Thursday, March 04, 2010

Multi-tasking as fast as I can

Those of you who were at the Southern Magic meeting this past Saturday for the author's panel may remember what I said about my writing process. Spreadsheets are involved. So is a lot of time management.

Believe me, I'm not organized by nature. I love nothing more than chilling out and moving at my own little slowpoke pace, working when I want to and playing the rest of the time. But you don't get through life that way, and you certainly don't have a successful, lucrative writing career that way. Especially if you work a full time job in addition to your writing job.

I have to work. I'm the primary income-earner in my household and I need the insurance I get through my job. But thirty-six hours a week at the day job puts a big dent into my writing and editing time, an unfortunate truth that I have to deal with even as I'm trying to establish myself as a writer. I need to be on the writing schedule at Intrigue three or four times a year to make an impact. My editors have made it clear they want me to produce books at that pace. And don't even get me started about the hours I have to spend blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking and message boarding just to keep my name in front of the people who might be inclined to buy my books.

So how do I possibly work it all in?

Multi-tasking, that's how. Finding ways to make the hours of my day do double and triple duty. A twenty-five minute drive to work can be spent working through dialogue for today's pages, or thinking through a sticky plot problem, or even coming up with new ideas for the next project after I'm finished with my current contract book or proposal. Bathing or bathroom time can be spent reading that research book I need to peruse for my project. I write pages during my lunch hour at work. If I have a moment or two of down time at work, I make notes to myself on my cell phone, which does triple duty as a phone, a memo program and my daily calendar.

You can also make your research do double and triple duty, too. Editors these days love trilogies, so why not do the research once and get three books out of it? And put your TiVo or DVR to work, too—the cable networks are full of great programs that can inspire books and provide valuable research tools.

Writing a medical romance? Discovery Health has tons of true medical shows you could draw inspiration from. Murder mysteries more your style? Tru TV and Discovery's ID channel are great resources. Paranormal more your style? SyFy, History, National Geographic, even the Biography Channel include great programs that deal with the paranormal. (So does Animal Planet, now). And don't forget the Military Channel (if your hero's a hot Marine) or the Travel Channel (if you're looking for inspiration for great settings).

But the main secret to producing, even when time is short, is to commit yourself to the task. Focus on what's important. Set goals and meet them. Make the most of the limited time you do have. Get your family to be your accomplices, not your obstacles. (I admit, this works a little better when your writing is actually earning you money!) But it ultimately comes down to a single question you ask yourself every day: do I want this enough to sacrifice to make it happen?

If the answer is no, then stop. Don't torment yourself any more. If you're not 100% committed to writing as a career, then find something you are committed to 100%. This is a tough business, and there are a lot of talented, hungry writers who are willing to give that full effort. Persistence is vital to a successful writing career.

But if you're sure, if the answer is yes, then focus your energy on making as much time as your writing requires. That's the only way to be successful at this job. And even at the relatively low level of my own career, I can attest to one fact: it's more fun being published than it was being unpublished. And it was definitely worth all those years I spent with nothing but rejections to show for my efforts.

So, how about y'all? I know a lot of you are where I am, working full time, writing and editing whenever you can. How do you keep going? What are your secrets for making the most of your writing time?


Jeanie said...

Paula, like you, I work full-time. And I have a husband, a dirty house, an empty refrigerator and two daughters, one a freshman in college, the other a busy eighth graders. Oh, yes, and two dogs that love and adore me and want my attention. There are not enough hours in the day, it seems like!

I, too, set goals for myself. My goal right now is to write a chapter a week. That's roughly 3500 words for me. Not much, but doable. I sneak in writing time on my lunch hour and after work and on weekends, though it is VERY hard for me to write at home! Too many distractions.

If I am not writing something new, I am thinking about the plot on the way to work. Yesterday was spent writing a synopsis for a book I haven't even written yet, always a challenge. I manage to squeeze some kind of writing activity into most days.

You are right. It is tough, but so worth it!

Paula said...

Jeanie, at that pace, in 17 weeks, you'll have a category length book. In 25 weeks, you'd have a single title book. That's still a two books a year pace, which isn't bad at all.

And here's a little something I learned from my own experience. It doesn't take that much more to increase your output. An extra page a day--just one page--and you're finishing a book in 12 weeks instead of 17. Or the longer book in 17 weeks instead of 25. Now you're looking at three books a year instead of two. Or maybe you're looking at a longer book instead of a shorter one.

So set goals you can live with. But if you really want to do more, produce more--it doesn't take that much extra effort to meet that next goal.

Carla Swafford said...

Year before last, I proved to myself I could do three books in one year. Two category length and one single title. Working full time that includes overtime, I almost killed myself and afterwards swore to keep it to two books a year until I get to do away with my day job. And that will be most likely retirement. LOL!

Though I haven't been as disciplined since then, I sit in front of my computer everyday after work from 7pm to 10 or 12 midnight. Then I get up between 5 and 6 am and sit there again until time to get ready for work at 7am. Do I write the whole time? NO!

Emails are a pain plus I love watching TV on my computer. General Hospital, Gossip Girl, and The Vampire Diaries have less commercial interruptions. I really need to breakout my AlphaSmart and start using it again.

M.V.Freeman said...

How am I doing? By hook or by crook.
Like Jeanie I set myself a goal of a chapter a week.
I have to admit, its hard.

Why don't I give up?

Because I'm too darn stubborn. :-)

Paula said...

Carla, I know what you mean about not writing all the time you spend at the computer. (Case in point---this reply!) But at least you know you can produce books--and really, two books a year is a good output.

I'm just so competitive, I want more!

And Mary? That stubbornness is what will get you to your goals. Celebrate it. :)

Christine said...

I love this post... i admire your dedication! And I am humbled!! I always feel torn between the different tugging events in my life, but I have learned to write in a box!

I wrote 26,000 words and cut also that much as I worked to grow a category length book to a ST. My original goal was two Categories and 1 ST per year. Now I am shooting for two STs per year. And a book in the oven, so to speak :-)