Have you ever sat down to write and gotten up hours later ... and accomplished nothing?
Where does the time go? Yes, spending time on social media can be a time sink but--for myself at least--I think most of the time the problem is as simple as not being focused.
1. Be prepared.
The first step to getting things done is to know what it is you want to do.
The day before yesterday I sat down and wrote close to 5,000 words in three hours. I know there are oodles of folks who could do more with less, but I was pretty happy!
The next day I got next to nothing done.
Why? What was the difference?
On my productive day I focused. I knew what I wanted to write. I had mapped out the structure. On my unproductive day I didn't take the time to prepare; to figure out in advance exactly what I wanted to accomplish.
Think of all the time you could save if you never again had to stop and puzzle: Now, what was it I had to do?
How I apply this:
I need to make a list of the writing related tasks that:
a. Must be done today.
b. I would like to get done today.
c. I need to do at some point.
If a task needs to get done by a particular date I write down that date. (I find Google Tasks is great for this!)
I've already talked about general-things-I-need-to-get-done lists, but now I'd like to talk about writing-related lists. (See: Time Management Tips For Writers.)
Elizabeth Spann Craig gives examples of lists she uses in her article Tips for Writing in Short Blocks of Time:
“5 ways to describe my protagonist,”
“7 ways to describe the main setting,”
“5 potential subplots involving secondary characters,”
“5 possible endings for this book,”
“7 ways my protagonist can grow,”
“5 things my protagonist fears more than anything,”
“my protagonist’s biggest goals”…you get the idea. [The quotations are all from ESC's article, Tips]
2. Find the place and time that works best for you.
I think it's a great idea to keep a writing log. You can do this with a program or just go Old School and enter the data into a spreadsheet program like Excel--or even a textfile!
When I did this I used the following categories:
- Place (home office, couch, coffee shop, park, and so on)
- Day of the week
- Time started writing
- Time finished writing
- Number of words written
After a few weeks you'll be able to see where and when are the best times and places for you to write.
3. Every sliver of time counts.
Here's the power of lists.
Remember those lists we talked about in the first step, "Be prepared?" Let's say you're standing in line at the market; the fellow in front of you is trying to buy something the cashier never knew existed and a bevy of tall, gangly, teenagers are scouring the shelves trying to figure out what it is and how much it costs.
So--if you decide to remain in line--you've got 10 minutes or so of nothing much to do. This doesn't have to be dead time. Pull out a list!
Here's the list I would work on: Come up with names for five characters in your WIP.
When I begin a story--this is true for my zero draft--I don't want to halt the creative flow by trying to puzzle out names, so I use whatever comes to mind or call them by their role. But, eventually, all my characters have to end up with names, names that suit their personalities.
If I'm stuck in line at a checkout, I'll look around at the contents of the shopping carts around me. If I saw a jar of Bick's pickles (my favorite) I might be inspired to name one of my pseudo-people "Bickerson" or "Bickers" or "Bicksly," and so on.
Another way I come up with names while waiting in line is by picking up a magazine and looking at the credits section. Often a name written there will suggest an idea. If not, then I might start combining part of one name with a part of another. For example, if I saw the name, "Edward Robinson," and "Jeremy Hall" I might write down, "Robin Hall" which might suggest the name "Hallingsworth," and so on.
You get the idea. Do whatever works for you.
4. Reward yourself.
This is a step I think folks skip all too often. We let the cares of the day, the hour, the minute, carry us away and it is effortless to let oneself be swept up in them, and swept away.
But when you accomplish something significant--even if it's just that you did everything on your to-do-list for the day--celebrate!
For myself, sometimes this celebration is as humdrum as getting up from my chair, stretching, and taking a walk among the unfamiliar and somewhat shocking abundance of colorful plants in our newly established community gardens.
Or--a less healthy alternative--I'll get another coffee. (grin)
What do you do to keep your writing schedule on track?
Photo credit: "L1410411" by Savara under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.