For the last couple of months we’ve been talking a lot about disturbances in your writing, from writer’s block to family to repetitive strain injury. It’s important to develop strategies for dealing with each of these obstacles, but in the end it all boils down to one thing: making sacrifices.
Today we are blessed that we can do just about anything we want with our time. We have literally millions of options. We can read or watch anything almost instantly with the internet. We can communicate instantly. We can also do everything that came before the internet: go for a bike ride, travel, garden, socialize at the local pub.
With so many options, everyone’s always busy. We fill up our time without thinking about it and forget to leave time for ourselves. We forget to make time for our craft. We get caught up in everything else the world has to offer and we forget the most important things.
It’s fun to party all the time or to spend all your time after work lounging in front of the TV. Even better, it’s easy. But if you want to turn this writing thing into your career someday, you have to make sacrifices. You have to turn the TV off. You have to close your browser. You have to say no to that party or at least go home early.
Making these sacrifices is hard at first, but it gets easier all the time, and without making the sacrifices, you’ll never become a career writer. If you can’t make the sacrifices, maybe this business isn’t for you. Perhaps writing is just an emotional outlet for you or a hobby. That’s fine. Just remember not to treat it like a hobby when you’re trying to turn it into a career.
To be good at anything, you need to practice. To practice, you need time. To create time, you need to make sacrifices. So make a commitment to your writing and make the sacrifice. You’ll know it’s worth it when you have that first publishing contract.
I mentioned last week that I realized I was over committed. The truth is, I’ve known it for a while, but I denied it. I wanted to be super woman, to be able to manage eighteen projects at once while still in school and even working. Unfortunately, I’m not super woman, and I reached a point where I couldn’t deny it anymore.
So I decided to create a plan. But it didn’t turn out to be like any other plan. Instead, it’s a list of rules. Some of it is taking my own advice from my series on finishing projects. I know how to finish a project. I’ve written over a dozen novels. Yes, editing is always slower work for me, but that’s no excuse for the pace I’ve been working at. My new rules govern how I spend my time, ensuring that I’ll have time for my important projects. Perhaps you could adopt one or two yourself.
My new rules
1. I will not work more than three days a week. This is at my part time job handing out flyers. As much as the money’s nice, I don’t need to pay rent right now, so there are much more important things than money. Also, considering that I don’t pay rent, I’ll still make a decent amount of money by working three days a week.
2. I will take breaks from Dianna’s Writing Den. I love blogging here at Dianna’s Writing Den, but it’s a huge commitment to post three times a week. From now on, I won’t be posting on holidays, and I’ll be taking one week off every month. The first of these breaks will be April 22nd-26th. Each post I don’t write is an hour spent on a different project, and right now I need all of those hours. I’m hoping this will allow me to not only put more hours into other projects but to bring you better content during the other three weeks of the month.
3. I will refuse any unpaid commitment requiring more than two hours of my time. Two hours is about the time it takes me to outline and write a guest post. I already have several unpaid long term commitments, and frankly, I need to guard my time carefully. I also need to focus on profits, so anything more than the smallest unpaid commitment is off the table.
4. I will not spend more than an hour on email on week nights. I get a lot of email. It’s actually ridiculous. Every day I get a few dozen awesome articles or blog posts in the mail along with essential correspondences. Making sure I don’t go over this limit means making sure I have time to work on other projects before bed. Playing catch up on the weekends isn’t a big deal either. Most of those emails can wait.
5. I will make progress on one of my main goals every day. This doesn’t have to be a lot of progress. I’m often exhausted when I get home, and I have to make sure that I’m awake on time for school. The important thing right now isn’t how much progress I make each day, but that I make progress each day. Even if I only edit one page of my book or write an outline for a guest post, that’s still a step in the right direction. If I take one step each day, sooner or later I’ll reach my goals.
These rules are designed to help me complete the projects that are important to me. They fit with the busy life I’m leading right now, and most are good advice at any point in a writer’s life. Once I’ve finished writing this post, I’ll be printing up this list and putting it somewhere prominent in my house. In a place where I’ll see it every day.
If you’ve been struggling to complete your projects due to a ‘lack of time’, perhaps you need to adopt some of these rules yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much a simple set of rules like this can change things–every minute counts, and a few hours of extra time a month can make a big difference.
Do you have rules around your productivity/writing/time?
School and work are both important, but focusing on one or the other to the exclusion of all else can be dangerous. We’re often told to put these things above all else, which can lead to self-neglect and even self-hatred. Capitalism tells us to focus on what makes us money and ignore that which nourishes the soul. Since these beliefs have been drilled into us since we were kids, they’re difficult to ignore.
Unfortunately work and/or school will probably always be factors in your life. The key is to make sure that they don’t interrupt your writing time more than absolutely necessary. So how do you keep school/work out of your writing time?
1. Don’t take on extra responsibilities. If you don’t have to stay at work late, don’t. If you don’t have to join that after school club, don’t. If it’s not going to help you advance in life, say no. Remember that the writing won’t happen if you’re always exhausted when you get home. Remember that in ten years you’ll be more upset about not having finished that novel than you will be about missing extra hours at work.
Sometimes you’ll want to take extra commitments, and that’s fine too—as long as you still carve out daily writing time, and refuse to take on extra assignments that you’re not passionate about. Think about how you’ll feel in ten years. Will you be sad that you missed that extra workshop? Will you be sad that you didn’t help create the yearbook? Or will you be sad that your novel is still only half finished?
2. Work smarter. Find ways to complete your tasks faster without sacrificing performance. There are always short cuts. Look for the ones that won’t damage your grades or your career and take them. Finish as much as possible while you’re at the office or in the classroom so you can focus on writing when you get home. Often you won’t be able to control how many hours you spend at work or in class, but by working hard during that time you can minimize the amount of work you take home.
Stay focused at work or in class and you’ll get everything done in record time—and you’ll be able to write guilt-free when you get home.
3. Say no to social engagements more often than you say yes. Why is this under the school/work category? Well, odds are that you have some friends at school or in the office. And that those people invite you to dinner or to the bar or to different events. Say no twice for every time you say yes. Say no if you know it will cut into your writing time. Be willing to leave early to write—nobody will look down on you for leaving early, and if they do, they’re not good friends anyway.
Saying no is hard. I struggle all the time with saying no to social commitments, but I’ve gotten better at it over the last couple of years and I’m getting better at it all the time. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then when you see how much progress you’ve made in that time you’d otherwise be spending at the bar, you’ll be happy you made the decision to say no.
On the other hand, maintaining friendships is important, so say yes once in a while. Real friends don’t mind if you’re busy, but they want to be valued too.
You’re probably going to be working or in school for a long time. Everyone has to accept that one of these things will take up five, eight or even twelve hours of their day, five days a week, for a large chunk of their lifetime. What we can do is make sure that we don’t let work and school eat our life to the exclusion of what really matters to us—writing, working towards our dreams and nourishing our souls.
How much does work/school detract from your writing life?
Don’t forget to take a look at the other posts in this series:
Hi guys, WordPress screwed me over and posted this on Friday instead of when it was supposed to go live, so if you’ve already read this, I’m sorry, but you can read a guest post by me today on Brianna Soloski’s blog Girl Seeks Place instead.
Today our discussion is about distractions that are at once harder to ignore and easier to eliminate than those caused by family: the distractions of modern day technology, specifically phones and the internet.
Phones and the internet—and phones that connect to the internet—are wonderful inventions that can easily turn into horrible soul sucking devices. How many times have you gone to email someone and ended up watching twenty cute cat videos? How many times have you picked up the phone and ended up talking through all your writing time? You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all done it. We’ll probably all do it at least once more in our lifetime.
But it has to stop. In order to finish that novel, non-fiction book or even one article, you need to focus. You need to ignore all those cute cat videos. You need to stay off the phone. You need to detox from Facebook until your project is finished, or at least your work for the day is finished.
How do you eliminate technological distractions? Check out these simple steps to a more focused work period:
1. Close your browser. I know you don’t want to. But if email is a constant lure for you, knowing that the window is already open will kill your concentration. You’ll be checking your email every three sentences, slowing you down quite a bit. Out of sight, out of mind. Close your browser window and hide the symbol somewhere you can’t see it without looking intentionally. It’s pretty common to have your browser in the tool bar of your operating system, but it’s also simple to remove the icon. Take the initiative and make it easy for you to ignore the internet.
2. Disable the internet. If the first strategy doesn’t work for you, it might be time to disable the internet altogether. This might mean disconnecting your computer from the internet. It might mean disconnecting your router and modem. Or it might mean downloading software that will block the internet during your writing time and turn it back on when you’re done without you ever having to move away from your computer. However you do it, try disabling your internet and see how much faster everything gets done.
3. Turn off your phone. Or, at the very least, turn it to silent. Odds are you won’t get any really important calls during the hour or two you’ve set aside for writing anyway. How many phone calls do you really need to pick up? Can you call back later? Do you really need to listen to your friend whine about her break up right now? As distraught as she is, she probably won’t be too upset if you call her back in an hour. You don’t really need to know every time something happens on Facebook.
Try turning off your phone during your writing time—or at least part of it—and see what a difference that makes. Try deleting most of your games and turning off those Facebook notifications permanently too. Limiting your access to time wasters makes it easy to get more done.
4. Switch technology. If you’re still struggling with technological interruptions, you might be better off switching to a word processor only device such as an Alpha Smart or even to pen and paper. Simply not having access to the internet will make it a lot easier. Turning off Facebook and email notifications on your phone or even having an older phone that isn’t compatible with Facebook or your email client can be of great assistance too.
Remember, technology is a tool. When used properly, it makes your life more comfortable and more productive. When used improperly, it can totally derail you from your goals and eat up your life so that you hardly exist offline. If you can’t use the technology properly, maybe it’s time to stop using the technology at all.
Everyone gets distracted by technology until they learn how to stop it. Different people are effected by technology differently. I’ve always been good at staying on task even with my browser window open and visible in the toolbar, but some people don’t write at all unless they completely remove themselves from the internet. It’s important to know yourself and to know which distractions you’re most vulnerable to and to learn how to eliminate or at least minimize them.
How do you keep technological distractions to a minimum?
November is finally over and hopefully so is your novel. If you’re anything like me, that means you’ve spent half the weekend celebrating and the other half catching up on sleep, and now you’re getting ready to dive into your December projects. It means you have time to get back to all those things you were neglecting this November. It means you can slow down your writing to give yourself time to focus on those things–your friends, your family, sleep.
But how do you slow down without losing momentum completely? It’s hard–and the fact that I’m writing this post now, after having spent the last two days in a coma, is proof of that–but it can be done, even with the holiday season looming over your head with a thousand distractions. Over the nine years I’ve spent doing Nanowrimo, I’ve learned quite a bit about keeping some of that November momentum, and I thought I’d share some tips with you today.
1. Have a set to-do list for the month. In order to stay organized during December, you’ll need a list of things that you’d like to accomplish this month. However, in the interest of being able to write in January and taking into account the holidays, you don’t want this list to be too long. It needs to include just enough to challenge you without making you continue the break neck pace of November. My own list only has four things on it: finish editing Moonshadow’s Guardian, get all the content written for a free e-book I’m working on, write a query for a shorter project, and write a new short story. These goals are enough to keep me busy all month without drowning in the amount of work I have to do.
If you’re unsure about where your balance is, put less on the list than you’re naturally inclined to. It’s totally normal to think you can accomplish more than is realistic. So to find the perfect balance, write the list of things you’d ideally like to accomplish this month, and then cross two or three things off the list. What’s left over is bound to be more realistic than what you were thinking.
2. Have designated writing time. It should be easy to implement a writing schedule since your family’s already gotten used to the idea. My suggestion is to take half the time you spent writing in November and dedicate that to writing in December. This way, you’ll have a little more time for your family and other needs, but you’ll still have a set time during which you work on your writing.
3. Don’t take too many days off. Now that there’s no deadline looming over your head, it’s easy to miss days and to fill up your writing time with events or even just with TV. But once you’ve started taking days off, it’s hard to get back into the routine. While it’s a good idea to take some days off this month–say, for example, you might decide not to write on Christmas Eve–too many will totally destroy your discipline. This is most dangerous if you take several days off in a row.
Personally, I find that taking a couple days off doesn’t hurt my discipline, but if I take more than three days off in a row it instantly becomes a lot harder to get back into the routine. So I never take more than two days off, and even on my days off I try to write something–a short scene, a descriptive paragraph, whatever I have the time and energy to write. Make sure you don’t spend too much time away from your work this month, or you’ll find it much harder to keep a writing routine in January.
4. Plan your writing time. By this I mean not to plan what hours of the day you’ll use to write–that’s what #2 is all about–but to plan what you’re going to do with that writing time each day. During Nanowrimo it’s easy. Your goal is already set for you: 1, 667 words every day. After Nano, it’s easy to get sidetracked and start working on things that don’t really matter. To combat this, create a daily to-do list.
Your daily to-do list should include goals that help you complete your monthly to-do list and should be balanced so that you’re not over working yourself. For me a typical daily to-do list includes things like write a blog post, edit three pages of Moonshadow’s Guardian and brainstorm future story ideas. I usually find I can complete about 4-5 items in my writing time, more if I’m really focused or if I have nothing to do but write after I get home from school.
Create your own list by breaking your monthly goals into chunks and figuring out what you can do every day to get closer to those goals. Don’t create your lists too far in advance though–I find the best time to create my to-do list for one day is right before bed the night before. This way, you can account for the fact that you’ll have different amounts of writing time on different days. For example, my to-do lists are always shorter on Tuesdays because I go to my writing group on Tuesday evenings. Remember to account for whatever events you have to go to when creating your own list.
These are just a handful of tips to help you remain productive in December and beyond. While today I mention them specifically to help you keep your November momentum, they’re good tips to keep in mind at any time of year. And while this is what works for me, different things work for different people–don’t be afraid to keep trying new ways of managing your time until you find one that works for you.
Oh, and one more thing–congratulations, guys, you survived another crazy Nanowrimo adventure!
The title may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s not. Everyone procrastinates, and I happen to be an expert at it. Most days, I spend a couple hours procrastinating. So how do I get anything done? I make procrastination work for me: I do simple, less important tasks while avoiding big tasks.
For example, I spent an hour today looking at potential freelance markets instead of writing this blog post. Instead of avoiding work altogether, I’m avoiding the task I least want to do. Sometimes my least exciting prospect is editing a manuscript–whether that be my novel, a short story or a freelance article–and other days it’s a blog post. Every once in a while, writing anything is daunting. On those days I’ll read short stories and take notes or brainstorm for hours rather than write.
I still manage to meet deadlines and, barring complete computer failure, post according to schedule here at Dianna’s Writing Den. The key is that by doing less important tasks first, I’m prepping my mind for the more daunting task on the horizon. Often these smaller tasks inspire me, and I find myself wanting to work on the project I’ve been avoiding all day.
You can make procrastination work for you too. Draft a query to avoid writing a blog post. Work on your novel draft to avoid drafting a query. Put in extra marketing time to avoid editing your novel. All those other tasks need to get done, so procrastinate guilt-free by doing them instead. If you spend a couple hours brainstorming blog when your brain’s fizzled out instead of wandering around on Reddit pretending you’re ‘looking for ideas’, you’ll probably find inspiration–and either way, you’ll have accomplished something.