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    The Timetable Technique: It Can Work for You

    As a freelance writer, you want to be as prolific as you can be. You're always on the lookout for writing assignments. Your self-confidence and ego soar with every approved query. Your bank account balloons with every contributor's fee you deposit. You're in cloud nine! The feeling is addicting. So you accept more and more assignments. Then you wake up one morning and you panic: you realize you've got four deadlines to beat -- all in one day! you stay awake all night but nothing comes out of your exhausted brain.

    If you are one of the few truly blessed writers who can manage to sit for half an hour on a park bench and come up with a whole novel chapter as casually as the wind blows, then you have no problem with time management. But for us lesser mortals, time matters. This is where the "Timetable Technique" works wonders.

    Here are several variations you can try:

    • This one works for bigger projects. Once you are given a deadline, count back three to five days. Mark the date on your calendar. Count how many "working days" (come on, you need some rest days) there are from the date you intend to start on your project up to the date you just marked. Estimate how many days you will use for researches, interviews (if needed) and any other preliminary tasks. Subtract that from the total working days you have. Next, divide the number of pages you are required to submit by the remaining number of working days. The answer will be your daily quota in terms of pages. Don't forget to give yourself allowance for revising/editing time. Since you advanced the deadline date, you will have enough time to finalize your manuscript.

    • Go by the hour. For example: Allot the first 30 minutes of your writing day to freewriting, journaling or some other writing exercises. Allot the next 30 minutes for conceptualizing. Just jot down concepts or titles that come to mind. You can do this with a friend (call up and brainstorm) or by yourself. The next hours should be spent on actual writing -- no revising or editing yet. Take a long break before you start going over what you wrote. After you have rested, start the revising/editing process. Allot another hour or two of your day for reading, surfing the web or reviewing your writing notes. You will be more productive this way.

    • If you write for different publications simultaneously, allot a specific amount of time each day for every publication. For example, devote two hours for X magazine, another two hours for Y newspaper, another hour for your scripts, etc. That way, you won't neglect any of them. Just give more time to the more difficult assignments.

    • Set a daily quota. Train yourself to write a minimum number of pages or minimum number of articles per day.

    • Some writers just write a scene or a chapter a day. After a while, they piece together the scenes or chapters they have written and come up with a great story. This might work for you. This is an artistic approach that yields a free flowing and very natural manuscript.

    • Some writers set aside a "genre day." Today, you will write only poems. Tomorrow, you will focus on feature articles, the next day, you will attack your novel and so on...

    • Another version of the timetable technique features long-range plans. Plot your writing career for one whole year. For example: For the first month, you will conceptualize and research for a book. The next month, you will start working on your book and will continue doing so until the end of the year. Every other month, you will try to penetrate another publication. This means by the end of the year, you should have started writing for six new publications and finished your book. All these, of course, aside from your usual writing assignments. (Remember, you want to be as prolific as you can be!)

    • The weekly variation might work for you. If you regularly write for different publications, mark off specific days of the week for each of them. For example: Set aside Mondays for AB Publishing, Tuesdays for CD Productions, Wednesdays as your fun day, Thursdays as research, conceptualizing and review day. Devote Fridays and Saturdays to the book you're working on... After you have finished one, two or three articles for AB Publishing, spend your remaining working time planning for future articles for that same publication. The point is, that day is *exclusively* for AB Publishing! This technique guarantees that you devote equal time (and effort) to all the publications you are writing for.

    • You can also let luck decide. At the start of your working day, draw lots to determine what you will do: Will you write an article for XY newspaper? Will you write a short story for YZ Magazine? Will you go out on an immersion trip so you can come up with fresh concepts? Once luck has decided for you, plan how you will accomplish what you are supposed to do. For example, if you picked "Survey article for AB magazine," you can set aside three hours in the morning for the actual interviews, the next two hours for writing the article and then an hour after lunch to polish your piece. Whatever you pick, be sure to stick to it!


    Whichever variation of the timetable technique you use, remember that it will only work if you have self-discipline. Sure, there'll be days when watching a movie will disrupt your timetable. There will be days when you can't seem to finish your daily quota... or days when you just want to curl up in bed and be totally unproductive. Hey, that means you're only human! Just catch up the next day and you'll be back on track. Don't forget to reward yourself for a job well done every now and then. Good luck!

    Copyright © 2003 Lizzie R. Santos

    Lizzie Santos writes features, literary pieces, scripts and other writing projects both in English and Pilipino. She also lectures at creative writing workshops. Her first book, The Laughter of the Leaves and Other Musings, was published by Giraffe Books. She is working on her second book. Contact her at liz_pages@yahoo.com.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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