DR: Time Management 101 For Writers
1. Lower your standards for household chores. There is no law or rule in this world that says you have to dust every week, mow the lawn twice a week or clean closets twice a year. I dust about once a month. I have not lost one friend over it, nobody has come to arrest me, no one has developed allergies from all the dust. In fact, I opened up the newspaper a while back to discover that scientists suspect one reason people have so many allergies today is because we live in environments that are TOO clean, thus we haven't been able to build up any immunities to dust mites, etc. (It's no coincidence that no one in my family is allergic to ANYTHING!)
2. Delegate. When I started writing, my family treated it as if I'd taken a full-time job outside the home. My husband started doing laundry (something he'd never, ever done before, except maybe when I was in the hospital having babies), my kids picked up the slack with the housework and yard work. No, they didn't always do it quite to the standards I would have preferred, but it got done, and they gained all kinds of good life-skills as a result. If you already work a full-time job besides writing, maybe you can cut back somewhere else and hire someone to mow your lawn, change your oil, clean your house, or send the ironing out occasionally.
3. Ban television from your life. For ten years while our kids were small, we didn't even own a TV, so it’s not much of a sacrifice for me to turn off the tube, but even today with two TVs in the house, the only time I watch is for 30 minutes each night while I ride my elliptical trainer, and occasionally on Friday or Saturday nights if my husband and I rent a movie. I simply do not have spare time to sit and watch TV. On the other hand, if you find inspiration in movies or sit-coms, or if watching TV is truly relaxing for you, then quit feeling guilty and count it as “work.”
4. Add a few good, nutritious fast foods and convenience foods to your weekly menu. Or teach the rest of your family how to cook. My kids all learned to be good cooks, thanks to my writing career. We also started ordering frozen entrees and convenience foods from Schwan’s, a frozen food delivery service. Yes, it's a little more expensive than home cooking, but we decided it’s worth it. If that's not an alternative for you, maybe you could spend one day every couple of weeks cooking a freezer full of entrees. Then all you have to do is thaw something out and pop it in the oven each night. The Crock-Pot is also a writer’s best friend.
5. Multi-task. If I do watch a movie or a newscast in the evening, I try to clip coupons or fold laundry, sew on a button, or clean out the junk drawer while I watch. If I go for a walk, I brainstorm the scene I'm working on. If I'm playing cards with my kids or Scrabble with my husband, I have a writing magazine beside me to skim while they shuffle. (I can usually get through three magazines while my husband tries to spell one word in Scrabble! Of course, he beats me every time, too, so…)
6. Practice the art of "just say no." When I started writing, I tried to stay active with all my volunteer work, social clubs, church activities, etc. I finally realized that I just could NOT do it all. In the past three years, I've turned over the church newsletter to someone else (I still teach Sunday School with my husband), gave up freelance proofreading for our weekly newspaper, dropped out of one of my women’s Bible studies, and retired after my second four-year term on our city's recreation commission. I also learned to become unavailable to people who don’t get that just because I work at home doesn’t mean I don’t really work. I use Caller ID to screen my calls, I don’t feel obligated to answer the door just because the doorbell rings, and I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have to go to work,” even though “work” is just down the hall.
Writing takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and commitment. If you’re serious about writing as a career, you will probably have to give up some other things you enjoy. But oh, to be able to say, “I am a writer” makes it all worthwhile.
Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (newly revised and expanded, from Steeple Hill, June 2006) and Remember to Forget (coming from Howard Publishing/Simon & Schuster). http://www.deborahraney.com