I’ve been really looking at my days lately, trying to work out where my time goes and how to get everything done. I’ve read umpteen books with titles such as: Time Management for the Stressed, Housework in Ten Minutes a Day or Less, Organize Your Life Right Now…you know the ones. Some smarmy expert makes it sound so easy and next thing you know you’re filling out charts and planning next month’s meals and losing even more writing time.
After trying any number of systems and failing spectacularly at each and every one, I’ve come to a single conclusion. You have to make time for the things that matter most and do it in a way that works for you. That should be so obvious, and so easy to do, but it’s frankly tough, because the things that matter most aren’t always the easy ones to accomplish.
First on my list is raising healthy, happy and responsible children. Oh, like that’s easy. Makes tooth brushing around the bottom of the toilet (from the book Speed Cleaning by Jeff Campbell) a walk in the park.
I’m also trying to build a career. And in category romance these days that means producing. Editors love writers who can write fast and write clean. But it’s hard work. And time consuming! When you’re trying to enjoy a satisfying personal life as well as a writing life, you need survival techniques.
I used to go to plotting workshops. I would listen to writers I admired outline their ‘systems’ and dutifully attempt fill out charts or write character background studies. I’d get this desperate, panicked feeling in my chest because I couldn’t work that way. Then Jo Beverley came along and said it was all right to Fly into the Mist, and I realized for all it wasn’t organized or structured, my way (which is frankly more akin to cliff-diving then mist-flying) works too.
So, I’m not organized; but even though schedules and to-do lists give me hives, I actually do manage to get books written and my family seems to be surviving. Here then, in no particular order (of course!) are a few random thoughts on time management for the chronically disorganized.
1) Set a writing goal each day. This is a number of pages or words that you will write come hell or high water. It can be one page a day. There’s nothing wrong with that. A page is not hard to write. And often once the first page is down in black and white, it’s easy to write a couple more. That’s how books are built. Page by page. It doesn’t matter if you write first thing in the morning or during your lunch break or after the kids are in bed. Fit it in as you can, but don’t go to bed without completing those pages. Obviously, if you work full time, coach three sports and are studying for your master’s degree in archaeology, a twenty page per day goal is unrealistic. But I bet you could still write two pages a day. Give it a try.
2) You don’t have to do everything. Hello. I only recently finally gave myself permission to hire a house cleaner, after writing full time for several years. But, if I’m going to meet goals number one and two, (family and writing), then being the perfect homemaker just isn’t going to happen. I also don’t bake every day, like I used to. Your ‘things’ will be different. But give yourself a break where you need one. Always bake from scratch? Stop at the bakery once in a while. We instituted ‘snack dinner’ Fridays at my house. The kids make their own dinners. They love it. Their creation has to have one fruit or vegetable in it and other than that I’m easy. It’s one meal a week. Their teeth will not fall out and their bones decay if I don’t cook them one meal. Part of their Friday night treat is watching a video. Meanwhile, my husband and I enjoy a leisurely meal on Fridays during which we can catch up with each other and enjoy some couple time.
3) The slow cooker is your friend. I got this tip from Shirley Jump-Kawa on the Cata Romance loop. You can get slow cooker recipes off the Internet (or buy a cookbook). You throw everything in the pot in the morning and dinner’s ready six or eight hours later. Or ten if you hit the Big Scene and forget all about dinner. Your characters might be burning but your dinner won’t!
4) Work to your rhythms. I’m not a morning person. So, I tend to do my email and lazy stuff in the morning. I get to the power writing around mid-morning and by late afternoon I’m flying. I’ll often work at night, too. But I take a break when my kids get home from school and, whenever schedules allow, we try to at together.
5) De-clutter. Mess is stressful and unrelaxing. I used to belong to www.flylady.com. This rather delightful woman sends you emails daily with bite-sized household chores and inspiration. For instance, you’ll get a cleaning task that takes only 15 minutes a day. I found I couldn’t keep up with the emails after a while, but some of the concepts I’ve embraced. It’s amazing how much you can get done in fifteen minutes if you focus. Part of de-cluttering is tossing ll those systems that don’t work for you, and ‘things you really should do’ about which you feel guilty. Last year I finally chucked out my half finished nightgown that I’d started sewing in grade nine. I always thought I’d finish it. Hmm. You’ve got your version of the grade nine half finished nightgown somewhere in your life, I just know it. Go ahead, throw it out. It’s very liberating.
6) Indulge your fix. Be a deadline-junkie. Okay, I admit it. Deadlines really motivate me. Since I’ve been published, my editors and I work out deadlines and I have to meet them. But even before you’re published, a deadline is a great motivator. Work towards completing a proposal in order to enter a contest. A chapter to take to critique group. Make a deal with yourself to finish your book this year.
7) Learn to say ‘No.’ I’ve babysat countless times for mothers who ‘work’, the implication being that a writer who toils at home isn’t working. The school used to have me on speed dial for unpleasant committees such as lice patrol. I finally realized the fault didn’t lie with other people for demanding my time, but with me for acceding to their demands. Sure, I’ll help a friend in need, who wouldn’t? But it’s okay to say no to requests that aren’t life and death. I got advice from someone who said, stop at ‘No.’ If you say, “no I’m too busy,” then the person on the other end of the phone will be twice as busy and you’ll end up guilted into agreeing after all. Whatever excuse you give can be countered. A polite but firm, “No. I’m sorry, I’m not available,” is tough to argue with.
8) Beware that Trojan horse, the Internet. The upside of the Internet is that it’s such a wonderful research tool and it’s a great way to stay in touch with writers and readers from all over the world. The downside of the Internet is that it’s such a wonderful research tool and a great way to stay in touch with… You’re nodding, right? Have you ever found three of four hours of your day disappeared into cyberspace? Can you afford those hours? As you can see, I don’t have a solution for this one. If you have one, could you email me?
9) Try a Book in a Week challenge. It’s amazing how much fun and productive they can be.
10) Have fun! We became writers because we love writing. Of course it’s hard work. But is there any joy like that of reading a scene you wrote that jumps off the page? Or hearing from a fan or critique partner that they loved your story? Hoard those moments like the treasures they are.
You are welcome to reprint this article or quote from it, but please attribute it to Nancy Warren and include the following:
Reprinted with permission from www.nancywarren.net. Nancy Warren writes humorous, sexy romances for Harlequin and Kensington.