The 1 Missing Tip for Finding Time to Write

Golden retriever and a pile of puppies
Really, do I need any other reason besides puppies?

It’s the eternal question, isn’t it?  Joanna Penn has this topic up on her blog this week.

I’m in the long-tail of the ending of my book Cursed Planet (a redraft of 49er Planet), so it’s very close to be done.  My deadline for it is March 31, so I’m trying to hit that.  Either way, it’ll be a win.  I’m trying to cut my time on books down.

Meanwhile, there are two anthology calls I want to submit to.  All I can do right now is think about what I might write for them, so I can focus on finishing.  I also passed by one that is closing on March 31 because getting Cursed Planet done is the most important thing.

But there’s a skill that everyone misses when they talk about time management, even among the gurus on the topic.

Learning Skill Gaps

I just spent the last few months filling in some long-standing gaps.  Craft books certainly didn’t teach them (if you aren’t aware of it, most craft books exist simply to get a new writer through a first book.  Most classes are the same way).

Skill gaps can hold us back.  I think that sometimes we have to be really ready in our progression to take on a skill gap, as well as ready mentally.

The first was how to get ideas.  That had been a sticking point to even writing a new book.  I took a class on it, and…wow!

Then there was the part of my progression I wasn’t ready for.  I had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming…setting and the five senses.  I knew I needed to do it and it took at lot of learning, and a lot of time.  Three years, actually.  It was also a spaceship sized gap that did need to be fixed before I could progress to what I really needed, because everything connected together.

It was frustrating because the writing took longer than I wanted.  This skill wasn’t as intuitive for me, or rather I had to make sure I would do it because if I didn’t, I would skip over it.   I got to the point where the creative side flags me pretty fast if I forget rather than me blowing through a couple of chapters before I realize I left the setting out.

So it shortened the writing time a little as I filled in the gap.

Over the last few months I took Research for Fiction Writers; Novel Structure; Teams in Fiction; and Secondary Plots.  All of those were a progression of filling in a big skill gap for me: novel structure.

As I hit the end of my story,  I can see how all of this learning has played out.  Sure, I’ve gotten stuck on the story, but it’s not the debilitating one where I have to stop and regroup.  It’s more like a quick stop for a few hours, and then it’s “Ah, so that’s the problem.”  Very different experience.

It’s weird because I’ve read a lot of time management books, and they don’t talk about skill gaps as a time management tool.  Yet, if you have a report you’re building every week in Excel, learning more about Excel will help with ways to shorten the process and manage the time better.

Target a skill gap today and make your creative side happy!

I’m attending the Writing Superstars next February.  If you would like to attend, you can use this code LADAMS.  This is a marketing focused writing seminar with big name writers that you’ve probably read.  By April 30 though–after that, the cost goes up.



Quote about Time Management

I think I’ve read about a zillion books on time management.  Partially due to work, because work is sometimes like getting bludgeoned with everything all at once.

I found this quote on Cal Newport’s blog, and it really fits:

At some point, however, you have to put a stake in the ground and say: I know I have a never-ending stream of work, but this is when I’m going to face it. If you don’t do this, you let the never-ending stream of work push you around like a bully.

Productivity, Word Count, and Fiction Writing

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been about seven years since I broke up with my cowriter.  We had a manuscript in submission and had even received a request for a full from an agent.  Things had already waded into the deep end at that point, and there were frequent sinkholes abound.

One was finishing a book.  I noted that publishers had a year deadline for finishing projects, and frankly, I was alarmed because our rate of finishing a book was quite a bit longer.  So I said something about us needing to learn how to write faster, and he poo-pooed and said everything was negotiable.  I was horrified.  I had this immediate picture him blowing off the deadline as negotiable until the last minute and me stuck with trying to meet it.

That was a wakeup call for me because I realized that he didn’t have writing on his priority list.  Everything else was more important.  So I started writing every day.

And you hear that everywhere.  NanoWri is this month, and the focus of getting 50K done in a month is hitting the mark of about 1700 words a day.  I’ve also seen writers admonish from their blogs:  “I write X words a day.  I sit at my computer and don’t leave until I have X words.”  The implication, of course, being that everyone else should do the same and that we aren’t being productive if we aren’t.

Then there’s the other crowd that goes with slow writing.  I haven’t quite figured out that definition.  In typing this blog post, I hit 267 words in about six minutes.  Sometimes I type fast, sometimes I pause to think, and sometimes I make a lot of typos.  I often do a lot of pausing as I’m figuring things out.  So exactly how slow are people writing?  One sentence a day?  Or are they talking about not writing that often?

These conflicting opinions create a certain negativity that has filtered into my writing at times, and I’ve had to fight to keep them out.  At one point, I was trying to produce words every day, so I brought a laptop to work and did it at lunch, then went home and wrote some more.  Then suddenly I was starting to hate the writing because it felt like work rather than anything fun.  Sometimes I wanted to read a book at lunch, and instead, I was thinking, “I have to write.”  I felt guilty on weekends when I had all this time available, and I spent half a day running errands.

In other words, I focused on doing it, rather than focusing on writing.  I suspect though there’s a lot of people saying that’s what they do and not actually doing it.  Two K a day is 500,000 words a year.  That’s five or six novels, or more novels if they’re shorter.  It pays to check the person and see if they actually have a lot of books or not.  I looked at one who is selling a book on productivity, and she has, well, not a whole lot, to be telling people how to produce.

So is there a secret?  These are some things I’ve learned:

It’s really important to have fun while doing the writing.  If I’m fighting with a scene, I’m not going to get much done.  I can think of all times when I was working on a past project that had run way too short, and I had my eye on that word count.  Every time it dropped, I just berated myself.  That sucked the fun totally out of the writing.

Now I sometimes have to go back a scene and think about why I’m not having fun.  For me, it’s usually that I went too dark and didn’t catch it.

Yet, so many writers talk about much work it is, how they enjoy having written, but not doing the writing.  Why write then?  This is something purely optional, and certainly, if it’s not fun, it’s awfully hard to find any motivation to do it.

Another area is I found to help is NOT focus on word count goals.  Those often get labeled as a sign of success because it’s very measurable, but it’s very easy to think about completing the goal, not about having fun writing it.  Or at least it has been for me.  On an early story, I tried do it in thirty days.  I mapped out how many words I needed to accomplish that, and towards the end, I ended up adding scenes to  the story to get the word count, not because the story needed it.

What works better for me is say that I’m going to work on the story for an hour.  Then I can stop and do something else.  This tends to give me 800 -1200 words.  It’s not a straight through type — I have these pauses where I’m trying to figure out what the heck is supposed to happen, and sometimes I’m trying out something and it doesn’t quite work the way I’m thinking of.  Sometimes I’m dashing off to look a word up in the dictionary.  I still can get at least 800 words usually.

After I finish my hour, I stop for a while.  Usually it’s watch TV.  Then I come back and do some more.  Often, I’m wanting to come back and do some more!  And sometimes I’m just tired or my sinus are acting up (this time of year is sinus headache time).  Just about 90 minutes a day like this and I can do 8K-10K a week.

Finally, I also forgive myself if I have a day where I just don’t get to writing.  Yesterday, we got a cold front in, and my sinuses took a nose dive.  I had such a bad sinus headache that I couldn’t concentrate on anything.  So, no writing even though I wanted to do it.  I couldn’t get my brain functional enough.  Yes, there’s so much guilt-trip stuff out there that sets everyone up for failure that’s easy to feel like if you miss one day, you’re instantly behind.  There are some days where it’s not going to happen.  That’s all there is to it.

But a lot of it, really, is simply making the time, even if it is only 15 minutes.  The only failure is not writing at all.

The Horrors of Buying a Planner

I dread this time of the year because I have to get a new planner, or a planner like thing.  I didn’t really use one at all until about 2007 (seriously), because I really didn’t need it.  But I was having surgery and managed to schedule two of the required appointments at the same time.  So it was probably a good idea to have something.

But it’s tough buying them.  I’m not the only one who has trouble.  Plannerisms has people who go from planner to planner each year (my record was seven, by the way), and DIY Planner has ones you can make yourself.  Then there are people who stick with the same one for decades, like Homemakers Daily with the Franklin-Covey Planner.

One of my challenges is that I’m a right-brained, creative type.  I need some color, and it needs to be colors I like.  Often I’m having to choose between color and format, which is why I end up with seven planners in a year.  Most of the planners provide too much stuff, and I prefer a spiral bound one, rather than a loose leaf one.  What’s too much?  I just need a monthly calendar that’s not too big and not an eye chart.

But all the really nice looking calendars have all the stuff in it and are the 5 1/2 by 8 size, and I want the middle size.  So I either get nice planners with stuff I don’t want, or ugly planners with stuff I do want. My second one for 2014 was a breast cancer planner, and it’s a really ugly shade of pink.  That pastel one, and gray and white.  Yuck.

At the moment, Planner #3 is a Mead Tropical Planner.  I got the dark blue cover, and it’s got beach scenes on every page — full color.  But it’s still got those pesky week things in it.  But it’s the beach …  Maybe I could use the week things to do a setting or an idea a day and make the sections useful.

State of the Writer: Changing Habits

I’ve been about 3 weeks now into some of the small changes to my habits, in preparation to help me eventually write full time.  There were two I’ve been primarily working on, since they have been the most painful ones:

Tracking word count

When most writers talk about tracking word count, they have a daily word count goal, like 2,000 words. They are tracking the word count to show that they are making their goals.  But, for me, word count’s had a real bad history.

You see, I ran short on my last novel.  Not a little bit short, but a lot short.  Word count put a magnifying glass up close on that and kept reminding me of it.  Tracking word count also reminded me of when that word count snagged me up, and I would produce only 100 words.

But I’ve also realized I needed something that told me I was making progress — a sign of success –, and unfortunately, that usually means numbers (the infamous metrics).  So, instead of word count goals, I’ve just been noting word count for various projects, including the blog posts.  I did it in Evernote because I didn’t want to see the running total.

I kept thinking through the month seeing the word counts for the various projects that it wasn’t a lot of writing because I knew how much I was doing, and I knew there was some days where I didn’t do anything at all.  Then I totaled it up about midmonth for a report to the critique group, and it was “Holy cow!  I did that much?”  It all adds up.

As of today, I have 21,014 words written for September.

Time Management: Scheduling

I’ve also spent the last 3 weeks trying out a new time management system, one that’s more customized to me.  The reason is that it’s best to get my act together on it now and not go into failure mode when I am able to write full time.

To do lists, the most commonly recommended thing by the gurus, have never worked for me.  My job is too chaotic for them, as this week demonstrated.  I had an emergency that sucked up 2 days, and everything that I was supposed to do those days had to be pushed back.  AndI already had too much to do to start with.

I also saw one of my warning of failure points pop up — if my email goes belong the screen (a 20 inch screen), the system is in danger of failing.  Below the screen means that I’m not able to stay on top of the influx of stuff coming in, and I get overwhelmed.

This has been one of the places where the other systems have all failed.

This time it didn’t.

I’ve been dragging emails where I need to do something onto the Outlook calendar.  It’s easy to move around, and I only see what I need to for that day — not a lengthy list of things that only reminds me that I have way too much to do.

Once the crisis ended, I focused just on getting the email above the bottom of the screen.  The first step was to delete all the emails from the crisis (those started mating and breeding).  Then I hunted for ones where I needed to do something and dragged them onto the calendar.  I ended up doing this for about 2 days because I couldn’t get enough cleared fast enough before the email edged back to the bottom again.

One of the biggest steps for me in this was deciding that I needed to do this, and when I did, instead of jumping on and trying to finish all the things that had been pushed back.  The full email screen would have kept reminding me how much I had to do, much like the to do list, and I would have gotten to the end of the week and left feeling like I was never going to get everything done.

Projects in progress now:

A science fiction short story for an anthology.  Should be finished with that one early next week, or this weekend.

A mystery novel, which, of course, is ongoing.  The novel is set in Central California, with all the pretty beaches and a murder. No clue who the victim is, who did it, or for that matter, when it happened.  The life of a pantser.

A Right-Brained Experiment with Getting Things Done

In my time management travels, I dabbled a bit with Getting Things Done.  I suppose I had to, because it’s a system that a lot of people talked about.  I’ve been trying to get a handle on my time management because I would like to write full time as a fiction writer, and it’s best to do it now.  I’ve also looked at FlyLady (that was scary!), Julie Morgenstern (who gave me the impression that, “Yes, I know people organize differently, but do it my way”), Autofocus (extremely demoralizing) and a bunch of others that largely said the same thing.

One of the basic problems, I think, is that GTD was written 20 years ago.  The world’s changed a lot.  Email and technology has exploded.  I don’t know about other places, but where I work, having the ease of editing a presentation is NOT a time saver.  People will tweak it to death, all the way up until the last five minutes before it’s given.

There’s also an assumption that the person using the system has a stable schedule.  The culture at my work is the fire hose.  Nearly everything is an emergency because people wait so long to do something that it turns into one.  I try to control what I can, but a lot of is out of my hands.  I cannot schedule more than 2 hours ahead because it is so bad.  Try doing a weekly review on a regular basis with a stream of emergencies.

The third assumption is that everyone is a manager and works on a big project or multiple projects.  This is a source of aggravation for nearly every time management system because they assume everyone’s a manager (hello out there, time management gurus.  You do realize there are employees, right?  We’re the ones you’re telling the the managers to delegate to).

The other area I have trouble with is that it’s not really friendly for really creative right-brained people.  I found this on Asian Efficiency, which fits my reaction to the system:

GTD is not written for you and me. It’s written for “left brained” people who already posses strong level of structure in their lives, and GTD adds them another layer of power and control in their decision making process.

Lists are evil things for most of us creative types.  I don’t even use one to grocery shop, because I invariably don’t get everything on the list, forgot items on the list, and overspend because I’m using the list.  The fastest way I can lose anything important is to put it on a long list.  I don’t even keep my submission records on a spreadsheet because it’s too easy for me to lose track of them.  

Creativity is also a funny animal.  It seems silly to me to put on a list somewhere, “Write Scene 4.”  Maybe my muse wants to write Scene 10 instead.  Maybe it wants to write Scenes 4-8.  I’m a pantser.  I follow the flow of the story.  All I truthfully need to know on the creative side is that this story has a deadline.

The result was that Getting Things Done got a resounding, “Not for me.”

Doing Short Stories, Novel, and Blog All At Once, Oh, my!

Fire trucks parked along the curb, lights flashing.
I want to save the emergencies for real emergencies. The fire trucks were for a fire in an nearby apartment building. We had at least ten trucks out.

One of my goals during the 10 Weeks of 10 Stories was to not drop other ongoing projects to meet my personal deadlines for the short stories.  In the past I would take the time from the novel writing to do the short story.  I often waited until I was close to the theme deadline, then did a panicked race through the story to get it done.

It turned a short story into a false emergency.

And my creative process didn’t work right for the story because I was rushing, and it gets rejected.

Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy!

In most cases, I knew about the deadline in advance, sometimes many months in advance.  So with this round of writing, I wanted to write the stories, but also work on the novel and blog.   As a result, I had to think about where the short stories would fit in my schedule and what kinds of deadlines I would write for.

This forced me to look at what else was going on that week.  I went to Balticon and Virginia Beach in the same week, so I decided that a flash fiction story would be a better choice than a 3,000 word one.  Then I attended Books Alive! and I had to work around that as well.

Compare that to last year where I was doing the A to Z Challenge.  I hadn’t thought about how to manage the time for the 26 blog posts and turned them into false emergencies every time I posted.  I went to ConTemporal, and it put a stake through the challenge.

I do think writing at the last minute has its place because sometimes last minute does crop up.  But there should be a real reason behind it, not that I just didn’t manage my time well.  At work, I get false emergencies all the time.  People don’t plan well and wait until the last minute, and it all ends up coming to me.  I’m also a worker bee, so I’m stuck with the system.  I try to change what I can, but the one thing I know:

I can’t bring this home.  Writing has to be fun, and false emergencies strip out the fun.

Rule P: make writing a Priority

Linda’s Rules of Writing

Abstract image of a woman in profile surrounded by geometric shapes and silhouettes, all in orange and pink.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and we don’t have to wait for it.

We’re onto the letter P in Linda’s Rules of Writing for the A to Z Challenge, and on the importance of priorities.

I used to wait for inspiration to come, and then I’d write.  What invariably happened was I didn’t do much writing.

In fact, it wasn’t until I had a fight with my former cowriter that I understood that I needed to make it a priority.  We were in submission to agents of our cowritten novel, and I was a little concerned about us learning how to make the tight deadlines publishers have.  I’d been seeing deadlines of a year to write an entire book, and it had taken us a lot longer to do that.

He dismissed it, saying, “Everything is negotiable.”  I had this immediate horrifying vision that I would be the one crashing on the deadline and doing all the work while he blew it off and got half the money and credit.

It made me realize I couldn’t wait for inspiration. I had to make inspiration.

It’s easy to find other things do, so writing has to be at the top of the priority list.

What do you make time for writing?

Rule D – Discipline yourself to write

Linda’s Rules of Writing

An Asian woman lays on her stomach and works on a laptop on the beach.
Laptop? Beach? Oh, yeah, I could write here.  Maybe that’s a goal for this summer.

We’re onto the letter D in Linda’s Rules of Writing of the A to Z Challenge, Discipline yourself to write.

I could give you link after link after like “Butt chair” or “write every day.”

But honestly, a book doesn’t get written unless you discipline yourself to actually sit down and do the writing on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every day, because, honestly, some people have schedules where that’s difficult. But regular is important because it’s awfully easy to have other priorities and end up not writing at all.

It starts with making an effort.  How do you discipline yourself to write?  What times do you like writing at?  Any favorite spots like my beach photo above?  Do you have any rituals?

Writerly Adventuring

Cover for The Darkness Within showing an evil-eyed monster against a black backdrop.
Cover: The Darkness Within


Some of the discipline I learned came from being in the army for 12 years.  I served in Desert Storm, when it was still strange and new for women to be at war.  My story “A Soldier’s Magic” comes from some of those experiences, blending magic, modern day military, and women soldiers.  The Darkness Within.
Caption: A to Z Challenge Logo

Top 10 Blog Posts for May

In case you missed any, here are the top 10 posts for May.

1. Moleskine Hacks for Fiction Writers:  I never go anywhere without my Moleskine to take notes.

2. Is There a Strong Woman Character or Are We Being Fooled?:  We have tons of books with women protagonists.  But do we have strong women characters?

3. Engaging Readers with Social Media:  Check out the discussion in the comments on whether writers should do writer blogs.

4. 5 Lessons I Learned on Finding Time to Write:  “How do you find time to write?” is one of the most common things writers ask.  Find out what I do.

5. 5 Links on Time Management for Writers:  Check out what other writers are doing to manage their time.  There are some great links in here.

6. Writing with the Jellyfish:  On my journey to embracing being a pantser and working with my unique writing process.

Jellyfish floats aimlessly, moving upwards.

7. Technology Hacks for Dealing with Twitter Spammers:  Check out some of the great tools that are available to keep spam out of your Twitter feed.

8. Should You Write with a Cowriter?  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:  It sounds like a great idea, but is it?  Check out what I did wrong.

9. Triberr Review: Useful Tool or Shiny Toy:   The Triberr owner dropped in for a few comments, so check it out what he says!

10. Balancing Writing and Social Media [UNLEADED]: It’s easy to get locked into “promote, promote, promote” and forget to write the book.

For you:  What subjects would you like to see?  Post in the comments below.