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.

Schedule

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!