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Authors: How To Protect Your Writing Time

 

Writers must protect their time.

Kelly McClymer counts the ways.

Writers, especially self-published writers, often feel like they need a time bodyguard. There are always other pesky things to do like raise children, make dinner, do laundry, work. When I first began to write, I dreamed of the day I’d get an advance big enough I could justify holing up in my office for a full day of uninterrupted writing time.

Despite a dozen published novels, that day never came. I chalked it up to my inability to snag that coveted seven figure advance, and kept on writing, working, cooking, and cleaning (well…talking about cleaning, at least).

Then came the day in the fall of 2010 when I decided it was time to stop sitting on my reverted backlist books and self publish them. I only had the rights to five of the seven historical romance novels in the Once Upon a Wedding series, and all of them were hard copy only, which meant scanning, cleaning up the messy scans, editing, revising (what author can resist a tinker or two? not me), proofing, formatting, cover design, uploading to three different sites. I dug in with determination, even creating a 50 day blogging promotion and soliciting guest blogs on other people’s sites. I was exhausted, but successful. My books did well.

When I came up for air, I was shocked to realize that my writing time had shrunk down to less than when I had a toddler with high-functioning autism and an infant who wouldn’t take a bottle and needed to nurse ten times a day.

Epiphany: it wasn’t money, family demands, or chores that kept me from protecting my writing time. It was me. My goal all along (since I was 18 years old!) has been to write for six uninterrupted hours a day — more, if I wanted, but never less. The definition of uninterrupted (for me) involves not feeling the need to make money, answer the phone, deal with family issues, cook, or clean. In other words, I wanted guilt-free uninterrupted writing time. But I had done nothing to ensure that I had it.

I tell you all this to get to the point — you are the bodyguard of your writing time. If you aren’t vigilant, dedicated, and relentless about protecting that time above all else, you will never have it. As a bodyguard, you must:

  1. Show up to work focused. This is not easy. But being a bodyguard is not easy. Bodyguards focus on the job at hand and do not attempt to multi-task. A self publishing writer must focus on the writing more than anything else. Marketing is important, but you can’t market what you haven’t written. I do very brief outlines (one sentence per scene) for my books or stories. I know what scene(s) I plan to write before I begin writing, which helps me focus quickly. I (am supposed to) shut down email and Facebook and Twitter.
  2. Minimize distractions. Bodyguards minimize distractions in whatever way possible. If you can’t ignore laundry or dirty dishes, then write elsewhere — the library, the local coffee shop, a bench in the park, the back seat of your car. Get a babysitter if you have kids (or join a babysitting coop, so it doesn’t break the bank). I use headphones with music selected to get me in the focused mindset for the story I’m writing. I let the machine pick up any phone messages. I close the office door and clear off the desk. Or I go to Starbucks. NOTE: My kids are all over 21 now, but when they were little I had to get up early to find focused time.
  3. Set goals. Bodyguards are focused on making sure their charge gets where he or she is going without a hitch. They look at the end destination, and plan out every step of the way. I used to teach a course designed to walk students through finishing a rough draft in 8 weeks. Some of my students had demanding jobs. The first thing we did was set a daily writing goal. It didn’t matter if the goal was a modest 15 minutes, or 100 words. All that mattered was to set a reasonable goal. This is true for self-publishers as well. If you want to write four books a year, then you need to set goals to make that happen. My goal has always been to write at least fifteen minutes a day, even on the craziest days.
  4. Make it happen. Bodyguards are watchful to make sure everything goes as planned. They follow a schedule and don’t leave anything to chance. Once you’ve set your goal, plan when/how/where you will get it done. And then do it. A self-publisher cannot wait for anyone else to make things happen. The buck stops and starts with the writer. When I looked back on my last year and a half, I realized that I had stopped making the writing happen because I was so busy making the marketing happen. Marketing is not writing. I am a writer, not a marketer, so I need to reset the priorities.
  5. Be accountable. A bodyguard cannot escape accountability — if the charge doesn’t get where he or she is meant to be on time and in one piece: bodyguard FAIL. Accountability is my personal weakness. I have a tendency to take on too much, and then use my busy schedule as an excuse for why my quality writing time evaporates. A self-publisher cannot afford to do that, literally. Without publisher-set deadlines to keep on track. a self-publisher has to set and meet her own deadlines. A daily goal checklist helps a writer see in a glance when goals are being met successfully. I have used big desktop calendars, planners, charts and tables to keep myself on track. Now I use Scrivener and iCal (synched across my computers and iPad). I use different colors on iCal to indicate marketing (pink) and writing (green) — it offers an immediate visual accountability if the pink swamps out the green for the day/week/month/year.
  6. Be flexible, but not a dishrag. A bodyguard has to adjust quickly when his charge wants to take an unexpected detour from the plan. It is the charge’s life, after all (much to the bodyguard’s chagrin). Life happens — the dentist, a big football game, someone’s wedding. If life takes priority over a goal, the self publisher needs to adjust the plan to make it happen. DH and I are taking a long anticipated trip across the midwest to get to our daughter’s wedding. Two weeks of traveling and sightseeing isn’t conducive to six hours of guilt-free uninterrupted writing time. Instead, I’m taking along a notebook, and planning to write in the car along the road (riding in cars amps up my creativity for some reason). I don’t expect to manage more than 1,000 words a day, but for the situation, that’s a reasonable goal and I can work with it.
So, are you the bodyguard of your own self publishing career? If you’ve been waiting for Kevin Costner to step up, I have good and bad news. Bad news: He’s not coming. Good news: You don’t need him.

 

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2 Responses to Authors: How To Protect Your Writing Time

  1. Cynthia Reed January 7, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

    This is a brilliant post, thank you. I identify with at least 97.4% of it and have finally gotten myself to recognise the problem (me) and get someone to work on it (me). I’ve done well with short stories but still haven’t rewritten The Big Important (historical fiction) novel. I’ve even pitched it to good ‘what are you waiting for?’ feedback so what’s the deal, eh? I like the “bodyguard” image. It’s a good one.

    You mention interruptions and the cross-country trip. I live abroad so always have to deal with multiple weeks in the States or the UK for graduations, weddings, elderly parent care or emergencies, etc. This August it’s a wedding in Canada I can’t not go to.

    I bring those up to suggest to people who (like me) like to have a detailed plan, measurable goals, and to do the whole feedback loop a really wonderful book I’m currently working with: “The 12-Week Year”. It breaks the year down into four quarters (plus a week between each, to total 52) and there’s none of the “got plenty of time later” syndrome. Goals change or get adjusted (based on results) every twelve weeks–so my summertime wedding etc travel will fit into one of those ‘years’ with different goals. In the meantime, I’ve got my first two ’12 Week Years’ to work on, and the fourth 12WY after the whole disrupted ‘year’ in the summertime.

    Again, wonderful blog, thank you. I saw it on Twitter at the very moment I needed it most. DH and I were just talking about how I’m going to get enough time in my ‘studio’ when there’s so much snow between here and there it looks impossible. Turns out it’s not.

    cynthia

  2. Nice blog!

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