Stealing time – A how-to premise to successful authorship.
As a writer, you have a lot on your mind. Plots, structures, characters, cool scenes, the last book you read, crippling self-doubt and writer’s envy… With all this in mind, what does a writer need to do to get stuff done? No one said cutting the job to be a full-time writer was going to be easy. To be honest, not many aspiring writers succeed because of the time constraints.
Where am I going to find the time I need to write?
There is an old truism that states that there is never a good time to write. As a writer who still has a full-time day job to take care of before I can get any writing done, time management is the real challenge. I’ve got a soul devouring commute each way, an 8 hour day job, a fiancé and a household to keep alive, and studies that I wish to pursue. I still need to keep healthy and exercise too. Where am I going to find time to write?
Let’s divide my average weekday into segments:
24 hours a day, that’s all we get. 8 hours sleep and eight hours at work eats 16 of those. So about 8 left, right? Not too bad? Well, there’s a commute either way, so it’s more like 5 hours and 30 minutes (yeah, my commute is an hour and some change either way).
So that’s 5 hours and 30 minutes remaining.
That’s still not the whole picture. 30 minutes to get ready for work in the morning, so 5 hours left. Cooking and general household chores? 1 to 2 hours, depending. We’ve already reached 3 hours. When am I going to study? When am I going to exercise? I think if I spent all the remaining time, the three hours remaining, on writing, my fiancé will definitely leave my fat, illiterate inattentive arse. Weekends are a bit better I suppose, but there is always shopping, and family, and, and and…
How much time do I need?
Malcolm Gladwell proposed that it takes 10 000 hours to master an activity, like playing the violin, or perhaps becoming a master novelist. At three hours five times a week, we’re looking at twelve years to mastery.
Plus, I think anyone facing twelve years at full tilt just to get ready to go will definitely burn out. You need to relax at times as well! There are a lot of little things that come up. Sometimes you need to go buy milk and eggs to cook with, or you’re sick, or your significant other is sick, or the cat had puppies, there are a million different things that get in your way. I’ve not even mentioned the most obvious time-sink: pure, unadulterated, soul-sucking laziness. Watching an hour of TV “just to relax a bit” is an hour lost to becoming an expert or finishing that novel. That’s not even close to the average 5 hours a day that the average American watches.
Still not the whole picture…
My time analysis does not take into account any of the daily little inconveniences that demolish our free time. It assumes that everything happens on time every time. In reality, I would have quite a lot less time that I envisaged.
In addition, actual writing is only one of the three things you need to master to be a successful indie author. According to Randi Ingermanson, you need:
- Craft: Writing well;
- Organization: Creating the opportunity for writing well; and
- Marketing: Letting other people know about your well-written book.
All three these things need to be studied and practiced to succeed. To a degree, I believe that all three these should be mastered. Are we really talking about 30 000 hours here?
Is there actually any time to write? There must be, Amazon is crawling with books, people out there are succeeding. And so can you and I. What are they doing what we’re not?
What are we to do about this?
I’m not sure how many hours I’ve put into this point towards my 10 000 hours. My gut feeling is that I’m about half way. Scientific, I know. I can write pretty competently, and have finished and indie published some pieces of writing. I’ve also read some books on time management and sat through a course or two. I’ve spent some time as an internet marketer with variable successes, but I think some of the lessons learned can made of use here. So maybe I don’t have 12 years left before the success I am planning on. That’s the thing, everyone has subconsciously or consciously spent some time mastering the three main aspects of writing, now it’s just getting that final push that brings it all together! You are not starting from scratch!
This is my secret:
I’m stealing time. I need a few hours a day, right? Where can I steal that time? This is my time-stealing blueprint, look at your own schedule and find places to steal.
Lunch hour writing session
First easy answer is my lunch hour. It’s an hour, and I can arrange that no-one is bothering me. It’s not like I’m working in the chummiest place on earth anyway. This article is being written in a lunch hour.
Making the best of a bad commute
Second, my commute. I used to drive into work. It was costly and was about 45 min either way. But what can you do while driving? Reading or writing is probably as out of the question: that’s a good way to become a statistic. But there are things like audiobooks and podcasts that you can listen to while other people are listening to DJ’s yap about Kimye’s nipple slip and hipster ukulele rap-metal. I got a nice audio lecture series on the art of writing by Dwight V. Swain that I listened to in the car and at the gym before. Stephen King read his own book, called On Writing: A memoir of the craft, for the audio book format that you can listen to. Does this count as hours towards the 10k hours? I’m sure it does, but may not be as effective as actually practicing. It’s something, though, and even if one hour of listening to Stephen King talk about the craft is worth only 15 minutes of practicing, it’s progress.
I moved house with this time-stealing aim in mind. What is better than listening to an audiobook? Reading extensively about the craft of writing, as well as reading fiction, is invaluable to an author. So I arranged that my new house is near public transport. Yes, my 45min commute has turned into a one hour, 15 minute bus to train to another bus affair, but for most of that time I can read, or even write a little if I’m feeling adventurous. The waits between methods are negligible, maybe 15 minutes. So that’s at least another hour sorted. Reading on the craft, studying other’s methodology and processes is definitely practicing.
Block time at home
Think I can get away with one hour a day at home after doing whatever needs doing? I think I can. And I’ve been making the effort: between 7pm and 8pm, I don my writer’s jacket and write. I’m even experimenting with stealing an hour before dawn. I can do about a thousand words reliably in each of those slots. (Update, the hour before dawn is not for the faint of heart. I definitely need my 8 hours sleep to be a tolerable member of society.)
That’s my stolen hours pretty sorted. Weekends can be a bit easier and harder as well. But I have to be disciplined if I want to succeed.
Where else can I steal time? What if work isn’t particularly hectic right now? Can I type away for a little bit? When you’re writing, you look a lot more productive than the average shmo, and in a way you are, just not in the way that your boss expects you to be. Make sure you don’t get fired though. A little here and there is fine, but if your work noticeably suffers you might get evaluated. Employers like their employees to actually do what they were paid to do. The coffee is not going to pay itself! My line management has a habit of skulking in her office until around 8:30, so if I’m in the office at 7:30, I can get an hour’s writing in before she gets into gear.
Strategic circadian management
Can I cut my sleep by an hour? You possibly only need 7 hours a day. I need 8, or I become groggy and unproductive. But research has shown that I may be able to adjust my sleeping patterns to be more effective. In Steve Scott’s great book on habits and time management, he proposed that spending time the night before to sort out the next day’s admin, away from electronics, can deepen sleep and thus reduce the amount of time tossing around, and thus reduce the amount of hours required there. That extra hour is another few words closer to a completed novel. Exercise also helps deepen sleep, so maybe I’ll spend 30min of that stolen hour doing some high intensity interval training for maximum results in the minimum amount of time. Exercise sorted!
Ad-hoc time stealing
What about the little delays that we always have? Waiting 10 minutes for a doctor to show up for your annual checkup? Have your tablet with you, so that you can edit or read on the craft. Waiting for the boss to pitch at a meeting? Reading time! Tablets make reading quite innocuous, so I’d highly recommend one. It might look a bit weird if you are in the middle of reading a Terry Pratchett when the chairperson stalks into the boardroom (done this, turned out he was a fan). But reading a Terry Pratchett e-book on your iPad mini? No problem!
Stealing time is not about specific instances, it’s about a mindset. Look for little spaces in your day where you can squeeze in a little learning, or editing, or even writing. The key is to have the things you need to capitalize on that stolen time at hand. A tablet, again, is invaluable, so is Dropbox.
Where can you steal your way to expertise?
Let’s apply this. Where can you steal some time to write?
Look at your habits, do you waste an hour early in the morning “catching up” with 9Gag and news sites? Will you die without knowing what Robert Mugabe said or seeing that cat get stuck in a box? Write there instead!
What are your mornings like, can any of the stuff get done the night before? What about loading up your mp3 player with podcasts and audiobooks on the craft, ready for when the world gives you an opportunity to listen?
I’d love to hear about your ideas on stealing time. Pop me a comment below!