Time management for writers

clock2First a quick administrative update: I turned in the manuscript for Prince’s Fire last week! That is book three in my series. I’m talking with my agent and editor about what to work on next. It will either be a novella in the Hearts & Thrones series, or Flood and Fire, a novel from a different series. I also have book four of Hearts & Thrones ready to go–that is, I have a synopsis written–but I probably won’t write that for a few months. I need to get these other projects finished first.

Spy’s Honor (book 2) comes out in October, and Prince’s Fire next April. The novella might be squeezed in between the two, but I don’t know yet; we’re still working out the details.

So I just got back from RWA Nationals, and one of the events I attended was the all-day Golden Network retreat, in which we were treated to a jaw-dropping list of speakers which included, among many others, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Nora Roberts.

Susan and Nora both talked quite a bit about writing process, in part because they were taking questions and this question is so often asked by writers, especially of Nora whom we all admire and envy because she has written over 200 novels, apparently with no decline in quality because they continue to win awards year after year.

Nora writes 6-8 hours a day, and it’s pretty clear that this time is spent actually writing, not doing email or Facebook or Twitter. She takes an exercise break in the middle of the day.

Now, I’m going to be honest: Nora’s writing process is so far removed from what I am capable of that I was more interested in Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s writing process, which might be something more my speed. Susan calls herself a slow writer, and if you look at her list of published works, she appears to be a one-book-a-year author. That’s kind of rare for the romance genre, in which most authors are expected to produce two books a year minimum, and three or four is better. But Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a NY Times bestseller, so clearly this works for her!

Here is Susan’s process. Every day, she sets a timer for 3 hours and lets it tick down while she writes. Any time she stops writing, whether it is to do research or email or Facebook or to grab something from the fridge, she stops the timer. The timer only runs when she is actively writing. When the timer clicks to zero, she’s done for the day. She says that the time may not hit zero until 5pm even if she starts in the morning, because there are so many interruptions. But she makes sure that she gets in three solid hours of writing every day.

I liked that idea so much that I actually bought a digital timer from Amazon just so I can start doing this myself. Three hours a day is pretty close to what I shoot for, and the real problem I have is distractions. Email, Facebook, Twitter. Those are so much easier than writing, so whenever I get frustrated with something, I switch over. I think that if I have to click the timer off first, I’ll be much more motivated to stick with the writing, at least long enough to make a dent in the timer.

The best thing about this system, according to Susan? She can stop working at the end of the day with a clean conscience. The timer has hit zero? She’s done her work. She’s put in three solid hours of writing, and the rest of the day is hers to do with as she pleases.

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8 Responses to Time management for writers

  1. Kay Hudson says:

    I love SEP’s idea, too, and I have gotten so far off track I really need something like that. No way I can squeeze out three hours a day, but maybe one . . . I really don’t know how you manage a job, your boys, and writing, too, Amy. Have you discovered a couple of extra hours in the day?

    • Amy Raby says:

      I don’t have a job outside the writing, so what I’ve been balancing is the boys, writing, and homeschooling. But I’m done homeschooling now–my kids are going to public school in the fall–and my productivity has shot up accordingly. Yesterday I wrote 3000 words, which is about three times as many I was able to write during the school year.

  2. Jenn Burke says:

    This is a great idea. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Interesting technique. It sounds pretty effective too. Especially for us moms, it can be hard with all the distractions. Plus, as authors today, we know we need to keep up an online presence, so it’s easy to justify Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thanks for sharing!

    • Amy Raby says:

      Thanks! Yeah, I thought the brilliance of it was turning the timer off when doing anything that’s not actual writing. It is so easy for writers to get distracted from the hard work of writing by the far-easier “work” of social media. This kind of system keeps a writer honest about how much work she’s actually accomplishing.

  4. Lenora Rose says:

    Someone else was recently talking about how he’s discovered he can fit in 2-3 hours of writing as long as he doesn’t assume he has to do it in one large chunk.Once he mentioned that, I noted it’s fit what I’ve been doing lately, but unconsciously.

    I think the increase too in more compact devices on which people can write (Netbooks etc) is really helping foster those for whom a solid chunk of time is a dream but 15 minutes here and there is feasible.

  5. Jessi Gage says:

    Hi Amy,
    This is a cool concept. I might try it with the timer program I downloaded on my PC to remind me when to take my daughter to the potty.
    I definitely succumb to the distractions of social media, especially when I get stuck on the manuscript. I too would be less likely to get “pulled away” if I had to be accountable to a timer. This is one of the reasons I like places like #1k1hr and #rpwordwar. I like reporting in my word count for the hour, but it’s all to easy just not to report in if you had a bad hour or to roll 2 hours into one, etc.
    Part of my writing process is staring at the page and thinking. So I don’t always have an impressive word count to show for my writing blocks. This is why I tend to measure my progress in chapters or scenes written as opposed to by time I wrote for the day. It’s a good day if I can finish a scene. That could take 2 hours. It could take all damn day;-) Not sure if a timer method would mesh with this goal-oriented method, but I’m going to try when I start a new ms.

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