Time management for writers — a follow-up post

typewriterLast week I blogged about Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ technique of setting a timer for three hours at the beginning of her writing day and letting it run only when she is actively writing, not doing research or email or Facebook. When the timer runs out, she’s done for the day.

I’ve started doing this myself. And WOW, you guys. WOW.

I had NO IDEA that (a) I was this productive, and (b) I spend so much writing time not actually writing.

After a week of trying out this technique, I have yet to succeed in running out the three-hour timer. Yesterday, I gave up and started setting it for two hours.

The good news is I’m way more productive than I realized. Today I didn’t succeed in running out my two-hour timer, but I did finish an hour and fifty-six minutes. In that time, I did 50 pages of edits on Prince’s Fire, revised 6000 words of the new novella, and wrote 1900 new words on the novella. Now that I’ve timed myself, I know exactly how long it takes me to write a thousand words: thirty minutes. That’s a thousand words of rough draft, mind, which will need probably half a dozen rounds of editing, but still. If I could sustain the rate for three hours a day, I could write the entire first draft of a novel in a little over two weeks. That would be amazing.

The reality is it doesn’t exactly work that way. The reason putting in two solid hours of writing takes all day for me is that it appears I need to switch away from writing periodically. For example, what I commonly did when working on Prince’s Fire edits was to read a query from my editor, think about it a little bit and debate possible solutions in my head. Then I would switch over to Facebook and watch a cat video or something (turning off the timer for the duration). When I switched back to the manuscript, I’d know how to handle the query.

The reality is that for every hour of writing time, I need probably two to three hours of thinking time. Some of it is taken in large chunks, like when I mentally plot a novel while showering or taking a walk around the neighborhood. And some of it comes in little bits, as I switch away from the novel to let my subconscious bat around ideas to solve smaller problems.

All that said, I’m encouraged to see that I can write quickly when I make a point of doing so. I’m going to continue to use the timer, set for two hours a day, because I do seem to be more productive when I use it.

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16 Responses to Time management for writers — a follow-up post

  1. Jessi Gage says:

    Awesome. 1k wds per 30 min is fabulous. And there’s no reason it can’t be sustainable with your method of taking plenty of thinking time in between. Congrats on the realization that you are so productive. How cool to discover this about yourself and have data to back it up!

    • Amy Raby says:

      Thanks! I also like knowing exactly how long I’ve worked (REALLY worked, not watched cat videos). Right now my timer is stopped at 29 minutes to go for today. Once I knock those minutes out, I can quit without guilt.

  2. Nice job, Amy! Those are some impressive numbers. 🙂

  3. Those are impressive numbers and good strategy 🙂 I’ve been experimenting with write or die this week. Setting the timer for between 20 and 30 minutes at a time and just writing (or the dratted thing wails at me!). It’s certainly helped up my productivity.

    • Amy Raby says:

      Yeah, I don’t use write or die, but I know lots of people who swear by it. Anything that keeps a writer focused and not switching to social media every time the computer chimes.

  4. I kind of want to give this a shot! Right now I’m mostly just doing revisions more than writing new words but it sounds like it might be a great way to focus.

    • Amy Raby says:

      Give it a try, see how it works for you. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be your thing, I bet it will tell you a little bit about your process and what does work.

  5. Jill Archer says:

    I’ve often wondered if I should get a timer… it’ll probably turn out like the index card method (didn’t work for me) but always good for authors to try new techniques, especially ones that may make us more efficient. 1,000 words => 30 min = go you! But I hear you on the fact that it’s really all the mulling over and staring out the window that sucks up your time. 😀

    Have a great Thursday, Amy!

    • Amy Raby says:

      Thanks! Yeah, I don’t do index cards either. I’m tremendously disorganized in that sense; I plot mostly by gut sense, with just a tiny bit of outlining based on three-act structure and several “reversal” points.

      I really like the timer, but it does emphasize how little of the job is the actual writing part. Most of it is the invisible mental work that goes on in between writing sessions.

  6. What an eye-opener. Those are great numbers, though!

  7. Lenora Rose says:

    Nice pace! Not really surprised at the thinking time involved, but it’s good to see the numbers actually recorded and examined.

    I suspect social media is at least as bad for conscious thinking time as for the writing time in some ways, making it a double trouble. but at least the backbrain chugs on.

    • Amy Raby says:

      Re: Social media, I find that I have only so many words in me per day, and if I pour them all into social media, I don’t have them left for my novels. Thus I’ve really cut back on the “unpaid” social media writing so as to focus more on the novel writing, which I get paid for. Still, I enjoy social media and need connection, so I’ll always allocate at least a little of my daily words toward it.

  8. The majority of writing is thinking. I have always believed that. The actual “writing” part is nothing more than physical labor. Donkey work.

    • Amy Raby says:

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the actual writing is just physical labor, because for me at least, a lot of the mental work happens while I’m typing up the story. Specifically, I’m thinking up descriptions and analogies, fine tuning the internals and dialogue, adjusting the pacing, etc. But it’s absolutely true that the bulk of the story composition goes on when I’m not actively writing. So does revision. Just this morning I thought up an important twist that I need to add to the scene I wrote yesterday.

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