Short or Long, One or Many?

How do you structure your writing time? By this, I mean do you work in several short spurts scattered through the rest of your daily schedule? Or do you have a longer block of time to devote to your craft? Do you write early in the morning or late at night? Do you write every day or only on certain days? I think that much of these are individual quirks but also a subject that I’ve had to revisit recently.

I’ve always had difficulty concentrating on more than one writing project at a time. Whether it’s the initial draft of a novel chapter, a revision pass on a short story, or a blog post like this, it is tough for me to shift gears. I am easily distracted.

One of my cats tries to help me write.

I think this ties back into the question about how to structure writing time. With full-time work hours, fencing practices and training, personal commitments, and cat wrangling, my writing time is haphazard at best. It is very rare to find more than two hours of uninterrupted time. Often, it is a fraction of that. So when I battle to carve out a block of time and to focus in the first place, trying to shift between plot points and characters is more disorienting than herding those cats. When I try to hop between several tasks all that I end up with are several unfinished projects.

But here I am writing a blog post when I’m in the midst of the first draft of a new short story, as well as the ongoing novel. How is that possible?

Magic? Nope. That would be awesome though.

It comes down to discipline. It’s one thing to think about writing, read books and articles about how to write, or to make to-do lists or goals. In the end, it’s that butt-in-chair effort that is important. Oh, and stop clicking on the nifty internet games, articles, and twitter feeds. I’m getting better about that. Small steps…

The short story draft has a deadline at least. I’ve always been a procrastinator, but when there’s a deadline, I’ll get it done. Although perhaps with only five minutes to spare.

Another cat helps me write.

In other arenas I multitask very well. Perhaps it’s just the written word that unleashes the more scatterbrained parts of my personality. I’m often reading multiple books at the same time. Is this another symptom of the same problem?

So, how do you manage your writing time? Do you set goals by word count or time?

Do you juggle several projects at once? Do you have any tricks or tips to help keep your focus? Do you have to stop to herd cats?

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anngimpel
    Sep 19, 2012 @ 21:41:05

    Good post, Clare. When I had a full time job, my writing time was at night. Now that I’m retired, it depends what I’m working on. I try to get in a couple of hours every day of some sort of writing–or editing. For example, a friend just asked me to edit a 15K word ms for her. That took seven hours. For my own writing, if I’m truly lost in the flow, I can write all day. Nice to have that as an option. Except my husband gets cranky. And family is coming tomorrow, so it’s not as idyllic as one might think.

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  2. Swapna Kishore
    Sep 19, 2012 @ 23:23:10

    I guess if one is really disciplined one can take out a slot of time every day. I have finally realized that my hesitation in slotting writing time is partly because I get so sucked into writing (and the lovely research it needs) that I tend to neglect other commitments and responsibilities and start resenting their intrusion; I even get cranky sometimes 😦 As Ann said, once one is in the flow, one can just keep writing. But being a slow writer (and an even slower editor) when I finally move to other activities and look back at how I spent the last few hours, I am not sure that was an effective way of spending time….

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  3. iulienel
    Sep 20, 2012 @ 21:05:00

    Great post, Clare. I find that I work best in bursts of one hour to one hour and a half. Then I need to take a break or I feel like my effectiveness is diminished. I hear a lot about the advantages of writing very early in the morning, but I find it doesn’t work very well for me. I am best in the evening. I do try to write during the day as I have some time, but I think I put the most consecutive hours during the evening. I do juggle multiple projects at once, especially when I feel that either the characters or the plot is getting stale, I move to something else to sort of re-boot…

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  4. Clare
    Sep 23, 2012 @ 10:00:37

    It’s great to hear everyone’s thoughts! It looks like everyone has outside distractions that have to be dealt with, whether its family obligations, day jobs, and other responsibilities.

    I think that part of what I have recently discovered is that the people who I know that are publishing more than the rare short story are writing a lot more than I have been. I see several novelists that write 2000+ words a day, at least 5 days a week. If I want to get novels written, I’m going to have to write more than 2000 words a week. The same can probably be said for short stories. For every story that I’ve had accepted, there are several more still in submission limbo. If I increase my short story output, can I increase my acceptances?

    I think I used to work more as Swapna does – where I would become absorbed in one project to the neglect of the rest of the world. Then for weeks afterward, I couldn’t carve out any time to write because I was trying to catch up on everything that I hadn’t done while I had taken the writing time. I would feel guilty about spending the time writing when there were so many other things that I SHOULD be doing.

    Iulien – I like the 1 – 1.5 hour blocks. Pretty much when I sit down to write, I tell myself that I’m going to do this for an hour. If it’s going well I’ll go beyond the hour. If I’m struggling then I’m done after an hour. I’ll try to sit down again later in the day for a second hour.

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  5. Trackback: Writing when busy | Fantasy Scroll

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