Balancing Writing and Life: A Writer’s Time Management Toolkit

By Elizabeth Heiter

Finding a work/life balance can be challenging for all of us. Throw in writing, plus a day job, plus family, and you can have a recipe for disaster – either you get yourself sick trying to fit in too much and cut out important things like eating and sleeping, or you let something slide. But if you develop a schedule that makes sense for you, and top it off with strategies to be more productive when you write, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Especially before you make that first sale, one of the biggest hurdles can be your attitude toward writing. If you let yourself – or those around you – treat your writing like a hobby and not a career path, you’re setting the expectation that it’s okay to interrupt your writing time or expect you not to prioritize it. But if you create the expectation that writing is important and you need dedicated time to do it, you’re setting clearer boundaries that should help remind everyone to treat your writing like the career you want it to be!

The next step is to find a time to write that works for you. With family and day job expectations, sometimes you need to take whatever time is available – and sometimes that means writing when everyone else is asleep, either by getting up an hour earlier or staying up an hour later each night. If that doesn’t work for you, try to find pockets of time to work. You’ll be surprised how much time you actually spend waiting (waiting in lines, waiting for your kid to finish practice, etc.). If you can’t actually write scenes then, try brainstorming ideas, working out character backstories, or figuring out your opening hook for your next writing day. That way, when you get a bigger stretch of time, you’re off to a quicker start. Another way to “find” time is to simply prioritize it. It might be more fun to sit down and watch an hour of TV at the end of the day, but what if you cut it out? That’s an hour you can write instead.

Once you find a time to write, try to make it a habit. Even if the time you can write isn’t when the muse is happiest, when something is a habit it becomes easier. Over time, you’ll find that if you write every day, you begin writing more each day. Part of this is simply practice, and part of it is that you stay in the “voice” of your character and you’re deeply entangled in the story so you’re not wasting time getting back into it whenever you write.

Next, focus on making each writing day more productive. Start by taking note of a day when you had great productivity and analyze it. Were you writing at home or at a coffee shop? With total quiet or with music? Late at night or early in the day? With a writing group, all typing away on their own laptops, or alone? Now try to recreate these optimal conditions every time you write. But don’t use them as an excuse not to write if you don’t have these conditions!

Set goals for yourself each day or each week to help keep you on track. There are a lot of programs out there that will not only track your word count, but also allow you to input a targeted word count and date and then let you know how many words you need to write each day to meet that goal.

Once you have your goals, find someone to be accountable to for them. If you have someone asking you each week if you met your goals, you’re more likely to try to write those extra hundred words in the evening when you’re tired rather than put the computer away early. For one day, that won’t make much impact, but on a regular basis, it adds up! A great person to use for this is a critique partner because you can do the same for them. And if you miss a goal sometimes, don’t stress about it. Just focus on meeting the next goal.

Now, reward yourself when you do make your goals! Figure out a reward that will motivate you and let yourself have it once you meet your goal. Positive reinforcement is a great way to keep you pushing forward.

Most importantly, don’t forget that you’re writing because (I hope!) you love it. Sometimes, you need a break and that’s okay. But treating writing like your passion instead of just one more thing on your To Do list is the best motivator of all! Most people can come up with a million excuses to avoid doing something they hate, but when it doesn’t feel like work, then the writing stays fun, and finding the time becomes much less challenging.

In just over two years, Elizabeth Heiter had six books in two series hit shelves, and maintained some semblance of a life. She writes The Profiler series, a psychological suspense series featuring FBI Profiler Evelyn Baine, whom Fresh Fiction called, “one of the most amazing characters created in print,” and The Lawmen series, a romantic suspense series, the most recent of which was nominated for Best Intrigue of the Year by RT Book Reviews. You can find her on the web at www.elizabethheiter.com.       

To learn more about Elizabeth Heiter’s novels, click on the covers below:

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