Thursday, September 9, 2010

Is It About Time?

It seems that every writer is constantly lamenting their lack of time management skills. Not enough hours in the day. How does author x write so many books in a year when she has a full time job or four kids?

I think the first thing we have to realize is we aren't author x and we need to stop comparing ourselves unfavourably to everyone else out there. It only matters who we are, and what our own unique challenges are - and how we deal with them.

I think each of us has to decide if it's lack of time we have, or lack of ability to manage that time. Once you identify which issue it is, you can focus your attention on tackling the real problem.

Take the 24 hours time wheel - or make a list. Shade in the the amount of time you spend on necessities in a day: sleep, work, commute time, shower and personal grooming, eating. For most people this probably takes up 20+ hours if they work full time, without factoring in childcare for little ones such as baths, storytime, physical activities, etc. Add in a partner, aging parents, housekeeping and house maintenance and your own exercise time and you can see how carving out even an hour each day is difficult. And if you're a single parent it becomes ten times more challenging.

If this describes your situation, don't beat yourself up because you lack "time management" skills. Your problem is lack of time, not management of that time. Sometimes we have to accept that while our children are young or while the day job sucks up too many hours - we will be writing in small increments. So get creative with the time you do have. Plan to write on the weekend when Dad takes the kids out for swimming lessons and lunch at McD's while mom writes. Take a notebook to the kid's swim practice. Can you find a quiet place at work during lunch two or three times a week to write? Instead of driving to work can you take a bus or train and write during the commute?

IF writing is a priority, what are you willing to give up to achieve it? Another exercise is to develop a "strategic plan" for your life. What are the three or four priorities in your life? What's important to you? I seemed to complain and resent the time I spent volunteering - although no one forced me to agree to these commitments.  When I looked at the list of my life's priorities one of the things I valued was a responsibility to my community. It was important to me to contribute to the world in which my children grew up in. Once I realized this, I let the resentment go, Yes, writing was important, time with my children was important but so were health and my extended family and the community I lived in.

I had to make some tough choices about other activities. I liked to sew and craft and take classes on them, but not as much as I liked to write and I did these things during the time I could be writing.  I was taking a cooking class that was 40 minutes away from home - more than an hour of total commuting time. These weren't high priorities at that point in my life so I let each of them go - and used those hours to write instead.

So, if writing is really important, consider it every time you have a choice to make. Do you spend way too much time commuting to work? Consider finding a job closer to home - or moving. I know! Drastic measures! Do your kids have to be in every activity? Can you car pool with other parents? Consider bulk cooking on the weekend so you spend less time at it during the week. Can you get your kids involved with chores around the house? Folding laundry together is a great way to teach younger children about household chores and spend time together at the same time. When my girls were little the thing they wanted most was to spend time with mommy. Exercise together, do chores together, cook as a family and then when you want to write, they'll be much happier coloring quietly or watching a disney video.

What if your problem really is your lack of time management skills?

I would say that today, with my kids almost adults, this is my challenge. I've cut out a lot of the time wasters, made writing a priority, set specific times to write. Then I sit down to write and I stare at the blank page.

And I stare.

I write a little, change my mind about the direction of the story and rewrite it. Then I worry that the conflict isn't strong enough and I try to fix it - which means more rewriting. My mind gets sidetracked by everyday concerns and I have to get up and deal with them and then I can't get my mind to focus back on the story. I seem to be writing a lot but not actually producing.

I know that my perfectionist tendencies and fear of failure are two psychological barriers that I struggle with everyday. I'm frustrated with my lack of progress. Is this just my writing style that I have to learn to live with and deal with?

Now I have the time to write. How do I get myself to use that time more productively?


Janet said...

Wow - Anne, this is a great article! Thanks so much - I'm bookmarking it so I can come back and exam/apply your wise words when I have time (Ha - I didn't mean it in a sarcastic way, company's here and I'm juggling the Day Job with visiting and sight-seeing; that is my priority at this moment - when I'm back to normal, I'm seriously going to fill in that time wheel!)!!

As for productivity - I've learned through writing instalments for my blog story that deadlines really do get the words moving. Do you have a friend, relative, other who you can send a section of writing to every week? Say 700 words (or something doable) that must be in their inbox by a certain day and time - no excuses? I know that having my Thursday deadline for Mickey's story really does block the angst and self-doubt. Some days, I think it's the worst kind of dreck, but it gets posted anyway because I've run out of time! It really is working for me.

Other than that, no advice. I'm so proud of your committment to the "Stop Whining/Start Writing" campaign - seriously going to sign-up! Get the Kool-Aid ready :)

Anne MacFarlane said...

Janet, sounds like you're having a wonderful time with your mom.

I meet with a crit group every two weeks - and seriously it's the only thing that makes me produce anything. They're my writing goddesses.

I don't produce nearly enough, given the time I have to write, though and that's what's frustrating me. Somewhere between the desire and the blank page, my self-defeating behaviors rear their ugly heads.

Hello. My name is Elizabeth. said...

I think it's easy to forget that hours are made up of minutes, and therefore can be separated. I'm single, no kids, and I work from home, so I get a lot of "That's easy for you to say!" backtalk when it comes to finding time to write. What isn't said is that I work just as many hours, go to school full-time (at a campus an hour away), and have my own family responsibilities and obligations. I rarely, if ever, get a whole hour to write. What I do get are minutes. 10 minutes before class. 15 minutes while I'm waiting on the dryer to buzz. 5 minutes while on the phone or while lunch is in the microwave. 30 minutes where reruns of a favorite sitcom used to be. Those minutes--which would otherwise be wasted--add up. Use them or lose them. I get about 20 pages a day done that way. They're nowhere near perfect, but they're easier to work with than if they were blank.

Anne MacFarlane said...

I think working from home can be the most time-consuming job of all - the work day tends to be all day rather than just business hours.

I'm amazed that you can write that many pages in the day by grabbing minutes here and there. I'm going to give that a little more consideration. I have a tendency to only write when I have several uninterrupted hours.

Cat Schield said...

I saw your time wheel and started to hyperventilate. Time management is something I could benefit from, but the second I try to do that is when my creativity goes out the window.

Tell your inner editor to take a hike before you sit down. That can help with the blank page staring.