Time Management for Writers

I just came across a wonderful video about marketing by entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk: How To Start. If you’re hoping to sell what you write, you need to listen – and listen again. More important, it includes a useful message about time management for writers.

When I read it for the first time, my heart lifted: here – at last – was the answer to a question that’s been bugging me for a long time: Are my time management practices working for me – or against me?

Here’s what I mean. A couple of weeks ago I was browsing in a thrift store, looking for props for an upcoming dance routine. I came across a Scott Turow paperback novel I hadn’t heard of. (Turow is the author of a mystery I’d really enjoyed: Presumed Innocent.) I bought Identical and had fun sitting up late one night reading it.

But here’s the thing: I spent several minutes in the used paperbacks section of that store debating whether to buy it. The 50-cent price wasn’t the problem, of course: it was the time I would spend reading it.

I worry about time – worry a lot, in fact. I swear that if you stand close enough to me, you’ll hear Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” playing in an endless loop in my head: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near.”

I fret that I’m wasting too much time on things that don’t matter. But when I’m really focused on my priorities, I start worrying that maybe, just maybe, I’m trying too hard. And so it goes, round and round.

If you followed me around for a day or two, you might wonder what I was worried about. I hang out with friends. I read the comics and do the Jumble in the newspaper. Charlie and I are watching reruns of Big Bang Theory for the second time. He and I just got back from a wonderful trip to a mountain resort where we hiked, fished, and tossed peanuts to the chipmunks. I love having free time, and I keep my days as open as possible: no committees, no meetings. There are lots of naps.

But what you might not pick up on is the elaborate scaffolding that likes hidden beneath almost everything I do. I don’t channel-surf, ever. I’m always making choices about TV, phone calls, reading, and just about everything else. I don’t even clean the microwave without asking Alan Lakein’s question from How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life: Is this the best use of my time right now?

And it’s not just me. I have friends with the same level of focus who have similar doubts about how they manage their time. Just recently someone told me – in bewilderment – that she keeps hearing people talk about tagging along with a group “just for the ride” or “just to get out of the house.” The contrast to her own purpose-driven days – and mine – is startling. And so we wonder: who’s missing out – us…or them?

Vaynerchuk – bless him! – thinks we’re the ones who got it right:

If you want it, your actions have to match your ambitions. Don’t have dinner at seven o’clock and drink two beers. Don’t watch entire seasons of House of Cards. Don’t spend 45 minutes on Facebook talking to Rick.

There’s exasperation in his voice as he talks to the people who look to him for advice:

The reason I say these things, is because I hear every single day how bad you want it, and how much you’re going to work for it, and then your actions don’t add up.

If you’re serious about writing (or anything else, for that matter), I think Vaynerchuk has it figured out. I’m not saying you have to be busy every minute (gack!) – or that it’s wrong to have fun (heaven forbid!). But I am saying you’d better know what you really, really want from life…and go after it, whole hog.

What’s the best use of your time right now?

chariot with wings

                  Time’s Winged Chariot


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