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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!
October 12, 2011
“Life is difficult,” wrote M. Scott Peck in his famous book The Road Less Traveled. “This … is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it… Once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I’d like to amend Peck’s quote to say that “the writing life is difficult.” And once that truth is accepted, “the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
I imagine we all start out on the writing journey with a fantasy of what the writing life will be like. I know I did thirty years ago–and it’s been a fantasy that I clung to tenaciously for far too many years.
My own fantasy involved uninterrupted hours every day to write (after first journaling and then doing some creative writing exercises to ensure the writing would simply “flow”.) My fantasy included the books selling themselves without my help. I expected to reach a time when I’d never have to write anything without having a (lucrative) contract in hand. I also dreamed of writing by longhand in the fragrant garden of a thatched-roof English cottage. Sad to say, the cottage part was the only thing I recognized as pure fantasy. I figured everything else was just a matter of time.
Fast forward thirty years and forty published books later…
I love my office in Texas, but it’s a far cry from a thatched-roof cottage. And unless you write from Walden’s Pond, I don’t see how anyone manages to have uninterrupted hours every day to write. Juggling my roles as wife, mother, Nana, daughter, sister, friend, writer and ministry leader means fighting for writing time daily. Each role, at one time or another, has meant dealing with loss, conflict, disappointment, and/or illness-big time and energy eaters. And because of the changes within the publishing industry–in large part due to the economy and online social marketing demands–there’s no such thing anymore as an author who doesn’t help market their work.
It No Longer Matters
So where’s the silver lining around this black cloud? Simply this. Clinging to my fantasy life of a writer meant that every time reality intruded, I was disappointed or shocked or disillusioned–and tempted to quit. Lots of angst and wasted energy. As long as I was convinced that the writing life could be simple and require little work, I was irritated with reality. I made silent demands that this imperfect writing life go away!
- Truth #1: The writing life will always be difficult.
- Truth #2: It doesn’t really matter.
- Truth #3: All things worth having (family, good health, writing life) are difficult sometimes.
- Truth #4: We can do difficult things!
Don’t miss the key point of the blog today. This is not a “downer” message. It’s a truth message–which will set you free. For me, it’s like having kids. Raising a family was the most difficult, time-consuming, challenging thing I’ve done in the last thirty-five years. It has also been the most rewarding, most fun, most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. It’s the same with the writing life. It’s been difficult, but I can’t imagine a career more rewarding than this. After many years, it does get easier--but I would never say it’s easy.
It’s okay to give up the fantasy that someday your writing life will be easy and smooth and not require you to grow or struggle anymore. You really don’t need the fantasy to keep you moving forward. “The fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
That being the case, what fantasy about the writing life do you suspect you need to let go of?
September 30, 2011
A couple weeks ago I encouraged you to get ready for NaNoWriMo–the writing group that produces a book in November. I hope you have an idea for it now.
I also encouraged you to spend October getting organized so that you have the best chance of succeeding. To me, success includes having a really good rough draft done at the end of November (as opposed to 50,000 words which you throw out later.)
I Hate to Outline!
If you hate outlines, maybe you don’t understand the various kinds–and their purposes. If so, read these two articles and you may well change your mind:
“The #1 Reason You Haven’t Written the Book You Want to Write” talks about misconceptions around outlining a book–plus all the benefits. (I never sold the two books I wrote without an outline. I’ve sold 95% of the books I wrote where I used an outline, even if it wasn’t very detailed.)
“Outlining a Novel Step-by-Step” is a practical guide to this process. It can feel overwhelming when you start.
I Have No Time!
If you need help organizing your hectic life so that you can write, here’s another good article with practical advice for very busy people: “Organizing Schedules So You Can Find More Time to Write.” Although my kids are grown and married, I coordinate around babysitting grandbabies, going to a grandson’s soccer games, overnights, and my husband’s changing work schedule. Every season brings different changes, and we writers need to go with this flow as well if we expect to write through all the seasons of our lives.
I hope you have time this weekend to read those articles. Whether you are getting ready for NaNoWriMo or not, they’re full of valuable information. Make it a terrific weekend, everyone!
September 7, 2011
My good writing friend, Sherryl, and I were Skyping about a seriously time-consuming writing project we’d like to take on together. Since we both spend our lives constantly trying to squeeze out five more spare minutes, we realized that something in our schedules would have to give.
“Where’s the dead wood in your life?” we asked each other. “What can be cut?”
Take a Closer Look
I thought about it a lot last night and couldn’t come up with much of anything. I have a couple of writing jobs, I hold offices in a couple organizations, and I lead a couple of church groups. Some are new responsibilities this year, and some I’ve helped with for years. I was clueless about what to cut.
Then I heard someone on the radio this morning say:
“If the horse has been dead ten years, it’s time to dismount.”
Put It Out to Pasture
I made a list of my paid and unpaid jobs then. Which lifeless “horse” was I still trying to make gallop? Which job or position that once was fun and satisfying and productive was now just an unproductive time drain? Which things had run their course? Where should I “dismount”?
Some of our time drains are just habits we’ve had for years. Or they’re community or school obligations we took on, and somehow we feel they’re life-time commitments.
Take a close look at your stable of horses. I hope this month to dismount a couple of dead horses so that I have time to ride a new one!
This is a re-posted blog–and here’s the follow-up. I did resign from two of my long-term volunteer activities. In both cases, people who were on the sidelines stepped forward to take the positions. I stopped doing free book critiques too.
The changes took nearly a year, but I now have five hours per day to work on my writing, compared to the one hour I had when I first wrote this blog post. It was hard saying “I can’t” and “no, thanks” many, many times. But I love the outcome! I love looking forward to my work days now. Our lives are all different, but I bet you could get rid of some dead horses too.
Can you name ONE that could be eliminated from your over-crowded life?
July 20, 2011
Here you go! Seven ways to help you get the writing done–and sold!
June 29, 2011
The last two weeks we’ve talked about the stages of success. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one quality that is a “must have”: perseverance.
According to the dictionary, “perseverance” is steady persistence in a course of action, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
This year I worked with a young writer who embodies this quality and has inspired me not to quit when things get difficult.
It started last year when he wrote and asked me to critique his first YA novel of about 60,000 words, the first in a trilogy. I had an opening and told him to send it. He asked if I could print it off on my printer as he was a soldier deployed in Iraq and without a printer. He’d written the book there. (It was a very good and suspenseful story.)
Last month I heard from him again. The second book in the trilogy was finished. Could I look at it? And yes, he was deployed again and was sending the manuscript from Iraq.
I thought about the whining I had done over the years about being tired, the excuses I gave for being too busy to write every day, and the lack of support of a weekly writers’ group. And then…there’s a young soldier with a wife and two little ones back home who is deployed in a war zone–who grabs his spare minutes and writes two lengthy novels! I know he gets little sleep, I know he’s busy, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar he doesn’t have a weekly writing group!
But he writes.
Today I considered skipping my writing stint because my back is really hurting. Then I thought about the obstacles Kevin overcomes to write–and I sat down to write anyway. Time to develop some of his uncommon perseverance. (Enjoy today’s art, also courtesy of this young soldier. Love that frog!)
NOTE: For those of you in the San Antonio, TX, area, I wanted to give a little plug for our fall conference: Southwest Texas SCBWI Fall Conference It’s Saturday, September 17, 2011 from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM (CT)
The SCBWI event is featuring:
- Andrea Welch – Editor, Beach Lane Press (Simon & Schuster)
- Elena Mechlin- Agent, Pippin Agency (HarperCollins)
- Kristin Daly Rens – Editor, Balzer and Bray
- Author Diane Gonzales Bertrand
- Kim Murray, Online Media Specialist with Piccolo Media
- Richard Johnson, InteractBooks
Check 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.
March 21, 2011
I once had an apartment with one large hall closet. At first it was roomy and organized. Over the two years I lived there, it grew more and more crowded and chaotic as I stuffed more and more junk into it. One day, I realized I couldn’t jam one more thing in there and still close the door.
Something was going to have to come OUT before more would go IN.
Time is Like a Closet
One year I took some online classes plus set up a self-study program to grow in my writing craft. It would require around four hours per day to do everything I wanted to do. Given the fact that I NEVER had four free hours in a day, where was that time going to come from?
One thing I love to do on January 1 is change calendars: wall calendars in kitchen and office, desk calendars (daily and monthly) in my office, and pocket calendars for my purse. The squares of the New Year calendar pages are virtually pristine and pure. An occasional appointment already made dots a square or two, but that’s all.
The calendars I pitch have perhaps one or two clean white squares per month with nothing scheduled. Just looking at them makes me feel tired. I know from experience, though, that the clean calendars will soon look just as jam-packed as the old calendars if I didn’t take steps NOW to prevent it.
Create a “NOT To-Do” List
To make time for some new things I wanted to do, I had to look at the calendar and find the time wasters. Some events are important to me and will stay on my new schedule: our weekly potluck supper with my grown kids and grandkids, teaching Sunday school at the Air Force base to basic trainees, my every-other-week critique group, leading DivorceCare at church, and blogging 3X/week. These activities feed my goals of a strong extended family, volunteer service, and growth as a writer.
However, I noticed a LOT of stuff on my calendar that could easily go. (Well, easily in the sense that I wouldn’t miss it. Difficult in the sense that it would mean saying “no” more often-and people pleasers like me hate that.)
My Personal “Not To-Do” List
I know the Internet eats up a lot of time for me. This year I’ve decided to stay offline until noon by adding the blog the night before so it posts automatically in the morning without me being online. Before I go to bed at night, I remove the laptop (which has the Internet connection) from my office altogether. It’s easier to deal with the temptation this way. Out of sight, out of mind! Reading other people’s blogs, posting on Twitter and Facebook, and answering e-mail can wait till later in the day.
No more “come and buy something” parties. I don’t like parties selling jewelry, home interior decorations, clothing, pots and pans, etc. I am also going to limit how many invitations I accept to showers. At my age, every woman is having grandkids and giving baby showers for friends having new grandkids. I rarely know their children or grandchildren. The shower only appears to take two hours, but by the time you’ve bought and wrapped a gift, gotten yourself ready, and driven to and from in heavy city traffic, it kills about eight hours. A gift card in the mail would be fine most of the time. (Not sure I’ll ever get up the guts to RSVP with, “Hey, I’ve never even met your kid, and I barely even know you, so I won’t be coming or sending a gift.”) Sounds very Scroogey, I know. But ooooh, so tempting.
I will no longer clean the house before the every-other-month visit by the Orkin bug man.
I won’t attend more than one social function per weekend, no matter how much I love the people. Social functions wear me out, keep me up too late to get a good night’s sleep, and because talking aggravates my TMJ, it results in headaches. I was astounded how many things were on the calendar that I didn’t enjoy. (Example: both my husband and I hate football, so why are we going to Super Bowl parties every year?)
I will stop scheduling necessary doctor and dentist appointments in the middle of my work day.
This is just a beginning, but I think you get the idea.
Your task, if you decide to accept it, is to look at your old calendar and make a list of things you no longer want to do. Prune away the events, committees, and jobs that have become time wasters keeping you from fulfilling your own higher priority goals and commitments.
Keep the list near your phone. Practice saying, “Thank you for asking me (or inviting me), but I’m afraid I will have to say NO at this time.” End of discussion.
You can do it! I can do it! Having a “NOT To-Do” list is the only way we’ll be able to have a writer’s “To-Do” list that is effective.
[This is an excerpt from More Writer's First Aid. It will be out in paperback tomorrow, March 22.]
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!
November 26, 2010
Life is one choice after another. We have to choose our writing thoughts, which help shape our writing attitudes, and that leads us to the next level: actions. This is where the writing rubber meets the road.
A committed attitude will make choosing your actions easier. When you’re willing to do whatever it takes to revamp your personal life so you can write, the choices become clearer.
- You will do things like choosing to write before doing the dishes, even though it bugs you to leave dirty dishes in the sink.
- You will choose to write for an hour instead of watch TV or talk on the phone.
- You will choose to have that lower carb/higher protein lunch so your writing energy is high all afternoon.
- You will choose to retire at a decent hour so you’re alert to create the next morning.
- You’ll consciously choose to make quality time with your family so you can write without feeling guilty–and without being neglectful.
- Instead of a mental wish list, you’ll choose to set goals, write them down, and even make a poster for your wall so you’re staring at them daily.
- You will choose to settle family quarrels and resolve conflicts partly because NOT doing so saps all your writing energy.
Just One Fork After Another!
You will make choices in all areas of your life that will support your writing instead of making it more difficult. Each time you come to a fork in the road, try to make a choice that will put you in charge of your writing. Each choice might look small, but these decisions add up to your writing life.
It might sound restrictive, but it’s really not. In 2011, I hope we all find that freedom that comes from being in charge of ourselves–and thus, our writing.
What is one action you would change today if you could?Newer Posts »