Saturday, October 25, 2014

Managing Time Before It Flies Away

Time management? Pardon me while I laugh hysterically...I do this the same way I do everything else, by the seat of the pants. No spreadsheets, no color-coded calendar, little to no system...

Well, ok, let's back up. My mother always said if you arrived on time, you were already late. Hence I show up at meetings 10 minutes early. Sometimes the most interesting conversations can be had before the meeting actually begins, as it turns out. To be fair, I'll admit that at the day job, I do have a color coded calendar app.

I'm one of those people who was born with the ability to tell myself when to wake up. If I need to be up at 4:30 AM, I'll wake up at 4:28AM. If I can only have a 17 minute nap, then that's how long I'll be asleep. My Dad was the same so I figure I inherited the knack from him. I always wonder why my ancestors evolved this skill in the absence of the concept of clocks. "Must go kill saber-tooth tigers" doesn't seem to require a very exact timeline, does it?

When it comes to writing, I'm on my own schedule since I'm self publishing these days. I have a goal of how many books I want to get released this year, and I had to book my editors, cover artist and formatter a few months ahead. So I have big chunks of time in mind when it comes to the books, rather than specific dates. Can I have that cover in September? Do you have time to edit this 80K novel in November? No formatting services over the holidays? OK then, guess the new book will hit the ebook stores in late January!

The things I have to do on deadline, like these posts at Word Whores, or my USA Today/HEA column, I try to write a day or two ahead of the submission date. I like to let the drafts percolate, conduct a review and revise as necessary before I hit send or publish, as the case may be. (Although pretty much every week I'm doing the WW post the night before. Hmmm.) In the case of  USAT/HEA, I also need to allow time for Joyce Lamb, my Editor, to read the piece and request any changes she might want.

I do keep my Outlook Calendar updated on posts, guest posts, contest deadlines, ads and things of that nature...

I usually write out a massive To Do List at the start of a weekend, so I know all the things I need to get done before Monday morning rolls around. I know I won't get to them all, but seeing them written down helps me triage which are the top two or three that I absolutely must do, followed by the ones that would be sweet to accomplish if there's time. And then of course the ones that never seem to get done, like dusting the knickknack collection in the living room.

If I'm having a super stressful day, I pick the one task that's stressing me most and if I can accomplish it, then I declare victory. Make an appointment to talk to my CPA? Done! Time to watch the NFL, or Say Yes To The Dress or The Walking Dead. I might choose to tackle another item on the list if I'm really on a roll, but the stress is gone because I nailed that top item.

Yup, this is me, folks, and that's how I roll. Now I think it's time to get back to the WIP!

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?
Dr. Seuss

Friday, October 24, 2014

When the Devil is in the Schedule

I just came back from a local writers' conference put on by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. One of the speakers is a writing coach who did a series of workshops on our exact topic this week: Schedules, writing time, and how to get back on track when you get derailed. (Check out Lindsay's website if you're interested in learning more about his coaching offerings.) I won't steal all of Lindsey's thunder - which, frankly - I doubt he gave us in full measure in a couple of one hour workshops, but here's what stuck with me.

1. Know where your time goes. Before you get into any kind of emergency situation with a writing project, know what you're doing and when you're doing it. He suggested taking a full week, declaring it a judgment free zone and noting down everything you do (to the 15 minute mark) for the week, including watching TV, surfing the net, FB, Twitter, whatever it is. This is not to be used as a cudgel to beat yourself up with once you have it. It is a tool meant to offer you some choices about when and how you allocate time for writing and for emergency crunch modes should you absolutely have to have them.  (The point really is to prevent crunch modes.)
2. Set word minimums for yourself. Yes. You read that correctly. Minimums. And set them low. Lindsay suggested starting with 200 words a day. Not even a page. His reasoning went like this: Most writers have word count goals. 1k a day. 2k a day. That's a 20 foot ceiling in a big room that you have to fill up with words and when you do, you've only just been good enough. By setting a low minimum, chances are very, very good that you're going to blow past it. And then, you've exceeded your goal and gotten your brain high on the success. Even on days when everything has gone to hell in a hand basket, you can probably manage 200 words. It's just a few lines. But then, you get to word 200 and you're in the middle of a sentence. So you finish it. But then, you're in the middle of a paragraph. Might as well finish that. Presto. You've blown past your minimum and given your brain a shot of endorphins. Your brain gets addicted to that stuff pretty quickly and that, my friend, is going to drive you back to the page. Now. You aren't always going to have a 200 word minimum. At the end of each week, analyze how you did. If you consistently wrote past 200 words, raise your minimum by 100 words. If you only barely made those 200 words, or kept stalling at one hundred something, lower your minimum by 100 words for that week. This gives you a flexible way to accommodate that sightseeing trips through hell we all seem to take from time to time.
3. Run to the writing. This one really resonated for me. There's a story Lindsay told that I won't tell here, but the summary was him going to a professor and confessing that he'd stopped writing and didn't know when he'd start again. She told him that he had two choices. He could run away from his writing, or he could run to his writing. Writing, she said, wasn't the problem. It was the solution.

All of this is lovely stuff, but doesn't speak to crunch mode. Crunch modes happen because reasons. But unless you live entirely alone and have no friends or family, crunch mode affects everyone around you, not just you. So I argue for avoiding it by all means humanly possible. I say this after having to spend way too many days writing 8k a day in order to make a deadline that was an extension of the original deadline. That one wasn't life keeping me from writing - I'd been writing. It was the book not coming together the way I wanted. I swear I wrote that story three times over. Still. The book came out better than I'd hoped it could. The problem was that my family paid the price and that's not fair. Thus, expending my energy now on doing everything in my power NOT to get into a crunch like that again. That means learning about my production rhythm and managing my projects accordingly.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Perils of the Writer: Deadlines and Schedules

I'm a big believer in a regular writing schedule.  Find a time of day that works best for you, carve that time out, and affix yourself to a chair and get it done.  It's not always easy or fun, but that's how one gets it done. 

Now, fortunately, so far, I've not had much of a problem with deadlines.  The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages were essentially complete manuscripts when they sold.  Editing work was required, but the time I was given to get that done was ample.  On top of that, as soon as I signed the Thorn contract I started to put my nose to the grindstone on Thorn II

That doesn't mean I'm immune to things blowing up in my face.  A disruption to my life can throw everything out of sync.  A few weeks ago my wife was in a car accident.  Fortunately her injuries were relatively minor, but the car was totaled.  So the process of dealing with things like insurance, car rental, and so forth is time and energy out of my day, and that has to come from somewhere, and "somewhere" more often than not turns out to be writing. Or sleep.  Or the dishes pile up.  Those last two tend to come to a head far sooner than the writing, though. 

Since my deadlines are relatively self-imposed at this point (i.e., when I want to get something done is sooner than other people are asking for it), getting back on track is mostly a matter of readjusting my expectations and going back to the grind.  I've learned from experience that trying to do things like double my output or "catch up" usually results in things going even further off the rails.

Not to be all tortoise-and-the-hare, but slow and steady, getting back on task and doing the work each day is really the only thing you can do.  But it does help that my personal deadlines give me enough breathing room to account for things going wrong. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Time Managment or The Less than Perfect Writing Scenario

Remember two weeks ago, when we here at the Bordello were discussing the Management of our Resources, and I talked about my minions kids had chores? How I referred to the schedule?

Well, as a working mom with kids, the Almighty Schedule is key.

DO what you are supposed to do, damn it, WHEN you are supposed to do it.

As the title suggests, however, there are less than perfect days. Where boys--and probably girls but I haven't experience in that field--are concerned, that is a capital F Frequently.

I hate playing catch up. I hate the stress, even though I can perform well under it. I prefer to tighten my timeline and create a schedule for myself that has me well ahead of the actual deadline. Incrementally working ahead, so to speak. Of course, I'm a firm believer in Scotty Logic.

If the captain {publisher} asks how long you need to get the ship running {book completed}, and you know that warp core {novel} needs a minimum of 2 hours{3 months}, but you know that there will be inevitable things impeding you, you should ask for more time. "I'll need six hours, captain."

"We haven't got six hours!"

Of course you only need two, but you anticipate problems and ask for six. (**I'm not suggesting you ask for triple the time you think you need, but hours are much shorter than months so the analogy works...) When you get the job done in two and a half hours, you have a half hour to recheck, and you're still looking like a hero done in well under the original time.

So my advice, work ahead so you don't scramble and work sloppy when time grows short.

Better to have time to reflect on the job at the end than to hope your editor will fix the slop you turned in. This IS your dream career, right? No excuses... own that bitch.

Staying focused (aromatherapy or music or whatever works for you), don't allow distractions (turn off FB and the phone), and spending a few minutes thinking ahead of where you are actually at writing wise will help pave the way.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Annnd There Went The Schedule...

When my schedules go to crap, how do I get back on track? I'm a plotter, a planner, and a control freak. When shit goes awry for whatever reason, I have a minor conniption (in private, natch), then I remember:  The first casualty of war is the plan. So, how do I regroup and take the hill?

Five Things:

1) Define "Crunch" Time: 15 days, 30 days, 45 days, 60 days. Never longer than that, 'cause of that whole thing about burning the candle at both ends, brains melting, and body rebelling.

2) Prioritize: P0 = Can't Live w/o. P1 = Must do. P2 = Should do. P3 = Want to do. P4 = Outsource.  Not everything can, would, should be done NOW. Some stuff gets pushed to post-panic time; some stuff just doesn't happen. Be realistic. Be honest. Be ruthless.

3) Renegotiate Deadlines: If others are depending on me for a deliverable, then I owe it to them to let them know as soon as possible that I will not make the date. However, I make damned sure the "new" date is one that includes a bit of padding. There is no way I will be late again.
Side Note: I don't waste time assigning blame or crafting excuses. It's not the issue, and no one cares.  They only care about when they're going to get their stuff.

4) Ask for Help: I have the hardest time with this one, but when needs must...I must ask. 90% of the time people are happy to help.

5) Forgive Myself: I despise letting people down. I despise not delivering on a commitment. Doesn't matter if circumstances were/are beyond my control, I still feel accountable. And for all those times the fault truly is mine, I have to accept I'm fallible (mmm crow, tasty), and move on.  FYI,  guilt, panic, worry, and dread are not conducive to productivity.  Let. It. Go.

Buckle up and buckle down. When crunch time is over, you and that next schedule are going to have a little chat about contingency plans and padded dates.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Time Management

So here's the thing: I should be able to tell you a lot about how to manage your time, but I'm pretty sure I'm not really an expert.

I'd like to claim that I am, but the truth of the matter is, I work 30 to 40 hours a week on my day job, I work 30 to 55 hours a week on my writing career, depending on the week. Some of that is networking, doing the online presence thing and working on series proposals, but most of it is writing.

Next month is NaNoWriMo. On the incredibly slim chance you don't know what that means, it's National Novel Writing Month (or some close approximation thereof). It's a neat challenge. A great concept and one I endorse wholeheartedly. Why? Because you're supposed to write 50,000 words in a month. That's a hefty goal. A respectable sum of words.

I've already stated that my goal for November is 95,000 words on the next novel project. That doesn't include articles for Word-Whores, reviews, the occasional rant on genrefied  or anything I might get written for my website. Those others are extras.

I don't set that sort of goal because I want to, per se, but because it is a necessary evil. I have a lot of projects that I'm spinning and I want to sell them. I also have another novel due at the end of the year and I have only barely broken 15,000 words on it. My plan is to make this a big beast, probably close top 150,000 words, because that's what the publisher wants. I have three different proposals out there that will, hopefully, bear fruit. They didn't write themselves. I still have at least one more short story (10,000 words) that I'd like to finish before the end of the year, and I have the weekly essays here, and I have several projects that I'm still toying with.

Listen, the largest novel I've ever done was 340,000 words. I wrote that in a year, between other paying writing gigs and the day job. Since I started writing I've and a day job. I like having a stead income and I love having benefits. Maybe someday I'll get that deal that allows me to break orbit and head into the heavens but for now I'm still working on staying in the air. My fastest novel as I am fairly certain I have pointed out here before, was around 128,000 words and written in a three week span of time. That included three edits (with assistance on the editing part)

How do I do it?

I write. Every day. At least a few hours. The ONLY exception is when I'm at a convention and even then I have been known to get a little work done. It's a necessary evil.

Today I worked an eight hour shift. I opened the coffee shop I work in. Last knight I closed it. Somewhere between the two I got a good, solid four hours of sleep. When I'm done with this article it's crash and burn time and I'll have cleared just at 3,500 words for the day. Not a great day, not a lousy one. But it'll do.

How do I manage my time? I sit the hell down and I write. I'm a widower. I have spare time. Before, when I was married, I managed it anyway. I still got in around the same word count per day (between 2,500 and 4,000 per day) and I still managed to spend some time with my wife, and I did the day job. I might have gone on three hours of sleep a few times (okay, more than a few) but I managed it.

I could have survived writing less, but I wouldn't have been pleased about it.

My goal for November is 95,000 words. I also have World Fantasy to attend in the first week of November. Like I said, not likely to get much writing done on that trip. One way or another, I intend to achieve my goal. If I have to sacrifice a little sleep or give up a little of my social time to make it happen I will.

It's what I do.

James A. Moore

Increasing Word Count and Training for #NaNoWriMo

This seemed like an appropriate photo for the topic of the new week - Managing Your Time: If You've a Deadline, You've a Schedule. How Do You Get Back On Track When Your Schedule Goes To Crap?

I'm in this place right now, getting back on track on a number of levels. My schedule didn't really go to crap. But I did take a huge step back in September and now, it's turned out, a good portion of October. It's been deliberate in some ways and very likely much needed. Also weird.

See, in August I wrote 68,050. The most I've ever done in one month. It was a lot for me. More, that followed a straight run since the previous August when I wrote at least 41,000 words every month. In 2013 I wrote just over 497,000 words and so far for 2014, I've written 455,000. To do the math for you, that means I'll likely have somewhere around 550,000 by December 31.

Once I get back on track, that is.

Because, in September, I only wrote 22,402. So far, for October I have 16,831. These are my two lowest word count months since May of 2013. I haven't been doing nothing, precisely. I edited the novel that comes out in January, Under His Touch - developmental edits up through proofreading - and developmental edits on The Talon of the Hawk, which took a lot of focus, though a minimal additional word count. I worked up a proposal for three more Twelve Kingdoms books and started the first in the concept for another contemporary romance series. There's been a lot of promo with the release of Rogue's Paradise in September and preparing for The Tears of the Rose in November.

But I haven't been doing much drafting. Which takes a whole other muscle.

Speaking of muscles, I was also sick in September. Some kind of low-level respiratory crud that nevertheless laid me low for several weeks. I got behind in exercising, too. Though managed to use the treadmill desk some every day, if only to keep my lymph flowing, I couldn't run or lift weights. The treadmill served as a cat bed more than it moved. All of this was by way of necessary recovery. I truly believe that. I don't have another book deadline until March 1. I haven't gotten sick in a long time. It worked out okay for this to be my down time.

However, it's now time to ramp up again and the question, the focus of our topic this week, is how do I do that?

I take my own advice. The sort I had the opportunity to hand out a couple of weeks ago when Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, visited our local chapter meeting, something I mentioned in last week's post, too. One gal asked if Chris had advice on how to get going on writing those 1,667 words/day to make the 50K words/month that's the NaNoWriMo goal. He said he didn't so I offered mine. I told her that the temptation is to do the math exactly that way - to divide 50K by the 30 days of November and focus on achieving 1,667 words for each of those days. The problem with that approach is that writing that many words on the first day is akin to learning to run a marathon by going out and running ten miles right off the bat.

Yeah, you can probably do it, but you'll feel the pain later.

In fact, you might be able to do it for a couple/three/four days - and then the crash occurs. Like my recovery time recently, it's a natural sequel to going flat out.

Better, I told her, to treat it like that marathon training. Build up a little more every day. Stop before you're tired, because that energy will translate to the next day. Consider setting up a schedule for NaNoWriMo like this:

1 100
2 200
3 300
4 400
5 500
6 750
7 1000
8 1250
9 1500
10 1750
11 2000
12 2000
13 2000
14 2000
15 2000
16 2100
17 2100
18 2100
19 2100
20 2100
21 2100
22 2200
23 2200
24 2200
25 2200
26 2200
27 2200
28 2200
29 2200
30 2200

By the end of November 30, you'd have 50,150 words. Best of all, by the time you've got yourself doing 2,200 words a day, it will feel very easy and natural. Because you'd be in shape for it.

This is what I need to do, to get myself back in shape. I've gotten back into running and weight-lifting, working my way back up to my previous levels. I'm tracking my treadmill desk miles, making sure I do a little more each week. I need to get back into drafting, but not to 2,200 words/day. Not right off, tempting as that is. I'm going to ramp up like this. Get the words flowing.

Back on track.