Bare List on Schedules

As we all dust the residue of 2017 off our shoulders and slam into 2018, it’s important to build a schedule for success. I can speak personally to the importance of daily schedules because I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants for weeks, and y’all it is not a good idea. Every December I swear I will abide by my schedule, every December I fail. Mistakes are made. LEARN FROM ME. Do not do this. Set a schedule and keep it.

Scheduling is incredibly important for everyone, but especially in writing. Jobs dependent on creativity and self-accountability require routine scheduling for success. It seems counter-intuitive. I know I have said the words “you can’t schedule creativity”. Now, those words make me cringe because:

  1. You will not get anything done if you allow your creativity to schedule your productivity – If you wait to write until you feel so inspired to put words on the paper that you can’t stand it anymore, you’re not going to be writing half as often as you need to, and it’s going to take years, decades to finish a project. You have to sit down and write it out sometimes. You have to suffer to pull scenes together that aren’t totally working, muster through dialogue you haven’t totally figured out, calculate timelines, etc. It’s not all magical words brought forth by pixie dust. It’s a spark of inspiration ignited into a fire by determination.
  2. You totally can schedule creativity – While you cannot schedule the spark, you can dedicate time to produce. You can designate time in an environment most fitting for you to get down to business and force yourself to create. Make sure you’re making note of all your sparks and bring those with you to the table when it’s time to work. The more you do this, the more you’ll train your brain to open up during these times.
  3. There is a lot more to writing than creating – I talk about this a lot so I know you’re getting sick of hearing it, but there’s more to writing than writing. There is a lot of administrative work including emails, queries, edits, marketing, etc. To be successful, every aspect needs attention.

Like a lot of people, I have a lot going on. I have a family, small business, and writing career. Writing is a grind in its own right, but when you add in the real world in which we are all functioning, it’s almost impossible to survive without an established schedule.

To make your schedule, I suggest starting by dividing work into categories. For myself, I use:

  1. Administrative: Updating writing and marketing calendars, scheduling, emailing, strategy, negotiations
  2. Creative: Brainstorming, new project creation, project overhauls, first round edits
  3. Maintenance: Minor/late edits, tactics implementation, social media

Within those categories, I divide every item into one of two categories: Big/Hard or Small/Easy. Not glamorous titles, I know, but they get the job done. Small/easy projects are what I think of as “check-off” items, i.e. responding to emails, setting up meetings, making a schedule, sending, sending out query ready material, article creation, etc. Big/Hard projects include manuscript production, overhauls, strategizing campaigns, etc. Anything that almost certainly cannot be accomplished in a single day and is sure to be mentally taxing.

Once you have projects organized, assign items to your daily designated times. For myself, I designate Mondays for Administrative and Easy items. I get out my writing calendar and mark priorities for the week as well as adjust for the month, review my monthly focus to make sure everything I’m scheduling is aligned with goal, and knock out easy-off items across the board that I can knock off the list. I choose Monday to do this because I try to look at Monday as the start of my work week (though work often finds its way into my weekend) and I feel mentally more prepared being organized and I get a nice rush of accomplishment marking off small items and I can ride that adrenaline into Tuesday, which is marked for big tasks. My logic is that I get through a lot on Monday so I can afford to focus on mentally draining projects on Tuesday. I break up the big projects with little projects and workouts at designated hours because you need that for big days. Wednesday, my focus is Maintenance. Big or little projects doesn’t matter. I’ve set the goals for the day during my designated time on Monday and I just balance the big and little projects. Thursdays, I’m about Creation. There are really no small projects in creation, so I’ll mix the day up by throwing one or two of those in and Fridays are to double down on my monthly focus. Whatever I’ve decided is my hero for the month shines every Friday. That’s what works for me, when I work it. You can play with it and see what’s the right fit for you.

Now, interruptions to the schedule happen. Life and writing are about adapting and moving forward, but it’s easier to keep your balance with a steady foundation. Even if you lose your way occasionally *raises hand* it’s easier to get back in the swing of things and make forward progress if you have something to go back to. So, I know it’s annoying, and you don’t want to do it. I know the creative pixie in your head is flipping me off and telling me to eff a schedule cause she works at 3 a.m. damn it. I get it. I do, but tell her to get with the dang program because there’s work to be done and she really owes you since she’s living rent-free in your head anyway.

Tips, scheduling advice? I’d love to hear it!

 

 

 

Bare List on New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy 2018! After finishing out 2017 by focusing on friends, family, and finishing projects, I’m back and looking forward to a new year with you. In the spirit of the new year, I wanted to share some resolutions for new and seasoned writers.

These are not a list of lofty goals that equate to broken promises by February 1st, but a list of guiding principles to help make you (and me) a better writer by December 31, 2018.

  1. Pick a monthly focus – Writing is so much more than just writing. There’s creating, revising, researching, editing, querying, community building, meeting, marketing, negotiating, conferencing…the list goes on. To be most effective, all of these must be a priority at certain times, but to prioritize all equally everyday leads to subpar results and burnout. Instead, choose a single priority for every month. Maybe January is editing, February is Community Building, and March is Querying. While you will still be accountable for all of the other responsibilities each month, your focus will be priority one. Not only will it help keep you focused, the change in priority will help keep your routine fresh. Because writing/publishing timelines requires adaptability, I suggest planning in three month intervals. After every quarter, reassess your progress and goals and create the next three focuses accordingly.
  2. Create a writing calendar – Whether it’s online or pen and paper, go ahead and make a calendar for the coming year. In addition to all of your writing dates (deadlines/conferences/seminars/speaking engagements) include any personal dates (vacations/family obligations/recurring extracurricular activities/birthdays/anniversaries/etc.) Being able to see where your time will be limited will help you manage your time the most effectively.
  3. Organize your WIPs – Most of us have a pile of works in progress awaiting love and attention. Take the time to prioritize these works. Separate the “promising for publication” from the “needs a total revamp”. Make sure you have easy access to the stories you truly love and decide what two or three works will be your priority for the year.
  4. Read something outside of your comfort genre – As writers and readers, we tend to find a home in a select few genres. Example, I live for literary fiction, crime thrillers, speculative fiction, and biographical humor. I read it. I write it. I love it. The problem is that reading ourselves into a corner can stunt us. While characters, plot development, language, and even formatting tend to be consistent within a genre, they can vary dramatically across them, and that’s why it’s great to gain experience outside of your literary comfort zone. An autobiography can be improved by the influence and imagery of literary fiction, horror epics could take lessons from the quick and cunning dialogue of the cozy mystery, etc.
  5. Do something outside of your comfort zone – Attend an event with people you barely know, run a race, host an online fundraiser, read an excerpt of your story to a group of strangers, jump out of a plane, hell go to the grocery store on the other side of town. Just do anything, big or small, divergent of your normal operating procedure. It will help expand your outlook and imagination.
  6. Get physical – You don’t need to join a gym, run a marathon, or become a crossfitter, but do something regularly that works your body. Not only will it help relieve your joints and muscles of the toils of hunkering over a computer all day, it will help improve your mood, focus, and creativity.
  7. Call that project done – You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve read it 1,000 times, each time painstakingly scrutinizing every single word, each time changing something ever-so-slightly in the hopes that one day it will be perfection. Here’s the deal: It will never be perfection. At some point, you’ve got to let go of that dream and send your work out into the world. Is it the story you want to tell? Is it edited to a professional standard? Then it’s time to get it out into the world. Give it one more read through, and start querying.
  8. Follow agents – Don’t reach the querying stage and send your work blindly into world hoping someone, anyone, hits. Start researching agents. Lookup the agents of your favorite writers, attend writing conferences, follow them on social media. Get to know the people that you hope to be working with one day. This can prevent you from querying unsavory agencies as well as give you added confidence in your representation.
  9. Write – This may seem like a given, but it can be so easy to get caught up in the administrative aspects of the career that the writing, the very thing that got us all here, gets put on the back burner. Don’t let that happen. Write often. Write on your current projects, write new ones, write words that you never wish to see the light of day. Just keep writing.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with words and purpose!