Chassily Wakefield, Writer
by Chassily Wakefield
Copyright © 2010 Chassily Wakefield
*This post first appeared on 1st Turning Point
I suck at time management. No, really. That’s the lesson I’ve learned over the last two years, ever since I decided to (finally) take my writing seriously, but you can learn from my mistakes.
Writing for publication is all-consuming, even if you work another part- or full-time job and have a family. I knew that would be the case, in a cerebral way, when I first started out. Living it was another thing entirely. I discovered I’m not as much of a multi-tasker as I like to think. The laundry piles up to the rafters while I’m absorbed in my story world (or, if we’re being brutally honest, my email loops.) I’ve given up any pretense of housework, and my kids have taken over the cooking to ward off imminent starvation.
I dove into creating a “writer’s life” with both feet. I picked up piles of how-to books, registered for a million newsletters, took online writing classes by the hundreds (despite a degree in Creative Writing, which should have prepared me for some of this). I joined a slew of writing organizations, including online sub-chapters, and gratefully soaked up the incredible depth of knowledge generously dispersed by fellow members. I volunteered for positions and activities, and was flattered to be approached for others. I threw myself into it all with unbridled enthusiasm.
Through it all, one message was repeated with distressing regularity: the need for authors to promote themselves—whether they were already published or not. Huh? How can we promote ourselves before we have anything to promote?
As it turns out, there are all sorts of ways to increase name recognition before having books on the shelves, many of which are frequently written about on 1st Turning Point (check the archives!), in the hopes that doing so will increase sales once we finally get The Call.
Luckily, I was already doing a lot of the recommended promotional items, such as joining groups and volunteering. They were activities I enjoyed and gravitated to naturally. But there were plenty more to consider, from getting a website to maintaining an author blog (yes to the first, not so much to the second – note the sporadic postings – but I *am* trying, I swear!) I was determined—when I sold my novel, I’d be ready. I’d be a promotional dynamo and knock the Jimmy Choos off my future agent and publisher.
There was just one problem. Finishing the novel. I’d gotten so caught up in doing everything I’d heard was important for my career that there was no time left to write. I spent hours on email loops, volunteer activities, going to meetings or author events, reading all those how-to books and articles, following author and agent blogs, and taking online classes, which also provided networking opportunities. Any free time had to be devoted to my family, or I would have had a mutiny.
As new authors, we’re overwhelmed with everything we’re supposed to know, do, be. The learning curve is steep. There’s so much more to writing than sitting down to write a book. But if we don’t protect the writing time, none of the rest will matter one whit. If we don’t protect ourselves from burning out through over-involvement, stretching ourselves and our time too thin, the writing won’t matter one whit, either, because it will be incomprehensible.
Even worse, we may learn to hate the new life we’re trying to create, missing out on the very thing that used to bring us so much joy—the writing—and any hope of seeing our finished books in print. This is where effective time management comes in. Key word: effective.
Effective time management and a little self-discipline can avert this disaster-in-waiting. If you’ve neglected your writing in favor of promoting the career you don’t have yet, try following these steps to achieve a better balance in your work and in your life. I know I’m happier for it, and I hope you will be, too.
- Map out a 24-hour day and a 7-day week. Sorry, that’s all you get.
- Block out hours needed for sleep, non-writing work, exercise, preparing/eating meals, bill paying, whatever HAS to get done, plus a minimum of 15 minutes daily for NOTHING. No writing, no reading, no family, no chores. Keep it sacred. Fill it with something mindless if you want, like TV or Spider Solitaire (set a timer!), or sit silently and de-stress.
- Be realistic! If you know it takes three hours to get through a Walmart run, don’t schedule two. Allow for unexpected interruptions. Don’t forget time with the people who love you.
- Add up the hours you have left.
- Now you know what’s available for writing and can make an informed decision about how to spend those hours.
Say you have 14 hours available per week. You’ve committed to writing two hours every day, Monday through Friday, leaving four hours per week for promotion and writing-related activities. You have an RWA (Romance Writers of America) meeting which lasts for three hours, including dinner. You’re down to one hour for the rest of that week. Did you include drive time to the meeting? Half-an-hour. Uh-oh.
How can you reclaim some time? Can you attend the RWA meeting, but skip dinner and buy back an hour? You’ll lose the chance to socialize and network. Is it worth it?
The choices get tough, but they have to be made. You can cry over that half-hour per week, but it won’t change the fact that you only have half-an-hour. Maybe you’ll cut your daily writing to an hour-and-a-half and free up 3 ½ hours per week. You’re the only one who knows if the tradeoff is worthy. If you commit to using those 3 ½ hours for promotional activities, volunteering and learning craft, they could be valuable hours. Three hours of Spider Solitaire? Nope.
Maybe you actually only need one or two hours per week for promotion. Funnel the extra time back into your writing or some down time. The choice is yours. Whatever choice you make, you will be in control of your schedule again, hopefully happier, and more relaxed.
You’ll also be practicing important time management skills for after you do get The Call. Published authors require a lot more promotional time and have to be even more dedicated to their schedules. Learn how to manage yours now, and you’ll be ready! Good luck!
And for your viewing pleasure (when you have the time…), take a few minutes to put yourself or your story inside this gorgeous photo. Where does it take you?