January Motivational Words of Wisdom

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Words of Wisdom post of 2023. For me, finding time to write, using that time, as well as wanting to sustain that creativity throughout the year and beyond, is very much on my mind right now. Not only that, but figuring out how better to deal with various tasks and schedule what time you have to write.

So, I searched through the Kill Zone archives for January posts dealing with this and found gold. Three posts, which turned out to be spaced three years apart.

From January 2014, James Scott Bell gives advice on being creative throughout your life. Then, from January 2017 Joe Hartlaub tackles the challenge of time balance and gives some great tips. Finally, from January 2020 Elaine Viets discusses finding your most creative time and how to hew to that. I link to the full posts at the end of each excerpt, and all are worth reading in full.

Fight to be creative as long as you live. Do it this way:

  1. Always have at least three projects going

I wrote about this before (“The Asimov“). I think all writers should, at a minimum, have three projects on the burner: their Work-in-Progress; a secondary project that will become the WIP when the first is completed; and one or more projects “in development” (notes, concepts, ideas, character profiles, etc.). This way your mind is not stuck in one place.

  1. Take care of your body

The writer’s mind is housed in the body, so do what you have to do to keep the house in shape. Start small if you have to. Eat an apple every day. Drink more water. Walk with a small notebook and pen, ready to jot notes and ideas.

  1. Stay positive and productive

Write something every day. Even if it’s just journaling. Know that what you write to completion will see publication, guaranteed. It may be via a contract, like Herman Wouk. Or it may be digitally self-published. Heck, it could be a limited printing of a memoir, just for your family. Writers write with more joy when they know they will be read, and joy is the key to memorable prose.

  1. Do not go gentle into that good night

Write, write against the dying of the light! (apologies to Dylan Thomas). Refuse to believe you have diminished powers or have in any way lost the spark that compelled you to write in the first place. If they tell you that you just don’t have it anymore, throw your teeth at them. Who gets to decide if you can write? You do. And your answer is, I’ve still got it, baby, and I’m going to show you with this next story of mine!

So just keep writing and never decompose.

James Scott Bell—January 19, 2014

Writers are faced with this time balance on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Life gets in the way of writing. Heck, life gets in the way of life. My way of dealing with this has never been perfect and is constantly evolving. I am accordingly going to share with you my current method for coping with the time crunch, which, as I approach the downhill slope of my life, actually works pretty well.

1) Eat the booger first. That got your attention, didn’t it? The “booger” in this case is the task you want to do least. It can be anything from emptying the dishwasher to drafting that letter that contains bad news for the recipient. Do that first. Do it as soon as you get the bad news that you have been appointed to pass on. Do it when the dishwasher light goes on, or it buzzes, or whatever. I have found in most cases that the freakin’ idea of whatever it is you need to do but don’t want to is often worse than actually doing it.

2) List your Big Four. List four things which you try to do every day, regardless of what else happens. Put them in your calendar (on daily repeat) at the beginning of your day. Assign one word to each task — Watch, Read, Write, and Listen, for example — and do each of those things for fifteen minutes each day. If you want to keep doing them, fine, but the first time that you start each one be sure to stop after fifteen minutes. Come back to each one later, if you wish and if you can, but again, in fifteen minute increments. Do it with tasks that you want or have to do regularly, and love or hate (or somewhere in between) , but do each for fifteen minutes at a time. You will be surprised at how long and how short a quarter-hour is, and how much you can get done in that time period. This is particularly true of writing. Depending on your typing speed, inspiration, and perspiration, you can get a couple of hundred words out of you and on the screen in fifteen minutes. What? You say that doesn’t sound like much? Count out two hundred Skittles and throw them around the living room. Now pick them up. See. Two hundred is a lot. Do that for ten days and you have two thousand words or more, where before you had nothing. And so it goes.

3) Schedule things realistically, and adjust your expectations accordingly. It isn’t going to take you fifteen minutes to prepare your income tax return, so don’t schedule that from 10:00 to 10:15 on the night of April 14. You’ll just be making an appointment to be kissed by the goddess of disappointment. Go ahead and block off fifteen minutes for it, across twenty different days, or block off an entire day, if you can do it. You have a pretty good idea how long it takes you, however, from past experience, which is usually a pretty good indicator of present performance. But be realistic in your estimates of how long it takes you and how long you can work on it at a stretch. Think of YOUR abilities and limitations. Mickey Spillane wrote I the Jury in nineteen days, and Georges Simenon could write a book in less time than that, but you or I aren’t going to do that (probably). Don’t get discouraged when it takes longer than you thought it would, and plan accordingly.

Joe Hartlaub– January 28, 2017


2) Know your most creative time.
I get most of my writing done between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. After that, I’ll still write, but my work often feels flat. My brain really sparks during those four peak hours. After that, it’s better for editing.
(3) Seize the time you have.
If your husband takes the kids to McDonald’s, don’t use that time to sort socks. Write!
Romance writer Joan Johnston wrote her way to the New York Times bestseller list by writing her novels between 4 and 6 a.m. – while the kids were asleep. Now, that’s dedication.
What if you have a sick spouse or ailing children – or you don’t feel so well yourself?
That’s where your own determination comes in. I’ve written novels by my husband’s bedside when he was in the hospital, and edited proofs for the next book while waiting to hear from the doctor when he was in surgery.
Am I Super Woman? Heck, no! But I can concentrate for short periods. Writing is a way to escape a painful or scary situation. It can be solace.

(4) Make time
Remember the words of that rabble-rousing journalist, Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” You need seat time.
Try to schedule time-sucking activities after your peak writing time. If the cat isn’t deathly ill, make her vet appointment at 4:30 p.m. The repairman – if he deigns to show up – will start the repairs after your peak writing time. And for now, I’m ignoring the squeaky dryer.
Be ruthless when you write. Turn off your cell phone. Ignore the siren call of the internet, tempting you with cat videos, unanswered emails and Kim Kardashian’s latest lingerie photo. Use that time to write.

(5) A writer writes.
Make that your mantra.
I love being a writer. I enjoy talking to other writers at the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime meetings, and hanging out with other writers in the bar at conventions.
But writing is a lonely business. Eventually, I’m going to have to go to my office, all by myself, and write. You will, too. Good luck.

Elaine Viets—January 9, 2020


What advice do you have on sustaining your creativity throughout the year and beyond?

How do you strike that “time balance?”

Are you making any changes to your writing schedule this month?


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This entry was posted in scheduling, time management, Writing by Dale Ivan Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dale Ivan Smith

Dale Ivan Smith is a retired librarian turned full-time author. He started out writing fantasy and science fiction, including his five-book Empowered series, and has stories in the High Moon, Street Spells, and Underground anthologies, and his collection, Rules Concerning Earthlight. He's now following his passion for cozy mysteries and working on the Meg Booker Librarian Mysteries series, beginning with A Shush Before Dying and Book Drop Dead.

27 thoughts on “January Motivational Words of Wisdom

  1. Right off the bat, the James Scott Bell’s excellent “Asimov admonition.” Asimov had a dozen or two or three projects on the stove all the time. There was always something he could write on.
    I have these active/semi-active mss:
    Tenirax: getting up the nerve for another round of 50 queries
    Tenirax: submitted contest entry for unpublished mss. (Sept.)
    Temple of the Permutants: weekly workshop rdg, 80% complete
    The Guardienne Hypothesis: writing monograph#7 (DPDR)
    Shake❟ Willy: awaiting final read, 90% done
    Sorcerer of Deathbird Mountain: planning to take off Vella
    Something Wicked in Ichekaw: next up, 70% complete

  2. Great choices, Dale! Esp. timely for me at the moment b/c, as Joe eloquently stated it, “life gets in the way of life.” Boy, is life in the way right now!

    Jim, thanks for the smile–I can’t throw my teeth right now b/c I need them to bite someone in the customer dis-service department of a particular large software maker.

    “Writing is a way to escape a painful or scary situation. It can be solace.” Elaine, I hear you loud and clear. When the real world is out of control, at least we can control outcomes in our story world.

    • Thanks, Debbie! I know what you mean about life getting in the way. A few weeks ago it was endless rounds of web chat and phone calls to our internet service provider concerning an upgrade. I also find so much solace these days in writing.

  3. Superb words of wisdom today, Dale. Thanks for resurrecting these posts. I have the opposite problem. Plenty of time to write. Less time for social media and marketing. There’s only so many hours in the work day, and I spend most of it in my writer’s cave, having a blast. I have to force myself out to do other writerly tasks.

    • You are very welcome, Sue. You certainly have your priorities straight in my book 🙂 You’re right, there are only so many hours in a day. Speaking of, have a wonderful Saturday.

  4. When I find my self procrastinating about writing I set my timer for 20 minutes. Then I pound out words for those 20 minutes. It helps break through the logjam of “I’d rather be anyplace else but here “

  5. Thanks for collecting and sharing these, Dale.
    This from Joe resonates loudest for me: Think of YOUR abilities and limitations.
    I know I can’t work on more than one writing project at a time (unless you count writing my personal blog posts or newsletters, or marketing moments.)
    I can write (almost) any time but not any place.
    Then again, I’m a retired empty-nester indie author, so I don’t have any “put food on the table, pay the mortgage” needs hanging over my head.

    • You’re very welcome, Terry. Great comments. I’m in a similar boat to you–I’m retired (no kids rather than an empty nest) and just need to show a profit from my publishing. I keep thinking I can work on more than one fiction project at the same time–the most I seem to be able to do is outline the next while the current WIP is with beta readers or the editor.

  6. Dale, your compilation post was an answer to prayer today. I’ve been wanting to search the TKZ archives for that advice from JSB about how to have 3 different projects going at the same time but I could never seem to find the time. So now I am thankfully reminded that his advice for projects in 3 different stages was WIP, secondary project, & project in development. Thank you so much!

    Ah, the Asimov (and others’) advice to write in snatches of time. Occasionally I can write in snatches, but most of the time I need concentrated periods of time to work—& of course it is hard to get those concentrated periods. I need to keep working at it.

    My ideal time to write is in the morning but on weekdays that’s out of the question (and I can’t get up any earlier because I already get up at 4a). However, I need to make a firm commitment with myself to do that on weekends. So I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle scant free time and projects.

    I want 2023 to be the year of RESULTS but it isn’t going to be easy. I’m first drafting a project with a co-author and we are fumbling our way through as we learn how to work best together; I have a project I first drafted several years ago that I had put away and now want to read through, revise, & finish. And that book is part of a series so I need to finish brainstorming that series to completion. But I’ve been wrestling with whether or not it’s good to get immersed in that project since the co-authored project is using up a lot of my resources. And we need to brainstorm and outline co-author book 2—and I do hope we can OUTLINE it first instead of fumbling through another seat-of-the-pants approach.

    And to complicate things further, as I age I’m having stage-of-life issues—I have a dear friend who is now retired and thus has all kinds of time on their hands—the absolute opposite of me who can rarely snatch free time. It’s hard for both of us to realize we’re each living in different worlds and it adds tension (but hey, concept fodder for future books—if I wrote contemporary, which I don’t).

    Thanks for a great post. Now, off to snatch some writing time…

    • I’m so glad these posts proved timely for you, BK. I agree that Jim’s advice to have three different projects in three different stages at all times can really help with your productivity, and creativity. Too often I’ve tried drafting two novels or stories simultaneously–I have the luxury of split writing time, too–first thing, and then a large block of time during each weekday afternoon, but so far, it hasn’t worked out.

      Right now, I’m under deadline with my library mystery, so all my efforts are on that, but I’d also like to try Jim’s three different projects in different stages approach.

      Co-writing can be fruitful, but it has it’s own challenges. Good luck and have fun.

      When I retired three years ago a writer friend who had retired ahead of me advised me to guard my writing time. Don’t answer the phone when writing. Let friends know you are busy during certain times, otherwise, they’ll think you’re always available because you are home all the time 🙂

      Thanks for commenting.

  7. Thanks, Dale, for pulling this gold from the archives and laying it our for our edification this morning.

    I particularly like Jim’s #2 – Take care of your body. Joe’s #1 – Eat the booger first. And Elaine’s #2 – Know your most creative time.

    I am finding that I need vigorous exercise everyday, and more time on my feet everyday, to keep my brain healthy and creative. Eating that booger first, certainly gets it out of the way of creativity. And knowing that my brain is most creative in the mornings, I’ll continue my current scheduled morning time for writing.

    My biggest change for this year is more time in the shop in the afternoon, combining my love of woodturning with more on-my-feet activity and an extension of my marketing strategy.

    • You’re welcome, Steve, and thanks for the comments. I also find vigorous exercise–even if it’s a short walk and then vigorous yoga, to be essential to me. Right now, we are getting pummeled here in the PNW by aerial rivers, so walking outdoors isn’t as appealing.

      More shop time in the afternoon sounds wonderful, given your wood working interest.

  8. Thank you for including me once again, Dale. If I may add a coda of sorts, please permit me to recommend to your audience a book titled “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It starts with the proposition that to meet a goal, one must identify, develop, and practice the habits needed to meet that goal. It is an easy, quick, memorable, and very effective read that taught this old dog some transformative new tricks. The subject of writing is frequently addressed. Enjoy!

    • Thank you for the original post, Joe, and thanks as well for recommending “Atomic Habits.” I’ve picked up a copy for my Kindle and look forward to reading it.

  9. Great Saturday post, Dale! My fave part?

    Do not go gentle into that good night…

    Write, write against the dying of the light! (apologies to Dylan Thomas). Refuse to believe you have diminished powers or have in any way lost the spark that compelled you to write in the first place. If they tell you that you just don’t have it anymore, throw your teeth at them. Who gets to decide if you can write? You do. And your answer is, I’ve still got it, baby, and I’m going to show you with this next story of mine!

    So just keep writing and never decompose.

    Thanks, JSB; and Dale for unearthing this.

    (And most of the time, it’s not others who tell me I can’t write, it’s my evil twin!)


  10. Thank you, Dale, for picking out these words of wisdom for 2023.

    I’m trying to take JSB’s suggestion to work on three projects this year, along with a couple of short stories for an anthology and my TKZ posts (can I count those?)

    I like Joe’s mentioning the need to set expectations. Avoiding discouragement when life gets in the way is something I strive for.

    And I like Elaine’s #5. “A writer writes.” I’m getting better at avoiding all the interruptions. Maybe this will be the year I conquer them.

    Have a great 2023!

  11. I need to get better about eating the booger first… or at all LOL! It’s true that my mind is freer when it’s not subconsciously dreading that thing I don’t want to do. Thanks for the wisdom…and uhmmm… dietary tips.

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