I protect my writing time the way a mother bear guards her cubs.
I write first thing in the morning, and I refuse to check my email (or Facebook or Twitter or phone messages) until I've written at least 500 words.
This practice is allowing me to write another book while I maintain my regular roster of clients, manage a household of five and do
significant volunteer work. I'm not bragging; I'm just saying it takes planning.
Here are five ways in which you're probably mismanaging your own writing time:
1. You spend much of it with your fingers resting motionless on the keyboard, staring blankly into space.
This is not writing—it's wasting time. You're staring off into space for one of two reasons:
You haven't yet thought enough about what you're going to write. If that is the case, get away from your desk and go do something else,
thinking about your writing while you walk, ride your bike, swim or run. Take notes afterward. Better yet, create a mindmap.
If you have done enough thinking, you may be suffering from the thoroughly incorrect notion that your first draft must be perfect. No one besides
you is going to see the first draft. It's your chance to be as kooky, immature, irrelevant and incorrect as you need to be. You will fix it later, but you
can't edit a first draft until you have one.
2. You don't recognize how long writing is going to take.
I know I can write 500 words in roughly 30 minutes. This is extraordinarily valuable information for making quotes for clients and managing my own time.
But that is writing time only. Depending on the type of writing, it might take me twice as long to edit.
I thought of the whole issue of time this week when I saw an amusing video about Japanese synchronized walkers. I didn't even know such a sport existed.
Look at this video, especially at
the 1:30 mark. Isn't it amazing? I guarantee those walkers are devoting hours to their sport.
Writing takes hours, too. Just don't make the mistake of thinking the hours are all in the writing. More hours should be in the editing.
[WORKSHOP: Learn advanced techniques for corporate storytellers and writers in this event hosted by Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela.]
3. You leave your writing until the last minute.
This is the natural tendency of most college students and all procrastinators. The deadline has to be breathing fire on your neck before you're moved to
That dragon is easy to vanquish. Get a few words written (even really crappy ones)—fast—so you aren't faced with the horror of the blank page.
I always feel heartened when I open a document with at least one paragraph on it. It helps me to know what I have to do next.
4. You let others control your schedule.
I was meeting with one of my coaching clients this week, and she told me
that her workplace gave her no uninterrupted time. I was horrified. Her boss was addicted to Instant Messaging and always expected an immediate
I think she was a little surprised when I told her she had some responsibility for this situation, too. (If you always answer instantly, that becomes the
standard that your boss and co-workers expect. If you always take four hours to reply, that becomes a much easier standard to maintain.)
We talked through the specifics of her workplace, and she agreed that for part of the day they would allow her at least an hour to respond to messages. So,
each day she is now spending the first hour writing, without turning on email or IM. I also suggested she get a pair of the biggest, ugliest headphones she
could find to give her co-workers a visual clue that she should not be disturbed.
5. You fail to notice the techniques used by other writers.
One of the best writing tricks I learned in the last five years was the art of the one- to four-word sentence. What do I mean? (See? I just did it there.)
Super-short sentences don't suit every type of writing, but they work for mine, and I'm glad I learned this idea from another writer. If you want to
discover other tricks, read widely and copy relentlessly.
Don't be the writer asking yourself the Dr. Seuss question, "How did it get so late so soon?"
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