With larger blocks of time, say I've got a day to spend on writing things I will aim to complete:
1 big thing – writing 2000 words on the WIP or spending 2-3 hours plotting the next story or doing 20 pages of a content edit. If you want to know more about writing productivity on its own, I use the Rachael Aaron technique, and it works well for me.
3 medium sized things – a blurb form, writing a few blog posts and
5 smaller things – emailing ebooks to competition winners, scheduling some updates through Hootesuite, saving royalty statements in folders for tax
Of course other things come in during the day and you have to have breaks, but by making sure you cover the 9 things above, you will definitely feel you've moved forward, ticked things off your to do list.
I don't have the luxury of great swathes of time, even at the weekends I am usually busy with seeing friends or family. When I have a block of time – anything from 20mins to 2hours, I work out what I need to do in that time, and I do that thing. Nothing else, no just checking email (unless that block of time is for dealing with email) and I work on that one thing until the time is up, and then I put it aside and get on with my life.
There's this lie we tell ourselves about multitasking, but it isn't true. Unless you're doing one thing passively and another thing actively – listening to music and writing an email for example, you can't actually do two active things at the same time, because 1)you've got one pair of hands and 2) you have one brain. Even if you think you're making dinner and writing a letter, or washing the car and doing your Christmas cards, actually what you're doing is switching between the two activities. Every time you switch between activities it takes your brain time to refocus on what you're actually doing. By focussing on one thing for that time I am usually surprised how much of that one thing I can do in the time available. And then I move onto the next one thing to do.
3) Making the best use of dead time
I never get on a train without my laptop. I never get on the tube without my writing device or a notebook or a book I need to read. I often get on the Tube with my laptop. Even if the train journey is 1hour that's an hour I can spend- on edits, writing promo blog posts, filling in a cover / blurb form for a publisher. All these things take time and if I leave them I end up doing them on a Sunday when I'd much rather be 1) watching TV and relaxing or 2)using a big block of time, like a morning, to write fiction.
Even if it's just a tube journey, I will write ideas, notes for myself to remember later, on my phone. I have now started first draft writing of fiction on the tube too – ok it gets a few looks when I get out my Fisher Price esque Alphasmart Neo and post it notes, but do you know what, it's nothing compared to what I've seen on the tube before. And it's my time and as long as I'm not offending other people, I'll do with it what I want.
Last week, on four hour long tube journeys when I could have read fiction, I took my laptop and edited some fiction I needed to submit on a deadline. This meant that when I got home Saturday afternoon I only had another hour or so of editing to complete, rather than 6 hours of editing. I’d already done about 4 hours in ‘dead time’.
I look at my weekly to do list, work out where I will have pockets of time (at home, away from home in hotels, on public transport) and work out what requires a laptop and internet, and what can be done with less required, and then allocate tasks to time slots during the week. I don't write this down, because it's usually not a long to do list for the week.
For example this week work for my MA, drafting for Nanowrimo and some requests from publishers / readers to deal with.
The MA work needs a laptop and internet and involves large books – I did those things early in the morning, at lunch time and evening before dinner. Some of the MA work was reading documents on my laptop I'd already downloaded and making notes. I did that on 2 tube journeys as it didn't need the internet.
The Nanowrimo drafting requires my Alphasmart Neo and my post it notes – I did those on the other tube journeys and a flight (no way I was using my laptop on the flights).
The publisher / reader requests needed laptop and internet, so I did those at home too.
The plotting of the remainder of the story required pencil and paper – I did that in the lounge at the airport and on the flight.
4) Bear in mind time of day
Don't try to read a 14 page essay by Simone De Beauvoir and take notes at 7pm after a day's work and a commute, as I did once. Use that time to send ebooks to people, or maybe if you're not too tired write 500 – 1000 words on your WIP. Or maybe, and this is important too – relax. Know when you're flogging a dead horse and leave it all until another day.
Go early, go difficult. Go late, go simple.
5) What about writers block?
I don't want to sound smug here, but I've never suffered from writers block. Ok, I'll caveat that – a while ago, when I'd written to the end of my work in progress I needed to plot the final 1/3 of the story. When I sat down with my Post it notes and pencil to plot I didn't know what to plot. I suppose that's plotting/writers block isn't it? But once I've plotted what I'm going to write, once I have time to write it and once I have enthusiasm to write it, I can always write.
I think this comes from having a journalistic / PR background. When my editor used to say, 'I want 1000 words on the cat stuck up tree in Cosham story by 5pm' I just got on and wrote it. There's no mopping your brow and waiting for the muse to strike with journalism. With journalism you have to write all the words. Same with PR, when I was told to write a press release about us having the lowest MRSA rate in the hospital where I worked, I did my fact finding, wrote a few headings on what I would cover and then just wrote it.
With fiction writing, even if I don't feel in the mood, once I start writing I normally write myself into the mood. And if that time is for writing, I will make the most of it and use it for writing. I simply vomit the words on the screen, to tell the story, and worry about polishing it up to make it good later.
Someone said, 'You can't edit a blank page.'
Someone else said, 'writing is about rewriting.'
Another person said, 'Writing is where you create the words, editing is where you make the words good.'
Read these words. Absorb them. Remember them. Now go and write some words of your own!
6) Keeping an up to date to-do list
I have a number of to do lists which give me flexibility and keep me on track.
Daily to do list – this keeps me on track when I'm working out my 9 things for my whole day of writing time.
Weekly to do list – this allows me to spread out what I need to get done that week over 7 days depending on how much time I have, where that time will be (trains, tubes, at home) I work out what I will do when for that week.
Monthly to do list – I list the main things I want to achieve each month, usually over a 3-4 month period. This picks up on more long terms writing goals so I don't get to the end of the year and say, 'I meant to do that this year and I haven't.'
Yearly writing goals – I set myself a few overall goals for the year to ensure I'm moving in the direction I want to go, and these keep me on track in the middle of the frenzy of activity.
7) Make sacrifices
I only watch 2-3hrs TV per night – less sometimes. I only watch TV I've recorded, and programmes I really want to watch, so no channel surfing.
I only really read for pleasure late at night in bed, when I'm too tired to do any of the stuff above.
Sometimes dinner is cheese and crackers, or a takeaway or a ready meal. This is usually only in extremis as both me and Himself enjoy cooking and eating and it's a good way to wind down after a busy day. But sometimes, it happens. It's not the end of the world.
I don't sacrifice socialising and seeing real people though. That's a dangerous road to go down I think. I will always make time to go to writing events, see friends and family, because I've fitted in the things I needed to do by using the techniques above.
7.5) And finally
I am not perfect. I do sometimes lose half an hour looking at pictures of cats on Twitter, or browsing at online clothes shops. I am human. I am not a synth like in Humans. The important thing is to realise these lapses happen, don't then think I’ve wasted half an hour so I won't bother with the rest of my to do list for today – get back on track.
Hope these tips are helpful, I'd love to hear if you have any others like like to share.
Liam Livings xx
If you enjoyed this blog, consider 'donating' to it by buying one of my books. I wrote Escaping From Him by using all the above tips. And it received an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Rainbow Awards.
Escaping From Him
Darryl’s on the run – from controlling boyfriend Chris, an air-conditioner called Dave (deceased), an intolerable, claustrophobic situation and a person he just can’t be any more. The trouble is, he doesn’t have a plan – or any money – and all he knows is he needs to get away from everything. That’s where a lucky lift to Glasgow comes in, which turns out to be just the beginning of a whole new life …
Available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
What other readers said about Escaping From Him
This was a great story, with love, romance and car crashes. I love the way Liam writes and tells his stories, and having read a short excerpt I wasn't sure I would like it, but I ended up loving it. Ford was a great character coming into his own in the end, and there was one breath stopping scene that I couldn't believe what was happening, and even wanted to kill his friends for him, but it all worked out great in the end.
This is my first book by this author. From the beginning I was pulled into the world he created. I could not put this story down needing to see what would happen next and how the story would end. I will be looking for more from this author in the future.