Monday, January 7, 2013

Guest Post: Natalie Murphy Talks About Writing During a Busy Schedule

As writers, we face many difficulties.

Not only do we try to write a brilliant manuscript and edit it, but we need to query and follow all of the necessary steps towards publication. And at the end of the entire painstaking process, we aren’t even guaranteed success. In fact, we’re likely to fail, no matter how hard we try. Uplifting thought, isn’t it?

But what about the other challenges we face?

Regardless of how much we’d love to actually have a writing cave where the outside world can’t reach us, that’s simply not possible. We all have families, jobs, and other responsibilities. That’s part of what makes a successful author so heroic in our eyes. How do they do it? How are they able to be so productive while balancing the rest of their life? Although I can’t speak for every author out there, I have noticed a trend in their answers to those exact questions: time management.

I know, I know. We all hate that answer, but it’s true. To be successful, you need to be able to manage your time, however much of it you might have. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a mother of three, or an executive at a big company. Or, like me, a college student. Either way, you need to know how to manage your time. 

For the past four and a half years of my life, I was neck-deep in university, desperately clawing my way towards my English literature degree. As if that wasn’t enough, I also earned a minor in European history. Throughout those years, I faced two very serious arm surgeries, an engagement (which required wedding planning) and, of course, my writing.

Yep, that’s right. Through all of that, I managed to write my very first novel at the age of twenty-one. I prepped it, wrote all of the necessary documents (letter and synopsis) and queried that sucker. And I got an astounding response, too! I did all of this during a full—and slightly insane—class load. How?

Time management.

First and foremost, I didn’t view writing as a hobby. In my mind, it was simply another class that I had to work on. I had writing to do, so I did it. Some days I was literally falling asleep at my computer, but that didn’t stop me. I had set a goal for myself and I was going to finish it, even if it killed me.

Secondly, my days were perfectly scheduled from start to finish. That might sound a bit crazy (and impossible) to some of you, but it worked for me. I’m not this OCD about my time now, but I still make daily lists of things I need to accomplish. It makes me feel good when I can cross something off the list, even if it’s just laundry.

If you’re anything like me, you could waste a good hour doing nothing but surfing Facebook and Twitter. When I entered university, I knew I couldn’t continue that trend. Not only were my parents paying for my education, but I have an inherent need to succeed at everything I tackle (which is both good and bad). I knew that meant I had to find a way to hold myself accountable. Lists work for me.

To succeed, I had to be strict with myself. If I wanted to check my emails in the morning, I had fifteen minutes to do so. Once those fifteen minutes were up, my inbox was closed and I was working on whatever essay needed writing that day.  When that essay was done, I moved onto the next project, and the next, and the next. Writing was simply another project that needed completing. When I looked at it as an assignment, I excelled. I had to finish my story—I had no choice. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still relaxed. To have a happy and successful life, you need to be able to strike a balance between your work time and your relaxation time. For me, I adore naps. Whenever the work became too much, I shifted my schedule around and took a wonderful nap. 

I also worked towards the goal of leaving my weekends open. Since I lived on campus for the majority of my degree, I would work during the week and collapse on the weekends. I would visit with friends, watch movies with my parents, read sexy romance novels, and sometimes, if I felt up to it, I would work on my story. 

So there you have it. It’s not about how much free time you have on your hands—it’s about how much time you make for yourself. If you place writing as a high priority, your progress will reflect that. It takes organization, dedication, and most of all, it takes patience. You will have good days and you will have bad days. Accept that and move on. Once you do, everything else will fall into place.

Bio:  Natalie lives in Roanoke, Virginia with her new husband and their dog, Powell. She graduated magna cum laude from Mount Royal University with a B.A. in English literature and a minor in European history. She is also a PRO member of Romance Writers of America and Celtic Hearts, where she co-chairs the newsletter committee. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and on her blog at


  1. Very impressive, Natalie - I know how much work it takes just to get a degree, add writing a novel on to that and, well, WOW!!

    You're completely right about time management - something I struggle with! I think there's also a huge degree of 'wanting' - if you want it, you will make time for it (and, sometimes, that's where I fall down on my time management).

    1. Thank you, Janet! It was tough, but it was worth it in the end. Exactly. If you want it badly enough, you will make it happen. I think a lot of people struggle with time management--especially writers. We like to let our creative side dominate all the time, but sometimes we need to throw a little logic in there too. ;)

  2. Great reminders--I love a good list, and I love crossing things off, even more.
    If only I were better at shutting down the "I'm just going to surf one more writer's blog post" compulsion...

    1. Hi Teri! I adore crossing things off lists. Sometimes I'll put really dumb things like, "make the bed" on my list, simply so I feel accomplished right from the start of my day. Sad, I know, but it works for me =)

      Hehe, yes, the internet sucks up a lot of my time too. I wish I was strong enough to turn off my wifi. Alas...

  3. Some days I live by my To Do list. And I agree that limiting your time online frees up time to write.

    Congrats on your accomplishments and best of luck, Natalie!

    1. Thank you, JB! I think a To Do list is vital to organizing your time. If you know exactly what you need to accomplish in a day, you can always find time to squeeze writing in =)

  4. When you're feeling overwhelmed, sometimes it's hard to find a place to start and then nothing gets done. Having a to do list helps to identify a starting point and makes tracking progess visible.

    Nice post!

    1. Exactly, Laura! My friends and family always think a To Do list makes it worse, since you can visually see the amount of work you need to do, but when I see it in a WordDoc, I feel calmer. I know I can accomplish those things, and I love it when that list gets smaller and smaller throughout the day.

      Thanks for stopping by! =)

  5. You just had to mention the L-word, didn't you, Natalie? BRB-gotta switch loads. *plays elevator music* .... *returns*

    I admire people with lists. I make them but then promptly lose them. Organization is not my strong suit, despite that being on my yearly list each New Year. Even so, I manage to muddle through. Somehow. Congrats on all the wonderful things you've accomplished in your life and all the best in your pursuit of publication!

    1. Heheheh, sorry Silver! I was doing laundry when I wrote the post... and right now, actually. *sighs* It is a never ending battle against The Hamper of Doom, isn't it?

      Oh, a non-list person! I hope you don't mind me asking, but how do you deal with time management, since you don't do lists very well? I've always wondered how people deal with everything they need to do without a list!

      Thank you!

    2. Uhm...I muddle through? I'm not really sure. I suppose I have structure if not an actual list. Some things are habit. Laundry on Monday (or other days if stuff piles up), groceries on Tuesday, etc. First thing in the morning is email, blogs, "marketing". Then errands or household chores. If I'm free of that stuff, then I open the WIP, or deal with edits/revisions if I'm under the gun from my editor. I write my blogs for the next day/week when I get stuck. I get up and walk around when I get stuck. I plan dinner. Or clean the bathroom. That usually breaks the block and I start writing again. This is a business to me so I normally write every day, but like when you go to a non-writing job, you don't spend every hour of your day on one thing.

      Does any of this make sense? It's late in the day and I'm pretty much brainfried. My laundry is done, though--even folded and put away! (I hate that almost as much as toilets, LOL)I didn't get much done on the WIP, but I dealt with some other work-related business so the day wasn't a complete loss.

      I remember when I did work out of the house and had The Only's schedule to deal with. I fit writing into odd nooks and crannies--during my lunch break, while dinner was cooking, on weekends between softball games at tournaments, and at practice.

      I guess if I had to answer succinctly (which none of the above is...), I'd have to say habit. I just got in the habit of doing the things that needed to be done.

    3. Yes, that makes perfect sense! That's so interesting. I think habit can be a very good thing so long as your productive, which it sounds like you are!!! =)

  6. Thank you, B.E. for inviting me here today. I have known you for years and years now, and I'm glad we're friends =). You were a great support to me during those tough times in university. Your candid posts and emails always brightened my day. <3

  7. And thank you, Natalie, for agreeing to guest post with The Guide this morning. I was happy to support you. You're an awesome person and I'm glad we're friends, too. =o)


Share your wisdom.