Make the most of your writing time

funny sleepy puppy

Franklyn has mastered the art of maximising his time

I was going to call this post ‘make your writing time last longer’ but I reconsidered, deciding that it was probably an outlandish claim seeing as most people juggle jobs, families, and generally hectic lives, as well as their writing.

Not everyone can stretch their time to incorporate more focused writing, but we can all make the most of the time we have available to generate ideas, edit current work and generally further our projects. (This applies to non writers too – as you read on, replace the writing references with whatever hobby/work tasks are relevant to you.)

Here are a few tactics that I rely on to get the most out of my day and maximise its potential.

Exercise first thing. I find this stimulates the body and mind and unclutters your brain. How long does it honestly take you to get going in a morning? Why not use that time to get the oxygen flowing round your body and benefit from the feel-good factor of having a great start to the day?

Many people choose to exercise with a friend because they find it motivating, but I recommend going alone if you can. You’l find your mind fresh and alert, rather than bogged down with gossip/problems – and it’s much easier to get started right away on your projects when you’re done exercising.

Choose wisely. Some writers leave their work with a sentence unfinished, so they’re itching to get started the next day. Personally, I like tasks to be ‘completed’ (read – finished to the best of my ability in that session) before stopping. If you know you only have fifteen minutes to write, and that that’s how long it takes you to get into your character’s mind to work on your current chapter, for instance, don’t set yourself up for failure. You’ll only feel irritated and short-changed when you have to stop. Choose something else that will move you forward.

For instance, is there a character’s name that doesn’t sit right? Research alternatives and mindmap ideas. Is your title not quite working? Play with that. How about redrafting a paragraph of a short story that’s been niggling at you? Maybe there’s a themed submission you’ve got your eye on but haven’t come up with anything yet? It’s time to play with ideas! As writers, the task we choose is vital to our sense of achievement.

sleep kittens cuddling up

As you can see, my cats also follow my advice.

Switch tasks. If you swap between tasks, you can honestly write for longer. It’s a great way of maximising your time. I find that by the time I’ve edited two chapters, my mind is straying from the task in hand and any subsequent chapter editing isn’t as focused. In other words, I need to walk away until the next day. However, I don’t need to walk away fro writing completely.

If I switch to a short story, or a piece of flash fiction, or even my next blog post, I work completely refreshed. I find, however, that trying to plan too rigidly can get stressful because you feel like you can never do enough. Write a list of the writing goals you want to achieve that week, with your main WIP prioritised. Once you’ve achieved your main goal, work through the secondary list one by one. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish.

Notebooks & other devices. All writers talk about the ingenious notebook – that magical place where we can jot down overheard snippets of conversation, plot ideas, observations and interesting facts that may be useful later. But they’re not that ingenious if they’re sat on the desk at home, unopened. Get used to carrying your notebooks around – make it a habit, like picking up your keys or driving glasses.

If you prefer technology, or a multi-sensory approach, use an app on your phone like Evernote to record ideas and inspiration. I love Evernote because you can take snaps, record your thoughts via audio and make notes – all in the same spot. And if you sync them online, you can access them at any time from any computer. Genius, hey? There are various diary and note taking apps available – try some free downloads until you find one that you enjoy using. Then you have yet another handy tool for collecting ideas.

Create time. Ask anyone about their day, and they’re busy. Almost too busy to tell you about their day. You don’t get many people saying – well, I read a paper, walked the dog, then sat staring out of the window, enjoying the view for a few hours. We’re all busy all of the time, but look at how you’re spending your day and ask yourself – am I spending my time wisely?

People with incredible lives make them incredible. They make choices that give themselves more time to do the things they want to do. Are there things you could do smarter? For instance, could you combine tasks, such as walking the dog to buy your groceries? Do you really need to sit chatting during your lunch break, or could you fit in an extra half hour of writing? Even twice a week? Is it really necessary to spend that much time on Twitter? Which leads us perfectly to…

Internet off. Not forever, but while you’re writing. When you’re writing, that should be your sole focus. Otherwise, you’re in your world, not your character’s – and how is that going to be believable to your reader?

Then there’s the distraction of checking emails, chatting about your writing on twitter (otherwise known as procrastinating), sticking up some inspirational pictures on Pinterest – ooh, and then I wonder how THAT writer’s getting on over on Facebook. We’ve all done it. But there’s nothing that can’t wait until you’ve achieved that day’s goals. So while we’re at it…

franklyn puppy with toy collection

Internet, phones, TV off. No distraction here! I’m 100% focused.

Phones off. Voicemail is the answer. We’re used to being completely contactable 100% of the time, but is it necessary? When police are patrolling the streets, they can’t use their mobiles – and their nearest and dearest wouldn’t even consider trying to call them while on duty. Likewise for librarians, schoolteachers, shop assistants and anyone else when they’re working. And so be it for writers. Only you have to make it clear – and stick by it.

No TV. I know this isn’t ideal for everyone but if you don’t switch the TV on, you’re not distracted. If you don’t have a TV, there’s no ‘switching it on for background noise’ then ‘accidentally watching’. When people go on holiday, they’re amazed at how much they fit in. Often, it’s because they’re not sat watching TV for a section of their day.

That’s not to say TV is a bad thing, but if you want to maximise your time it’s a no go area – at least while you’re writing. A less drastic alternative (and a nicer compromise) is to set a writing task that you have to finish before you switch the TV on. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Wait. This is the one that many find hardest of all – especially in the early stages of a writing career – but waiting is actually beneficial. Letting your writing sit for a while before redrafting works wonders. Flaws are easier to spot, tongue-tied sentences stick out and if the idea hadn’t quite blossomed enough, the gaps are easier to identify. In short, the quality of work you produce is often much higher than if you tried to redraft it day after day for a week. If you don’t already wait, try it and see.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on these matters, but these things work for me and I hope they work for you too. If you have any other tips on making writing time more effective, please let me know! I’m always looking for ways to keep the day productive, stress-free and enjoyable – while making the most of my writing time – so all suggestions are welcome!

How will you make the most of your writing time today?

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