Friday, September 12, 2014

How Do Writers Spend Their Time? -- By Christy Mihaly (and Cheddar)

Join this Writer’s Organization! Try that Challenge! Take another Course! EEK! Writer friends urge me to participate in this course, that workshop, these Facebook groups, those writing challenges. What am I missing? How can I ever find the time? 
Photo by GROGGER Suzy Leopold

Time for a reality check: I turned to my GROG colleagues --  serious writers all, ranging across continents, occupations, levels of experience, and numbers of publications. I asked them: "How do you spend your writing time?" I asked them to estimate how many hours they spent drafting, revising, reading, doing research, conferences, courses, social media, marketing, etc.  

And now, I'm happy to share these thoughts and recommendations, from my informal GROG survey.  

Bottom line: None of us has time to do it all.  We have day jobs, spouses and loved ones, social obligations, volunteer work, children, grandchildren, friends in need. We want to "give back" to the writing world. What’s a writer to do?  

We know the answer: WRITE. The GROGGER responses reminded me that when it comes to all those “writing-related” activities, we have to stick to the ones that are helpful enough to warrant taking time away from actual writing. 

I boiled my colleagues' responses down to these three points: 

1.  Write!  Carve out “writing time” every day.  Make writing your top priority during that designated time. Maybe it’s a half-hour before the rest of the household awakes. Maybe it’s an hour after everyone else is asleep. Whenever it is, make it sacrosanct.  No internet surfing.  No opening mail. “Writing” means drafting and revising. If inspiration isn’t coming, try writing a poem! A journal entry, a cover letter . . . just write! GROGGERs' writing times vary considerably, depending on where they are on a particular project (or other aspects of their busy lives) but range from about an hour a day to 30 hours or more per week.  (And we all spend more time revising than drafting!) 

2.  Everything else is extra. Select only those “extras” that really help your writing. Want to refine your craft?  Maybe a course or studying a book on craft is your best bet. Are you feeling isolated?  Then join a community, whether it’s an in-person critique group or an online writing group, or volunteer to work with kids. Has your inspiration dried up? Maybe you need to hang out with the grandchildren, or maybe just going for a walk is what you need! You’ll never be able to do it all . . . so choose what inspires you, and nourishes your writing.
Sniffing out new inspiration . . . 
Here's some collective GROGGER wisdom about setting priorities,  from among all those “other” activities:

Research: If you write nonfiction, this is a major element of your process . . . though fiction writers need research too. For our nonfiction GROGGERs, research can take MORE time than writing.  When we're in that "research groove," that's all we want to do. The consensus: Go for it!

Challenges: GROGGERs have tried various online challenges, and concluded it's best to choose one, or at most two, per year. Favorites among GROGGERs are 12x12, WOW, and PiBoIdMo.

Reading: Do it! Study mentor texts, read books on writing craft and the business of writing, adult fiction and nonfiction for pleasure, YA for the heck of it, poetry, The New Yorker – read it all. GROGGER Pam Vaughan suggests that, if you’re stuck in the car a lot (chauffeuring kids, anyone?) try books-on-tape! GROG members agree, reading is a high priority. Most of us try to get some reading done every day.
 Hey, I get great ideas in my dreams!

Conferences/workshops: We can’t afford to attend all the conferences we’d like, but agree that two or three a year is good. SCBWI is the standard. A pointer: Figure out which format – National? Regional? Small? – works best for you, then focus on that type of gathering. For more GROG thoughts on conferences, check out these posts: 21st Century NF; SCBWI LA; SCBWI New England; write conference for you.
Critique groups: Serious writers must share drafts and revisions with trusted writing buddies. Online groups work well for many. Some are lucky enough to find supportive face-to-face groups. Crit groups are well worth the time -- though most GROG members find that one, or two, of these is the most we can responsibly handle.
Algonquin Round Table members 
Art Samuels, Charlie MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott 
circa 1919, from Wikimedia commons, photographer unknown.

Warning!  Warning!  LIMIT social media!  

Sure, there are some wonderful Facebook groups, and FB can be a great place to share information and support other writers. Twitter provides valuable connections and information too . . . but GROGGERs find social media can consume too much precious writing time. All GROGGERs participate in social media, and we agree a little can be good (a half-hour to an hour a day?).  (See these prior posts:  Facebook groups; more Facebook groups; Twitter tipsmore Twitter tips.)  But it's also true that too much is . . . too much.

Try setting a timer!

By Hustvedt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Keep track of how you spend your time 
(see above). 

Some of my GROG friends could tell me exactly how much time they spent regularly on various activities . . . others, not so much. Try this for a week or a month: record your hours. If you feel you're not getting enough writing done, you’ll see exactly what’s taking up too much time. You'll get a more realistic sense of how long different tasks take. And when you meet a writing target or a goal – celebrate!

Bottom line:  Remember Jane Yolen's essential rule:  "Butt in chair!" And write on. 
That's BUTT in chair, Cheddar!!

Special thanks to Marcie Atkins, Todd Burleson, Tina Cho, Suzy Leopold, Pat Miller, Janie Reinart, Patty Toht, and Pam Vaughan.


  1. Fabulous post Christy! I really enjoyed seeing how you boiled down all those great responses. It really comes down to the discipline. I know I am really bad at focusing, but it's part of my new routine. I spend a set aside amount of time with wi-fi off and all I do is write/revise/draft. I am sure that this post will be very valuable to writers at all points of development. Thank you!

    1. Yes, I have a study that's out of range of my wifi . . . that really helps!

  2. Cheddar and Chris, what an excellent post and full of great advice. I am gonna try the timer thing for FB and also recored my hours per week/day I write so I have more definite answers. I think Marcie has a chart for that.

    1. Thanks, Kathy -- let me know how the timer goes!

  3. I second Todd's comment that you did a great job at pulling together the responses. We're a diverse group and you managed to find the commonality among us. I'm in a fairly productive period right now, but many years I've struggled with time constraints. But the important thing is to keep going! I'm going to use that timer tip, too. Nice that you have Cheddar to encourage you along, Christy. :)

  4. Love your dog's photos! Ya, my problem sometimes is spending too much time on FB. I have to kick myself off and work!!

    1. It was striking how many of the GROG responders confessed that our online time (productive as it sometimes is) can get out of hand . . . . Thanks for your help, Tina! (I was especially impressed with all the hours you're spending on writing assignments . . . hoping to increase my work in the educational market soon!)

  5. Great post, Christy! Thanks so much for sharing! And I want Marcie's chart! :)

    1. Susanna, thanks so much. Your PB Magic course is on my to-do list -- soon, I hope! And yes, Marcie, your chart sounds like a helpful tool, to keep us honest about how we're spending our precious time.

  6. Chris and Cheddar: As we all know, it is about the balance of using one's time wisely and prioritizing what is important. I need to increase my reading, writing and creating time. The amount of time I spend on the categories you listed was challenging for me to define as units of measure, as it varies. Even though I do try to read, write and create every day, there are some days that I feel a stronger sense of accomplishment, more so than others. As a writer in progress, to become a published children’s book author, I feel the amount of time that I spend is evolving and changing throughout my journey. ~Suzy

  7. Great post. Clever, eye-catching, and on target. Lots of food for thought.

  8. Great advice! and loved the photos of Cheddar!

  9. Great post! thanks for the reminder that our first priority is writing... and those FB groups and cat videos can wait....

    1. Thanks Sue. Now my question is, does writing a blog count, or not? I know that reading YOUR blogs counts as reading, anyway!

  10. Priceless, anxiety-discarding post, Christy. I am regularly overwhelmed with WCCDD (writing community-connection distraction disability) and your post was pure therapy for me. I'm printing your points and pasting them on the wall. Thanks!

  11. Hi Seven Acre Sky (what a great name!) --
    Glad you liked it.
    WCCDD -- I love that. Good luck with your writing! I saw on your blog that you're looking at writing for kids' magazines . . . have you seen these GROG posts?;
    Thanks for stopping by GROG!

  12. Luv this ART (especially the Garden Girl (Suzy) list & the article, column, post...

    Appreciations, Christy!

  13. :) Wait, Social Media can be distracting?