Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Using Your Time Effectively: Eagles don't catch flies

Aquilae Non Capiunt Muscas - Eagles Don't Catch Flies

Knowing What You Have To Do Is Half The Battle

Studies show us that we have a limited amount of decision making power every day. Once we use it up, our self control goes down. This is why a lot of top executives automat simple decisions, using meal delivery services (so they only have to decide what to eat once a month when ordering) and wearing the same outfit every day (think Steve Jobs). This is why I suggest writing first, if it is a priority. However there are plenty of people who write late and do well, so I wouldn't call it a hard and fast rule. Regardless, if you have to make a lot of hard decisions in the morning, you're more likely to decide to have pizza and an entire cake for dinner. Your will power and decision making is all used up.

Because the power to make decisions is a depleting resource, and writing is basically an exercise in making decisions over and over again, it is quite taxing mentally. Don't believe me? How often have you sat down to write and stalled mid scene, because you don't know what should happen next?

What happens next is a decision. Your heroine walks into a building, is it a bar? A house? what does it look like? What is the atmosphere? How do you want the readers to feel about the setting? Threatened? Comfortable? Nostalgic? Now she's confronting the villain who beat her mother into a coma. What does she say to him? How does she feel? How do you want the readers to feel? Every scene comes with dozens of decisions, which can be very mentally taxing.

(This is also why working with a co-author can be a lot faster than writing alone. If you trust them, they are taking over 50% of the decisions, allowing you both to write faster.)

If you're not organised, much of your writing time is going to be spent making decisions instead of writing. But what if the decisions were made before you started writing?

Plan The Goddamn Novel

I am a big believer in plotting over pantsing. For those who don't know, plotting is when you plan out the novel, usually in bullet form, before you begin writing. Pantsing is when you sit down to write 'by the seat of your pants' with no idea what is going to happen. Obviously this is a sliding scale and a lot people are somewhere between those two extremes.

If you can only write pantsing, that's fine. But if you can only write pansting and you still keep whining about your shitty word count, I'm going to judge you. A lot.

At the very least, you should plot out the scenes you want to write before you start writing. Be very explicit about the details, you should just be able to write the scenes without making any decisions during the process.

For example, don't say: "Kate breaks into the house and stops Pete from stabbing Sarah."

Say: "Kate enters the house by smashing the rear kitchen window and finds Pete about to stab Sarah in the living room. Kate throws the hammer Sarah was using to hang up picture frames and strikes Pete on the shoulder. When he turns toward her, stepping away from Sarah, Kate shoots him in the chest."

Otherwise, you will reach this scene and have to decide: how Kate gets in the house, where Sarah and Pete are in the house and how Kate stops Pete. With proper planning before you write the scene, those decisions are already made.

You may also want to note how the character relationships are developing and what beats you want to hit. (Beats are what you want the reader to feel when they read and correspond with genres. EG: Scared/horror, love/romance, wonder/fantasy.)

In the case of Kate, Pete and Sarah, you might want to note that Sarah's feelings toward Kate are not changed and maybe the first thing she says when Kate cuts her free is: "Don't think this changes anything, you're still a fucking cow."

The Best Use Of Time

If you don't want to spent a week plotting every scene of your novel start to finish, but you are sensible enough to plot the scenes you want to write before you write them, I suggest doing the plotting for next session at the end of your current session.

Say you want to write two scenes each writing session, you've just finished two you planned yesterday, so plan the two scenes you are going to write tomorrow as the last thing you do in any given writing session.

Every line you wrote is a decision. They are just smaller decisions than big plot points. And if you want to write effectively, its best to start writing with as much decision power as possible. If you start the session by planning the session, your mind will already feel fatigued when you start writing.

Writing will be a lot more fun when its easy and effortless, which will, in turn, make you more eager to write the next day, and so on.

Remember you want to use your writing time to WRITE not to THINK.

Two Hours For The Price Of One!

There is a lot of learning involved in writing. I think its sensible for every writer to read marketing books, writing style books, listen to podcasts about writing and attending lectures run by publishers. Maybe you're already exasperated at me, saying: "I don't have time!"


Also youtube videos can be downloaded, as can university lectures and many workshops. There are more podcasts on writing than you could listen to in your lifetime. Why is this helpful? Whenever you are cleaning or travelling, put on audio books/podcasts instead of music. You can listen to them while shopping, while walking, while in any sort of line or waiting room. Always have an audio book on you and whenever you are bored, put it on.

Never waste time in the car in silence, unless you really need that silence.

Don't let not knowing how limit you. It only takes a few minutes to learn. Google: 'downloading youtube videos' and 'converting mp4s to mp3s with vlc' to get you started. As much as possible, I do my learning while doing other things, time is too precious not to.


We all waste time on a lot of bullshit. Don't spend your day putting out fires when you could be putting in place systems to stop fires before they start. Don't waste your time on shows and websites that do nothing but mindlessly distract you. They're not making your life better, they're just wasting the limited time you have in a day. Read books, but donate the crappy ones to charity, don't finish them. If you're going to watch TV shows, watch amazing ones, not re-runs or trash because 'it's on'.

If you need to relax, meditation will clear the mind and refresh you 100x faster than browsing tumblr. Set yourself limits on websites like facebook. Unfollow (you don't have to unfriend) people  you don't care about so only people who are interesting to you show up on your feed. Emails only need to be checked twice a day--at most.

My phone is on silent all the time. Maybe you can't do this, but it makes life significantly better if people sms you and you can call them back at your leisure.

Cut out the shit that distracts you and takes up mental real estate.

Cut out the crap you know isn't making your life better. That priority list I had you write? Memes isn't on it. No one writes: 'Spend more time browsing facebook' on their priority list.

Sometimes you might write 'connect with people more' or 'develop a social media presence' and then these websites become a tool to help you achieve targeted goals. Which is great, it's what they were designed to do. Mindlessly scrolling isn't 'connecting' or 'developing an online presence'. Use websites with intent and purpose. Not just to let your mind shut down.

Eagles don't catch flies.

Stay tuned for the last post in this five part series:

Part 5: Alternatives Ways To Write: Other people use crazy methods to write, now you can too.

And if you like me, buy and review my books, because that will inspire other people to buy them too. Keep an eye out, because every Monday one title will be free on my kindle page:

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