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7 Techniques to Maximize your Writing Minutes
by Kelly James-Enger

At any given point, I’m working on a half-dozen article assignments, at least one nonfiction book, and often a novel as well. How do I juggle it all? I’ve become a master of time management when it comes to my writing. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, full- or part-time, here are seven simple techniques can help you do the same:

Know Your Limits

If your writing time is limited, planning how you’ll spend it is crucial. Writing part-time doesn’t have to impact your productivity, however. When I started freelancing, I was still working fulltime as a lawyer, and I had to squeeze as much work as I could into my writing time. Guess what? Those were some of my most prolific months. Most days, I only had an hour or two to write, and I knew how I’d spend that time before I even sat down. Now that I write fulltime, I’ve lost some of that sense of urgency.

Organize your Day

Freelancer Leah Ingram writes books, articles, and does spokesperson work in addition to juggling parenting and homemaking responsibilities. It just takes discipline—and organization, she says. "I put my children on the bus at 8:15. Between then and 3:45 is my time to work. If I don’t use my time wisely, I’m screwed," says Ingram, who lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Ingram makes lists for the tasks she must complete to help her maximize her time. She also breaks her workday into 30-minute sections, and makes sure that she keeps on track as she’s working.

Develop Time-Savers

The less time you spend on mundane tasks like research, the more you have for actual writing. I have a standard template I use for invoices, for example, and I follow the same four-paragraph structure whenever I write a query. I also have a set list of questions I ask at the outset of every interview; then I proceed with my substantive questions. Look for ways to cut time from other tasks you do more than once.

Invest your Time

Some chores take time now but will pay off in the long run—like inputting data into a contact database. Investing a few minutes here and there may be worthwhile. I’d rather spend a minute noting expenses as I incur them than planning to do it later and then forgetting to or losing a receipt in the process. If I’m on hold on the phone, I’ll use the time to do some background research for a story, or send follow-up emails to editors.

Take Breaks

Yes, it’s important to use your writing time to write—not organize your office or decide now’s the time to finally clean out your closet. But you need to take breaks for maximum productivity. Research shows that the average person can only listen for forty-five to fifty minutes before his attention begins to flag. I’ve found this is true for writing as well. Take frequent breaks throughout your work day, and you’ll get more done.

Harness Technology

You already know a computer makes for faster writing than a typewriter. You may want to consider using other electronic time-boosters like Outlook, which lets you set alarms and reminders to keep you from wasting time or blowing a deadline. Freelancer Sam Greengard uses Infoselect to help manage his assignments. "I keep detailed notes about who I’ve contacted, the date and time I left a message or sent an email, and general notes about the project, including sources, Web links, et cetera," says Greengard, who’s based in Burbank, California. "I keep a separate document for each assignment. I organize them by client, and it’s easy to check the status of each project at any given moment."

Stock your Office

You’ve got a package ready to send out to an editor. Problem is, you’re out of big envelopes—or your last printer cartridge just ran out of ink. Stock up on basic office supplies, and have the tools you need most—a good dictionary, thesaurus, the phone number for your ISP—handy in your office. I’ve found that even a minor purchase like a postage scale can save tons of time—I weigh envelopes and then check out http://www.usps.gov/ for the appropriate postage amount.

While there are loads of tools out there to help you manage your time, the most important aspect is your mindset. Make it your goal to be focused and accomplish more during your writing time. When you do so, you’ll make the most of your minutes—and your hours as well.

© Copyright 2004, Kelly James-Enger

Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.

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