Time Management For Writers or How to Herd Cats

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.

Poor future.

102 thoughts on “Time Management For Writers or How to Herd Cats

  1. however, to work into it a goal-setting and reporting segment

    Accountability partners, requiring some level of mutual trust, an old but effective way to help keep working towards a goal. Having someone out there who you know will have to look in the eye and tell when you have fallen short can be a strong motivation not to slack-off. The better ones can also provide a shove and a point in the right direction when you’ve gotten off track and you’re stuck in the mud. The best ones will help you pick up the pieces when your world has blown up in your face. And whatever — hoped to be more of the time than not, there to cheer you on when you are doing well.

    I do hope that you will get out from under the thumb of the tyranny of the urgent, and be able to get on with your writing goals soon.

  2. Ummm – I had a tantrum yesterday. My tantrums are not the wild yelling, screaming, and throwing things of yesterday. They are more I sit in a corner and yell in my mind. So yea, I was having a tantrum about my writings. It seems that I work hard for NO purpose.

    I do need to set goals like I did when I was in college. Every semester I would look through the classes and then make goals. Have you read Rusch’s Freelance Guide? She has a section there about scheduling. Plus she is a proponent of doing 8 hours minimum (like a job ) a day. It includes writing and editing.

    I think the reason I was so mad at myself is that I get distracted easily. Right now I want to get up and do the dishes instead of writing this.

    Great idea. Hope it works. I need to get back into my schedule. Also, I wonder if it would help if I dressed as if going to work. I am sitting here in a T-shirt and shorts. lol But we aren’t using air conditioning and I get hot… and so the excuses start.

      1. okay there have been stories that have used the easily distracted MC (usually in animated movies). I love reading about them. lol

        1. Okay — here’s my main issue — until now, almost 2 pm my time, I’ve been in this order: housekeeper, mom taxi, errand-runner and mom taxi again. This is why it’s useful having an away office. Unfortunately the building mine was in is now mostly deserted and frankly not safe. (Read in commentary on the state of small business.) So I have to wait until my regular arrangement for office-ish comes back on line in September. Eh.

          1. Well – having a home office for me is the way to go… cause there are times when I have to take a nap. It is not optional. Plus there are days when I just feel sick for no reason that I can see. I take it one day at a time. I have a table… I get up and stretch. If there are problems, I call my hubby who is about ten minutes away. I can keep myself alive for ten minutes. 😉

            I don’t have to run people around, but I do end up doing errands one or two days a week. I try to do the grocery shopping on the weekend with the hubby.

            The main cleaning problems I have are to do with washing dishes, vacuuming, and laundry. I just don’t have the energy to write and do housekeeping so the housekeeping suffers. If I had the money, I would probably get a Merry Maid.

            Life- life- life – (or is it money, money, money).

  3. On the whole, sit down and write thing for a minimum of 8 hours etc. Something to consider as a possibility. I am not a writer but, I am a technician, someone who works with his head at least as much as with his hands. I have been known to do my best work while on break, letting my subconscious do the heavy lifting. Some of that time you “waste” may not be wasted at all, OK not the 2 years of Tetris 🙂
    I don’t know how you work internally but, make sure that you takes such possibilities into consideration

  4. I haven’t finished reading the post yet, but I just had to comment on this one:

    The two years lost to Tetris are the reason I don’t game.

    For “Tetris”, substitute “World of Warcraft”, and you have described my relationship with computer games in exact detail. I spent about two years hooked on WoW, until the day when I realized that the game was just offering me the illusion of accomplishment, while not actually accomplishing anything in the real world — and my work was suffering. (And besides, once you get up into the end-game raiding part of WoW, it can start to feel more like work than a game: you have to spend 2-3 hours a day, running the same dungeon over and over, until you finally get the randomized armor piece that matches your character’s abilities. Then rinse, lather, and repeat. End-game WoW becomes a Red Queen’s Race where you have to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place.)

    Then one day I realized what I was doing, realized that playing computer games was getting in the way of the stuff I really cared about (like my relationship with God, and the work I’ve decided to spend my life doing), and realized that my behavior with computer games almost exactly mirrored the behavior of an alcoholic with alcohol — and I chucked the whole thing and went “cold turkey”. That was a couple of years ago, and I haven’t played a single game since, not even Freecell or Mahjongg. I’m much more productive now, and much more satisfied with how I spend my time — I’d encourage anyone else to do the same.

    1. Don’t even get me started…

      While I still game for relaxation, that does not include MMO-gaming, which is an animal unto itself. When I meet younger guys, though, including my children when they get older, I harp on the theme of the older version of themselves looking back at all that completely wasted time and smacking the younger version around.

      For non-writers, how many musical instruments could you master with that same time allotment? How many languages? For writers…don’t even get me started :0

  5. In the exciting fast-paced world of corporate accounting, when faced with the excitement of a three-month delayed checking account reconciliation, I have found that it helps if I establish a start-up routine: boot-up computer, fetch coffee, arrange the programs I will be using on my monitor, sharpen pencils … all ploys intended to put me in a routine, a glide path into working. It is similar to the advise given people with insomnia: create a routine that cues your mind that it is time for a specific task.

    For writing I would think that spending 15 – 30 minutes reviewing the “story-to-date” would help. Try spending your first half hour jotting notes on various story ideas/developments. Whatever works for getting the writer-motor to kick over and fire-up.

  6. 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. […] What I think I need is a project-based planner, with the option of setting deadlines, then setting phases of the project.

    Sarah, it sounds like you might find Trello handy. It’s an online tool, which carries its own set of drawbacks if you often work in locations without Internet, but the advantage is that it’s not tied to a single computer. I’ll post several links to places where you can see examples of how Trello can be used (it’s quite a flexible tool), but I’ll put those in a separate comment so that this comment can go through without WordPress sending it to moderation.

    In a nutshell, Trello is a tool that lets you pretend your computer screen is a whiteboard covered in sticky notes, which you have arranged in different columns representing… well, whatever you want. Some people set their columns up to represent “To Do”, “In Process”, and “Completed” tasks, and have a different virtual “whiteboard” for each project. Other people use a single virtual “whiteboard” for all project, and set up the columns to represent each project, with the cards representing single tasks that need to be done for the project. Each card can have a deadline attached (and Trello will turn the deadline marker yellow when it’s coming up, and red when it’s overdue), and cards can also be tagged with up to six color labels (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple), which can have whatever meaning you choose to assign them. (There’s also an option to add “texture” to the colors, so colorblind people can still use the feature — a nice bonus since not everyone thinks about colorblind people. I’m not colorblind, but I appreciate the thought.) Each card can also have a checklist attached, so if there are subtasks within a task, you can fit them on one card.

    What’s nifty about Trello is that it offers a lot of different organizational tools, but it leaves you free to do what you want with them. It was designed to help project teams working in different locations to help coordinate their work, but it doesn’t bake in any assumptions: it works equally well for single-person projects as for team-based projects. I really like it (obviously, since I’ve written so many words about it), and I think you might find it helpful as well.

    I’ll post a reply to this comment with links to “how to use Trello” resources, or a couple of example Trello boards that could show you how it works. That comment will, of course, land in moderation at first since it’ll have about 5-6 links in it.

    1. Here’s a Youtube video introducing Trello, seven minutes long. Gives a good feel for what using Trello is like.

      Here’s a simple Trello board I made just to play around with its features. I created it as a private board, then made it public later: Trello lets you configure boards as public or private, and that decision isn’t locked in stone. If you later decide that you don’t really want that board to be visible to the whole Internet, you can change your mind and hide it away. (A note to anyone who finds this comment months from now: don’t be surprised if this link no longer works. At some undefined point in the future, I’ll probably notice this board, not remember why I created it, and say “Why is this thing public?” and either make it private or delete it.)

      Here’s the Trello board used by the Trello development team to keep track of Trello development. They “eat their own dogfood”, as the saying goes. (I’m curious: that’s a common saying in the software industry, but is that saying used by anyone outside of the software industry?)

      Here’s the Trello manual. Most of it was pretty intuitive to me, but the manual told me a couple things I hadn’t figured out, like the keyboard shortcuts for assigning label colors or moving cards between columns.

      Finally, something I forgot to mention in my previous comment: you can attach arbitrary files to a Trello card, so if you want to keep something like proposed cover art in your project-management system, you can. Of course, you’re trusting that the makers of Trello (Fog Creek Software) will keep the promise they’ve made that “Access to your data is tightly controlled internally. Unless we hear different from you, we will only be able to access and view the information you make public. We do run anonymous usage profiling over our database, but no one can inspect your data without your say-so.” But Fog Creek has an excellent reputation in the software development world, and I believe them when they promise that your private data will stay private.

      Oh, and one other thing: Trello is free, and Fog Creek has also promised that it will stay free. From the same privacy page: “Trello is free forever. We may add pay-only features in the future, but everything that’s free today will be free tomorrow and forever. Also, we’ll not make a for-pay feature that forces you to compromise on privacy, security, or portability. Those are built-in. The maker of Trello, Fog Creek Software, has been profitable for years on the strength of its other products. We can afford to foot the bill. We have no outside investors pushing us to make a quick buck on Trello by selling out our users or getting you hooked before jacking up the price. Trello is free.”

      Hopefully that’s enough information for you to figure out whether this is a tool you’ll find useful.

      1. Trello is a good suggestion. I’ve also heard good things about scriviner along the same lines.

        Sarah may also find useful something closer to a traditional project planning tool like MS Project. Something that allows for work schedules, assigning hours to projects to ensure you aren’t double-booking, adding milestones/deadlines for each part of the project. I’m not sure how well Trello does for that sort of planning.

        There are some decent free alternatives to MS Project, but rather than try and compare them myself, I’ll just give a review link:

        Openproj is probably the closest to MS Project in functionality, but if you use Google docs, Gantter may be a better bet for you.

  7. Start by cutting pathways in the mind through the jungle, then make a dirt path, then perhaps a wider path, then maybe walking stones, then maybe a brick pathway, then perhaps a hardtop road… we are still a long way from the eight-lane superhighway we are reaching for— but we are getting there… now back to work…

  8. I’ve found that I can do about 4000 words a day if I break it up into manageable chunks. I’ll do 1000-1500 when I get up, another 1000-1500 around lunch, and a final bit at night. This gives me less of a chance at burnout(something I find that happens if I write for more than three straight hours without a break).

    1. I find that there’s a marked difference between pantsing it and working from a semi-rigid (no pun) structure. The word count I can generate in short order is a lot higher when I have a well fleshed-out framework to go from.

      I also tried working in a script-like format with the characters names:dialog with (direction) when I was just free-forming it and flew through sequential scenes so fast it blew my mind. Going back and looking at that structure, it was easy to change it to 3rd-person omniscient and plug in the “he said”s where necessary. I had never tried that before, but I used it to get an email out to an alpha reader before I lost what I had in mind and it worked really, really well.

      1. The other thing that comes from the script-like format – thanks for reminding me – is making the dialogue carry its own weight before you start adding the rest of the stuff.

        Beat by beat, the dialogue is set up to tell the story unequivocably if each character goes into a beat with a goal, and the goals are contradictory (Actor’s Studio method).

        Then either finish with stage direction – and you have a play, or put in description, foreshadowing, interior monologue, setting – and you have fiction.

        Writing an actual play is a hard – and very rewarding – way to creating great dialogue (check by reading – or having computer read – in a monotone).

        1. is making the dialogue carry its own weight before you start adding the rest of the stuff

          EXACTLY. I wasn’t aware of the dichotomy you mentioned between taking dialog and going play or fiction, thought that’s pretty interesting. What I found to be the case is exactly as you mentioned. The dialog becomes the focus, first and foremost. When bullets are zinging and vistas are being contemplated, it’s not really the right tool, but for people sitting around a table…it might possibly be unmatched in effectiveness.

          1. I am a panster – I know where the twists are supposed to be and where I should end it… That’s it… I have a character or characters and then go with it. I never could get outlines and planning sheets to work for me. I tried… I really tried.

              1. LOL. You think. It will change. I’ve been all over the map in ten years. And there’s always the fun novel that’s unlike any you’ve ever worked.

                1. Joshua: “So you just used humans—“
                  Fasla: “Created.”
                  Joshua: “—to be fuel cells for this ‘bridging’ system?”
                  Fasla: “Of course! What other possible use does the universe have for a planet crawling with psychotic apes?”
                  Joshua: “And what happens to us now that you’re ready to leave?”
                  Fasla: “Trannies. Every single person you know, including mommy and daddy, turned into flesh-eating, brainless, corpses. Shambling along until they fall apart. You thought your pitiful inoculation against my virus would stop it? Laughable.

                  Trannies are zombies, btw, short for “translife”. That was about two minutes of typing simply based on the last sentence Fasla says. Using the dialog version let the back and forth fly much quicker and more naturally.

  9. I’m not certain if this is at all useful or helpful, but I have divided my writing into “work” and “treat.” Work includes the novel (now up to 50K words and climbing! And a villain walked in – whee!) and my non-fiction manuscripts. Treat means short stories and novellas with my MC and her associates. After two weeks of work, if I get at least six hours (or 5K main-text words, because footnotes and transcription eats time like mad) per day done, I get a two-day treat. After one week of research (usually eight hours a day with an hour break to thaw out from overly-cooled archives), I get a two-day treat if schedule permits.

    The way my household is currently running, I get larger time blocks in the afternoon than in the morning, so I start writing around ten or eleven AM and wrap up around five or six (allowing time for potty breaks, stretching, bringing in mail, cleaning out cat box). I also sneak in a few hours in the early mornings on weekends, before the rest of the family gets up.

  10. Once again, I’m an outlier here. I wrote my first book in seven days. Each of the others took longer. I wrote 90% of “King’s Cross” during my one attempt to participate in NaNoWriMo. Most of the rest have taken anywhere from three months to two years. I started the novel I’m writing now the end of June, and I’m up to chapter 5. I should be through with it by October or November.

    I also write for my own pleasure, rather than a desperate need for money. Don’t get me wrong – I could ALWAYS use the money, but we live fairly well from payday to payday, with a little left over now and then. Besides, money is the best possible feedback any writer could get!

    Writing on a schedule? Forget it! If I can produce one or two paragraphs a day, I feel like I’m succeeding. On good days, I can write an entire chapter, possibly two. On a bad day, I’m happy to add a single sentence, and I frequently go a day or two without adding anything.

    I’d LOVE to belong to a writer’s group, a critique group, or anything else like that, but the way I feel plays such a part in how well I can do ANYTHING that it’s best I don’t. I tried Amanda’s seminar, and found that even that was more than I could manage. The one thing I need the most is good, critical feedback on my writing – style, content, plot development, character development, etc. I haven’t gotten enough of that from anyone.

  11. I’ve been doing NaNo for years. It’s definitely my most productive time. I have finally gotten to the point where I am trying to edit and fix enough existing work that I felt that doing it this summer would be counter-productive. I’m aiming for November, however. I’m unpublished, so the deadline and the graphs really work on me.

    I have a friend at work who is working on a mystery novel. I am plugging away at my science fiction. We only very occasionally read each others’ work. Mostly, we set deadlines for each other. If I set a deadline for myself, I have the power to unset it. If she sets it, I feel stuck. Then we have to report back to each other. We know that meeting our own deadlines helps the other person feel she has to meet hers. We have also had races, where she who did not finish x buys lunch.

    I’m a lister: work stuff, errand stuff, chores, it all goes on a list. I put 4 500’s on the list, for four sets of 500 words. I like crossing stuff off.

    These are kind of goofy, but they are all helpful in varying degrees.

  12. @accordingtohoyt – “Next: I need a planner that will work…” etc., to “…end up designing one”.

    I’m an old Franklin user, too. Something I found out years ago: I could do a better “planner” by doing a single page in Excel (that met my needs) and saving it as a template. Easy to replicate. Make as many as you need. When you need. Infinitely expandable. Infinitely adjustable. Specific to your needs.

    …you don’t necessarily have to be a brilliant designer (or Excel wizard) with a lot of free time, either.

    Just copy the bits from some planner page that works for you, and expand/change it with additional bits that you know you need (and when you’ve used a planner system for awhile, you know what don’t work, what needs expanded, and what’s missing). Print out the pages you need, when you need ’em.

    If you’re Excel averse, use Word. Or Publisher (busted! – yes, I live in a MS-centric Uverse). Or whatever.

    On the cloud, if you’re adept or reliant, just use Dropbox or Boxnet (or Skydrive or Cloud drive, whatever) …if you’re ‘Droid, Kingsoft Office (free on Playstore) and Boxnet (free for a couple of gig capacity) make phone-to-tablet-to-laptop sharing VERY transparent for Word & Excel documents …there’s a lot to be said for a learning curve being almost non-existent, and “designing your own” answers to that.

  13. I need a quota in words. And must make it up if I fall behind but can not do it in advance.

    The real problem is revising where I’ve never worked out a good quota system, because either words or pages can be dangerous.

    A good thing is to have a location where you post your daily progress. Including, I did nothing today. If that will send to you to the typewriter to avoid the humiliation.

    1. I know I shouldn’t ask this, because a page quota works for me, but what are it’s dangers?

                1. I should point out this bad joke comes from when we had guinea pigs. Younger son routinely talked about them “exorcising” — if I’d been inclined to write talking-animal stories, there would have been two guinea pigs tramping through the animal world, exorcising possessed bunnies.

      1. Because some pages may need really in depth revision so that you are changing thousands of words on a handful of pages — which, if you count antiwords (which, when written, instantly annihiliate the nearest word leaving no trace except a possibly improved manuscript), can easily let you get up to any word quota but not to a page one.

        Conversely, if you just have to make a few tweaks over pages and pages, it’s the other way ’round.

        It’s impossible to have a revision quota, in my experience, that’s not laughably easy to meet some days. If you can keep on revising, that’s all well and good but there are days where a higher quota would really have helped — except that it would have made other days impossible.

        1. I see what you mean. I never use a word quota in revising, so I have to use a page quota. I guess I figure it averages out over time even though I do experience what you are describing. Sometimes I use a scene quota, and that’s good, too; and you can feel absurdly pleased at the number of pages you’ve covered. Of course, a messy scene has its own problems.

  14. Treat writing like a job. Set time aside each day (x number of hours) or else a specific goal (two complete pages per day), just like you would with a regular job. If you already have a full-time job, treat writing like a part-time job, and set aside a little less time/set smaller goals, but whatever you set, KEEP TO THEM.

    When I’m working full-time (I’m a full-time college student at age 57 ugh), I write over the weekends, or late at night, as long as my studies aren’t compromised. I have some trouble writing my fiction during term time, because all my courses are paper-heavy (Eng Lit, History, French Lit etc).

    Vacation time? Write, write, write, baby. This summer I finished two books, edited one more for publication, and I should have one more finished and nearly-publishable by the end of August (beginning of the Fall semester).

    At all times, repeat this mantra to yourself: I am a writer. Whatever else I have to do, I do because I have to; but writing is what I WANT to do.

    When people ask you what you do, tell them you’re a writer. When you have to put down your “Occupation/Profession” on some official document, put “Writer”. Don’t watch crap TV; think about plot resolution, or character development, or a new story idea, or reworking an old one.

    Remember one thing: the essence of being a writer is OUTPUT. It can be quality writing, or voluminous writing; it doesn’t matter as long as it’s publishable. (Balzac used to spend up to three MONTHS on his first sentence, and it shows. Stephen King used to set himself a chapter a day. Apply the same kind of dedication to your work.)

    1. I try to do that too. What derails me is writing too many things, and therefore not finishing things on time. Er… Health hasn’t helped either.

      One thing I found — not sure why — if you put Novelist, instead of “writer” on forms, people are less likely to question it/treat you like you’re nuts.

      1. What derails me is writing too many things

        Before I started writing anything, I pitched an idea I had for a short-story to a writer friend at a party. Sort of a Twilight Zone story with the obligatory twist ending. He convinced me to get it written as a short-story and that ballooned into a book outline because I kept questioning the motivations of those involved.

        Then I stepped back and wondered how everyone involved had gotten to where they were at the opening of the story. Doing that outline basically showed that there were two entire novel-length stories prior to the original little short-story I had started with. So now I’m concentrating on the first one.

        At this rate, I’ll end up backtracking and questioning original motivation until I find myself in a magnificent garden looking at a naked couple crunching on apples.

          1. That’s what it’s turned into, certainly. The first and third books, origin and conclusion, centering on the grandfather and the grandson respectively, are fully fleshed out. The middle (isn’t the bridge story always the hardest to get right?), not so much, but the benefit is that I know where I’m coming from and I know exactly where I need to get to…and I know exactly what’s really going on, unlike all but one of the major players.

            In the end, I want the character twist and the truth of what has actually transpired over 50-odd years to be so jarring that the reader will set the book down, look around for help because they cannot believe what just happened in the third act of the third book.

            When I saw Book Of Eli, I thought it was a pretty decent post-apocalyptic movie with some major talent among the actors. It wasn’t until the very last scene that I realized, due to the truth about Eli, that I had actually watched two entirely different movies. That’s what I’m going for and it feels like it will take novel-length stories to get there.

  15. My problem may be the fact that I actually have a lot of free time. I started working again a month ago, but it’s only a couple of hours every morning (still doing paper routes), I go to work around 2 in the morning, I’m back about three hours later, the rest of the day no obligations since I live alone. I can do whatever the hell I want, well at least as long as it doesn’t cost money. And more than half of the time I end up procrastinating. I just kind of putter around and do a little bit of that and a little bit of something else, don’t finish anything and then it’s already time to sleep or to go to work again.

    I guess that’s also the pattern I developed during my periods of depression (mostly that SAD I have complained about here often enough). The way I got used to dealing with that was to hunker down and just wait it out. No goals, no thinking about anything else than how to get through the day at hand. But that pattern is way too easy to drop in now even when I’m not depressed. I end up just kind of waiting, but not for anything else except the next meal time and the next work time and the next sleeping time. I can rouse myself out of it, but sooner or later, and way too often sooner, I just drop back into that same pattern. Staying out of it was a bit easier when I had more of an income and could afford out of home hobbies, like riding and historical European Swordmanship classes – if I pay for something it’s much more likely I will actually go to the classes – but right now I just don’t have the money for anything like that.

    1. Perhaps set up a very simple goal like walking for 30 minutes every day at approximately the same time. I’ve found that exercise can both clear the mind and infuse it with inspiration once and a while. There have been times when I’ve gotten to the top of the hill we live on and gone straight to the keyboard because I didn’t want to forget what I’d come up with on the walk. This explains the towel next to the computer in the garage 🙂

      Note to self: Never live in a house on a steep hill.

      1. I lived atop a steep hill for ten years, and I gained ten pounds a year — now more than half lost. You don’t go out, because coming back in is murder, and you know it.
        Walks and — I know this is weird, but trust me — showers are your friends. Indulge them often.

        1. It gets worse than that, though. Steep hill means slanted yard means self-propelled mower means SCOTT is the only member of the family who can cut the grass…fairly large yard too, so slant + size = two hours of tiring work.

          I remember driving home one day, a couple years before my son was born, and I realized that between my wife and two daughters…I was going to have to cut the grass for the rest of my life. Very rarely has a realization hit me like a gut-punch like that one did. It sounds silly in retrospect, but there it is.

          And then Trip was born the next year. I’m still cutting my grass, but not for long……

          1. Interesting. I was the one who mowed the backyard, a job complicated by my younger son’s experimenting with explosives at three and making a crater in the middle of it, which I could never quite smooth out.

            1. Mine is complicated both by the slant and the mound of earth, some 12-15′ wide at the base, roughly 4-5′ tall and resembles a shield volcano. It was underfill for the previous deck and I’ve kept it there for the inevitable retaining wall project we need to do, but never seem to have money for.

              As it is, I built a huge treehouse for the oldest daughter, so the youngest made me promise her a castle on that mound, much to my wife’s chagrin. You should see the sketches the girls have done for the castle. How many 8 and 4 year olds would include a “mission planning” room completely with a weapons locker?

              Someone has been influencing those two…

          2. Try some ground cover in areas where the planned use doesn’t demand being grassy — if local codes and climate allow.

            The Spouse had mowing the yard duty as a young man, but after he mowed over a wasp’s nest the task was transferred to his sister.

            1. CACS – I understand EXACTLY what your Spouse went through. I stepped into a yellow-jacket nest when I was 16, carrying some replacement fence posts back to our pasture. I had over 70 stings from the waist down. It took almost ten years and two hurricanes to get one of those fence posts out of the oak tree… 8^) Luckily, I grew up in Louisiana, and had been stung so many times by wasps and bees it didn’t send me to the emergency room, but I moved very slowly for about a week.

          3. I generally find mowing the lawn to be conducive to extended thought. The dully repetitive nature of the task is conducive to gnawing ideas. Nowadays I use my MP3 player and audiobooks to prevent that problem.

            1. Bah. I’ve no time for that sort of thing when I’m in the middle of trying to win the gold in the Lawn Mowing Olympics and hearing the roar of the crowd. Seriously…it’s disturbing. I came up with that daydream back in 1984 as a teenager and haven’t been able to cut a yard since where it doesn’t keep occurring to me.

              “McGlasson comes up for the turn…there’s the turn and…OH, what a plant. The judges have GOT to be happy with the way this young man is handling those contours on this very tough Olympic course.”

              etc, etc

              1. Well, that’s one way to keep from being bored to death while doing it, anyway.

                My yard has so many corners and obstacles that I can’t hit that mower trance where you just go down the stretch, turn, cut off the end, turn, go back down the stretch, turn, cut off the other end, repeat until done. I used to be able to do that with the lower yard (2 acres in the creek’s high flood plain) on the riding mower, but it’s broken and I haven’t been able to get it fixed, so that’s all weeds now.

                  1. Frankly, if I could afford to put up a fence to keep them in, I have seriously thought about miniature goats. Sheep would probably die in the summer here if they didn’t get sheared.

                    1. I like goats – we had them when I was growing up.
                      If you have dairy problems (i.e. allergies or migraines), goat dairy is easier for the human to eat/drink… etc. I eat goat cheese now.

                  2. I have been told that Sheep have to be minded and kept moving, elsewise they will eat down to the roots and kill the grass.

                    1. ROFL. Actually I like the line from Independence Day. “They’re like Locusts” for socialists, I mean, not sheep.
                      CACS, I understand that’s actually goats. You can turn sheep out to graze, no issue, but goats have to be kept moving. There is a theory that Greece used to have a lot more soil cover but goats took out the grass and erosion set in. This MIGHT be born out by the fact that in the classical age, the islands appear to have supported cows. A lot of them.

                    2. Sheep are okay – although don’t let a cattle man hear you. It is the goats that eat down to the roots. And yes, they have to be kept moving. Although they can eat plants that other animals can’t. For instance cheatgrass has no value to cows or sheep (and it is all over the West now). However, goats can eat it.

                      Sheep can eat it when it is green… but only when it is green.

                    3. when things got really bad in Portugal in the seventies, all of a sudden, families that hadn’t had any livestock in fifty years, acquired goats. It was normal to see youngest child taking goats for a walk before school.
                      Some still have them — provident people — some in the garage space of their stack a prol apartments. (This my kids found hilarious.)

                    4. Did they wander for forty years? Can goats build calves? If there was a Burning Bush in front of an errant goat, would it just eat it? Would there be…

                      (I’m assuming you’re all tuning out at this point)

                    5. One of the things this city raised girl learned when she landed in rural Tennessee was that there are things that grow in the fields that are bad for critters to consume — beyond the ‘onion grass’ which produced an unpleasant flavor in milk in the spring — presenting a real danger to the animal. One more reminder that there is more to know than what it takes to survive in one’s particular corner of the world.

                    6. Sounds like a matter of survival to me 🙂
                      Any chickens. We could have lived off the eggs and goat’s milk if we had to do it. There were nine children in my family at the time with growing boys (all the boys are over six feet) so we were hungry.

        2. Likely non sequitur: One of the very few things I do not love about the Blue Ridge Parkway is that, as it travels along a series of ridges, almost all the trails start downward and return upward. 😉

          Congratulations on the particular loss, that is not an easy accomplishment.

          1. Another downside to living on top of Everest is that it’s tough to teach your kids how to ride a bike. I had to take each of them to the nearest school parking lot to do so.

            On the funny side, I once left an apple on the roof of my car as I climbed in one morning. As I pulled out, it fell off and started rolling down the street. I followed, curious to see what was going to happen, but I should have realized what was about to occur. About halfway down the hill, the road jinks to the left a bit. The apple, unfortunately, did not jink with it and instead hit the small rain gutter and caught big air, slamming into the front door of a house that absolutely minding it’s own business.

            At 6am.

            As I drove past, the enraged homeowner whipped open the door only to be greeted with apple sauce on his front door and the back of my car. From his vantage point, he had just be drive-by-fruited.

            1. Our kids never learned — because of that. The school playground wasn’t level enough either.

              And because we only had a one car garage and Dan’s mustang convertible used that, I parked on the street and unloaded groceries. Let’s say a bottle of soda could make it all the way to main street (five blocks away) before we could catch it.

              1. When I was in 7th grade I could hop on my bike in the morning and (traffic permitting, and it usually did) coast all the way to school, two miles away. The trip home again, not so easy.

                1. I had a “Grit” paper route when I was 15-16 years old. It covered 26 miles, including some rolling hills. I had a one-speed bike. I always got a workout when I made that route. As Sarah said, showers are your friend. I usually walked to and from school. It was a little short of a half-mile away. It started off ok – nice and level. Then it climbed up fairly steeply before leveling out. Used to take about 10-15 minutes to walk it. The only time I hated the walk was after two hours of football practice.

      2. Exercise? Exercise? The very thought. If I walked for 30 minutes here in Cuidad Tejas Norte, I’d die of dehydration. (Last night’s low temp: 82.) It’s hard to be “infused with inspiration” when your lungs are collapsing and your mind is cleared of all thought except “Jesus Christ I need to get cool.”

        So, let’s see: walk for 30 minutes; or start writing a scene, or read an act of a Shakespeare play… what was the question again?

        1. Kim — I grew up in Louisiana, which isn’t much different. During the summer it’s a race between heat and humidity to see which one reaches 100 first. It’s a bit drier, but just as hot, in Dallas/Fort Worth. Much hotter but drier still in San Antonio. In Houston, where my brother lives, humidity always wins. Strange, as a kid it didn’t bother me. Now when I go back, Arthur puts me in a head-lock, and I can’t wait to leave.

          1. While doing some research for my MS, I found it very interesting that there are three main power grids in the U.S. East, West, and Texas. Yet more reason why if the SHTF, the Lone Star state is probably the best place to be.

            Not withstanding prepper tendencies, I glanced at the housing market down there for a while. GOOD LORD. The amount of house you can get for the same money is startling. In St Louis, which if memory serves is something like market 20 (NY 1, LA 2, Chicago 3…), you can’t get near the house for the money as in, for instance, Dallas, which I think is market 10 and, one would think, higher in cost of living.

            Plus you get a free gun with every gallon of milk or loaf of bread. State law.

            1. Yeah, but in Texas you have that barbaric excuse for barbecue.

              N.B., a free gun is worth every penny you pay for it. Free ammo, OTOH, is G-d’s gift to marksmanship.

            2. “Plus you get a free gun with every gallon of milk or loaf of bread.”

              Yeah, but it’s only a lil’ .22 rifle.

              In Texas, a .22 rifle is not classified as a gun, but as a household staple like salt, flour or sugar.

                1. I once had a guy tell me I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a .22. I then shot off 25 rounds into a hickory nut tree, bringing down nuts with 24 shots. Hit one nut square. I HATE that… 8^)

                  He should have seen what I did at 200 yards with an H&K…

                  I like Texas – especially the piny hills of East Texas. Can’t take the heat or humidity, though. I’m thinking seriously of moving to Marble.

                  1. At the German fests there was a shooting gallery (looked like .22s but were sighted so they didn’t hit well). The guys would shoot for their girls. Well, I have a astigmatism and have learned to accommodate it when I am shooting. My hubby sometimes sites for me.

                    Well you were supposed to hit these ceramic things that held the little flags. and the flags would fall over. Well I was hitting the flag stems and breaking them lol. I had ten of them (every shot hit). The owner in broken English asked me NOT to shoot any more. But, after I left that booth was so busy. The guys were trying to outshoot me. (they weren’t very good). I was waving the flags to the oompah music. My landlord and my husband were so proud of me. The landlord bragged about my shooting skill to all his friends.

                    They keep a civilian army there. All the men have to qualify for shooting every year at the hunting club. There are more guns in Germany than you think. 😉

                    1. Din’t the Germans try gun control once before — back in the Thirties, IIRC? Anyone know how that worked out?

                    2. Germans are still using gun control. All the guns are kept in the hunting lodge under key of the game warden in that area. 😉 But they want their men to be able to shoot. Plus murders are done there by knives and cars… much bloodier in my opinion.

  16. Something that has really helped me is outlining as follows:

    Make an outline by describing scenes (and for me – major pieces of a scene) in one or two sentences. So I end up with somewhere around 20 bullets. Next, color everything you’ve written in one color, and everything you haven’t done yet in another. I like the visual picture of how much left I have, and what I need to do next. And coloring out an entire bullet gives me a “gold star” for the day. A bullet, or half a bullet can be a good daily goal. When I finish out a bullet, I put the word count of that scene/piece in red. Anything that needs work (“omg, you are really sucking this scene up, the character is acting like a total lunatic” “need more reseach on XYZ”) goes in comment boxes to the side of that scene so it doesn’t clutter my pretty outline (I use microsoft word – comment boxes are under review tab for anyone reading this who isn’t familiar). Another way this has helped is to get rid of crap scenes that aren’t really working.

    It is really helping. Wish I would’ve discovered this before I had a baby.

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