Nourish the Writer

This Sunday’s blog is about time management for writers, a request from the Vision writers group.

The picture is from a little book my daughter bought for me called ‘You say I’m a bitch like its a Bad Thing’, written by Ed Polish and Darren Wotz. Lots of 1950s images of housewives combined with catch phrases that have a modern slant. (Some very amusing and rather biting comments). Available from Ten Speed Press.

Sure the women of the 1950s had limited options. But you know something, they weren’t trying to have it all, a job, a family and, if you are a writer, a career as a published author.

Recently, I have been considering running away and I don’t say this lightly. The workload has become ridiculous (I only have myself to blame). My trilogy was accepted and thepublishers decided to release the three books a month apart. This is great but it meant editing all three books, each over 100,000 words, in around three months, that’s the three levels of editing, structural, line and copy edit. (I’m racing to complete the last copy edit on book three this weekend). Plus I took on teaching three subjects at work. We run on an accelerated course, so there were assignments to mark every 3 or 4 weeks, sometimes double or triple lots when the three different subjects’ assignments coincided. Plus I set up a national manuscript development workshop for RWA, called the 5DI. (Couldn’t have pulled this off without the women on the team. Romance writers rock, they are so organised and so supportive).  And then there were all the normal things that happen when you have 6 children, with 4 still at home. (Plus I started writing and researching a new series. I know I really am crazy).

So one of the first things that a writer must learn to do issay ‘No’. You can’t be all things to all people. (Took my advice on this one and am only teaching two subjects this trimester).

Not surprisingly there is a lot of advice for time starved writers on the web. Here is an article from Freewriting advice. This is very practical.

And Here’s an article by Chip Scanlan on breaking things down into manageable chunks.

This one looks at the things that take you away from writing. And then lists Ten Tips for Effective Time Management.

And here is a rather nice one with things to do when you don’t feel like writing. This might sound counter intuitive but they are all things that are productive.

When I invited the delightful Sean Williams to talk at EnVision about being a professional writer, he said something I’ve never forgotten. He had accepted a contract to write two books in two years. Then he had a call with the offer to write another two books in the same period. Naturally, he didn’t want to turn them down so he agreed. Then he had the chance to write 2 books for Star Wars, in the SAME time period. And he agreed to do it. By this time all of us were groaning. 6 books in 2 years? Impossible.

(Just emailed Sean to check if my memory was right. It was 6 books in 2.5 years,  a book every months.  He says, ‘I swore I’d never do anything like that again, and apart from the odd book-in-a-month Star Wars deadline, I’ve managed to stick to that. Touchwood!’).

How did Sean do it? He worked out how many words he would have to write, if he wrote every single day and set himself the goal of writing that number of words each day, no matter where he was. So if he was at a Con, he went to his room and wrote. And you know what? He managed to meet his deadlines.

I asked him, ‘What if you went wrong and had to rewrite?’ He grinned and said, ‘I couldn’t go wrong. I had to get it right first time.’ Whew. I still go off in the wrong direction sometimes. But I have adopted his goal. I try to write (on the days that I can) a thousand words a day. That’s not much, just 4 pages. It is amazing how those thousand words mount up.  I wrote 320 pages of a first draft in the first 5 months of this year. (Now I have to go back and tweak them, because the characters have evolved and aren’t comfortable with what I planned for them. Pesky things, characters).

So here’s another tip. Set yourself a goal of writing 1000 words when ever you sit down to write.

And have concrete writing career goals. If you know there is a writing competition coming up, plan to have something ready to submit to it.

At ROR we do something every time we meet up. We set short term goals, long term goals and dream goals.

Short term: What are we going to achieve in the next 6 months?

(Get the new book finished or research for the new series).

Long term: What are we hoping to achieve in the next 3-5 years?

(Finish three books in a the new series. Write a book in a new genre).

Dream goals: What if the Writing Fates smiled on us? What would we like to see happen?

(Write a breakout cross genre book that is as successful as  Stephanie Myer/JK Rowling’s books).

And we ask the ROR Oracle (Marianne after several glasses of wine) to predict what will happen.

We write these down and we review them when we get together. Of course the goals change as our lives change direction.  But the ROR Oracle did predict that Margo would win a World Fantasy Award, which she did. And, since we have been meeting for 9 years now, we’ve seen our goals come to fruition. This is very satisfying.

If you stick to your writing, attend workshops, keep polishing your craft, watch for opportunities, submit, network and keep submitting, you will achieve the holy grail of the writer — publication.

But sometimes when you go to that creative well you discover it has gone dry. You can’t keep churning out stories, working yourself into the ground to meet work deadlines, running the family and doing volunteer work, without putting something back.

You don’t want to burn out. Take a look at your life. Now imagine you are your own best friend and give yourself the advice you would give your best friend. This is why I called this post Nourish the Writer.

To avoid burn out:

You need to do something just for you once a week.What ever it is, don’t let anything else get in the way. This is your time. Be selfish and make sure you get the time to do it. You’ll come back to your family and work a better person, for having had the time away from them.

Learn something new. (What? you say. I’m already over committed. I know but this is important). I’ve been reading a book on the latest understandings on the plasticity of the human brain and how to maintain plasticity as you age. Learning a new skill keeps the brain active. By taking on a new job as an Associate Lecturer, I’ve had to learn a lot of new skills and it has been really good for me.

Actively seek out ways to feed your creativity. Even if you aren’t writing a book on ancient China and you see a documentary coming up on that topic, watch it. Every piece of new information you gain goes into the creative well.  It will help stretch your mind. You’ll make connections with other information and be better able to make intuitive leaps that come while writing. Listen in to conversations on public transport. The things you overhear (especially when people are talking on their mobile phones) are amazing. All of these are insights into human nature. And, when you get the chance, go visit new places. Immerse yourself in other places and other cultures.

From New Scientist, 8 ways to Boost your Creatvitiy.

One of my favourite quotes came from a Time Management talk by Lu Cairncross at a Romance Writers Conference. Imagine 200 women in a room and she says, ‘If it’s not dirty, don’t clean it.’

Sigh. I don’t have that problem any more. I’m afraid my house is dirty and it’s more a matter of  ‘How dirty will I let it get, before I clean it!’  LOL

For me with my large family and the level of commitment I have, the greatest luxury is time alone. Private time when there aren’t demands on me, when my head space is my own — that is really precious.

If you had one day all to yourself and you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?

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