Tag Archives: time management

Evolution of a Home-Based Writer

Laura Ayo

This past year has challenged everyone to get creative when it comes to managing their lives from home. As someone who has juggled a home-based writing career while mothering two kids for 15 years, even I have had to adapt. But successfully working from home, especially if you share that home with other humans, is an evolving process, even when there isn’t a global pandemic adding stress and obstacles to the mix. It always requires commitment, organization, the ability to set boundaries and priorities, and flexibility. Here are my tips to making the best of it.

Commitment. The first thing I did when I started working from home was remind myself that writing is my job. It’s not a hobby. I earn income as a writer, pay taxes on that income and have a separate bank account for expenses related to writing. But it’s a very different kind of writing than the creative writing I’m doing to become a published author of books for children and teens. No one is paying me right now to do that kind of writing, but I believe it’s just as worthwhile. I committed to finishing a manuscript and now I’m committed to revising it so it’s the best I can make it. I’m committed to improving my skills and developing my craft. My creative writing time is valuable and precious and I recognize that I’ll only accomplish my goals by continuing to treat it that way.

Organization. My freelance writing work is unpredictable. I may have no assignments one day and multiple assignments the next. To best manage my time, I sit down each Sunday with the calendar on my phone to plan the upcoming week. Then, based on what I know I have on my plate, I write out a schedule for what I need to do each day. I’m a detail-oriented person, so my schedule is subdivided into half-hour increments and includes time for freelance work, creative writing, non-writing-related appointments, 15-minute breaks, a lunch hour (or half-hour on really busy days) and every-day tasks such as walking the dog, preparing dinner and, before my kids could drive, taking my kids to school and their extra-curricular activities. I review and update the schedule each night to reflect any changes that may pop up on any given day that will affect the rest of the week. Having something on paper that I can review quickly each morning keeps me focused and productive, especially when I’m juggling multiple projects for several clients that may all be due the same week. I’ve tried other tools to organize my time, but the old-fashioned paper method works best for me, although I do use my phone for appointment reminders and timer features to stay on track.

Setting Boundaries and Priorities. This part of my writing process has been the most challenged during the pandemic. Pre-COVID, I rarely had trouble setting boundaries or priorities. When my kids were infants and toddlers, their well-being and healthy development were unapologetically prioritized over my writing time. Once they started kindergarten, I only worked while they were in school or while my husband was home to take care of dinner and bedtime routines. But at the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself in unchartered waters. My husband and both kids weren’t just home; they were home with no obligations. My husband’s job shut down and the schools closed, but I still had freelance assignments coming in. For the first time, I had to be firm with setting boundaries. (I know you don’t have school tomorrow, but you can’t stay up until 3 a.m. playing video games and FaceTiming your friends because I still have to work tomorrow. I know you want me to come on a bike ride with you because, yes, the weather is gorgeous, but I have a deadline to meet.) I also had to prioritize tasks based on deadlines. I would focus on accomplishing the tasks that had firm deadlines first and made my peace with the fact that other tasks sometimes just had to be left for another day. Which brings me to my last tip…

Flexibility. Even with the best intentions and scheduled plans, life happens. Kids get sick. Storms knock out power. The meeting you thought would only last 30 minutes stretches into two hours. Global pandemics, as we now know, can happen. Being flexible when the unexpected happens is the only way to survive working from home. If you’re organized and know how to prioritize, re-working a schedule to still meet a deadline is possible. But sometimes you just have to remember that tomorrow is another day. In those moments, it’s okay to dig into a pint of ice cream or go for a walk or play with your kids. It’s important to remember you’re human, and we all need to remember to give ourselves a little grace from time to time.

Chore Days and Project Days

Stacey Kite

Since my husband retired a few months ago, we’ve come up with a new way to share the household tasks. It’s working really well and given both of us blocks of time to work on our individual projects. For me, that means more quality writing time, so I thought I’d share.

Here’s how it works. When it’s my chore day, I get up early—before the rest of the house—and write. Usually, I can get in an hour or two before Fred and the dog get up. After that, I’m usually done writing for the bulk of the day because it’s my chore day. At a minimum that means I empty the dishwasher, take the dog for her potty breaks and long walk, cook dinner and clean the kitchen up afterwards. I also pick one or more extra household tasks on the list, whether that’s laundry, coming up with a menu and putting in the pickup order, sweeping and vacuuming floors or cleaning the bathrooms. If I manage to get everything done with time to spare, I can go back to writing for a while, collapse or even read.

While I’m taking care of all the household stuff, Fred is free to spend the day working on his stuff. (Right now, his big project is building the closet organizer of my dreams, so that one’s a total win for me!)

Then the next day, Fred does all the chores while I have a project day. I still do my writing first thing in the morning, but then, if the words are flowing, I can keep writing because Fred’s the one who takes the dog out, empties the dishwasher and does all the chores. The dog’s long walk is especially great for writing because it gives me an extra one to two hours of distraction free time every other day, which is awesome!

Whether the writing is going well or not, I still have the rest of the day to work on my other projects. Since we just moved into a new house, I have a lot of other projects, especially in the yard.

Last month, for example, I built a raised garden bed—all by myself.

Though my brother, Larry—the king of retention walls—showed me how to build a rock wall and gave advice, I did all the work, from digging the trench for the foundation and packing in the gravel to cutting and gluing the cap blocks. It just about killed Fred not to take over or at least jump in and help, but I wouldn’t let him. It was my project, though I did ask his opinion, and let him show me how to make and use a water-level.

And I have to say, Fred has been fabulous about the chores. He even cleans windows and toilets and sterilizes bath mats! He doesn’t do everything the way I would, but then I don’t do everything the way he would, either, so that’s OK.

I know our situation is ideal, and far from most people’s norm—especially now during this *$&%! Pandemic—but even a mini version of chore day vs. project day on the weekends might buy you some extra, quality writing time.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to give it a try.

Under no circumstances should you split kitchen duty. The person who cooks must be the same person who cleans up after that meal. The clean-as-he/she/they-cooks person will resent the crap out of cleaning up after the just-boils-water-and-gets-flour-on-the-ceiling person. And there is always a just-boils-water-and-gets-flour-on-the-ceiling person.

Avoid giving unsolicited advice on your partner’s projects. If your partner asks for your opinion and/or help, great, but otherwise button it. It’s his/her/their project. Of course, this doesn’t apply if there is significant risk of loss of life, serious injury or ruinous financial structural damage to the house.

Be patient when your partner gives you unsolicited advice/criticism. It’s going to happen, so be prepared. And you’ll give them advice too, even though you know you shouldn’t. So acknowledge their point, consider it, then do what you feel is correct. This applies to everything from folding towels to building retaining walls.

Do not critique your partner’s domestic skills or go behind your partner’s back re-doing everything. There is no one right way to fold a towel. Your partner will develop his/her/their own method, thank you very much, and as long as clean towels and underwear are making it into the linen closet and the drawers instead of mounding up in heaps on the floors, keep your mouth shut.

When it’s your chore day, don’t shirk. This only works if both partners are willing. If you see something that needs cleaning, step up and do it.

Above all else, be patient and considerate. Everything has a learning curve, even ordering groceries online, so cut your partner slack, here. It’s not the end of the world if you get shredded cheese instead of block cheese, especially if having someone else do the shopping bought you some quality writing time.

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 5-25-20

If you’re finding it difficult to maintain your daily writing habit in this time of enforced family togetherness, take some time each day for 15, 10 or even just 5 minutes to do a writing sprint. Don’t worry about making the prose beautiful; simply get words on the page. Then, before you go to bed, no matter what time that is, jot down how you did and what your writing goal is for the next day.

 

 

 

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 4-27-20

As we enter another month of social distancing  amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all made adjustments to how, when, where or even whether we’re writing. Perhaps you find yourselves with more time on your hands and you’ve been able to do more writing than ever before. Or, maybe your once free moments to work on your manuscript have been replaced with juggling work-from-home responsibilities while homeschooling your children. So how do you keep up a writing routine during such an uncertain time?

Our previous recommendations of how to track where you spend your time are worth revisiting as you figure out your new normal. Then, once you have a better idea of when you can carve out some time to write, you can set up a new schedule with goals that are realistic for your new circumstances. Keep in mind that even your best intentions will have to be flexible, but having a guide for how to manage your writing during this difficult time will help you stay the course.

 

Write by Midnight 2020 Roundup

Just as Write by Midnight has evolved over the past four years, so, too, have each of us as writers. We’re still discovering new things about our abilities and growing in our craft. Our journeys have been varied, interesting and unexpected. As we conclude Write by Midnight 2020, we’re excited to share with you how this year’s write-a-thon inspired and challenged each of us and how we plan to incorporate what we learned as we continue down the road to publication.

Laura Ayo

Laura Ayo: Write by Midnight is designed to help writers make steady progress on their manuscripts and develop or maintain daily writing habits. The beauty of the challenge is that it meets writers where they are without a lot of pressure. Don’t have more than 15 minutes to write today? That’s ok – just write for 15 minutes. But I needed something more from this year’s write-a-thon.

My story follows the journeys of two siblings who are separated from one another, and I had about a quarter of each of their story arcs left to write before I’d have a completed first draft of my manuscript. So my goal for this year’s WBM was to finish that draft. To succeed, I would need to write not only every day, but consistently write a lot of words – more than I usually do – every day. It felt like an unobtainable Go Big or Go Home-esque goal; and that was deliberate. I needed to set the bar high to see if I would push myself. By setting such an ambitious goal, would it ignite relentless determination in me to prove I could do the unlikely, much like a child digs in with a “watch me” attitude when an adult tells her she can’t possibly do something? I’m happy to report the answer is yes. I worked every day on the story – although some of those days weren’t writing days; they were research days. Having an extra day in the month because it was a Leap Year felt like a sacred gift. I wrote more than 4,000 words that day.

In the end, I didn’t finish the entire manuscript. But I completed one character’s arc, which helped me realize that seemingly unreachable goals aren’t out of reach after all. With 31 days in March, I know without a doubt that I can finish the other sibling’s storyline and have a complete first draft of an entire manuscript in one more month’s time. Just watch me.

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones: I finished 2019 with a bang, completing a first draft of a new manuscript. As I wrote that draft and discovered issues with the story, I made notes of things to change in revision. My goal for Write by Midnight 2020 was to complete that initial revision list of things I already knew needed fixing before digging back into a more thorough revision process. The problem? I finished the list in January. Woohoo! or maybe Oops?  Either way, the final push to finish the manuscript in December followed almost immediately by a crash revision in January left me with absolutely no perspective on any aspect of my story. It was a perfect moment to step away and give myself a breather.

But . . . February is Write by Midnight. I LOVE Write by Midnight. I helped found Write by Midnight. I must participate in Write by Midnight.

I dug back in, and did my first read through of the completed manuscript. And had no idea what to do next. Maybe it was brilliant or maybe utter garbage. Difficult to say. So, I pulled out my favorite crafts books and searched for wisdom on revision. And still didn’t know what to do. Well, actually, I did know what to do. I just didn’t want to do it.

I needed a break from my manuscript. All the craft books recommended taking a break after completing a draft. But they didn’t mention what to do when that needed break coincided with your favorite annual writing challenge.

Finally, a natural disaster in form of a flood that threatened to inundate my parents’ home intervened. Don’t worry–the river crested lower than expected, so their home was spared. But we didn’t know that until after we had moved everything out of it and surrounded the house with sandbags over the course of two days. Definitely wasn’t writing, thinking about writing, or pretending to write over those two days. Or the next two days it took to recover from the exhaustion. What I did do was finally admit to myself that I shouldn’t be writing in the month of February. And since it took me half the month to figure that out, I might not write until halfway through March either.

And that’s okay. I’m still a writer with a completed draft of a novel I love. And I have a plan for completing it. I just need the patience to wait until the right time. In that case, I might not have finished a new draft this month, but I did learn some valuable wisdom. Patience is necessary in writing.

Naomi Rowe

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe: My goals for Write By Midnight were four-fold: to regard my writing time as sacred, to take a slow and focused approach to the development of my characters and the story, to focus on the crafting of each sentence rather than word count, and to have a first draft of Chapters 1-7 by Feb.16  to begin revising the second half of the month.

The first two weeks went well. Although I didn’t have a complete first draft of my chapters by Feb 16th like I had hoped, I had mostly succeeded in keeping my mornings dedicated to writing. Even though I have a lot to edit before I submit my chapters to my mentor this month, I did manage to write some scenes I feel proud of and I feel really good about that.

The last two weeks was a sick-factory at my house, which began with my son and ended with me getting a cold which morphed into a more serious upper respiratory thing. However, in my more lucid moments this past week, I spent time making notes and writing freehand in my journal. This time, when I was too sick to get out of bed, gave me an opportunity to really think through the direction of my story thus far. I came up with some changes that I believe will make these first chapters stronger and my protagonist more interesting.

While I’m bummed to have missed our writing retreat, I feel WBM ended up being very fruitful for me.

Stacey Kite

Stacey Kite: This year’s WBM challenge was a struggle for me, which is a mealy-mouthed way of saying I did not reach any of my goals. I have plenty of excuses: we had a small machine uprising at the beginning of the month, we’re in the middle of planning a cross-country move and I’ve been sick. But the truth is I’m simply at a point in my book where things have gotten tough.

Normally, I like to write in chronological order, but over the last year, whenever I got stuck on a scene for too long, I skipped ahead and moved on to a scene that I could really feel. That left gaps in my story, so my plan for this year’s WBM challenge was to write all those missing scenes. As it turned out, though, there were more voids in my plot than I’d originally thought—in some cases, giant, cavernous, blackhole kinds of voids.

When I realized the scope of the problem, I shifted my goal to just plotting those sections, but that did not go as planned. The reason I’d struggled with those particular scenes in the first place was either the characters’ motivations in them were on the limp side, or the causal links from one scene to the next were amorphous and coincidental. Beating my head against the problem areas and talking through them with my writing buddies gave me directions and ideas, but my progress in February was dismal. I never once got that key-in-the-lock feel for anything I worked on.

But I’ve decided I’m okay with that. I know that the right solutions will come in time. I just need to push hard for a while, then back off, then push again. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.

Missing a goal is a setback, but it’s not failure. It’s only failure when you give up.

Now that you’ve heard how we fared this month, please share your WBM experience with us by tweeting @writeowls or commenting below. Then, tune in for our monthly Write by Midnight Pep Talks for tips to stay the course until February rolls around in 2021.