Time Management Tips for Writers

Writers don’t make much money. We often have to juggle part-time day jobs, full-time careers, and/or freelance work on top of our personal writing projects. I teach creative writing in the mornings, coach debate in the afternoon (during the school year), write for a few magazines, and pick up some freelance editing work in between. Then I write my books. Then I write my blog. The most common question I get from people is, “How do you manage your time?” So here are some tips I have for working at maximum efficiency!

Work in Public

One of the drawing sprints I posted on this blog last week says, “I’m the only vegetarian that hangs out at McDonald’s, and it’s because I’m too poor for coffee shops.” McDonald’s coffee is like $1. And since they’re mainly fast food, almost no one stays there for more than a few minutes. So I always get a big table to myself to drink my cheap-ass coffee and write.

Whether I’m at McDonald’s, or I earned a few extra freelance paychecks and can afford to support my favorite coffee shop (Everybody’s Coffee on Wilson, for you Chicago people), working in public is very conducive to my productivity.

It’s difficult being a writer as an extrovert. I guess writers have an introverted stereotype for a reason; it’s an activity you usually have to do alone, spending a lot of time in your own head. But I get lonely really easily, and I gain energy and motivation from interacting with other people. That’s another reason that writing in public has really helped me stay productive. Especially if you’re an extrovert, I recommend trying this!

Wander Around

When the weather’s nice (which--if you’re like me, and live in Chicago--you might as well flip a coin on any given day to determine), I like to wander. Chewie needs his walks, and if I’m in a wandering mood, instead of taking him two blocks, maybe I’ll take him two miles. There’s something very freeing about wandering aimlessly.

If I have a decent amount of spare time, and Chewie’s already pooped recently, I’ll hop on a bus or a train, and get off somewhere in another part of Chicago. Then I’ll wander around, explore different stores, maybe stop at a coffee shop. (Downtown Chicago is especially good for this, because if you don’t have any money to spend, you can just ride the escalators up and down in the Water Tower Place or the Shops at Block 37 all day.)

Moving around and constantly changing scenery like this, but having nothing specific to focus on, gets me thinking. And I often find that ideas come together for me when I’m just wandering aimlessly. So I recommend that everybody tries wandering. I know this piece of advice seems counter-intuitive to the whole point of the post, which is saving time and working efficiently. But for me, wandering actually saves me time; the ideas come to me faster when I’m moving around. If I’m just sitting at my desk waiting for the right words to come to me, they never will. So, sometimes wasting time can save you time. Who knew?

Use Google Calendar

Nothing has helped my focus more than Google Calendar. First of all, it’s fun, because you can make your events different colors! But there’s also something satisfying about being able to carve your time out into literal blocks, and see it all right there before you. Rather than writing in a planner, where you have to erase or cross things out, I like that on Google Calendar you can move events around, or make them longer or shorter, depending on if things change. Plus, that way you can plan things out way in advance, and adjust as needed.

(Yes, do schedule your wandering time. And, if necessary, your showers.)

I always try to budget more time than I think something will take. That way, I can be pleasantly surprised when I have some extra time left over! I never schedule anything before 6:30 am or after midnight. That leads me to my next point:


I sleep more than most people I know. I don’t know when sleep deprivation went into style, but I’m not interested. I’m happy to brag all day long about how much I sleep, while other people give me bitter side-eye glances. On average, I sleep more than eight hours a night.

Have I pulled all-nighters when there’s been a huge deadline I wasn’t ready for, then dragged myself off to work a morning shift? Sure. We all have. But I really do try to get as much sleep as possible. On week nights, I’m usually in bed by 11 pm, if not sooner.

Obviously, my sleep schedule won’t work for everyone. People work different hours. Some people don’t require as much sleep. But my best advice here is, figure out how much sleep you need, and try your very best to get that much as often as you can. That way, you’ll be much more productive when you’re awake.

Spend Time on What Matters

When you’re working multiple jobs, getting your writing time in, and sleeping sufficiently, there’s a definite need for prioritizing. One of my sacrifices was that I don’t have as many hobbies as I used to when I was younger. For example, I spent the majority of my life playing music. I spent years learning the piano, the violin, the bassoon, the saxophone, and (unsuccessfully) the guitar. As of about two years ago, I no longer play any instruments (well, also, partially because once you’re out of school, you don’t have anyone who can lend you instruments for free anymore). But I do write about music. Performing music was never going to make me money, but combining that passion with another skill I have, writing, did.

I also don’t spend as much time on things like household chores. That does mean I have to live with a mess a lot. I know that really isn’t ideal for a lot of people, but since I don’t mind being messy, it works for me. You’ll need to find what things you’re comfortable giving up to have enough time for what matters most to you. In a lot of cases, you’ll find that you don’t have to give that much up--you just need to work more efficiently!

I hope this advice was helpful! Does anyone have additional tips for saving time or juggling lots of things? Leave a comment!

Happy writing!



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