I'd say a major challenge we face as writers...at least those of us with families, jobs, and other responsibilities...is lack of time. We're trying to squeeze it in anywhere we get a break from our busy (not crazy!), full day. And then sometimes, when we get that break, that actual hour or so of freedom, we're too exhausted to whip up a few pages of brilliance let alone five intelligible sentences.
But others seem to do it. Others seem to have the ability to actually make time - create more of it from just the 24 hours guaranteed us on a daily basis! They're living busy, productive lives where brilliance seems to flow effortlessly from one project to the next. They're inspired, connected to a higher creative source, at peace when all around them their peers are hustling to barely make a deadline. What's the secret?
Ok, so as a writer you know brilliance doesn't just happen - it takes work, and yes, time. Lots of it. The others, from whom all brilliance and zen seem to flow, just manage their time better. They don't have any more of it than you do. The difference is, they put a premium value on their time as they see it directly impacting their overall productivity and quality of life. And they expect others to respect their time as well, or they simply remove themselves from the equation. It's a non-negotiable. People, not just writers, who respect their worth and their talent develop a system of dos and dont's - their own set of non-negotiables that keep them from steering too far off path. The beauty is, anyone can do this. You can start doing this today. Here's how.
The first step of developing your own time management non-negotiables, is being truly aware of how you spend your minutes. Aside from your major responsibilities and obligations, where do you spend your free time? What's the first thing you do after you've come home from a busy day, connected with your family/pets/parents, prepared dinner, wrap up some general housekeeping, etc. Plop exhausted in front of one screen or another to unwind? Or chat with friends? Hang out at a bar? Shop? Change all your status updates? Some of these activities don't seem like huge time vacuums, but over time, the minutes add up to real hours. Time that could be spent writing or reading (which I also consider writing). Good writers know the importance of every word they put on the page. It has a purpose. If they have too many words or not the right kind of words, they edit. Your time has meaning and purpose, too. Edit your time as you would your writing.
This may sound totally anti-creative to some of you, but to really get the most out of your week, plan it out before the week begins; Sunday is ideal. First, think about what you want to accomplish. What do you need to do to achieve a goal, complete your work, make an important connection, finish piece - the actions that will move your writing/writing career forward. Next, list everything you must do day to day. School, work, kids' activities, etc., fall into this category. Your second level of must dos are things like cooking and maintenance/housekeeping. These things take up a lot of time, so if you can manage hiring someone to clean house a few times a month, do it. Or delegate household responsibilities, if there's more than one of you able to share the workload (my husband is truly awesome in sharing the heft with me, but cooking is my gig). Create a daily plan at the beginning of the week clearly outlining who is responsible for completing what task and make sure they're sticking to it. This frees up hours of your time during the week.
Ok, so getting past the major responsibilities and must-dos, that leaves you with your free time to plan. Plan your family time, spouse/partner time, pet time, parent time, friend time, you get the picture. And make the most of that time you're spending with your loved ones! Next, plan your writing time. Why did I put this behind connecting with people? Because community is important. It feeds you and you learn from it. It's also important for you to participate in a community, even if your community consists of just you, your neighbor and your pet. Whatever community you're a part of, engage fully...then come back to your work focused and ready to rock!
Last, plan your writing time. By writing time I mean, writing, reading and researching. The best writers...the prize-winning ones, the ones that land on the best-seller list, read. They read the work of their peers, and they read books in genres that may have nothing to do with what they're writing. By reading, you're learning more about writing by appreciating or not appreciating how others do it. This is ESPECIALLY important if you're writing within a genre because you must know what else is out there, know the formula.
Plan your TV and screen (this doesn't include writing on your computer) time wisely. I rarely watch TV and limit my online time to blogging, updating my Lit Coach Facebook page and updating my other online sources when my blogs are up. Or, I'm researching the trades and other publishing news and a few blogs I regularly check. I don't check email every five minutes. That's about it. "Just a few minutes" often turns into a whole hour (or more) in front of a screen, plan this empty calorie time wisely.
NOW. While it's important to be flexible in your planning as life does love to throw a curve ball once in a while (for example, my son has pneumonia this week), this to-do list becomes your non-negotiable weekly schedule. The best thing you can do for yourself, for your creative mind, is stick to it, or as closely as possible. When others come into your picture and demand your time in some form or another, it's your decision to give them that time or not. Whatever you decide, you own that decision.
Your Action: Plan out your week as discussed above and try your new non-negotiable system for one week. See where it takes you. Don't forget to share this plan with those you live with so everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
Bonus Points: Aim to be on time: to work; to school; to lunches; to meetings; to scheduled phone calls. Not only does this keep you on track, it boosts your credibility.