What Do I Do With My Writing Time? The 80/20 Equation

Sunday, October 09, 2011
I recently read an issue of The Writer Magazine at the library, and one of the articles caught my attention. The main point of the article was that you should spend most of your writing time on what you write for money like magazine articles, business newsletters, blog posts, or whatever writing income stream you have found. According to the article, about 80% of your writing time should be spent on pieces that will make you “instant” money, instead of royalties later on down the road.

The other 20% should be reserved for your creative side—that poem you’ve been thinking about since you went for a walk in your old neighborhood, the novel you’re rewriting, or a short story to send to a contest.

This “theory” makes perfect sense until I try to put it into practice. One of my main problems is that I want the pieces I write during my 20% “creative time” to be my main income stream, but I don’t feel like I spend enough time on them. How will these stories and novels ever be successful if I’m only spending 20% of my time on them? The real problem is that this creative time is probably more like 3 to 5 percent of my writing time, instead of 20, when I figure in e-mail, marketing, and networking, too.

So, as writers do, I decided to make a list, full of tips and tricks to make sense of balancing my writing income work with my creative, hopefully-someday-income-gathering, writing. I hope that some of these tips and tricks can help you if you face this same dilemma, and together we can become more balanced writers.

Plan With Your Daily Calendar
If I sit down at the computer without a plan, I waste a lot of time. So, this year, I invested in a calendar with large spaces for each day where I can clearly write what I want to work on. The calendar has two days on every page, so a two-page spread shows four days of the week. This calendar’s organization really helps me see if I’m planning to write for money and creativity in the same four-day spread.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing, any writing. So, I’m not saying this 80% "business writing" is not fun and enjoyable--it’s just a different type of writing. If you write fiction and poetry AND you write non-fiction articles, you know what I’m talking about. I just love writing!

On each day of my four-day calendar spread, I make a note to work on some sort of creative, currently non-income writing, such as writing a chapter of my YA novel or revising and sending out a picture book manuscript. This is my 20%. Now, I haven’t mathematically figured out if my equation is actually 80/20, but each day of my calendar has many more income-generating projects to finish than someday-bestseller projects. However, when I keep looking at my calendar, and I see “Work on Chapter 32,” the reminder makes me carve out at least 30 minutes to sit down and work on my YA novel.

Record How Long Projects Actually Take You
So, here’s what I need to start doing, and maybe you’ll join me. I always believe that I can get WAY more done in a day than I actually accomplish. So, my to-do-list is never finished. This is also why my 20% creative writing time often becomes more like 3% creative writing time. I run out of time. So, in the next couple months, I want to record how many minutes it takes me to do each task on my calendar. I also want to record how many minutes/hours I had to spend writing each day, and then see if I can better manage my time and get more of the 80/20 balance.

Reassess Your Daily Calendar and Include Business Tasks in the 80%
As I already mentioned, I think my time is more like 70/25/5. About 25% of my time is spent on e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, volunteer positions, listserves, and so on. Although I believe all of these are important, this post is all about balance. So, once we have recorded how much time we’re actually spending on writing an article for the newspaper, updating our blogs, checking our email, and writing a poem, we can better manage our time and make adjustments accordingly. Putting our email and social networking time into the 80% might also protect our creative writing time.

Increase Your Creative Writing Time as It Makes More Money
Even if I’m lucky enough to some day have great success as a children’s author, I will always write articles and blog posts because I enjoy it. But my perfect equation would be 30/10/60. Thirty percent of my writing time spent on articles and blogging, ten percent on email and social networking, and 60 percent on creative projects such as my next bestselling novel.

As our careers become more successful, our fans (oh, we can all dream!) will demand more books from us, and we will have to spend more time creating these. And sometimes, such as during NaNoWriMo, your equation may be skewed. But most of the time, if your income is helping you and your family eat, then 80/20, ladies, 80/20. 

Post by Margo L. Dill; If you found these tips helpful, join Margo for one of her upcoming online workshops--Blogging 101 starts October 21 and Social Networking For Writers starts on November 16! Go to the classroom page to find out more and sign up. 

photo by wwarby www.flickr.com


Angela Hood-Ross said...

Very interesting. I don't write for a living, but this is great information if that ever changes for me. Thanks for posting.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, Savannah. :)

Ashlee said...

i'll be buying a new daily calendar "with large spaces" this week. thank for the tip *-*


J.C. Nierad said...

Thank you for the tips, Margo. I don't currently write for money, but I still relate to the dilemma of balancing “creative time" with the rest of the day's responsibilities. I really like the idea of recording time spent on each task. As a former paralegal, I used to track all of my time in 6 minute increments, might have to start applying that tool to my every day life! J.C.

Lori Sizemore said...

In the interest of accountability to actually write every day, and to measure where I'm spending my time I created a spreadsheet. Each month is a page, the days are numbered down the side. On each day, I put, in minutes, how much time I spent and, in the next column, on what. I've even started color coding it.

I was surprised to find it's very easy to open it up when I sit down to write, look at the clock, and just log the work in when I'm done or change to a different task.

Gael McCarte said...

Hello Margo, seems we all struggle with the same thing, time management and funding essentials such as, oh, eating (for the kids I mean).

I need to at least stop sucking finances out of the family income to fund my writing, so I have begun writing for $$. I enter competitions that give $ prizes, post on blogs that pay, accept assignments (for pennies reward on dollars of my time btw). Even being published (not self published) costs, you have to have funds to advertise your masterpiece. Smashwords has not been the money maker others say it is for them. So, I chisel away at the mountain of hope, while I pick up crumbs from the sand to fund that chiselling. Not your every day success story, but I suspect it is an every day reality for many.

Shyxter said...

Very helpful post, Margo. Thanks for sharing your tips. I basically write for money because I need to but I have been longing to set some quality time with my creative side without having to think of deadlines and finances. I've started a personal blog a few years ago but I've never really given much attention to it because I wasn't earning from it.

But this is reality. I just hope someday I can find more time to explore my creativity. Right now, it's 95/5 for me. With enough discipline and determination, I should make it at 80/20 :)

Victoria Scott said...

Great post! Love your site!

Margo Dill said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone, and for the tips that you guys included. I love the color coded spreadsheet, Lori. :) Gael, keep plugging away--it takes a while to build a successful writing business, that's for sure! Shyxter--some days it's like 99/1 for me--but I try the 80/20 equation when I can. :)

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