IT’S BACK

red-skyI knew the second revision letter on RED SKY would arrive at some point, but I didn’t expect it the day before Thanksgiving with a December 5th deadline for turning it around.

I’m thankful I have a contract.

I read the email, but I haven’t opened the document yet. This weekend was earmarked for family and friends. It will end short—tomorrow.

I’m thankful for the three day holiday and for turkey.

One of the most difficult things for me is finding a way to balance the writing time with personal time with the business of writing time.

In the past three weeks, I’ve had three events—a presentation at Chautauqua, the Boulder Audubon Holiday Sale and a signing at the Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument this afternoon—and there are still more to come: RMFW’s Holiday Party, Colorado Authors’ League Holiday Party; a bookclub event in Pueblo; and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s “Mystery and Mistletoe” Holiday Celebration at the Denver Press Club on December 8th. Twelve of us will be reading. Margaret Coel will be honored. Francine Mathews is emceeing. The Broadway Book Mall will handle book sales. It’s from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. You should come. Tickets are $10 at the RMMWA website.

I’ve also written two blogs, updated my Facebook and Twitter pages, and read a number of books for a competition I’m judging.

The business of writing.

lightsWith the holidays, we have family in town, dinners to cook, presents to buy, a Christmas letter to write. This year we’re in a new house, and I’m excited to decorate and make it feel more like home. Downsizing has been a hard transition for me and I need to take time to put up and decorate the tree, hang the lights and fill the house with the smell of cookies.

Personal time.

But what happens when the RED SKY revision is done? The publisher is already asking what’s coming. I have an idea. I’ve done a little research, done a little plotting. I need to open a new WORD document, type Chapter 1 and put down the next 99,998 words.

Writing time.

I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, excited for the coming opportunities and busy making New Year's resolutions.

1. Work on creating better balance in my life in 2017. Or as Jedeane Macdonald would tell me — learn to say NO.

Here's wishing all of you a very happy holiday season. See you in the New Year!!

The Writer’s Nightmare Before Christmas

The holidays are coming…can you feel your writing time slipping away?

I love the holidays, the lights, the costumes, the decorations, the family, the baking—presents. The one thing is, those months ALWAYS knock me off my word count track.

Usually this is not a huge problem. I pick back up in January and keep plugging along, but this year’s a bit different. The final book in my Ascendant Trilogy is due out Summer of 2017 and I need to get that manuscript to my editor by March to make that happen. I don’t have time to fall off the yellow bricks and into a Christmas tree.

This year, my holidays need to run different.

I had brunch today with two of the most supportive and encouraging female writers I know. (We’re partial to Linger in Highlands, fantastic food and a great atmosphere. If you haven’t been, we highly recommend!) Among the many writerly conversations we had, we came up with a few ideas to help all three of us enjoy the holidays while still being productive with our individual writing projects. Here they are.

Make writing a priority

Too often it is easy to make writing last on our never ending lists of things. It must be a priority. This often requires nothing more substantial than a shift in our thinking and the actions we are choosing to take during the day. If I think, “I need to get one thousand words written BEFORE I tackle anything else on my list” instead of, “As soon as I accomplish these other twenty things, then I can sit down and write one thousand words” I have completely shifted my priorities for the day.

Make a plan

Everyone feels most creative at different times of the day, but for me, first thing in the morning has ALWAYS worked the best when it’s crunch time. Even though I’m home writing full time now, I can easily fill my entire day with all the other things that need management and attention. Getting up at four in the morning, before my kids are awake and getting ready for school, gives me two magic hours of utter silence in my house. Plus, since I know that time is finite, it keeps me from messing around on the computer reading all your fabulous, but highly distracting, facebook posts. Maybe the evening works better for you, or your lunch break at work, whatever the time of day, set up a reoccurring schedule reminder and stick to it through the holiday months.

Set daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals

Great, writing is a priority, I have a plan to get up early, so what sort of word count promise should I make myself while trying to get ready for:

  • trick-or-treaters
  • traveling to Montana with two kids and two puppies for a week over Thanksgiving
  • getting out those Christmas cards
  • shopping for presents
  • decorating the tree
  • watching A Christmas Story, Elf, and National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

How about I make an easily obtainable one? I usually crack out 1000 words a day while working on a book, but I'm going to cut myself some slack. From the posting date of this blog, there are seventy-five days until New Years Eve. If I were to only write 500 words a day, starting today until New Years Eve, I will have 37,500 words toward my new book completed. That is almost half of the whole book done before the end of 2016! 500 words is roughly 2 pages a day. I can write 500 words a day in my sleep! This blog post is longer than 500 words.

Be honest with yourself

I sometimes use the busyness of my life as an excuse to not write. Yes, there is always a lot to do in my life—but that never changes. I never obtain PERFECT LIST COMPLETION no matter how much I would love to. There is always more. So the next time I forget my priority to write, scrap that plan and hit the snooze, or decide to shrug off that 500 word count goal, I don’t get to hide behind a pile of laundry or sigh about the lines at Target. I made a choice that day, and that choice was not writing. Lying to myself about that only keeps me from getting where I want to go.

Having. Written. Writing is work.

Writing is work, and usually demands a good amount of self-discipline just to get your butt in the chair and put down words whether you feel like it or not.

Yes, I go through funks. One of the reasons I give seminars on how to get through my panic and work through funks is because I experience them. Like a week ago. I’d been making a reasonable daily wordcount (about which I am obsessive), then outside real life worries mixed with the knowledge I’d have to trash the first chapter of my new manuscript spiraled me down into a funk.

So I asked myself, “What would make you very happy now?” Travel? An air conditioned house, or even an office? A cupcake? (I live too close to a cupcake shop) Comfort food? (I know where all those places that serve what I like best are, too).

However, myself said, “Having written.” That would have made me feel better about my day.

Unfortunately I don’t have any magical writing pens or spells that would transfer ideas from my head onto the computer, wonderfully written and nicely formatted.

It doesn’t work that way. There is no “having written,” unless you actually sit down and do the work.

WRITE!

Like many in PAL and IPAL I am a professional writer. Furthermore, I am single, without any other income. I don’t write, I don’t get paid. It’s a risky business. So I really can’t afford funks or the panic or the self-hate that immobilizes me. I can’t wait upon a muse to waft into my window and fill me with enthusiasm. I can’t wait upon inspiration.

Writing is work. I first discovered this within my first year of seriously writing. After the Colorado Gold conference, I’d joined a critique group, but my technique was so poor that I needed a writing buddy (also a new writer) to meet with and look at my pages before I took them to critique. I’d written a new scene and met with my buddy one Saturday morning at the hideous hour of seven a.m. across town. I knew the scene was good.

She said so, too. But then she said the fatal words, “This is a great scene but it doesn’t belong in the book.” It was extraneous to the story. In fact, it was backstory.

So I sat there, staring down at curdling eggs, at too-early-a-time-of-day-for-me-to-even-be-awake-on-Saturday, looking at pages that had taken me hours to write and polish. That was when I knew writing wasn’t just fun, it was work.

Most of the time, it remains work. Oh, like everyone, I have those days of giddy inspiration, those bursts of fabulous words that flow faster than I can type, but, really, a lot of the time it is plinking one word down at a time. I don’t consider myself a literary writer, one who strings together beautiful phrases. I consider myself a workmanlike writer of good technique who can fashion interesting characters and tell good stories.

I also got my start in publishing when self-publishing wasn’t much of an option, and after I wrote my million words, put in my ten thousand hours to become proficient. Most of the time I can take myself into my office and write, even if I have a little depression or fear. Most of the time I like the process of writing, too, though the story might dribble out word by word.

But I ALWAYS love “having written.” Even if I don’t think the words are great, or am dubious about whether the scene will remain in the manuscript, or if I took a wrong turn. I wrote. I did my job.

May all your writing dreams come true.

The Writing Habit

If you want to be a productive writer, then you need a habit.

Not this kind of habit:

singingnun

THIS kind of  habit:

Butt in Chair

Yeah, I know, we writers are creative people. We like to have muses and write when we're inspired. We want all of the rainbows and unicorns and leprechaun gold while we're at it. Habits are boring and stifling and structured, for God's sake. We get enough structure from our day jobs and our family responsibilities. Writing should be spontaneous and fun and happen when we're really feeling the love.

This is all true UNLESS you want to write professionally. Because here's the fly in the ointment, my friends. If you want to be published - and continue to be published - then writing becomes a J-O-B.

Yep. I said it. Writing professionally is a full on responsibility.

Sure, it's still fun - some of the time.

Magic still happens - some of the time.

The Muse still sings songs of enchantment and wonder that get you lost in Storyland - some of the time.

But that isn't going to cut it if you're trying to build a career. Your capricious Muse won't help you meet deadlines, and neither will fitful inspiration. There will be days when writing feels like the last thing on  the face of the planet that you want to be doing. There will be days when it feels hopeless, pointless, and maybe even stupid. This happens to every writer, even, I dare say, to those who are highly successful and appear to have "made it."

You have to find a way to write anyway.

I am going to offer a caveat here. Yes, there are days when "writing" means thinking. There are days when the best thing you can do is step away from a manuscript and take a walk, do some brainstorming, or talk to a friend. Some writers take regular, planned days off from writing, in order to rest and refresh. This advice is for writers who are struggling with getting the writing done.

I've talked in previous posts about setting priorities and finding your focus. These things are hard.  I'm not sure what Life has against writing, but I can tell you that Life does not want you to write. It will throw things at you overhand, underhand, and sideways. It will screw you over six ways from Sunday. If you wait for those wonderful, golden moments of sheer writing bliss to be handed to you on a silver platter, you're going to be waiting until you're in the ground and fodder for the worms.

Ever notice how you don't have to carve out time for your habits? If you're a morning coffee drinker, you don't have to think about that in the morning. Imagine if, when the alarm went off and you managed to drag yourself into the kitchen, you spent fifteen minutes debating about whether or not to make coffee.

God forbid. That would be one question too many in your decaffeinated state. Nope. Before your eyes are open, you're fumbling through your morning coffee ritual. Maybe you were really smart and loaded the coffee pot the night before.

Everything in your morning routine - from taking a shower and brushing your teeth to getting dressed - happens pretty much on auto pilot. These things are habits (at least for most of us.) We do them every day, whether we feel like it or not.

A writing habit serves the same purpose. If you have made it a habit, when your allotted writing time comes up, you write.

You write whether you feel the writing love or not.

You write whether you're brimming with inspiration or feeling jaded and tired and beset by doubt.

Writers write. Regularly.

Some of you are going to tell me that your days are too unpredictable or that you don't have time. If this is true, chances are it's time to rethink your priorities. If you REALLY WANT TO WRITE then you will find a time to fit writing regularly into your life. But I will also tell you that something else that you love may need to go, because we don't get anything for free.

Even when you've developed the habit, there will be days where writing doesn't happen. There are probably days when you don't get dressed or brush your teeth, and maybe - gods forfend - days when you don't drink coffee. Life is like that. But the thing about habits is that once they're established, they are hard to break. So if you have a Writing Habit and you miss a day, you'll find your way back to it the next day, or the next.

When you don't write, you'll feel that something is missing, just like when you forget to brush your teeth. Words will get written.

Chances are, once you establish it, this is one habit you'll never want to break.

I'll be teaching a class on getting writing done at Colorado Gold 2016 called Write Now: Making Space for Writing in a Busy World. It's scheduled for 8 am on Sunday, which is either appropriate or ironic, or maybe both. 

Are we having fun yet? … by Chris Goff

Chris-GoffI have always considered myself a "glass half-full"-kind of gal. You know, the one who always looks on the bright side, who sees the funny in things, and enjoys her work. But lately, I'm finding it harder and harder to write.

Take RED SKY, my book-in-progress. I should be thrilled. I have a contract, an agent who loves me and an editor who loves my writing. I love the thriller genre. What could possibly be better?

Except, I have a deadline that's killing me! I've already been granted two extensions and I'm late again. I have a plot that seems to be getting larger and larger, that I can't seem to wrangle, and self-doubt is mumbling in my ear. It's becoming harder and harder to write.

Take DARK WATERS, my first book in the new thriller series. It's on some kind of roll. We sold the audio rights, international rights and book club rights. It's a Finalist for both a Colorado Authors' League Award and a Colorado Book Award. It garnered some great blurbs, some great press and it's got 43 Amazon reviews. All good, right?

Except, I can't seem to shake-off the notion that if I could just hit 50 reviews (hint) Amazon's next algorithm will trip launching me into the stratosphere (am I overreaching?) OR that the last review posted (while not bad and which I should never have read) dissed a premise in my book that carries over to the next book (FYI, a premise that I adore) and now I'm finding it harder and harder to write.

2016_Goff_Owls CoverTake A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS. It was March of 2007 when my last Birdwatcher's Mystery was published. Nine years ago! Now I've found a home for my backlist and Book #6 is scheduled for release in May. The launch is scheduled for May 25th at the Tattered Cover Book Store at 7 p.m. (hint), and I should be doing the "happy dance," right?

Except every signing conjures memories of the launch of DEATH OF A SONGBIRD, Book #2, at my hometown book store, where only two people came—two!—the head boy from my high school graduating class and my aunt. I was devastated, not to mention embarrassed (the book store owner had ordered in 100 copies of my book). Fortunately, the next week, friends returning from their summer vacations descended on the book store and saved my bacon. Yet, 15 years later, I still angst about every book signing—making it harder and harder to write.

Need I go on? There are the writer gigs. Sooo much fun! And I've been fortunate to have been asked to do quite a few in the next several months. But, while I love sharing with other writers and with readers, preparation takes time. Plus it's only fair to the event planners, my publisher, and me to spend time on Social Media and promotion.

And then there's my personal life....

Okay, you see the theme (and, if you're like me, you've got the tune to the Maroon 5 song "Harder to Breathe" stuck in your head) and you're probably thinking: "What the heck is she whining about ?" because your professional and personal life is no doubt way more busy and congested than mine.

So, my question for you is: Are we having fun? If it's always fun, I want to know your secret. Please post!

But for those of you who can feel my pain, I've come up a simple strategy for putting the FUN back in writing.

1. Free up some time. I used to write every chance I could—in the evening after the kids were in bed or in the morning after everyone went out the door. I craved time to write, and every minute I carved out was a gift. My vow: to once more cherish my writing time.

2. Unfetter the muse. When I first started writing, I never worried about deadlines or page counts or plot lines or genre constraints. I used to follow the tangents to see where they'd lead, never worried about the pages I might have to throw away. It was a joy to see where my writing took me. My vow: to write with abandon again.

3. Nurture yourself. Everybody needs time to breathe. There are only so many hours in a day, and there are so many things to get done and so many things that need doing. I used to be much better at compartmentalizing my time. My vow: to find a better balance.

So, to answer my own question, of course we're having fun! Or we will be. Right now I have to get back to my writing. You see, I have this deadline that's killing me!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris Goff is the award-winning author of six environmental novels and a new international thriller series. Her sixth book in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS, comes out in May. Previous titles were nominated for two WILLA Literary Awards, a Colorado Author's League Award, and published in Japan. DARK WATERS, her first international thriller, was published September 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. Manhattan Book Review calls it “Absolutely masterful...” and it’s a Finalist for both the 2016 Colorado Authors’ League Award-Genre and the 2016 Colorado Book Award-Thriller, and a Nominee for a 2016 Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook. For more information, visit her on the web www.christinegoff.com; on facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/authorchristinegoff; or twitter https://twitter.com/christinegoff.

Focusing Your Energy Where it Counts

I'm probably the last person in the world who should be talking about focus.

You know that person with her head so high in the clouds that she put her car keys in the freezer? Or  pulls into the neighbor's garage, gets out of her car, walks into the house, and wonders who changed the linoleum and why the cat is the wrong color?

Yep, that's me. I'm the woman who starts off taking out the kitchen garbage, stops along the way to pet the cat, notices the litter box needs attention and scoops, leaving the trash bag in the house by the cat box and taking the litter to the outside trash can. I'm the woman who then notices it's a beautiful day and wanders off to see if the lilacs are going to bloom this year, coming inside an hour later to wonder who left the trash bag sitting in the bathroom.

But maybe this makes me the right person to talk about focus, after all, because I've developed some coping methods over the years that help me get important things done. (See my last post on setting priorities for some ideas on how to sort out which are your most important things.)

Following are a few of the things I've found to be helpful in finding enough focus to get my words written.

Schedule it. If writing time is important to you, signal that to yourself and everybody else in the same way you would other important events. Make it an appointment and treat it like a parent-teacher conference, a work meeting at your day job, a visit to your doctor or your hair stylist. Put it on your calendar. Don't stand yourself up.Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.46.47 AM

Minimize distractions. Figure out whether you do better in a quiet or noisy environment. Experiment with music - can you focus better with it on, or off. What location works best for you - the kitchen table, a writing room desk, a corner in the coffee shop? Whatever works best, do that. Note that this might change depending on the book you're writing, and whether you're brainstorming, drafting, revising, or editing.

Turn off the social media. How many times have you sat down to write, only to find yourself an hour later deep down some rabbit hole on Facebook? Besides the time suck component, how can you get deeply involved in your character's emotions and lives if you are constantly receiving signals from outside influences? If you're like me and lack will power, consider a program like Freedom that blacks the internet for you for a set period of time. Or, shut off the internet altogether during writing time. I recently went through a spell where I didn't turn the internet on in the morning before my words were written. I was a little bit shocked at how much more writing I got done.

Sprint. Sometimes, if you're struggling with focus, settling in for a short stretch of 15 minutes can work very well for getting things done. I love to do this with a friend through a chat window. Set the time, go, and report back in. It's easier to settle down to work when you know it's not going to be a long haul. Plus, it's highly motivating to know you'll need to fess up to your partner if you've wandered off to Twitter. (It's also amusing when you both wander off to Twitter and call each other out for bad behavior. This may just have happened to me a time or two.)

Put the cat in the garage. I know, this is a drastic measure. The GDC, currently in my lap and judging everything I write, takes offense. We love our fur babies and they are wonderful and often comforting. They can also be a huge distraction. If you are struggling with focus and getting your words written, you might consider finding something else for the fur babies to do while you write.

I have a few other ideas, but I'm scheduled for my writing time in about two minutes and I'm choosing to honor that commitment and am signing off now.  I'm excited to tell you that I will be presenting a session on getting your writing done at the Colorado Gold Conference this year, so if this topic is of interest to you I'd love to see you there!

I'd also love to hear the strategies you've developed for managing focus during writing time.

 

Finding Time to Write … by Danica Favorite

2016_Danica FavoriteWhen people outside the writing world find out that I’m a writer, they’re always shocked because they have no idea how I find time to write. I work what amounts to a full-time job, and though I work from home and have a semi-flexible schedule, I still have to put those hours in. With two children at home who are involved in multiple activities, I spend most of my evenings and weekends driving them back and forth. Some days, I feel like I live in my car. I am on the go from the time I get out of bed until I fall back into bed, exhausted.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a crazy deadline crunch. I just turned in my line edits for a book I have coming out in September, my January book is due May 1st, and I have a book releasing April 1st. Which means I don’t have the luxury of writing when I feel like it or hoping my life is going to slow down so I can catch up.

So, how, then, do I get the writing done?

The key is in finding ways to make the schedule work for you. When my kids are at their activities, I have my laptop with me. An hour of dance practice becomes an hour of writing time. The kids have to be at the riding arena all day? Have laptop, will travel. And, for those unexpected wait times, I have my book files saved on Dropbox, which I can access from my phone or tablet. Writing on my phone is not fun, but I can do it. I was just at my daughter’s robotics competition, and all of my electronics had dead batteries, so I pulled out a notebook and wrote by hand. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.

2016_Favorite_ShotgunOne of the most important things I do, though, is communicate with my family. They know when I’m coming up on a deadline, and what kind of time I need. Part of that is knowing how much time it takes me to write a book, then looking at our schedule to see where I can find that time. And when those times don’t add up, it means figuring out what I need to do to make it work. Sometimes, when I’m in a crunch, I’ll spend the weekend at a hotel, locked in a room, writing.

The other crucial piece to balancing my busy life with my writing time is making time for self care. If I don’t have enough fuel in the tank, I’m not going anywhere, especially when it comes to the energy I put into both my family and my writing. I have a standing massage appointment every other week.. I have a regular journaling habit, and I also do a lot of art journaling. That all seems to add up, time-wise, but what I’ve found is that when I am doing all the things that support me emotionally and creatively, I’m a better wife, better mother, better writer, and I don’t feel as pressed for time, even though I still have exactly the same hours in the day.

How do you get that balance?

Take a look your writing habits and needs. Track how long it takes you to write. If you can write an average of 1K in 1 hour, how many hours do you need to write your book? Then look at your schedule. Where in your schedule can you fit those hours? Does that mean cutting something out? I’m amazed at all the ways we all waste time when we take the time to analyze how we’re spending it. Also be aware of hidden times you can use to write. I can usually get about 6 hours of writing time just sitting and waiting for my kids at their various practices. When you’re making your schedule, be intentional about also scheduling down time and self-care time. It’s tempting to pack every minute full of stuff, especially when you’re feeling pressed for time, but in those circumstances, the best thing you can do is to give yourself a break.

How do you balance your writing life with everything else you need to get done?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica Favorite loves the adventure of living a creative life. She and her family recently moved in to their dream home in the mountains above Denver, Colorado. Danica loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily ever after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun.

Learn more about Danica and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Getting Your Priorities Straight

"We all have the same number of hours in the day."

I don't know about you, but when somebody says this, I generally want to kick them in the shins or slap them with a large, dead fish.

It always seems to get said with a self righteous air, as if the person uttering the words has everything in their life perfectly under control. They are never late for work. Never miss a deadline. Never find themselves scrambling to fulfill an obligation at the very last second.

The fact that the words are true just makes them more irritating.

Unless somebody has invented a time machine and is doing an incredible job of keeping it hidden in their garage, we all get the same allotment of twenty-four hours in a day. Except this week, of course, when those of us living in misguided countries have an hour stolen from us, but that's another story.

Some of us have a lot more living to cram into our time allowance than other people do. Some are contented with a slow and steady space. They go to work, come home, pet the cats, eat a tidy, low fuss dinner, watch TV and go to bed. I don't personally know anybody like this, although I'm told they exist. I don't think I've ever met anybody who felt they had more than enough hours in the day. People only trot out the "we all have the same number of hours in the day" statement when they're talking to somebody else.

My point is that until Science and Magic get their acts together and create a time turner, we're going to have to muddle along with not enough time to do All The Things. We can try, and sometimes even pull it off for awhile, but sooner or later we have to sleep. And the body, mind, and spirit will all rebel at some point if we push too hard, and find a way to force us to slow down. A rest enforced by physical illness, depression, anxiety, or some other system breakdown will slow us down more in the long run than a more reasonable pace.

So what's the answer, then, for those of us overwhelmed by the drive to do everything?

I think it starts with setting priorities.

I ran into a Facebook meme the other day about this which was pretty simple and brilliant. Every time you catch yourself saying, "I don't have time," change those words to "That's not a priority." And then listen closely to yourself.

"I'd love to write but I just don't have time," becomes, "Writing is not a priority."

"I know I should read but I don't have time," becomes, "Reading is not a priority."

And - harsh reality time – maybe these things are not priorities for you. Maybe your priorities right now are raising kids, building a career, and binge watching The Walking Dead. No problem. If those are the priorities, then do those things.

Or, maybe, The Walking Dead can wait, and writing could fill that time slot.

It's all about awareness and choices. You can find writing time and reading time, you can find time to play with your kids. You can find time to clean your house from top to bottom and do Pinterest crafts and bake chocolate chip cookies. But you might not be able to choose all of those things, all at the same time.

CHALLENGE

Take a few minutes, five at the most, to jot down a list of priorities, things like career and family and writing. Don't get deep into the weeds on this – just jot them down as they come to you, in no particular order.

Got your list?

Great. Now pick the top five. This part is harder. Be honest and ignore the niggling guilt if your true priorities aren't what you think they should be. Also be aware that priorities shift. Maybe family was the top priority when your kids were little, but now they're in college and you're focused on another goal. It doesn't mean you don't love your family if another priority rises to the top. It just means you are choosing to focus your energy elsewhere. Arrange your top five in order of current importance, with number one being the thing you would keep if you were forced to relinquish the others, and so on. Hold onto your finished list. Pin it on your bulletin board, or stash it wherever you keep such things. Whatever works for you.

Now, for the next week, observe how you spend your time. How many hours spent sleeping? How many hours on the internet? How many hours with the family? Watching TV? Writing? Reading? At the day job? Cleaning house? Jot down notes at the end of every day and make sure you account for all 24 hours.

At the end of your week of time observation, sit down with your priority list and your observation notes and compare them. How much time are you spending on your priorities? How much time are you spending on things that didn't even make the priority cut? If your priorities and how you spend your time match up, chances are you're feeling reasonably good about what you accomplish in your life. If they don't, my guess is that you're feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

The next step is to figure out how to focus your energy on the things that matter most to you. This comes at a cost, by the way. We don't get anything for free, and no matter what we'd like to believe, we can't have it all.

I'll be talking more about this next month.

 

SO MUCH TIME AND SO LITTLE TO DO!

Willie Wonka

"Wait...strike that...reverse it...okay." - Willie Wonka

So many of my friends have asked me how I stay so laid-back, easy-going, and calm all the time. One friend even described me once as having a perpetual island attitude, referring to the relaxation one experiences on vacation in the Caribbean or some such place. Well, first of all, those who know me best know that isn't always me - I can sometimes get tweaked, just like everyone else. Usually what sets me off is when I feel as if I'm being mischaracterized to others by someone who has no real clue who I am or what I'm like. I know, ultimately it says more about them than it does me, but we all have our triggers.

But it is true that most days it takes a lot to stir me up. It isn't that I don't have overwhelming demands on my time, like everyone else, which is the primary cause of stress and mood swings. It's that I've learned - for the most part - to compartmentalize stress and manage the many chores and deadlines and expectations pressing down on me. I'd like to share with you some thoughts on this, see if it helps you, the reader, to manage stress in your own life.

OVERWHELMING PILE OF @#%&*

The most common way in which people get overwhelmed is by trying to look at the entire pile of things they have to do all at once. Think of it this way - there is never going to be a time in your life when you don't have tasks ahead of you that need doing sooner or later, and who would want a life that didn't? How boring. So trying to wrap your arms around everything all at once is going to overwhelm you, it just is, there's no way around it. But you can manage that feeling of standing at the bottom of an avalanche waiting for it all to come crashing down on you.

This is going to be profound....are you ready for it? Make lists. All right, rather less profound than, well, boring, but I swear it works. Put the things you have to do in lists, and add to or rewrite these lists often. This not only helps you feel as if you've at least got a handle on the things you have to do, it even gives you a small feeling of control, just identifying the things that you have to do.

DO THINGS

The next thing is, do the things that need doing. Again, this sounds stupidly simple, but I've known people who get so wrapped up in making lists and buying colored pens and bulletin boards and bins and shelves, etc. all to organize their "things to do," that they spend more time getting ready to do the things that need to be done than actually doing them. Your list should be a very informal thing jotted down on the nearest thing to hand - a piece of paper, a paper sack, an old grocery receipt, whatever. Then go do the things that need to be done. Do them. With each task you complete and put behind you you'll feel a growing sense of accomplishment and control, and there is nothing better than this naturally earned feeling to combat stress and especially depression.

WHAT TO DO, WHEN?

The other thing I hear a lot from people who feel overwhelmed by everything they have to do, is that they don't know where to begin. My answer is simple, and it comes from the canon of slogans shared by attendees of 12 step programs: Do the next indicated action. In other words, do whatever needs to be done next, then after that, do the next thing, then the next. Again, deceptively simple, but it's a great way to undercut that feeling of being overwhelmed. Just do one thing at a time, in order. If it's dinner time, cook dinner. When dinner is cooked, eat it. When dinner is eaten, do the dishes and clean the kitchen. When cleaning a room, pick up the top-most item on the floor, then the next, then the next, and put them where they belong. Prioritizing those things that need to be done doesn't take much thought, you generally know what needs doing, and what must be done first, or next. Do the most pressing or important thing first, then do the next. You'll be surprised how intuitive that is.

MANAGING CRISES

I want to write a few words about urgency and crises. With very few exceptions, if you look at your most recent crisis, it didn't really come without warning. Much as we will deny it, in most cases crises occur as a result of us neglecting our responsibilities in one area or another. For example, when you don't pay your electric bill in a timely manner, your electricity gets turned off. If you don't take care of your health, you get sick, sometimes quite critically. And crises caused by neglect have a way of cascading. If you don't write that chapter while the family is out shopping, you fall behind on word-count, you are forced to cut into family time to write, pissing off your spouse, forcing you to write during working hours at your mundane job, pissing off your boss, who doesn't give you that raise you need, money you might have been able to spend on a much nicer anniversary gift than you end up affording, and the cheapness of your gift hurts the feelings of the person you love, bringing you yet another inexorable step closer to divorce...

7HHEP

Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People shares a great image of four squares. The first are crises; the second are urgent things; the third are just things that need doing; and the fourth is leisure activities. He talks about how neglecting items in the third square, the things that need doing, sooner or later they move into the second square, the urgent things that need doing. By neglecting things in the second square, you allow them to eventually moved into the first square, crises. By focusing on the things that need doing, you can reduce the number of urgent things, and of course by concentrating on the urgent things, you prevent them from becoming crises.

Stay ahead of crises by doing the next indicated action - the most important and urgent thing that needs doing at the moment, then the next, and the next. You'll find the emergencies and crises in your life occurring less and less often. I promise.

GREAT NEWS

And now for the great news, if you've stuck around long enough to read this far. I know all of the above makes it sound as if all you'll ever be doing is trying to keep ahead of all of the things you need to do, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact quite the opposite. By following these guidelines you'll actually find yourself getting ahead of the stuff pressing down on you. As impossible as it sounds, you'll actually start getting out from under that mountain of chores. Referring back to the four squares, as you spend time in the second and third squares, you'll find you suddenly have more in your fourth square: FUN! You'll find that not only does your leisure time expand, but because you've done the things that needed doing, that leisure time will be so much more relaxing and stress free.

(With some edits, this is a reprint of a blog I wrote about a year ago, but I think it applies to writers as much if not more than anyone, since we have to self-motivate most of the time.)

Are You Pantsing Through Your Writing Life? … by Corinne O’Flynn

Author OFlynn HEADSHOTWhat does your plan for your writing year look like? Are you a schedule plotter (step-by-step) or a calendar pantser (by the seat of your pants)? Do you find yourself struggling to maintain writing goals and deadlines? Are you overwhelmed by the idea of finishing your first novel, or making time to write your next book while juggling your author business and your life? Are you often stressed about how much writing you’ve got to get done in what feels like very little time?

By now I’m sure we’ve all been asked if we’re a plotter or a pantser when it comes to our writing. As far as that goes, I think you should do what works for you. But when it comes to managing your writing time and how it fits into your writing life, I’d like to make a case for plotting your time on paper.

Last year, I attended a goal-setting class that spoke about scheduling yourself a year ahead. My first reaction was, “A year ahead!? I barely know what’s going on next week!” But after giving it a go, and now living it for almost a year myself, I can tell you that it’s worth trying.

OFlynn calendarTo get started, you need a year-at-a-glance calendar. You can Google sites that have free printables. Calendarlabs.com has many to get you started. I use a spreadsheet set up so that each quarter fills a single printed page.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to do is load your calendar up with all the “off time” things like trips, events, conferences, vacations, kids’ school breaks, and other time-heavy things that will take place over the year that will interfere with your writing time. Then, fill in the deadlines you’ve got for your writing or writing business.

Work Backward to Break Up Your Work

Once you’ve got your “off time” noted and your writing deadlines in place, work backward to break the writing goals down into smaller chunks. Let’s say you’re drafting a novel, and you plan to send it to your editor on December 1st. You’ve got to build time in for your writing, deadlines to send to your critique partners, reading time for beta readers, and your own revision time between each of these stages. All of this so you’re ready by your main December 1st deadline.

The value of the year-at-a-glance calendar is that you’ll know well ahead of time that you’ve got family in town for one week and you’ll be traveling over a long weekend right in the middle of your working window. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by these events when they creep up on you, you can plan ahead and adjust your writing time accordingly so you can meet your deadlines and enjoy your off time.

OFlynn_Expatriates_CVR_LRGLIGHTThis Technique Works For Anything

The same holds true if you’re launching a book, scheduling release parties, promotional events, online blog tours, cover reveals, etc. It even works for non-writing goals. I’m using this process to schedule the re-org of my house! There’s no need to panic when you’ve plotted out your time.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Granular

Once you have your year plotted, break it down by quarter, then by month, week, and day. Allow yourself to get as detailed as you need in order to really see what your daily and weekly goals must be in order to hit your big-picture deadlines. You might be surprised to see how manageable your writing goals become when you break them down like this. Alternatively, unrealistic goals stand out when you do this, allowing you to adjust your time so you can be successful.

Allow Yourself Adjustments

Granted, nothing is ever 100% perfect. But I can attest to the value of seeing the year ahead when it comes time to make the inevitable changes and shifts. Life happens and things get in the way. Being a life plotter, at whatever level of detail, can go a long way toward keeping you on the path toward achieving your goals in your writing and your life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Corinne O'Flynn is a native New Yorker who now lives in Colorado and wouldn't trade life in the Rockies for anything. She loves writing flash and experimenting with short fiction. Her novel, THE EXPATRIATES (Oct. 2014) is the first in a fantasy adventure series with magic and creatures and lots of creepy stuff. She is a scone aficionado, has an entire section of her kitchen devoted to tea, and is always on the lookout for the elusive Peanut Chews candy. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, Corinne works as the executive director of a local nonprofit.

Learn more about Corinne and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.