By Matthew Schulz
There are always plenty of excuses for not working on your manuscript. However, the stark truth is that what often separates the person with the not-quite-finished novel from the one who’s pitching his finished work is time management.
But, take heart. You can find time to finish your work in progress. It just takes a bit of creativity and a bit of sacrifice.
I’ve learned this the hard way. I’m married with a young son. I’ve got a demanding full-time job. And I am a fiction writer. Balancing those three parts of my life has been a tremendous challenge and has proved frustrating from time to time. After all, I dearly love my family and I enjoy my job, but I also am passionate about my writing and have been for some time. So, in order to maximize my ability to work on my novel while giving sufficient time to the rest of my life, I’ve learned how to carve out small bits of time here and there for writing.
I’m not always consistent about making time. Life happens sometimes. However, over the years, these strategies have helped me finish one novel and get well on the way to completing another. (By the way, I tend to think of the first one as my practice novel — which helped me prove to myself that I could finish one even if it never sees the light of day.)
Here are some of the tips that have proved the most helpful for me over the years:
– Make the most of your lunchtime: This has been the most valuable for me. It’s not always possible to get away for lunch, but when I do, I often try to spend it writing, fleshing out characters, plotting or anything else to help me progress with my novel. That time spent can even reduce stress in your day job by giving you a respite from the daily grind.
– Always carry something to write with: I never know when inspiration will strike or some spare time will present itself, so I always try to keep a notebook and pen with me. An iPad, a laptop, a voice recorder and many other things can suffice as well.
– Be willing to sacrifice sleep: This one’s hard for me. However, the fact is that waking up even 30-45 minutes early or staying up a little late a few nights a week — while the kids and significant other slumber — can increase your productivity a surprisingly large amount. Just know yourself. If you’re a night owl, getting up early in the morning may not work as well as staing up just a bit later.
– Don’t set unrealistic expectations: Time management can be like dieting. Goals are essential, but poorly thought-out goals can do as much harm as good. For example, your life may not allow you to write an 80,000-word novel during National Novel Writing Month. (I know mine wouldn’t.) Trying to do so and failing could be discouraging. However, if you tell yourself, “I’m going to have my first draft finished in six months” or even longer if need be, and then you slowly see yourself progressing to that goal, it can be incredibly motivating. You might even get so inspired that you finish early.
– Try to involve your loved ones in the process: Going to take some pictures of a location where your story will be set? Bring your child along and let her point out what she sees. Working on dialogue? Read it to your significant other and get his or her input. Also, let your kid pick out a name for one of the characters or give suggestions about what a character likes. Writing can often seem like a solitary process, but it doesn’t have to be. Bringing in others to help can make you a more productive writer, while also giving you some much desired quality family time.
There are countless other ways to make time for your writing — and how well they work can depend on your personality, your lifestyle and any number of other variables. But the important thing is to not just sit idly by. Take action. Be creative. After all, that manuscript won’t just finish itself.
Matthew Schulz has written for the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Associated Press and American Banker. He is currently writing his second novel and aspiring toward his lifelong dream of becoming a published author of fiction. His day job has him working as a Managing Editor at CreditCards.com, where he helps lead an award-winning news team and has even helped coordinate a video town hall with the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewschulz and learn more about him at MattSchulz.com.