Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Time saving tips for busy writers



Everyone’s heard the phrase, “Super Mom.” But how many of us are “Super Writers?”


A Super Writer leaps imposing deadlines while she’s driving faster than a speeding train to her day job. But how do you find the time to do both?


For 15 years, I’ve worked as a writer for an international charity. I travel and write about poverty in Third World countries such as Haiti and then write materials to raise money to help the poor. When I became published, I had to improve time management skills. Challenges were extreme, including one year when hurricane after hurricane kept hitting Florida. It’s tough editing a love scene while a hurricane is lurking off shore! But I had little choice.


It’s not been easy, with imposing and demanding deadlines with the day job and the romance contracts. I didn’t become a “Super Writer,” but a smart organizer of my most valuable resource — my time.

Here’s some time saving tips for busy writers:

1) Invest in your writing: Work at a desktop computer all day? Purchase a laptop and find a different writing space if you can’t face sitting at a desk to write. I use my laptop on the couch or in the Florida room. For less than $300, you can purchase an Alpha Smart. It’s a word processing machine that runs on double AA batteries and powers on and off quickly. Lightweight and durable, you can take it anywhere, even the beach.


2) Use mundane tasks such as folding laundry or cleaning to brainstorm: Daydreaming frees your creativity. At the day job, I use the 15-minute breaks to walk the grounds and think about my characters. It’s amazing how fluid the ideas flow when you’re busy sorting socks or exercising. But don’t spend all your valuable writing time doing tasks. Husbands can do dishes just as well. ;-)


3) Prioritize: If you have a tight deadline, learn to sacrifice. Your writing career deserves sacrifice. After the deadline, make time to lunch with friends, or indulge in other favorite activities. Message boards and blogs are very time-consuming and you need to restrict time on these. Have a few conferences you long to attend? Cut back to one a year and alternate.


4) If you’re published, limit time-consuming promotional activities: Booksignings are not successful for me, so I limit mine to one or two group signings per release date. Conferences are best. Find a conference timed with your book release date and ask about doing a signing.


5) Maintain a writing schedule: Decide how many pages a week will accomplish your goal and stick to the schedule. Know how productive you are and use this to your advantage. Tell yourself, “I will write 10 pages this week.” Be flexible. If you have days when you can’t write, make up for it by the weekend. Life interferes. Family members fall ill, and other emergencies occur, but get back on schedule.


6) Keep a tape recorder in your car and record thoughts about your WIP: I’ve done this for years. Use the recorder during the morning and evening commute or situations such as waiting at the bank drive-through.


7) Learn your body’s rhythm: Are you an early riser? Wake an hour early and write. Can’t get out of bed until the last minute? Write at night. Don’t force yourself to write early in the morning if you’re not a morning person or vice versa. All you’ll accomplish is staring at a computer screen for an hour. Instead, use the extra morning time to catch up on email, blog, do promotional activities and other things.


8) Are you a plotter or a panster? Even if you meticulously write from beginning to end, learn to write sketches for scenes. Just a paragraph can trigger inspiration when you arrive at that part of the story.


9) Learn to write on the go: It’s astonishing how much writing you can accomplish in short spaces of time. I use my Alpha Smart to write while my husband is driving when we’re on the road for at least 30 minutes, or in the field in Third World countries. Take advantage of down time such as:


a. Waiting for an airplane
b. The lunch hour, even just to jot down notes about your WIP
c. At the doctor’s or dentist’s office.


10) Keep a small notebook with you to jot down ideas: Use key words to remember the idea later. For example, I conceived the idea for my third Dorchester historical, THE COBRA AND THE CONCUBINE, while riding in a car to visit a ghetto in Jamaica. I clearly saw Jabari (hero of The Falcon and the Dove) and Ramses (hero of The Tiger and the Tomb) as little boys, peering into a basket Jabari’s father had rescued from an attack on a caravan of English visitors. Jabari’s father had told the boys that the basket contained treasure. Thinking it was gold, Jabari and Ramses lift the top off the basket and see inside a small boy. The boy was Kenneth/Khepri.

The scene was so clear and vivid in my mind I can still recall it. But I was on the road for the day job. So, lacking time to fully sketch it out, I jotted key words in my notebook. Later in the hotel, I was able to remember and construct a short scene.

11) Work writing in with other family activities if you can: Waiting to pick up the kids from soccer? Bring your Alpha Smart. I compromised in spending time with my husband by visiting the beach after work. While he combs the sands looking for shells, I sit and write. Then together, we watch the sun set and our favorite lighthouse flash a steady beacon out to sea.

12) Learn to say NO: Repeat after me. NO. It’s a one-syllable word. Harder to say than you think to friends, family and co-workers. If you’re the one friends always rely upon to throw football parties, say NO. Let someone else do it. Uncle Fred’s birthday party and you’re the only one who can call all 200 relatives? No. If you can’t say no, learn to compromise. Split the list. Remember, it’s YOUR time. Another thing. Learn to turn off the phone or let the answering machine pick up messages when you’re writing to reduce interruptions.

13) Use music, pictures or other inspiration to get back into your story: Juggling between edits for a werewolf paranormal for Nocturne and writing The Lady and the Libertine, my new Egyptian historical, I used a music box I’d purchased at an historical museum to get back into Nigel’s character. The prop also became an integral piece in a scene later in the book.

14) Know your writing challenges and find ways to overcome them: Though my books are very sensual, love scenes are a challenge for me to write. I need to devote a large chunk of time and involve the emotions of the characters. If I’m struggling with a love scene, I’ll skip it. I’ll write “insert love scene” and return to it later. I suggest trying this for other parts of your story instead of spending hours staring at a blank screen.


15) And most importantly: Learn to take time for yourself. Don’t overload. If the Ferris wheel ride of working and writing is spinning too fast, slow down. Take a day off and relax. Visit the beach with your significant other. Do what Julia Cameron calls “filling the well” to recharge your creativity. No time to read a whole book? Read a chapter or two. Picnic in the park. Learn to find balance in your work, your writing and your life.

Day jobs and deadlines can be managed, if you organize your time right. And you’ll find that the rewards are well worth it.

4 comments:

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner April 21, 2009 at 10:48 AM  

These are all great, Bonnie. I can't add much, but one thing I've done to get as much out of my writing sessions as possible is to not set up the Internet connection on my laptop. No matter how much your laptop squawks that is has to go online, it doesn't. Take control!

When I write on an Internet connected computer, I can't resist the irresistable urge to check my email, post to facebook, or comment on a blog!!

So, no Internet when I'm writing. It's helped me enormously.

I am in awe of authors who can be career writers and hold a job in another profession at the same time. I know I wouldn't write half what they do if I had to divide my time. My brain's not wired that way. :-) Kudos to you, Bonnie for doing it so well.

EmilyBryan April 21, 2009 at 7:02 PM  

Hey,Bonnie! Great post. I saw one of your books in the Walgreens across from the hotel here at RT!

Vinnit April 22, 2009 at 1:04 AM  

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Cindy Holby April 22, 2009 at 6:29 AM  

My time management skills are terrible. I'm just all over the place, writing, painting my office, chasing dogs. I think it is the mom thing, We're geared to take care of everyone else first.

Since my dad's illness I've developed some horrible habits. Really need to work on changing them.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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