Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
Varian Johnson is not only a wonderful writer—you must read My Life as a Rhombus—he’s also an engineer who builds bridges. Real ones that you can walk or drive on. Why, yes, I am very impressed. Varian’s yet another writer who has a job in a completely unrelated field and still finds time to write novels. I begin to suspect that the one can be very inspiring for the other.1 Though writing at 5AM? Eeek.
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Varian Johnson is the author of My Life as a Rhombus and the forthcoming Saving Maddie. He’s a fairly lazy blogger, though you can find him on Twitter quite a bit. He is also active with The Brown Bookshelf, which he strongly suggests you check out as soon as you finish reading this post.
When Justine asked me to write something for her blog, I immediately said, “Yes.”
Then I said, “What the hell am I thinking? I don’t have time to write a post.”
After spending an hour or so thinking about how I didn’t have time to write a post, I decided to write about exactly that. Making time out of no time. Time management.
Because, Lord knows I’ve dealt with my share of time management issues. For all practical purposes, I have three “jobs”, all of which I’m juggling with varying degrees of success. Among other things:
1. I’m trying to write a new novel (due to my editor in seven months, which may seem like a long time, but as this is the first uncompleted novel I’ve sold, I’ve found myself spending quite a bit of time completely freaking out).
2. I’m teaching a course on Children’s Literature at a small liberal arts university. (Love the students, love the teaching, but the grading . . . grrr. I’d rather eat Lucky Charms.)
3. And I happen to also design bridges. (And “bridges” isn’t a metaphor—I mean honest to goodness, concrete and steel structures, like this.)
Of course, I haven’t listed all the other writing-related things I do—promotion for the new book (which hits stores in March—eek!!!), author events, tax stuff, etc. And I have a lovely, beautiful wife that I actually like to see every now and then, and a lawn to maintain, and—well, you get the picture. I have a lot going on.
So, clearly, I should know a few things about time management. Except I don’t. I mean, I have a few tricks that work from time to time, but in general, I often fiddle with my schedule, trying to tweak it just enough so I can make it through the next book without a nervous breakdown / heart attack / dismemberment by axe-wielding wife.
For what it’s worth, this is what I try to do:
SET UP OFFICE HOURS: I write—or at least attempt to write—every morning, at the ungodly hour of 5:00, when I’m the freshest. I type away a bit on my manuscript, answer a few emails, send a few twitter messages, and down a gallon or so of coffee. From 8:00 to 10:00 that night, I wash, rinse, repeat. Ditto for Saturday and Sunday mornings. It’s a bit painful, but it works. And slowly but surely, I chop away at my novel.
Of course, there are times when I have to miss office hours, but I really try to plan this in advance, so I can still get my core hours in. So, if Mrs. V wants me to spend ALL DAY SATURDAY looking for the perfect shade of (overpriced) granite for our kitchen, I’ll do this, as long as I get those hours back on Sunday.
And here’s the other thing with office hours—you have to be heartless when it comes to distractions. If the phone rings, don’t answer it. If the spouse knocks on the door, promising chocolate and ice cream, don’t open it. If you hear little Johnny attacking little Kevin with a baseball ball, well, let them go at it, and consider it a life lesson (and really, little Kevin will be just fine with one kidney).
When it comes to protecting your writing time, you have to be cold. Heartless. Merciless. Ruthless. Remember, you’re not Fredo Corleone. You’re Michael.
SET UP REALISTIC GOALS: I used to think I was the type of author that could crank out 20,000 words a month. Ha! If I get 30 decent pages written, I’m usually ahead of the game.
TURN OFF THE INTERNET: I find Twitter, Facebook, and blogging an important part of being a published author. But when I find myself spending more time on Wikipedia than on my manuscript, I turn off the Wi-Fi on my laptop. And when that doesn’t work, I unplug the router.
DON’T GET JEALOUS OF OTHER AUTHORS: Everyone’s situation is different. Some authors make enough money from their books or have a home situation which enables them to write full-time. Some don’t. That’s just the way it is. There’s no point in pouting about it, because I’ve tried that, and believe me, that crap doesn’t fly with Mrs. V. All you can do is figure out what works for you, and do it.
FIND A WRITING COMMUNITY: You can’t stay holed up in your writing cave forever. You eventually have to come out, bath, and interact with the real world. When you do, it’s helpful to hang with other people that feel your pain. I consider my critique group meetings like a form of group therapy, where we spend the first hour or so either celebrating successes or talking about how screwed up this industry is. Plus we drink a lot of wine and eat chocolate.
MAKE TIME HOWEVER YOU CAN: In order to stick around in this business, you have to really want to do it. You have to want to write more than you want to play Wii Sports, more than you want to sleep, more than you want to hang out with your friends as you watch Matthew McConaughey movies.
It’s lonely. And a lot of times it sucks. But sometimes . . . it doesn’t suck. And sometimes it’s even fun. And if you work hard enough, and maybe with a bit of luck, you’ll finish a manuscript or two or three.
Again, this is what works for me. I’d love to hear if anyone else has any ideas.
- At some point in the future I will write a whole post about it. [↩]