Friday, July 27, 2012

Time Management for Writers

by  Linda Rodriquez

In my former life, I ran a very successful university women’s center. I was famous for my time management and organizational skills—and not just on campus. I was fairly well-known in Kansas City because of the many public programs I organized and led and the numerous organizations with which I collaborated and partnered. People often remarked that they couldn’t understand how I could keep track of so many events and activities and accomplish so many things.

I was extremely organized, and my family and I lived and died by my DayTimer. That was part of the answer, but the other, hidden part was the number of nights I stayed up until 3:00 a.m., finishing some project before getting up again at 5:30 a.m. to put myself together and attend an early breakfast event or meeting to start my workday of 10-12 hours. Eventually, when I developed several serious autoimmune disorders I could no longer keep up that kind of schedule.

Now, I write for a living. Writing is my job, as running the women’s center once was. But I seem to have lost all those fabulous time management and organizational skills. Not only do we no longer live and die by my DayTimer in this family, I’d be hard put to lay my hands on it. After several years of serious and scary debility before doctors diagnosed and found proper treatment for me, my house has never been the same, smooth-running, well-organized place it once was. Some things I regularly did to keep it humming along I can simply no longer physically accomplish.

My biggest problem in the time management area is managing to balance the writing of books with all the online and in-person promotion of books that is required of us today. If I overdo building the “platform” my publisher would like to see, my writing time suffers, but if I don’t do enough of the promotion, my sales suffer. I don’t have an answer, but I’ve learned to make writing the first thing I do in my work hours. Once I ensure that my current book-in-progress is going well, I can schedule in promotion activities for the rest of my time. When I follow that simple principle, I feel that my writing life is in balance. When I get sidetracked and don’t, I begin to feel out of whack and overwhelmed.

What are your tips? How do you manage your writing and promotion time? How do you organize your life to keep that balance? Or don’t you?


  1. Finding time for everything I need or want to do is a constant struggle. I don't have to worry about promotion yet as I'm unpublished, but there's still the online networking and building that all important platform that even fiction writers are expected to have.

    We're also building a log cabin and I'm acting as general contractor so that's taking up a lot of time. Then when the shell is finished, hubby and I are doing most of the inside work ourselves. But I'll have a nice little writing retreat when it's all done!

    What seems to work best for me is writing for a couple of hours in the morning (I include the social networking in those hours), then afternoons are for all the other stuff. If I'm not exhausted by evening, I might put in another hour on the WIP.

  2. Joyce, you're the contractor for a cabin you're building? Ye gads, girl! My hat's off to you. How do you find any time to write, at all? That's hard work. And how do you find dealing with the workmen? Any problems because you're not the usual guy?

    1. Most of it is done by phone. I have to call everyone a few times a week and make sure everything is on schedule, that any required inspections are done, etc. We live two hours from the site, so we rely a lot on the guy who is actually doing the building. We're usually only on site on the weekends. No one's had a problem with talking to a female. But then, we buy them all a case of beer every once in awhile--they don't want to p*** off the beer lady, lol.

      I'll be glad when we get the bathroom in. I'm tired of driving to use the one at Subway.

  3. I'm still working on the issue and I'm currently on a 3 month course of chemotherapy which does not help. Pesky little things like being in a family and having friends also keep popping up. For me it;s a work in progress.

  4. As I'm also unpublished, I don't have the promotion duties, but like Joyce there is the platform building. I try to spend the first hour catching up on anything that happened over night so I can then jump into the writing.

    But I have another time management destruction device: kids. The laundry I can let slide, the cleaning is flexible, and food prep is hit or miss. But when The Boy comes down with a bright red eye that tells me he needs to go to the eye doc, everything stops.

    I've learned to prioritize. Sometimes that means writing is first - and sometimes it means writing has to take a back seat. So goes the world.

  5. Warren, as with Joyce, my hat's off to you, blog brother! Sometimes I have to take chemo drugs for my lupus, and I can hardly function for part of that time. I manage to write some, but can't handle much else. You're remarkable!

    This past week, I had my afternoons blasted. Long meetings with freelance clients. Visiting author in town to squire around. The 96th birthday party of a dear old friend. Meeting a friend I hadn't seen in almost twenty years whose husband recently died. Couldn't skip or shorten any of them. Days I wrote first were days I made my reasonable writing quota. Days I didn't manage that were days I folded late at night, having written just a couple of hundred words.

  6. My takes:

    1--The ideas of doing/having it all need to be disposed of, and I mean as of yesterday. What a line of bull we give ourselves and everyone else. No one should be making the "all" part of any equation. No one has or gets EVERYTHING. Give it up.

    2--We hear and repeat all the time the advice about needing to take the time and energy to take care of oneself, or else you're no good to anyone, blah, blah, blah. But no one ever seems to implement that so we amount to being liars and self-delusional. Here's a tip: IF you are "doing" and "managing" and "incredible" for yourself AND everyone in your orbit, BUT it is making you sick and/or unhappy, you are NOT actually accomplishing anything that isn't simple, silly vanity and/or martyrdom! What is the point of being admired and praised for your efforts if the efforts are actually nearly killing you?

    3--I work hard each day, take sick days when I'm under the weather, plan for good vacation time, and when it's right and smart I say "no, sorry, I can't do that, but hey, how about this" and strike a deal that is truly balanced. I just get over myself sometimes and allow and put faith in others to take on, and do, and help and then we all have our moments to shine and contributions to make. I'd rather spend some days doing heavy lifting that is part of a bigger group effort than give in to my ego and control-freak side and take it all on to the point of hurting my health. What's so great about me and "my" way over anyone else and their way, anyhow? Other people are good and trustworthy and smart, too! Show me a person who tells you all the time about the nitwits they are surrounded by and I'll show you and egotist who hasn't a clue about the people around them. The problem with getting something done can't always rest only on "everyone but me"!

    And, not for nothing, we are kidding ourselves when we think that praise is always really sincere or accurate or if we imagine that the days we spend being over-worked and exhausted and cranking it out actually give the world our best work or our best selves. Simply put, when we work sick, tired, or obsessively we are usually not doing as good a job as we think or could, but no one has the nerve or even cares enough to tell us and we are surely not admitting it to ourselves. Isn't it true that we not only enjoy our days of hard work better when we are more reasonably pacing our energies, but we really do better, produce better, too?

    Sure, some days and weeks are going to push your limits, but you will still have limits at some point. Accepting that is a good start to better decision making about your time and energy.

  7. Mary, when you have kids still at home, they have to take precedence. I agree. I have no sympathy for those who say, "Put the writing first, even above small kids." We chose to bring them into the world, and we have responsibility for them until they're grown. My own writing often had to take second place to kids when mine were small. Now that they're grown, it's not an issue.

    So take heart. You're doing the right thing. Enjoy them and take good care of them now. They grow up faster than you will ever think. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "There are no second acts in American life." He was wrong. I'm an example that there are. I'm on my third or fourth act right now. In my first, I stayed home and raised two kids to adulthood. In my second, I worked and went to school while raising another little one. I had my first book of poetry published while he was in middle school. Now, I've had my first novel published when he, too, was grown. Keep doing your writing and building a platform of support. Your second act will be here before you know it!

  8. I feel exactly like you, pre-illness I was able to do it all, and now I simply can't. It has been a long road to acceptance, and there are days I slip back, but mostly I try to remember that all I can do is my best. I know I do that, and I can't ask more of myself. Having multiple autoimmune diseases, I know that we don't always get to plan our days either, the illness has a way of changing what we though we could do! Make sure you schedule breaks and rests into your day and don't compare yourself to anyone else.

  9. Yes, Maureen, it does make a difference whether it's a good day for your body or a bad one. We're all facing these limitations--illness, childcare, caring for an elderly parent, in some cases working several jobs to keep the wolf away. Different time management strategies will work better for different people. Witness the difference between Mary's situation and mine. She has children at home while mine are grown, and that means we'll use some of the same techniques and some that differ. You and I have to take our bodies into account and schedule regular breaks and maybe, on some days, naps to cope with fatigue and pain. But I like to see the different things others do to stay on track with their books. Sometimes I find new things to try.

  10. And Maureen (I hit Publish too soon), I think we all--whether in perfect health or not--can learn from you when you say, "Mostly I try to to remember that all I can do is my best."

  11. Hi Linda - thank you for sharing your story.

    I too struggle with time managment and having to split my time between promotiing, interviews, and reviews and I too live off my Daily Runner. Lately I've been stressing more and more about doing it all and I find that I have very little quality time with my husband. Reading the last lines of your story however puts things in perspective. Starting tomorrow I will institute a certain amount of time solely to writing (I had tried this before but had stopped doing it) then I will allocate time to do everythying else.

    Thank you, Maria

  12. Good luck, Maria! I'm not perfect about doing the writing first. I always regret when I get sidetracked and don't deal with it first, though. My goal is always to do that first. Because of that, more often than not I manage to meet my daily word quotas plus. Just pick yourself up every time you miss and aim for it the next day.

  13. Linda, I appreciate your expertise and advise on promoting your book. I struggle with feeling confident enough to promote my book. Maybe if I knew what it is I'm supposed to do, I would do it. Any suggestions? My first book of poetry was recently published as a new edition with a new cover. I'm working on getting my second book of poems published and have just about finished writing a book called Memoirs of An Educated Chicana. I'm trying to schedule a book signing/poetry reading in Denver this week at a Cultural Arts Center but not sure what I need to do for promoting the event. I live in Southern Colorado so I have to commute to the big city next week. Any tips would be welcome.