Tag Archives: time management

Looking Back

In 2016, I made a respectable amount of money as a writer. I really wanted to make more this year. Instead, I’ve made virtually none. I felt like a failure, until I saved my “Priorities for 2017” as “Accomplishments for 2017” and edited it to reflect what actually got done this year:

I expanded the number of excellent critique groups with which I’m working on screenwriting, short stories, and novels. That was an essential goal and a major reason for my move to an urban area.

Running Away was shown in French-speaking Europe, then was released as a Lifetime movie.

The screenplay for Michael Dolan McCarthy lost an award, but I used their notes to make revisions. With feedback from two screenwriting groups, I wrote and revised a screenplay based on “Maria Angelica’s Baby” – the short story included in Saturday Evening Post’s anthology in 2016. I submitted both of these to the 15th Annual American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest. Results don’t come out until February. I also wrote a script for Frankie and Grace and submitted that and other scripts to multiple network writer development programs.

With feedback from beta readers, I did revisions of my new novel – the story of Peg, the mother in Running Away. Then I met and traded books with Sarita Sarvate and made major revisions thanks to all of her questions and comments. Peg’s Story: In Search of Self has been submitted multiple places. But in light of current events and the general rule that traditional publishing takes its time, I may decide to self-publish to get it out sooner. The character surprised me when she landed in the arms of a trafficker, but the ups and downs of her journey after that will speak to anyone who says “Me, too.” Goal for 2018: Fund an effective marketing campaign.

I sold books at the Citrus Heights Hidden Treasures Art Show, the Oakland Book Festival, the Gold Country Writer’s booth at the Gold Country Fair, and an author event at Book Passage in Corte Madera put on by the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). I also attended the WNBA Pitch-O-Rama in San Francisco. I sent out a press release after getting a glowing review of Alice and saw a jump in sales of my books at Amazon.

That’s not everything, either. I’ve been tracking submissions and have short stories out all the time. I wrote a script based on one and the actors in the Capital Film Arts Alliance gave it an awesome table read. It may be produced as a trailer when I’m ready to publish a collection of short stories.

I didn’t make much money this year. In fact, after expenses it’ll probably be a loss. My projects didn’t come in first place anywhere and I didn’t get accepted into those writing programs, but I got good feedback from judges. With the input of good critique groups I produced multiple well-written major and minor projects. They’ll eventually be produced or published because tracking submissions and my time has made me more consistent. I’m even posting here weekly.

So while I may not have made much money writing this year, I did accomplish a lot.

The funny thing? In 2016 I did very little writing. The first half I was teaching full time with injuries, the second half I was living in my son’s living room with almost everything buried in storage while I had and recuperated from surgeries on knee and shoulder. The successes and income were from work done previously. So maybe next year…

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

 

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Reasonable Expectations

My to-do list tends to be insane. At times it’s grown to multiple two-column pages. That may be okay for long range planning or keeping track of little details, but when it’s multiple major projects it can lead to paralysis and a sense of failure because I never get it all done.

I’ve developed something that’s working better.

A couple months ago, I set up a spreadsheet to track the hours I spend on different writing activities. The first column has the categories: writing new material for blogs or promo; writing or revising stories, novels, etc.; research; routine business; new business; networking; critique groups and reading for them; marketing activities; and writing/editing for pay. I estimate how much time I’ll spend on each activity each day and the hours for each activity are totaled for the week. Then I’ll type in the estimate totals in a separate column and erase the daily estimates.

Each day I keep track of how I’m spending my time in a day planner, then enter those times into the chart and compare the actual time spent weekly with the estimates. This gives me a realistic view of how I’m spending my time and whether or not I’m maintaining an effective balance. I also can see when I’m pushing myself too hard or slacking off.

After the first week or two, I added two more columns—one to list what I plan to do in each area, and one to record what actually got done. The to-do list! Because I’d been keeping track of my time, I was able to come up with reasonable estimates for the time needed for similar activities and make this more reasonable.

One or two sixty hour weeks when a project’s near completion is reasonable (for me), but to maintain any kind of life balance, that level cannot be sustained. During the holidays, when family time expanded, the hours I expected myself to work on writing decreased. Since I know I do those sixty hour weeks, it was okay to have some short ones.

Thanks to this system, I’m getting closer to reasonable expectations for each week. My goal is to routinely complete everything planned in the time allotted each week and sometimes do a little more if time allows. Then I’ll feel competent consistently.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Balance

Balance is essential to our well-being.

At this point in my life, I’m spending forty to sixty hours a week on writing and related activities. It’s my primary focus. Last year, health had to be my primary focus, as I went through injuries, surgery, and recovery. Writing was still part of the balance, but I couldn’t devote this much time to it!

I know, however much time I’m devoting to writing, all the areas of my life must be nurtured as well. Not only does it keep me healthy and happy, it makes me more productive as a writer and as a human being.

Six years ago, a group of my friends gathered on a regular basis to do exercises designed to help us take a close look at our priorities in life. Only after we had decided what was important to us did we go on to establish goals in all areas of our lives.

I revisit all of those priorities and goals every year, not just those about writing. This helps me maintain a healthy balance in my life and make progress to the things I want in the long run. The areas of life we examined are: people, things, spiritual, feelings, and activities. What is important to you in each of these areas?

  • People: Who are the people important to you? How do you want those relationships to look? What do you need to do to establish or nurture those relationships?
  • Things: What things are important to you? What do you need to do to maintain those things you have and get the ones you want?
  • Spiritual: How do you nurture your spiritual self? How can you make sure this is not neglected?
  • Feelings: What feelings do you want to have more often? What feelings to you want to avoid? For each: what can you do about it?
  • Activities: What activities are important to you? Keep the previous priorities in mind as you make this list—there should be considerable overlap.

Sometimes life throws crises or opportunities at you and you give one area or another more time than usual. However, if you remember to allow some time for the other areas, you’ll feel better and keep making progress toward your long-range goals—and you’ll be ready to get right back into a more balanced lifestyle when the crisis has passed or the opportunity is complete.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Process

As I understand it, writer’s block is that empty feeling when you sit staring at the screen or paper with no clue what to write. I’ve had that feeling trying to figure out topics for this weekly blog!

But I’m not sure it counts as writer’s block because it doesn’t “block” me. I’m pretty sure my process is the reason I’ve never suffered from writer’s block for more than a few moments, why it’s never really stopped me.

Here are the pieces I think are key:

1. I have given myself permission to not write at any given point in time. It’s okay for me to say “Well, that’s not happening right now,” and move on to another task. There’s no feeling of guilt magnifying the temporary loss of words until it’s paralytic. There’s no time lost because I’m free to move to another project quickly.

2. I have multiple writing projects at all times. Currently, I’m researching what the future may look like so I can write a futuristic novel; I’m pitching a completed women’s novel; I’m pitching screenplays; I’ve started turning a short story into a stage play; I’m working on a self-publishing manual to go with my workshops; I’m writing this weekly blog; and I’m revising short stories with critique groups and pitching them. So if I hit a blank on one project, I can probably make progress on another—I can even spend a day reading for that research or critiquing others’ work, reading instead of writing.

3. I set yearly and weekly goals that include writing, networking, marketing, and other writing-related activities. As long as I’m making progress on any of those goals, I can feel good about the day. If not, I can adjust my weekly plans to make up for the lost time.

4. Sometimes I’ll even take a day off from writing altogether and take care of other areas of my life. That’s okay, too. I’m a writer, and that’s a huge part of me, but it’s not the only part that needs attention and nurturing. The rest supports the writer.

The issue that stopped my writing will still be simmering on a back burner in my brain. I let the pieces fall into place, so I return to the project not only ready to write, but eager.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Tracking Your Time

Unless you’re writing just for yourself, writing is not just writing. There are a host of other activities that use your time as well, especially if you’re self-publishing. I got to a point where I felt like I wasn’t actually writing nearly enough, so I designed a spreadsheet to monitor my writing and writing-related activities.

This has had two benefits.

It’s gotten me into the habit of keeping my daily planner at hand and marking the time actually spent on an activity as I finish and go on to something else. This is keeping me accountable. It’s made me see how my time is actually used each day and what I’ve accomplished each week.

Most weeks, I’m spending about twenty hours writing and revising work. That includes blogs and promotional work as well as my books, scripts, and short stories because the promo work needs the same skills and attention to be effective. At first, I was going to separate new writing from revisions, but realistically, writing is re-writing and it’s more important to polish a work thoroughly than to rush on to the next.

I’m also spending about twenty hours each week on critique groups—the actual meetings and pre-reading others’ work. I currently work with several groups, three of which require pre-reading material. The time pre-reading other people’s work is my payment for the critique they give me. Even if I make enough to hire an editor, I’ll probably continue participating in critique groups because the multiple points of view provide rich feedback in the developmental stage and I learn from reading and participating in the critique of their work as well.

Finally, I spend up to twenty hours a week on research, routine business (website maintenance, emails, etc.), new business (queries, submissions, etc.), general networking (writer’s meetings, conferences, workshops, etc.), and assorted other activities related to publishing and marketing. I’d like to cut back on this and will, when I can afford to hire competent people to do parts of it.

Yes, that adds up to sixty hours a week. Do I do this every week? No. After two or three weeks hitting that mark, I’ll have a couple slow weeks. However, even when I feel like I’m being lazy, I find I’m doing writing-related activities about forty hours a week. I’m planning to take some “vacation” time over the holidays and it’ll be interesting to see how much time is still spent on writing activities.

I’d like to make a living from my writing, so it’s only reasonable to work as much at writing as I used to as a teacher who did prep and paperwork evenings and weekends.

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Writing Time

There are people with day jobs who get up before dawn to have an hour or two of writing time. They have my admiration. When I was teaching full time, I did not have the energy or focus to do that.

Some people have a set number of pages or words that they write each day. That is also an admirable habit. When I’ve squirreled myself away someplace other than home, I can sustain a goal of 10,000 words per day for a week or so. That means I can crank out the first draft of a novel in that time.

But sustain a daily writing habit with specific goals indefinitely? That is beyond me. Sometimes other things take priority for a day. Between now and Thanksgiving, I need to set aside several days to finish painting the inside of my home, rearranging things to house two extra families for a night or two over that holiday, and a full day to go pick up my granddaughter so we’ll have a week together before everyone else comes. We’re going to work on her book for that week. I might spend a few minutes here and there on activities that support my writing (like keeping up with emails), but it will be incidental. I’ll apply the same focus I give to writing to my family and other projects.

I do have long-range and short-range writing goals and I do track my progress. At the end of each year, I make a list of annual accomplishments. When I feel like I haven’t done enough, I check those and realize I’m really doing a lot. I also make a list of goals for the year ahead, and while I may not work on my writing every single day, I do track progress toward those goals. I tend to be overly optimistic about how much one person can do, but over the last ten years, I’ve usually accomplished most of my annual goals.

While writing every day is can be a good habit, even more important is using your writing time effectively. Whether or not you write daily, set goals for the year and monitor your progress toward those goals regularly. Every Sunday, I evaluate the preceding week in light of my yearly goals and plan the one ahead—including realistically setting aside days when I will focus on other things and not write.

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessionalwww.sherimcguinn.com
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