Saturday, November 10, 2007

Findaboo - Grappling with Time

This week our columnist, Annie West, confronts that issue which makes so many writers tear their hair out – TIME – and how it can (sometimes) work for us.

Time. It’s in short supply. It’s always precious. We’re often up against it, especially if there’s a deadline looming. We never have enough of it and other people want us to give them ours. Family, friends, net buddies, the day job, editors – they all demand it. Here are some tips that have helped me. Perhaps you’ve got some hints you’d like to share too!

Time can be your friend. When you’ve finished your manuscript, let time pass. Don’t send it straight away. If you have no deadline then wait and get on with the next project. Come back to your ‘finished’ manuscript after weeks or even months. You’ll see your story in a fresh light and notice ways to tighten the writing. Inconsistencies will leap out at you. This makes polishing the story so much easier. Take the time to make the story the best you can.

When do you write best? For many it’s early morning and late afternoon. For some it’s the midnight hours. Being perverse, I often find it’s when I’m supposed to be cooking dinner! If it’s possible to set aside those most productive times for your writing, then do it! If you know certain activities stimulate your imagination – like a hot shower or a long walk or even weeding the garden, try to schedule your time so you do that before you sit down to write.

Don’t give up if inspiration doesn’t strike. Write, even if it feels like you’re pulling teeth rather than writing great prose. If you don’t make the effort to write in the time you’ve set aside for it, you will not produce that book. If you persevere it will usually get easier!

Write often. If you go a few weeks then say you just didn’t seem to find the time or you weren’t inspired, then stop and listen to the warning bells. You’re making excuses. It’s time to ask yourself how serious you are about writing.

Writing can be easier if you set aside specific time for it. If twenty minutes at lunchtime is all you have, then use it. Beware if you hear yourself say ‘I can’t get started because I need x hours alone on this’. X number of hours may be a luxury you don’t have. Be realistic about what time is available to you and make the most of it.

Don’t think that the only time you have to write is when you are alone, without background noise, at your desk. (Sighing wistfully here at that delightful picture). Many of us have dead time: commuting by train or bus, waiting for children at sport or music lessons, or for appointments. Use those times. Jot down some dialogue or points about a future scene.

Beware of the internet! How much do you spend on ‘research’ and ‘networking’? Limit your time on email or browsing sites. Maybe only access the web after you’ve written. It may make the difference between being a writer and talking about being a writer.

Which brings us to time and bribery. If you have trouble sticking at your writing, try a timer. Set it for say 45 minutes and write (without wandering off to watch the kettle boil) until the timer rings. Then give yourself a treat (a couple of pages of a book you’re dying to read, chocolate, a walk in the sun, whatever). Acknowledging that time writing can be difficult is not a sin. If the “time writing = I deserve a treat” system works, then go for it! You will get into the habit of writing and will produce words on the page.

How much research do you need before you write? Many books need research but remember, some can be done as you write or after you have a draft down. Don’t use it as a tactic to delay the work of writing!

Take breaks! Don’t sit at the computer for long stints without getting up and moving about. Not unless you want RSI, a sore back, blurred vision and regular visits to the chiropractor. Take time for regular exercise too – you’ll feel better and more energetic.

Plan your time. Set your goals for the next year. Think about your goals (eg. Finish the next 4 chapters and write an outline for a linked story) and how much time it will take to achieve them. This will help concentrate your mind on how you’re going to make them happen.

Allow yourself time out! Time away from your writing is necessary to give your brain a chance to catch up, and to refill the imaginative well. Don’t feel guilty about it. (But make sure your well refilling isn’t more time consuming than your writing!)

Create a deadline. If that’s what it takes to get you moving, but you don’t have an editor breathing down your neck, make your own. Find a contest you want to enter and aim to finish by the due date.

Remember to factor in time for your ‘other life’. We all get absorbed in our current story, but remember to come out of the cave from time to time and smile nicely at those who’ve (hopefully) let you work.

What are your tips on time? How do you manage to juggle it to suit you and everyone else in your life?

Annie still struggles to manage her time to fit in everything she’s supposed to do. She hasn’t given up yet though sometimes it’s tempting. Her new year release for Harlequin Mills and Boon is ‘THE GREEK TYCOON'S UNEXPECTED WIFE’. You can read an excerpt on her website.


  1. Ah time! I'd have more if i wasn't doing what I'm doing now - being on the internet! That has to be the one major time sucker for me. I go through periods when I have it under control and other when it's a terrible procrastination tool. Like now. :-(

  2. Annie, what a superb post! And where did you get those wonderful pictures? Sadly, time is a problem for me. Well, time and focus. Well, time and focus and energy. Hmm, this is starting to sound like a Monty Python sketch. I'd better stop before I start doing silly walks. Um, that's right, I do them anyway! Something I find is great in the summer months is having a swim when I've got a long day at the computer. It stretches out all those poor cramped back muscles and I find water really relaxes me and the ideas start to flow with a bit more ease. I laughed at the idea of refilling the well taking longer than the writing. Does that mean the well is overflowing? By the way, can't wait until the Greek's Unexpected Wife hits the stands. That excerpt is fantastic!

  3. There's a commercial running on Australian TV currently which shows people at an auction bidding on a few minutes extra time to add to their day. It makes me smile whenever I see it because life does feel like that, doesn't it? We all need more minutes in the day, more days in the week...

    Great post, Annie.

  4. Keziah,

    You and me too! The internet is a wonderful tool when I have it under control. The trouble is that if I'm not careful I find I've been browsing for ages and my writing time has been shaved away. Maybe this post should have been about willpower instead of time!

    Lovely to see you here.


  5. Hi Anna,

    Maybe those silly walks of yours would be as good as spine stretches during writing breaks? I love the idea of killing two birds (exercise and inspiration) with one stone (swimming). That's really clever time management.

    Ah - as for finding to cool pictures to accompany the blog - remember me saying not to spend too much time on the internet...? Ahem. Maybe my next post should be all serious text and no illustrations!

    Glad you're looking forward to 'The Greek Tycoon's Unexpected Wife'. That excerpt on my website is one of my favourite bits - I love putting my characters in difficult circumstances.


  6. Annie, that excerpt absolutely sizzles! Hey, you're right about two birds with one stone with the swimming. Although the birds would have to be ducks!

  7. Hi Claire,

    I'll have to look out for that commercial. Gee, I think most of us would relate to that. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be a position to grab some extra time so easily? But then you'd have to factor in how much time you spent at the auction too...(G).

    I can't recall ever talking to a writer who didn't feel they had those time pressures. But then, maybe if we didn't have them we wouldn't get as much done? I wonder.


  8. Anna, as long as you don't start quacking while you swim...

    Thanks for the lovely feedback on my latest excerpt!


  9. Your post reminds me of that song by The Byrds about time. I think they ripped it from the bible but a time for all things is a great concept.

    As we hurtle towards Xmas a little extra time would be great. This year has gone so fast!!!

  10. Beware of the internet... Never a truer word was spoken! Soooo addictive. Thanks Annie, wise words.

  11. Amy, a time for all things sounds like a motto for life! You, know, I'd never before thought about where the text for that song comes from.

    Malvina, I'm grinning here. When I read your comment I immediately thought of 'Beware the Jabberwock, my son'! The more I think about it, the more I realise how important that point about internet is for me. My most productive days are the ones when I don't access the internet till AFTER I've made progress on my story.


  12. Annie,

    This is almost good advice for me. Although my problem isn't managing what time I have, it’s fighting off the starvation enemy. Wandering aimlessly in a dream is what I do best. I’m the guy who has a draw full of report cards say, ‘could do better it tried’. It’s almost criminal I wasn’t born into wealth. ----- OK; I’ll come down to reality for a moment and take in your advice, it’s against my 'better' judgement though.


  13. Great post, Annie, and so true. I have to shamefacedly raise my hand as internet being my major time waster...

    However, coming down on the other side of things, I do find that my writing has been more productive the less time I've had. One summer after college I had a few months spare and my plan was to do nothing but write... do you think I wrote anything?! I had too much time.

    I thrive under pressure--to a degree-and if I have too much time (which admittedly hasn't happened in about nine years) I find I write and accomplish less. I wonder if anyone else has a similar experience?

    x Kate

  14. Hi Annie,

    I think I stuffed my previous comment so apologies if this comes through twice.

    Somone here or on Romaus mentioned routines which prompted me to add my 3 tips - 15 minutes, timers and only. All of which I freely admit I stole from Flylady.

    (If anyone hasn't heard of her and I'm allowed to mention her web address, she's at People like me think they're joining to get their houses ognaised, but she's actually teaching is organising our lives. A bit like dog obedience - they don't teach a dog anything, they teach the owners. Anyway, she knows what she's on about becuase she was/is one of us. It's free and it really works - especially if you do it!)

    Anyway, one of her sayings (she's got lots) is 'you can do anythng for 15 minutes' though in my case I add the rider 'even concentrate'. It's amazing how much easier it is to start something, no matter how boring or distasteful, if you know you only have to do it for 15 minutes and then you have to take a break. She's big on breaks too - which is handy beecase that's what I'm best at

    The second is using a timer. It's amazing how much more you can get done if you're not breaking concentration to look at the clock or cluttering up your brain remember what time you started. I'm using mine now for Nano, set to 100 minutes because the maths is easier, both to count how much I've done and to remind me to stand up and stretch - and to get off the internet!

    The third is 'only', a powerful word becuase you can use it almost anywhere to change a negative into a positive. Compare 'I will do 15 minutes of line editing every hour', to 'I will ONLY do 15 minutes of line editing an hour.' Or 'I will exercise for 30 minutes every day' with 'I will ONLY exercise for fifteen minutes a day.'

    The outcome is the same, but to me anyway, it's much easier to start and keep going with the second option. The first feels like a ball and chain around my neck, even if it's self-imposed, the second is like the key to the ball and chain.

    Anyway, timer's gone off so that's it - except to say I hope Stavros doesn't come with any 'onlys' because I don't think I hve any trouble starting with him.


  15. drat - see why I hate line editing, the second exercise sentence is supposed to be 30 minutes too.

  16. Eric, of course, if wandering aimlessly in a dream works for you... I find I need that dream time definitely but I also need to sit down and actually concentrate on writing. Most of the time I enjoy that, but sometimes I do need to work at it.


  17. Hi Kate,

    Yes, you're right about deadlines. They do make us produce. That's why I mentioned entering writing contests - it can be a good way to ensure you get the partial or the synopsis or the whole story finished by a certain date - having a deadline to focus on. Isn't it strange how when you have a lot of time on your hands it seems to slip away from you if you're not careful? Some of those summers years ago seemed endless! Now they seem full of things to be done (G).


  18. Hi Calliope,

    Thanks so much for sharing those tips! I know the timer can work brilliantly. And for those of you with teenage children it can be a boon too - access to the internet or nintendo or whatever only until the timer goes off, or study ditto.

    I LOVE your suggestion for that all important word 'only'. Am going to use it myself when I sit down to work in the morning. I have something to do which I'm really not looking forward to and I'll tell myself I only have to do it for 30 mins before I move onto something else. Hopefully by then I'll be over the worst of it!

    As for the 'you can do anything for x minutes' - absolutely! I used to have a friend who cleaned her house that way. She'd set the oven timer for 45 mins and the start cleaning, usually doing something she really disliked. She'd go as hard and fast as she could for 45 mins only. When the timer went off she stopped cleaning for the day. The house wasn't all cleaned in one day but it got cleaned and she stayed sane.

    Thanks again,

  19. Annie, fabulous post! You are so right about letting a manuscript rest before dipping into revisions.

    I struggle to find writing time also. I've decided to limit my, ahem, Internet research. I know better than to impose a total ban on visiting my favourite sites--that would only make me want to rebel. So I allow 45 minutes of surfing and email time in the morning. Get it out of my system and then get to the business of writing.


  20. Vanessa,

    I think you're wise not to deny yourself completely - that makes it even more difficult! Like chocolate - completely denial leads to binge eating, or so I'm told (G).

    As for taking the time to let a story rest and mature before submitting - I still remember getting an early rejection and then glancing at the partial and immediately spotting things in the first couple of pages that could have been tightened and improved. I learned the hard way to wait and make it right first! But it can be so hard. When I've 'finished' I just want the manuscript to go. I tell myself a little more time will help me see any problems with it.


  21. What exellent tips from the post and the Pink Hearters.
    Thank you all, Ray-Anne

  22. Sorry I'm late! Great post, Annie! Knowing your wonderful productivity, I'm sure you practise what you preach. I'm terrible at time management. If I didn't have that compulsion to write nagging away at me constantly, I'd probably never get to the keyboard!

    I did, however, practice good time management on the last polish of my manuscript. I worked out it took me an average of half an hour to go through one chapter, so it was easier then to say, 'I'll just do another chapter before I...'

    Thanks for the tips, Annie!
    Christine, off to buy a kitchen timer...

  23. Christine,

    Now that's clever. Breaking a task into smaller, manageable chunks makes it so much easier. Glad it worked for you - i'm hanging out for your second book!

    I've been reading a book by Anne Lamont called 'Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life' which advocates breaking up a large job (like writing or revising a book) into small pieces you can concentrate on. It works particularly well if the large picture is too daunting!(G). Think I'll try your approach this morning my self. Thanks, Christine!