The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters


One should don appropriate goggles and helmet before doing battle with primeval forces like Time.

Organizing Your Creative Life in 13 Weeks: Week 3

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.  

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks
Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists
Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water
Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done?


As the title indicates, this has been an exciting week. Okay, not that exciting, but constructive and – ah – a learning experience.

This is my third week of trying to organize my creative life using Getting Things Done by David Allen.

First the good:

This week I experienced far less stress than normal. This is good since I had to meet a lot of crisscrossing, quite a few of them unexpected. I made less progress than I expected on the long-term writing and editing projects, but that is probably due to the fact that I’m still recovering from serious respiratory issues. I tend to overestimate my strength at this point of recovery, and don’t count on all the sudden naps demanded by my body.

I am hoping that getting my life organized and stress under control will mean fewer illnesses. This year has been exceptionally bad on the illness front, and that puts a dent in anyone’s creativity and time.

So far the less stress thing is working.

The bad:

I’ve now tried something like a dozen applications to organize my lists of chores and the sub-lists of tasks, and I’ve been less than impressed with all of them. They seem to presuppose those using them are already hyper techy or hyper organized, which defeats the purpose. It would be like going to a sports store to buy two tiny barbells to start weight training and being shown the most complex weight bench, with intricacies only dedicated weight lifters will understand.

So, as far as that goes, I’m thinking of going back to basics. I have my lists in a notebook. That’s not going to work because it’s really hard to work through. However it occurs to me that a bunch of colored note cards would work, with a color per long-term project and white for the single task projects. I can then tack these up on the cork board over my secondary desk. I plan to integrate these with the other innovation this week.

Sometimes you need old-fashioned solutions!

Sometimes you need old-fashioned solutions!

Another innovation, you say? Yes. I’ve realized I need something more to tackle my issues, because a great part of my problem with organizing myself is sort of like the issue my husband and I had when we were first married and tried to make a budget. No matter how we allocated and re-allocated things, we simply didn’t have enough money to live on. So we’d chuck the budget, go back to improvising, and sort of survive (even if half the meals ended up being pancakes or boiled rice.)

Trying to organize my creative life has thrown into sharp relief that I’m simply doing too many things. However, right now they’re all things I need to do. I’m committed to being overcommitted.

What this means is that – as my writing mentor Kris Rusch told me, long ago — “the only way out of this is through it.”

When we were broke newlyweds, we figured out how to fit everything in the budget by having me take a retail job. It paid horribly – about $20 a day – but it was just enough to give us that extra room we needed, so we could buy actual meat every once in a while.

I think perhaps now I need to do something similar with my time budget. At least both my husband and Charlie Martin and random strangers have informed me I should hire someone to clean the house once a week so I have more time to write.

The problem with this is that I’d need to do some concentrated work before a stranger can understand my house-organizing-arrangements and can clean the house. This needs to be done anyway, but I must find the time to do it. For instance, we have several bins of books all over the house. Having switched to digital, we’re trying to get rid of excess books. But I need to figure out how, first. One gigantic sale? Amazon? Sell them to a local used store?

They said it was impossible to make more time where there's not enough.  They said it couldn't be done.  But then they didn't know that metal bustiers give you the power of fireballs, either.

They said it was impossible to make more time where there’s not enough. They said it couldn’t be done. But then they didn’t know that metal bustiers give you the power of fireballs, either.

Something else I can do to battle the time-scarcity is to find a place where I can hide out two weekends a month and just write, away from all other distractions. As a solution it’s imperfect, because the other stuff I normally do will simply go undone. On the other hand, the concentrated writing time should mean I need less of it the rest of the time. I know successful and prolific writers like Kevin J. Anderson use the “time away” method to get things done in concentrated bursts. This could be a very good thing, particularly since my husband is also having trouble finding time to write, and we’re that very odd writer couple who works best when together. The idea of romantic weekends away when both of us get tons of work done – yes, we’ve done them before, though not for years. Yes, we did get work done, as well as romance — it’s very enticing. Unfortunately it also involves time-as-well-as-money expenditure, as we’d have to find a hotel, bed and breakfast or tiny pied-aterre within our money budget … which will involve looking through a lot of ads and possibly a lot of visits to potential places.

So, once more we need to have time to find time.

Which means I must discover other ways to work more in less time. What I’m thinking of doing this week is using the Pomodoro technique. Charlie Martin has forwarded it to me in the past and someone mentioned it (again) in my author’s conference this week.

The idea of the Pomodoro technique is to work in concentrated bursts in which no interruptions are allowed and then take short “breaks” between these. It’s twenty minute bursts and they don’t sound like nearly as much fun as romantic writing weekends away with my husband. But they do fit within my current time/money budget.

So, for the purpose of applying the Pomodoro method, I’ve bought myself a cheery Penguin Timer.

We’ll see if this and the note cards, real allow me to do more in the time I have, so I have the time to pursue a more constructive solution to my time crunch.

And then I shall be a time… er… lady and mistress of the universe. Or at least have my writing universe under a little better control.


images via shutterstock / Bob Orsillo /Kiselev Andrey Valerevich /YorkBerlin