As a brandie-new published author, I've been struggling with two things this past year--
Thing #1 - Knowing that having a blog is a very important part of authorly networking, but not having a clue about what exactly to put on it
Thing #2 - Trying to figure out how to balance working my day job, promoting the old book, and writing the new one
...well, there is a Thing #3, which is not being successful at either Thing #1 or Thing #2.
This being a New Year and time for turning over new leaves and starting fresh and all, I thought it I'd start the New Year off by trying to address Things #1 and #2. And what better way to do that than by killing two birds with one stone and blogging about how other writers deal with juggling their day jobs and authorly lives. That way I get my blogging done while picking up some tips to help me with my own juggling problems. So I'm inviting fellow writers to guest-blog about how they deal with the juggling act (or don't deal, if you're like me).
So if you're a writer who's interested in sharing your tips for how you juggle jobs, family, and writing, feel free to contact me and I'll send you a short questionnaire. If you don't have a day job, but have other nearly full-time commitments (kids, elderly parents, volunteer work, school, etc.), you're welcome to play, too!
For those of you who have kicked the day job to the curb and are able to write full-time, I welcome you to comment about how you took the plunge and what allowed you to do it: a really, really nice advance, an inheritance, living on Ramen noodles and mac'n'cheese, selling the house and moving into a cardboard box under a bridge, hiring out the kids as indentured servants, etc., etc...? What was the turning point and how is it working out?
Our first guest blogger is Lisa Schroeder, fellow Class of 2k8 member and author of the novels-in-verse I Heart You, You Haunt Me and Far From You (both from Simon Pulse, 2008) and the picture book Baby Can't Sleep (Sterling, 2005). Lisa has just sold her fourth book, a middle-grade novel called It's Raining Cupcakes.
Besides being a writer and a mom, Lisa works 32 hours a week in the Human Resources department at a major hospital/university.
Q: Lisa, you're amazingly productive--and busy! Tell us some more about your daily work schedule.
LISA: I'm lucky in that it's very much a job I can leave behind at the end of the day. When I took the job, it was 40 hours, and after 18 months, I felt like I could do the job at 4 days a week, and since I had sold my first novel, I really wanted that extra day to work on writing-related tasks. So, I proposed going to 32 hours by suggesting we try it for 3 months and see how it went. Fortunately, they said yes, and it's been over a year that I've been on that schedule. Tues-Fri, I get my kids off to school and leave for work at 8:30. I get there at 9:00, work until 5:30, and get home between 6:00 and 6:15.
Q: Wow! Sounds like a busy week! Besides the kids, are you responsible for taking care of anyone else? Volunteer work? Clubs, committees, organizations? Care of elderly/ill relatives? Etc.?
LISA: My parents are fairly young and doing well, thank goodness. As far as volunteer work or clubs and that sort of thing, I'm not involved in anything. At this point in my life, it works better for me to give financially, and so that's how I choose to help others.
Q: About how many hours a day/week can you spend writing? Any sense about what your average output is (pages/words a day)?
LISA: I don't write every day, and I don't get hung up on feeling like I should write every day. I may have a month where I tell myself I must open the document and write at least 100 words every day, to push myself along, but that maybe happens once or twice a year. And the great thing about doing that is I usually write more than 100 words, because 100 words is not a lot, right, and then I feel really successful because I did above and beyond what I needed to do!
Q: 100 words--that doesn't sound so scary! Setting an easy-to-reach goal sounds like a good way to overcome procrastination.
Book promotion is a bugaboo for all of us. About how many hours a day/week do you spend on it?
LISA: Before, during and immediately after a book's release, I'll spend a good 8-10 hours a week, doing on-line interviews, doing postcard mailings, that kind of thing. If there's a conference or some other teaching opportunity, I'll spend time putting the presentation together, and that's of course more time consuming. Because I work and have a family, most of my promotion is on-line. I do one or two book signings with each release, and that's all. I just don't have time to do more than that, and so I don't let myself feel bad about that.
Q: How do you organize it all? Can you describe an average week? (And don't forget to mention how many hours of sleep you're functioning on!)
LISA: I need 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and I get it pretty much every night. I spend time on the computer in the early morning hours 7 days a week. I get up at 6 am and either do promotional stuff or write, depending on what's going on. On the weekends, I'll write until 10 am or so, when it's time to get ready to go grocery shopping/run errands or go to church. We try to do one fun family thing each weekend, so one of the afternoons is for that, but the other afternoon, the kids often have a friend come to play, and while they play, I write. During the week, I'll use my breaks and lunch time to respond to e-mails, stay connected to people on blogs, etc. I also keep note cards handy at work, and when thoughts or ideas come to me on the WIP or maybe a new project, I jot them down that way.
During the week in the evenings, that's family time when I'm having dinner, helping with homework, taking the dog for her nightly 30 minute walk so she and I get our exercise, that kind of thing. The kids go to bed at 9:00 and my husband and I are right behind them.
I know other authors who put their kids to bed and they stay up and write, because that's their best time. I'm such a morning person, that would never work for me. I think the key is to figure out what DOES work for you and then be consistent about it.
Q: Consistency--that's definitely something I need to work on! What are your best places and times for writing?
LISA: At home, in my office, in the early morning hours and on the weekends as time allows.
Q: How do you keep from losing your momentum?
LISA: Most of the time, this isn't a problem for me. When I start a book, I want to finish that book. Of course the middle can be a tough place sometimes and I may find myself procrastinating a lot, but again, I'll usually tell myself, open the document and write 100 words. Half the battle is opening the document and just getting started. I find once I get started, I'm off and running.
Q: I know what you mean about that getting-started hurdle. I'm going to try that 100-word goal! Do you ever get blocked? How do you handle it?
LISA: For me, a block usually happens when I don't know what should happen next in the story. So it's a matter of stepping away, writing down thoughts and ideas, in whatever form feels right at the time. It may be outlining, it may be free writing in paragraphs just to get my juices flowing, whatever.
And if I'm having trouble doing THAT then I usually need to step away for awhile and let my subconscious work on it for awhile. So I'll go for a jog, do chores around the house, head to the library for some quiet time perusing the shelves, etc.
Q: Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your day job/chores/non-writing responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?
LISA: Some days I do struggle with thinking about writing-related stuff at work a lot, and that can be hard. What helps me, again, is to keep notecards nearby and jot stuff down, and to use my breaks as a time when I can check e-mails, maybe respond to interview questions, make lists of the promotional things I want to accomplish in the next couple of weeks, etc. I think if we feel like we HAVE to turn our writerly brain off when we go to work, we will be frustrated because we can't! So, figure out how you can combine the two in a way that will work for you and is fair to your employer.
As far as chores, let me say this. It is essential for authors who also have a day job to not worry about the house-cleaning. If that means hiring a housekeeper to come twice a month, do it! I don't do that, because I am lucky in that I have a husband who does a lot of it. He works 6 am to 3 pm so he is home with the boys after school, and they'll do laundry, clean out the dishwasher, get dinner ready during those hours before I come home. We are a team - it's not just MY house, it's OUR house.
I'll spend an hour here or there cleaning bathrooms or decluttering, usually on the weekends. But I'm not one of those who is spending all day Saturday every week cleaning! And if any writers are reading this who do that, stop that right now. :)
Q: Okay, no more Saturday cleaning from now on! My husband cooks and cleans, too, so I can second you on how helpful that is!
What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?
LISA: I'm pretty self-motivated. I like seeing the word count grow. And a lot of times, I am really excited about a project and can't wait to see how it turns out. I wrote a mid-grade novel last spring and I could hardly tear myself away I was so excited. I wrote a first draft in like 6 weeks or something. That book, IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, has since sold and will be coming out spring 2010. My editorial letter should be arriving any day, as a matter of fact. Eek!
For me, the best thing I can do is to get in the zone and then stay there. I write fast and furious when I'm in the zone. If I have a whole Sunday afternoon to write, and I'm there, I can get a LOT done.
The other thing I've learned to do - before I leave the document for the day, I write myself notes about where I'm heading, what I'm thinking should happen next, that kind of thing, right there in the manuscript. It makes reentering the story SO much easier.
Q: A book in 6 weeks! That's impressive! Six YEARS is more my speed! How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?
LISA: I like reading blogs, I admit it. But I feel like if I'm commenting and connecting with people, that's a form of promotion in a way. I mean, that isn't why I DO it, because that would be squicky, but by thinking of it that way, it makes me not feel guilty about doing it.
If I'm having a particularly hard time opening the document and I really NEED to, I'll e-mail a writer friend for a little kick. The other day I did that, as a matter of fact. We were having a snow day and I knew I should be writing because I could, but the kids were home, I was worried about getting to work the following day, and I was just having trouble focusing. My friend gave me a little pep talk and then said, want to do it together? Let's do 500 words. Go. And you know what? I opened the thing, got started, and wrote over 1,000 words!
Q: Squirky--that's a great word! I'm going to have to remember to use that one! Do you feel you have enough time for fun/relaxation/non-writing hobbies or activities you'd like to pursue?
LISA: No, I don't. Writers who work a day job basically have two jobs, so something has to give. And for me, this is the area that gives. But right now, my priority is earning money and saving money for the future, so the kids can go to college. The peace of mind that comes along with the day job is worth a lot to me at this point in my life. And I'm lucky in that I work with some great people, people who make me laugh every day, who I like spending time with. We go out to lunch one or twice a week, and that is all FUN to me. I don't think I could do both jobs if I hated one of them and had no time for fun on top of that!
Q: So it helps if the day job is something you like--I'll second that. But I have to admit it makes the conflict between the two a bit tough at times!
What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/job/time management issues?
1. Enlist the help of others. If your spouse/kids won't help, I believe you absolutely have to find someone else to help, whether it's a teen helper you pay to watch the kids, a housecleaner, etc.
2. Figure out if you are a morning or night person and then be consistent about how you spend those prime non-job hours.
3. Grocery shop once a week and plan the meals out for the entire week. Allow one night a week for pizza or sub sandwiches.
4. Plan a writing weekend once or twice a year by yourself or with friends and go away to write, with no internet connection. I'm going on one next weekend, as a matter of fact.
5. Deal with things as they come up. When I get a request for an on-line interview, I do it within 24 hours. I want it done so I can move on to the next thing, or be free of things hanging over my head so I can write without worrying about it.
6. Use breaks and lunch times at work to do writerly things if you can.
7. Don't feel guilty about what you can't do! Do what you can do, and let it be enough. In the end, I've learned that the best thing you can do for your writing career is to write the next book, and the next one after that. So if you're struggling with how to manage the promo stuff with the writing stuff, put the promo stuff aside and just WRITE. There will always be something we could be doing in the way of promotion. We hear about things others are doing and we feel like failures. We're not failures! We have two jobs, and there is only so much time in the day. So in my mind, promotion should be pretty far down on the to-do list. If you get to it, great, but if not, it's OKAY!!!
Q: For me, I think the not-feeling-guilty part is hardest of all! But thanks for giving me permission not to stress myself out so much over the promotional stuff. I think that I've been a total paranoid about not doing enough, and that's taken away from my writing over the past year.
Thanks so much for lots of good advice, Lisa! You're amazingly organized! And one more thing...don't get any frosting in your hair when it rains cupcakes!