Friday, April 23, 2010

Time Wasters

“I’m so frustrated. I didn’t get to write all day.” I complained to my husband.

“Who’s in charge of your time?” he asked.

“Ah… me…I think.” Wasn’t I? Didn’t I have the same amount of time everyone else did? Where did my time go? I knew there were other writers who were just as busy as me. How did they find time to write?

That was a year ago. Since then, I’ve taken charge. Things have changed. It all began at a writer’s conference when I met literary agent, Chip MacGregor, who recommended Carolyn See’s book, Making a Literary Life, Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. Carolyn’s 8 hour chili method boosted my writing output. Her method is this: “Write a thousand words a day—or two hours of revision—five days a week for the rest of your life, and write a “charming note” (that does not ask for a favor) to a writer, editor, or agent you admire—five days a week for the rest of your life.” Since I established these goals I’ve written one book, started another, and am sketching a third. I’m amazed at how many people I’ve met by sending charming notes, too.

I found a writer friend who also follows Carolyn’s advice. We became accountability partners. Every Friday we send each other a list of what we’ve written that week. This helps me stay honest, and write more because I’m too proud to send her a big fat zero for the week. It also allows me to see my progress—which gives me the confidence to say, “I’m a writer.”

Do I still get in a funk? Yep. Last week I was running in place—making no headway. I needed a refresher course on time management. Couldn’t I do better? I searched for new ideas. Here are a few I found:

• Tiffany Colter, writing career coach, and recent interviewee at My Book Therapy’s Chat Session, said, “Time management begins with honesty. We need to identify our excuses.” What are your time wasters? Get a pen. Write them down. Pick one that you’re going to eliminate. Tape it to your computer.

• Learn to delegate. Even small children can carry their load. Tiffany designed a great reward system for her children. She shared it in the same chat session I mentioned above. “When my children were little I designed an accountability tool. To get them to let me write I came up with a color coded calendar. I wrote my daily word goal at the top. Red meant I didn't reach my word count. Green meant I did. Purple meant I blew it out of the water. My agreement with the girls was that they had to stay in bed at night so mommy could try for a green or purple day. Each morning they went to the fridge to see how good mommy did. When I reached the goal for 25+ days of the month we all celebrated with chocolate milk or something silly like that.”

• Randy Ingermanson, aka the Snowflake Guy, recommended writing in chunks in his Advanced Writing e-zine this week. “I set aside a block of time dedicated solely to whatever I’m working on. During that time, I focus on what I’m doing. I don’t check e-mail. I don’t answer the phone. I’m surly to the cat. When the time’s up, I take a break. During the break I can check e-mail, listen to VM or pet the cat.” For 50 minutes he works straight through. “I learned this technique from Eben Pagan, a productivity guru. On your break, detach completely from your work. If you write one 50 minute chunk per day, five days per week, and you get three good pages, you’ll write a full-length novel of 90,000 words in 24 weeks.” Just think of what we could do if we work for two 50 minute chunks a day!

• Keep a writing pad handy at all times. If you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, at the bus stop, in the pick-up line at school, or while you’re waiting for a train to pass, you can write a description of what you see, feel, smell, and hear. Title it. Keep it. Refer back to it when you’re writing a scene from that location.

• Enter a writing contest. This will give you a deadline and force you to work toward a goal. If you win, you’ll get bragging rights. If you don’t, you’re still working toward your daily writing quota, and practicing.

My husband no longer asks me who’s in charge of my time. He knows. I am. He figured that out when I learned how to delegate. I have more time now because he takes out the garbage, helps with the cooking, and does the dishes.

What are your time-wasters? What time management tips work for you?

Michelle Weidenbenner


  1. Fantastic tips - I often need to refocus on my time :-)

  2. What a wonderful challenge, Michelle! Time management is a monster most of us have to grapple with. Because I'm in the empty-nest years and have a super supportive husband, I was able to devote hours, even days, to uninterrupted writing. Pretty soon, though, pieces on my pie plate--exercise, personal devotions, women's bible study, volunteer work, book club, healthy meals--began slipping away to be replaced with fast food, fat, exhaustion and depression. Funny thing is, I got rid of all those time-consuming pieces of the pie, but my writing slice barely grew. My perfectionism kept it tiny. So I finally wised up, put all those good slices back on my pie plate, and am trying to deal with the perfectionism-monster. Your article is a wonderful inspiration for me. Thanks!

  3. Michelle WeidenbennerApril 23, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    Thank you for sharing, Steph. Isn't life crazy? We think once our nest is empty we'll have gobs of time. Not true. Time wasters are prevalent no matter where we are in life.

  4. Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate you, your advice,and your never-ending support. I'm so blessed to have you as my accountability partner. Let's go, girl! How many words did you write this week? Maybe we should make next week a competition between you and me. Who can write the most? Are you up for it? No pressure, of course. Ha! (It's not like we're competitive.) Anyone else up for the challenge?

  5. I'm pounding out the words right now trying to meet my goals!

    Girl! I'll accept that challenge! I can't guarantee the words will be any good. LOL. But since everybody says its ok to write a bad first draft...

    You have been a true blessing to me as an accountability partner!

  6. What a great post, I am printing this out today. Boy do I need some accountability. I can be the queen of time wasting...Thanks!

  7. I like the idea of keeping a notebook handy. I am still trying to juggle new full-time job and writing and family.