Tuesday Ten: Tips for the Time-Strapped Writer

Writers: we have this tendency to be perpetually short on time.

clock Aaron Geller

Do any of these describe you?

  • Writer + Stay-at-home parent (a full-time job)
  • Writer + Teacher (another full-time job!)
  • Writer + Full-time wage-earner (elsewhere)
  • Writer + Writer—that is, you have a second (bill-paying) writing career
  • Writer + Caregiver (okay, all of these “second jobs” can be full time)
  • Writer + Full-time volunteer
  • Writer + _____________ (I’m sure there are other possibilities I haven’t mentioned, so please fill in the blank!)

I’m not sure whether it’s because we’re ADD, eternally optimistic, passionate about many topics, or simply because writing doesn’t always pay the best, but I don’t think I know a single writer who isn’t juggling more than one full-time endeavor.

Housework Clarkston SCAMPThis is on my mind because—you guessed it—I have so many terrific projects I want to write that I’m feeling the pain of reality. That is, that there are only 24 hours in a day and I have to sleep during a few of them.

Luckily, over the years of balancing fun work (writing!) with not-so-fun work (cleaning the bathroom), I’ve accumulated some time-saving tricks.

  1. Lower standards. I debated whether to include this one, because it’s kinda embarrassing.* But it’s also true. One of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself is the permission to be imperfect. The truth is that my family doesn’t care whether I serve macaroni & cheese once in a while. Neither do they care if the landscaping and decorating are perfect. If we each get 24 hours, I’ve decided to spend mine on the things I find most important—and writing ranks higher than housework.
  2. Pressure cooker. If you cook your own meals, consider investing in one of these wonder-devices. I finally broke down and bought a pressure cooker a little over a year ago, and have been using it nonstop ever since. It lets me create home-cooked dinners in less than half an hour and I only have one pot to clean afterward…satisfying both my desire to provide healthy victuals for the family and my desire to spend less time in the kitchen.
  3. Organization. As someone who isn’t naturally organized, this one’s a struggle for me—but if I *don’t* devote some time to organizing each week, I pay back the time five-fold later. Specifics include a go-to list of easy meals I keep on the refrig (for those days when I don’t know what to cook), a quickie meal plan for each week (to avoid those last-minute ingredient pit stops), and a weekly house meeting with my sweetheart-in-residence to make sure everything that’s *supposed* to be on my list actually *is* on my list.
  4. Google calendar. As my kids get older, I find it more and more difficult to track everyone’s activities. I set up a family calendar on Google, accessible from any computer with internet—and the result was even better than anticipated. I used to be in charge of updating calendars with activities, rehearsals, and so on; now, each person posts his or her own information. I used to spend time tracking down important details for each event; now, all info is collected in a single place. Plus the calendar eliminates all those “but you never told me that….” conversations!
  5. Delegation. If you take a hard look at where your time goes each day, you might discover that you’re doing work other people can—and perhaps should?—help with. One of my most effective time-savers is a list of household chores posted on the refrigerator coupled with a daily, 15 minute family “chore time.” Everyone pitches in, marking off completed tasks. It costs me five minutes to post the chart each week. It saves me two hours in chores that I’m no longer doing.
  6. The word “no”. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: we all get the same 24 hours, so be conscious of how you choose to use them. Although I don’t advocate being a hermit/writer (except, perhaps, for limited periods of time), avoid the other extreme as well. It’s easy to think of writing as self-indulgent, not “real” work, unimportant; but if you were writing for a boss other than yourself, would you let every request interrupt your work? Keep the word “no” in your writers’ toolbox. It comes in handy.
  7. Distraction-free writing zone. It’s so easy to find things to distract me from writing…getting coffee, checking email, hopping onto Twitter…I’ve found it a huge time-saver to limit my time online to a few distinct time slots. There are plenty of non-Internet distractions, too: remove them from your vicinity to reclaim disappearing time.
  8. Limit research. This is really a sub-category of a distraction-free writing zone—but some of us are really, really, really good at pretending our distraction of the day is actually work. Research is great—it can help you flesh out setting, build realistic characters, analyze markets, and more—but make sure not to overdo it. I give myself research limits to curb my tendency to follow my curiosity down every rabbit hole.
  9. Deadlines. When I’m on a deadline, the article that might take me three days to write gets compressed into an afternoon; I’ve found that my writing tasks tend to expand to fill the available time. Knowing this, I’ve starting imposing deadlines on myself—a bit of self-deception that ramps up my productivity.
  10. Exercise (& other important self-care crap). You know that old saying? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? It’s true. When I exercise, I have more energy for the rest of the day. When I take breaks, I avoid burnout. Just sayin’.

What strategies do you use to create more time to write? Please share!

*Plus, I believe that nothing tells your family “I love you” like a clean toilet to embrace when that nasty stomach bug makes its rounds.

The Writer’s Platform-Building Campaign Begins!

For the first time ever, I’m joining an online challenge/group/activity. Thing. The Third Writer’s Platform-Building Campaign:




And I feel a bit like Frodo, saying, “I will take the ring! But…I do not know the way.” I’m venturing into the great unknown of…of what, exactly?

Commenting on others’ blogs.

Getting to know other writers.

Joining in the Twitter conversation (#writecampaign) or joining campaigners on other online forums, such as Yahoo!Groups, Facebook, and GooglePlus.

Hmm. Maybe not so scary as Mordor, after all. I look forward to meeting my fellow campaigners and venturing a bit farther out into the blog-o-sphere!

Any other campaigners stopping by? Leave a comment and introduce yourself and I’ll return the favor!



Grammar Byte: How to Write With Style—the Guide

This week, my writing life is consumed by questions of commas, hyphens, en & em dashes, ellipses, and the width of a “thin space”. In other words: copy editing!

books fdecomite

Before you groan and roll your eyes and click “back” on your browser—copy editing is an important tool in every writer’s (and student’s) toolbox. An afternoon copy edit might not be your idea of a good time,* but chances are pretty good that if you write, at some point you’ll have to smooth out the rough edges of misplaced modifiers and dangling participles and comma usage in your writing.

When you do, you’ll be copy editing. And it doesn’t have to be painful…if you know the right tool for the job:


What, you ask, is a style guide? (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that…but I’m going to tell you anyway. Feel free to skip ahead.) A style guide is basically a big-ole-reference manual of all things related to grammar and formatting and word usage.

There are several biggies:

  • Chicago Manual of Style: This is usually the best bet for fiction writers. Currently in its 16th edition, it’s available online (much easier to search than the print edition), and it offers a 1-month free trial.
  • Associated Press Style Guide: More sparing in its use of punctuation, italics, etc., than Chicago, this is the accepted style guide for journalists. If you write for newspapers and some magazines, this is the guide for you. 
  • American Medical Association Manual of Style: Used for medical writing, this guide takes into consideration details such as how presentation impacts readers’ response to and understanding of research results.
  • Turabian: Basically an adaptation of Chicago for students, this guide provides extra focus on reference annotations.

CMOS_16thed If you need to copy edit your own material, pick the best-looking manual and use it to look up answers to all your copy editing questions. For instance, chapter 6 covers everything you’d ever want to know about punctuation: the circumstances in which to use a comma, punctuation with email addresses, periods in relation to brackets and parentheses, and (my personal favorite) their position on the serial comma. (They’re in favor.)

Since every single rule gets its own section (6.1, 6.2, and so on), it’s ridiculously easy to locate answers.

What about you? What do you use as a reference when it’s time for that final manuscript edit? Or do you go with your punctuational gut feelings?

*unless, like me, you get excited about thin spaces—and in that case you have other problems….

Writers’ Burnout Quiz: Do You Need a Break?

When I last posted, I was deep in rewrite-mode, the write-until-your-eyes-blur-and-then-get-up-early-and-do-it-again sort of rewrite. I was trying to meet a deadline and, due to a family crisis or three (don’t those always happen at the most inopportune moments?), operating on a limited time schedule.

I met my deadline (yay!).

And then left on vacation—in Cozumel (double yay!) where, unlike my lovely friend Charissa, I did not even attempt to blog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn fact, I barely wrote at all. Not even on my shiny-new-can’t-wait-to-work-on-it work-in-progress which, if you’ve followed me for long, you know is a little weird. I’m all about writing everywhere, practicing writing in all sorts of situations, finding inspiration in (and taking notes on) new settings, experiences, and people.*

And those things are important, but sometimes your muse doesn’t need to work harder or try harder. Sometimes your muse needs time to refresh, recharge, and rejuvenate.

Try this handy-dandy quiz** to rate your need for a break vs a self-administered kick in the butt. 

1. When you pick up your work-in-progress, you…
   A: get right to work! You have so many great ideas, it’s hard for your fingers to keep up with your brain.
   B: remember that you meant to post those pictures on Facebook. You take care of that, answer a few emails, check Twitter, grab a snack, and…wow, is it lunch time already?
   C: have to check the clock because you can’t remember if you’re starting or ending a work session.

2. A friend invites you out for coffee, so you…
   A: check your word count and schedule to see if you have time to indulge.
   B: grab your keys and ask where she want to meet.
   C: let her call go to voicemail again. You’ll call her back when you’ve met your deadline.

3. The last time you read a book…
   A: you took notes on plot structure and character arcs. Oh, and the author did a great job with world-building!
   B: you stayed up all night to read the next two in the series as well. You love finding a new author!
   C: read a book? You can’t remember. You love to read, but the past few weeks are a blur of writing and…well, writing.

4. When your kids ask what’s for dinner, you…
   A: tell them dinner is in the crock pot and will be ready at 6:30, just like it always is.
   B: shut your laptop and suggest you go out for ice cream.
   C: ask what they’re doing home from school already. It can’t really be dinner time already, can it? Maybe you can scrounge up a frozen pizza.

5. When it comes to exercise, you…
   A: are up and moving early each morning. It helps you feel energized and more productive.
   B: can usually find something better to do.
   C: know it’s important, but you’ve been too exhausted lately to do anything but fall into bed at the end of the day. Besides, your back hurts, probably from those long hours in front of the compute screen.

How did you do?

Mostly A’s: You’re a hard worker with admirable focus on your writing—but you need to be careful that writing doesn’t edge out fun, family, and friends in your life. Use your planning skills to fit some downtime into your schedule.

Mostly B’s: You’re a spontaneous and fun-loving writer who knows how to spend time on the important things—but make sure that your writing doesn’t always come last on your to-do list. You may need to eliminate distractions in order to get any writing done.

Mostly C’s: You’re a writer working toward a goal with single-minded focus—which may make you super-productive in the short term, but eventually leads to burnout. And you’re definitely showing the signs! Find ways to cut back on your workload so you can get some much-needed rest and restoration.

What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to productivity? Do you tend to work too hard or too little—or have you found a happy medium?

:-) Cheryl

*Okay, I confess I took a *few* notes. I do write about oceans and wildlife, and I *was* surrounded by both.

**Note: this quiz is extremely scientific and accurate, based on a sample size of…one. No, two. Two extremely excellent and relevant samples :).