Friday, December 20

Time Management Tips For Writers

Keeping up with my writing during the holidays has been, in a word, maddening! Another word would be: impossible.

Sometimes I feel like giving in and wading into the sea of social media and losing myself in LOL Cats and miscellaneous weird, and weirdly entertaining, facts. (Did you know that Google bought eight companies working on robotic technology in the last eight months?)

But Elizabeth Spann Craig has saved me from that fate with her post, "Tips for Writing in Short Blocks of Time." 

I know I often say, "Folks, this post is a must read," but, honestly, if you've ever wondered how some writers can turn out three or four books a year while working in 20 or 30 minute sprints (and, believe me, I have!) Elizabeth's post is one you'll want to read.

I've given you a link to Elizabeth Craig's original article, but here are the points that resonated with me and that now hang above my desk:

Two Time Management Rules For Writers

Rule 1

"You have to actively look for these pockets of time or else they disappear while we check email on our cell phones."

Rule 2

"You have to be prepared for writing…with writing materials and your writing mindset."

How To Prepare

Elizabeth Craig doesn't leave us hanging, she gives practical--helpful!--advice about how to prepare for these writing jags:

Ways to prepare for any size block of writing time:

1. Prepare an outline

"Have an outline or a mini-outline (for that writing day only and what you want to accomplish with the upcoming scene [...])."

"Either have a full outline or at least know what you want to write for the day (a mini-outline) and a brief summary of where you left off the day before."

2. Create a list of writing tasks

"Maintain a to-do list of writing-related tasks to accomplish. Mine may have anything from 'brainstorm more character names/last names' to 'write descriptions of Lulu’s house' to 'research Destroying Angel mushrooms'.”

I have an errand to run in a few minutes time so I've just jotted down a few things I need to accomplish today because I just know I'm going to have at least 5 minutes in a long lineup. Why not be productive rather than bored? (Or, even worse, bored and grumpy because I haven't written. Bah humbug!)

3. Make your outline and your lists ACCESSIBLE

Lists and outlines are great but they won't do us much good if we can't access them when we can snatch a few minutes of time for ourselves. Like, for instance, while waiting in line at the supermarket.

Elizabeth Craig writes:

"Make sure your writing to-do list is available to you for the shortest periods of free time that you might encounter.  I like to upload mine to my online calendar so it’s on my phone if I need it. You could also upload it to SkyDrive or Google Drive. Or just copy that sheet of paper and keep copies in your car or laptop bag or purse."

I use Dropbox. These days everything I write, or need to remember, gets saved to Dropbox or iCloud. For the first time in ... forever! ... I'm not panicked at the loss of my journal or iPad or laptop. (Though, don't misunderstand, I'd miss them! But, unlike my work, they can be replaced.)

4. The magic of lists

If you only have five minutes to do something, have several lists on hand that need populating.

As an example, Elizabeth gives the headings of lists she might work on:

“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.

When I read this part of Elizabeth Spann's post a light went off. I've been re-(re-re-re-) reading Donald Maass' marvellous (I-can't-recommend-it-highly-enough) book: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, focusing on the questions he asks at the end of each chapter. 

I'm going to make a list of all Maass' questions relevant to my character and try to answer them in whatever odd moments I have during the day.

Stalled? Here's Elizabeth's tip:

"If you’re stalling and don’t want to write the next scene:  Skip the next scene and go on to the following one… the idea is to keep pushing through.  Or make a list of ways to approach the scene and pick the best one from the list in your short block of writing time."

Tomorrow I'm going to spend a few minutes getting organized so that I'll have something writing related to do when five, or ten, or fifteen minutes unexpectedly opens up.

What is your strategy to keep writing--to preserve your writing momentum--through the holidays?

Photo credit: "Spitfire" by Daniel Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing these tips! Exactly what I needed to get me writing again!!

    1. Thanks! They've helped me too. Elizabeth Span has a terrific blog. :)


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