Monday, January 02, 2017

A New Year, a New Writing Start

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I know I write these posts every year (heck, let’s be honest—almost everyone writes these every year), but this year, I’m feeling particularly reflective. Like many of you, 2016 was a difficult year, and it affected my writing in multiple not-so-good ways. I’m looking to 2017 to make a fresh start and get my writing back on track.

I share these things because I know reading about what others have tried has been beneficial for me in the past, and something I'm trying might help someone else facing the same struggles. Writers deal with similar frustrations and issues all the time, so why not learn from each other's trials?

Tough as 2016 was, it did have some upsides:
  • I released three new writing books, one of which became an Amazon bestseller
  • I settled into my new house and got mostly unpacked
  • I got to see friends and family a lot more now that I’m closer

But it also had some downsides:
  • Far too many deaths and illnesses of loved ones
  • A neverending disruption to my work schedule
  • Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that made everything harder
I suspect many of you can relate to these, and have similar downsides of your own. You likely faced your own struggles to write and manage your career—no matter what stage of it you’re at.

I’m a firm believer in new starts, which is why January 1 always holds such promise for me. It’s an opportunity to throw out the old garbage and begin anew. That is starts on a Monday is doubly fortuitous, as Mondays are also opportunities to start fresh. As are the first days of any month.

Many would call them New Year’s Resolutions, but for me, my goals are just my current goals. Resolutions are harder to keep and carry a lot of baggage. They have too many expectations. So for 2017, I’m just setting my writing goals and striving to meet them.

Or I should say, “it.”

I have one this year. Just one.

Create a work schedule I can stick to that lets me get the work I want to get done, done.

I had a ridiculously ambitious schedule last year, and I knew going in I wouldn’t accomplish it all, but I used it as a motivating tool. I got more done than I expected, but I did find that far too often I got yanked away by other tasks.

This year, I have a new schedule that hopefully accounts for all those things that knocked me off track last year. This schedule is only Monday through Friday, because I learned that there is no way I’m getting anything productive done on the weekends anymore, so why bother trying (this is actually a good thing, as I’m spending more quality time with friends and family and seeing the the sun more often).

For those who might be looking for a more effective way to structure they day, this is what my week looks like:

7am to 11am, Monday through Friday: Work on Writing Project

This might be a novel, writing book, or even a writing workshop. I’ve tried to multi-task by working on fiction in the morning and on-fiction in the afternoons, but it just didn’t work very well. I’m much more effective when I can focus on a single project in the morning. My target word count goal is 2,000 words a day for new material (such as drafting versus editing).

How I Plan to Meet This: Going directly to writing without looking at my email. Email always trips me up, so I’m going to turn it off every day when I leave my desk and not look at it again until my schedule says it’s time.

11am to 11:30am, M-F: Check email, Answer Comments

I have lunch with my husband from 11:30-12:30, so stopping the writing to check email and respond to anything that needs responding to fits nicely in this 30-minute slot. It also allows me to prioritize anything that needs to be done that day and helps me plan the rest of my day or week

12:30 to 1:00pm, M-F: Prep for the Afternoon, Do Small Email-Related Tasks

I like neat little hour-long blocks of time, and I always need a little downtime after lunch (I get sleepy) while I digest. This is a good half hour to handle any email tasks that didn’t get done before lunch, and decide on what I want to work on when.

1:00 to 2:00pm, M-F: Site Stuff

I used to write and schedule all my articles on Sundays at my local Starbucks with a writers’ group, but no more (that nine-hour commute is a killer). My weekends are also now full of other more fun things so there’s little time aside from a few hours early in the morning. Starting today, the site gets one hour a day. That includes:
  • Writing the articles
  • Diagnosing the RLD submissions
  • Scheduling the articles and guest posts
  • Basic maintenance and cleanup
  • Answering comments
How I Plan to Meet This: By staying a week (or two if I can swing it) ahead. That way, if something unforeseen comes up, I have some leeway in my schedule. For example, I already have both articles for this week written and scheduled, as well as the guest posts that have already come in, so today I’m working on next week’s Monday post. Since I’m doing other tasks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ve scheduled writing my potentially longer articles for M-W-F. That way I can steal some time from the 2-3pm block should I need it.

2:00 to 3:00pm, Tuesdays and Thursday: Marketing and Promotion

This is the stuff that always gets in the way, because I really dislike doing it. Luckily, I have a few marketing guru friends (and a husband who’s good at it) who have been sweethearts about helping me, so I’ve been able to get a better handle on what I need to do. I’m limiting this to two hours a week because there isn’t that much to do unless I have an active launch or promotion going. During those busier times, I’ll put more hours into marketing/PR on the M-W-F days.

Types of things I’ll handle:
  • Organize my book information (Angela Quarles’ series on this has been gold for me, and I highly recommend you check out her advice here)
  • Write upcoming guest posts, and build my supply of ready-to-go guest posts for when opportunities arise
  • Design and create ads for my writing books
  • Find conferences and conventions I might want to submit workshop proposals to
  • Prep for any workshops or events already on the schedule
  • Designing the “I swear I’ll get it done soon, really” Fiction University Newsletter I’ve been wanting to do
  • Actually working on the various projects I want to do and never seem to have time for
Basically, if it involves marketing or promotion, it happens here. I’m bad about dedicating time for these tasks, but my recent experiment with a writer bud proved to me that when I focus, I can get a lot done and be quite effective.

How I Plan to Meet This: I’ve put together a list of tasks to make it easier for me to grab something off the list and work on it during this hour. Having a clear, specific to-do list should make it easier to knock them off one at a time. I read somewhere (forget where, if anyone knows the link please let me know) about organizing this list by how much time is expected to complete the task, so you can do several small tasks or focus on one larger one depending on time and energy.

3:00 to 3:30pm: Social Media Stuff

I am terrible at keeping up with social media. It’s always the first thing to fall off my schedule when I get busy, even though I enjoy chatting with folks and seeing what’s going on with their lives. Setting aside some time for something kinda fun and easy at the end of the day might help me give this more focus. I also like to tweet all the fabulous blog articles my fellow writers have written, and this gives me the time to read and pick out all those great posts.

How This All Fits Into My Day

My husband and I both work from home and he works 7:30 to 3:30. It’s hard to stay at my desk when he’s off for the day, so I’ve scheduled a 7 to 3:30 day. I wake up at 6am every morning, which leaves me time before work to do my daily tasks such as feed the cats, make tea, empty the dishwasher, exercise, and whatnot. I’ll also have time after 3:30 should I need it, and that gives me time to do household chores or schedule errands that might otherwise keep me from writing. Plus, there are those three free hours on M-W-F for whatever needs doing.

It’s not a tough schedule to maintain and it has plenty of flexibility to add tasks when the need arises. It’s also structured enough to help me focus and work on the tasks I want to work on and not get distracted by the others. For example, I won’t have to worry about email, because I know I’ll be checking it before and after lunch. And when there’s an email reminding me I have a guest post due the following week, I can put it on my To-Do List for Tuesday or Thursday and not worry about it until then.

I’ll see how this changes things, but so far, I’m feeling good about it. Just having a schedule that allows for the things that have tripped me up in the past takes much of the pressure off, which makes the rest of it easier to manage.

What are your 2017 goals?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, the Amazon bestseller, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)

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  1. Sorry for all the deaths and difficult times you experienced in 2016. I've gone through two hard years and am looking forward to 2017 being a good one. Hope it is for you too!

    Wow! You really have an organized schedule. I work at home too now and have my own writing routine (as that's my job now). But it's not nearly as scheduled out as yours.

    1. Thanks :) I hope we both have better years.

      Scheduling helps me a lot, especially if I'm trying to re-build habits. Having specific times for things allows me to ignore what doesn't fall into that timeslot. It's a weird mental trick I guess, but it works.

  2. Agreed, 2016 was challenging. I am looking forward to the fresh start that 2017 brings.

    I also work from home. Your schedule that you have created is super impressive. You have inspired me to rethink how I do things to become more efficient. Going to start working on that today. Thanks for sharing Janice!

    1. Thanks! It can help to just track your time for a week and see where it all goes.

  3. I write from home. This year I will treat it more like a job to move it from something I do for fun to a potential income source. Now to come up with a schedule I can keep. I'm not one for much structure. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Having a dedicated "work area" is quite helpful to create the right mindset.

  4. I love how you broke down your schedule this way. I need to do exactly this. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks! Feel free to steal it if you think it'll help. :)

  5. That's a great scheddule breakdown. I'm sorry for your last year's downside; they were pretty bad. I hope 2017 treats you better.

    1. Thank you. I'm going to be optimistic about 2017!

  6. You are so right that 2016 had some major challenges. For myself, it's been the last couple of years.

    I am sorry to hear you had the number of difficulties you dealt with, but I like your idea of setting a schedule.

    As a working mom, I don't have the option of setting a schedule through the day for writing and social media, but I did something I haven't done before. I sat down and figured out what my "must complete" projects needed to be. Then, with my daughter's help, I outlined begin and end dates for getting each project completed, while also giving myself a weekly word count goal as an extra push to getting the projects complete.

    It's helpful to me as I start the process of beginning again.

    Hoping and praying your 2017 is a fantastic year :-)

    1. Sorry to hear that, and I hope you have a good 2017 as well.

      That sounds like a great process, and it's cool you got your daughter involved. That must make it easier to fit being a mom in with being a writer, since she'll know what you need to do. Good luck to you both!

  7. Sorry to hear about all of your difficulties and loss. It seems 2016 was a trying year for many. I'm a huge organizer, love to-do list and schedules, but when life gets int he way, it's very hard to keep motivated. Thanks for sharing your situation and motivating suggestions.

    1. Most welcome. It's so tough once things start slipping.

  8. Janice, your 2016 sounds very like mine, and topped with earthquakes to boot (I live in central Italy affected by the August and October quakes). And like you I'm determined to get back on track. I too, work from home with very little structure, no two days are the same but having a schedule means at least you can see where you can make any changes should I need to, this is a great blog post. Thanks

    1. Yikes, that sounds terrible! Glad you made it through okay. If your days fluctuate, you might keep a loose schedule. Such as, you prioritize what to work on, but when you do that each day could change.

  9. Thank you for your guidance and encouragement in 2016.

    2017 is the year I'll self publish my book (come hell or high water). I've been working on it since 2012 so it's time to get it out into the world! I'm almost done with the second edit. I work full time (and my schedule isn't a set one) so it's difficult to get motivated when I get home. It's also challenging to set aside a specific time every day so it becomes a habit. Any suggestions?

    Happy New Year!


    1. Grats (in advance)! For me, finding a time of day when I'm most creative made a big difference. It was much easier to write when I worked full time when I got up a few hours early and write before I left for work (I woke at 5am, wrote till about 6:30-7am).

      If the week is too hard, then maybe dedicate more time on the weekends? Even a half day every week can work if you focus and are productive during those hours.

      Leaving the house can also help a lot. I got a ton done at the local coffeehouse on Sunday mornings. Starbucks opens at 5am, so I was there around 6 every week and wrote til 11.