Whenever I get together with other writers and we talk shop, there is one subject that seems to come up more than any other.
How we spend it, how we waste it, how we wish we had more of it.
I find it fascinating how much writers think about time. Maybe it's because a lot of writers are juggling their writing around other things, and so it's a constant source of frustration. I certainly get that. For a long time, I wrote early in the mornings and on weekends, because I worked a day job and I had a family who needed me as well.
But even authors who call writing their job are often looking for ways to do it better, faster, whatever. Or they get mad at themselves for spending way too much time on facebook, twitter, pinterest, tumblr, etc.
Since I've been writing for over ten years now (about half of those as a published author), I've figured some things out for myself, and I thought I would share a few tips that help me with my productivity. In case you're curious, I have two teens who don't drive and need rides to various places. I have a dog who needs to be walked every day. I am the only person in the house who does any serious cooking, and I like to eat decent food, so I spend a fair amount of time on grocery shopping and meal preparation. I'm currently trying to write and publish two books a year. I do not work outside the home anymore, thank goodness!
1) It's best to schedule your writing time for when you have the greatest chance for success.
Some might argue this shouldn't matter, when you have time to write, you should write. And maybe that's true, but I also believe if we plan to write at the time(s) we feel most energized and awake, we'll probably have a more productive writing session. I know a lot of writers who can't write until it's dark and everyone else in the house is asleep. That would NOT be me, by the way. I'm up early and once I get my kids to school and have gotten a workout in, I am ready to write. Mornings are my best writing time, and that is especially true on the weekends. I get up early on the weekends, and while everyone else sleeps in, I write.
2) Set daily goals.
When I'm drafting a book, my goal is 1,000 words a day. Every day. I tend to revise as I go, so sometimes I spend an hour on previous pages before I finally get to adding more words, but even taking this into account, if I'm focused, I find that goal is very doable for me. If I'm having trouble getting into the writing on a certain day, usually that means I need to take a time out and figure out where the plot needs to go. When I'm doing editorial revisions, I'll give myself a certain number of pages to get through (usually ten to twenty).
This is really no different than making a to-do list when you are working a regular job with tasks that have to be completed. I made task lists all the time when I worked in human resources. Treat your writing like a job and then do the work that needs to be done.
I also want to add that I think it's so, SO important to keep the momentum going when you're writing a first draft. Try not to take a day off. Even if you can only fit in 100 words some days, open the document and write.
3) Have a plan and make your re-entry into the document as easy as possible
When I'm drafting, I try not to leave off at the end of a chapter. I love leaving off in a place where I'll be excited the next day to get back to that scene. I also leave notes for myself in the document, to remind myself about what I imagine happening next. Maybe something new will come to me, but in case it doesn't, I have a place to start. I really think half the battle is opening the document and just starting in again. There is so much we are afraid of (that we don't even realize), but if we leave off in a place that makes it fun to get back to the story, we'll forget about those things we are afraid of and just focus on the story.
The other thing to think about here is that there's been lots of talk on the internet lately about how productivity increases when you know what needs to happen in your book. I think this is the original post that inspired all of that talk. So if you've always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, and you're frustrated by how slowly you write, you might want to try mapping out where you book is going, and see if that helps.
4) If social media is your problem, figure out if you need to get drastic or not
If you are spending more time on social media sites than you are writing, you probably do need to get drastic. You might want to download Freedom, which locks the internet away so you can write without distractions. It's only ten dollars, and it allows you to specify the number of minutes you want to be kept away from the internet. If you don't want/need to get that drastic, try using social media sites as a reward. Maybe you allow yourself 5 minutes of social media time after 45 minutes of writing time or something.
5) Keep your eye on the prize
For me, finishing the book is the biggest motivator there is. I've never been one to take months and months or years, even, to finish a book because I want to sell it and have other people read it. If you have some underlying fear about all of that, and it's keeping you from being productive with the writing, have a heart-to-heart with someone you trust about your fears and figure out what you need to do so you can make the writing a priority! One of the reasons I like the 1,000 words a day is because I know that if I stick with it, I'll have a draft of middle grade novel done in about six weeks and a draft of a young adult novel done in two months or so (obviously, I don't write very long books).
6) It's okay to NOT write all the time
In fact, I think it's healthier if you don't. Make time for friends. Go see movies. Exercise. Read. I try to have my 1,000 words done in a few hours, at most, so I have time for other things. I WANT time for other things. This is another huge motivator to get the word count done. When I'm revising, I'll have some long days, but I still make time to exercise and make dinner for my family and read. I always make time for reading. I've also found that, for me, I have months that are good for drafting a novel and months that are not good. I don't try to force it during the months that aren't good (like the month before a release, for example. Or December. Or July and August, when the sunshine calls to me.) For the past four or five years, I've written a new book every fall. And then, after the holidays, I start up again and write something else in the winter months. It's not only my days that have a rhythm, but my months and year do too. If you feel like you're constantly swimming up stream, maybe you're trying to draft a novel at the wrong time. It's okay to take a month off if you need to - I certainly do!
And if life gets in the way - it's okay. Don't beat yourself up. Yes, your writing is important, but so are a lot of other things.
Okay, time to wrap up this blog post and get back to work. If you have tips or ideas for people around time-management or productivity, please share with us in the comments!
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The writing of a book is a very private matter, but the publishing of a book is a group effort requiring the collaboration of agent, editor, cover designer, publicist, booksellers and a host of others.
My husband figured that since Josh was such a good waiter he would naturally be able to produce a good book trailer. Ironically, that turned out to be true. I wrote the script, music, and song lyrics and Josh found musicians, actors, and film equipment. He put it all together on a shoestring budget and came up with a fabulous trailer. Check out the TAKE ME THERE book trailer HERE..
Speaking of forget-me-nots, Josh and I were both distraught to find out that they were out of season. We couldn't even find plastic ones at the local craft store. I went hunting for blue perennials and was lucky to find something similar at the Jackalope.
These kids all did an amazing job, so if you like what you see, pass it on. Find the FORGET ME NOT book trailer HERE.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
So, I’ve got this little problem: I’m not writing. It’s not that the watering hole has run dry or that I’ve lost my sense of direction. Neigh. It’s Life, getting in the way.
Summer of 2010 I stepped away from an intense, full-time fifth grade teaching position with the goal of writing part-time and running a business, what would eventually become W.O.R.D. Ink (a tutoring and editorial services company.) My whole life I’ve earned continual paychecks, so the wobbly ups and downs of tutoring threw my husband and I for a loop. Still, we managed to figure out the pattern by the end of the first year in preparation for my second, and I worked through a nine-month program to earn a certificate in digital journalism, so I could expand my business services into print and digital media. All the while, Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday, I was working away on a revised incarnation of a WIP that I was excited to show Sara.
Around August of 2011, my main Life pipeline began to clog up: my husband and I dealt with several complex medical issues, and he hired me (I, being the resident copywriter), on our tight budget to write the content for his new company’s website. Meanwhile, it became clear to me ¾ of the way through my WIP that I needed to return to research and story development once more. I would give myself from November 2011 to February 2012 to sort out the backend of each story component. My certificate degree program now over and the winter lull carving a deep crevice in my tutoring income, I began to write the content and conjure the design for my new business website, having now both time and intense need. The goal was to finish by February (coinciding with the culmination of my WIP research), with the site up and running by April. Then, I thought naively, I can finally get back to Just Writing. My new WIP goal was to finish a polished draft and submit by August.
But, Oh…the unforeseen soul searching that ended up going into the website process, the constant decision-making, tweaks, add-ons, gathering, and revisions! The site was to be a representation of me, and what I stand for, of my business and personal mission, vision, values, and promise. It was, I realized, an encapsulation of the best of me, out there for people to see. So where do you think all my creative energy was redirected? And do you think all that could be achieved by February?
By April, I finally had a website I was proud of, but it had cost me now two months of lost momentum in writing time. All the while, my characters wandered aimlessly around in my head, waiting for me to do something clever with them, but I didn’t have the time or creative energy to make decisions. Then came the miscarriage, after waiting so long. If there’s ever one thing to throw your entire life into a depressing tailspin devoid of motivation, it’s one of those. Add to that, three of my best friends were pregnant and I would be helping to plan their baby showers. *Sigh* -- Life. May through August have been a slog of commitments, compromises, and crazy emotions. I got stuck in the endless loop of the Busy Trap. Kissed my writing time goodbye, and felt like a total failure, bait for bad-luck. Ah, the grieving process.
In another month, I can actually breathe a sigh of relief and sink back into the patterns I created so diligently two years back. My tutoring business is expanding, and I’m in the process of hiring a small team of educators, along with an assistant. I’m excited not only for the expertise that they’ll bring, but for the relentless work they will take off my plate. Soon, I’ll be able to justify “sitting around,” and creating in the middle of the day. I’ll get back to the business of writing, and more than anything, I want to write. But my anticipation wears two faces: one the one side, Joy! Splendid Reward! On the other, Fear. All the usual sorts. Am I deluding myself? Will my best-laid plans continue to get sabotaged by the pressing distractions of Life? Will I, in this workhorse form of myself, be the ironic undoing of my own fairytale vision of balance? What if I can’t gain momentum again, can’t jump back into this fictional world, can only view it from a grimy window in my memory? Am I worthy? Am I good enough? Will I trust myself? Be kind to myself? Remember to have fun?
A blog post on “Write At Your Own Risk” by the lovely Leda Schubert, faculty member at VCFA, kindly bonks me over the head:
“The work of the writer is to write. The work of the writer has not necessarily been—until recently-- to blog, tweet, post, or travel about the world promoting the work of the writer […] Why is it that we write? […] We write because we can’t not write. We are driven by mysterious forces. […] What I really want as a reader are superb books, and those don’t get written when writers are doing other things. Which brings me in a roundabout way to today’s topic: rules for writers. There are none for how to write a great book. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to check off ingredients one by one and bake at 350 until done?”
A list of writing rules from famed authors follows. Here is my favorite that Leda quotes from Henry Miller:
- Work on one thing at a time until finished.
- Start no more new books. [… add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’]
- Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
- Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
- When you can’t create you can work.
- Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
- Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
- Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
- Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
- Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
- Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Returning over the past month to the very simple revelation Leda laid out, I begin to chant: The less you write, the less you write. The more you write, the more you write.
“Back to work,” Leda reminds me.
I nod, accept my fate in the Chinese horoscope (yes, I’m a born Horse), paw at the ground, and get ready to charge ahead.