Wasting Time

This week we are discussing time wasters. Unfortunately, I know a lot about those. A time waster for me is anything I do when I’m supposed to be doing something else, like writing. Trouble is sometimes I don’t recognize something as a time waster until it’s too late. Like after I’ve spent an hour playing Bookworm or frittered away prime writing time on a bunch of household chores.

That’s the beauty of establishing routines and regular times to write. Those time wasters are easier to spot. In my case, I’ve scheduled 10 am to 2 pm as my writing time. If I’m doing anything other than writing or lunch, I’m off my routine. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m wasting time, but I’m certainly not using my time wisely. I’ve learned that it is not nearly as productive to try to fit writing into other times of the day. That may or may not remain the case. Just a few short years ago my prime time was after everyone else was in bed. My days were so full of other responsibilities that I had to defer my writing time. Night owl that I am, it wasn’t a hardship. For now, though, 10-2 is the best time for me to write.

What about you? Can you set a time that is only writing time? Even if you can only manage 30 minutes a day, you will have spent at least two hours writing each week. Those time wasters, whether it is legitimate chores or mindless games, are much easier to recognize when they infringe on established routines. Try it. Set aside a certain time each day that is only for writing, even if it is only 15-30 minutes. Spend that time writing. Only writing. And watch those time wasters fade away.

Focus on the One Thing

These tulips were all focused on the sun until I turned them for a picture.
These tulips were all focused on the sun until I turned them around to take a picture.

My routine gets upset at least twice a year: the start of school and the end of school. It seems I just get the routine down of balancing all my mothering, teaching, soccer-momming, and writing, then school is over and we’ve got extra time. A few weeks of getting the kids to stop saying, “Mom I’m bored,” and then the summer is over and we’re transitioning back into the school schedule.

These transition times can drive me a little crazy. If I’ve learned anything, it is this:

Focus on the one thing.

I recently had the revelation that since my LIFE is all about multi-tasking right now, my writing needs to be focused. I need to do just one thing at a time or I’ll end up with a bunch of half-finished manuscripts.

Take this blog, for example. It was my summer project. Kitty and Stephanie are already online with their own personal blogs, so I volunteered to work on the technical side to register the domain name, get the hosting, choose the blogging software, etc. It was something I needed to learn and it took up my writing time. I temporarily put my novel on hold so that I could work on skills I need for marketing my book one day. Now that the blog is up, my focus can swing back to my novel.

Hmm. As I’m typing this I’m remembering reading about a software program that helps you maintain your focus. It was on Randy Ingermanson’s blog…Let me go find it for you….Okay, here’s the deal. Almost a YEAR ago on the Advanced Fiction Writing blog they were discussing time management. Randy Ingermanson was talking about this idea of focusing on one thing. So, I guess it has been in my subconscious for about a year and I finally got it! Thanks, Randy! Click here if you want to learn more about the software (I’m more of a paper and pen planner so I can’t help you there) and you can read the part of the discussion I liked best.  

Back in the Saddle

Every September loads of people try to get their head out of their vacations, to stop thinking about the beach or the woods or the water, and get back into their “usual” routines. For many people, this includes school for someone in the family, and the strange dread/excitement of having to get back into your work knowing that you’ve got at least one holiday a month for the next few months.

As a full-time writer without children, I would think I’d be immune to this issue. But because I spent almost my whole life using this schedule – 17 years in school plus a lot of years in the work force before quitting my day job – it’s ingrained into my DNA!

So here I am in September thinking about the homework I need to do for my two Bible studies that start up again this week, planning for my husband’s birthday next month and our trip to Phoenix to see old friends over a long weekend, worrying about a project I have to finish for a favorite charity, wanting to drive 100 miles to see a new baby in the family, needing to visit some friends who had health issues or family deaths lately, figuring out what needs to be done for our move to Australia next summer, and – oh yeah, I’m out of dish soap and spoons, so I need to buy one or the other today.

Welcome to my brain in September! Looking back, I know this is what happens every September, whether I was juggling band practice and track practice in high school or planning after marriage which family and friends we would visit on which holiday for the fall and winter. Once you see a pattern, you can learn to use it, to work it. Or you can choose to change it.

For me, I need to use this September pattern I’ve developed. This month is a natural time for me to do a bit of long-term planning, in life and in writing. So for this fall, I’m planning on finishing the final draft of my current book in September, plot out the second book in October, write the first draft in November and be done with it by mid-December, then actually enjoy the Christmas season without stress this year. (I say that every year, and some years I even make it!) During the next ten months I need to be very careful with my planning because I need to work, but I also need to spend quality time with friends and family before we move out of the country. Knowing my priorities will help me keep my routines in place.

I’m reading a book called WRITE IS A VERB by Bill O’Hanlon. The subtitle is “Sit Down. Start Writing. No Excuses.” He gives lots of tips on how to get started, how to keep going, how to work in small increments of time. He’s very encouraging and upbeat – check it out.

So what is your September like? How can you either change it or make it work for you? What do you need help with? Let us know, we’d love to help you brainstorm some better routines!

Times of Change

Some of the hardest times for a writer to hang onto writing routines are what I call transition times, those times when something in the normal schedule changes. It can be as simple as adding an evening activity, as big as a cross-country move or as life-changing as having a new baby. It can be the transition between summer or holidays to daily work and school days. Whatever the change, the routines we’ve struggled to put in place often shiver and shake and fall apart leaving us to dig our way out of the chaotic rubble.

How do we keep that from happening? What can we do to make sure writing doesn’t get lost in the minor and major upheavals of our lives? How can we stay in control even during the hectic times of our days and lives?

Shonna touched on it last week when she talked about establishing automatic routines, especially routines that happen even we’re not focused on them. Well-established routines can add stability to the disorder that comes with transitions.

I implemented one such routine in my own life at least fifteen years ago and it has remained a constant through several major moves as well as tiny schedule tweaks. Until today, it never really had a name. I’ve decided to call it my Redeem the Time Cache because that is what it does. Whether on a holiday schedule, a normal work week or in the midst of a cross-country move, my Redeem the Time Cache helps me productively use time that would normally be wasted.

Whenever I know I’m going to be somewhere with nothing to do but wait, like a doctor’s office or waiting for a child to finish a class or in the passenger seat during a cross-country move, I take my Redeem the Time Cache with me (or a selection of items from it). At any given time, I have a pile of papers, magazines or books to read, letter writing supplies, a folder with items relating to a current project, anything that can be done in the little bits of waiting time that fill my day. When I was still homeschooling, that pile often included things I needed to plan lessons or assignments to evaluate. Now it includes “fun” books to read as often as it does work that needs doing.

Sometimes I don’t even need my Cache with me to redeem the time. Sometimes I find myself waiting without my Cache. Standing in a check out line, for example. After years spent using my Redeem the Time Cache, my automatic reaction is to mentally search for something to do. I might run through my list of errands. Other times, I’ll brainstorm names for a new character I’m creating or try to unknot a plot problem. Or, if I need a vacation from reality, I’ll read the headlines of all those pseudo-news magazines. With my Redeem the Time Cache, I can redeem those otherwise unproductive, wasted minutes. And that brings order back into the chaos even during the most hectic transition times.

Routines—Make Them Automatic

 

 

 

3 month old Snickers
3 Month Old Snickers

On this blog we are going to target a number of areas in the writer’s life that need routines. My overall philosophy about creating routines is to make them as automatic as possible. If left to my own devices, I’d never get anything done. Well, at least nothing productive, save rearranging the furniture. Again.

 

 

This also holds true for when you have unexpected life changes, say a new puppy.

 

I’ve suddenly found that much of my day is consumed with following around our 3-month-old-and-not-housebroken shih tzu/terrier to see if she is about to make a deposit on the floor. I’ve gotten no writing-related work done except for the items that have firmly established routines. Aha!

Here is an example of something simple that I do. I am finishing up a middle grade novel and will be looking for an agent soon. But before I do that I have to analyze the market and research agents. This can be time-consuming (even with a market guide).

One way to track agents almost automatically is through my email subscription to Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf.  It arrives in my inbox every Thursday. That night I open a Word document where I am tracking agents and copy/paste any new information into a table that shows the agent’s name, agency, recent sales, and contact information.

I don’t have to go out and find the info. It comes to me automatically.

I’ve put together a nice list of agents along with a current list of books they have sold. This took me just a few minutes each week.

Anyone else have ideas for making your writing tasks automatic? I’m looking for some more good tips!  (Especially ideas for that write-every-day thing Stephanie keeps talking about.)

Kitty’s Routines

If there is one consistent through-line in my writing routines, it is that they change to fit my life at the moment. I used to look at this as a weakness, as proof that I couldn’t keep to a schedule. Now I see that allowing myself to be flexible to life’s needs helps me to be more productive rather than less so.

For instance, right now my daily routine goes something like this: wake up and run (my husband and I are training to run a half marathon), shower and eat breakfast, then I have 20-30 minutes of flex time to do whatever I want or need to before the writing day begins at 9am. (Thank you, God, that I no longer have to commute! ☺ ) I write from 9am to 1pm – write, not research or any other almost-writing activity. Then I break for lunch and check email, and in the afternoon I do my almost-writing activities like research, reading, writing non-fiction articles and blog entries, more email, etc. The last few hours of the late afternoon I try to get household chores done, pay bills, run errands, whatever else is on my to do list for the day.

That’s the routine I shoot for and often accomplish. That is not the average day!  LOL! I have a tendency to think and work in a project-oriented way. Once I get writing, I find it difficult to stop while I still have something to say. That would explain why my husband asked me yesterday why we had no groceries. I kept meaning to go to the store, but I’ve been in the flow for the last two weeks and haven’t wanted to stop!

In the same way, once I get started on email, I find it very hard to stop while there are still emails that need to be answered. In fact, I’ve found that if I don’t literally close my email program, I’ll keep checking it every time it dings at me – not good for getting writing and other work done. Same with my to do list. If I start working through it first thing in the morning, I’ll get tons of stuff done – except for writing.

And that’s why I write in the morning now. Apparently, whatever I get started on first thing is what my energy is going to be focused on, not just for the hours I’m working on it, but on and off for the whole day. I used to try to “get everything else done so my afternoon is free for writing.” But all that meant is that somehow I didn’t get much/any writing done!

I don’t look at these frequent changes to routine as signs that I “failed yet again.” That is, I no longer look at it that way. Now I see it as changing my routine to meet the changing needs of life. Plus I suspect that my creative brain needs to do things a little differently every now and then, shake things up to keep it interesting.

What routines have you tried? What worked? What surprised you? Jump in and share your experiences!

Routines

When I was younger, I thought routine was a bad word. I hated anything that looked or smelled like a routine. Or at least I thought I did. I didn’t realize just how often I used routines and how productive they made me. I know it sounds odd, but routines actually foster spontaneity. Routines, at least in my life, allow me to juggle all the things I must do and all the things I want to do and rarely drop a thing. Okay. That last part isn’t quite true. I drop a lot of things. But invariably it is because I let the routine slip.

Routine is something you do over and over again. (Do you brush your teeth before washing your face in the morning? That’s a routine.) It is not the same thing as a schedule. I still don’t do great with set-in-concrete schedules, although I have made peace and even initiated a friendship with those.

This week’s blog is a look at some of the writing routines that help us be productive, that help us fulfill our dream of being a writer. I believe the most important routine is our self-talk. We must believe we are writers and speak that way, even in our minds. Telling others I am a writer makes it more real, both to me and to them. Telling myself I phrased that thank you note for a despised gift from a beloved aunt very tactfully, reinforces the fact that I am a good writer. Telling myself that, yes the bathroom needs cleaning, but not at the expense of my writing time, reminds me of the importance of what I see as my calling in life. Change your self-talk to support your writing and you will see your writing explode.

Another extremely important routine is to write every day. When I have the mindset that the day is not finished until I have written something, I get a lot more written. (I have to put other routines and schedules in place to actually finish a project, but that is the subject for a different blog.)

I also think it is also important to mix up the writing. I get bored if I have to work on a project for long periods of time. Even though I may be focusing more time and energy on the project, I get less and less done. So I alternate what I work on. One day I will work on my most important fiction project; another day I will work on a non-fiction project like this blog. Every day I am writing, but each day is different. This seems to increase the excitement for each project and has radically increased my creativity.

Self-talk, daily writing minimums and a variety of projects that I cycle through are the main routines that keep me producing. What about you? What routines have you developed? Which routines, when missed, radically reduce your output? Do you have any routines that need to be nixed or changed? Let us hear from you.

NaNoWriMo meets Flylady

To understand this new blog there are two key words you need to know: NaNoWriMo and Flylady.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could do Nano all year round?” began the conversation.

Nanowrimo is the website that challenges writers to write a novel in one month. You kill yourself trying to do it, but in the end you’ve got a novel. Last November the three of us dove in. Kitty and Stephanie both completed the challenge with over 50,000 words. I think I came in just under 17,000. Note: That counts as a novel for me since I’m writing children’s books!  Really, it does.  And I’m not even jealous of all the work they managed to do.

 

However, Nano is too intense. No one could survive 12 months of Nano.

 

Flylady is the website that helps homemakers set up cleaning routines to make housekeeping automatic. The idea is, once you’ve got your routines down, the house seems to take care of itself. Flylady is famous for “baby steps” and “you can do anything for 15 minutes.”

So, introducing Nano (getting words on paper) to Flylady (setting up routines) you get Routines for Writers! Setting up your writing routines so that the words seem to take care of themselves. Wouldn’t that be great?

The three of us have spent the last two years or so helping each other get more written. My NaNo novel has grown by many thousand words and I’m preparing to send it out to agents.

Some of my background? Well, in my LBK (life before kids) I was a working writer. I wrote computer help files and educational software content. On the side I sold (a small number) of articles to teen mags. My dream has always been novels. Now that my kiddos can keep themselves busy long enough for me to put two coherent thoughts together, I’m working on the dream.

Are you with us? Let’s encourage each other to keep our fingers on the keyboard.

 

 

 

 

Why Are We Here?

Why are we here? Well, in the beginning, God created… Oops, sorry! We’re talking about the reason for filling up cyberspace with yet more chatter, not the reason we exist as human beings. Right.

Well, actually, for me the two topics are not totally separate. I have the occasionally far-fetched idea that my writing will change the world. I try to remind myself that it’s not that far-fetched when I think of all the things I’ve read that have changed me. That’s what keeps me writing.

And that’s why Stephanie, Shonna and I started this web site. We want to share the synergy we’ve experienced when the three of us talk about our writing, how to get more done, how to improve our work, how to balance writing with the other aspects of our lives in a healthy and mutually beneficial way. Yes, I believe that the act of writing improves other areas of my life, and of course the rest of my life impacts my writing. (I haven’t figured out how to write to lose weight yet, but I did buy Julia Cameron’s The Writing Diet! I think I have to read it first to find out how it works, but I’ll let you know in a later post!)

Synergy works best for me in conversation. I literally can call up a friend, tell them I have a problem, tell them all about it, figure out the solution, then thank them for their help and hang up. (Hmm, actually, I think I just described monologuing!) Over the last year or two, the three of us have used this conversational synergy to discover together new ideas for how to track our accomplishments, create a reward system, spend more quality time writing, and so much more! Every time we talked, we helped each other become a better writer and a better person.

So when we started talking about the next step in our career plan – blogs and web sites – we tried once again to find synergy in working together. We thought up and tossed out several ideas, but the one we liked most had to do with teaching others, sharing information, encouraging other writers in their writing, and encouraging others to help each other.

That’s where you come in.

We’d like to build a community here. If we have to spend time on promotion, time that takes away from our writing, then we might as well try to make it as fun as possible and make some friends along the way. Jump in and share your thoughts. Ask us questions – and get at least three different answers! Tell us what’s working for you. And please feel free to answer each other’s questions! That’s the kind of community we’d love to be a part of. We’re all on this journey together, whether we write or read or live our favorite stories. We want to help you find routines that give you more joy in the process.

So introduce yourself to us – and Welcome!

Stephanie’s Intro

Hi! I’m Stephanie Shackelford, one of the three founders of this blog. I have been creating stories all my life. It wasn’t until high school that I thought to write them down, but once I did, I never stopped. I have hundreds of stories in various stages of completion on my computer, hundreds more from pre-computer days, some stored in boxes, but most lost forever.

While in the midst of raising and homeschooling three children, I made the choice to delay publishing. But I never stopped writing. That’s why there are hundreds of stories on my computer. 🙂 Now it is time to get some of those (and the dozens more I keep conjuring) finished and published.

As I focus on that, I have learned so much about being productive, about how I work best, about how to recognize and minimize distractions and so much more than “just” creating stories. And that’s why I’m here.

Shonna and Kitty (you’ll meet them later this week) and I decided to start this blog for several reasons. I’ll be honest and say that at least a small part of it is self-serving. We want to write. We want people to read what we write. We want people to tell their friends about our writing. But just as much as we want all that, we also want to help other writers get there too. All three of us believe in the principle that when you give, you get.

Zig Ziglar puts it this way: “You can have anything you want if you help enough people get what they want.”

So we invite you into our own adventure toward productivity and publication. We’ll share what works for us, what doesn’t and we’ll try to figure out why.

Hope to see you here often!