By Marian Conklin, Writing Studio Consultant
Sometimes, being a writing consultant is so enjoyable it doesn’t feel like a job, especially when the consultant and writer are “in the zone,” focused on a common goal and making clear progress toward that goal. Other times, the consultant may be distracted, the writer stressed out, or the writing situation difficult. In every situation, however, one thing remains constant: the consultation must begin and end on time.
Like most writing consultants, I struggle with the challenge of ending sessions on time. So much goes on during a session that it is easy to lose track of time. Of necessity, I’ve developed some habits that not only help to manage time but also help to keep the session on track.
Setting Session Goals
Endurance runners know that they must start well in order to finish well. With this in mind, at the start of each consulting session, after the introduction, I ask the writer about the writing situation and his/her/their primary concerns, and we form goals for the session. It helps to write the goals down, but this is more of a friendly introduction than a formal process, and a goal-oriented tone is established. Then we get down to work.
Because I’ve become accustomed to the pacing of a session, around the halfway point, I remember to look at the clock and to remind the writer how much time we have left. This habit not only reinforces the time restrictions, but it also brings the session back on track if we have spent too much time on minor goals and need to refocus on the major goals.
I watch the time more closely during the latter part of the session in order to better accomplish those goals, and if we are running out of time on the major goals, I give a ten-minute warning and ask what the writer wants to accomplish with the time remaining. I try to finish at the five-minute mark and use the remaining time to discuss revision goals and invite the writer to return. This practice makes for a smooth finish without pressure.
Very often, writers come in with an immediate deadline and want to cover the entire document in one session. I make every effort to accommodate them, but sometimes this cannot be done. When a writer pushes me to go over “just one more paragraph” because “we’re almost done,” I have learned not to capitulate because that writer will expect extensions for future sessions.
I stand up, apologize, and explain that the session is over because we want to be fair to all our writers. I invite the writer to make another appointment or to make an appointment a little more in advance next time. The act of standing signifies that the session is truly over, and most of the time the writers accept this conclusion gracefully.
When All Else Fails
Like every consultant, I sometimes get so wrapped up in a session that I forget to watch the time. Because I sit all day on the job, I wear a Fitbit, and I’ve set it to remind me to move 10 minutes before each hour. This is not only good for my health, but the reminder also lets me know that the session time is over. I exclaim, “Oops! My Fitbit has reminded me that we’re out of time! I really enjoyed our session, and I hope to work with you again!” An alarm is a great backup.