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Organizing Your Writing Time

by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz

Many writers, myself included, have a hard time organizing their days, weeks, or months to accommodate all the tasks required by the writing life. We all know we need to write, edit, send out queries, market, network, do research, and keep abreast of what's happening in the publishing world.

How can we be sure we have enough time to do all we need to do to succeed in the writing business? To get started create a document for yourself. Track your activities for a couple of days. My typical day might look like this:

8:00 a.m. - wake, shower, breakfast
9:30 a.m. - animal care
10:00 a.m. - mail, queries
11:00 a.m. - editing
12:00 p.m. - grocery shopping
1:00 p.m. - marketing
1:30 p.m. - Facebook
2:45 p.m. - animal care
3:00 p.m. - teabreak
4:00 p.m. - Facebook again

By tracking my day, I see how much time I've wasted. (Really, Facebook twice in one day?) With this visible reminder, it's easier to re-organize my time to be more productive. Do you treat it like a job or a hobby? How many hours in a day are you willing to devote to your writing and related activities? These decisions determine how to organize your writing day.

Interested in how successful authors manage their time, I asked several prolific writers how they organize the time they devoted to writing related activities. Perhaps their answers will help you to become more organized.

Poetry writer and editor of The Centrifugal Eye, Eve Hanninen writes full-time or part-time, depending on her editing schedule for the magazine. Eve believes that "writing has to be thought of as a job first, before a creative venture. Most people take having a job seriously. They set their alarms and adhere to a schedule." Part of taking her writing seriously is having clearly marked files to keep research, notes, and manuscripts in order. She "uses several calendars pinned to the wall... to jot writing and editing tasks... and (she tries) to adhere to the calendars' schedules as closely as possible." In addition, "writing more specific and detailed lists often help..." Also, "keep track of all correspondence with care... and keep a notebook that lists all pertinent information about your submissions to publishers and journals... Dates, journal and editors' names, article or poem titles, whether simultaneous submissions or reprint rights offered -- all these things in one place avert time-consuming letters and emails about duplications and other problems."

Devon Ellington is a full-time writer. Ms. Ellington writes under several names and a variety of genres such as mystery, fantasy, romantic comedy, as well as short stories and non-fiction pieces. Devon has been successful because she has taken the time up front to set up systems. "For instance, at the top of every year, I set up a pitch log and a submission log, so that I can keep track of pitches and submissions, track payments, track pub dates, and see what needs follow-up. I took the time to set up an invoice form. I create a clip file for each article as it is published... so if I need to use them (again)... I don't have to hunt them down..." Devon doesn't "throw out the research files as soon as the book or article is finished, because usually I write again on the same topic, and why do all the research again?" According to Devon, "It should take 15 minutes to put together a sparkling pitch with relevant clips. If you're constantly taking an hour or two to hunt down information, you lose billable time, you get discouraged because of the wasted time, you wind up not pitching as often, and you don't land as many well paying jobs."

Karina Fabian, author and editor, also writes full-time. She believes "the key is finding a system that works for you -- something that lets you move toward your goals as a writer and not spin your wheels in fruitless efforts." Because she writes full-time, she keeps to "a schedule of days and tasks. Monday I do work for the Catholic Writers Guild and any conferences I'm participating in. Tuesday is marketing day; Wednesday is all for writing; Thursday writing and the basic administration; Friday, computer work -- websites, clearing out files, back-ups, etc. I also blog twice a week and microblog/Tweet three times a week. I try to make an hour each day for some kind of writing -- whether an article, edits, etc. -- on my non-writing days."

Anjali Banerjee has published several children's novels. She doesn't feel she's an organized writer but because she only writes part-time, she also feels she has to treat her writing as a job and as a habit. "Practice. Practice. Practice," she says. "I try to write in the morning every day, before I go to work. I have a daily goal. Small steps... Some writers organize their year by writing deadlines on a calendar. My daily goal varies, depending on the following: deadlines; whether I'm giving presentations, speaking at conferences, schools or libraries; the demands of my day job. Some days I don't get any pages written. Some days I'm just brainstorming. Some days I'm revising a manuscript, in which case I might have to plow through 50 pages a day. When I actually do have time to write, I shoot for three to six pages a day."

Tamara Kaye Sellman is a part-time writer who also works in several different areas of the publishing world ("writer, editor, literary outreach, networking"). Tamara specializes in literary fiction, magic realism, and food and garden writing. According to Tamara, "writer(s) need to figure out what it means for them to be organized." For her, "it's piles of paperwork kept in their assigned places... a well-kept Google calendar, and the discipline to keep things on schedule (while being flexible in the face of personal necessities... )." She thinks "writer(s) know they are organized when they can sit down in their workspace and aim their focus on the work at hand without being delayed by the administrative tasks that surround (them)." For her, "arriving at that organizational Zen is really more a matter of mindset than anything that can be made physically apparent. I can have a hugely messy office and still be organized in my thoughts..." However, "if you can't work in a slightly chaotic world, you may need to rely on hanging files, electronic reminders in your Blackberry, a Rolodex... Only you can know what that is for certain."

Novelist Matt Briggs works full-time as a technical writer and writes fiction in his "spare" time. "I write when I first wake up, before I begin the work that people pay me to do... In the morning, just about every day, I write 800 words on average." He says, "as a person who has a job, I only have about an hour a day for writing and so I have to break large projects into tiny pieces and track those tiny pieces. This requires the work of making outlines and lists and plans... I know many writers, particularly writers with time pressures such as jobs and children who do work this way." Matt reflects on a teacher he had: "Charles Johnson, who wrote the novel Middle Passage... said about his work habits that he made a plan to sit in a chair. He had to sit in a chair for a certain amount of time even if he didn't know what he was going to do. He didn't have to write anything if he didn't feel like it. But he had to sit. And gradually, it was more interesting for him to write than to just sit there." Matt believes the key to organizing is to "break things into chunks and commit yourself to a certain amount of time to do the work."

Ann Charles is another prolific author with several novels to her credit. She writes part-time while working full-time and taking care of her family. Ann breaks her writing up into half year segments. She writes one book a year currently, from January to June, and from July to December she wears her marketing/promo hat. She thinks being an organized writer is a "character trait." She is a "right-brain when it comes to plotting and writing... books, but when it comes to marketing/promo and goal setting, I'm disgustingly organized and left-brained." She has a "five-year plan, a career plan, yearly goals, monthly goals, and weekly goals, and... keep... post-it notes of 'to dos' next to my keyboard that I update almost daily." She states, "I didn't used to be this organized when it came to non-writing, writing-related tasks, but I learned a couple of years ago that I work best when I have written goals to meet. Also, the more I learned and dabbled in the marketing and promo side of writing, the more messy my desk and files became. Soon, I was forced to be organized or risk losing crucial information or missing important meetings/deadlines."

Ruth Brown writes part-time, but for her it is more challenging as she works full-time at a job that has only one down season, summer. When she does write; she doesn't "make decisions consciously of how much time to spend on writing or writing related activities. When writing during an evening, I just sit down and write until bedtime, so that may be two hours or three or more. I'm more of a project-oriented person, rather than working the clock. I don't typically have short bursts of writing time. If it's going well, I keep at it."

Charlee Compo writes full time as a dark fantasy and speculative fiction author. She works "from nine until noon, then one to six every day, seven days a week. I spend three-fourths of that time answering emails, working on the webpage I designed, created and maintain, working on the group I founded for speculative fiction authors, and looking for new places to showcase my 70 plus published novels. The rest of the time is spent writing." For Charlee, "a good filing cabinet with hanging files with appropriate names for research material is a must... Anything you use on a daily basis should at the very least be in a protective cover sheet or laminated and easily at hand. Books on your genre, on grammar, research should be readily at hand as well." As a novelist, she has also found that having a "good, concise compendium of each character, place or location... and who's who and how they relate to one another, idiosyncrasies, traits appearance" means "you won't make mistakes later on."

If you, too, are to succeed in your writing business, take heed of what these published authors advise. Whether you organize your writing time by the day, the week, or the year, actual writing should be your number one concern. This is not to say that you should feel guilty if you aren't writing seven days a week. Life does get in the way, but try to move toward a goal where writing encompasses the major portion of your work time. If it has been pushed to the side due to other activities, re-evaluate. Devon Ellington sums it up, "Managing one's time efficiently is a huge part of being a working, paid writer. You work until it's done. Period."

To find more about the authors featured in this interview visit:

Eve Hanninen: http://tinyurl.com/yjwxwj9

Devon Ellington: http://www.devonellingtonwork.com

Karina L. Fabian: http://www.karinafabian.com/

Anjali Banerjee: http://anjalibanerjee.com/

Tamara Kaye Sellman: http://tamarasellman.wix.com/tksellman

Ann Charles: http://www.anncharles.com/

Ruth Brown: http://www.ruthlbrown.com/

Copyright © 2009 Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz has published more than 80 articles, 60 stories, two e-books, a chapbook, and her stories have been included in two anthologies. She writes for both adults and children. Her fiction has appeared in numerous genre and children's publications and non-fiction work has appeared in a variety of writing, parenting, and young adult print magazines and online publications. Her writing blog is available at http://pennylockwoodehrenkranz.blogspot.com/.

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