But there are lots of writing jobs that can be done without much dedicated time. I found this when I did what most productivity experts advocate -- I kept track of how I used the hours I have.
I formed my baseline by tracking my activities over one week. Ultimately, this reached beyond the typical productivity view of finding free hours and wasted hours because I noted my energy levels. I identified which tasks seemed to best match my rhythms.
I'm a morning person, and virtually all my hardest work, including work that requires the most imagination, needs to get done before 1 PM. I also noted that my energy is better if I enforce a "walk around" break every 40 to 50 minutes. I need to get the blood moving and to loosen my muscles.
In the afternoon, I tend to do more rewriting and work that involves logic or directed work (such as filling out forms for story planning and character development). This is also a good time to do business activities for me -- although I do tend to check anything involving money at a time when my brain is fresher.
The biggest bonus I got from paying attention to how I work came with my discovery of interstitial work. Back when my calendar would fill up with meetings, I began to keep a list of essential activities I could break away from easily or even complete in five or 10 minutes. Since then, whenever I'm kept waiting or an activity ends early, I go to my list, grab the next thing, and get to work on it.
I have also made good use of activities that allow split attention. I almost always listen to a book that's relevant to my work as I walk the treadmill or make dinner.
Similarly, I've come to respect what I call my "Zen" times. When I am doing physical activities like raking leaves or I'm in the shower, ideas will pop into my head or characters will begin talking to me. One best-selling author told me she always kept a wax pen in her shower stall for exactly this reason.
Finally, there's what I call commercial breaks. When I'm watching a ball game on TV, I keep a list of simple questions nearby or index cards of scenes. I grab these and scribble out answers or experiment with new orders whenever commercials come on.
So, here's my "how to":
- Track and analyze how you spend your time in terms of the intensity of activities, the opportunities for specific levels of work, and your own cycles of energy.
- Classify your writing activities in ways that will encourage you to make the most of the opportunities you've identified.
- Be prepared. Have the materials to do your work at hand when opportunities present themselves.