by Lisa Young
As writers diversify and expand the scope of their careers—whether it’s by editing an anthology, submitting on a more consistent basis, switching genres, starting a literary press, or publishing books at a faster pace—time becomes an increasingly scarce resource.
In this Q&A, seven thriving writers open up about how they manage their time.
Lisa Young: Lisa, what time management technique do you use to ensure you’re submitting your work to magazines on a consistent basis?
Lisa Richter: I’ll admit, time management has always been a huge challenge for me, because I’m both a procrastinator and a perfectionist—the worst combination. This is one of the reasons I submitted only sporadically for years. In the last few years, though, I re-committed myself to publishing and submitting more regularly. Getting organized helps. I use submission trackers on Duotrope and Submittable whenever I have several submissions out. It also helps to have someone, or a group of likeminded writers, to be accountable to. Getting support makes all the difference.
“It’s really just a question of checking in with myself and knowing where I’m at, mentally, physically, and emotionally.” —Lisa Richter
LY: Despite a busy schedule, you always seem to make time for fun. Can you share one of the ways you keep your work-life balance in check?
Lisa Richter: Funny how it seems that way. For me, that elusive and perhaps unattainable “work-life balance” is really an ongoing process of ensuring that one area of my life doesn’t overwhelm the others, and I fail miserably at it sometimes. My day job as an ESL teacher is by nature very social and enjoyable but often exhausting. Some weeks, when I’m not teaching or working on my poetry, I spend most of my time at home, decompressing and relaxing, spending time with my partner. Other weeks, my calendar is full: I go to readings, parties, socially/environmentally conscious music and arts festivals, bike, dance, explore. So the balance fluctuates from week to week. It’s really just a question of checking in with myself and knowing where I’m at, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
LY: When you’re working on several creative projects at once, what do you do to create work-life balance so you don’t burn out?
Susie Berg: If the projects are my own, they usually tell me what I want to work on. Right now I’m writing a novel rather than poetry, and most of what I write, even in my journal, is less poetic and more long-form. I’m also editing a poetry anthology, so I keep reminding myself that I have to finish that work before I do anything else. I’ve been setting aside chunks of time on the weekends—and not making other plans—so I can focus on editing and ordering the poems.
“I’ve been setting aside chunks of time on the weekends—and not making other plans…” —Susie Berg
LY: How do you find time to write within your day?
Susie Berg: I keep my notebook with me at all times so that if something strikes me, I can take that moment to write. That means sometimes I take a break at work to write and then stay a little later, or write in the morning while I eat breakfast. Beyond that, I take my notebook up to my son’s room (he’s away at school) after dinner and either read or write in that quiet space. And I forgive myself if I end up reading for an hour and don’t write a word.
LY: What’s one approach you use to create work-life balance?
Steven Takatsu: Even in the heaviest of storms, there is always a moment for a breather, to enjoy the outdoors, listen to music, play guitar, have a drink, take a bath, watch a show. Those little things matter and keep me sane. I find that my life goes in cycles though; there are intense seasons of productivity. For me, desk productivity usually occurs in the fall and winter. During the spring, I feel energetic and have an affinity for socializing and events, and in the summer, my energy levels come down; I crash and the blues set in. This is the season to enjoy the weather and adventure. I think it’s important to know that rhythm and when to switch gears and retreat. Balance does not necessarily mean hourly or daily schedules. It can be organic according to the body, heart, and soul.
“Striking while the iron is hot has worked for me.” —Steven Takatsu
LY: What is your most useful time management tool when it comes to ensuring you see a creative project through to completion, especially if you have a hard deadline?
Steven Takatsu: Prioritization is important for me. I have a list of loose ends, and I consider which task has the most impact on myself or others, the timeline (of course), and the required time and resources. On the other hand, my workaholic nature tries to see something I’m passionate about to completion as soon as possible, while I’m still inspired. Sometimes it’s easy to lose this energy. My writing is similar; I have a long desert period before the plunge. Not everyone functions this way, but I find that when I work like this I’m fully invested and finished in record time, free for other commitments. I find that taking time actually distracts from other tasks in parallel. Striking while the iron is hot has worked for me. This also results in an early start, avoiding procrastination.
LY: What’s one way that you trick time into working for you instead of against you?
Lisa de Nikolits: I asked my husband the question:
“Would you say I multitask?”
“No, you don’t multitask. You just never stop working,” he replied.
But I believe I wrestle with time, I pummel it and I tell myself to “just do ONE more thing” and I end up doing a dozen. And I set myself deadlines (difficult ones), and I meet them, come hell or high water!
“I would say that even my recreational time is spent working…” —Lisa de Nikolits
LY: What’s one thing you do that helps keep your work-life balance in check?
Lisa de Nikolits: I admit that there is no balance! The only thing that stops me are my migraines. They fell me half a dozen times a month, and I can’t do anything except wait for them to pass, and that probably doesn’t count as restorative rest. I would say that even my recreational time is spent working—I watch TV that is relevant to the book I am working on and I read books relevant to my current work.
In the summer, I try to take day trips on the weekends into the countryside with my husband, but even then, I talk about (and think about) the writing.
LY: Can you share one approach you use to manage your time effectively when it comes to polishing a manuscript to submit to publishers?
Kate Marshall Flaherty: One strategy when editing a manuscript—my own, freelance, or for Quattro Books—is to use pencil on hardcopy. I catch things better on paper in black-and-white than on a screen, and I stay fresh longer while writing comments, going through a manuscript many times to catch different things. I also find reading poetry out loud, and noting immediate comments, is an actively engaging process for mind and body. There’s time to look at versions on the screen in the end, but this is the way I am most effective in fine-tuning and polishing.
“First thing I do in stressful times is stop and take a breath.” —Kate Marshall Flaherty
LY: What is your one go-to strategy you use to create work-life balance in stressful times?
Kate Marshall Flaherty: The first thing I do in stressful times is stop and take a breath. Monkey minds never stop, so a moment to ground myself and consciously breathe before dividing my tasks into small steps works. I love paper calendars, lists, and sticky-notes. If things are on my mind at night, I have a pen/paper by my bedside; I jot things down—a poem-line, forgotten task, an insight, or a to-do list. I can sleep knowing it’s written down. I try to keep personal and professional tasks alternating on one list, and I get satisfaction crossing things off. I feel empowered tackling busy days one breath, one task, one step at a time.
LY: What is one way that you perceive time that helps you meet your deadlines?
Sonia Di Placido: Time is a trickster. It can be slow some days, others much too fast. Of late, I’ve gotten into the habit of bits of writing at a time. I tend to follow my gut. If I’m in a good writing space, I slot in time between emails and weekly ESL planning. It can be twenty minutes or an hour. Sometimes good work comes out the night before a deadline when I’ve got rough notes. It’s been simmering as I’ve thought about it or planned it out in my head.
“It’s been simmering as I’ve thought about it or planned it out in my head.” —Sonia Di Placido
LY: What is one way you ensure you keep some fun in your life, despite a host of external demands?
Sonia Di Placido: My ESL teaching job is super fun. I really enjoy interacting with the students that come from around the world. I often see friends at readings, or we meet for a talk, have some dinner and wine. Treating myself to some health luxuries like a massage, going to the spa, doing some shopping, or getting my nails done. The relaxation it evokes is fun for me. I also go to yoga and spinning cycle classes, and those are vibrant, energetic, and a lot of fun!
LY: What is one key time management tip for writers?
Michael Fraser: Write wherever and whenever you can! I write during staff meetings, on buses, planes, etc. Get your ass off social media and other internet diversions! This includes texting, television, and other main time-wasters that don’t contribute to one’s writing growth. I deleted my Facebook account earlier this summer, but realized a former student required a referral, and she contacted me through Facebook. Thus, I re-established my Facebook account.
“Write wherever and whenever you can!” —Michael Fraser
LY: A writer’s life is a juggling act at times. With demands from your personal life and writing life, what’s one of the best ways to deal with competing priorities?
Michael Fraser: Competing priorities is a bit of an oxymoron to me. If things are prioritized, you know what your initial priorities are, and mine are my kids and wife. They come first! Writing doesn’t “compete” with them. My children are only young once, and it’s imperative that I’m mindfully present with them, and, naturally, my wife is an equal partner with the children, and we must schedule time for each other. Writing can wait.