Thursday, July 28, 2005

Writing & Selling V

Mary Stella wrote in comments: Right now, my biggest conflict with writing and selling books is how to balance all the aspects of the business with my life and day job. So much to do with marketing and promotion on top of writing -- so little time to do it!

I admire writers who work in publishing and hold down a day job. Writing full-time is something we all aspire to, but in reality, it can't be done (unless you're a wealthy childless orphan living in a plastic bubble are surrounded by lots of trustworthy servants.)

Even if you don't have a day job, you've got a life that probably includes a spouse or significant other, children, a home, extended family, friends, and/or pets. At some point, no matter how understanding they are, the people in your life need your attention.

Balancing writing with your day job and your life requires very creative time management, but you first need to know how well you're using your time. Put on a watch and slip a little notebook and pen in your pocket, and go about doing what you usually do every day, only write down what it is and how much time you spend on it. Repeat for an entire week, then tally up your activities and hours.

You should have time listed very day when you were writing or working on writing-related projects. If you didn't write, look at what you actually did that day. What would you be willing to trade off for some writing time? Twenty hours a week watching television, talking on the phone for social reasons, playing video games or cruising the internet could be turned into 5,000-10,000 words in new material.

Be sensitive to your creative rhythms during the day, too. I always thought I was a night person (I'm not.) I doubled my productivity by switching from being a mainly evening-nighttime writer to predawn writer. It was hard to get used to beginning my day at 5 am, but I found out that I write better and faster early in the morning while I'm more in the mood to do editing and other projects at night.

Don't try to go the all-work, no-play route; you'll likely burn out. No matter how busy I am, every day I take an hour to paint, quilt, listen to music, walk or do something else that makes me feel relaxed and happy.

If you've found something that better manages your time and/or boosts your productivity, let us know in comments.


  1. Anonymous9:04 AM

    I boosted my productivity by doing two things I learned in a book called Take Time For Your Life. The first thing was make a list of all the things that drain you. She has a checklist to help you figure out what is sucking your energy. For me, that included a friend who never stopped drama-ing, too much clutter (I couldn't find what I needed), too much 'net drama, and other things. The idea is to fix those issues once and for all and then have ton more energy/time freed. Worked really well for me.

    The other is to write a "Yes" list. Make a list of the 5-7 things that are important in life right now in order. It makes it easier to say no to everyting else or determine between two things. I found this very useful because I have a tendency to start a gazillion new hobbies, new projects, etc and abandon the stuff already started. I had to learn to say "no" to the new stuff, so I could remain focused on the mostly done stuff. YMMV.

    P.S. PBW, I find this series of yours very helpful!

  2. Anonymous9:21 AM

    Becoming a dad forced me to do a brutal declutter of my life anyway. While I was at it, I made time to write.

    Part of the trick is to make everything serve more than one purpose, e.g. my excercise is also the martial art used in my stories, and my writing also provides the escapism which computer games used to supply.

    I've talked about this at greater length here:

  3. I think you're dead on with the importance of making time for down time, too.

    A To Do list for me might read:

    Write 2,000 words
    Research yacht
    Take a bath
    Finish work report
    Play with Minnie Kitty

    I've found it's as important to schedule time for relaxation as it is to schedule time for writing. If nothing else, you feel less guilty about putting your feet up.

  4. Anonymous10:49 AM

    For relaxation I'm building a small sailboat. That pretty much eats up a lot of my non-writing time.

    For writing time, I worked my ass off for ten years, saved every penny I made, earned extra renovating houses and retired early (this past October at 37 years of age) from a career in software. It's not a cushy retirement but it does mean I get to write every day instead of sit in a cube farm talking to 20 clients that each want 10% of my time.

    I pretty much try to write full-time. Not having kids (yet) helps. Having a wife that leaves the house for work gives me the free time I need and I have more ideas than I'll ever get on paper so the only real obstacle is snaring an agent. And that's becoming quite a marathon of a challenge.

  5. I, too, have found that writing first thing in the morning gives me a big boost. When I got hit with a two month deadline last year, I started setting my alarm for an hour earlier each day to put in writing time before work. I never would have finished on schedule otherwise.

    I've never been a morning person, so realizing that I could not only wake-up, but also produce in the a.m. was a valuable revelation.

  6. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Thank you for this one, Sheila. I'm pretty good with time management for my writing and, but I find that I start to slip after a while and have to reorganize to get on track by doing as you mentioned--keeping track of my time use for a few days.

    I also need to intergrate that Hour -o- Required Fun into my day.

    Thanks again. This has been a very helpful series.

  7. Yes, this is a very informative and interesting series. Thank you, Sheila. :)

    I hold down two jobs, actually, and try to write daily. My secret is basically using all the dead time to either figure out plots, work out scenes and dialogue, and actually write, depending on where I am. The "dead time" is time spent in a car (I don't drive), waiting at the doc's office, at really slow periods at work (at least longhand notes....don't want the boss to know), and sometimes even while watching TV, but that takes alot of concentration.
    Add that to my usual writing sprint and I do pretty well. However it's not foolproof - it seems that while I'm reading a really good book (yours included), I don't write as much because I want to keep reading. So to combat that I made a rule - no reading till I do at least one writing session. After that, I could read, until the next day, and I have to write first, and read later. It's still a new idea, so I hope it works.


  8. Miscellaneous thoughts about life and time management gleaned over a bit more than 50 years on the planet: I've noticed a tendency to try to fix everything at once. Lose weight. Start an exercise program. Finish all those unfinished projects. Write a novel. Pick whatever you think is wrong with your life and make your own list. I think the key to successfully managing your time is to pick the important stuff and make sure it gets done. I'd say "Do that first", but that would require me writing at 6 am when my brain is total mush instead of after lunch when it actually works. Obsess about your writing, not your hobbies. If your hobby projects don't get done, is it really that important? Don't treat everything in your life like it's work. Treat your work like it's work and have guilt-free fun with the rest. Choose your entertainment and recreation carefully. Don't ditch everything you love to do, even if it could be considered a "time-waster". Use those as rewards for finishing the day's important things. Yeah, go ahead, bribe yourself. It works. :)

  9. Maybe I should change my blogger user name to Linda, since I keep forgetting to sign my posts. The above post is me--Linda.

  10. Thanks for this, Sheila. It helps to get the reminder from someone who is clearly a professional that living is necessary too.

    Oddly enough, two of my friends directed me to this post yesterday and for once, I hadn't read it. I had to give up blog reading for a couple days because I was behind in my work :).


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