This is my attempt at writing about time management. Which is to say, what follows is largely – though not entirely – fiction.
Not entirely because there have been times when my method – brute force, aka ductaping writer to chair – actually works. Those are usually my most productive times. When I manage to sit down and write and work on only one work, and not stray, I can do a book in a week… though my record is three days.
So, why don’t I work like that all the time? Mostly because I fall under my own influence.
When I was a brand new writer, knee high to a thesaurus, I wanted to give myself the impression that I had a “real job.” Coming from being in college and working almost full time on the side, the concept that I got to set my own hours made it feel like I was really unemployed and lying to myself. The fact that back then I was not making a cent off writing made things worse.
The touch-feel of work was needed for me to take writing seriously.
One thing I’ve learned which worked, from that time was that I should get up early – preferably get up when my husband got up to go to work. If I didn’t do that, it was all too easy to tell myself I’d take just one day off, lounge in bed till noon, then next day take just one day off – the way to h*ll on the installment plan.
So at this phase of my so called career, I got up early, dressed at least as well as I’d dress to go to a business-casual job, and set hours. “I’m writing from nine to five” worked when I didn’t have kids, when the hours shifted to match school hours. (On the other hand, getting up early wasn’t a problem, since I needed to wake up an hour before the kids, to have an hour to collect my thoughts before I had to deal with bathing/dressing/taking to school.)
Did it work? – Waggles hand. – About half the time. The problem in that time was the lack of a goal. I didn’t have a reason to get up and work. I had ambition, but that’s not how humans work. Like a novel, a life needs short term achievable goals on the way to the next one. Not knowing when or how of if I’d ever sell would send me into months and months of depressive silence and I fell in traps I later learned to avoid. The two years lost to Tetris are the reason I don’t game. The only exception I allow myself for that is this: if I’m ill – really ill, as in the doctor has me under prescription – I allow myself to take a week off and play mah jong on line. That’s it.
Next came my realization that I needed short time goals. This was the phase of the planners. Dan had just started using Covey planners, and he bought me one. Every morning I’d write my goal for the day. I’d give myself deadlines for each story/book.
Did it work? Surprisingly, yes. I don’t know how much of it was that it coincided with:
A writer’s group. I am right now on the verge of starting two of those with friends: one local, to provide support and encouragement to those of us planning to do indie publishing. One wherever, online, providing critique too.
What I’m trying to do is split the two functions of a writer’s group. I don’t know how that will work. However, here’s the thing, the local one can only meet once a month – it is a fact of life that both the friend starting it and I are busier than a one armed one-man-band in a sinking boat – which is too far away for critique, particularly if you’re working on novels. I would like, however, to work into it a goal-setting and reporting segment. Whether that will work on its own, I don’t know. It doesn’t online. I’m hoping it works in person. Of course, the other part of this is to make the indie writing seem as important as the traditional. We’ll see.
The critique group, on the other hand, is well… A critique group. I’m hoping to attract enough of my close friends, who frankly have no respect or awe whatsoever for my skills, to get honest critiques. The last local critique group I had didn’t work at all because I found myself in the uncomfortable position of sacred cow. In fact, unless the people in the group really know you well, or unless you’re all at about the same level, when you have what we’d call “success” however you define it, you’re going to find people taking one of two tacs with your writing. It’s like being on a panel with newby writers. They either shut up in awe of you, or they come at you and rip everything to shreds, in an attempt to PROVE they’re just as good.
Neither of these is useful. Look, at this point I know d*mn well I can tell a story. I don’t need you to tell me “you know how to tell a story” – conversely I also don’t need you to come at me claws out and go “this is has to be the most stupid idea I ever heard of, and do you know Michael Unknown wrote a short story with this theme in 1920″ or, my favorite “you never explain what dimatough is. How is it manufactured?” Or… What I need is sort of a pre-first-reader thing. Tell me “Sarah, I felt like you got a little lost in the infodump, here” or “uh… are you really going to make Thena grow a second head in this book? Because that’s what this line led me to think.” Minor crap, but crap that’s really hard for me to see by myself.
Anyway, it’s almost impossible to get a group that works like the group I had for ten years. Because we were all beginners and all trying (very trying. Yes, there were occasionally personalities.) And because if you didn’t write something for three weeks, without major illness, you were put on probation, it was the best production encouragement I ever had.
This is neither here nor there, as the conditions are not likely to return.
To make things worse, for the last two years my time management has gone haywire by… Freedom. In a way, I’m back to the initial stage, where I had all this freedom and therefore nothing got done. The difference is that now I DO get paid for my writing, and therefore that is a huge incentive to write.
However, it’s not a huge incentive to write on a specific project.
Structure used to be lent to my writing by two things – what my agent chose to green light to send to editors, so if I approached her with a project and she said “Sarah, I can’t sell that” I didn’t bother to write the proposal. OTOH if I approached her and she said, “Yes, ASAP” I worked on that proposal – unless I had a book on deadline. Between those two I was more or less always running (and often not doing anything I wanted to do, but that’s something else again.)
Now I do have my books under contract with Baen. But unless a book roars out with force – and somehow, books under contract never seem to – it’s too easy to hit a snag. And when I hit a snag, there are books I’m doing for indie publishing, or short stories to edit, or work for Naked Reader Press, or the short stories I need to write, like, you know Nuns in Space is selling like crazy, and if I do three more short stories, I can do a five story antho, and then…
The problem is that I can manage to be insanely busy and not get anything FINISHED while at the same time wearing myself down.
Now, I don’t know how much of that was the health issues – which are, fortunately, not fully gone but on the wane.
However, it’s becoming obvious it’s time to start a new attempt at control. I do have a planner – virgin, since January. And a calendar, ditto. (Part of it being it’s too far from my desk, so I keep forgetting it exists.) I do have a write on board which at this point is permanently etched with the November deadlines (I met the first, then I got sick.)
I won’t survive by my wits alone.
So, here is what I’m going to try: I’m going to try the timed thing again, nine to five, no deviation, start with Noah’s boy, because I could use the money. Work on it till finished. Start on another one.
Next: I need a planner that will work. The problem is the planner I have is depressing because it assumes I am in a corporate job. The writers’ planners I’ve bought seem to be for literary writers and designed to do a book every three years or so. They have “inspirational poetry” on the side, and make me want to gag. What I think I need is a project-based planner, with the option of setting deadlines, then setting phases of the project. If any other writer has found something that works, I’d appreciate a tip. If you don’t have one, I might end up designing one. Eh. I can then sell it, so all is not lost.
And then I’m going to try the two groups so I have someone I’m accountable to.
Will this work? I don’t know. But I hope so. With no deadlines and no boundaries it’s too easy to get lost in dolce fa niente, with the twist that it’s not even sweet and it’s definitely not fa niente (do nothing) but more wasting myself in myriad little pursuits that don’t come to anything.
I shall report. And those of you who have had the same issue and have perhaps found something that works, chime in. We will figure this out.
If it makes you feel better, with more and more of the people who still have a job finding themselves working at home or self-defined jobs, we might be on the vanguard of the way of the future.