1. How do you structure your writing day? Do you set a daily word count? Page count? Work hours?
Structure is a tricky word for me. While I strive for it, I’m not much of a ‘routine’ person. That said, I try to start each day with the writing. That’s the goal, the whole point of this career.
There are plenty of days where email or some other administrative task gets in the way (read – take over!), but I routinely remind myself that what matters most is getting new words on paper. You simply cannot edit, revise, package and sell a blank page. Well, there was that one book…something about everything men know about women. Yeah, that was completely blank, but my readers expect words!
I keep a daily word count in mind. Minimum is 1000 words Monday through Friday on any project. I tend to dabble in several projects at once but as I near the half-way point of my deadline book, I dig in and shoot for 5k a day.
When I’m revising, I try for a certain page count per day. And when I’m doing my final polish, I listen to my book on my Kindle and that takes however many hours it takes. But it usually takes a lot less time than me reading it to myself because I don’t get distracted. I also catch SO much more stuff than I would otherwise. Typos, incorrect names, here vs. her, things like that.
As for business hours, I don’t really have set hours. I usually get up at 8:30, and go to bed around midnight, though lately I’ve been aiming for 10 pm. I enjoy being flexible in my schedule so that I can run an errand at the most natural break in my day. For some reason, scheduled appointments really mess with my creativity, so I try not to have too many things set in stone. Odd, but there it is.
It’s taken me a long time to work all this out. I advise others to take a look at their day. Study how they currently do things and then imagine their perfect day. How would it go? Try that. Does it work? If not, tweak it. But ultimately, as long as you’re getting everything done in an efficient manner, I think that’s all any of us can expect.
Experiment until you get it right. For me, I use a combination of Scrivener, Writer or Die, Word and Evernote. I’ve written 1200 words in one sitting on my iPhone before. Evernote makes it easy to write or take notes anywhere and have it all synced everywhere. When I get a thought in the middle of the night, out comes my phone and Evernote.
Find what works for you and write the words.
2. How do you balance the above with all the business end of writing? The promo, the websites, the social media. Okay, seriously – how do you manage to spend so much time on social media and get work done?
Although I’m a writer, I’m obsessed with two things that have nothing to do with words. Numbers and efficiency. In another life I was either a statistician or an efficiency expert. I’m hard core about putting systems into place that make me write better, faster and in general, keep track of everything. I’m constantly reading how-to articles and books, watching YouTube videos and listening to podcasts. I learn about life, writing, and being in business by reading case studies.
So for me, it’s pretty much a game of numbers. How many words do I need to finish the book? How many days do I have to write it in? Do the math, that’s how many words I need per day. I may go a little (or a lot) over or under, but at least I have a target. Sure, the target can move, that’s called being flexible. But I have a target and it’s best for me to get my writing done in the morning. Or at least a minimum. I get distracted very easily once I’m in the rabbit hole known as the Internet.
I am also the Queen of Checklists (QoC, it’s an actual title. I’ve got a crown and everything!), to do lists and calendars. I make liberal use of policies and procedures, timers and my assistant.
That’s right. I said my assistant. That’s partly how I get so much done. She handles a LOT of my promotion. I have a very detailed project manager that we use to keep track of to do lists. We make use of a lot of great software that simplifies life. I highlight a different one each Thursday on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/selenablake)
But here’s a small example of how I try to operate (note I said try, because I fail a lot.) Start the day writing. Once that’s done I make a to do list of things that need doing. This is usually a master list. All the things that come to mind. In fact, if I don’t write these ideas down throughout the day, I will start taking care of them in the middle of writing a love scene or something. Yeah, ADD is not fun.
Once I’ve updated that master list, I check the project manager, my email, then make a list of the most important items.
- What it priority one?
- What is someone waiting on?
- What item has been bugging me?
- What items will make me money?
- What items need to be done before I can move on to something else?
These questions sort out the list.
I try to only write down three to do items at a time (on a separate list) to keep myself from getting overwhelmed. Once one item is checked off, I can add another.
So for today, I got my writing done. The next most important item on my list was getting this interview done for Barbara. Next up is writing my top tips for writers because a wonderful reader of mine emailed and asked. After that I’ll take a look at promotion (because I am ALWAYS promoting a book) and then finalize my strategy for next weekend’s conference.
3. How do you balance home life/work life. I thought you said you don’t have kids, but I’m sure you have an outside life and don’t want to work all the time. How do you strike a balance without feeling guilty.
I don’t have kids and I don’t work outside the home so that right there is huge for balancing my time. I think I have a natural balancing ability. I do what needs doing and I take plenty of me time. If I’m feeling tapped, I might watch a bunch of TV one day or read a few books. But usually the next day I’m back in the chair writing. But I’m a fast writer, so 7000 words in a day isn’t hard if I know I need to get that much written. Obviously that doesn’t work for everyone. And I’m not saying that I do it every day. And yes, I do have strategies for getting more words written, because you know… efficiency and numbers!
I used to beat myself up about taking an afternoon off or lazing in bed reading books, but that’s one of the biggest things I’ve changed. I realized that even when I’m “lazing around” I am always learning and researching. So even while I’m watching TV or reading, I’m studying. Perhaps it’s a character or dialog or setting or costumes or plot, I’m always looking for something to take away from each moment. That makes it a little hard to relax, but at the same time, I know that I’m sort of always working, even when I’m taking a break from being productive.
One thing I’ve been very aware of lately is how I spend my time. I use a program called RescueTime to track how I spend every second on my computer. As I said before it’s easy for me to get distracted. I use Pinterest and Polyvore, both for my personal enjoyment, but also to research and ‘character shop.’ But a quick “let me find an outfit for this heroine” can turn into an hour of meandering. That’s dangerous.
So RescueTime helps me see if I’m spending my time wisely. Am I doing productive things in terms of writing? Am I spending my time on things that will produce income? Am I spending too much time checking email or talking on twitter? Did I spend too much time doing graphics work last week? Did I spend too much time reading blogs or reading articles on Entreprenuer?
I’ve tried to become very aware of my time. I give myself time limits. IE, I have five minutes to find an outfit on Polyvore for this character or I have twenty minutes to read this article. I even give myself time limits in writing.
One of my favorite things to do is to do five minute sprints. This goes back to the ADD. If I’m having a particularly disruptive day, I’ll open Write or Die and set the clock for five minutes. I write as much as I can in those five minutes. Then I add those words to my WIP and set a timer for five more minutes during which I answer email, take care of administrative stuff or just program tweets. Then it’s five more minutes of writing, and so on. I know, after lots of tracking, that I can easily write 150 words in five minutes. So that’s generally my goal and once I’ve started writing, it usually takes over and I stop being distracted.
Sometimes I’ll do ten minute sprints or shoot for 250 words, 500 words or 1000 words. It just depends on my mood and the day. But I know that four 250 word sessions gives me my daily minimum. I also know that in general, I can write 1800 words an hour, so that’s almost double my minimum. So when I do #1k1h on twitter, I know that 1000 words should be a breeze if I keep my mind focused. Sometimes just knowing this gives me the motivation to get it done.
4. Do you worry about burn out?
In the back of my mind I worry about the possibility of burn out. But I rarely reach that point because I’m really good at giving myself time off. I give myself sick days, personal days and vacation days in addition to taking off federal holidays. That’s the beauty of having your work sell even when you’re not working. That’s kind of a double edged sword though.
In many ways I feel like I’m “always on.” Truth is, there is always something I could be doing. Writing, promoting, organizing my royalty spreadsheet, updating a checklist or emailing my assistant. What I learned in 2013 is to do the most important things first and let the rest take care of itself.
If you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule you’ll know what I mean. You make 80% of your income with 20% of your time. That’s a rough explanation of course. But that’s very true for me. My writing time really hovers between 20-25% of my days. That means I spend 75-80% of my time on administration, promotion, research, and shit. (Sorry for cursing on your blog, Barbara!) Shit = all the other stuff that can creep in and ruin your day. It’s that little voice in the back of my mind that says “you should tweak this on your website, you might get two more visits a day.”
So much about promotion and marketing and the publishing industry in general is a crapshoot. I’ve learned to do what I want, when I can and leave the rest for tomorrow. Otherwise I’m up till 2am tweaking things that honestly don’t need to be tweaked. It sucks to be a perfectionist, even if it’s only in a few areas of my life, because yes, that does lead to burnout.
So get the writing done first. Keep your website up to date. Send out a newsletter to your readers at least quarterly. Research outside of your genre or industry. Take plenty of “me time.” And, you guessed it, write the next chapter