Monday, 9 December 2013

The Write Time: 10 ideas to free up extra time for the creative stuff

By Jane Ayres

As a writer, not only are you a creative producer, you are also your own publicity consultant, secretary, accountant, and all round administrator. In fact, you need so many skills to keep on top of things, it’s a wonder you get time to write at all! Admin is a time vampire, but a necessary evil. And if you aren’t thrilled by keeping up to date with record keeping and paperwork, you’ll need plenty of self-discipline to get it done. Let’s be honest - what would you rather do - complete your tax return or write the next chapter of your novel? No contest, really. So how do you free up extra writing time by being more efficient with the boring stuff? Here are 10 ideas that could improve your productivity and make all the difference.

1. Choosing the right time
This can be the key to successful time management. Everyone has times when they are at their most creative. For some people, it’s first thing in the morning. Others tend to be night owls, and their imagination really flourishes when the sun goes down. Notice when your writing flows and when it feels like more of a chore. Choose your least creative time to do administration. Then you won’t be tempted to leave it to write the next chapter of your novel. Or feel frustrated because you’re not being creative.

2. Prioritise
What has to be done? And does it really have to be done now? There really is a difference between urgent and important. If you’re within 24 hours of a competition or copy deadline, that piece of work outstanding is urgent. Getting out the invoice to bill a publisher for an article they just accepted is important - but not urgent. You won’t get paid any quicker.

3. Don’t put it off!
Having established what needs to be done urgently, do it now!

4. Planning makes perfect
This is all about strategy, forward planning and using lists effectively.  To ensure you don’t find yourself constantly having to deal with lots of urgent administration at once, draw up a ‘to do’ list every day - and tick off each task when it’s done. (It works for me!). And make sure that list doesn’t end up buried on your desk among last week’s ‘still not done’ list - put it up on the wall above your desk as a constant reminder. (If necessary, on a big sheet of paper!)

5. Sort that mail.
Learn to let go. Don’t open junk mail – print or digital. It’s a waste of your time and energy and you might get tempted to spend money on something you really don’t need. Unwanted paper can be filed in the bin, and junk emails should be deleted. Where possible, with any other mail, deal with it the day it arrives. Otherwise, file it. Put it in a folder – paper or virtual - marked ‘To do this week’.

6. File that pile!
Yes, filing is fun! Seriously. Not only is it a time saver, it’s a great creative tool for collating and sifting ideas. Having an efficient filing system really does matter, particularly if, like me, you tend to keep losing bits of paper with ideas on them or decorating the table with fluorescent post-its. You know you jotted down the opening of a novel - somewhere. You’ve been commissioned to write a local history feature and that piece of research you did on churches would be ideal - if only you could find it. If you love scraps of paper, rather than leave them scattered around the house, put them all in a box file. Or keep them organised in a series of clear plastic wallets, properly labelled. For instance, one labelled ‘ideas for novel’, another ‘feature on bellringing’, etc. You get the idea. Or keep a hardcover notebook to write your ideas in. For the laptop lovers, a computer file simply called ‘Ideas’ can save on paper and at least you know exactly where to find it.

7. E-mail getting you down?
E-mail is both a gift and a curse. Get your control back. Don’t be side-tracked by those 80 new emails that magically appeared in your inbox. Here’s how.
If you can’t deal with emails immediately and quickly, set up folders. File your e-mails in appropriate categories, by subject or publisher, whichever suits you best. Or, better still, set up folders for ‘deal with today’ and ‘deal with later’. Delete non-essential messages. Try to keep your inbox as clear as possible. It’s a bit like having a tidy desk.

8. Productive record keeping
You do keep scrupulous records of the fate of your submissions, don’t you? For example, title of manuscript, where sent, date and result. What do you have most success with? Short stories, poems, articles? To get the best use of your writing time it’s vital to know what kind of work brings you the most positive response. Review and evaluate your output and productivity. Regularly. This might sound way too much like a business mantra but if you want your dream of making a living from being creative to come true, it’s essential you understand how this works. It matters. A lot. You can be so busy sending stuff out that you don’t stop to think about this. If you don’t keep proper records how will you know how productive you really are?

9. De-clutter.
Bookshelves heaving? Keep tripping over your precariously balanced collection of writing manuals? Is that multi-storey pile of magazines rapidly rivalling the Eiffel Tower? Then it’s time to de-clutter. Be brutal. Ruthless. More physical space = more creative headspace. Honestly. Recycle and rehome. Decide which books you couldn’t bear to part with. Then identify the books you will never read, however worthy, that are merely gathering dust. Pack them into boxes or bags and take them to your nearest charity shop. They’ll be delighted.

Then attack your magazines and journals. Again, what you don’t want, take to a charity shop. The rest, organise. Those you are likely to access for research or information, file in magazine racks; you can even colour co-ordinate by subject and they can then live on your considerably tidier bookshelf (and they make good bookends, too). The magazines you keep can go in labelled box files. Then store on the top shelf. Never throw out unwanted books and magazines - they can still bring pleasure to other avid readers. And as a writer yourself, how would you like your words consigned to the bin?

10. Now get writing!
You’ve got the filing, planning and admin done in record time. You’ve eliminated the time vampires. So get down to some serious, productive creative activity. No more excuses….Do I practise what I preach? Hmmm.....

About the author:
Jane had her first short story published in a UK pony magazine when she was 14. Since then she has written many books and stories for children and teenagers, and published work has been translated into nine languages. A passionate cat lover, Jane is donating all author royalties from her e-book Coming Home to the charity Cats Protection. See the trailer here:

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