Writing When You Have Another Career: An Intro To Time Management
It's actually not about the clock! Here's a detailed plan to manage a busy life while writing a book.
Disclaimer: This is the first of two free articles for the Writing When You Have Another Career and separate Entrepreneurial Creatives class material. Future class articles move behind a paywall in July 2022. This article will remain free. Click the ‘membership’ or ‘subscribe’ buttons for details.
I Want To Write A Book…But Have You Seen My Calendar?
I get it. I’ve been there too. Your calendar is practically on the altar in front of your life, glowing in a golden halo of irresistible light. You worship it, you slave to it, you believe in it. You don’t have the real estate to write a book. The golden glow of your omniscient planner has spoken. Writing is just not in the schedule.
The question I get most from aspiring writers and authors is where do you find the time? The first draft of the story inside you is behind your chapel altar in the sandstone, unformed without shape. You know that writing means committing to chip it into something more noteworthy and cohesive with loyal consistency. And while it might take years to place your chiseled sandstone in the right gallery, it doesn’t take years to create. In fact, drafting a book usually only takes a few months. You just have to know where to start. And I’m writing this to nudge you closer to your sacred agenda book that lays in front of the rock of your story. The one that is saying you’re too busy in its authoritative pages. And I’m telling you that rather than look inside, look underneath. That’s where your chisel is. That’s how you start.
I Promise I Have A Twenty-Four Year Old Life
A common misconception I’ve learned about authors is people see us as hermits. When people think of how long it takes them to read an occasional book, they see the plague of how long it must’ve taken to write. Sure, all stories have a long time until they're on the shelf. But that’s thanks to business and production (which we will get into in a later article). That’s not usually thanks to the act of writing the book. If this is news to you as a book reader or longing writer, you might want to take a second here. Because yes, I’m telling you that it actually does not take that long to write a book. It takes that long to edit, produce, and prepare the book. But, not just write.
So that being said I’m twenty-four. I’ve written three books. (Two of which might take a hot minute to release because of business) And contrary to popular beliefs, I have time to be my age and also write. I have a friend group, a dog with monarch-style needs, a full-time career, bills, hobbies, and a gym membership. And while I might play the introverted character in some people’s lives, I still have time to do all that I want to and finish writing new pieces in a reasonable time frame. And let me talk to you about that keyword reasonable.
Drafting A Novel That Takes Too Long Will Burnout Your Story
If you drag out the time it takes you to complete your story, you will burn out and your future readers will feel the drag. With the exception of historical fiction which can take years of accurate research, I strongly encourage and urge you to drop the idea that you need a longwinded time period to draft your story. You probably don’t. The pieces of Better Off Guilty that my editor had hit with a wrecking ball were always the slow parts: the scenes that would take me over a week to write, and the paragraphs I spent several days on. When I dragged my feet, the reader joined me in resistance.
So what do you do? How do you make a plan? Your calendar is too busy to just crank it out. Right? Right. So let’s change our game plan.
Step One: Identify The Target and Give It Wings
The area I encourage people to begin when they write their first book is the average word count of their genre. Not the page count. Not the chapter count. The word count. Let’s take a look at the research Ghost Writer Inside put together as a jumping point:
A typical novel is about 80,000 words long – but may be anywhere between 60,000 to 100,000 words. As a general rule, you should stick well within these parameters for a first novel.
Literary Fiction: 50,000–150,000 words
Romantic Fiction: 70,000–90,000 words
Historical Fiction: 80,000–120,000+
Fantasy: 100,000-150,000 words
Thrillers: 80,000–100,000+ words
Young Adult: 50,000–80,000 words
Self-Help: 50,000-100,000 words
Memoir: 70,000-100,000 words
From my own understanding within the writing industry, anything that is under 55k words is a novella. Novellas, regardless of genre, have a much harder time with marketability to publishers and traditional editors. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It means it’s just harder to sell.
All in all, no matter what kind of story you’re writing, that is a lot of words. What I did when creating a schedule to write Better Off Guilty was choose a target word count to pace my story against, which I’m soon going to show you how to do. I chose eighty-thousand words. (Actual after-production turned out to be eighty-four thousand) If you are writing any kind of novel (with the exception of fantasy) I encourage you to place your own word count goal at eighty-thousand words. An eighty-thousand-word book can be taken seriously in almost any market or genre as a piece that means business.
Now that you have a target chosen, give it wings. When you’re running a marathon, it’s important to set a pace. When I raced the White Rock Marathon (a mistake I will not make again lol) I was running a lot. My race miles were under six minutes and I was very proud of that at the time. But for twenty-six miles a six-minuter wouldn’t have been sustainable. It wasn’t humanly possible for me. So I set a goal of a nine-minute average pace. There was a lot of adrenaline in me that day and slowing myself down, in the beginning, took a restraint I did not have. There was a target range I wanted to hit, but I knew it was subject to fluctuate. I believe my first mile was in the sevens and my last mile was in the tens. Each mile, or chapter, was different. But I had a goal to pace myself against and I ended up getting close to the overall goal I wanted for myself. You have to do the same with your word count when writing a book. It’s going to change. A flux of ten-thousand words each way (more or less) is fine. It’s healthy. Don’t stress about exact numbers. All we’re doing with this eighty-thousand-word target is setting a pace that puts you at the finish line with the goal around your neck.
The Oh-So-Sweet Secret Recipe
You have an overhead goal now. So where’s the first step? Let’s head toward the light of the glorious calendar for a moment. I want you to find a quiet consistent hour every day that is usually free within its pages. Your husband has the kids, you’re taking your lunch break in the garden, I don’t care what it might look like as long as this time is only yours. This hour is preferably in the morning. Preferably before you’re exhausted from any other obligations and feeling like writing can wait until tomorrow. Even if that hour is five in the morning when you don’t usually wake up until six. (I know you can do it) One hour. That’s it. Every day. Six days a week. If you are feeling feisty you can even select a few days a week that have two hours. Don’t ever schedule yourself for more than that. I always suggest one day a week to rest.
You are going to guard this hour like your life depends on it. Maybe you need noise-canceling headphones or espresso to make it happen. No obligations, no plans, no last-minute invites, no snooze button, this hour is your new altar. You covet it and take care of it every single day as if it were a small child.
You are going to need the following:
A laptop (or writing notebook if you are a champion that handwrites)
A journal and pen
A classic kitchen timer with the wind dial
Now that you have your hour lined up let me tell you what it’s going to look like. You are going to put your phone away. Not on the desk, not in your lap, not even on do not disturb. It needs to be in a sealed bag, locker, or in another room. This is a nonnegotiable for making this hour and story happen. If you need some convincing, I suggest reading How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price.
For one hour a day, you are going to set your kitchen timer for sixty minutes. In that sixty minutes, the only two things you are allowed to touch are your laptop with your project’s word document open and the journal and pen. For sixty minutes a day, you have to write in one or the other. You don’t have to know where to start in your work. That’s what the journal is for. When you’re not able to write the story (and writer’s block will come) I encourage you to write in a journal. Even if you just write “this sucks” one-hundred times over an hour. The journal represents words for you. Nobody will ever see them. You can write about your day, your boyfriend, anything. The journal has no rules. The only rules of this practice are: For a full sixty minutes a day, you will not stop writing (journal or word document) and you will not touch your phone. Having your work in progress next to the journal is very helpful because when you feel like you’re writing shit or reaching too hard for the story, you can take a moment, drop back down, and funnel the gunk in your brain back into the journal. You might start out writing more in the journal than the word document, but eventually, you will be at the computer ninety percent of the time, full of life and ideas for your story.
Optimally Pacing The Story And Your Time In It
You have a schedule now. So what about that word count? What did we even need now that we have the above information? Here’s where we put it all together into a cohesive plan: you are going to break up your word count to guide your writing. That means you are not going to write towards an eighty-thousand-word chunk. Instead, we’re going to break it up into manageable pieces and chisel that sandstone to help you understand how your story structure will form. I will give you some resources on how to determine this, but let’s make sure you have the right idea first. For example, here’s what this could look like:
Dropping into the opening action: 2,000 words
Introducing characters, settings, and worldbuilding: 5,000 words
Introducing the story’s struggle (AKA Rising action): 10,000 words
Big Twist that creates a new problem: 10,000 words
More rising action: 20,000 words
Mini twist or backstory: 3,000 words
Climax: 10,000 words
Final struggle: 3,000 words
Falling action: 10,000 words
Resolution: 3,000 words
Epilogue: 4,000 words
Having a structure like this gives you clear bite-sized goals every time you sit down at your story. It makes it much more manageable to take on such a big project in single-hour intervals every day. It’s the pace of your story you are trying to hit. And like the marathon, it’s going to fluctuate against your plans. But this gives you a clear-minded way to get to the end without just trying to clobber it in one go.
Here are some steps to figuring out how to do this with your own work:
Create a rough outline listing the major events in plain terms
Phrase this like so: This happens, then this happens, this fails, this person dies.
Determine which are the largest and how much build-up each one of them needs
The most impactful items to your story will need the most real estate and the most rising action and tension
Use the Word Count Search Engine to look for similar titles to yours and see how long they are. Use this as a reference point and guide for making your own pacing schedule
Physically go back and reread them Annotate their big moments with post-it notes and pens. You don’t have to count which word-by-word when you read but take notes at the fractional level were these sticky notes seem to appear. (For example, A big twist in my book happens at roughly 2/8ths and 5/8ths) Divide your goal word count against your estimated fractions.
Once you have this mapped and your hour wholly protected: congratulations! You’re about to write a book without having to change your entire schedule.
With structure and a plan, we will end up with an eventual sandstone sculpture. It won’t be a masterpiece yet. It will need detailing and twizzling, but the vision will have come to life. The details aren’t head-on or even close. And even then, you will still need to seal it, find a gallery, and find the perfect showcase glass. But, the hardest part will be over. The body is formed. You will finally realize the glow was coming from the sandstone all along, not the coveted schedule. For you only needed your chisel to see it. Which I hope you maybe even found within this article.
(PS: If you’re in the attempting-writing stage: The world needs whatever book you have to write, even if it doesn’t feel like that. I probably need it. And can’t wait to support it.)
This was my first and introductory article to the Writing When You Have Another Career Series that will fall under alongside the Entreprunerial Creative series behind a paywall in July. If you found this article helpful, I’d encourage you to join the series or subscribe to the class articles. Either way, I’m so happy you’re here and reading: paid level or free. Your support means the world and I feel lucky to have you.