Organizing Your Time and (Writing) Life

We are constantly busy.  Insanely busy.  I suppose that I’d rather be busy than bored, but sometimes it becomes overwhelming.  I can’t tell you how many times my husband has found me hiding under a blanket because I just need five minutes to regroup.  But I’ve finally figured out a schedule that works for me.

Writing comes with its own set of responsibilities, some of which I’ve been slacking on as of late.  (Blog reading, anyone?)  I’ve also figured out a schedule to help me with that on a day-to-day basis, but for now, let’s look at the overall.  This is a picture of my calendar during the month of November, which is a fairly crazy month.  And yes, I really need a camera with a flash that turns off.


This is how I coordinate.  See the blue tags?  They have to do with my son.  No school, for example, because this is No-school-vember.  All doctor appointments are in red.  The yellow tags?  Writing deadlines. It’s great because I can glance at it from across the room and have a general idea of my week.  The things that we do every week are written with pen, color coordinated, but not tagged.  For example, every Monday I take Small Son to speech therapy.  It’s a normal thing, and his color is blue, so there it is.  Tuesday is Tiny Daughter’s ballet, so it’s written in and highlighted in pink.  Tuesday is also when I hook up with my writing group, so it’s written and highlighted in yellow. 

Yeah, it seems like a lot of work, but it’s actually pretty smooth and it makes it so much easier to plan my writing life.  I can see immediately when I’ll have time and when I won’t. For example, I take my computer to ballet and write for half an hour while she’s stretching out and learning the basics.  Then I can pop to the window and watch the rest of her class.  While Small Son is with his speech therapist, I can take Tiny Daughter and run to the grocery store right across the street.  I get my shopping in without A) terrifying Small Son by dragging him somewhere unfamiliar and B) taking any extra time.  Learn where your writing time is and fit it in.  Figure out where you’re going to be and work around it.  I can write at ballet but there isn’t any Internet, so that isn’t the time to submit pieces online.  I can swing by the Post Office and mail submissions on the way home from ballet or speech.  I don’t spend time wandering around. I’m not idle.

Buzz kill, I know.  But it’s necessary, at least for me.  I’m working on a memoir and a few different novels. I’m a beta reader. I have an amazing writing group. I read slush and write for a magazine.  I do about four million other things, and they’re things that make me happy, but they also require time.  Time is currency. Spend it wisely.

How do you organize your time?  I’m dying to know!

14 Comments on “Organizing Your Time and (Writing) Life”

  1. Crazy busy as usual. I admire your organized calendar, and wonder what happened to mine. Call me sometime when you have time. 🙂

  2. I’m still trying to figure it out. I adjusted my work life to become a full-time freelance writer (and part-time interior designer) a couple of months ago. It’s going well, but all the freelance (i.e., paid) writing I’m now doing has taken a giant bite out of my for-fun writing time.

    Not that I had a lot of that before.

    Basically, I wrote my first novel in the late-late-night hours over the course of eight months. I worked on straight adrenaline. When I finished the first draft, my energy for all those late nights disappeared. I’ve spent the past couple of months trying to figure out how to fit time into my schedule for revisions … before 11 p.m., that is.

    I like your calendar setup – something that big and visible would definitely help me with my freelance deadlines. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. Hi Natalie! It’s great to hear from you! One day things will slow down, I’m sure. Or maybe not. 😉

    Simon, you of all people realize how against the grain this is for me. Organization was a dirty word in my mind! I thought it would crush my free spirit. But I realize that I need it. I fought against my nature in order to get the most out of my writing life, and it’s helped. Also, I do NOT accomplish more than you. You’re a wild man!

    Hi Stacey! I’m glad that you stopped by. 🙂

    I admire you shaking everything up in order to freelance more. I can only imagine how you had to restructure everything. I wrote my first novel the same way: in one insane burst. And I also lost the energy to keep that pace. I’m working on my daily writing schedule, and it’s really helping. I have to allot time for other things of a writery nature, like blog reading, emails, and time for the magazine, but it’s helping. I also schedule time for things that I feel I “have” to write vs things that I “want” to write. Maybe you could share how you do it?

    I’m very visual so the color coding helps. I can say, “Hey, next week is super insane, so if I want something done, I’d better do it now.” I’m learning to be kind to myself and not leave myself in the lurch later. 😉

    Thanks for stopping by, Falyn! I admire your early morning writing! It would be wonderful to write while the kids are still asleep, but I simply can’t function that early. I write late at night, read it over the next day, wince, and try to clean it up. Or in spurts during the day. Sometimes it seems terribly disjointed because I start and stop so much, but I keep telling myself that’s what editing is for.

    Thanks so much for reading! 😀

  4. Similarly! I don’t have the kids, so I am less busy, but there are months when it’s a complete jumble, and loads of people depending on me getting my shit done. If not for my calendar on the wall, I would lose my mind.

    Nice to know I’m not alone 😀

  5. This is why I’m much more productive in the school year. I have less time.

    Doesn’t make much sense…but…

    Amazing you manage to wrangle all you do, Mercedes.

  6. Wow- holy organization Batman!

    That’s super cool you can do that. I tend to require a lot of time to switch gears so I do things in chunks. Like, I drop a current WIP entirely when another comes in to revise or edit. I work like mad for a few days till it’s done- but then need a half day to decompress. Similarly I do things like blog posts in batches.

    Yeah, I too have the kids, pets, doctors visits, etc. But I haven’t been doing any of my other writing/editing work lately (I also do tech writing) because of the batch issue. I figure I’ll keep on the fiction till I run out of steam, then take on some tech editing for a while again.

    Nice to see different peoples’ processes!

  7. I do the same thing, but through a iCal calendar I share with my husband. My main problem is getting him to actually add things to it.

    Or sometimes? Tell me about events and obligations before the morning off.

    I’ve set up iPhone to write drafts of wordpress posts, so I can write anywhere. My main problem there is inspiration. I see to have a problem writing on command.

    I took a cooking class on how to save time and eat healthy which actually taught me a lot of time savers in the kitchen. Chop or cook twice as much as you need for one meal, save to use in the next, that sort of thing, and it’s actually been a huge help.

    But still, always feel a bit frantic. Better then bored, by far, but seriously? When do the wicked rest??

  8. Kate: I used to do the “mental note” thing, and *surprise surprise* I forgot things. Writing things down was really a struggle for me, but I think I’d be insane otherwise. Yay for wall calendars! 😀

    Cate, I’m utterly charmed by the line that you hang over your desk. I want to do something like that for stories. It’s so visual and whimsical!

    Aaron, you are a powerhouse of productivity. That’s why I’m always asking you how you do it. In fact, if you ever choose to write a blog post on your organization, I’d LOVE to read it!! Rockstar.

    Hi Daisy! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

    I wonder if the batch process would work better for me, quit honestly. I realize that I have five or so current projects at one time, and I add a little to each one. It’s not as effective as simply finishing one thing and then moving onto the other, and I would like to be effective. But I have difficultly focusing on just one thing. I’m more splintered than that. Maybe I should narrow it down to two instead of five or six. 😉

    Mason, I choose “tyrannosaur”. Get right on that and whip us up a new color, will you? Thanks, love.

    And thank you for your editing help! I have to rewrite completely, so you’ll be seeing it again tonight. Sorry! Bwa ha ha!

    Dead Cow Girl, I feel your pain! My husband is horrible at writing things on the calendar! The worst was a few months ago when he took the kids to a family reunion while I had two days to stay at home and write. (Hooray!) Only he planned to stay until Monday night and I thought they were coming home on Sunday. I called him and everybody who might even remotely know if they’d gone off the road in the snowstorm that was going on, and I didn’t sleep a wink until he cheerfully called back the next day saying that they finally had cell reception. He felt TERRIBLE, but I felt worse. After that, he’s been better at writing things down. Guilt is a wonderful motivator. 😉

  9. I think people differ in their attention spans. For example- I can NOT work on more than 1 project at a time. Every time I try, it leads to mad emotional wreckage! I do one thing until it’s done. I forcing myself to finish before I’m allowed to do anything more than dabble at storyboarding anything else. But that’s me.

    I have a good friend who’s a manager, CEO type who breaks her day down into half hour increments and works on different things. She was actually listed as one of Seattle’s “40 Under Forty” in Seattle Magazine.

    But her work process would make me insane! I could never manage staff, though, or run a company. So yeah, to each his or her own!!

  10. I use GTD (Getting Things Done) as the system by which I ensure that anything that comes in (ideas, to-do’s, thoughts, inspiration, random stuff that pops up in the house) goes through capture (write it down!) -> process (keep? delete/throw away? to do?) -> organize (put it in its right place or list it in the right place). The hard part? The DOING 🙂

    I love OneNote for organization and keep it just for that.

    Love how you have only real deadlines on the calendar vs. “wish I would do that that day” items we often pen on them 🙂

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