The Zen of a Writer’s Time Management

I’ve had friends tell me that I am the busiest person they know. That always seems downright weird because I know about the stolen moments I spend goofing off. And there’s lots of them.

So I started thinking about why I look that way to others, and I came up with gratitude to two mentors – women who succeeded as writers when the personal and professional worlds were completely stacked against them. Phyllis Wilson, the only female professor in my Journalism program, trained in the raucous world of print deadlines, was profoundly disinterested in excuses. Flu, tempests, and tragedy were realities of life, but meeting your deadline was the law of the universe.

I have long since added it to my life list of Rules That Must Never Be Broken. And it has served me well.

Later, as I worked to become a novelist, I had the good fortune to become friends with the late Willo Davis Roberts, award-winning author of more than 100 books. When other would-be writers explained about how they had no time, she said simply, “Writers have 24 hours in their day just like everyone else.”

Priorities will get you every time.

They taught me that whether my life was crammed with jobs and family, or so unstructured that time seeped away like meltwater, there was only one secret to finishing that novel, getting a degree, or fill-in-the-blank life ambition – setting workable goals and deadlines. And following them.

Sounds simple, but I found out the hard way that there is an art and method to this. Big ideas (like winning the Pulitzer or getting a doctorate) are so seductive. How many shower and errand hours have I spent working out every glittering detail? But sadly, I had to recognize that these perfect moments are for daydream time, not the grind.

I rarely go to a party or gathering where someone doesn’t tell me that they want to write a movie or a book. I smile and nod, but I’m hearing Phyllis and Willo – you want to write a book? Fine. When is it going to happen? Just as every writer and artist learns, I know the muse is a whore who will desert me at the most inconvenient times. Maybe these dreamers will be a lot luckier in their muses, but I have my doubts.

My day jobs over time piled up as a high school teacher with an evening gig as a university lecturer. Despite all the “write every day” advice, I’ve rarely had the hours or stamina to write daily. Rather than a twenty-four hour schedule, I’ve had to set my goals by the weekend and month. For example, right now I’m getting a manuscript ready to send out into the world. I would really, really like to do it this week.


So with the memories of Phyllis and Willo cheering me on, I break down all the little bitty, tedious steps. I keep dates in my head, on calendars and in charts (I’m terrible with spreadsheets). They’re my keep-me-on-track mantras. Some successful people I’ve met write their goals on bulletin boards or with on-line alerts. Doesn’t matter. What carries me to the finish line are lots and lots of small, doable deadlines.

I confess, I still fantasize about book awards and accolades. But mostly I forget about the giant dreams and plod along with my boring, little deadlines.

I want to make Phyllis and Willo proud.