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How Should You Use Your Writing Time?

Right after Josh and I got married, we read a bunch of financial advice books (and then promptly ignored 50% of the advice because… hello… hard to invest when you live hand to mouth…).  The one piece of advice that stuck with me was the concept of paying yourself first.  I didn’t completely get how it would work because if you pay yourself before you pay your bills, you may end up with your utilities cut off.  Additionally, it seemed like poor advice to tell people to take on debt rather than paying off something in full just so you can put something into savings.  But hey, I do like getting paid, so I was all for this idea of paying myself first.  Even if I’ve never done it.

But it’s actually a really good ideology to apply to your writing time, especially if you have a very limited amount of writing time per day.  How do you prioritize so you use your time well?  Do you do all your paid gigs first because they’re paid gigs?  Do you write a blog post which will build your platform so an agent wants to work with you?  Do you put all your writing minutes towards your novel?  What about your overflowing email inbox — should you take care of that if you’re trying to build relationships with people who could help you with your writing?  And if you only have an hour, do you break that hour down and do a little bit of everything, or do you just focus on one task?

Here’s what you do:

write for yourself first

You will use your time best if you write what you’re in the mood to write rather than arbitrarily creating a writing task list and checking off boxes.  Is there something weighing on your brain that will keep you from working on your novel?  Write a blog post first and get it off your chest.  Crave the immediacy of a blog post but also dying to spend time with your novel characters?  Work on the manuscript.  Feel as if you can’t concentrate on your novel until you pound out that article you lined up with a paid site?  Then work on the paid gig.

And if you’re never in the mood to work on your paid gigs, that may be a heads up that you shouldn’t take those paid gigs.

The same goes for your blog, novel, or correspondence.

Unless you are in a bizarre hostage situation where you must write in order to gain freedom, writing is a choice.  It may not feel like a choice — and, believe me, I know how it feels to be obsessed with the idea of writing — but it is still a choice.  If writing is bringing more stress than release, it’s also okay to not write… for the time being or ever again.

But if you are going to write, it should be — first and foremost — the piece of writing that will fulfill you the most.  That will fill your emotional wallet.  Think of productive writing days as your writerly self-esteem savings account.  You need to have emotional reserves in there for a rainy, low-self-esteem day.  You will feel better about yourself as a writer and have emotional reserves in there to draw from if you write what fulfills you by writing for yourself first.

You can also use your writing time better if you know what you’re doing BEFORE you sit down at the screen.  Nothing makes you feel as if you made poor use of valuable writing minutes than staring at the screen or wasting the time doing Harry Potter quizzes on Buzzfeed (not that I ever do that).  Carry a piece of notebook paper with you at all times (or I use Charlotte, my bullet journal) to record passing ideas that could be shaped into a blog post.  Notice interesting things around you.  Write down snippets of conversation you want to comment on in a longer piece.  Know your characters’ goals for an upcoming scene.  Anything that can help when you unfold this piece of paper as you sit down and hit the ground running.


1 Stephanie (Travelcraft Journal) { 09.03.14 at 9:11 am }

Such great advice! It’s good for me to have a to-do list, but that only goes so far. It doesn’t help when something else is begging to be written.

2 mrs spock { 09.03.14 at 9:19 am }

Paying close attention, as I will be done with this degree in 12 weeks and will start the frantic 1st draft completion I hope to do within a year.

3 Bronwyn { 09.03.14 at 12:17 pm }

So… what Harry Potter character are you again? 🙂

You know I’m in the process of fine-tuning this. At present I’m trying to rid myself of the excess busy-work that I was getting sucked into. Setting daily time limits on social media. Turning off less-important notifications left right and centre.

There is an extent to which it’s helpful to interact, not just for building a platform but for inspiration. I’ve been reflecting lately on the fact that I really don’t write well in a locked room after all (even though that’s what I’ve wished for in the past). I mean, sure – sometimes it’s good not to be interrupted, but I also like bouncing a few thoughts off twitter/facebook/etc to see what sticks and muse on the response. Or just a few tasks to get settled in.

But I also find it nearly impossible to focus on one idea when another has grabbed me for the moment – it’s really tiring to try and do that, actually. It’s more productive if I just write the idea out and get it out of the way. This is probably why my blog will never be an efficiently-organised commercial production with an editorial calendar planned six months in advance 🙂

4 Arnebya { 09.03.14 at 4:06 pm }

My emotional wallet. I love that phrase. I’m going to steal it and use it inside my mind.

5 Mali { 09.03.14 at 11:09 pm }

“But if you are going to write, it should be — first and foremost — the piece of writing that will fulfill you the most. That will fill your emotional wallet.” This is very good advice. Which is why my first writing today will be this comment. Now I’m off to work on a project I’ve neglected for too long. Thank you.

6 fifi { 09.04.14 at 9:36 am }

“But if you are going to write, it should be — first and foremost — the piece of writing that will fulfill you the most. ”
However, there’s often a clash between what will fulfill you most in the short term and the long term. It might seem more fulfilling now to scroll through FB and respond to other people’s lives, or to take the evening off and binge-watch Game of Thrones series 4. Or I could work on untangling the threads of my novel, which might be frustrating in the short term but more fulfilling long term.

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