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May 9, 2012
About every two years, I get a wake-up call when some form of exhaustion sets in. Without noticing, I have fudged on bedtimes, let boundaries be way too flexible, or simply taken on more than I should have.
Time to Re-Group
Then I have to sit down and play the game called ”Where’d My Time Go?” Usually I find that other people’s expectations have taken over my writing time. Nearly always I was at fault. I offered to do something I didn’t really have time for, or said “No problem!” when I should have said, “Sorry, I just can’t.”
My schedule is under control again, but I’d like to step out of this cycle once and for all. The best way I’ve found to save my writing time is to set policies. Remember, you’re the boss in your office! You have the authority to set whatever policies you need.
After you’ve spotted some of your weakest areas, develop policies to cover future requests. For some reason, stating that you have a “policy” about certain things carries more weight with people. Very few people argue when you have a “policy.”
Target the areas where you have the most trouble setting–and enforcing–boundaries. It might have to do with overtime on your day job, expectations from the neighbors, or any organization where you volunteer.
Some “company policies” might include:
- I have a policy about home business parties. I don’t attend them, and I don’t give them.
- I have a policy of not returning phone calls until the noon hour.
- I have a policy that says I don’t make doctors’ or dental appointments until after 3 p.m.
- I have a policy that includes no drop-in baby-sitting. I need a minimum of 48 hours notice.
- My policy states that I don’t commit to any event more than (X) months away. (Fill in your personal limit.)
- I choose to help with one party each year at my child’s school. That’s my class contribution, so what party would you like me to help with?
- My policy states that I charge $5 for each ten minutes that parents are late picking up their kids from my day care.
Sometimes our commitments get out of hand because we want to do such an excellent job everywhere. So learn to under-promise, and later you can over-deliver if you have extra time.
For example, instead of volunteering to help at school the entire day, say you can come and read for one hour. If it turns out that you have extra time when the day rolls around, you can use the time to write or you can “over-deliver” on your promise and stay two hours. You’ll earn a reputation as someone who delivers even more than promised—and yet you’ll have saved time for yourself.
Time Credit Cards
Some of us (I’m guilty!) promise to do things months and months in advance when our calendars are still pristine white. Then six months later, when the event rolls around, our calendars are more jammed than we had anticipated; we regret that we ever agreed to that event or favor that really isn’t that important.
Too often we commit future time that we believe we’ll have, only to be caught up short later (like a credit card junkie who charges now and is just sure he’ll have the cash to pay it off later.)
Stop charging your time ahead! Cut up your time credit cards. Pay off whatever “time debt” you’ve accumulated at this point, but don’t charge anymore.
If people want you to commit to some volunteer thing more than a month away, simply say, “I have a policy that I don’t commit to things so far ahead. If you want to call me back in (X) months, I will be able to give you an answer then.” At that point, you’ll have a realistic idea of what your month’s schedule looks like.
If you are pressed for an answer (“I need to know now!”), then regretfully tell people that the answer will have to be “no.” (Given that choice, people will usually wait.)
E-mail, Social Networking, and Web Surfing
Limit your Internet time to two periods per day, before and after your writing. Keep it short. Answer crucial e-mail, but skip all the forwarded jokes and poignant stories till later. Unsubscribe from all but the best two or three e-newsletters you receive. Delete the junk without reading it. Check the social networking sites you use for marketing, and then close down. According to current workplace statistics, conquering e-mail/surfing/Facebook addiction can save you a full two or three hours per day.
Assignment: Where is your time going? Do you know? Keep track for a few weeks and be sure. Then begin to implement whatever policies you need in order to safeguard your time.
Write your company policies down and review them daily. As you use these policies, they will become second nature. Just remember that nature abhors a vacuum. Be ready to fill your new-found time with activities that can further your writing career.
***Speaking of furthering your writing career, in response to several emails, I’ve updated my critique service page. I am now reserving spots for July, August, and September. Just FYI!
August 8, 2011
In the August edition of Randy Ingermanson’s free (wonderfully helpful) newsletter, there was a link to a free e-book describing a new time management system Randy is using. (For back issues of Randy’s newsletter, go here.)
Since “free” is one of my favorite words, and I’m always looking for ways to manage my time better, I downloaded it to skim.
Skimming quickly turned to reading carefully, and soon I’d read the whole 57-page e-book by Jim Stone called Clear Mind, Effective Action. It deals with the subject of “fractal planning.” Fractal has to do with breaking something large into smaller parts. (You can get the free e-book here.)
In some ways fractal planning is unique, and some parts are a combination of the best time management ideas from the past twenty years.
In the free e-book, the author explains how to implement his system on your own (on paper or spreadsheet or Word document), if you don’t want to subscribe to his service. (I’m using a Word doc–for now–to see how it goes. I have to admit that–so far–it has boosted my productivity and ability to focus significantly.) If you’d like to go directly to the Fractal Planner page and check out the features, you can do that here.
If you try the fractal planner or read the e-book, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experiences–plus or minus–if you try it out.
April 25, 2011
After returning from a writers’ conference a couple years ago, I had so many notes and hand-outs and worksheets dealing with marketing that I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start. My brain froze.
Oh no! Marketing block!
Too Much of a Good Thing
Has this ever happened to you? I had collected terrific ideas on branding, making book trailers, blogging, writing a newsletter, collecting addresses, multiple ways to reach your publisher’s sales force with material that would actually help them sell your books, tips on upping sales on Amazon.com, making e-books, and much more.
As I sorted through the material when I got home, I could feel my blood pressure rising. Where to begin? How to prioritize? How to do it all on a shoestring budget (and a short shoestring at that)? And where would I find the time?
I developed marketing ADHD. When I was setting up my second website for an upcoming series, I remembered that I needed to register another domain name, so I did that. I decided then to submit an article to a writer’s website, which reminded me to convert a manuscript into an e-book to sell.
Flipping through notebooks and scribbled pages for the information, I wanted to burn it all instead. I didn’t sign up for this! All I ever wanted to do was sit in a quiet room and make up stories and write them down. That’s all.
Instead, to add to writer’s block, I had marketing block.
I think I found an answer. It’s a two-pronged approach using scheduling and organization.
I bought a three-ring binder and dividers with eight colored tabs, and labeled the tabs according to the types of marketing I needed to do. I have tabs for “website work” and “blog work” and “Amazon.com” and “sales and marketing” and “social networking” and “selling online.” In the front of each section is a “to do” list for that topic, followed by the “how-to” information I need to do it.
The other prong–scheduling–comes into play on my daily/weekly calendar. I have a couple hours at the end of the day when my brain is tired. I blocked off that time for marketing. At the beginning of the week, I read each “to do” list in the marketing binder and decide what is most pressing, then prioritize it and write it on my daily calendar.
As I organized and scheduled various short tasks, I could feel the marketing block melting away. I would work on each project a bit at a time, in a regular manner.
To be honest, I’d rather not have to market. I’d rather be writing all day long. But expectations of authors have changed, and in the end, it may be a good change. Writers have griped for decades about having no control over how much time and energy is being spent marketing their books. Through personal marketing in a variety of venues, we can now make a difference.
And–using my “inch-by-inch-it’s-a-cinch” method–we can do it without driving ourselves nuts.
April 6, 2011
Recently at a conference we were comparing stories about how long it is taking lately for our publishers to respond to our submissions or queries.
Right now, each of us is experiencing a huge “non-response” in some way. (In my own case, three people that didn’t get back to me had been “let go” in down-sizing moves.) No writer I know is exempt from the economic upheaval of our times.
The news is grim for writers, wherever you turn. Predictions make your heart sink, and you may wonder if you’re just beating your head against a brick wall if you keep writing. I read something this morning–from a weight loss newsletter, of all things–that put this question in perspective for me.
Are You Nuts?
The opening quote said: “The mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground.” (unknown source) It was followed by:
On July 24, 2004, there was a 0% chance of rain in Cincinnati. No way was it going to rain, according to the people who should know best. You know what? Despite millions of dollars worth of sensors, computers, and forecasting systems, the weather experts were wrong. It rained, against all odds. This is not a criticism of weather people. It’s just a reminder of all the people who were given 0% chance of making it by the “experts,” but who succeeded anyway. Whenever accomplishments are on the line, there are always voices whispering, preaching–even shouting–that it can’t be done. Sometimes, that voice is coming from inside our own heads. If you’re having doubts about your abilities, just remember: How many times have the naysayers been proven wrong? No matter what anyone says–no matter what you might believe–it can be done. The nut can become a tree. There’s always a chance of rain.
Stand Your Ground
Until the dust settles economically, I urge you to continue writing, to continue studying and improving your craft, and to maintain your good writing habits. The tide will turn again. When it does, and publishers begin to buy once more, you’ll be ready with your best submissions.
Whether you’re still an acorn writer with lots of potential, or a half-grown oak, continue to follow your dream. Don’t let others’ negative opinions and predictions determine the state of your goals and writing life.
March 30, 2011
“The healthy creative life is an intentional life, in which the person examines options and opportunities, necessities and desires, and makes his or her choices accordingly.”
~~(Vinita Hampton Wright) in The Soul Tells a Story
If you took time to ponder and write down answers to the questions posed in Monday’s blog, you gained a lot of information about your dreams and gifts. That knowledge is important. But knowledge alone isn’t enough. You must be intentional in using this knowledge to develop your creative life.
A Writing Life on Purpose
The healthy creative life involves practices that help further develop your gifts. If you want to write, you have the responsibility to develop practices that help you grow. (You also need to get rid of habits that hurt your writing–but that’s another post!) You can (and should) set goals, design rituals to help you get started (light candles, make tea, put on music) and form habits that help you both start and continue writing.
Here are some questions for you to answer to examine this part of your life. Even if you’ve been writing for a long time, I’d suggest answering the questions based on where you are now. I found them very helpful myself. Without meaning to, we can get off-track, our life circumstances can get us off course, or we might never have given this sufficient thought to begin with.
Now’s the Time!
Here are some more questions from The Soul Tells a Story. Brainstorm answers in your journal.
- How intentional (using planning or goals) have I been about developing my creativity?
- What opportunities am I looking for–and are these options open to me?
- What qualities do I want to nurture in my personality and lifestyle that will allow me to use my gifts in my writing?
- What rituals or practices always seem to work to help me do my writing?
- What other rituals and practices that I’ve heard about would I like to try?
It’s time to make some intentional choices! We won’t grow as writers unless we intend to grow and choose to grow. What’s a “growth choice” that you might like to make–and implement–very soon?
March 23, 2011
(First re-read the post The Thought-Feeling-Behavior Cycle.)
After a couple of busy weekends (writing conferences to speak at) and other events, I was finally able to sit down for a lengthy time yesterday and write. Or so I thought.
I sat down all right, but once I finally had an uninterrupted moment to think, a certain situation that has been bothering me for months came flooding back. I couldn’t concentrate on my novel, and I was up and down. I walked. I ate. I sorted laundry. I worried. I ate some more. Later in the day, I Skyped a friend. But I didn’t write until…
Ah, Yes, I Remember
I picked up a book by Kelly L. Stone, author of Living Write: the secret to inviting your craft into your daily life. I flipped through it and landed on the chapter called “Acting As If.” I knew this was a phrase from my old recovery group days basically meaning “fake it till you make it.”
I reviewed the thoughts-feelings-action cycle. Since my thoughts were unruly, and my feelings were haywire, I figured that “acting like a writer anyway” was my best option. I read her chapter on “Acting As If.” Here are a couple snippets to think about:
- People draw conclusions about themselves through observation of their own behavior just as they draw conclusions about other people based on observation of their behavior.
- Simply act a certain way based on your ideal Writer Self-Image, and over time, you become what you are acting.
Attack that Cycle!
A licensed professional counselor, Stone had many practical suggestions about how to act “as if” you’re a confident writer, act “as if” you’re a self-motivated writer, act “as if” you’re a self-disciplined writer, act “as if” you’re a future-focused writer, and act “as if” you’re a task-oriented writer. [I definitely recommend her book.]
I used one suggestion in the “task-oriented” section, acted “as if,” and got to work. Even though it was later in the day, I had the evening free and ended up with one of the most productive writing days I’d had in a long time. (I’m re-reading that chapter first thing today though!)
Don’t give up. We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful for writers like Kelly Stone who share what works!
[NOTE: Thanks for the inquiries about the release date for the paperback of More Writer's First Aid. I thought it would be yesterday, but it looks like this weekend. I will certainly let you know!]
February 25, 2011
Being sick for ten days recently taught me some lessons.
1) I’m too busy. It’s no wonder I have trouble getting any writing done, much less enjoying it. I’ve noticed for months that I was having a lot of trouble settling down and actually doing my daily writing. I was great at telling other people how to do it, but not good at it myself. So when I was extremely ill–but still getting more writing done than usual–it got my attention. Why was that?
It was because I was running a fever and couldn’t see people or I would spread the plague. Each morning I’d stand in the bathroom, shivering, and take my temperature. If it was over 101, the solution was simple: cancel all meetings I had that day. Most days I cancelled more than one meeting or appointment. In ten days, I cancelled ten things. Two things I really minded (babysitting my grandkids). Eight things I didn’t mind much at all. (And truthfully, five of the things I was thrilled to get out of.)
After being home a week, I realized how lovely it was to be home. I didn’t enjoy being sick, but I loved being able to stay put. And just from being home more, I wrote more. Usually just fifteen or twenty minutes at a time out of sheer boredom, but it all added up. And a lot faster than my “well” days when I pushed myself to write.
The result? I resigned from an office that requires about six or seven hours per month and two meetings per month. I plan to back out of a few more things when my terms are up.
2) The second lesson I learned when sick was that I’m online too much. I had sort of realized this for a long time, and had a goal of not getting online until noon because email and Facebook and surfing ate up too much time. But when sick, I just wanted to be curled up on the couch with the heating pad, blankets, cough drops, and a book. (I don’t have a wireless laptop, thank goodness, so that wasn’t an option.)
After ten days of only being online maybe an hour every other day to attend to editor email and post a blog, I realized how much more I was enjoying my days–even sick! I’m not even sure why, but I find being online too much quite agitating. I don’t read or watch things that are disturbing, so it’s rather a mystery to me, but I definitely notice it.
I’m feeling much better now, but yesterday I deliberately stayed offline because I didn’t need to blog, and I wrote and read and took my book outside and sat in the swing (which I hadn’t done in months) and noticed things (cardinals, daffodils coming up, lawn furniture needing scrubbing). I got the reading done that I needed to do for a class, but it was calming.
3) The third lesson I learned while sick is that I don’t read enough good books. I read a lot of articles online, or books that don’t challenge me but are entertaining before I drop off to sleep. But good books? Challenging books? They’re hard to find.
When my fever dropped after a week or so, I headed to the library for some new books. I had been re-reading classics on my shelf which I loved, but I was ready to concentrate on something new. I brought home six brand new books–I was the first to check them out.
I only ended up reading one of them all the way through, and it was only so-so. The others-many by bestselling authors–I only made it through about fifteen pages. Apparently the trend now in adult books is to switch viewpoints every two or three pages (one book had seven viewpoints in fifteen pages), and it was like being jerked around on a badly edited movie screen. I couldn’t keep track of the characters, so when they got murdered or whatever, who cared?
Leave a Suggestion
If you’ve read a fiction book for adults in recent years that really grabbed you, leave a comment, okay? I love recommendations. In recent years I’ve enjoyed books like The Help, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Folly Beach, and The Secret Life of Bees. Good gripping character stories-do you know any like that? Part of the life of a writer is feeding your mind with good writing.
February 14, 2011
For the last two weeks, I’ve bombarded you with long posts on how to make changes in your writing life–and make them last.
Today I’ll give you a breather and show you some of the treasures I found.
- Feeling overwhelmed as a writer? Read Jordan Rosenfeld’s How to Talk Yourself Off the Ledge of Creative Despair and you’ll feel better!
- Back-to-Work Blues for Writers: Solutions is for writers who also work outside the home–and some practical realities and help in carving out that crucial time to feel like a “real writer” again.
- Ever wonder about Launching a Virtual Book Tour? For some great tips, read both Part 1 and Part 2.
- And don’t overlook this gem about The Missing Link–NaNoEdMo. This writer needs a month of enthusiasm generated about editing the rambling novel from NaNoWriMo. Guess what? There IS such a month. See NaNoEdMo and sign up for editing your novel in March. Just two weeks away!
Sit back and enjoy!
January 7, 2011
I haven’t given you any blog recommendations for a long time–mostly because I’ve had little time to read others’ blogs the last few months. Let me rectify that today!
For your weekend reading pleasure, here are some of my recent favorites:
- 30 Writing Quotes to Kick Off 2011 has some real doozies! You’ll want to add several of these to Post-It notes on your computer.
- Did you know that Amazon Kindle Lets Book Buyers Lend Books for 14 days? As with paper books you lend, you won’t have access to your Kindle book during that time.
- I was quite surprised by Every Author’s Two Audiences, written by an agent I trust. Do any of you published writers do what she suggests? I had never thought of it–but I may also be giving the wrong impression.
- Here are seven Advantages of Journaling for you to think about. I keep six or seven separate journals myself, for various uses. I love them!
- Do you need help Sticking to Your New Year’s Writing Resolutions? Then you won’t want to miss this article.
This should keep you busy on the weekend. If you have a chance to read them–and if anything strikes a chord–please leave a comment. Even if you only have time to read the first one, tell me which was your favorite quote!
December 22, 2010
After Monday’s post, I had several people ask about self-discipline strategies if you have to be online for your writing.
Some are doing nonfiction research, some critiquing online, some doing online classes, and others doing jobs (like blogging for companies) that required quite a bit of time online.
How could they make time for their “special projects” that kept getting pushed aside if they couldn’t stay offline until noon (which I am doing)?
Advice from Online Workers
Not everyone can (or wants to) stay off the Internet for large blocks of time. We’re all different. If you need (or want) to be online much of the day, here are some tips for making the best use of your time:
Hope this helps! Do you have additional tips that work for you? If so, please share them below. We can use all the help we can get!Newer Posts »