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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Decide What To Write, When
by Karen Millard

Here's a little character study: She's a thirty-eight year old mother of three, a writer. She believes in pursuing her dreams and exploring her interests in her writing. Trouble is, her dreams and her interests are too numerous to fit on a page. She still wants to write about them, though. She can't imagine giving up the novel to concentrate on the short story. Can't conceive of abandoning the picture book idea to focus on the essay that's stirring her soul. Can't possibly turn her back on the article she's committed to in order to pay more attention to marketing...

To marketing what? Nothing ever gets written! She's too busy spinning her wheels.

Sound familiar? If it does, then let me welcome you to my epiphany. The writer, of course, was me. Too distracted by my numerous writing projects to focus on any one of them. Too committed to them all to "prioritize." The standard writing advice was no use. "Make time to write" is all very well, but it doesn't help you focus. The time I did find was always being wasted as I tried to recover the momentum of a particular project. I'd forget where I'd left characters, find it impossible to get back into the mood of an essay, or lose the humorous touch I'd found so effortless in the picture book.

The solution came to me one frantic morning as I was tearing the house apart looking for my son's gym shorts. In a hurry and desperate for an excuse to abandon the hunt, I said, "Maybe you won't have gym this morning."

"We always have gym on Tuesday mornings," he replied.

I shot him a frazzled look and tore downstairs to the laundry room, but I'd had my epiphany!

Of course! Students routinely cover enormous ground simply by doing the same thing at the same time every single day. All subjects get equal attention, none are neglected. The days are filled with variety. Why couldn't I arrange my writing life the same way?

I identified eight main categories from my long list of projects. From fiction to nonfiction; from research and reading to marketing. Next I identified the hours I had available. In my own case, that's six and a half hours, five days a week. No writing on weekends. No writing when the kids are home and awake. Then I designed a timetable, exactly like the one I used to use in school, and slotted in my various projects. Some projects take an hour each, most are double periods. Finally, I went one last step and framed my timetable, to make it official.

Now I know what I'll be writing at any given time, on any given day of the week. The benefits to my productivity have been enormous. No more bumbling around trying to figure out what I should tackle today. No more losing momentum. No more procrastination. If the timetable says, "do this now," it doesn't cross my mind to claim that I "don't feel up to it." My novel, which had been in note form for almost three years, is now halfway through a first draft---after only three months of disciplined writing.

If my day does go awry, and I have to schedule an interview during what's supposed to be marketing time, I have two options: I can either swap sessions, or I can glance at my timetable and get right back on track tomorrow.

Drawing up my timetable also helped me realize that, painful as it was to admit, there simply aren't enough hours in the day to do all that I wanted to do. Yes, something did have to give. (And will give even more during school holidays.) But I was able to scale back my grandiose plans and still sleep at night knowing that I really was using my time to the fullest. Both as a writer and as a mother.

"Make time to write?" Sure. But why not go one step further, and decide what to write, when.

Then get the job done.

Karen Millard is a freelance writing mom who lives with her husband, three kids, a cat and a dog in Saskatchewan, Canada. She can be reached at millardk@shaw.ca.









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