I evolved as a time management speaker and trainer by keeping up to date with current knowledge as it relates to the use of time. By trying out different ways of working, and adapting what works best for me, I’ve also been able to evolve in my writing as well. I write the same way I work, read, or study – in 90-minute segments with breaks in between. I get in one 90-minute writing session before 9:00 AM, and frequently that’s all the time I do spend writing for publication. You could have one or more 90-minute writing sessions a day, depending upon your situation.
And those 20-minute or half-hour breaks between sessions are not just for a coffee or stretch. That’s when you check your e-mail, voice messages, and other would-be interruptions that you have delayed, avoiding interruption while writing. Be sure to check your email etc. before you start to write – so you are free to focus on what you are doing rather than what you might be missing. (This Zeigarnik Effect is explained at length in my book, Time Management for Authors & Writers.)
Write in the same place at the same time, free from interruptions and distractions. Choose that time based on your chronotype – whether you are a lark, night owl or hummingbird (somewhere in between). You can determine this by trial and error. I’m obviously an early bird or lark.
Most successful writers do likewise. Maeve Binchy, in her book, The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club, suggests, “Try to write at the same time every day – this seems to trigger the subconscious into readiness.” Stephen King writes at the same time in the same place every day. In his book, On Writing Well, he says that mornings are his prime writing time. He claims, “If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind – they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.” He blocks out interruptions and distractions, closes the window blinds and silences the telephone. He uses music to create his own writing world. John Grisham only works five mornings a week. He usually starts at 7:30 a.m. or a little later. Tony Schwartz, in his non-fiction book, The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working, claims that writing in 90-minute segments of time, each followed by purposeful rest, increased his productivity. Your energy rises and falls in 90-minute cycles (ultradium rhythms) an extension of the 90-minute sleep cycles.)
The “secret” of successful writers seems to be consistency – developing a habit of writing at the same time every day. Writers read a lot, and they write a lot more than they read. Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer had written over 500 books by the time he died in 1992. At the peak of his career, he was writing about 12 books and 40 magazine articles a year. And he was answering all his fan mail – about 70 letters a week. And remember, he was using a typewriter! But I wouldn’t aspire to that level since he frequently wrote from 8 in the morning until 10 at night.
Successful writers are also persistent. They don’t let rejections discourage them. And they are also resilient. They bounce back, perform countless edits, and resubmit their material to other publications. As a youngster, I lacked those character traits, and was easily discouraged. (When I received the 1959 rejection letter that I include with this article, which was actually encouraging me to make changes and resubmit my article, I gave up attempting to write fiction, and after sulking for several months, decided to try my hand at non-fiction.)
On average, I now spend about half my day writing, which is quite a bit considering my volunteering, church activities, traveling, and other personal interests. I’m certain that the hundreds of editors who rejected my submissions in the past would be proud of me. I am grateful for the lessons I have learned through those rejections. One editor told me to experience life more before I start writing. Write once I had something to say. So, for years I wrote short verses, epigrams, and brief fillers for magazines. I was able to sell a few to magazines such as MacLean’s and others who had sections for short items. And many small publications purchased fillers of various kinds. I always had hopes that one would sell, because I had more fillers in the mail before the first ones were rejected. I never had to admit to failure if they were not all rejected yet. I probably broke even when you consider the cost of the stamps and the envelopes. But it was the motivation to continue that was important. Now, we have laptops, voice-activated software, and programs such as Grammarly, and e-mail, so submissions are a lot easier.
By the time I started writing greeting card ideas for the various card companies, I had started making money, and I still have dozens of my cards that won awards as a reminder that persistence pays off. Perhaps I should try my hand at fiction once again now that I have “experienced life.”
The big change for me as I grew older is patience. It also took time for most other people to become successful in writing. John Grisham’s first book was rejected by 17 different editors and yet ended up being his number one bestseller and moneymaker. But he was selling books from the trunk of his car in the beginning. Look at him now.
When I was in my teens and twenties, there’s no way I could muster the discipline or have the know-how to write a book. But soon after I was able to write articles on my specialty topic, time management. And then expand the topics to include related topics, such as communication, delegation, memory, self-development, and so on.
The book still seemed too overwhelming. So, I used the same technique of writing in small chunks when I was ready to write my first book, Making Time Work for You. I needed to write this book for credibility, since I was by then an established speaker and trainer. So, I wrote articles and submitted them as a column, no charge, to a weekly, controlled circulation, business publication in Toronto. But I wrote them in a certain order, three articles on each of about 12 time management topics, as though I were writing a book. Then I used the three articles for each chapter (36 articles in all) and pieced them together, edited them so the chapters transitioned smoothly, and had my first 150-page book. It went on to become a Canadian bestseller.
Since then, I have had about 7 or 8 books published through major publishers, about the same number self-published, others in electronic format only, and about 42 e-Books to date for a publisher in Denmark. As long as I keep writing articles for my blog, I will keep writing books. I write every day, whether it’s 5 pages or one paragraph, and file the material by topic.
Everything I did was small, steady, and persistent. So, if anyone who reads this has not been published yet, don’t fret. Be patient and rely on a full or part-time job to support you in the meantime. But never stop writing, even if it’s only in a personal journal. One day, material in that journal may appear in a book.