Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing on Wednesdays - Guest author Judy Alter on Time Management for Writers

It is my pleasure today to welcome author Judy Alter, who has been inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame at the Fort Worth Public Library. Judy has also received the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Western Writers of America as well as awards from the Texas Institute of Letters and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has now turned her attention to mysteries, but still find managing her time one of the biggest challenges of her writing life. (And Judy, yes, I do have time for coffee with you - let's do it!) ~ Sheila


Have time for coffee?

Time management is a huge problem for writers, whether we also hold full-time jobs or try to write full-time. For me it’s much more complicated than, "What do I say when someone asks if I’m busy? Of course I am. I’m writing." Friends too often think that if you’re home all day, you can put down what you’re doing any time and stop to chat on the phone or go out for coffee.

I know writers who have an office away from their home just to get around that problem. Others set an inviolate schedule: write from nine to noon, break for lunch, write again from one to three. Spend the rest of the afternoon doing those other things that need to be done. Perhaps spend the evening revising, although I am always amazed at the writers who blog or post on Facebook about TV shows they’re watching. I hardly ever fit TV into my day, except for my devotion to the news.

Recently, a friend who is contemplating retirement soon said that she’s taking an art class one night a week and didn’t I want to go with her, followed by, "I’m going to get back to knitting again. Want to knit with me?" I finally said, "No. I want to be a writer." I don’t have time for art classes or knitting (and not the patience for the latter). I’m lucky if I get to read for pleasure.

Getting others to respect your need for long stretches of time is an oft-discussed subject and one we’ll probably never solve. People are who they are. But for me, the problem is as much about me as it is about friends and family who would interrupt my day.

I wish I were disciplined enough to set a schedule that I never deviated from, but I’m not. I tell myself that it’s retirement—after years of being at an office desk from eight to five, I welcome the opportunity to set my own schedule. I can go to lunch and supper with friends, one of the great necessities when you spend as much time home alone as I do. I can have long phone visits with friends. I can nap—and I do. I can read, though that often gives me a guilty conscience. The truth is I write some days; sometimes I go several days without working on my manuscript, though I do work on blogs and related things. A professor used to tell us, "A page a day is a book a year." I frequently feel the need to write that page a day instead of no pages a day and then 2,500 words in a spurt. I’m not sure those spurts keep the continuity of my story flowing. Guilt. Maybe that’s part of the writer’s gift.

For me, that’s the big contradiction of the life of a stay-at-home writer, especially one who lives alone. I want the discipline, the regular schedule, but I welcome the distractions. If I get too distracted, I berate myself for not getting more down; no distractions and I decide I’ve enjoyed entirely too much of my own company. I’m curious how other writers handle this conflict or even they even face it. Maybe I can learn to strike a happy balance.


Trouble in a Big Box - Kelly O’Connell has her hands full: her husband Mike Shandy is badly injured in an automobile accident that kills a young girl, developer Tom Lattimore wants to build a big-box grocery store called Wild Things in Kelly’s beloved Fairmount neighborhood, and someone is stalking Kelly. Tom Lattimore pressures her to support the big box, and his pressure turns to threats. Kelly activates a neighborhood coalition to fight the project and tries to find out who is stalking her and why. Mike is both powerless to stop her and physically unable to protect her and his family from Lattimore’s threats or the stalker. After their house is smoke-bombed and Kelly survives an amateur attack on her life, she comes close to taking an unwanted trip to Mexico from which she might never return.

Judy Alter is the author of three books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and the new Trouble in a Big Box. Before turning my attention to mystery, which has been a lifelong love, I wrote fiction and nonfiction, mostly about women of the American West, for adults and young-adult readers. My work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. I have been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame at the Fort Worth Public Library.

For twenty years Judy was the director of a small academic press, all the while furthering her own writing career. She says, "I think I was more disciplined about writing when I had full-time responsibilities at the university."

Follow Judy at her Website or her two blogs -  at Judy's Stew or Potluck with Judy (posted every Sunday night—or almost always so).







  1. I struggle with the balance constantly, Judy. I'm a stay at home writer/mom/wife and even with an 8 hour chunk of day to work on writing, editing and polishing manuscripts, I still get distracted. When my husband has unexpected days off, like this upcoming Friday when he would normally be working, it throws my entire day into a tailspin even more because I feel guilty if I don't spend time with him when, but then we end up sitting and watching TV and not talking so I end up feeling guilty that I could've used those hours to work on something writing related. If you find the secret to gaining balance, please share it! ;) Have a wonderful Wednesday!

  2. Great post, Judy - thank you for being here! I write every morning and many evenings in my local Panera Bread. I don't mind the hubbub - it's MUCH easier to shut out than all those voices calling to me at home (you know, the ones no one else can hear!) Finding balance, too, can certainly be a challenge.

  3. Your comment about the knitting and writing really resonated with me, Judy. I used to quilt and stamp cards but now I write. Between part-time work, my kids, and the farm, I only have time for one "hobby" and I decided it was writing. Getting others to understand that is the hard part. Maybe I just need to articulate it out loud.

  4. Taryn, I think guilt is the first thing we have to dump--easier said than done, I know. Sheila, I admire you at Panera--leaving my comfortable home office is the last thing I want to do, but yes voices do call, all those chores! Yes, it's 10:30 in the morning, and I have been to the groomer's with a dog, PetSmart, and my local CVS--there goes a big chunk of the morning. And I spent an hour giving my grandson and his dad breakfast because their mom is out of town on business. Tess, if I added knitting, I really would feel guilt--and boredom. I knit one garment for each of seven grandchildren and then quit--I'm not very good at it. Theo only thing that doesn't make me feel guilty is cooking.

  5. Oh boy, does this blog resonate with me. I get so many interruptions from friends and family. And then there are my critters; my collie and two house cats, ponies, a barn cat and hens. There's mowing, weeding, planting and I do need to keep at least a modicum of order in my house, Mobile Meals every other Thursday, two book clubs. And still people call to chat thinking I have all the time in the world. "What are you doing they ask? "Writing" I replie and they go on as if I said I was dusting the furniture. Which needs done by the way since I have company coming to stay with me for Bouchercon. Add a son and daughter-in-law who had to get in a motorcycle accident right before Labor Day. I can refer to that lightly now because they're healing well now, but it was one more thing to contend with. Yes, guilt is a problem when you're trying to be nice to everyone and still balance work and writing.

  6. LOL, Gloria. A friend--who does not share my political views--sent me a link to a Constitution reader and suggested it was time I reread that document. Sure. Just what I have time for--between knitting and painting. But if we didn't have those distractions we might go stir-crazy. It's a good balance and a good life.