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Sarah Hoyt

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April 2, 2013 - 2:00 pm

Time And Writing Wait For No Man (Or Woman)

Believe it or not, when you’re a freelance writer, even if you’re working for someone else, you’re still expected to manage your time.

So let’s start by admitting we’re not going to have a novel ready in 13 weeks, since most of you – I presume – haven’t started.

The reason for this is that I was going along and doing preliminaries to the “13 weeks” posts when my editor – wisely – thought perhaps you guys needed to know when to expect the posts. Ahem. Being a writer, this had never occurred to me. One sometimes forgets that not everyone lives in one’s head.

So… we are still in the preliminary posts. I think I have two more, unless questions arise. And then we’ll start the countdown of 13 actual weeks, from beginning page of novel to end.

By then you should have a notion of whether you want to plot or fly by the seat of your pants, what your projected novel length is, and how to plan how much you need to write each week.

See, when we talk about planning your timing, in writing, it means two things: the timing of events in the novel, and the timing of your writing so you can deliver on deadline.

And yes, I’m aware that just like a lot of you will have different preferences when it comes to how a novel is timed – slow and languorous, or a mad cavalcade from beginning to finish – a lot of you will have this idea that you don’t time when you write, it just sort of happens when the muse descends from heaven and sits on your shoulder to whisper sweet nothings in your ear.

For the record, I’ve never met a professional, working writer who works on the muse-installment plan. There are some who will tell you they do in public. This is part of what we call keeping up the mystique, also known as “baffling the mundanes.”

Muses Are Notoriously Unreliable

Yes, some writers write an awful lot more than others (the interesting thing is that if you account for hours worked – instead of hours giving lectures on writing, or for that matter playing computer games – the production rate is not that different). Some write on a rigid daily schedule, some set a goal of two hours a day (or a week) and keep to it most of the time. However, no writer anywhere with a career extending more than a couple of a novels writes “when I feel like it.”

This is because “when I feel like it” ends up relegated to the bottom of your to-do list, and even the least busy of us have enough on those to see us through several months or years without time to think if we feel like writing or not.

So, before we start on the “13 weeks that count,” I will give you my rules of time/productivity management. As always, your mileage may vary. However, if you have a plan that says “the muse sits on my shoulder” or, alternately, a plan that says “I will work every hour of the day, unless I collapse with tiredness,” you are unlikely to finish this novel, either in 13 weeks or – frankly – ever.

Rules of Time Management For Authors

1st – Unless you schedule writing in, it will never happen. It will be relegated to that same space as “someday I’ll climb a mountain” or “wouldn’t it be nice to run a marathon.”

Schedule a day a week, an hour a day, five hours a day, but schedule it in. Treat it as you’d treat any job. If you are genuinely too sick to think, go to bed. But don’t say “I’m too sick to think; I’ll go play tennis.” Also, during your writing time, write. I was once on a writer’s list where people told me they couldn’t write as fast as I could because they “valued their product” more. Turned out that while on the list they discussed Warhammer and Sims and other games I only know of through hearsay. I probably produced less than they did per hour, but apparently it wasn’t so much their quality they valued as their play time. So, if you’re going to try to write professionally, turn off the games or use a computer that has no games installed.

Remember You’re Not A Machine

2nd – If you can schedule the writing in at the same time, try to do it in an isolated part of the house, and establish a ritual that helps you get in the writing mood. Writing is a lot like exercise. If you jump into it cold, you won’t be able to do it. (This is where people get the idea they need inspiration.) But in this as in everything else, you’re a creature of habit. If your brain becomes used to the idea that when you sit here, drink a cup of coffee (or whatever), and put on certain music, it’s expected to produce work, then it will produce work. As for the isolated part of the house, if you’re like me, you’re very prone to sudden “Squirrel!” moments when something runs across your field of vision. Also, if you live with someone there’s nothing as fascinating to children, spouse, or housemate as a working writer. I guess because most of the work is taking place inside your head, people are fascinated by the spectacle of someone completely immobile hour after hour, except for fingers tapping the keyboard. Sometimes my entire family gathers in front of the my desk to discuss the news of the day. I’m amazed that house sellers don’t list this as they list “view of the sea” or “view of the mountains” – “a clear view of a working writer.”

3rd – Now, you’re all excited about doing this writing stuff, but be aware that you’re not a machine. Yes. I know. I just told you that you need to schedule time in and now I’m telling you not to schedule too much time in.

A year ago, a writer friend and I decided to set a schedule for ourselves so that, besides the work for publishers, we’d finish all the novels we had in our drawer, and all the things that we’d meant to do, and have one indie novel out a month! This wasn’t completely crazy, since each of us has several books almost finished which were deemed unpublishable under the old model (mostly because they blend genres) which could now be sold. We set ourselves stringent deadlines, and figured we’d stop all our goofing off, and– and we both blocked HARD, even on books due at our traditional publishers. Working all the time is impossible. It’s like trying to exercise all the time – you’ll hurt yourself. Schedule time to write, but schedule some time with family and time for fun. Heck. You can even play some Sims, provided you don’t spend all your so-called writing time doing it. Don’t over-commit. You are not a writing robot.  Human beings need breaks now and then.

Aim at a Certain Word Count

4th – Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Most of the time, at least if you’re trying to write a novel in 13 weeks, your writing will be the highest priority during that time. But as your writing hobby becomes a career, you’ll find that you sometimes need to do other things. Sometimes editing that novel your editor is waiting for must be done before anything else happens. Trying to stick to your writing schedule in that time could become professional suicide. In the same way, if you’re scheduled to write but you really need a fact you don’t have before you start – and you can’t write around it or put a note to yourself – do the research before you write. In other words, don’t be insane. When you schedule, aim at certain productivity goals, but allow for exceptions. Strangely sticking too rigidly to your schedule can make you later.

5th – Count. I know I didn’t tell you there would be math. But, let’s say you want to do a novel in a month (to make my own math easier) and you want it to be 100,000 words long. Taking off weekends, you have twenty days. This means you’ll have to write 5000 words a day without fail. Say that one day you had to take for research or whatever. You might have to work on a Saturday to make up that number. (In fact, few people ever write a novel in a month and word count is more flexible than that, since your last version might be the result of several revisions, in which you add or subtract words. But if you’re aiming to finish a novel in a certain time, counting helps you know if you’re ahead or behind.)

Go think over your own arrangements, and I’ll see you next week.

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. Hoyt.com or check out her writing and life blog at According to Hoyt.com.

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Hemingway dedicated two hours a day, three hours tops, to writing and look at what he accomplished. He was an early riser, immediately went to his writing desk and wrote from 6 AM to 8 AM. He was freshest at that time of day and could give the kind of total attention to the task that writing demanded of him. Essentially his days were free after that for him to live the Hemingway legend of travel, bullfights, safaris and big game fishing. It was the day in day out early morning discipline that made a two-in-one life possible.
1 year ago
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So what do you do when a main character turns out to be someone completely different when you start writing them down?
1 year ago
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