Time-management and writing

Something struck me the other day about writing. It’s different from most desk-job workflows. Massively so. Let me put it this way. A typical ‘office job’, certainly at the kind of planning-and-control (‘manager’) level that writers have when working, involves a complex daily schedule of appointments. Time is divided up typically into hourly brackets, each often with  a quite different task – a meeting, a report, review or whatever.

A selection of some of my books…

For a writer, though, an hour is just barely time to get limbered up – time runs in blocks of four or five hours or more. My own ‘writing days’ are typical: I’ll get going early, but it’s a couple of hours before I’ll write anything particularly meaningful. Once I’m in the ‘zone’, though, things flow – and I’ll quite often keep going irrespective, because if that flow’s broken for too long then I have to go back to the cold-start again. Sometimes the process involves taking a break of an hour or so, simply to put my thoughts into further order – but never to the point of breaking that flow.

The problem with this, apart from missing dinner, is that being a full-time author also involves a lot of ‘office job’ time with those one-hour blocks. There’s marketing, letter-answering, social media (a bit – I’ve been absent of late), and planning further work. Books themselves also need work other than writing: the publisher editorial input, for instance, which has to be allocated and is non-trivial. For me, as a largely non-fiction writer, there’s also research which, itself, is fiddly to organise these days. All of this, in turn, also requires a certain amount of planning and prioritising. I don’t quite go down to the level of Gant charts, but identifying dependencies and time-factors is certainly part of the planning process.

The way I do it is to plan each week accordingly – I’ll identify priorities and then set aside a day, for instance, for the ‘office jobs’. And sure, I don’t write a single word that day, but it’s all moving things forward and part of the writing deal. Full-time writing, in short, isn’t solely about physically assembling words on a page. And on other days I’ll try to get big blocks of time to let me focus on the text in hand. Being a writer is, after all, running a small business, which has to be run like any other: efficiently.

If you’re a writer – or in any of the creative endeavours, for it’s true of all of them – do you run into these issues? What is your solution?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2022

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8 thoughts on “Time-management and writing

  1. I love process blog posts. There’s something incredibly satisfying in poking into another writer’s head and seeing how they do things. I love how you describe getting into the zone. It’s as if we have to trek from this world to the ‘other’ on before we can really get going.
    As an older writer, one of the things I also have to factor in is brain fatigue, so I try to do my creative writing first thing in the morning. Creative writing is a bit like multi-tasking, it requires a fresh brain. Afternoons are fine for editing or other linear jobs, and there are a million of them. 🙂

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    1. I don’t often write about how I write because it is, indeed, so different for everybody. I’ve found that, because I do this for a living, I have to run it as a small business. No choice. Hence the time management. For me the process of writing fiction or non-fiction is essentially the same – I do both (had some sci-fi published in a couple of Australian compilations a few years back) – with the ‘zone’ being one of the key areas for the basic drafting. Once I have a draft it’s easier to work with the existing material – with the same experience as yours. Editing is easier on the brain cells than creating stuff from nothing.

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  2. Given I don’t, at this point, have a writing career to manage, my small business self doesn’t have a lot of business tasks to manage, but I recognize they’ll eventually cut into my time. That’s part of the reason why I’m trying to be ahead of the curve. For instance, the entire Kovenlore Chronicles series is drafted and I’m currently creating the revision maps for the last two novels. All of that will lessen my stresses later. I’m also not worried about hitting it big with the first book. Readers like to see that a series won’t end after one book or a few.

    Yes, I like to have the time to “settle in,” to warm-up. When drafting, for instance, 500 to 1000 words is when my fingers become limber, not when I quit. Too, I already block my time and have routines. Blog posts, for instance, are drafted on Tuesday, edited on Wednesday, and published on Thursday. That gives me one night to let them sit. It also stretches the task out, another advantage of time management if someone has the luxury of doing so. Walks are breaks, but they’re time spent mulling writing so the flow isn’t broken. I take the same approach working on non writing or editing tasks. Typically, now, that amounts to learning craft, maps, resource construction (including worldbuilding), etc..

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  3. Reblogged this on Kim’s Musings and commented:
    Feel free to share your own time management skills with Matthew, in the comments under his original blog post linked below:

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