Erin Reel, The Lit Coach, joins me today with some fantastic time-management advice!
Time Editing: Taking the Red Pen to your Schedule
by Erin Reel, The Lit Coach
Just as you make careful, thoughtful, well-planned choices about the content of your book, so too do you make choices about the course of your day from the moment your eyes open to the moment they close. It’s been my experience that the most successful writers plan or outline their novels thoroughly and thoughtfully, taking special care to map out a plausible, compelling, forward moving plot as well as sketching out sparkling main characters who will later navigate this action. Nonfiction writers often organize their concept in a well-crafted book proposal and use this as their guide. Likewise, these authors take special care to organize their daily life with an equal amount of care and attention to detail because they know the secret (no, not the one that will deliver the bicycle of your dreams out of the clear blue). They know the value of their time and how to use it.
Conversely, I’ve worked with many writers, men and women, who don’t understand the value of their time (at first). Writing is something they put off because of the needs of others, other obligations and perhaps they’ve been told writing isn’t a job. By the end of the day, they wrap up their must-dos and find they’re exhausted and would rather watch mindless TV or hang out on the web than plow into their writing. Exhaustion is a symptom of a greater problem – and that greater problem is saying YES more than you say NO.
Just as successful writers know how to take the red pen to their work, so too do they take the red pen to their daily schedules. And you can too. Here’s how:
1) First, grab a sheet of paper and write down your must-dos. These are your major obligations like your job, taking care of your family, taking care of others you’re directly responsible for, taking care of pets-you know, the stuff that keeps you and those you love alive. These are your non-negotiables. Ideally, this list is short.
2) In a second column, write down the tasks you do that anyone could do in your home or workplace.
3) In your third column, write down the activities you do for fun or for your health and spiritual growth and well-being – think quality here. These are things like biking with the kids, date night, exercise, attending religious or spiritually based services, etc. The stuff that connects you and brings you peace.
4) This fourth column is the junk food of activity column. This is mindless time spent on junky TV, web surfing, loads of texting or empty social media time. This is all stuff that’s addictive but ultimately doesn’t feed you – like cheese doodles.
Now, in the first column, the ‘must-dos,’ that list is short, right? You have to work in order to pay the bills and to keep a roof over your head(s). Obviously, you must provide for your children and/or pets and sometimes other family members. This list takes priority over everything else. The goal is to add writing to this list because I’m wagering to bet many of you would like to build a career from your writing.
In the second column you wrote down all the activity you do in the workplace and at home that really, anyone could do. Now this is where the editing comes in. Really examine each one of those tasks and decide if it’s worth your time. Remember, you’re finding ways to carve out more time for your writing. Is there something you always seem to do at work that anyone could do? Are you in a position to delegate or ask for help? Then speak up and get the help you need. Will you be writing at work-I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re on the clock, but it will streamline your day and gain you a smidge more energy for your writing later. At home, is it you that always takes out the trash, washes the dishes, makes the beds, etc., despite the fact that there are able bodies present to take on these responsibilities? Time to hand out the marching orders! Communicate and agree upon a more equally shared list of responsibilities and hold your team accountable. Imagine if your kids made their own beds and picked up their laundry because it was expected of them? What if your spouse or partner loaded and unloaded the dishwasher and walked the dog? If you can hire domestic help, do it! I noticed when a few of my clients spoke up about their writing needs, household responsibilities shifted and voila! They had gained several hours of writing time a day. All they did was realize the value of their craft time and speak up.
Your third column is the fun stuff – family time, personal care, spending quality time with friends, making a commitment to your physical, mental and spiritual well-being. I could live in this column as I’m sure others would like to also. This is like the dark chocolate, red wine of the food pyramid-they’re sweet, delectable and have positive health properties-in moderation. So examine this list and make sure every activity here feeds your mind, body or spirit-or all three! If it doesn’t or if you find you’re making justifications, take out that red pen and cut it from your list. These activities add flavor and perspective to our lives; they restore us-so they’re useful, but like I said, only in moderation. Maybe it’s a special day or vacation you have planned, or it’s a couple of hours of yoga and meditation that is your daily practice – great! The key here is these activities feed the creative mind but they should always be in harmony with the must-dos.
And finally the fourth column – the junk food section of the list. This is the stuff you allow yourselves to get sucked into doing because you’d rather not think. Activities include watching mindless TV, following online breadcrumbs, over-texting, social media surfing, or even volunteering just because somebody asked you, not because you wanted to. We all eat a handful of junk food from time to time-but does it nourish us? No. So, take out your red pen and make some serious choices about the activity on this list-remember, you’re choosing between allowing yourself more time to write and develop your craft. Would you allow junky, clunky prose in your work if you knew they added absolutely no value but in fact, made it worse? I didn’t think so. This list is easy to slash or eliminate altogether, so make that choice! I bet you’ll free up at least an hour of time here (probably more!).
My clients have grown into expert time editors. They know their time is valuable and if they don’t re-prioritize their list and delegate responsibility, their writing won’t happen. Bestselling authors are pros at this, I assure you. I encourage you to do the same. Time to take out your red pen and start editing your life. And if nothing else, before you choose to participate in any activity, ask yourself, ‘Does this add value to my life? To my writing?’
About Erin Reel
Erin Reel, The Lit Coach, is a publishing and editorial consultant, writer’s life coach, columnist and blog host of The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writer’s Life. A former Los Angeles based literary agent, Erin has contributed to Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents.