Time Management for Writers
by Justin Lee
So what’s it like to write and publish a book with a full-time job and young family?
If my experience is any indication, the glib answer is it’s not for the lazy, the easily stressed or those incapable of routine. The more philosophical response is that it requires big-picture thinking in a season where every day is spent doing several small-scale tasks. And for me, in order to ensure all of those tasks added up to a book I was proud of – without impeding my responsibilities a dad or an employee – nearly every moment of the day was (and still is) meticulously scheduled.
Exhibits A, B, and C: I have a giant, laminated excel spreadsheet of critical writing tasks and life priorities taped to my bathroom mirror so it’s the first thing I see every day. My desk has a stack of printed, individually numbered sheets of paper on it counting down to the publication of The Hubley Case on November 6th. And just to make sure I keep it every week, I handwrite “Date Night” on my old-school, At-A-Glance calendar. No joke. A typical Monday looks an awful lot like a typical Friday. And if you’ve read the “quirks” section of jleethrillers.com, you know that consistency (to put it generously) is my jam these days. What you might not know is it isn’t innate to my personality. It’s learned behavior due to having a limited number of hours in the day with (at times) a seemingly limitless number of things to do.
The truth is, there’s nothing outstanding about my process. There are lots of ways to go about it. In the end, it just takes honesty, commitment, and sacrifice. And a whole lot of rinse and repeat. My life is like a German train schedule. That might not sound very glorious, and sometimes it isn’t, but to be the kind of dad and employee I want to be, I don’t see any way around it.
During the year I wrote, edited and worked towards the publication of The Hubley Case, I awoke at 4:21 each morning and “wrote” – a loose term my wife and I use for anything related to the book – until around six-thirty. From then until seven, I played with my kids. Now, if my one-year-old wanted me to walk with him to get the paper and it was 7:02, did I rebuff him? Absolutely. Stick to the schedule, kid. Okay, just kidding. But were there plenty of times I’d take a work call while simultaneously backing out of the driveway, waving goodbye to the kiddos and shoving a flash drive into my pocket to finish a few edits during a 30-minute lunch break? Youbetyourbippy. And that’s just the first two and a half hours of the day. But you get the point.
Lots of folks wake up to exercise, commute, do daily devotions or get a jump on the day in whatever way suits them. So like I said, the process itself isn’t a peek-behind-the-curtain-and-gasp kind of thing. It just involves scheduling your day around what’s most important to you and how you operate (early bird, night owl)…and then sticking to it like bacterial glue. I’ve gotten the “opportunity” to practice the art of persistence throughout this busy season, and so will you.
But I’ve also learned something interesting. Though my college self would balk, I’ve found the less time I have available, the more I get done. And I’d suspect that that applies to many others as well. Years ago, there was certainly more unscheduled, leisure time. In college, I used to frit away hours pretending to study just to flirt – and then literally have to go back to study on my own – with the college girl who eventually became my wife. I tented outside for almost four months with my buddies in below-freezing weather to get into Duke basketball games. I was in four after-work sports leagues after college. And I still didn’t get half the work or writing done that I do now. There’s something about forced discipline that simply brings out the efficiency in me.
These days, my life is a writing-family-job-family-writing-bed daily sequence. Is it sustainable forever? Not a chance. Does it mean that sometimes while watching “Daniel Tiger” with my two kids that I am thinking through the next murder or betrayal in my story? Who doesn’t? Has some of the whimsy (ok, most) in my life has been replaced with spreadsheets and timelines? No doubt about it. But the result has been worth it for me.
Thanks a lot for your support…that’s a big part of what makes the sacrifice worth it. And to those considering balancing the work, family and writing worlds that often don’t overlap much, I hope you found my perspective helpful. Just remember…we don’t usually regret the chances we DO take in this life.
Thanks for reading. Shoot me a note if you have any questions.
J. Lee lives in the suburbs of Chicago. He graduated from Duke University with degrees in Engineering and Sociology and a minor in Business. In his spare time, he can usually be found playing Frisbee Golf or reading in his La-Z-Boy. The Hubley Case is his first novel. To learn more about or contact him, please visit www.jleethrillers.com