I recently had the following conversation at a writer's conference...
Attendee: So what do you do for work?
Me: Well, I'm a therapist for a public school system and I do private practice on the side. And I'm also a freelance editor. How about you?
Attendee: Yeah, I pretty much just write.
Me: Oh, so you're a housewife or...?
Attendee: No...well, I have a cat. But no kids at home. No husband. I just write. Mostly for fun. I'm not pursuing publishing or anything yet. I had some cash to throw around so I thought a conference with other writers might be fun.
Okay, but I really, REALLY wanted to.
To get over my urge to smack the pretty out of her (have I mentioned that her hair was stunning on top of everything else?) I reminded myself that this chick is not the norm. Although if anyone knows where this mythical island is where people can just write and not have to work for a living, please do let me know. I can have my bags packed in under an hour.
I'm working on a revision for my agent, I have three other WIPs on the back and side burners, I blog for myself and for YA Stands, and I freelance edit on the side. And I'm a Mom. And I have a job. Well, right now I don't because my job is awesome in that I get summers off. So now I'm home by myself with a one-year-old all day, which is...yeah...not any less time consuming.
I sometimes forget to breathe.
STEP ONE: Get honest with yourself about how you spend your time.
Since the invention of Myspace I have been a social media whore. In college I would literally spend HOURS looking at the plethora of little GIF badges available to add to my page until it was littered with hundreds of handpick squares of cleverness. And I was baffled by my habit of writing papers the night before they were due at three o'clock in the morning. "I don't have time to study!" I would complain.
Well, I did have time. But LOOK! GIFs!!!
Okay so some things still haven't changed.
But at least I'm honest about it now. And I have self-discipline techniques to manage my addictions like Nanny for Google Chrome and Rescue Time (both of which are free, btw.) By getting real with myself about how I spend my time, I can spend my time more wisely. And that means more time for writing.
I'm also honest with myself about my priorities. Writing for me isn't some dreamland touchy-feely-hippie-dippy world where I am a WRITER!!!!!!! and people grovel at my feet and respect my time behind a closed door to do my writing while the rest of the world waits with baited breath for my words. If I want to be a published, well-respected author, I'm going to bust my patootie to make it happen. No one else is going to make it happen for me. And that means less GIFs and more broken fingernails. I have to make my writing a priority for me if I expect other people to respect my right to spend my time doing it.
STEP TWO: Know your limits and strengths
I legitimately have adult ADD. If you follow me on Twitter or know me IRL, I am sure this is a total shock to you. I embrace this as a part of who I am, and I've found ways to turn it into a strength. Or at least to work around it.
For me, that means knowing I cannot write for more than an hour at a time. I need brain breaks. I need to compulsively check my phone or move around. If I try to force myself to focus for any longer than that, my writing is crap. So I've stopped trying to force myself to be someone I'm not. As much, theoretically speaking, as I'd love to have an eight hour writing work day, I'd probably only spend about three hours of that day doing quality writing. So that's what I try to do on days when I'm planning to write.
For some people, knowing your limits means knowing you write ugly, morbid, dark ish and doing that is taxing on the soul, so you can't write darkness every day. You can write it every other day. So that's how you build your writing time. Maybe you want to really feel like writing is a job so you build yourself a weekend away from your words (even if it's not on Saturday and Sunday.) Everyone has limits, and if you ignore yours, you will burn yourself out in no time.
Related to this is knowing your writing strengths--times of day, days of the week, settings where you are more productive. My creative brain wakes up at around 9pm. So any time I spend before 9pm writing, I spend on things like plotting, revising, etc. because that's not when I'm at my creative best, but my analytical brain does pretty well any time after 10am.
In my next repost I'll get more specific and concrete on techniques and tech you can use to help manage your writing time. In the meantime, what are some tricks YOU use to stay focused?