My revised website is now up and running. Go there to get more information about my writing and services. There is also a blog page there, where I will be posting new blogs, including one about my article in Funds for Writers 4/5/19.
My datebook’s a mess. I’ve been tracking what I do every day so I know where I’m spending time. It all goes onto a weekly chart that I’m sharing with a accountability writing buddy. What I’ve found is I slide off into unplanned activities and spend too much time on things that aren’t really that important.
So the tracking has been a good thing. While I’ve accomplished a lot the last three months (see last week’s Quarterly Report), the tracking records show that I could be using my time more effectively.
Enter the new experiment – or is it old? I sat down this morning and made a traditional four-box matrix for my writing activities. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, this is what it looks like:
Of course, you can louse this up by putting too many things in the urgent & important box, which leads to feeling overwhelmed to the point nothing gets done.
I’ve used this matrix for each of the next few months. For example, consider developing materials for the workshop I’m teaching in June (Self-Publishing for Educators, at Sierra Community College). This is of Primary Importance, because this is the first workshop I’m teaching in this area and I’ll be judged by it. However, the class is at the end of June. So in April, that will be in the upper right-hand box (3), Primary Importance but Not Urgent. In May, I’ll move it into the upper left-hand box, Primary and Urgent (1). In April, I may work on it, but only after April’s Primary/Urgent matters are addressed.
Secondary tasks may be urgent, like getting the reading done for critique groups, or secondary and non-urgent, like making sure I get some exercise in each day. The things in the secondary/urgent box (2) will be scheduled on a timely basis, but won’t replace taking care of items in (1). The items in secondary/non-urgent (4) will get some attention throughout the week, but they’ll be slipped in between the items in the other three boxes.
This clarification of priorities makes it easy to decide what needs to be done when. On days I have a lot of meetings, I’ll knock off some of the secondary items. When I’m home all day, I’ll focus on something of primary importance that needs to be done urgently.
I’ll still use my datebook as a tracking device, noting what I’m doing during the day, but the only thing getting penciled in ahead of time will be meetings. The weekly chart will still go to my accountability buddy. But hopefully it will reflect more time spent on the most important things.
Back at the end of December, I set my goals for 2018. Well, March is behind us – the end of the first quarter of the year, when businesses assess how they’re doing.
My primary writing goal for the year is to make at least $10,000 and I’m losing money at this point. So when I looked at the page with three columns of objectives and steps to reach each that I set up at the beginning of the year, I initially felt disheartened. Then I took a closer look and made notes.
To achieve that one writing goal, I have three objectives. I’ve made progress on each.
Goal #1: Maintain and build on promotional activities, center them on the book coming out later this year (Peg’s Story). Progress:
Goal #2: Keep working on new material. Progress:
Goal #3: Do workshops. This goal needs to be amended to Do Activities that Generate Income. Progress:
I also have two non-writing goals: Maintain balance in my life and Improve my financial status. I’ve made some progress on those, too, spending time with family, doing a little subbing. I still need to get back into a regular exercise routine. Blocking that in may actually increase my productive writing time. We’ll see how the next quarter goes.
My next novel, which will come out later this year, is Peg’s Story: In Search of Self. It’s the story of the mother in my first novel, Running Away. After that book came out, I wrote and sold the screenplay – the selling part took a few years. You may have seen the movie Running Away on Lifetime, and it’s been pirated to YouTube as well.
If you’ve read the book and watched the movie, you know that the movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters is different. That also means the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story changed.
This is how the changes look:
The novel is about the relationship between mother and daughter and how a subtle predator manipulates both of them to the point where Maggie (the daughter) ends up running away. The emphasis is on the mother-daughter bond – that’s why the hands are reaching for each other on the novel’s cover. My original script stuck with that emphasis, as did the re-writes I did to make it more affordable to shoot.
I’m still the only screenwriter on the credits, however the director added short scenes, including some up front to establish the stepfather as a bad guy quickly. The filmmakers explained that was essential to hold the audience. With several short scenes, the director also added a storyline making the stepfather evil beyond what he does to Maggie. As in the movie poster, he becomes the focal point.
Film is a collaborative medium and the final measure is always: Does it work?
So yeah, the film works. I got paid, got my credits at the beginning and end, and it’s added to my IMDb page. I’m happy.
Next week I’ll take a closer look at the film and how it compares to my screenplay.
Each year I was in Arizona, a group of us would gather near the changing of the year and spend an evening with stacks of old magazines and glue sticks, sharing and enjoying our community as we made vision boards for the coming year. Some approached it with specific ideas in mind; I let intuition lead me to specific pictures and phrases that I then glued onto my poster board. Sometimes this clarified what I wanted in the coming year, sometimes it was just fun. But always, there were a few key words that reflected something I needed to work on.
Those key words made their way to my motivational board—a collage pinned onto a bulletin board that hangs in my workroom. I spent the better part of a day last week rearranging this board, printing out inspirational phrases, reviewing everything on it. The key words from years of vision boards are still there, their prominence determined by how much reminding I need to incorporate them into my daily life—things like balance, focus, and process.
What’s not on it? Photos of my kids and grandkids—those are in another place in my home, not my workroom. They are enormously important in my life and always present in my being, but they are not the reason I write. That comes from the core of me that existed long before they were born. So the photos on my motivational board are of me as a confident little girl and an adventurous traveler. There’s also a striking headshot from my twenties, when I wanted to be an actress. There’s a newspaper clip I’ve kept since I was fourteen, about making the world a better place to be, and quotes that strengthen my resolve to keep trying. There’s a photocopy of the first check I received for writing work and photographs I’ve taken that remind me writing is not my only creative endeavor.
What else is not on it? Specific goals and my writing credits—I post my accomplishments for the past year and goals for the current in a different place.
My motivational board is about supporting who I am and why I create—the force within.
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…
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.
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.
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