Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Goal Setting Lesson 6 Time Management Begins

Session Six: Time Management Begins

I love time management. I always have. Ever since high school, I’ve believed there was a better way to do everything and I’ve spent the past *&^ years chasing those ways. Some of my experiments have flopped, some of exploded in my face, but some have yielded some fabulous results. In fact,
I’ve actually written a time management book – which never sold so eventually it will probably find its way here.

So when I tell you I adore time management and all its theories, I’m not kidding.

So…Where do we start?

Well, today, we’re going to be talking about four things. Number one, finding blocks of time. Number Two, learning to work ahead in “bits and pieces.” Number Three, being prepared. And Number Four: mood reading and writing.

Let’s jump right in with Number One, finding your blocks of time.

When it comes to finding blocks of time, I always advise people to start right where they are. I never advise anybody to change anything until they’ve spent a week evaluating. Why? Because in all my years of helping people evaluate their lives, I have discovered that there is always a block of time in everybody’s schedule that can be used to accomplish a goal. And when you find that block of time and simply begin to use it, you won’t so much as create a ripple of a ruffle in the feathers of your family’s life.

And that’s really what you want to do. You want to find the time to accomplish your goal in such a way that you don’t disturb anybody else’s life or ask anybody else to sacrifice. Why? So you’re not fighting your own personal inertia, along with a troop of deprived family members!

Here’s an easy example of how it works:

I’m an early riser. My family sleeps late. When my kids were still in grade school, I could easily set my alarm for an hour (or two) before their scheduled waking time and get my writing done before anybody stirred. (That reaped the added benefit of my working in a completely quiet house!) Nobody even had to know I was working. No one challenged me. No one wanted on the computer. No one had a button that needed sewn or a nose that needed wiped. They were all sleeping.

That was perfect time.

But what if you’re not an early riser? Worse, what if you are but your kids are too! Or what if there simply is no way for you to use that system?

You go in the opposite direction. Can you stay up an hour later and use that time productively? Note that there’s a restriction to that. You can’t just stay up an hour later, what you do in that hour must be of good quality. If not, that’s not good for you either.

So if you can’t get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later and produce good work, what do you do then?  You start evaluating. Really look at how you’re spending your time. Journal for a week or even just a couple days and you’ll see where your writing time is hiding!

For instance a friend of mine was addicted to the 7:00 and 7:30 back-to-back airing of her favorite sitcom (Golden Girls). She would get a cup of coffee, sit down and watch an hour of television while her husband had his quality time with their kids. When she told me this, after having sobbed about having no time to write, I gasped! My Lord! You waste an entire hour on a sitcom? There’s your writing time!

The funny part of it was, she didn’t even see it because the habit was ingrained.

Here’s another good example. This is something I recently started to do because I find I need more time for my web page, PR, and email that I can’t get done during the day when I’m actually writing. So I had to find a way to take a bite out of time and when I examined my schedule, this is what I came up with…

My husband is a big fan of Walker, Texas Ranger. I … well, I can take it or leave it. I used to win points by letting him watch the show a few times a week while I crocheted at his side. Now, I let him watch it every day because that’s another hour he’s occ-u-pod-o and I’m free to do whatever I want.

But there are other hidden blocks of time of your life that are going to waste. Blocks you might not even realize you’re wasting!

You wait in line at the grocery store. You wait for your doctor. You wait in traffic. You wait for your beautician. You wait while dinner cooks. All these blocks of time can be put to use.

Now, granted, you probably can’t “write” in some of these blocks. But you can read research books, other writers’ work, and how-to books. You can also jot down plot notes, bits of scenes, and descriptions.

And that takes us to topic number two of our time management lesson…

Learning to do things in bits and pieces.

We have a tendency to look at everything in big chunks. But, you know, a good writing How-To book is read one word, paragraph, section, and chapter at a time. Your own work is written one word, paragraph, scene, and chapter at a time. When you begin to look at it that way, fifteen minutes spent writing a paragraph or page suddenly has new value. And so will all those fifteen-minute blocks of time you have that go to waste.

I do odd things like write out descriptions in advance. Houses, rooms, offices, secondary character features, the way my hero looks when he's angry. I write and revise opening paragraphs for chapters. I write (and revise or polish) chapter ending hooks. And I do them at the dentist, the doctor, waiting for dinner to cook, and watching Walker Texas Ranger (when I can’t get out of it).

Do you know how helpful it is to have descriptions written out in advance?  I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it is to have a 20-pages-per-day goal and have six or eight one-paragraph descriptions that can be “dropped in” in the appropriate places. Six or eight one-paragraph descriptions is two or three pages! Three pages of pre-written text that you can count as part of that day’s goal.

For those romance writers among us…Have you ever thought of writing your kiss or love scenes when you have a spare fifteen minutes…like waiting for your hair dresser?

For the romantic suspense and suspense writers… Have you ever thought of writing a particularly hair-raising scene while waiting for your doctor, your accountant, or your lawyer (I think the lawyer’s office is a particularly scary place, very conducive to those tense, nail-biting scenes) and having it ready to drop into place when needed?

There is a caveat to all this great advice, however. And it’s Topic Number Three for today’s lesson: Be prepared.

If you plan to use your wait at the doctor to revise the ending hook of all your chapters, you have to have the last page of all your chapters printed out and ready to take with you so you can work on them. You must have a pen and paper with you if you plan to write something from scratch.  In other words, you have to have the supplies you need, when you need them.

This probably means you’ll need to carry a pen and pad with you everywhere you go. You don’t have to cart a legal pad. You can buy a little pad that fits into a shirt pocket or your purse. Or, if you’re really ambitious, you can create a folder that you can take to doctor’s (and similar) appointments that has your synopsis, pertinent information, paper and a pen.

You may need to begin carrying a paperback with you all the time so you can read in unexpected down time, like when your bus gets stuck in traffic or you’re at the back of a long line in the grocery store.

But, that’s okay. Do you know why? Because people who carry paperbacks are perceived as intelligent…So I would go for that one if I were you.

This also means, though, that you have to have plenty of books on hand. You must have novels, nonfiction and research books available to take to your doctor’s appointments, beautician’s shop and dentist’s office. But to most readers this is not a hardship.

Plus, I’ve learned to “mood read” and “mood write” because mood reading and writing reaps the best results for me.  Which is Topic Number Four and our last topic of the lesson: Mood Reading and Writing.

If I’m in a distracted mood, nonfiction is usually best for me to read. If I’m feeling attentive, I prefer fiction (because I need my brain to analyze what I’m reading). So I know when to take a non-fiction book or a fiction book to my dentist so that I not only read the most, but also retain the information I’m reading.

But more than that, if I’m feeling lousy and I’m writing a book where someone needs to die, my mood and the scene are a match made in heaven. I can easily write the scene! When I’m happy, I don’t try to write the black moment of a book. I write a tender, happy scene. In fact, if all the tender happy scenes are written, it’s better for me to go back and revise and polish a happy scene when I’m happy, than to try to write the black moment. It simply will not be good enough. And, frankly, I would have wasted that time.

The point? I don’t struggle trying to write a happy scene when I’m mad or an angry scene when I’m happy. That’s counter-productive. And counter-productive is a waste of time!

I find I write some really great death scenes in the doctor’s office after I’ve been kept waiting over an hour for a ten-minute check-up.

I write the best kisses in my beautician’s shop. Why? Because they’re always chit-chatting and happy there. And there’s nothing like a happy mood to inspire me to write a kiss.

I’ve also been known to pen a black moment or two waiting for the dentist.

And that’s our first four points to time management.

Number One, find blocks of time where they already exist!
Number Two, learn to work ahead in “bits and pieces” (and probably write better!)
Number Three, be prepared. Take books, notebooks, pens with you everywhere you go!
And Number Four: Mood read and write. Take advantage of your mood to improve your prose and save some time!

So, what’s your assignment for the next few days? Look for your blocks of potentially available time and figure out ways to use them. Find your Walker, Texas Ranger hour (the hour when your kids and husband are entertained to the max) when you can slip away and write. Buy yourself a stash of books. Especially a few good writing how-tos. You may not have time to read the classics waiting for little Regina to get out of volleyball practice, but if you read only one good tip a day from a writing how-to, your crafting ability would increase dramatically!

Begin to identify your moods and write with them. (Even if it’s only a paragraph or two to get you started!)

And get some “stuff” that you can carry with you. Decide if you’re going whole hog by creating a folder with your synopsis and pen and paper so you can write actual scenes while waiting for the doctor. Or if you’re a simpler person who needs only the little tablet and pen for shirt pocket or purse.

And get to it! Use that time!

susan meier

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