The struggle to fit creative pursuits into a full schedule is something nearly every creative person knows well. So many demands on your time simply cannot be put aside. And when you do have time to sit down and write, writer’s block can be a very real thing. So how do so many people manage to fit in both busy life and work activities and writing? There are a few things that can help, so let’s look at seven tips to help you have more successful creative efforts, even in a very busy day.
Time Management Tip #1 – Give up perfection.
This is probably the most important tip, but it can also be the hardest. Many of us can be perfectionists and passing a chore on to someone else (especially someone with less experience doing it) can mean the chore isn’t done very well. Well, one thing nearly every single professional writer I know who is also a mom has in common: giving up the struggle to be perfect. Handing off a chore so someone who can do it may result in results that aren’t as good, but in the end, most of us would rather count our successful books than gloat over our perfect bed-making or completely dust-free house. I know my house comes with dust and less than flawless floors, but it also comes with a writer bringing in a considerable amount of income from that creative pursuit.
Time Management Tip #2 – Don’t swamp yourself with goals.
This is a companion tip that is related to that perfectionism. We set big goals for ourselves and quickly become overwhelmed. Also, goals that aren’t under our control will quickly lead to feelings of failure and loss. As writers we can’t make people do things. So goals like: “have three stories accepted” or “have an agent” are setting you up for failure because you cannot control the actions of editors or agents. So make your goals based on things entirely in your control: “research elementary level magazines that buy fiction” and “send out three stories” and “research agents who list my kind of book and make a ranked list of who I’d most like” are goals that are completely up to you, so less likely to swamp you. And give yourself reasonable time limits to meet the goals. If you miss your self-imposed “deadline,” celebrate if you got closer to it and keep working toward the goal.
Time Management Tip #3 – Don’t give up on exercise.
When you’re crazy busy and you’re trying to squeeze in some writing, one of the first things we tend to give up is exercise, because it’s something we do “just for us.” But there are few things that prime the creative pump better than a long walk (whether the walk is in the neighborhood or on the treadmill). Some of the most successful writers I know have learned to force themselves to get up early and exercise in order to feed that creativity.
Time Management Tip #4 – Map your most creative time of day, and make use of it.
If you’re a morning person and your job starts early, then you might want to consider going to bed well before “grown-up bedtime” so that you can get up super early and write. If your most creative time is at night, but you have to get up early for work, try to sneak in a nap during the day so you can stay up late and get down the words. Juggling your schedule can be tricky, but not allowing your most creative time to be spent in non-creative pursuits will let you get productive hours for creativity.
Time Management Tip #5 – Carry a notebook with you everywhere.
To this I’ll add a proviso: in the notebook, make a list of value things you could do with it. “Brainstorm 3 middle grade characters, listing traits, looks, and a sample bit of dialogue.” Or “Write a sensory map of the place where you are right now: include looks, smells, sounds, and other details.” By having things already in your notebook, you’ll save yourself from the dreaded “blank page” where you have a spare moment, but you have no idea what to do with it.
Time Management Tip #6 – Don’t let things pile up.
One of the main reasons life becomes overwhelmingly busy is because we let things pile up. We move things out of the way instead of putting them away. We work around problems instead of solving them. And this avoidance sucks out time as we have to come up with ways to work around the chore we didn’t do, and makes the chore especially time-consuming when we finally get to it. It also results in our spending pointless time looking for things because we set them down where it was convenient instead of putting them where we naturally look for them later. This is a huge problem for creative people because we’re so easily distracted, but it’s a huge time thief.
Time Management Tip #7 – Make Time for You.
Down time can be very creative, and it lets you do the things writers need to do: think, read, rest. Exhausted people and those who feel endlessly pressured often find writers-block to be a constant companion. No matter how service-oriented your personality might be, if every moment of every day is devoted to the needs of other people, you’re risking personal burnout and finding your well of creativity exhausted. So give yourself a break (or several) and don’t give up on down time. It’ll make the time you do turn to you writing much easier and more productive.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.