7 Life-Changing Time Hacks for Authors

7 Life-Changing Time Hacks for Authors

If there’s one universal struggle that most of humanity shares, it’s the simple fact that we don’t have enough time in our day. Sure, some people have too much time on their hands. If you’ve ever watched a ball navigate itself through an intricate Rube Goldberg machine for several minutes, you just know that some bored but brilliant individual had to have spent days making it work.

But for the rest of us, time is by far one of the most valuable assets we have. Sure, money’s great. I know I could use more of it myself. However, you can always make more money. You can never make more time, despite the common idiom.

Because I value my time and protect it with my life, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to save it, to act more efficiently and reserve as much time as possible for actually enjoying my life.

If that sounds like you, strap in. Today I’m going to be sharing some of my top time-savers for authors so that you can reclaim your own time and devote it to doing the things you enjoy, whether that’s hanging out with your family, playing video games, or simply writing more!

Outline Before You Write

That’s right, I’m starting off with a controversial one today!

I know half of you have already turned off your mind, or you’re actively considering closing the tab. Plotting vs. Pantsing has always been and will always be one of the most heated debates in the writing community, and chances are you are firmly in one camp or the other.

So for the 50% of you who are regretting spending your time on this article already, just hear me out, and if you still want to throw this point out the window when you’re done, just forget I said anything and move on to #2.

I have all the sympathy in the world for pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). I was one for years. There was nothing interesting to me about outlining, plotting, basically any structure of any sort. I believed that if I outlined, it would take all the fun out of writing and make it too formulaic.

But I put aside my prejudices and hesitancy, and I found that outlining had way too many benefits to ignore. I found that my narrative was stronger, the pacing more cohesive, and the end result overall better. I also found that it saved me loads of time.

When you outline, you solve multiple problems before they ever become problems. An outline can save time for you by:

  • Preventing writer’s block.
  • Solving plot holes on a macro level.
  • Reducing the time it takes to edit.

Preventing Writer’s Block

I won’t lie to you and say that an outline is the end of all writer’s block. After all, it comes in many shapes and sizes. However, I will tell you that I personally haven’t suffered writer’s block since I started outlining.

One of the most common types of writer’s block stems from the inability to write the unknown. You’re staring at a blank screen, wondering as much as the reader what comes next. How do you raise the stakes? How do you keep the pacing in the messy middle? How do you top that last scene you’re so proud of?

When you outline, you effectively eliminate this source of writer’s block. You’ll know exactly what comes next because you already outlined it. Sure, sometimes you’ll deviate from your outline and venture into what I call plantsing territory. But as long as you don’t stray too far from the path you’ve set for yourself, you’ll always have it to come back to.

Solving Plot Holes on a Macro Level

Depending on how detailed you make your outline, you can look over a couple pages of text and review your entire narrative, complete with every major beat and development. This makes it so that it’s easy to make sense of it all at once and review any problem areas.

I can’t tell you how many times an outline has saved me from a potentially disastrous plot hole, the kind of plot hole that you get to mid-draft and suffer another form of writer’s block as you panic about how you’re going to write your way out of it.

And what if you don’t notice until it’s too late and the book is out there in the wild? You’re either going to have to rewrite part of the book and re-release it, or you’ll have to address it in a sequel somehow and make it make sense. Either way, that’s time you could have spent on anything else, and just about anything is more fun than fixing plot holes. I suppose you could just let the plot hole exist and just say “whoops,” but I personally couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Reducing the Time It Takes to Edit

Similar to the preceding point, it’s very easy to spot problem areas in your narrative when you’re looking at it from such a high level as an outline. These such areas, on the other hand, are hard to notice when you’re writing by the seat of your pants.

It’s easy to be 40,000 words into a manuscript and completely butcher your pacing by writing several scenes in a row with nothing but exposition and character development. Suddenly, you find yourself with a 100k-word manuscript with 20,000 words in a row of this slow-paced, dialogue-heavy info dump surrounded by otherwise evenly paced narrative.

But when you have an outline, it’s easy to spot this a mile away and keep yourself from falling into that trap. It saves so much time in the rewriting and editing phases when you don’t have to spend weeks figuring out how to trim 20,000 words down to 5,000.

I encourage those of you pantsers to try outlining if for no other reason than the above. I know how painful it is to try to force your word vomit into a clean, well-paced manuscript. But if you can save all that time on the front end by eliminating these problems before they come up, might it not be worth it?

Dictate Your First Draft

Okay, now that we’ve moved on from what is surely a sore subject for half of you, I want to introduce you to one of my all-time favorite time-savers: dictation.

A lot of you already utilize this method via voice text on your phone. After all, it can be much easier and faster to speak a message and let your phone transcribe it than it is to hammer it out with your thumbs.

What you may not be aware of is that there is some impressively powerful software that will let you do the same thing on your computer. And with each passing year, transcription software becomes even faster and more accurate, making it easier to get into and an increasingly attractive option for authors.

Even the fastest of typists can see a benefit from automatic transcription. I have pretty speedy fingers myself, but while I can write around 3,000 words an hour via keyboard, I can transcribe over 5,000 by simply speaking into a microphone.

Sure, it does introduce some time post-draft to edit the goofs in the dictation and fine-tune the grammar, but I find that even accounting for this extra time, it’s still faster than if I had typed out a clean draft to begin with.

And yes, it’s definitely tricky to get started with dictation. Most authors who try it abandon the technique after a couple days because it does come with quite the learning curve. It’s not easy adapting the way you speak to include punctuation.

But I can tell you, along with thousands of others, that the learning curve is worth it. Just stick with it, and soon you’ll be blazing through your first drafts faster than you ever thought possible.

BONUS TIP: Dictate While You Drive

Listen up. This tip right here is more than worth the time you’re taking out of your day to read this article.

I hate driving.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I really enjoy driving. It’s fun, relaxing, and it gets my mind moving in unique ways.

But I hate wasting my time, in case I haven’t made that clear. The time suck that is traveling is the one thing that keeps me from truly loving driving. If I’m driving, I can’t read, write, or even truly relax, for obvious reasons.

However, when I got a lavalier mic to pin to my shirt and plug into my phone, it transformed my driving experience into an ultra-productive writing sprint. As I said, driving has a way of making my mind move (and I suspect many others are the same). It’s also a period of time where distractions are deadly, so it’s not like my phone, video games, or whatever else can pull me away from writing.

If you’re a busy professional that is having a hard time prioritizing writing and fitting it into a busy schedule, dictating while driving could be your saving grace. Give it a try!

Create a Writing Schedule and Stick to It

Another unpopular way to save time is to stick to a rigid writing schedule. For obvious reasons, writers don’t like this. After all, we’re artistes! We’re supposed to strike when passion moves us, not conform to the monotony of the world and its oppressive, corporate rules!

Listen, I’m all for sticking it to “the man,” but there’s something to be said for adhering to a schedule. When you purposefully devote time to anything and clearly block out time for it, you’re prioritizing it, and your brain will subconsciously work harder at it. You also eliminate empty time that leads to procrastination, distractions, and other ways to waste your time. Even the simple act of writing your goal down to schedule it will make you more likely to achieve it.

You also put a deadline on yourself whenever you block out time to write. If you know you’re going to be writing from 5:00 to 6:00, you’ll become more motivated to finish before your time is up, therefore writing faster drafts. Some people panic under pressure, so this method may not be for them, but this is generally a great way to save time and become more productive.

Stop Sweating the Small Stuff

We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of a scene, fingers blazing at the keyboard, feeling your heart race as you pump out words like never before–and then you stop suddenly.

What color were my main character’s eyes again? What word am I looking for? Wait, what do I name this new character? Shoot, I need to google the difference between “affect” and “effect” for the third time today.

The next time you come up against one of these hang-ups, I want you to write “TK” and move on.

It’s an old writing trick that is a massive time-saver. TK is short for “to come” (with the intentional wrong letter) and is an amazing way to mark anything that you need to address later. Whether you need to look something up, invent a new word, or just blank out, you can simply write “TK” and move on.

When you spend no more than a few seconds on such problem areas, you free up an unexpectedly huge amount of time from your writing process because all of these issues add up over time. They also kill your momentum, making it harder to get back into the groove of things once you’ve finally found a medical journal that details how long it takes for a body to achieve rigor mortis.

I promise you, you’ll do nothing but help yourself if you simply skip over these small details in the heat of the moment and keep your momentum while you have it. That’s why there’s an entire stage devoted to editing later on. Save the small stuff for later, and you’ll find that your drafts are far less painful to write.

Go Easy on the Worldbuilding

I hear this from writers on a daily basis: “I’m still working on the worldbuilding, so I haven’t started writing quite yet!”

That’s great. But there’s one problem that I also see far too often. The “not yet” can last anywhere from days to weeks to months to years.

I know a guy who’s been trying to worldbuild for over three years. Every time I ask him if he’s started writing, he gives me the exact same answer. What’s truly frustrating is that he sounds really excited to start writing the book, and even a little disappointed that he can’t yet.

If this sounds like a ridiculous, exaggerated case, I promise that it’s far more common than you’d think. Writers obsess over worldbuilding for two primary reasons: they’re procrastinating and avoiding actually writing the book, or they genuinely think they need to write the 3,000-year history of their world before they write a word of prose.

Either way, worldbuilding can be a huge trap and an even bigger timesuck. What’s worse is that the more you worldbuild, the more intimidating it becomes to actually write the dang book.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t worldbuild. No matter how strong your narrative, dialogue, and conflict is, if your world isn’t interesting or doesn’t offer anything innovative, the end result will fall flat.

However, you don’t need to know every last detail of the history and geography of your world before you start writing. You simply don’t.

The sad truth of the matter is that 98% of your hard work will go to waste. If you’re smart, you won’t make sure that your reader knows your main character’s full family history. You won’t waste anyone’s time with an exhaustive concordance of flora and fauna. You won’t bog the reader down with a dizzying word soup of proper nouns that are impossible to pronounce and even harder to remember.

“But I have to have it all down somewhere so that it’s ready when I need it!”

No, you don’t. You really, truly don’t.

If, perchance, you’re writing the victory feast after the final battle, and you don’t have a name for the exotic winged creature that the noble huntsman has slain and prepared on a spit roast, go back to point #4. TK it and move on. Name the bird later.

Yes, I made up the 98% number, but it’s still true that no matter how exhaustive your worldbuilding is, you won’t use most of it. If you do, I can guarantee you that you’ll have a lot of work to do before your book is readable. I’ve seen what happens when writers try to fit every bit of their worldbuilding into their manuscript, and it’s not pretty.

My advice to those who focus too much on worldbuilding is typically the following: outline only the history and mythos that pertains to the immediate narrative of the actual main story. After all, the worldbuilding should not heavily influence the story; the story should influence the worldbuilding. Those who let their worldbuilding determine the narrative end up with a messy, wordy, confusing, and bloated manuscript.

It’s another unpopular piece of advice, and I know how much some of you love your worldbuilding. But if you want to save a huge chunk of time in your author career, learn the right amount of worldbuilding that you actually need, and know when to stop and actually write Chapter 1.

Find Out When You’re Most Productive

Did you know that the time of day has a huge impact on your productivity? As it turns out, you could be saving hours simply by choosing to work at a different time of day.

It’s true! Some people may try to sell you on the “ultimate secret to success” that is waking up at 4:00 am and exercising, followed by a sprint where you work as hard and as fast as you can for an hour. Others, particularly creatives, swear by the late-night jam session, claiming that taking full advantage of the witching hour is the key to optimal flow and concentration.

The thing is, they’re all right. That is, as long as they don’t say that everyone will benefit from their personal routine.

Humans, as it turns out, are very different. Duh, right? As such, it should be no surprise that people approach their work in different ways, and therefore find different methodologies and practices to ensure they are at their most productive.

The thing is, your productivity is the result of too many variables that are specific to you and your environment. Everything from diet to lifestyle to geographical location goes toward determining how efficiently you work. And given how varied our lives are, it’s no wonder that no two people will approach their work in exactly the same ways.

All science seems to consistently agree upon is that our most productive time seems to be later when we’re younger, and gradually shift to an earlier time the older we get. But even this isn’t 100% accurate. As I said, it’s all subjective.

The only way to know for sure when you’re most productive is to measure it for yourself. I figured out my peak productivity by keeping a spreadsheet. In it, I’d write down everything.

And I mean everything.

I’d include my current project, my location, the music I was listening to, and the kind of coffee I was drinking. Finally, I would also include my total word count for the session and how I felt about the quality of my work.

Over time, I was able to get a clearer picture of my optimal conditions. When I felt comfortable nailing down my peak hour, I took full advantage of it and made sure to set aside that time for writing every single day.

A lot of people overlook this aspect of productivity, but it could be just the thing you need to work smarter, not harder, and get some time back in your day.

Hire an Assistant

Finally, the ultimate cheat code for redeeming time: money.

I realize this sort of flies in the face of what I told you earlier, but as it turns out, money can indeed buy you time. If you’re willing to pay someone to do menial tasks for you, or even take on a significant role in your publishing career, you can free up a great deal of time that you can devote to personal or professional affairs.

Not everyone is at this stage in their writing career, and this tactic may be on your means right now, but keep it in the back of your mind for the future. You’ll get there one day, and you’re going to want to be ready when the time comes.

One of the best decisions I ever made for my career was to hire a marketer to manage my Amazon and Facebook advertisements for a few months. Yes, it cost me several hundred dollars every month, but it was well worth it. It freed up a great deal of my time so that I could meet an impending deadline, and it helped to have an experienced marketer working on my advertisements and pushing my career in the right direction.

If you’re ready to take this step in your career, I urge you to take the plunge and pay someone to do the menial tasks in your life, whether it’s advertising, managing your newsletter, or even housekeeping. The time you get back could be well worth the money, and if you’ve already established yourself as a professional author, you’ll make more money in the long run when you can devote more time toward putting words down on the page.

Conclusion

Time is our most precious resource. I take mine very seriously, to the point where one of my biggest pet peeves is someone wasting my time. If you’re anything like me, you’re consistently frustrated that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, whether it’s to relax, spend time with a loved one, or just write more.

As such, I highly encourage you to look over this list and see what could work for you and help you get some of your time back. The ways in which we spend our time, after all, can change our lives for better or worse.

7 Life-Changing Time Hacks for Authors
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