4 Tips for Making Time to Write by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D
Learn how to set up a self-management gameplan to write your book with these four time-management tips.
If you have trouble with it, then tough. That’s right I said it—tough! Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write. When you say you don’t have the time, what you are really saying is, Something else is more important right now than writing.
Is that really true for you? Are all these other tasks you’re completing, all of them, more important to you than writing? If so, then stop beating yourself up about not writing and put this book down. Writing has to be a priority for you, at least for the next 30 days. I know you’re probably thinking, “I have to feed my kids and take care of my family! How could she say this!” To this I would respond: You absolutely cannot say you don’t have the time unless you write down all of your activities for one week and prove it!
Remember in the last chapter where I discussed how you might have some new, extenuating circumstance holding you back right now? That is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the regular routine—your daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly priorities. We are talking about why you may have been stuck working on one manuscript for several years, never getting to the end. Or better (worse) yet, stuck writing the beginnings of several stories but never finding the time to finish one of them.
True, if your child had an accident and you have a lot more to do right now, that is a different situation but if your father needs daily care for the rest of his life … well, that has become part of your routine now. You have to accept it and find a way to live your life.
Many parents with a thousand things on their to-do list find time to write; writing is just number one thousand and one. Seriously. Nora Roberts had a lot on her plate when she started writing—and still does—and yet she’s found the time to pen over a hundred and fifty novels. How does she, or how does any author, take on the daily duties of life and of writing at the same time?
Successful authors manage their time, pure and simple.
Get a small notebook and take it everywhere you go. Write down everything you do and how long it took you to do it. In 90 percent of cases, free moments for writing will be found.
TIP #1: MAKE WRITING THE FIRST THING The easiest way to create a new habit is to make it one of the first things you do each day. As each new day progresses, you can be pulled in a number of different directions. There are simply too many distractions that come on once the day is set in motion, not to mention the fatigue that can overcome you after lunch.
What you resolve to do first thing—or at least third thing—in the morning, you will do. It is so much easier to sit down and write a page or two and then conduct your daily business than it is to check e-mail, pay bills, return phone calls, wash your hair, wash your dog, and get pulled into half a dozen different tasks, before trying to write a page or two. This is why many people exercise first thing in the morning. Well, for the next 30 days your exercise is writing. Time management is really self-management.
TIP #2: ADHERE TO THE PARETO PRINCIPLE Have you heard of the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule? It is the principle that 20 percent of your time and effort generates 80 percent of the results, or that 80 percent of what you accomplish is caused by 20 percent of your effort. Most things in life were found to be distributed this way (the distribution of wealth, the number of writers to the percentage of total books sold, etc.)
So, if 20 percent of your effort causes 80 of your accomplishments, wouldn’t it be great if you focused on that 20 percent of result-getting effort 100 percent of the time? Of course it would! Think of all the free time you would have if you only had to do a fraction, the most effective part, of the daily, too-often-unproductive grind. We all waste time and effort, every single day. We do things that will get us nowhere, things that won’t yield any value in our lives. This stuff takes up 80 percent of our effort, if we let it. (There are numerous books out on this principle if you want more information.) This means that as you embark on your BIAM, you must:
•drop all that busy work that gets you nowhere; •drop all the clients who don’t add to your business and do eat into your writing time; •drop all the negative writer friends who drag you down; •drop the agent who is holding you back; •drop all the manuscripts you don’t really love, those you started just because you thought they were marketable; •drop all your high expectations—you don’t have to have the cleanest house on the block (one writer was spending six hours every Saturday cleaning her house, and she had no kids or pets!); •drop whatever you find is within that 80 percent of wasted effort. Focus on that result-getting 20 percent of effort.
When you focus on things that don’t truly matter to you, you are working within the 80 percent of effort that won’t get you the 20-percent results you want. How could it?
We have so much more time available to us now than at any other time in history; it’s just that our thinking is flawed. There was a time when women spent ten hours doing the laundry by hand; now, we just pop it into a machine. Where did those ten hours go? Get a copy of PBS’s The 1900 House and see how people used to live.
Studies show we actually have too much time available to us, and we squander it.
We fill our days with meaningless tasks. Read Living the 80/20 Way by Richard Koch (www.the8020principle.com), and your eyes will be opened:"We have never been so free, yet failed to realize the extent of our freedom. We have never had so much time, yet felt we had so little. Modern life bullies us to speed up our lives … but going faster only makes us feel like we’re always behind."
Simplify your life and focus on the 20 percent of activity and effort that gives you 80 percent of happiness and results, at least for 30 days.
Don’t get confused here—this principle is not about being fast but about slowing down and focusing on what is important to you. If you want to go to the country (your goal), you can go via the quick, less scenic route or the longer, more picturesque one. Both routes fit in with the 80-20 principle—if you like to drive fast then take a fast route; if you like to enjoy the scenery then take the scenic route. You create your goal and then get there in the way that uses your skills and interests … your 20 percent.
If you force yourself to go via the scenic route when you really love speed, you will be unhappy because you won’t get there fast enough; thus, the scenic route becomes part of your 80 percent of wasted effort. The trick, then, is to know both your “to-do” and “not to-do” list, to know your wants as well as your don’t-wants.
TIP # 3: KEEP TRACK OF YOUR WRITING TIME Keep track of your writing time every day using the following Writing Time Tracker. Write in the number of hours you spend on each area, for each day, for one project over 30 days. You can also plug in word or page counts in “Totals.”
The final rows of each week can be customized. When you sit down to write, note the time and when you are done jot down how long you worked in each category. The “Miscellaneous” category is for research, reading, writing exercises, buying materials, and other writing-related tasks. Use the blank rows for other types of non-writing distractions that come up during your set writing time.
TIP # 4: DON’T ASK FOR TIME Find the time any way you can and take it. Of course I don’t condone lying or cheating to get the time you need, though some writers have stretched the truth a bit. Dr. Mira Kirshenbaum says: “Don’t ask for time for yourself. If you ask, people can say no. If you just do it, then you’ve done it and you’ve got it. Your being happy is the only change they’ll notice.”
The point she is making in the quote is that, while writing may be important to you, few people in your life will see it as important. Many will just see it as an unnecessary indulgence. Asking them to help you find time for writing just won’t work. Of course if you had a major circumstance or emergency these same people would give you all the time you needed, so the time is there. They just might not see writing as worthy of it.
You have to decide writing is worthy of that time, and then just take it.
One writer had more than three months of sick and personal leave saved up at his day job. His boss wanted him to use some of it before he lost it. He was afraid to take off, but he did and now has a small but steady writing career in the works.
“Work as if it doesn’t matter.” John Gray made this statement in his book How to Get What You Want and Want What You Have.When I first read this, I wondered how I could possibly do that because I care about my work!
One day when coaching a client I realized I was so intense on the listening that nothing else around me mattered. This is what he meant! This is being in the moment and not concerned about doing.
Being vs. Doing The concept of being vs. doing can be difficult to grasp. We think about what we want to do, but how do we just “be” as it takes not thinking. Activities that allow us to connect with our hearts and feelings help us learn how to “be."
A helpful tool is making a comfort list, things that bring joy and peace, keeping you “out of your mind!” The list may look like this:
Listening to music Walking along the beach Taking a warm bubble bath Reading a great book Listening to wind chimes Watching candles glow Listening to the silence Spending time at a bookstore Talking with friends Watching the sunrise Watching the sunset Having a massage Giving a hug Collecting your favorite things
The more we allow ourselves time for these comforting activities, the more connected we become with our center, creating a balance within ourselves. Being in the moment is realized as pleasurable.
Five Signs a Literary Agent is a Good Match For You Posted by Chuck Sambuchino
So you’ve got a great book and you want to get it published. You could try to simply market it, sell it and negotiate it on your own, but many new to the business simply don’t feel comfortable doing that on their own. That means that it’s time to find an agent but you don’t just want any agent, you want the right one. How can you know if a literary agent is really a good fit for you and the kind of work that you produce? Here are a five signs that things will work out between the two of you.
1. He or she commonly works with books like yours. Finding someone who is actually interested in the kind of work that you’re producing is essential. If you’ve managed to get an agent that commonly works with material in your genre, then you’re on the right track. He or she will have more enthusiasm and know more about what it takes to get your work in the spotlight than someone who doesn’t really focus on the type of work that you do. 2. He or she pushes you. The best agents shouldn’t just let you be lazy and do what you want. While there should be a balance of power, they should push you to work harder, get more done and actively market your work if you’re not already doing that on your own. There should be a great give and take between the two of you, allowing you to maximize your potential. 3. He or she is excited about your work. Someone who is not really excited about the things that you’re creating isn’t likely to do too much to make sure that they ever see the light of day. In fact, they may languish on a desk somewhere for months. If your agent seems genuinely enthusiastic about finding a publisher and marketing your book, then you’ve found a keeper. 4. He or she is there when you need them. If you’re new to the game, you likely have numerous questions about how the whole process works, what you need to do and the kind of deals you should be willing to make. Your agent should be there to help guide you through the process, though hand-holding can’t always be expected. Find an agent who isn’t always mysteriously “out of the office” when you call and you might have a long future of working together. 5. You actually get along. It might seem pretty basic, but some people assume that because it is a business relationship that they don’t need to actually like their agent. While it isn’t a necessity, this person is someone who is going to be representing your work and who will be tied to it for years to come—it’s much better to have that be someone you actually like and want around rather than someone you merely tolerate.
Anne Tyler's Tips on Writing Strong (yet Flawed) Characters by Jessica Strawser
With a body of work spanning five decades, a Pulitzer Prize and membership in the Academy of Arts and Letters, Anne Tyler is a testament to the best kind of longevity—and the purity of the written word.
Anne Tyler belongs to a disappearing generation of writers, those who came into their own in an era when it was more than enough to—well, to simply write. Intensely protective of her craft, she hasn’t given an in-person interview or participated in a book tour since 1977. In an age where writers are expected to lead double lives as self-promoters to enjoy any semblance of commercial success, Tyler carries on just as she always has, remaining steadfast in her singular devotion to her writing process. And she can get away with it, too, because she’s Anne Tyler—and she’s just that indisputably good.
If Tyler’s writing career sounds like a luxury, a lofty dream come to life—penning a well-received book every few years in the quiet of her home in Baltimore, eschewing the media in favor of the companionship of her characters—it’s one she’s earned. Tyler published her first book, If Morning Ever Comes, in 1964, prompting a New York Times reviewer to write, “This is an exceedingly good novel, so mature, so gently wise and so brightly amusing that, if it weren’t printed right there on the jacket, few readers would suspect that Mrs. Tyler was only 22. Some industrious novelists never learn how to write good fiction. Others seem to be born knowing how. Mrs. Tyler is one of these.” Somewhat amusingly, the exceptionally modest Tyler did not agree, and has since said she’d like to disown her first four novels—in her opinion, she began hitting her stride with her fifth book, Celestial Navigation, in 1974.
She released her favorite of her works, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, in 1982, and cemented her status as a household name in 1985 with the publication of her 10th book, The Accidental Tourist, which she is still perhaps best known for today. The story—centered around a neurotic writer who makes a living penning guidebooks for travelers who, like himself, want to avoid experiencing anything unfamiliar—affirmed Tyler’s reputation as a clever, charming storyteller. Her follow-up, Breathing Lessons, a simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking novel that takes place in the span of a single day, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. But having learned that talking about her writing was prohibitive to actually doing it, Tyler would not be coaxed back into the public eye. She found she could succeed best as a wife, mother and writer without it.
Her books are about families, and the complications therein—marital discourse, sibling rivalry, resentment and, underneath it all, love. Tyler’s eccentric and endearing characters are so intensely real, so thoroughly developed, they come to life on the page—both for her as she writes and for the reader, who suddenly can see a bit of his own mother, father, brother or even self in their blurted-out words, their unspoken impulses, their mistakes and, with any luck, their moments of triumph.
In anticipation of the release of her 18th novel, Noah’s Compass, which hits shelves in January, WD was granted a rare interview with Tyler, now 67, via e-mail—a format to which in recent years she has sporadically consented, deeming it less disruptive. She discusses her latest work, lessons learned through decades of writing, and her literary legacy.
IN AN INTERVIEW AFTER THE 2006 RELEASE OF YOUR LAST NOVEL, DIGGING TO AMERICA, YOU SAID, “I’D LIKE TO WRITE ABOUT A MAN WHO FEELS HE HAS NOTHING MORE TO EXPECT FROM HIS LIFE; BUT IT’S ANYBODY’S GUESS WHAT THE REAL SUBJECT WILL TURN OUT TO BE IN THE END.” IS NOAH’S COMPASS THAT BOOK? HOW DID THE STORY EVOLVE?
Surprisingly, Noah’s Compass did turn out to be exactly that book. That doesn’t always happen. Even though I never base my novels on real events, I do think they often reflect my current stage of life. Noah’s Compass began to take shape when I was in my mid-60s. Like [protagonist] Liam, I have begun to wonder how people live after they have passed all of the major milestones except for dying.
SOME OF YOUR MOST WELL-KNOWN PROTAGONISTS ARE MALE, AS IN NOAH’S COMPASS. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT WRITING FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE OPPOSITE SEX?
I had a really good father, and two really good grandfathers, and three really good brothers—far more men in my life than women, in fact. Probably that’s why I don’t think of male characters as being all that foreign to me. The biggest stretch I’ve had to make is reminding myself that men need to shave in the morning.
YOUR STORIES OFTEN DEAL WITH MATTERS OF FAMILY AND COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS, AND YET EACH ONE SEEMS FRESH. HOW DO YOU ENSURE EACH BOOK CREATES A UNIQUE WORLD FOR THE READER TO IMMERSE HERSELF INTO?
Well, thank you, but I always worry that I’m not creating a unique world. With every novel I finish, I think, “Oh, darn, I’ve written the same book all over again.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE WHEN YOU WRITE? AS YOU RELEASE A NEW BOOK, DO YOU IMAGINE YOUR READERS TO BE PRIMARILY NEW ONES, OR TO BE “CONSTANT READERS,” AS STEPHEN KING CALLS THEM, WHO HAVE GROWN WITH YOU? OR DO YOU NOT IMAGINE THEM AT ALL?
I’ve learned that it is best not to think about readers while I’m writing. I just try to sink into the world I’m describing. But at the very end, of course, I have to think about readers. I read my final draft pretending I’m someone else, just to make sure that what I’ve written makes sense from outside.
At that point, I seem to picture my readers as brand-new to me. They have the neuter, faceless quality of people in dreams. It comes as a shock later when a real-life reader writes to me and turns out to be a specific human being.
YOUR CHARACTERS SEEM SO REAL, IN PART, BECAUSE THEY’RE SO FLAWED. YOU’VE ALSO SAID YOUR CHARACTERS SURPRISE YOU ALL THE TIME. AS YOU WRITE, HOW DO YOU KEEP EVEN THE MOST FLAWED CHARACTERS ENDEARED TO THE READER, RATHER THAN INADVERTENTLY PORTRAYING THEM AS UNLIKABLE?
Sometimes I don’t manage to keep them endearing, and if that happens, I ditch them. It takes me two or three years to write a novel. I certainly don’t want to spend all that time living with someone unlikable.
YOUR BOOKS CAN BE LAUGH-OUT-LOUD FUNNY. IS IT YOUR OWN SENSE OF HUMOR WE’RE READING, OR DOES IT COME FROM SOMEPLACE ELSE ENTIRELY?
I’m not in the least funny personally. The funny things emerge during that stage that writers always talk about, where the characters take over the story, and more than once something a character has said has made me laugh out loud, because it’s certainly nothing I’d have thought of myself.
AT WHAT POINT IN THE PROCESS DO YOUR TITLES COME TO YOU? HOW MUCH IMPORTANCE DO YOU PLACE ON THEM?
I think titles are hugely important, but they don’t always come easily. Several times my editor, Judith Jones, has shot a title down and then I’ve spent ages finding a new one. Only one title—Celestial Navigation—came to me before I’d even written a book for it. At the time I was simply in love with the phrase; I even had a cat named Celestial Navigation.
IN WHAT WAYS DO THE LONGEVITY AND EXPERIENCE OF YOUR CAREER IMPACT THE WRITING YOU’RE DOING TODAY?
If anything, the impact is a negative one. I worry that I’ve done this so many times, pretty soon I’ll start “phoning it in,” as they say. (I love that phrase.) If that happens, I hope I will have enough sense to quit.
YOU SEEM TO VIEW WRITING AS SACRED, AND TO BE PROTECTIVE OF YOUR PROCESS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY YOU FEEL IT’S SO ESSENTIAL FOR IT TO BE SO?
I’ve noticed that whenever I become conscious of the process, the process grinds to a halt. So I try not to talk about it, think about it, write about it—I just do it.
AFTER YOU’VE WON A MAJOR AWARD FOR YOUR WRITING—HAVING DESCRIBED YOUR REACTION TO WINNING THE PULITZER AS “FLABBERGASTED”—HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE EXPERIENCE OF WRITING FUTURE BOOKS? DO YOU EVER FEEL PRESSURED FOR EACH BOOK TO MEASURE UP TO A CERTAIN STANDARD OR EXPECTATION?
Part and parcel of not thinking about the reader is not thinking about a book’s reception in general—the critical opinions or the sales figures. So I am spared that sense of pressure you’re talking about, although I admit that it’s a cowardly approach.
THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED DRAMA-TICALLY SINCE YOU RELEASED YOUR FIRST BOOK. WHAT IN YOUR OPINION IS THE MOST POSITIVE CHANGE YOU’VE OBSERVED OR EXPERIENCED? THE MOST UNFORTUNATE?
I honestly have very little knowledge of the publishing industry. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in having only one publisher in my career, and only one editor, and we have jogged along together without much incident of any sort. I believe I have been in the offices of Alfred A. Knopf only twice in my life.
THE EXPECTATIONS ARE INCREASING THAT YOUNG WRITERS TODAY DO SO MANY THINGS IN ADDITION TO WRITING—THEY ARE CALLED UPON TO PROMOTE THEMSELVES AND THEIR WORK, TO INTERACT WITH THEIR READERS ONLINE, AND THE LIKE. HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND THEY STAY TRUE TO THE CRAFT OF WRITING WHILE PURSUING SUCCESS IN PUBLISHING?
I think it must be very hard. Probably they’re not allowed to say “No,” as writers could in the past. And I’m always sad when new young authors write letters requesting blurbs. If blurbs have to exist (and I don’t believe they do), then it doesn’t seem to me that the writers themselves should be forced to solicit them.
YOU’RE ONE OF ONLY 250 MEMBERS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS. WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A PART OF IT?
It is, without a doubt, the single honor I am proudest of.
YOU’VE SAID THAT WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY, YOU’VE ALREADY SAID THROUGH YOUR STORIES. WHEN OTHERS LOOK BACK ON YOUR BODY OF WORK, WHAT DO YOU HOPE THEY HEAR MOST CLEARLY?
It’s not so much what they hear as what they remember experiencing that I have hopes for. I would love it if readers said, “Oh, yes, I was once an accidental tourist,” or, “I once owned the Homesick Restaurant,” and then recalled that in fact, that hadn’t really happened; they had just intensely imagined its happening.
The whole purpose of my books is to sink into other lives, and I would love it if the readers sank along with me.
THE FIRST NOVEL YOU SUBMITTED DID NOT SELL, AND YOU’VE BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING YOU’D LIKE TO DISOWN YOUR FIRST FOUR PUBLISHED NOVELS. TODAY, ON BOOK NO. 18, HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE GROWN AS A WRITER?
More often now, when I finish writing a book, I feel that it comes close to what I envisioned for it at the outset. It’s not exactly what I envisioned, but it comes closer than my earlier books did. I’m very happy about that.
WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO WRITE NEXT? COULD YOU IMAGINE A DAY WHEN YOU MIGHT RETIRE FROM THE CRAFT?
Asking me that right now is like asking a woman who’s just had a baby when she plans to get pregnant again. I can’t believe I’ll ever write another book. And daily I imagine retiring from the craft. But I’ve been saying that for years.
This article appeared in the July/August issue of Writer's Digest.