Calendaring for the Win

CalendarThis has been an off summer for me. Some of that was beyond my control, but enough of it is my own fault that I’ve become too disgusted with myself to continue like this.

As long time readers know, I do best when I’m organized. Check boxes are my friend. To do lists are my friend. Calendars are my friend. And yet, I realized just a few days ago that I’d let all those things slide. I wasn’t making a morning list. I hadn’t drawn an empty box in months. My desktop calendar was still on May.

With growing horror, I looked up at my submissions goal list, taped like an accusation on the wall over my desk. I was behind. Crazy behind. Where-I-should-have-been-in-March behind.

I have attention problems. If I don’t follow a routine, I’m led about by whatever shiny fun-o-matic catches my eye. And I haven’t been following my own tried-and-true writing routines for months. This is why coming up with blog posts has been such a slog. This is why last month’s NaNo was such a painful agony. This is why I have been spending well less than half my daily writing time actually writing. This is why I haven’t edited a single short story, let alone a novel, since last spring. I know what I have to do to keep on my writing goals. But I haven’t been doing those things.

Clearly, it’s time for some better housekeeping. I need quantifiable goals, and I need a finite deadline, and I need a plan for how those two meet. So this week, I sat down and carved out what needs to happen in the following months.

Reassess Goals I still have the goal of forty-eight rejections for the year; I now have less than half the time in which to do it, because if I want the rejections back by the end of the year, I should send them out a good twelve weeks before the end. So instead of a steady rate of six-ish submissions a month, I need to get out the remaining thirty-five submissions for the rest of the year by the end of September, assuming every single one of them is a rejection. I honestly don’t think that’s attainable, but if I can get out twenty-five submissions by the end of September, I’ll be pretty pleased with myself and hustle the last few out (maybe) before NaNoWriMo.

I also have the goals of two new first drafts and two second drafts. I did manage a first draft of Copper, and I started editing Seasong/Sacrifice/Whatever the Heck I’m Calling This Mermaid Thing, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I think sticking with the original goal is a little untenable at this point, especially given how much work I’ll have to put into submissions, so I’ll drop one of the editing goals and shoot for finishing a second draft of the mermaid story and drafting one more new story during NaNo. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and squeeze in that second second draft, but I’ll owe myself a box of cookies or something if I pull that off.

Set Exciting New Goals I have my annual AWG writing conference coming up in mid-September. Even though I’m preeeetty sure I’m not going to find an agent who wants to sit down with me for an hour and go over a five-page document, I would like to prepare a list of blurbs for all my novels with at least a complete first draft- bonus points for the nearly-done partial first drafts as well. I’ll need to finish by the time I leave for the conference, giving me not quite four weeks to come up with five more blurbs and to clean up the eight I already have. Totally do-able.

I also want to work up a blog schedule for the remainder of the year within the next two weeks, with titles and themes for each post- extra points for notes or first/partial drafts. The blog just feels less crazy and stressful (and stupid) when I’m prepared well in advance. Future Jill will thank me.

Streamline Writing Time I have gotten incredibly lazy about this, and this is probably the root of all my writing evils. Writing time is not the time to be playing games, and trawling the bowels of Twitter, and catching up on blogs and articles, and conducting ‘research’ because, gosh, a story with singularity bombs and human augmentation and ticklish lab rats would be really cool. Reading about writing is not writing. Writing is writing. So starting now, writing time is nine to ten-thirty. From nine to ten-thirty, I will only write, even if it means spewing stream of consciousness into the void for an hour and a half. If I have made good progress for the first hour, I can choose to spend the last half hour working on submissions or blog stuff, but for no more than two hours total in a single week. Any more than that will have to happen outside of writing time. In three weeks, I will reassess the situation.

Summon the Kraken Accountabuddies Along with calendaring and, oh I don’t know, goals, another thing I’ve let slide is frequent check ins with my accountability buddies. Summer is a busy time and it’s become hard for all of us to get together for our weekly internet write-ins. (And one of them decided to go and get married this weekend. Geez, so selfish.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t check in with them every now and then on my progress. I mean, we’re friends. It’s not like they’d see my name on their phone screens and roll their eyes to Heaven. (Right, guys? Right?) So I will drop a line or two in Google Chat or text or whatever at least once a week about writing. That is all. It’s easy so, like cleaning my writing time, I shall start this immediately.

*dusts hands together* Voila! A plan! I don’t know how achievable it is. I think the submissions thing is going to kick my butt, if nothing else. But this at least makes it possible, instead of just a looming nightmare cloud hanging over my head. And whether I hit my goals or not, I’m going to keep up with my calendaring, my listing, my check-boxing. They’re my best shot for getting anywhere in all this so I’m only cheating myself if I give them up. (Sorry, Future Jill. [Past Jill, you suck.])

I hope you guys are keeping up with your writing goals for the year so far! Until next time, keep your heads in the clouds and your feet on the ground! Happy writing!

Working v. Writing: Early Assessment

Working WomanLast summer was crazy-go-nuts. I mean, it was great fun, but it was the kind of great fun that I won’t be doing again for a while. So when we were deciding how we wanted our summer to go down this year, Husband and I agreed that it would be done here in Alaska.

Robert was a little mentally exhausted from this last school year, and so rather than take a summer job, he wanted to stay home as primary caregiver. And since we both know that I’m an incorrigible busybody, it was clear that I’d have to be out of the house for a pretty solid chunk of the time. So I procured me some summer work.

We’re about three weeks into it, and it’s been good so far. My hermitous little soul is pretty frazzled by the end of each day, but other than having to talk to strangers every single day (every. single. day. *inner screams*), I like the job and I like my coworkers and I like the customers. And Robert’s been an excellent stay-at-home daddy; even the kids are having a blast (probably in large part because Papa isn’t nearly the white-sugar-and-refined-grains-will-kill-us-all fanatic that mommy is).

My writing schedule has had to change as well, and I’m still sussing out whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Even when I was at home for most of each day, it was hard for me to write for significant chunks of time, because I can’t concentrate on creative work while the kids are being noisy or, paradoxically, being too quiet. Most of my writing took place at night, so that hasn’t really changed; it’s still the best time for me creatively and logistically. What has changed is the sort of work that I could do before that I now can’t.

I don’t spend the day mulling over writing questions like I did before. I can’t zone out and pick things apart in the back of my mind. Mine is the kind of mind that can have several little brainless things going at once, but only one true focus at a time; and while I’m on company time, that focus has to be on company matters. So when I do sit down to write at night, more of my time has to be spent hashing through the sorts of things that I would typically have already done by the time I sat down to write.

On the other hand, I feel like I can focus a lot quicker and harder on writing stuff now than I did before. There were certainly time constraints on when I could do writing before, but there weren’t constraints on when I could think about writing. And I feel like not even thinking about writing for a solid eight hours of every day rests my brain so that when it’s time to write, I can hit it hard without any mental exhaustion, boredom, whatever you want to call it. This is probably a good thing for me, because I’m mostly cured (in remission?) of my wandering mind during writing time and can really get crackin’ when the time comes.

All in all, I’m probably getting the same amount of actual writing done. I’ve just shifted and compressed the time I do it in. There is, however, one glaring difference I’ve noticed.

My submission rates have tanked. I have done absolutely zero market research. And you all saw what happened with last week’s blog post when I hit a snag. (Hint: nothing.) I haven’t even opened my most recent issue of Writer’s Digest. These are all the things that take the least concentration from me, but, word-for-word, the most time (except maybe reading magazines, haha). It’s clear that I’m prioritizing the creative aspects of writing above the more business-y aspects. And while that’s okay for the short run, it definitely won’t be good for my writing career in the long run.

This is still a relatively new lifestyle shift for me, so I’m hoping that as I continue to adjust, I’ll find my stride again and pick those things back up. But for now, do any of you writer folks who also have a regular day job have any tips for finding the balance? Pretty please let me know in the comments below!

Thank you and happy writing!

How I Blog, Pt. 1: Scheduling

Mayday, mayday!  *airplane crashes horribly* *pilot parachutes to safety*

ScheduleWhew!  I was waaaay off with my word count goal, but I was spot on with my goal of finishing three novel endings and having a little spare time to pick away at a fourth.  I wrapped up drafts for a Sherlockian fantasy steampunk thing, and two epic fantasies, and had just a few days left at the end to plow forward on a contemporary romance.

It’s a beautiful feeling, finishing up another draft.  I feel like I never have enough time to write up all the story ideas that I have.  Even when I do get around to finishing some, I always have more ideas crowding in behind them.

Boy, do I wish that was the problem with blog ideas.

Beyond just producing great stories, writers these days are expected to maintain an online presence as well.  For many of us, this includes blogging.  While I hesitated at first to take time away from writing, I’ve learned to embrace blogging, and it’s been about two years since I missed a weekly update.  This is in no way because I am a superior blogger.  I blame it entirely on having found a system that works for me.

In the past, posts were thrown up haphazardly- random and ugly and panicky things flung onto the internet simply because it was a Monday.  I’d start thinking about it Saturday night, be in a panic Sunday morning, and then scramble the rest of the day for ideas, only to dash something out right before I collapsed into bed.

Thank goodness, I found a better way.  By approaching blogging in a consistent, thoughtful manner, I’ve found that it’s easier and more enjoyable for me to produce posts that are either meaningful, helpful, or entertaining- heck, sometimes even all three!  Without further ado, I part the curtains and give you: my blogging system.

It all comes down to a single Word document on my desktop.  This is where I write down everything to do with my blog.  I like to keep everything in one place, even if the document does get a little messy and is like twenty pages long.  This makes it easier for me to keep track of everything, for I am a forgetful lass.  (Exception: Drawn comics are in a separate folder, but they are scheduled and outlined/drafted here like everything else.)

The document itself is broken into three sections: schedule, drafts, and notes.  Since this is such a big topic, I’ll write about the schedule this week, and then I’ll cover drafts and notes next week.


The Schedule

At the top of the document is the posting schedule.  This is the first thing I see every time I open this file, and I keep it arranged so that I can tell at a glance where it needs the most work, and whether any giant work sinks are looming toward the top.

The schedule itself is a three-column table with a dates column, titles column, and done column.  (The ‘done’ one isn’t really necessary, but as mention in previous posts, I am a checkmark hound.  Seriously, whatever stupid little things it takes to keep you motivated, don’t be ashamed.)

It’s a rolling schedule that typically covers about six months total, with posts from previous quarters getting archived at the very end of the document.  The date for each Monday within that six month span is listed, and the rest fluxes between being all filled out, and being a little naked.  Some of those weeks are already past, but most are still waiting to happen.   The table has space for a bare minimum of two months out from the current date, although I prefer three or four.  This gives me time to fill the schedule in before those Mondays rolls around.

I typically schedule my posts quarterly, usually in a brainstorming blitz a month before each quarter begins.  I don’t always know exactly what will fill each slot, but I always have at least ideas for each week.  The vaguer the concept is, the more ideas I put in.  For example, if I know exactly what I want to write about, I write a capitalized title.  If I don’t know, I jot down a few ideas, separated by an all caps OR.  Flagging them like this lets me know at a glance what I can jot out quickly and what needs more thought.  The vaguer ones go later in the schedule so I have more time to refine them as I get closer.  The more solid ones fill the top.

And then there are NaNo months.  You all know how spotty those can get.  I typically plan those to have two reblogs, one painfully stupid comic, and one sample chapter or comic, depending on how embarrassing it would be to put up ugly draft chapters.  NaNo months are really, really lazy, as far as blogging goes.  But I know that’s what I need for those months, and I plan for it.  Giving myself permission to be lazy every now and then keeps this blogging business from sucking too much creative energy from my fiction, which is my one true love.

This schedule shifts around constantly.  (I think I’ve tweaked it eight or nine times just since I started drafting this post.)  The only time it stops changing is when that week has passed.  Allowing the schedule to shift grants me the freedom to write about the things that interest me in that moment, and to move ideas further back if they just aren’t coming together.  If I forced myself to write about things that I didn’t care about, I’m pretty sure writer and readers alike would be bored to the point of quitting.


Speaking of quitting, that’s it for this week (because this post would be waaaay too long otherwise), but tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of How I Blog!  Until then, happy writing!