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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Time Management for the Writer

Thomas Edison: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Or, to put in modern terms, one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent not wasting time on the internet. Once I've overcome the inertia of between-project laziness, the trick to productivity is to find a way to avoid all the other distractions at hand. It isn't easy. Emails come in randomly and regularly. There is always someone wrong on some forum and spoiling for a good argument. Facebook is eager to tell me what my friends are having for breakfast, and my blog feed is stuffed with interesting observations. Heck, chances are there are writers reading this very post who should be doing something more productive with their time than listening to me babble on.

Yet in spite of all of these distractions, I can sometimes manage incredible bursts of sustained effort. I wrote The Wicked in a three month period from mid-February to mid-May. I started the first draft of The Devil's Peak on June 1, and released it on August 1. Here are some techniques I use:

1. Write every day. The hardest part of starting a new project is the first day, with the second day being only slightly easier. If I take a single day off it feels almost like starting over again. I try to write through illness, holidays, vacations, etc.
2. Start as soon as I'm done with breakfast and finish by noon. I found a number of years ago that if I had a whole day to write one hour's worth of work, I was less likely to finish that hour than if I had an hour to do an hour of work. Time pressures, like the guillotine, tend to focus the attention nicely.
3. Don't wait for inspiration. Inspiration comes as soon as my fingers start typing, or within a few minutes. I swear this is true.
4. Cut myself off from the internet while I'm working. This is difficult, nearly impossible some days. A moment of difficulty or distraction and I've got my browser open. I may intend to check "just one thing," but it never works out that way. I have used Freedom, which is a program that cuts you off from the internet for a specific period of time, and an egg timer.

One big problem with writing productivity is that nobody cares if you write. Even if you have a contract and a deadline, each individual day or week or even month has no milestones, no boss looking over your shoulder, no accountability. People who can work with the boss's whip at their back, doing drudgery work, often cannot motivate themselves to do work that they love and do for nothing more than the glory of the human spirit.

The key to productivity is to trick the mind into thinking there is a man with a green eyeshade and bifocals comparing your time card to your output.

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