William Penn once said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
Did Penn (wow, a pun too?) ever know what a writer’s life is like! I would have twenty novels under my belt by now if I could have used my time wisely, but I’ve always struggled to amalgamate those short windows into anything useful. However, ladies and gentlemen, if you want to see your dream come true and find your name on the spine of a published book, you’re going to need to make the most of your writing time. Here’s how.
Put Down the Device
I looked up how much time Americans spend in front of devices, and I found an answer, which I can scarcely believe. The market research group Nielsen says people spend an average of 3 hours, 48 minutes on their phone scrolling and up to four hours a day in front of the boob tube. Wow! If you’re thinking: I don’t even own a TV, so nice try on finding time there, think again. Do you watch Hulu or Netflix on your computer? Are you clicking on Twitter or Facebook or get lost in “looking things up” (this is me)? This is downtime that could be in up time.
Don’t get me wrong: I know we all have busy lives and need to tune out a little. I personally feel justified when I’m on my screen “looking things up.” It’s like personal research. But if it doesn’t pertain to your novel, it’s time you could re-appropriate. All of our resources are finite: time, money, brain power. How are you going to use yours? Will it really matter if you miss some Twitter war? Or you don’t log into Facebook for a day? Will it? Probably not. It will take work to get out of this habit though. Sometimes I have plug my phone in in another room. If it’s important, they’ll call. This is your writing time. Don’t let anyone else steal it.
Schedule Media Time
I realize that social media is, supposedly, important for building a name or a platform, and therefore you can’t completely ignore it. That’s fine. But limit it like you would treats if you were on a diet. Save it for the times you really want it and can enjoy it. If you want to lose weight, you can’t eat all the things. If you want to write a book, you can’t spend all your time on social media. Log on, do your thing, log off and stay off. Most of the major platforms allow you to schedule posts, so plan ahead and then stay out.
It’s established that these social media companies use alerts to light up that pleasure center in your brain that wants to know if you’ve been “liked” or that you have a message. What could it be? Who said what? It tickles some elemental place in us to want to monitor our social currency and respond when someone “talks” to us. Resist! Turn off alerts. They will steal your day.
Furthermore: writers without complete manuscripts aren’t getting a publishing deal no matter how prolific their tweets.
Trim Chores or Use Them Wisely
Most people have a commute to work, even if it’s only 15 minutes each way, or household chores they must accomplish. If you can’t delegate these tasks, use them wisely instead. When it comes to plotting a novel or thinking about what scene should come next, I don’t always have an immediate answer. Often I must stew on it for a while. Use commuting time or mindless labor time, like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry, to be quiet. Turn off the radio or iPod and sit with the silence. Go over your plot, think about your character. Let this time be time to plot or character build.
Accept Your Circadian Rhythms
Chances are, you’re going to have to stay up an extra hour or wake up early to get momentum going on your book. As much as you try to trim here and there, you will make more progress if you have at least an hour a day to devote to your project. The question is: will that come after dinner or before breakfast?
I used to feel energized in the evening. That was my preferred time to run. That was a better time for me to sit at my desk. Then I had a child, and my whole day shifted. Now I’m accustomed to waking up with the sun, which means I need to clock out when it’s dark. I am worthless if I try to write at night. If you find yourself spinning your wheels, if you’re excessively tired, or if you are wasting time, accept that your energy ebbs and flows throughout the day. Catch the wave and make the most of your writing time.