Writing a novel takes time. It takes dedication, a little bit of planning, and a lot of time management.
But I don’t believe your big dreams for your author life have to mean that you give up everything outside of writing. In fact, that wouldn’t be healthy. You need time away from your work. With that in mind, how do you balance your writing goals and create a flexible author life?
It always comes down to time management.
This may be a tough pill to swallow, but if you’re serious about having a career as an author, you’ll need to practice your time management skills. I know this isn’t always easy, whether it’s just not an inherent part of your personality or a skill you’ve had much practice with.
And I get it. I’m a hyperfocuser to my core, so if I’m not mindful, I’ll either spend too long at my desk or miss my scheduled writing time because I’ve fixated on something else.
Here’s how I’ve built a time management practice over the years. Every tip here may not work for you, but hopefully you find something on this list to help you!
Try time blocking.
This is when you set aside X amount of time for a specific category of task. If you’re a full-time author, you might block out three hours to self-edit in the morning, an hour for lunch, an hour for emails and social media, and then another two hours in the afternoon for drafting your next book.
Maybe, like many authors, you have another job too. If this is true, then your time blocking will look a bit different. If you work a 9-5, maybe you block out your mornings before your job for chores. Then, after dinner and some time to relax, you might block out a couple of hours to write or self-edit.
Time blocking is just one way to stay organized. If you lay out the plan in a planner or calendar, you can also visualize how your time will be spent for the day. I personally color-code my time blocking to make it easier to see what I should be working on at any given point in my day.
Setting alarms on your phone for these blocks of time can also be helpful as you ease into the practice. If you know you’re supposed to sit down and self-edit for three hours, set that alarm! This will help you know when to stop.
Set deadlines that include wiggle room.
When you’re managing the production of your own book—especially if you’re self-publishing—you don’t want to be doing every single thing at the last minute. That’s just asking for disaster.
Instead, when you set a deadline, do two things. First, don’t choose a deadline that you know is going to be impossible for you to reach, like writing 100k words in 10 days. Second, build in some wiggle room to your achievable deadline.
If you decide the latest date you can finish your first draft is September 1st—maybe it’s due to your writing coach, editor, or beta reader on that date—then set an earlier deadline. Choose something one or two weeks before that date. I call the earlier deadline my “primary deadline” and the later one my “final deadline.”
Best case scenario, you finish on your primary deadline. Yay! You’re done in advance.
Worst case scenario, you need an extra few days and you have that time because your final deadline is September 1st.
And if you do miss both deadlines (hey, life happens sometimes), just be communicative with the person you needed to send a file to. Professional freelancers may not be able to immediately accommodate your missed deadline, and there may be fees, but letting your editor or formatter know about delays will go a long way and will be appreciated.
Build bonus time off into your schedule.
Most people have had a time in their life where one thing after another seems to get in their way. You’re working toward a deadline when suddenly, you get an unexpected stomach bug that makes you unable to work for a week. Or maybe you’re just tired and need a few days off. Maybe you need to have your computer fixed and can’t access your manuscript for a while.
Besides creating a primary and final deadline, you should consider building days off into your writing life. Think of them as sick days or personal days you might have at a traditional office job.
You may not need these days, and if that’s the case, great! But if you do get that stomach bug and end up not being able to write, you’ll be glad you planned ahead. This is a lesson I learned very early in my freelancing days, and I always build in extra time into personal and professional projects now.
Schedule breaks and fun time off.
This may seem counterintuitive when you’re thinking about being a productive writer. But that’s part of creating a flexible author life! You need time away from writing, computers, and the publishing industry. It’s healthy to get away from your work.
I do this on the micro level every day. I always schedule at least 30 minutes for a lunch break when I’m editing, though I try to take a full hour.
I’m getting better about doing this on a macro level, too. This might look like taking the final Friday of every month off for a personal day. Or maybe you plan a long weekend away with your friends or spouse. Maybe you take two weeks off from writing between drafts.
Whatever it is, mini breaks throughout the day and whole days away from your book are good. Time off will let your mind rest and keep your energy levels up.
Find an accountability buddy or group.
I’ve shared about the benefits of writing groups before. They help you connect with other people in the industry, people who get your writing life. They can also be great for keeping yourself accountable.
Every Friday, I host One Page at a Time with my colleague and friend, Sarah. This is 45 minutes of writing time with other writers. Knowing there are people on Zoom who will want to hear an update at the end of the meeting is a great way to get something done.
If a group isn’t for you, just find one buddy you can check in with on a weekly basis. Both of you can set a couple of goals for the week and help keep each other on track.
Don’t feel like you have to do it all.
When you’re feeling stuck or unproductive, it’s so easy to scold yourself and ask why you aren’t getting more done. It’s normal to feel frustrated by lack of progress (or what you perceive as lack of progress) and a lack of time.
Remember, this is a skillset you have to build and practice. Nothing is going to change overnight, and not every productivity tip you come across online is going to be applicable to you.
Try out different strategies and find something that works for you and your life. The items listed in this blog post are just a handful of strategies you can try.