My most successful method to date for getting the job done has been to make certain hours of the day sacrosanct to writing or researching. All other business - reading, reviews, blogs, promo piece and so on has to be done before 10 or after 4, Mondays to Saturdays, or on Sunday. Life has to fit in at those other times too. And email.
I am fairly convinced if I managed to stick to this regime, I’d be able to keep up with the work I need to do and maintain a happy and calm demeanour, well, calm-ish at any rate, but it seems very, very difficult. Now, the odds should be stacked in my favour time-wise; I don’t have children, my partner is a house-husband five days a week and does all the cooking and cleaning, and all I do for a living is write. I should have plenty of time! I have the Room of My Own thing set up! So why do I feel like I’m fire-fighting? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love what I do and think I’m very lucky to have the chance to do it, but I feel I just missed the memo on how to manage my time, so could someone send me a copy? I suspect you all have one tucked among your immaculate research notes.
It doesn’t take much to throw me off. I find I’ve spent half-an-hour finding out about the meter on a 1910 taxi cab, then when I’m satisfied I know exactly what it looks like I write the scene and don’t mention it. I start polishing a simple blog post and suddenly it’s half-eleven. I write to-do lists then doodle plot ideas all over them till they are illegible and slightly frightening. Sometimes I add flowers, but apparently that doesn’t make them look any less psychotic. And don’t writers need time just to wonder and stare? Should I time-table it?
So how does everyone else manage? Do you have days for your Work in Progress, and other days for catching up with your other tasks? Do you all secretly have an extensive staff? I see several of the History Girls are fantastic facebookers and tweeters as well as keeping up their own blogs and I am amazed and slightly terrified. Please share your secrets. And to those of you who manage other careers while writing, and/or have children too, you have my complete respect and admiration. Largely because I think you must have strong magical powers and I want to stay on the right side of you.
You obviously need more to do, Imogen! Tasks expand to fit the time available, but they can't take more time than there is so if you add more to your list, the things will have to squeeze up to make room. I hope. That's my theory. But then, my house is filthy and my VAT return always late.... Fire-fighting, as usual
I have given up my strict working timetable. I failed to keep to it so often it was deeply discouraging. Now I just do the best I can - and enjoy it so much more. And I don't feel bad if I have a sudden urge to walk on days of precious sunshine.
Thank you so much for raising this subject, Imogen! Time - & the organisation of it - is something very much on my mind at the moment: the subject of quite a lot of what feels like flailing, tangle-haired anxiety, in fact! For the first time I'm trying to manage lots of events, plus blogging, FBing, tweeting and - oh yes! - writing the WIP... and all within the hours of 9.15-3pm (when the kids need picking up from school), weekdays only, term-time only... Aargh! But what frustrates me more than anything else is the time that gets wasted when I become stressed about time... because if I panic, I can't work creatively. I need doppelgängers, several of them - yes, that's the answer...
SA my mum's to do lists always start 'write to do list' which I kind of admire! Jo, I like the 'walk in the park' philosophy. That does work for me sometimes, because, like Harriet, I can get frozen if I start stressing. You're right. We have to be careful not to waste time by stressing about time management. I shall ignore the accounts and build a zen garden on my desk. Let me just write that on my new to do list...
Everyone works differently. I find I do need time to let ideas settle and work through my mind. If I don't give myself time to go for walks or bike rides or swims or whatever (it has to be alone, if I take the kids they talk to me and it doesn't work) then I spend hours awake at night while things gel. I've always been way too busy for the things I need to do, so a lot of my thinking time does need to be on the go. But when I try to make myself sit and write day after day, I end up throwing a lot of stuff away that I'd never have written in the first place if I'd thought it through.
There's a difference between thinking time and time-wasting, of course. But it's rather blurry and indistinct.
I try to write for two hours or so a day and if I can do that, I feel I'm okay...that generates about four typed pages if I'm lucky. About 1500 words I reckon is good going. I also have lots of other stuff I do: shopping, having lunch with people and so on. I don't work every day, either, so some days have no writing in them at all...if I'm at a school all day, say. Or if something comes up. In other words, I don't do nearly as much writing as I should. I never work at night, either. I reckon you're doing brilliantly and I wouldn't beat yourself up!
How do I manage my time? I hope you're joking. Like you, I'm childless, and my partner has his own flat, and we take turns in cooking over the weekend - but my house is a mess, the floors carpeted with scrap paper, magazines, books, etc - the garden's gone feral - you can't put a cup down for sketch-maps, to-do lists, plot diagrams - I two days a week at De Montfort Uni and have to keep up with students - I'm self-publishing, organising the Authors Electric blog (http://authorselectric.blogspot.co.uk) - I'm happy as a pig in wotsit but feel like I'm constantly whirling round in a revolving door. A happy pig in a revolving door! - there's an image.
I really empathise with your struggle! I have tried lots of writing regimes but have finally reconciled myself to the fact that I do not write at the same time and in the same way from one day to the next. What works best for me is to be well-slept and fairly organised (food in house, not too many other nagging tasks) before I begin.
You are all very wise and helpful. I'm going for a walk around the park then I shall clear some admin tasks out of the way and ignore the washing up, but mostly I shall be thinking about being a happy pig in a revolving door.
Hardly dare to comment on this one, especially with your production rate and my almost none. Oh dear: a very dark and sooty pot over here in my corner.
But it is hard to find the right rhythm of life for each particular stage of a book, especially when there are families and friends who have their own patterns.
There's also so many short-term, distracting activities that authors are encouraged to do that can be just that bit easier or "completeable" than facing the damn empty page or screen.
You've touched on a jangling nerve! But bizarre as it sounds, we can probably all say ... sometimes just being caught up in writing is a solace for other stresses.
Penny and Dianne, so true. I often do other 'small' tasks to avoid getting on with the work, then when I get going and the work starts to flow everything else falls away...
Sharpening pencils and OCD desk tidiness are good displacement activities and then a slant of piercing Spring sunshine on the windows reminds me that they haven't been cleaned since yon time. But I'm under increasing pressure to Tweet, do Blog Tours and Facebook and am terrified not just about the time commitment but also the potential drain on creativity.
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