Friday, April 27, 2012


When you decide to quit your day job and write full time, you’ll have to give careful consideration to your priorities. No longer will someone else be deciding what work you have to do and when you have off. Now it will be your responsibility. For some writers, this works great. For others, it doesn’t.

The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out when your peak thinking and writing times occur. Are you a “first-thing-in-the-morning” person, a midday person, or an evening person? Also, do your peak thinking times and peak writing times occur at the same time or at different times during the day? If yours are separate, you’ll want to focus more on the former, giving it top priority in your daily schedule. It’s harder to think out a piece of writing than it is to actually write it.

To help you set your priorities, you must first create a daily work schedule. You don’t have to stick tightly to it, but it should act as a guide. To begin, block out a schedule for the week, indicating when you’ll begin work. You may want to use the same schedule you used in your former job. Working from nine to five is good for a start. Next block out time for lunch, 30-60 minutes should do.

Now that you have your start and end times, plus lunch scheduled, you can lay in blocks of time for your work. If you know when you’re at your peak for thinking, block in time at the appropriate hour. Then lay in some time for writing and research. It helps to mix up your day by working on several projects in different stages. While you’re getting ideas for one, you may be working on the first draft of another, and starting research for a third. Doing this actually helps exercise your brain and prevents getting burned out by writing for hours on end. It pays in the long run to not write for more than two hours at a time.

And don’t forget to allow time to get more work. You’ll need to send out E-mail messages to editors, or perhaps call them on the phone. And when will you study new publications to see if you’re right for them? Many editors schedule staff meetings on Monday and often Fridays are wrap-up times before publication, so you’ll want to limit your editorial contacts to the middle of the week.

What many people who work for themselves forget is allowing time for other obligations. Do you have to take or pick your kids up from school? When do you do grocery shopping? Must you cook meals for your family? What about talking to friends on the phone?

It’s a real temptation to procrastinate when you work at home. You may say to yourself, “I’ll do that later,” but do you? If you have a tendency to procrastinate, you need to attack the problem head-on. Doing so will increase your production and your income immediately.

You should try to schedule time to write every day. Some days you may have more time while on others less, but writing every day will help you keep up the momentum. Be sure to divide your time adequately among important projects. If you know you have deadline coming up, be flexible enough to allow time to finish the project that’s due. This means you must be careful that deadlines don’t pile up on one another. And for some writers, having no deadline takes away the impetus to get things done.

To help you prioritize your work, create three lists—one for Top Priority items, one for Secondary, and one for Do at Leisure Tasks for each week? This will help you stay on track. You might plan on taking care of the items on the first two lists during “working” hours and leave smaller tasks, like filing, correspondence, and organizing notes for evenings or Saturdays.

And while it’s important to get your current work finished, it’s just a important to plan ahead for new work. Do you have days or evenings when you are systematically building your files, increasing your contacts, beginning speculative new ventures, adding to your catalog of possible topics, and promoting yourself?  How about the time it takes to read and answer your E-mail and check on your social media sites?

If you keep your priorities in order as you start out in your writing career, you’ll be in a better position to recognize and take advantage of golden opportunities as they arise. The more you priorities your work, the easier it will be to tackle really complex projects and do them without stress. And as your career progresses, you should have more and more work to do. There are only so many hours in a day, and you can’t squeeze more work out of them than you already are unless you set your priorities.

Plan diversions into your work schedule. Don’t be a workaholic. But do so with care. It's too easy to take time to have that extra cup of coffee.

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