Friday, October 07, 2011

Time management for time-strapped writers

The winner of the e-book in Monday's giveaway - Full-time Income in Part-time Hours - is Kate Sharon, thanks to the wisdom of 

And the author of that book has offered to guest post today as a thank-you. Meet Gretchen Roberts, a remarkable woman who works 15-20 hours per week making anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 annually as a freelance writer. Check out her site and her book, and see how she does the phenomenal by raising three small children and earning a full-time income as a part-time writer. Thanks, Gretchen . . . take it away.   ~Hope

 Time management for time-strapped writers

If you're like me, you may long for a writer's life of old; one in which you, steaming cup of tea in hand, disappear into a sunny garret to pen stylish prose until someone (preferably a maid of some sort who also conveniently does your laundry) calls you to lunch. After lunch, you head back to the garret, consider your next words, put back a comma you removed in the morning, and then call it a day.

Of course, we live in the real world, or at least, the modern world, where responsibilities from young children to full-time day jobs get in the way of our writing time. So how's a writer supposed to get anything of import accomplished when there aren't enough hours in the day?

I've been writing part-time since 2003, an average of 15 to 20 hours a week, during which I've become quite skilled at squeezing the max out of every single second of that time. Why? I've had to. I chose to work part-time so I could be around for my kids, but that didn't cut the pressure to earn a living one bit.

Here are my top three secrets for exceptional time management as a writer.

1. Rethink your schedule. Sometimes the writing gets squeezed into the cracks, or during times when you're brain-dead after a long day at the office (or with a toddler!). You may not be able to change these circumstances for a long while, if ever, so the best thing to do is embrace the time you do have and use it well.

One of the biggest roadblocks to writing is getting into the zone. It guessed it: time. And when time is short, you may get into the zone and have to snap out of it soon afterward. To a certain extent, you can't really change that process, but you can cut out a lot of the stuff you do while getting into your zone, like checking email, scrolling through Facebook, and straightening your desk. Those are my procrastination tools. What are yours? Identify them and try to avoid them. Get right to the work.

2. Use little moments well. When you only have ten or fifteen minutes left, use that time to prepare for your next day's work. I find this makes a huge difference in my productivity the next day. Not only do I make a list and prepare things on my desk, but I'll open a new document and get it ready for a brand-new story. I'll put down my name and contact information, write the story title and subtitle, and even sketch in an outline. If I'm really ambitious and have the time, I'll write the introduction. You would be amazed at how much easier it is to start writing the next day with all of that there.

Ernest Hemingway said it much better than I ever could in A Moveable Feast:

“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

3. Don't over-commit. Nothing kills the muse like panic. I simply cannot write if I'm drowning in deadlines. A little pressure is good; intense, I'll-never-finish-it-all-in-time pressure is a terrible trick to play on your psyche. It always hurts to turn down a story assignment, but not as badly as ignoring the kids, staying up late, yawning your way through the day job, and turning in sub-par work because you had too much on your plate that month. Take on what you can, but never more. Your editors and clients will thank you. 
A part-time freelance writer since 2003, Gretchen Roberts quit the corporate world to balance work and kids, and she’s never looked back. She writes about food, wine, home, and gardens for national consumer magazines and websites like Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Woman’s Day, Health, Cooking Light,, and She also does marketing development and copywriting for top national companies including Rich Products, Kroger, Lowe’s, and Costco.

When she’s not putting in her 20 hours a week writing, Gretchen wrangles her three children (vintages 2003, 2006, and 2010), samples her husband’s homemade beers, says yes to a lot of volunteer work, and reads British crime novels on the front porch swing of her 1900 Craftsman-style home in beautiful eastern Tennessee. Check out her work at and


Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Many writers think having children would cramp their style. When we had our son I was worried about that too. Instead, I discovered I get just as much work done in a shorter amount of time. When I know my kid is coming home from school at 5:30 and all work will stop, I make damn sure I get all my work done before 5:30!

Carol J. Alexander said...

As a homeschooling mom, I often have to write with my children all around me. Thanks for introducing this new resource, Hope. And thank you, Gretchen, for writing it. :) I'm heading over to your site, now, to get my own copy...since I didn't win one here. :)

Diva Jefferson said...

Hope, Gretchen's advice is great. As a young writer, with her first publishing contract, who lives paycheck to paycheck and needs every hour she could get at work, any time management help is much needed. Sometimes, I feel like I load myself down with too much. Working over 12 hours a day at both careers is taking away any social life I might have.

But I'm working on changing that through stress free activities in between and taking one day out of every week for myself. Sometimes a person needs a little positive encouragement to get somewhere.

Thank you.

-Diva J.

Hope Clark said...

I enjoyed Gretchen's book, and I'm about to reread it to highlight key spots. Good resource.

Clocking In said...

The importance of time management would strike you at some point of your career. You would be inundated with work, and you will need to evaluate how to manage your time

Clocking In said...

The importance of time management would strike you at some point of your career. You would be inundated with work, and you will need to evaluate how to manage your time