Whether I’m writing or painting miniatures or assembling models, I find that there’s never enough time to do everything that needs to get done, after all, the new Doctor Who episode isn’t going to watch itself right? Time management is a critical skill that all writers need to develop. We have so much of life outside of writing competing for our attention and our time and it is easier and easier to procrastinate and dissemble instead of write what we’re supposed to. There can always be more research, or one more book on the craft to explore, or the greatest wolf in sheep’s clothing — Google, which can become a time vampire in and of itself. So how can we get it under control? Discipline is obviously the answer, but sometimes we can use a little extra tool to help put things in perspective.
At the 2012 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Conference, the keynote speaker, Jodi Thomas, recalled an anecdote where she took a stopwatch and timed herself only for the times she was actually writing. She would stop the watch when she got up to do anything else and only ran it when she was writing. She found that she was actually writing for a few hours a day instead of how long she was telling herself she was writing. I thought this was a fantastic idea. I usually set a word count goal for my writing sessions. Sometimes I meet the goal and sometimes I don’t. (Scrivener has an excellent feature where you can set the goal for the project and for individual sessions and it is a great help.) But, setting a word count goal isn’t always practical. After all, the majority of us usually can only write during a set time period, not for a specific word count. We might only have an hour before picking up the kids from school, or before bed, or before work. So once again, time becomes the limiting factor.
Author Kirt Hickman (whose book Revising Fiction I adore) has students perform an excellent exercise during his workshops. He sets a timer for six minutes and then has everyone write a passage during that time. He usually has folks do it longhand on a sheet of blank unlined paper so that the left brain is as disengaged as it can be. I’ve also done it typing however since that’s mostly how I write. At the end of the six minutes multiply your word count by ten. That should give you a rough estimate for your expected word count during an hour. You may want to try this different times and writing about different subjects because you may come up with wildly differing results. I find that I can triple my word count if I’m writing an action scene as opposed to an explanatory scene or a scene that requires a lot of characterization. In any case, this will help you get a more realistic lock on your word count goal per hour as opposed to setting your expected word count too high or too low.
I loved Jodi’s stopwatch idea and Kirt’s estimated word count exercise and wanted to combine the two and put them into practice. Any of us with smart phones have access to an easy stopwatch, but I wanted something a little more. Not all writing is actually writing, if that makes sense. There’s research and plotting and staring off into the wall while your mind paints images of otherworldly vistas and buxom heroines. How to keep track of that? Well, I searched around the internet and as the saying goes, “There’s an app for that.”
I found a tool called Toggl (and, no, I didn’t misspell it). Toggl is a time tracking software like many of us are used to using at work. You can access it easily at https://www.toggl.com. Once you start an account and establish your work space you can define an unlimited amount of projects. You can set the timer to start when you want, or you can retroactively put in the time you were working on a given project. Most of us are already familiar with the format since it will undoubtedly remind us of time sheets many of us have to deal with in our day jobs. Best of all, the basic time-tracking mode of Toggl is free. Where Toggl really shines is in accessibility. There’s a program for your desktop (Mac or Windows), Apps for your smartphone, and Apps for your browser (if you use Chrome). The apps sync up with each other very well, so you could start tracking your research time at home on your browser and then realize that you needed to go to the library and continue tracking on your phone.
I’ve set up probably a dozen projects. I have projects to track for social networking, research, my critique group, working out, painting models and building models, administering the blog, and of course, writing. And so far, it is amazing how much all the little things add up and how little time I actually spend writing my next novel. So that is something I definitely have to work on. I’ve only been using it for a week, but I’ve already learned that my big time sinks are Research and painting models. The painting models part is easy to pare down but the research, not so much. I’m still in the first draft stages and I find that I need to do a lot of research for this particular novel. But now I can keep an eye on the time and as the novel progresses, the amount of time spent on research better decrease dramatically as the time spent actually writing increases in proportion.