Saturday, February 4, 2012

Making the Most of the Time

A forty-something friend posted this message to her Facebook page on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:

People are up far. too. early. - and are far. too. productive.! - on a day off. Clearly, we define 'holiday' differently.

I replied:

Are you kidding? I'd made a trip to the store, had breakfast, and wrote a couple of pages on my novel before 9 AM. And Judy went to the office. We old folks gotta "make the most of the time," 'cause we have less of it.

Funny, my friend didn't respond to that. (Maybe she'd gone back to bed.) But I stand by what I said, because I do feel a greater urgency to be productive as the years speed by. That exchange also started me thinking about ways I've learned to make better use of my time as a writer. Here are three obvious (but oft-neglected) principles:

1. Put First Things First. That particular morning, I began writing right after my devotional time. Before checking my e-mail, putting out the trash, washing the dishes, or doing a dozen other good things that I usually do before I start writing.

Following James Scott Bell's advice, I wrote my "nifty 350" (first 350 words) before taking a break to do any of those "good" things. Since I'm slow to warm up on a Monday, that first 350 took an hour to write. But after checking my e-mailbox and assauging my guilt with the other chores, the next 350 came a lot faster.

On many days, I've put those "good" things first and never did any writing at all. I've come to realize that all those "good" things are not the first things I need to do as a writer.

2. Write What's Ready to Write. Writing historical novels, I spend a lot of time on research. If I'm not careful, research can take the place of writing, especially if I get bogged down trying to mine the facts about a particular person or event related to my story.

My second novel takes place in 1932, when one of the main characters attends the Democratic Convention where FDR was first nominated as President. I discovered a wealth of research information about that event -- books, newspaper articles, even You Tube videos. Before I realized it, I had invested two weeks in research with no writing, and the end of research wasn't in sight.

So I started writing the next chapter while I kept on researching the convention. Eventually, I had to stop indulging in all that delicious research and finish my chapter about the convention; but in the meantime, I'd written several thousand words beyond that.

3. Resist the Temptation to Edit as You Write. We all know this principle, don't we? And at some time or other, we all violate it, don't we?

Certainly, we need to allow generous time for revision. Theodore Rees Cheney says about 75 percent of our time should be spent in revision, the other 25 percent in writing. I'll not debate that idea, but simply make this observation: If I spend all my time revising, my work will stall like a stunt plane in a steep climb. And we know what happens after that!

Scripture counsels us to be "making the most of the time because the days are evil." Take it from a sixty-something guy: The days are fleeting, too, so I want to squeeze from them every drop of juice I can get.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very helpful, Joe! Thank you very much for posting this good article.

  3. I love this post and it is very timely for me. I agree--we older writers have more urgency to make every second count! Excellent post and I'm going to incorporate the nifty 350 myself! Thanks!

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  5. What a great reminder to use our time wisely & great tips. Though I'm not an older writer, I long to be a good steward of the gifts God has given me.