Materials writers notoriously complain about their lack of time. Of course, time is not something that affects only writers, but learning to manage your time as a writer can be particularly challenging when trying to complete material on time (for a publisher) or in time (for a lesson).

Similarities

Normally, I avoid comparing materials writing with fiction writing – they are so very different. But when it comes to time, a number of novelists have talked about how they manage (or mismanage) it. Perhaps then, with regard to this topic, there are similarities to be found.

Time of day

Many writers seem to agree that writing early in the day is preferable. Hemingway wrote ‘every morning as soon after first light as possible’. There are practical reason for this – it’s when everyone else has left the house and you can find a quiet place. It’s also when you can come back to something left from the day before with a fresh eye.

As and when

J K Rowling describes how she started out writing ‘as and when’ she had time but, once she became a full-time writer, she started writing to a regular routine. That also reflects the journey for many ELT materials writers. As a full-time teacher you probably write as and when you can. I used to fit it in before work in the morning, during the weekend or when everyone else had gone to bed. Then, once materials writing becomes your full-time job, you probably start to find routines.

More about routine

Maya Angelou had her daily ritual of writing from 7 until 2. I’m someone who also likes routine writing hours from between about 8am to 4pm. About five of those hours will be productive writing. The others three may involve research, teacher training and freelance admin and obviously there are some days when you need to do overtime and work late.

Productivity per day

Steven King famously aims to write six pages per day. I’m not suggesting that works with ELT materials but when writing a course book I probably aim to write 2 pages (or a spread) per day. After all, if a publisher asks you to write a book in a certain amount of time and you know how long the book is, you can then do the maths and work out if it’s possible in the time given.

Taking a break

It’s easy to get absorbed in writing and forget to take a break. But in general it’s probably unwise. Kurt Vonnegut stressed the importance of breaks including time for ‘push ups and sit ups’. And most writers have experienced the benefits of going for a walk or a run. You need it for your physical and mental health. But also, at those times when you can’t work out how to do something in the materials, a 30-minute burst of exercise has the extraordinary knack of solving it by the time you get back to your screen.

Deadlines

Ultimately, time management for materials writers is all about meeting a deadline. Author Douglas Adams wrote: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” I love deadlines but, unlike Adams, I hate missing them when writing and, as an editor, I’ve hated other people missing them too. Deadlines drive a writing project forward and give a sense of pressure that can aid productivity and creativity.

But that’s only my view. Let us know what you think about time, time management and deadlines below. What does your writing day look like? What’s the best time of day for writing?

John

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