Keeping Your Focus

I mentioned this very briefly in my previous post, but I feel it’s worth expanding on — a large part of being successful at writing part-time is the ability to focus. Of course, the more you have going on in your life the harder this will be. Right now, even though I am supposedly on vacation, I’m busy developing two book proposals, scraping and repainting my back porch, preparing content for this website, and worrying that the weeds are taking over my garden.

So how do you keep your focus when you have too many things on your plate? Let’s pretend you’re not on vacation at the moment but juggling a full-time job with your part-time writing career. Here’s a few things you may want to keep in mind:

Multitasking

I’m not a fan of multitasking personally. Sure, I can handle easy stuff like doing the dishes while figuring out what my next blog post will be about. But beyond that, I need some kind of structure where I know what will be done and when. I also have a limit as to the number of projects I can handle. If I go over my limit, I find myself getting stressed out and my focus runs out the door screaming. When that happens, I put on the brakes and decide what projects I’m keeping and which ones I must let go or put on the back burner. This is when the ability to say no comes in handy. Yes, this can be a tough one for most people, including me, but it’s a skill you will most definitely need to perfect if you wish to succeed as a writer.

Sorting Out Your Work

Concentrate on one job at a time. Literally! As soon as I start driving to my library job, my mind disconnects from home. I begin thinking about the work that’s waiting for me, not the one I left behind. By the time I set foot on school ground, I’m totally there. I don’t even have pictures of my family on display. As much as I love them, I don’t want the distraction.

But what if you get an idea for a writing project while working for someone else? This actually happens to me quite frequently. When it does, I quickly jot down my idea on a piece of paper, stuff it in one of my pockets, then get back to what I was doing. I always keep a bunch of scrap paper close at hand just in case. Later when I get home, I make sure to empty all my pockets so my ideas don’t end up in the washing machine.

Setting Boundaries

To keep your jobs separate you may need to set clear boundaries. For example, at my school I’m sometimes asked to translate or proofread others’ work. I’ll say yes if I’m able to fit it in within my working hours but not if I have to bring it home. It’s not that I’m unkind or unwilling to help, but I can’t afford to let school work interfere with my writing and translating. This also shows my colleagues that my skills are valuable and worthy of remuneration, and not something to be taken for granted. Anything I do for my school outside of working hours is not paid work. It’s volunteering. Knowing that saying no is my weak point, especially when kids are involved, I set my boundaries by making it clear that I can’t volunteer for more than one major event during the school year. Smaller activities that take an hour here or there are okay, but only as long as they happen during one of my slow periods.

In the end, what really matters is not how many projects you can start but how many you can finish. For my part, focusing helps me be more efficient, complete more work, and keep my boss and clients happy.

Now that this post is out of the way, I need to go figure out how to move my flowers so that I can get on with my painting project!

Claim Your Writing Career

How do you introduce yourself when you have more than one career? That question still stumps me sometimes. When people ask me what I do for a living, do I say that I am a writer, a translator, or a librarian? The answer is… It depends!

If I want to promote a specific aptitude, then I’ll stick to one particular job. For example, when I happen to strike up a conversation with an editor at a book fair, you may be sure I will put the emphasis on my writing career.

However, if I introduce myself to a new neighbour, I will most likely mention all three. Why? Because any one of my careers may bring me in contact with more assignments either directly or indirectly should that person know someone who has a need for one of my professional skills.

If you’re a beginner, you may be tempted to say, “Oh, I just write part-time.” Please, eliminate the word just from your vocabulary when speaking of your work. By inserting that tiny little word, you are demeaning your writing considerably, as if you are worth less than someone who writes full-time. As we all know, more is not necessarily better. Don’t be timid about it – claim your writing career from the get-go.

On the other hand, if you’ve been writing part-time for several years, you may feel embarrassed that you haven’t reached full-time status yet. I personally went through this phase when I reached my ten-year milestone. I kept reading success stories of these new kids on the block who had made it after selling their very first book, and here I was still writing whenever I could fit it in. If this is the case for you, feel free to drop the part-time part altogether, especially if it’s not relevant to the situation at hand.

Am I less dedicated than someone who writes full-time? Absolutely not! I am simply more focused. Because each and every minute counts, I never take my writing for granted, and I bet this is the case for you as well.

I’ve come to realize that the expression part-time actually means precious because my time is exactly that. So whatever activity I choose to do, it has to be a worthy one. Therefore, whoever I happen to write, translate, or librariate for should definitely feel special.

So, be proud of your part-time status and the next time anyone asks you what you do, claim your chosen careers with confidence!

5 Steps to Boost Your Energy

Lack of time is not the only thing that can get in the way of our writing. The energy factor is way up there on the list. It may even possibly come in first place. Take this post for instance. I was very much looking forward to working on it, but ironically, as I wrote the first draft, I was really low on energy. My day started at five that morning when an impromptu crow concerto erupted outside my bedroom window. As I couldn’t go back to sleep, I tackled a translation that was due later in the afternoon. I worked on it for two hours before getting ready for my job at the library. When I got back home after two, I spent another two hours polishing my translation then moved on to do some market research for my writing. I finally stopped around six, ate dinner, and happily plopped down for a rest. Just as I was drifting off, a truck pulled up at the neighbours’ house to deliver a huge load of firewood – in terms of noise, the crows had nothing on these people! Since rest was out of the question, I thought I might as well get on with writing this post.

So how do you find the energy to write after a full day’s work? Do you give up and hope tomorrow will be better? That everything will go according to plan and by the time you sit down to write, you’ll be at your absolute best? Yeah, right! If you’d like a more reliable solution, here are five steps that have worked really well for me.

Step 1 – Listen to Your Body

Some people say you should push through the tiredness no matter what. I often do, just like I did for this post in fact. But you can’t do this indefinitely. I learned this the hard way after getting sick once from working non-stop for nearly three weeks. I was overloaded with translations and the only way to complete them all was to work seven days a week, squeezing in every available minute not already taken by my library job. My writing simply got swept under the rug while my family pretty much gave up on me. Eventually my body rebelled by making it impossible for me to look at a computer screen. My head started spinning every time I even glanced at one. The problem only resolved itself after I stayed away from my computer for a few days. Since then I’ve had to be more careful. Whenever I try to push myself too hard, my body immediately reacts and forces me to slow down, which brings me to Step 2.

Step 2 – Take a Nap

I can already hear many of you scoffing and sputtering. “Nap? Who’s got time for that? This isn’t preschool!”  Take one anyway. It’s the best way I know to boost my energy and make my body happy. I often snooze during the early evening to help me last longer since nighttime is when I do most of my writing. I take naps during the daytime too on the weekends or just after I come back from the library in the middle of the afternoon to recharge my batteries. I’m very good at it. I can nap almost anywhere no matter what is happening around me – well, except for crow concerts and wood deliveries. When my son was little, we’d have nap time together. Now, I nap during my lunch breaks, in the middle of family gatherings, in the car (preferably when I’m not driving). All I need is a comfy seat and off I go. But what if you absolutely cannot nap?

Step 3 – Take a Deep Breath

Have you noticed how much energy you waste by tightening your muscles when you’re tense? It’s such a common state for many of us that I bet you barely notice when your whole body is tightly strung. In fact, I bet you’re tense right at this very moment. Want me to prove it? Take a looooooog breath. Breathe in through your nose and guide the air to your abdomen. Fill your tummy with air then release it slowly through your mouth. Doesn’t that feel great? Keep doing it as you continue reading. Better yet, do it as often as you can throughout the day. You’ll get the benefits of a nap without actually napping.

Step 4 – Eat Energizing Food

I love to experiment with food to find the perfect combinations that will give me an optimum energy boost. So far I’ve learned that if I have home-made porridge or a banana-peanut butter sandwich for breakfast, I’ll feel ready to take over the world. By mid-morning, I’ll snack on plain yogurt loaded with fruit and breeze on to lunch. Problems usually arise later during my nightly writing sessions. I never learned to like the taste of coffee or tea, so I never got hooked on these stimulants. Dark chocolate is another matter however. I used to eat a piece when my energy started dwindling. It worked really well for a while, but then I noticed I needed to eat two then three pieces to get the same buzz. I finally had to stop or risk an overdose! Which leads me to the next step.

Step 5 – Stop Eating Food That Doesn’t Energize You

Surprisingly, it’s what I stopped eating that has helped me the most so far. I gave up sugar about four months ago. Those who know me will understand what a drastic measure this was as I love everything sweet. But it was either that or change my whole wardrobe. All my clothes suddenly became too tight and I could not exercise as much as I needed to. After only two weeks of abstinence, I could slip into my outfits again no problem. But the benefits were so amazing that I decided to keep it up. For one, I stopped waking up several times every night due to hot flashes (I had been having them since my mid-thirties). Better sleep at night means that I get less cranky. I also get more stuff done since I need less naps, and I often make it through my nightly writing sessions now without any problems. Oh, and my moods are much more stable which makes me feel incredible and in control. The nice thing too is that I rarely have sugar cravings anymore. When I do, I immediately take a few sips of water. If the craving persists, I eat some raw almonds or fruit and it usually goes away. There are so many more things I could say on this subject that I could write a whole post about it – and maybe I will!

Finding Time

I often don’t have enough time to do all the things I would like to do. With three part-time jobs, a family, and a home to take care of, the days fly by much too quickly for my liking. But time is a funny thing. For example, I’m in the process of writing a new book. I hadn’t planned on it. In fact, there’s no room in my life for it right now – there simply isn’t time! But the idea popped into my head one night, tantalizing me with all sorts of possibilities as I drifted off to sleep. The next morning before my alarm went off, the idea resurfaced. I found myself reaching for the notebook and pen I always keep on the bookshelf next to my bed and wrote down the gist of it before it disappeared.

The following morning just as I was waking up, more ideas about that book flowed through my mind, and I sleepily reached for my notebook again. This scenario has been repeating itself for the past two weeks. This book is forcing its way into my life whether I want to or not. It refuses to be ignored or put on the back burner until I can make time for it later. It is both exhilarating and extremely annoying.

Why would I find this annoying? Because I’m not a morning person. On weekdays, I like to stay in bed as long as I possibly can without being late for work at the library. When I finally manage to get myself out of bed, I blindly head for the shower where I slowly pry my eyes open. Now, not only do I manage to wake up before my alarm goes off, but I automatically start thinking about my book, which leads me to get ideas and start scribbling away.

My point is that even though you may think you can’t do something because of lack of time – or if you’re like me, because you could not possibly wake up any earlier – if it’s a project that appeals to you to the point of firing up your imagination, you will find the time even if it comes in snippets and at odd hours of the day or night. However, when these moments come to you, make sure you actually use them. In other words, you still have to do the work. Sure, ideas are great but had I simply toyed with mine before turning over and going back to sleep for my usual extra snoozing session that morning, that idea would be long gone by now. So when an opportunity like this shows up, make the most of it. Don’t question it, don’t hesitate, just leave all of your doubts behind (or stifle them underneath your pillow) and get writing!