As 10 Minute Novelists, we live life in the margins. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, a few word sprints, and boom we have a novel! So it makes sense that we would be excellent managers of time, right?
Ah yes, I can hear some of you laughing right now. Managing time is like nailing Jell-o to a wall. And to complicate matters further, we must contend with Time Thieves.
What are time thieves? Those sneaky critters that sneak into our daily calendar and steal away our precious 10 minute writing increments! Fortunately, you don’t have to be a victim. Here are four of the most common time thieves and how to combat them.
1. The Squeaky Wheel: It’s true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease!
Emergencies pop up, accidents happen, and sometimes we run up against a deadline and must neglect some tasks to complete others.
We do need to attend to those squeaky wheels, but we also need to give attention to the other three wheels. Patching one flat tire does no good if the other three tires have worn away their tread. The worst thing about this time thief is that it is totally valid. Emergencies do have to be addressed and deadlines must be met. But as writers, we have a shared dream that we know is equally valid. Make your writing a squeaky wheel.
– Enlist your community in your writing goals: Kids, spouses, roommates and friends all need to know what you’re up to. When they understand your priority, they can be enlisted to handle some of the squeaky wheels in daily life.
– Set an alarm. For extra fun, make it the sound of a squeaky wheel. Whenever the alarm goes off, do a word sprint.
2. TV Streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, get behind me, you time thieves!
You innocently sit down and think, “Hmmm, maybe I’ll check out this Parks and Rec show that everyone is talking about.” Three hours later you look up in a daze and wonder where the time went! Save the marathons for special times – like pregnancy bed rest, surgery recovery, a sick day, or a very special date night. Otherwise, decide BEFORE you turn it on exactly how many episodes you’ll watch.
Expert tip: half hour shows are typically only 22 minutes long and hour shows are only 44 minutes. That means if you decide to sit down and watch 2 half hour episodes, you have 16 minutes you can use to write. Yes, I’m serious! Open your WIP, set a timer for 8 – 16 minutes and write. Then reward yourself with the TV show of your choice.
3. The Shoulds: These are the external expectations that steal time from your day.
You should get to work on time. You should work late more than once a week. You should cook. You should have a clean house all the time. You should get up early to exercise/meditate/read the paper. You should look sexy/confident/put-together every day. You should volunteer at your kid’s school. You should respond thoughtfully to every Facebook post you read. You should make every blog post a miniature work of art that Elizabeth Gilbert (or Danielle Steele, or Truman Capote) would weep over. These “shoulds” work their way into our unconscious mind and leap out whenever we have 10 minutes to spare. So instead of writing our novel, we wipe down the kitchen counters, or trim our nose and ear hair. Whenever you hear yourself say the word “should,” take notice and pause. Ask yourself WHY the task in question “should” be done. You may find that many such tasks are completely optional. Or, if they aren’t optional, they may just be less important that using that time to write.
4. Smart Phones/Tablets: Oh my goodness, these are tempting, aren’t they?
We check the weather and then glance at our Twitter newsfeed. We find a super fun game and suddenly we’re addicted. We look up one simple fact on Wikipedia and get lost clicking through from one related link to another. As with TV streaming, decided in advance how much time you’re going to give to this toy. Then set the timer on the phone and put it down as soon as the timer goes off. If you’re using the Internet for research, still set a timer. If you don’t find the answer before the timer goes off you can always add more time. Alternatively, disconnect from the wi-fi while writing (and put the phone is airplane mode), and just jot down anything you need to research. Then later, when you’re NOT writing, do the research.
Elaine Bayless is a member of the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group. She wrote Birds, Bees and Church Trailier Thieves and is the mother of a lively toddler.