Ever been caught in the “if onlys”? If only you had more time you could write a novel. If only you didn’t have to clean the house, wash the dog, or change the oil in the car.
If only we had more time. Guess what? Everyone has all the time there is. 24 X 7. That’s it.
Telling myself that “if only” I had more time I’d write a great novel is my best excuse. “If only” I had more time, I’d have written this post last week. Instead, I’m on deadline because I didn’t act on four principles of managing time:
- Set a Goal
- Make a Task List
- Prioritize the Tasks
- Schedule the Tasks
Set a Goal
What do you want to accomplish?
To meet your goals, set them with reasonable expectations and make them controllable. If you haven’t written a novel before, setting a goal of publishing one in 2010 is neither reasonable nor controllable. It’s a recipe for failure.
A reasonable goal might be to learn how to write a novel. It’s also controllable. You can take classes, read books on how to write novels, join a critique group.
Unless you self-publish, a goal of publishing a novel is not under your control. It depends on agents’ and publishers’ opinions of your work, which you can’t control.
Assuming your goal is under your control, how do you accomplish it?
Make a Task List
What must happen in order for you to achieve that goal? Write down everything you can think of. Your list might be something like this:
Take classes in writing fiction.
Read books on writing fiction.
Join a critique group.
Then list all the items you need to accomplish each one. Taking a class might involve:
Find the right class.
- Research classes at local colleges.
- Research online classes.
Decide on a class.
- What can I learn from this class?
- Can I afford it?
- When is it offered? Does it fit my schedule?
Register for the class.
Making a list is continuous. I adjust mine frequently, and revise as needed.
Prioritize the Tasks
Assign A, B, or C to each task. Most time management systems suggest making task lists, but seldom do they suggest prioritizing them. Yet without prioritizing tasks, I jump from one thing to another with little progress toward my goals.
Assigning priorities can be difficult. We all have families that depend on us, jobs with bosses, household chores. We shop for groceries if we want to eat. Babies have to be fed, the cats has to be taken to the vet, the horse has to be shod.
In general, assign A to necessary tasks, i.e., those that have to be done, that are time-sensitive, or that are more important than others.
Assign B to tasks that aren’t so important as A but can’t be put off very long.
Assign C to tasks that can be forgotten about for the time being. In fact, C tasks are those that you need not think of until someone else (your boss, your spouse, your child) reminds you: “What do you think of my planning memo?” (Great, but I haven’t thoroughly absorbed all of its points.) “Did you take the lawnmower to be sharpened yet?” (The grass is only six inches high.) “Did you take out the garbage?” (Oh, that’s that funny smell.) “Did you fix my bike?” (You can get your driver’s license is ten years.)
In general for me, writing is A; watering indoor plants, marketing, and answering e-mail are B; and housecleaning is C.
Schedule the Tasks
Get tough, unless it’s not possible. Find a time when you can write, block it out for yourself, and stick to it. Be as serious about it as you are with any other block of time you consider inviolate. For a writer, writing time is sacred. If you don’t hold it sacred, no one else will.
I’ve arrived at a point in my life when I can declare writing time off limits to anything else.
Before that, I wrote in cracks of time. Now, the cracks are wider, but I’ve also gotten tougher about maintaining my writing time. I told a friend that I guard writing time like Mama Grizzly with cubs. She said, “I know. I know.”
Pick the time when you do your best writing. Or make time when you can. Some years ago, I heard Mona Van Duyn, America’s first woman Poet Laureate, speak. Afterwards, I asked, “When do you write?” She said, “In the bathroom at three o’clock in the morning.”
If you must write, you will find the time.
To make the most of whatever time you have, focus. Concentrate. On the story, the characters, the language. The writing.
This may sound like sacrilege, but forget word counts. For some people, setting a goal of X words is a fine idea. For me, it’s not.
I like Truman Capote’s take on word count. An interviewer asked how many words he had written that day.
“One,” said the writer whose In Cold Blood broke new literary ground.
“One word for a whole day’s work?”
“Ah, but it was the right word.”
Sometimes during my writing time I make a decision or have an insight into a character that needs thought. I might not write a word, but during the next days my fingers fly and the story rolls.
If life happens, and the dog sicks up on the rug, or the baby does, or you can’t put off the laundry another moment because public nudity is not socially acceptable and besides it’s cold out there, don’t beat yourself up.
Writing will happen. If only you give it a chance.0