The Writing Process: Time Management Tips

writing process

I break the writing process into two parts. Part one includes planning, organizing, outlining, researching, reading, and taking copious notes. The second (and most important) part is writing.

A dear friend of mine from college recently reached out via email with a request. “My goal this summer,” she wrote, “is to start writing a book! Any advice on time management would be appreciated.”

She’s much smarter than I am – and a far better writer – so soon enough, she’ll be giving me writing advice. But until then, I figured I’d offer counsel based on what has worked for me.

Identify your high-energy time

I’m a morning person, so my high-energy, high-focus time is first thing in the morning. I get most of my meaningful work done before noon, and when it comes to my book writing and creative time, it all has to be first thing in the morning. That won’t work for everyone, but identifying your optimal working hours is a good first step.

Develop a writing ritual

My writing ritual involves rising way too early, freebasing coffee, playing great tunes on the stereo, and getting down to business. When I first started, I tried putting in long writing days, but that was counterproductive. I never have a problem filling the page, but clarity and focus are the real goal, not just hours invested and word counts. I focus on a one-hour slot that I dedicate to writing first thing every morning. Ideally, I turn my Wi-Fi and phone off, so no email, social media, etc., so I don’t become distracted. If I get into the groove, I can write longer than an hour, or come back to it later in the day. If you stick to a similar plan, you can write a book over the summer, one hour a day, five or six days a week.

The writing process, Part 1: Plan and organize

Loosely speaking, I break the writing process into two parts when I’m writing a book. Part one includes planning, organizing, outlining, researching, reading articles about the craft of writing, and taking copious notes. Because inspiration sometimes hits when you’re in line at the bank or in the middle of the night, I jot ideas down as a memo on my iPhone or in a notebook and refer to them later. But the organization part really helps keep me on track and prevents me from devolving into a crazy person spewing nonsense (OK… the jury is still out on that one). This part can be done after the designated hour – in the morning, at night, or whenever. It doesn’t require the same focus as part two.

The writing process, Part 2: Write!

The second part of writing a book (and the most important) is writing. I’m not being a wise ass. During the designated writing hour, the goal is to get started and not stop. When I start a book, it’s impossible for me to sit down and jump in with “Chapter one page one… The night was hot and humid…”

I begin the writing process with a stream-of-consciousness brain dump about the ideas of the book: the themes, conflicts, dialogue, and especially the characters. Well in advance of actually writing any material that will serve as the actual words of the book, I’m purging my mind of ideas and developing them with these brainstorming sessions. Since characters are so important, I’ll spend a lot of time on characters, fleshing out their lives and desires, values and fears, quirks and characteristics. Ninety percent of that will not end up in the book, but I believe it is important to really know and understand your characters before you set them into action.

The natural flow

So every morning I’m just hacking away at this, fingers on the keyboard for an hour, without many breaks, and then one day it just happens: I start producing the content that will be in the book. Whether it begins with page one or whether I’ve jumped to a pivotal scene or important piece dialogue doesn’t matter: I’m writing.

Ease off the pressure and high expectations

For me, great is the enemy of good. If I feel a ton of pressure to write well, it comes out like crap. So by practicing first, and then focusing on one scene or conversation or whatever to get started, I remove that pressure. I also remind myself daily that the goal is just to get started, not produce a polished, finished book. Everything will be edited and rewritten, several times. So that way I’m not worried about making mistakes or writing crap, and I’m free just to be productive.

A percentage breakdown of the book writing process

This isn’t exactly scientific, but for me, the book writing process is 10 percent preparation and 30 percent writing the first draft. The other 60 percent is spent rewriting and editing (that process sucks, by the way). But it’s encouraging to know you are fixing mistakes and tweaking your text to get it to a place where someone will actually enjoy reading it!


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  1. Norm – So glad I don’t have to feel guilty about “wasting” time. Although I’m not at all famous or well-published, my technique for writing books is similar to yours. It all makes so much more sense now, coming from a pro writer. Thank you for making me feel sane again!

    • my experience as a published writer and former member of the NWU is that writing is 80% planning and preparation including research and doing the first level of editing = development.

      any self education that may be needed would be on top of that and should precede the writing itself although a new writer will be practicing and learning how to apply those skills when they start writing.

      writing the next 20%, including draft and the remaining 4 of the 5 levels of editing, is the rest of the writing itself after you are educated on HOW to write.

      in all the writing itself will take 10% of the TOTAL effort. unfortunately the promotion marketing and sales will take another 90% of the TOTAL effort.

      writing is easy, promotion marketing and selling is hard.

  2. This is good, solid advice. No tricks- the basic recipe to succeed at getting writing accomplished. And, in the end, I imagine you are a bit of a smart-ass. It makes us better writers! lol Thanks!

  3. Love this clear and concise distillation! Want to take a positive stand on your comment: “The other 60 percent is spent rewriting and editing (that process sucks, by the way).” I find this part of the process makes me a better writer, so I love it.

  4. For me it’s more like 60% writing with 10% research interspersed in the writing, followed by 30% editing. I have no particular ritual, writing when the ideas (and inspiration) come to me.

  5. I found this so comforting to read! I, too, am a morning person and to know that it’s not just me who only manages one or two hours of quality writing is deeply helpful. I’m not in work at the moment so am dedicating my time to writing my second novel while I have the chance. I have a stressful living situation and beat myself up on a daily basis because I don’t feel as though I’m achieving enough. Your process sounds very similar to mine. It’s a tough line between being relaxed and not putting too much pressure on yourself, and actually getting things done.
    If I had the mental and physical energy to write well all day, or even write every day, then I’d achieve much more but this reminds me that working within my limits will probably lead to better quality over all, which is what’s important to me. We all have to tailor our writing habits to suit our individual needs.

  6. Great article. I am also an aspiring writer. I have written four previous books and I am working on my fifth. My current book has been in the process for almost a year and a half, hopefully to be completed this spring. Then, the process of editing and rewriting begins. Here is my quibble with this type of time allocation scenario. It appears Mr. Schriever has a work day schedule that allows him to freelance through the day. Although I may be incorrect about this, his resume already includes several best sellers. It appears Mr. Schriever can write any time he feels like it, but mornings work best for him. That is wonderful for him because that is what works best. However, my work schedule and physical fitness requirements dictate my tiny windows of time to write. Here is an example of a typical week for me:

    M-Thu: Work in IT field, 10.5 hr./day from 7:30-6:00 pm Monday-Thursday.
    At least one weekday night (usually Tue. or Wed.), I go to the gym to do light weights and swim. I have knee, hip and lower back issues that require me to perform regimented physical activity several times per week under my physician’s care. This is non-negotiable. I usually arrive at the gym at 6:30 pm and leave the gym and get home by 8:30 pm. That leaves little time to feed my cats, prepare for the next day at work, cook and eat my dinner and then finally sit down in front of my computer, usually around 10:00 pm. I spend the first thirty minutes following up on personal emails I could not get to while at work. If I am not too tired and my eyes can bear staring at the computer screen for another hour, I can get some writing in. Most nights I go to the gym my writing time actually consists of re-reading my most recent chapter, looking for errors and touch ups. As Mr. Schriever has mentioned, “clarity and focus are the real goal, not just hours invested and word counts.” When I am tired, it is easier to perform small edits than putting clarity and focused story line onto the page.

    Fri: As I live alone with my two cats, Friday is my day to get personal tasks completed whatever they may be. The two mandated items on Friday is another trip to the gym and grocery shopping, although there are almost always other responsibilities that must be tended to. I usually get home by afternoon and after everything settles out for the evening I can myself writing for 2-4 hours until roughly midnight. My productivity in this time frame varies from being in the “groove” to at times, plodding my way through some difficult part of the story.

    Sat: This is my day to write. I perform my TM (Transcendental Meditation) in the morning at around 8:00 am, enjoy my coffee and catch up on my emails and reading up mostly on political blogs. Usually, by 10:30 I start writing and continue until about 1:00 pm. Here, I stop for a break, eat lunch, do my laundry and clean my house usually taking about 1-2.5 hours depending on how much my inner Felix Unger is prompting me. Afterward, I usually am ready to delve back into my writing and continue until about 6:00. I then do my physical stretching regimen, care for my kitties, another TM session and eat dinner. Usually from about 9:00-12:00 am I am writing again. Thank you Saturdays!

    Sun: Another trip to the gym, then usually tying up any loose ends that did not get completed on Friday or having lunch with a friend or social visits. I usually find time for at least an hour on Sunday evenings for writing. Then the week starts again.

    Above and beyond all of this, on the nights I do not go to the gym I perform about 45 minutes of physical stretching for my knee, hip and back. I perform morning and evening TM sessions almost every single day, usually my one work week night the only evening in the week I forego my TM session. I feel TM is a great creative resource and relaxes me. My working days start at 5:15 am and usually don’t end until about 11:30 pm. I’ll be honest, my writing is such a huge part of my persona, I have given up much of my social life, eschew intimate personal relationships and my two adult sons have labeled me a hermit. But, writing is my passion and I have basically molded my life around my time to write. It is a difficult schedule to maintain and after working with computers all day, sometimes I wonder if investing more time in front of the computer screen writing, as my first and foremost personal goal is a wise choice. But when I have those moments of clarity and when I am writing characters in the story line, I feel I am right there with them. As in my current book, I am there in New Hampshire, living with a coven of witches. It may seem like a strange thing to say, but those wondrous times are my therapeutic outlet, and many times it is the drive that keeps me going.

    Someday, perhaps my books will sell, and I do have a planned retirement, hopefully, in the next ten years, if our social infrastructure is still intact at that point. Then, I too, can pick my niches for writing as my body, mind and spirit allow. Until then, I’ll keep plugging along as my life moves forward. At the very least, my writings will be registered in the Library of Congress for perpetuity. At least until the Republic falls or our civilization that cherishes such works will last.

    I’m not sure why I decided to reply to this blog posting, especially in such length as it incurred on my Saturday writing time. Perhaps, this blog is an outlet for me to express myself in a safe context that I rarely find.

    Well, best of luck to all those aspiring writers in the world. Keep writing and don’t give up. There are many stories that deserve to see the light of day, but may never have that chance. But to each and every writer in the world that has a story to tell, someone, somewhere would love to read it.

  7. Kinda do that but at 74 my high energy time is, who the hell knows. I outline a chapter and then taking a copy of that start to fill in the blanks by blizt of narrative, damm the typos and grammar, then print it out, put it aside for a day or two and during semi-high energy time do an edit. Repeat this process for x number of related chapters and then comes the hard part the 60 percent the rewrite and decision to leave well enough alone or continue to change, enough is enough, and as I drift onto oblivion I stop and save. One point I can not do the first edit on my computer. You’ll notice, by my age and even very computer literate, need that tactile pencil on paper. Yea, coffee or my new drink. I read a British police procedural where the detective was addicted to green tea with honey. Now about 1/3 of my caffeine consumption is the tea. More soothing but still an induced caffeine pick me up.

  8. Good to hear your input. I wrote a book sent it out got a.great rejection letter but now I feel stuck. I will try your one hour a day. Thanks.E


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