"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."
~ PETER DE VRIES
I'm 2½ months into retirement, and I really feel like I am utilizing my time less efficiently now than I did when I was working. Having thought about it for a bit, it seems logical. As part of the work force, my employer had first claim on the lion's share of my time, and it was on his schedule, at his beck and call. It was natural, then, that I had to look at what I had left, and make plans to optimize it. As a retiree, no one owns nothin' but me, and there is a tendency to drift in and out of activities as they come to hand without thinking too much about where the time's going. As a result, I've made more headway on some of my favorite video games than I have in years, and less, it seems, on writing. That has begun to change during this last week.
I have been scheduling housework from the beginning. Dearly Beloved has arthritis in her hips and spine, and it is physical agony for her to stand over the sink doing dishes, so I took that chore over on the first day. I do them before breakfast, and she has enough to get through the day, putting them in the sink to soak before I do them again the next day. I schedule cleaning and repair work on the house, indoors Monday, outdoors Wednesday, and at-need Friday. As has been my wont for years, I answer e-mails and posts as soon as I rise. I move on to dishes, then play until breakfast, "play" as a rule denoting the first enjoyable thing I see, which is rarely my writing material. This is not okay, so I'm in the process of working up a schedule to follow (just like at work, remember, kids?) to get the maximum use from the time I have available, and I want to share some concepts that you may find helpful.
My first mistake was to schedule all work, all the time. You'd think by my age I would have figured out that I'm not going to do that. The trick became to divide the work into easily digestible bites, something on the order of an hour at a time interspersed with some enjoyment, or at least some alternate activity such as a ride on the stationary bike.
The second mistake was making every day the same. I mentioned above that I have alternate days to do various types of work, and that was necessary to break up a dull routine. The Navy didn't ask me to work seven days a week, and there's no reason I should inflict that on myself. You shouldn't, either. I used to get two days off a week when I was working, so now in retirement, I take four. Tuesday, my Lovely Daughter's day off, is reserved for her. If she has something else going on, then it reverts to me and Dearly Beloved. Thursday is for me exclusively, a guilt-free day to pursue any solitary activity that I want. Saturdays and Sundays are more for family stuff, for example, this Saturday we're having friends over for lunch and a day of gabbing, bonding, and sharing. Next Sunday we hope to see the legendary Chops for a game of Flash Point, a co-op boardgame in which the players take the role of firefighters trying to save people from a burning building.
So Thursdays, the "me" days, are when I do this blog. After that, I have traditionally moved about six feet to left, plopped down on the Big Comfy Couch, and fired up Oblivion, Skyrim, or X-Com. Not productive at all. This is the addiction that I have to beat, and it's coming along. Yesterday, while I did get some game time in, I also posted an entry at the Punk Fiction Writers' Guild about methods of delivering backstory in your writing. Also, there were three days on which I laid down sections of Beyond the Rails III. There should have been six, or at least five, but it's a start. One more, probably tomorrow, and I will have the fifth chapter finished and ready for my alpha-readers. I'm anticipating 24 chapters, so that amounts to 21%, not too good for a book I've been working on for a year and a half. That will get better. Today, I will sit down with my outline (I'm comically famous in my writing circles for the depth of layers in my outlining. Most people think I'm wasting my time, but they also enjoy my work, so draw your own conclusions...) and polish more of it to a high luster, ruthlessly running to ground and killing every loose end and plot hole I see. Then when I get back to producing draft copy tomorrow, the work will be the better for it.
My third mistake was scheduling everything in a rigid order. Look, I know I need to ride my stationary bike. I know I need to sweep the driveway. I need to work on my outline, and I want to play some X-Com. The order doesn't matter. I started out saying "I have to do this now, I have to this then." Maybe I don't feel like sweeping the driveway at noon. It will still be there at 5:00, so what does it matter, as long as it gets done? Of course, this method involves some level of discipline. If I decide to play my X-Com session first, I have to have the discipline to stop after the allotted two or three missions (about an hour) and move on to the next item on the list.
So those are my findings after a week of working on the management of all this time that I suddenly find myself with. If there's anything here that will help you with your own situation, you're welcome to it, and by the same token, if you'd like to share anything that I might be able to use, drop a comment. I'd be grateful.
This little blog is getting pretty thin. I can't write about my specific Work In Progress without giving away the story with all its twists and surprises, and now that I've started writing about writing in general over at Punk Fiction, there's no point in repeating it here. I just had an idea: I'll lengthen the interval at which I post over there, and let the other eight authors (so far) carry it for a while. This blog is important to me because it supports the books, and as such, if I ever reduce my web-presence to one site, it will be this one. Now, if y'all will excuse me, I have a day to get on with. Read well, write better, and I'll see you next week!