

  • Catie says:

    I realize this might not be the best comment to leave on a writing blog, but… If you only have 30 minutes a week for learning, DON’T waste them on blogs. Most of them have superficial and sometimes even erroneous information. Instead, get a good book on writing from an accomplished author. This is not a criticism of this particular blog, it’s just that I’ve wasted so much time reading unhelpful blogs. There are so many crappy ones out there, and if you’re a beginner, it’ll be hard for you to tell which of them are crap and which are not.

    • Ali Luke says:

      That’s a perfectly reasonable point, Catie — blogs vary widely in their quality (as do books, of course). One advantage of blogs if you’re short on time and motivation is that they’re designed to dip in and out of — but I wouldn’t suggest relying ONLY on blogs for learning.

  • Ramona says:

    I can work 2 hours/day, since I also care for a 2 year old girl. Weird enough, after years of working 8-12 hours/day I realized it’s not the time you put into your business, it’s HOW you use it. I’ve started being more productive and organized and can do more stuff in 2 hours than I used to do in 8 hours.

    I no longer keep a long to-do list, I have few things and I prioritize like crazy. And yes, I track my time and make sure it’s work time, not procrastination 😀

    • Ali Luke says:

      You’re absolutely right about two good hours being worth more than eight so-so ones — my working time is quite limited these days (averaging about 3 hrs/day) due to small people! But I’ve become much better at prioritising, at saying “no” to commitments I don’t want, and at carving out time for my fiction.

      I think it’s too tempting with an 8 – 10 hour workday to faff around (plus there’s only so much creative work you can do in a day).

  • This article is so on point. I have found that writing and having a day job and running a household usually clashes. Unfortunately, many times writing is the hardest hit. The tips given here is very helpful and worthwhile. Thanks

  • Your article is reliable for me. Because I am a professional writer in one of the best writing service. This article reveals me what i should do and what are not. Thanks

  • Jolie says:

    This is probably one of the best blog posts about writing I’ve read in a while. A lot of advice doesn’t pertain to writing so it’s great to read an actionable post that sends you in the right direction while relating to the many traps that sometimes prevent us from completing our goals.

  • Deirdre J. says:

    As I was reading this, I was wondering if the author had been spying on me since I often struggle with much of this. Finding a balance is difficult when you are juggling a million and one personal responsibilities.

    Interruptions are the worst! Getting back in the flow while being constantly interrupted is nearly impossible. However, I agree with another commenter above. It’s about making the most of the time you DO have to write.

    • Ali Luke says:

      I think a lot of us writers have pretty much the same problems! Interruptions are a tricky one — for some people, they’re not too hard to avoid (work in a room on your own, with the door shut) but if you’ve got young children or other caring responsibilities, it’s a bit tougher to get uninterrupted time.

  • ebooks2go says:

    Amazing article!! Time management, planning and also learning about new ideas for writing is really exceptional, must be most useful for new writers and authors. Thanks for sharing.

  • Trevor says:

    Interesting, I will have to check through this as I am about to launch my book The Myth of Time Management: and the alternative solutions. Its the 21st Century Alternative to Time Management.

  • Mikey says:

    Good post! Yep it’s all about what you do with your time. I couldn’t be busier and I know I miss out on writing opportunities still, every day. Even if it’s just 20 minutes, there’s always time to write, you just have to plan it in a realistic way. Something I am always strugling with.

  • I like your work its amazing because its very interesting and useful.Thanks for sharing some of most valuable and informative posts.also check my post.

  • Sandra Sparks says:

    Im glad that I stumbled upon this blog as I have found it to be very interesting.Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge