Time Management: How I Do This Thang

I’m often asked, “how do you do it?” That is, how, out of the limited hours in any given day, do I manage to work on a new novel, put out 1,000-word blog posts on a daily basis, interact on social media, and edit an ongoing book with a full-time job as a technical writer? My usual glib answer is that it’s not easy – I’ve worked hard to be able to do it, and if I had children, it would likely be completely impossible. The real answer is a lot of planning and forcing myself to do things even when I might not be in the mood.

Oh, and sacrifices. Plenty of sacrifices. I’ve always been something of a jack-of-all-trades, interested in music, art, books, video games, etc., but when I decided that now was the time to press forward and make this thing happen, some of those interests had to be sacrificed. The way I see it, you can’t be truly great at something while being good at a lot of other things. There is, after all, only so much time.

But how do I slice up the day? Well, here’s the answer, in hopes of sharing some of my ideas and techniques to help out my fellow, beleaguered authors.

  • Get out of bed. I know, I know. But there’s a metaphor here for being willing to put yourself out there rather than hiding under the covers. This also represents my mind continuing to work even during the “down hours”, as some of my best ideas have originated in a night of intense dreaming. These go straight into the great note application Evernote. Then I hop in the shower, and brainstorm blog ideas.

  • Drive to work. My typical commute is anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and during that drive, I dictate the blog concept from the shower into my hand recorder, a Sony IC Recorder. Sometimes I free-flow fiction, as well. Morning sessions are usually a combination of monologue and pure stream-of-consciousness given the state of my brain in the morning (think: fog). I can dictate anywhere between 800 to 1000 words in about 5 minutes, with some breaks in between – you begin to see ohw this can add up.
  • Writing warm-up. When I get to work, I need to warm up my writing muscles. A lot of my job involves either untangling some very tricky instructions from engineers or taking disparate sources and giving them one voice. It’s a lot more mind-consuming than fiction writing, and I need to be prepared or I can get lost in the weeds. That’s where this blog comes in. I typically transcribe the morning’s entry, which gets me warmed up enough, and only takes roughly half an hour. Of course, this is also not a perfect world, so sometimes the entry is late, as real work comes first.

  • Lunch break. Some days I don’t take a lunch break, but when I do, I’ll take the time to field some comments on the blog, edit, or write. Whatever happens to be the hottest topic at that moment. Monday, for example, I spent an hour of lunch editing Corridors – this time can be very precious.
  • Breaks. You have to have a few breaks during the day, and I use these to stretch, of course, but also to respond to tweets, throw new ideas out there, or just write for 15 minutes. Obviously, my paid work takes precedence. I take a lot of pride in it, and I think I’m pretty good at it. At no point during working hours do I ever allow my side writing to take precedence. It should be obvious, but I need to put that out there, as some people have wondered how I have time to do all of this while also keeping up with my workload.

  • Plan. Around 3:00 in the afternoon, I come up with topics to dictate on the way home. These can include future blog entries, scenes that need to be expanded upon, etc. It’s good to have a plan.
  • Drive home. My ride home is typically longer than my ride to work (somewhere between an hour to two hours), so I can fit in a couple of dictation sessions along with my audiobooks. This entry, for example, was dictated on a ride home.
  • Transcribe. When I get home, I either send the recording(s) off to a transcription service or pop on the headphones and quickly type it up.

Using this overall process, I can hit my 2,000-word-a-day goal without disrupting my actual work. The process, unfortunately, breaks down in editing, as I have to sit at a computer or iPad and pore through the work. That’s where I start carving time out of my evenings or weekends. Last weekend, for instance, I spent easily 18 hours editing between the 2 days.

Looking at the whole thing makes me really sympathize with writers who work a full-time job and have children – hats off to you, I’m not sure I could manage it with how my life is currently structured. I consider myself fortunate enough to be able to spend an hour or two with my fiancee every day given that I’m effectively working three jobs. We’ve talked it over, and she’s okay with the way I’m handling things at the moment. She’s been very supportive of my journey and understanding of the times that I need to focus more on my work. It helps that she’s a writer, too.

For now, the system works. I sometimes wonder what would happen if I took a job that required public transportation and cut off my supply of ready dictation time. It would cut my time, I think, but I do have a nice suite of apps on the iPad that allow me to pick up and work on just about any of my projects at any time. It’s saved my hash more than once when an idea has popped into my head during those weird times between wake and sleep (how many other people get great ideas from this place?).

I mean, really, I think when it comes to finding time to write, it’s all about being creative in figuring out what you can do. I could view my drive time as dead, down time, but instead I’m able to squeeze a good two to three hours out of each day. That really adds up in the long run.

So how about you? What are some of your time-saving methods? I know that Krystal Wade practices a process similar to mine in her terrible commute into DC, though she uses the laptop approach on public transit. The concept is still the same, though. I think it’s about reclaiming our lives and all the time that we spend behind the wheel or on the train. So please, share some of your ideas!

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Guess what?! That’s right…you should guess. I’m waiting….oh, I realize I should post this if I actually want a response. Okay, I digress. I can relate! Cept, add three kids to my mix! I work full time 50 miles from home, have kids, have kids involved in “stuff”, and still make time to write a lot. I don’t write blog posts daily, but umm, I finish books fast. I HAVE to! 🙂

  2. I have a home office for my day job, which is problematic. So I drop kids off wherever they need to go in the morning, then stop in a coffee shop to write for 1-2 hours. Unfortunately, this is both my fiction writing and blog writing time, so I don’t blog as regularly as I should. Once I return home, I’m on “day job time.” I use breakfast and lunch breaks for tweeting and blog reading. I use driving time for audible books, since I don’t have much time for reading other people’s fiction. More tweeting and reading (and occasionally writing) in the evening.

    Question – what apps do you find useful for writing on your iPad?

    • I always wondered how I would handle a home office. It would be very tempting to do other things all day. I’d probably rent an office elsewhere.

      My fave iPad apps are Goodreader (fantastic for editing pdfs, allows line edits, amd offers google docs integration), the wordpress app, Pages, Evernote, and a few mind-mapping apps that escape my mind at the moment. Add a wireless keyboard and it’s pretty sweet.

      • MInd-mapping apps. I don’t even know what that is. Do you have a Mac laptop/desktop?

        My biggest reason for writing is a coffee shop is guilt-avoidance.

      • Ah, mind-mapping apps allow you to group things visually. For example, I can have charts of characters, settings, and themes, and visually associate them.

        I use a windows desktop that can also boot into Mac, and a Linux netbook. I’m kind of a computer geek on the side 🙂

  3. I spend about half an hour in the morning setting up timed tweets for the day. Right now, I’m using lunch time to read a book that I’m reviewing, but I’ve also brought a netbook and grabbed 700 words. I also bring it to the allergy doctor or car appointments because there is always waiting. Additional writing in the evening, with revisits to Twitter. I create three blogs for the week on Sunday, set them up to post to Twitter and add timed tweets for reposts on the days the new blogs aren’t posting. And writing on Sunday also. Saturday is off.

  4. Oh, yes, time management. I work full-time as a lawyer and I have an 18 month old daughter. I write on the train using my netbook, that’s about 2 hours a day. I only blog a few times a week, it would be impossible to blog daily. I’m lucky enough that I can tweet while working. Sometimes, I write at home if I have time.

  5. I used to live in No. Virginia, and do not miss that commute. Not one bit.

    Time schedules is the key.

  6. I get quite a lot done with an alphasmart or netbook on my bus commute, though it’s also tempting to just pull out the ipod and watch some television.

Leave a Reply