Running Out of Time

Are we really as time deficient as we think? We all seem to be constantly running out of time, or claiming we never have enough of it.

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Maybe both.

 

A quick Google search will reveal oodles of articles on time management and how to get more done in less time. (Hint: it involves turning off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

We all think that the modern world is super stressful and that we never have time for anything, but a look back through history tells us of twelve and fourteen hour work days. It tells us Saturday was long considered as much a work day as Monday. Only the Sabbath was taken off, and then it wasn’t a day of rest, but a day of prayer.

I know, sounds like some people’s jobs, especially with all of the connectivity, but it still doesn’t answer why are we feeling so particularly time-crunched now.

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I did some Google research, and I didn’t find a lot of articles out there. So I did a little introspection.

I can honestly say I didn’t feel the same level of stress and pressure before having children as I did after. They are a monumental task in our society, which many people from previous generations have told me was not always the case. I’m not entirely sure why the sudden pressure on parents to perfectly organize, arrange and educate their children, but I can tell you that it’s there.

The days of kids riding their bikes and hanging out have been replaced with soccer camps, computer programming classes, and “enrichment” activities.

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And it only gets worse.

I’ve also learned that commutation between parents and care-givers, whether kindergarten or formal pre-school, is difficult. This adds to confusion and makes everything take longer.

Yet, for me anyway, it’s more than this.

For me, the lack of time stems from me not being able to do all that I want to get done. Mainly, writing and the corresponding social media presence that entails. For a friend of mine, it means not getting to work on her jewelry making. For another, it means not getting to ride her horse.

This is why I feel time pressured. My choices for entertainment are greater than they’ve ever been, and most are instantly available, at the same time that so many other obligations have been added.

How many of us really want to chauffeur our kid to dance class and then watch a room of kindergartners try to master basic ballet steps before carting them home? I think we’d all rather be binge watching something on Netflix. Or reading. Or writing.

For me, the feeling of never having enough time started around the time I realized I had to be social to write books. I mostly love writing, but as you may have noticed, I’m a bit of an introvert. Okay, a lot of an introvert. Social media is hard for me. While writing felt like an unpaid part time job, the social media aspect made it feel like a full time job, on top of kids, a spouse, and a day job.

This is why I feel time crunched.

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About right.

What to do about it?

Well, the kids are non-negotiable. Most days. That means the day job to support them and everything that goes with them is non-negotiable.

Not entirely sure what to do about the writing. I should complete three first draft novels this year. Two are already done, and the third is halfway there. Not exactly the four most romance writers produce a year, so even with as much time as I’ve committed, I’m not quite at the romance author level. And, that doesn’t account for revisions. All of my work needs serious revision.

The logical answer would be to set aside writing, but I’m not willing to do that. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I clearly want to do this thing, and I’ve already put it off too many decades.

So, back to feeling like I never have enough time.

 

How about you? How do you balance family commitments with you professional life and hobbies? When was the last time you binge watched on Netflix? Any real life tips for making a serious hobby work with family and work?

Five Things I Learned as a "Professional" Writer

I was recently fortunate enough to have three days where the kids were in daycare, and I was home from work. DH and I decided that we didn’t want the girls to completely get out of their routine over the holiday season, and he was fine with me spending these days getting some house stuff done and writing.

So, for three days, I got to spend most of my time writing. Here’s what I learned:

1. Errands Take Longer Than You Think – Among the things I needed to do during these three days were a variety of errands. I was home, so I agreed to do them all. Having no idea how long it can take to go to the bank, buy cat food, and get dinner fixings, I set out to get them done in less than an hour so I could start writing. Only to find the bank doesn’t open until nine. The pet store at ten. I learned really fast getting everything out of the way right after dropping the girls off was about as likely as finding a unicorn in my driveway holding a million dollars.

2. It’s Lonely – I am an introvert by nature, but being home alone all day really tests that. I found myself keeping iTunes on at all times, and eventually reaching out to others through Twitter. Sad, I know. But there it is.

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3. Distractions Abound – The internet is normally not much of a distraction for me, but then, I only have an hour a day to write. Easy enough to turn off distractions for that amount of time. A whole day? Suddenly, a whole lot harder.

4. Timers Need Not Apply – My first two days, I foolishly listened to advice that recommended setting timers for productivity and break time (50 minutes or so of writing followed by 10 minutes of doing stuff). This was hugely detrimental to me as I could sometimes write well over 50 minutes, and 10 minutes was sometimes too long and other times not long enough of a break period.

5. The Joy of “The Zone” – When you have carved out an hour a day to write, you guard that hour jealously and write during it no matter what. But when you have a whole day?  There is this magical zone, and once in it, you can do amazing things. No children to pull you out of it, no spouse talking about important things. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish. Or how much you can cut.

 

How about you?  You ever have a day or three just to write?  How did it work for you?

 

 

Each Step Counts

If you remember my post from a while back, you’ll know that my Fitbit and I have a rocky relationship. It tracks my steps, or my failure to take steps, and reports it in glorious color.

I learned very quickly that I didn’t suddenly love exercise, nor did I suddenly have an extra hour a day to exercise.

My first week of wearing the Fitbit taught me how few steps a desk jockey really takes. It then taught me that squeezing in a 20 minute walk at lunch took me from deep “F” territory (read sub 5,000) to “D” territory of around 6,000 or so steps.

I was stymied how to get more steps, so I tried adding in a few here and there whenever I could. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk in. Play “chase” with my toddler for a few minutes in the morning. Walk around the lunchroom while I’m waiting for my lunch to heat up. Walk down to someone’s office to have a chat rather than drop an e-mail.

Believe it or not, a lot of these small changes added up. I have now averaged an “A” two weeks in a row at 9,400 steps or more a day.

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Not sure if the habits will stick, but they’re working right now.

So, I started trying this approach for my writing. While it doesn’t work for hard edits or revisions, much like my few steps won’t prep me for a 5K, dropping in a few lines here and there has started to add up. I have a thought, and I quick jot it into e-mail and send it to myself. And much like with my steps, these all add up.

And they add up quickly.

Yes, it takes some time to pull these disparate thoughts together, but its something I can do when I’m not feeling creative. And I’m amazed at some off-the-cuff creativity I’ve had. It seems as if ideas are percolating more even if it’s just back in my subconscious.

I still have another few weeks of working on my new story before I turn back to tackling another revision of book two, or of book one after taking a class on learning more about the first 5 pages.

We’ll see how this writing strategy works then. For the moment, I’m going to see where it takes me.

 

How about you? How’s your relationship with your Fitbit? Have you ever found it easier to just do a little here and there? Do you have a better Fitbit strategy? A better writing strategy?

Analysis: Heroes Book 1

Now to apply what I’ve learned from other people’s work to my own. While other people may disagree with me about what makes a hero likable, I at least want to write a hero that I would like if I were reading him in someone else’s work.

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In Knight of Valor, the hero has recently destroyed a powerful lich and returned home a hero. He’s having trouble settling in and agrees to escort the heroine out of danger and to the safety of his homeland.

1. Does he brood? – perhaps a little. He has been through hell and back and is trying to find his place. People view him as a hero, but that’s not how he views himself. The one scene he does start to brood, the heroine calls him on it. Still, worth another look to keep him from being whiny.

2. No arrogant jerks- I actually went back through the story and had to inject a bit more alpha into the hero. He is more of the “white knight” trope, so I don’t feel like this is an area for work.

3. Indecisive – it takes the hero awhile to come to terms with what he’s feeling, but once he does, he moves quickly and decisively. The hero is far more prone to action than anything else, and he makes sure the heroine is well protected.

 

Okay, I need to make sure the hero isn’t too broody. Now, does he possess what he needs to make him likable?

1. Competence – the hero is an extremely competent fighter and protector. He is strategic, and even under pressure, proves himself. He’s so competent, in fact, I had to make sure he was appropriately challenged so he didn’t just walk over his enemies.

2. Protector – he has dedicated his life to protecting his homeland and its people. He protects the heroine from the beginning even if he didn’t like her. This is an integral part of his personality and never waivers.

3. Honorable Leader – the hero is honorable and behaves in that way, up to and including worrying that people see him as more than he is. He doesn’t lie, and he refuses to take advantage of his position as the heroine’s protector even when they both have feelings for the other.

Overall,  I think the hero is pretty likable. I need to make sure he isn’t too broody, but he never lets that interfere with doing his job to protect the heroine. No running away from feelings, no abandoning her, and no being a jerk because he has feelings.

 

Failure of the One Week Ban

I completely failed not reading for a week. As a matter of fact, I failed within 24 hours of making the post!

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Resolution up in flames.

It’s just too easy and too enjoyable to kick back and open a book while I sit with the kids and they play. So much better than Sesame Street, let me tell you.

And once I’m into the book, I want to see it through. I want to know what happens, and will usually keep on reading even if the story is a train wreck. That’s something I need to be better about, but then I do sometimes learn something from the bad as well as the good. I just don’t need to spend quite so much time with the bad.

Perhaps the ease is part of the problem. My Kindle app has made it so easy to get new books, and so easy to read them that I am perhaps spending more time reading that writing.

Okay, I am definitely spending more time reading that writing.

Not that it’s an entirely bad thing for a writer, but it’s still a thing.

I won’t lie and pretend it’s research or that it will make my writing better by simply reading. I know that it takes thought to turn what you read into a lesson of what to do or not do with your writing. Best of all worlds is to have someone to critique it with, especially if they don’t agree with all of your views.

While I don’t have a critique partner, I do try to force myself to think through and write a review. Still working out the best review format for others to decide if they want to give the book a try and for me to get the most out of writing the review.

I suppose there are worse things I could be doing than reading.

Or better. Like reading while on the elliptical. Or actually writing.

One Week Ban

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I am putting myself on a one week book ban.

Why?

Because I have been spending all of my writing time reading. For science, of course. To study how it’s done.

Okay, because I love to read and it’s so much easier than writing.

Even after the last 2 weeks of daily book reviews, I still have a small backlog of reviews to post. Yeah, I love to read.

And I make myself write a review for most of the books that I read. That is more for the discipline of really looking at the book and figuring out what I like about it and what I don’t. Making myself think through that in hopes that it will improve my writing.

But it’s also easy to get lost in a book. I love stories. I love characters. I love curling up with my iPad and being transported to other worlds.

Fantasy romance is my favorite, followed by science fiction romance, and finally historical romance.

I also struggle with series. I like books that take place in the same world, but I am never thrilled with picking up a book only to learn I need to read the twelve before it to really get it.

I actually have a rule. I won’t pick up a series until the whole series is written. Back when I was a kid, there was a series I was eagerly devouring. The author was amazing . . . and then he died. The series was “finished” by another author, but it wasn’t the same. Really jaded me.

But as I work on my own stories, the first two I’ve written are in the same world. I see how it can be appealing to write a series. However, the stories I’ve written are completely independent. No need to read one to “get” the other.

3 Things I have Learned About Time Management

So, I was a bit frustrated on Wednesday after reading a post blaming writers for not making time for writing.

I have learned a lot about time management since I started writing with 2 kids, a husband, and a full time job. Here are a few of them in hopes they help you, too.

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Know Your Attention Span

More time does not mean more writing gets done. At least, not for me. It might mean I poke around on the internet more. It might mean I check e-mail or tidy my desk. For me, I have found that 45 minutes to an hour is about as long as I can productively write at a stretch. During that time, it’s ideal for me to put on a little music to focus. And to remember that if the baby fusses, DH has her for this period of time. I don’t need to go poking my nose in.

Focus. Write. Edit. Revise. Whatever I’m going to do, do it.

 

Use Dead Time

Dead time for me is during my commute, while I’m folding laundry, putting away dishes, etc. I try to think about characters, motivations, plot, etc.  Amazing how many little scribbles on sticky notes during this time have helped get through a block.

The time I spend on a walk may convert to this once I work through the pain from breaking my foot.

Best time I’ve ever had for creativity was taking walks outside. Got me some exercise, too. But the slow healing and large hills in my neighborhood has made that difficult since my fall.

 

Minimize Distractions

Whatever yours may be. As my writing desk is in the middle of the living room since the baby got my office, my writing time has to be after my oldest child has gone to bed. Her kissing my leg, as cute as it is, is not conducive to writing.

I can’t write while she watches her episode of TV before bed, either. Even children’s television programming tends to be too distracting for me. TV, in general, is just something I can’t ignore. No matter how bad it is, no matter how much I may want to, I can’t look away.

I’m not much for social media (still need to get a twitter account and a Facebook account), so that isn’t a distraction for me. I know for many it is, and I have heard of writers purposely getting a computer for writing that doesn’t connect to the internet just so they can stay focused.

"Magically" Find More Time

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I read a blog post recently blasting those of us who say we don’t have the time to dedicate to social media and building our brand. This post claimed we are simply binge watching Netflix, sleeping an extra half hour, whatever, but we’re not taking our writing seriously.

First, I don’t like social media. I mostly like writing. Both are work, one is work I like doing most of the time. I don’t even have a personal Facebook account. I don’t “tweet” or have a Twitter account. I know there are more social media sites out there, but I clearly am not on them either.

Second, I find it rather flippant to lump all writers into the same category. Especially those of us holding down a full time day job.

 

So, here is my schedule:

6 am-7:30 am – Wake up. Eat. Get dressed, brush my hair, teeth, and whatever minimal morning routine I can squeeze in. Help get the kids dressed, fed, teeth brushed etc. Make it out the door by 7:30 so I’m not late to work.

7:30 am-8:00 am – Drop the kids off and drive to work.

8:00 am-5:00 pm –  Work. Maybe later, depending on the time of year, the projects I am working on, and looming deadlines.

5:00 pm-5:30 pm (or later) – Drive home

5:30 pm-6:45 pm  – Make and eat dinner. Clean up after dinner.

6:45 pm-7:30 pm – Family stuff. Go for a walk, watch an episode of TV with DD, practice letters, read books, whatever. This is the brief snip of time I have to enjoy the kids.

7:30 pm-8:00 pm – Bedtime routine for DD1.

8:00 pm-8:15 pm – Shower, get clothes out for myself and the kids for the next day, etc.

8:15 pm-9:00 pm – Write while DH puts DD2 to bed

9:00-10:00 spend an hour with DH. We might sit and chat, play some video games, whatever. Maybe I’ll read if he wants to just chill. Can’t remember the last time we watched TV or a movie . . .

10 pm – Bed

 

So, I have to give up time with my children, time with my spouse, or sleep to wrangle more time to do social media. Or I have to give up my 45 minutes of writing time. Not going to do it, so I guess I am just not going to take my writing “seriously”.

I love writing. I would very much like to see some success in my writing endeavors. But it will never replace my day job. Families are simply too expensive and writer incomes too meager, especially in 2016 when mom’s are sometimes the primary income.

I really hope I just misunderstood the post. Or reacted strongly because we are going through a rough time with DD2 and medical issues, combined with a great deal of day job stress.

Or maybe the blogger has never tried to balance a full time job, a spouse, and two kids with a fledgling writing career and aversion to social media.

Or maybe there is no hope to launch a writing career at this point in my life. If that’s the case,  not sure how I feel about all the wasted hours I’ve spent alone at a keyboard when I could’ve been reading, binge watching Netflix, or playing Fallout 4.

Writing Through Distractions

I cannot write through distractions, not real ones, anyway.

Yes, I can write and listen to music. Sometimes, music can inspire my muse.

I can write while I eat a sandwich, drink my juice infused water, or let the cat sit on my lap. But turn on the TV? I’m done.

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I just have to look.

I don’t know how people write or do homework or do anything that requires concentration in front of a television. I see people doing it all the time, but I’m not one of them. I would just stare at my computer screen while I kept sneaking glances at the TV until I was just watching TV. Even if whatever was on was something I didn’t care about. Even if it was something I didn’t like.

To write, I need to focus.

In college, I used to hide away in breakout rooms to study. I seldom studied with anyone else because then I couldn’t study.

I know the rage today is multi-tasking. Easy enough if the work requires little to no thought. But the moment it is a difficult or in-depth problem, I need to focus on it. I will set time aside in my work calendar to dedicate to a particularly difficult analysis. If our open concept office environment isn’t conducive when I need it to be, I will squirrel away in a conference room.

If I need to think, I need to minimize distractions.

I really like to have that kind of focus when I write, but sometimes my only writing time comes while DD gets her episode of TV before she goes to bed. Focus is impossible for me as DD watches My Little Pony. Until she’s watched the same episode the 15th time (thanks Netflix!), and then I can mostly tune it out.

It’s so bad I have a hard time paying attention to conversations I really care about when someone has the TV on. I actually have a hard time hearing their words over the light and noise box clambering for my attention.I simply can’t do sports bars. I feel like my head is going to explode from information overload as all those channels bear down on me.

At our house, we generally do not have the TV on unless it is being actively watched. Probably because of me. Okay, definitely because of me. Most other people seem to have it on as background noise and don’t even notice it.

Ahhh, to not notice children’s television programming. Now that truly is a gift.

3 Things I Have Learned

 

I have not yet published anything, but I thought I would share a few things I have learned in my writing journey.

 

Outlines

I have read that professional authors use outlines, so I need to use outlines. I tried to use them in a variety of formats with no success. Might be my personality. I used the outline more like a list to check off. Yeah, it kept me on track, but it also felt forced. And so did the story it generated.

I have found a stream of consciousness “outline” works best for me. What’s that? A Word document I throw all my thoughts and ideas into. Snippets of conversations, things I want to have happen, and a vague direction of the story I can solidify as I write. This worked well enough I was able to write a 55,000 word story in about 2 months.

Part of why this works well for me is because my first drafts are so skeletal. I tend to underwrite and need to go back and flesh it out. Add deeper descriptions, let you see more into the character’s thoughts, expand transitions so they aren’t so abrupt. These notes remind me of those details.

Clearly, your mileage may vary. The “outline” each author needs, I believe, is as unique as their personality and writing style.

 

Time

Time

I don’t really need as much time to write as I say I do. I want more, yes, but I have managed an almost complete, including revisions, manuscript in just over a year. I have 2 failed attempts at other novels that I may rework into different stories. I like the story ideas, they just didn’t work for the male lead. And I have managed a full rough draft of a new manuscript. All since January of 2015.

Plus, I started this blog in January 2016.

Only having an hour or so to write a day forces me to focus. It also forces me to use time more efficiently (I am writing this during breakfast while I watch the kids play). It also means I write almost daily as I won’t have “make-up” time later.

 

A Writer Does Not Write Alone

This is something I am still working on. Storytelling started as a group affair. People sitting around a campfire at night and making stuff up. It made the stories richer, better.

I tend to be very self critical and not want anyone to see my work until it is polished. But I have seen that my stories are better when I talk about the characters, their motivations, and what’s happening with one or two trusted people as I write. They offer another perspective and help make the story deeper. This is especially nice in the early phase of writing as it tends to reduce rewriting.