Monday, September 3, 2012

Time Management for Writers or How to Herd Cats - Part 1

by Sarah A. Hoyt

Originally posted on her blog “According to Hoyt” on July 30, 2012

* * *
I'm pleased to have famous author Sarah Hoyt as my guest this week and next on Comet Tales! Last month she wrote an excellent blog on time management for authors, and the psychological struggles thereof. I asked permission to reblog, and she graciously and enthusiastically gave it. But since her blogs tend to be very lengthy, much more so than mine, I chose – again, with her permission – to break it into two installments. Here is part 1.
-Stephanie Osborn
* * *

This is my attempt at writing about time management. Which is to say, what follows is largely – though not entirely – fiction.

Not entirely because there have been times when my method – brute force, aka duct-taping writer to chair – actually works. Those are usually my most productive times. When I manage to sit down and write and work on only one work, and not stray, I can do a book in a week… though my record is three days.

So, why don’t I work like that all the time? Mostly because I fall under my own influence.

When I was a brand new writer, knee high to a thesaurus, I wanted to give myself the impression that I had a “real job.” Coming from being in college and working almost full time on the side, the concept that I got to set my own hours made it feel like I was really unemployed and lying to myself. The fact that back then I was not making a cent off writing made things worse.

The touch-feel of work was needed for me to take writing seriously.

One thing I’ve learned which worked, from that time was that I should get up early – preferably get up when my husband got up to go to work. If I didn’t do that, it was all too easy to tell myself I’d take just one day off, lounge in bed till noon, then next day take just one day off – the way to h*ll on the installment plan.

So at this phase of my so called career, I got up early, dressed at least as well as I’d dress to go to a business-casual job, and set hours. “I’m writing from nine to five” worked when I didn’t have kids, when the hours shifted to match school hours. (On the other hand, getting up early wasn’t a problem, since I needed to wake up an hour before the kids, to have an hour to collect my thoughts before I had to deal with bathing/dressing/taking to school.)

Did it work? – Waggles hand. – About half the time. The problem in that time was the lack of a goal. I didn’t have a reason to get up and work. I had ambition, but that’s not how humans work. Like a novel, a life needs short term achievable goals on the way to the next one. Not knowing when or how of if I’d ever sell would send me into months and months of depressive silence and I fell in traps I later learned to avoid. The two years lost to Tetris are the reason I don’t game. The only exception I allow myself for that is this: if I’m ill – really ill, as in the doctor has me under prescription – I allow myself to take a week off and play mah jong on line. That’s it.

Next came my realization that I needed short time goals. This was the phase of the planners. Dan had just started using Covey planners, and he bought me one. Every morning I’d write my goal for the day. I’d give myself deadlines for each story/book.

Did it work? Surprisingly, yes. I don’t know how much of it was that it coincided with:

A writer’s group. I am right now on the verge of starting two of those with friends: one local, to provide support and encouragement to those of us planning to do indie publishing. One wherever, online, providing critique too.

What I’m trying to do is split the two functions of a writer’s group. I don’t know how that will work. However, here’s the thing, the local one can only meet once a month – it is a fact of life that both the friend starting it and I are busier than a one armed one-man-band in a sinking boat – which is too far away for critique, particularly if you’re working on novels. I would like, however, to work into it a goal-setting and reporting segment. Whether that will work on its own, I don’t know. It doesn’t online. I’m hoping it works in person. Of course, the other part of this is to make the indie writing seem as important as the traditional. We’ll see.

The critique group, on the other hand, is well… A critique group. I’m hoping to attract enough of my close friends, who frankly have no respect or awe whatsoever for my skills, to get honest critiques. The last local critique group I had didn’t work at all because I found myself in the uncomfortable position of sacred cow. In fact, unless the people in the group really know you well, or unless you’re all at about the same level, when you have what we’d call “success” however you define it, you’re going to find people taking one of two tacks with your writing. It’s like being on a panel with newbie writers. They either shut up in awe of you, or they come at you and rip everything to shreds, in an attempt to PROVE they’re just as good.

Neither of these is useful. Look, at this point I know d*mn well I can tell a story. I don’t need you to tell me “you know how to tell a story” – conversely I also don’t need you to come at me claws out and go “this is has to be the most stupid idea I ever heard of, and do you know Michael Unknown wrote a short story with this theme in 1920″ or, my favorite “you never explain what dimatough is. How is it manufactured?” Or… What I need is sort of a pre-first-reader thing. Tell me “Sarah, I felt like you got a little lost in the infodump, here” or “uh… are you really going to make Thena grow a second head in this book? Because that’s what this line led me to think.” Minor crap, but crap that’s really hard for me to see by myself.

Anyway, it’s almost impossible to get a group that works like the group I had for ten years. Because we were all beginners and all trying (very trying. Yes, there were occasionally personalities.) And because if you didn’t write something for three weeks, without major illness, you were put on probation, it was the best production encouragement I ever had.

This is neither here nor there, as the conditions are not likely to return.