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How to Control Your Schedule

How do you control your schedule? It took me quite a while to answer that one. Fixed schedules don’t work at all for me. I wish they did. They would certainly have saved me a lot of grief over the years. I tried using professional planners with entries for each hour of the day and night, pretty agendas with words of inspiration printed on each page, calendars with extra large squares to write in daily tasks, and electronic versions of each that sent me helpful reminders every single second. Unfortunately, none of these have ever done me any good.

The problem is that if I tell myself I must do a particular task at a specific time, one of two things happens: my brain rebels and refuses to cooperate, or something unexpectedly comes up to change my plan altogether. Then I invariably end up feeling like a total failure for not sticking to THE SCHEDULE.

If this sounds like you, don’t despair. Put aside your agenda for now and try the following technique.

STEP 1

Rather than adhering to a strict schedule, I jot down what I wish to accomplish today, this week, next month or even for the rest of the year. Then I break these down into smaller doable bits and chunks.

Yesterday for example, I decided I wanted to get the following tasks done and that they might take roughly this much time:

  • Translation – 2 hours
  • Write this post – 2 hours
  • Work on a beginning reader story – 1 hour
  • Workout – 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • Call the plumber – 5 minutes

Total: about 6 hours.

Before going to bed, I looked at my list. It was more than I usually attempt in one day. I knew there was a better chance of me getting through it if I finished at least one of these tasks before I went to my library job. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee I would be able to drag myself out of bed before my usual time of 7 am. The thing is I’m not a morning person. Although I naturally wake up around 5 am, if my brain doesn’t latch on to some weird or worrisome thought I happily drift back to sleep for another couple of hours. So for me to get any work done that early in the morning mostly depends on whether I can coax myself into doing so. This is where the next crucial step of my technique comes in.

STEP 2

I give myself options.

Since I don’t like to do things when I feel forced to (does anyone?) I give myself as many options as possible. So looking at my list, I figured out that if I managed to wake up — and stay awake — at 5 am, I could tackle either the translation or this blog post. If not, I could aim for 6 am and do my workout or write my beginning reader story. As for the plumber, I could simply call him later in the day (I doubt he would have happily answered my call that early anyway).

So, how did things turn out? Amazingly, I did manage to work from 5 to 7 am (I chose the translation). When I came home in the middle of the afternoon, I called the plumber and started this blog post. I stopped halfway through to do my workout, then resumed the blog post where I left off. After getting that out of the way, I took a short break for dinner then jumped into my beginning reader story. Yes, it was a very full day — but a very happy one, too. I loved feeling that I had total control over my schedule instead of it controlling me!

The Pampered Writer

I admit it. I’m a pampered writer. I never write unless the conditions are just about perfect. Fortunately for me, they nearly always are. How do I manage that? Fairly easily as it turns out. You see, my brain knows my weak points and loves to take advantage of them. So I’ve learned to bypass my weaknesses by giving myself what I need to make my writing time as productive as possible, no matter what.

Take the weather for instance. It was really hot this week, but I’m not complaining. I love being hot – both literally and figuratively! Actually, this is when I do my best writing. It’s also why I’m about a thousand times more productive in the summer. Unfortunately, summers are not that long in my part of the world. There are many more cold days than hot ones. The worst is that in-between period, when summer has ended but it’s not really cold enough to turn on the heating or start a fire in the wood stove. Every room has a damp feel to it that seems to seep through my clothes and right into my bones, especially on cloudy days. Getting out of bed from my cocoon of warm blankets in the morning is absolute torture. And just the idea of sitting still to write in those conditions is torture times a hundred!

As much as I would like to, I can’t hibernate for three quarters of the year. So what’s a writer to do?

HERE’S SOME OF THE TRICKS I USE:

For those misery-inducing cold days, I use a heating pad. I can plug it anywhere for instant heat. Wool socks are great, too. If my feet are toasty, it’s easier to keep the rest of my body warm. I even have special writing gloves with the finger tips open for easy typing.

But for those rare days when it’s too hot even for me, a wet towel works wonders. I simply soak it in cold water for a minute, then wring it out and wrap it around my head and shoulders for cool relief. Frozen treats are marvellous, too!

Once the ambient temperature is taken care of, my brain will start complaining about my surroundings. I have a great home office, but if I have already spent several hours sitting at a desk at my library job, followed by more desk work in my own office doing translations, then the chances of me doing any writing in there are nonexistent. So, I’ve made my writing portable. I went all out with the pampering here by getting myself both a laptop and a tablet. Except for the shower, I can write pretty much anywhere.

But then, my brain tried to trick me again: Sure, go ahead and write outside on your lounge chair! Let’s see how long you last after you’ve had to make thirty-six trips back to your office to get something you need! In answer to that, I made myself a writing bag. It follows me wherever I flop down to write. When I hurt my foot recently, it came really handy. As I could neither sit at my desk nor keep dashing back and forth to grab what I needed from my office, I simply stretched out on the couch with an ice pack on my foot. Then with my tablet in hand and my writing bag on the floor next to me, I was all set. What do I keep in there? Everything that I use the most or can’t do without. This includes a fully-equipped pencil case, notepad, important files, thesaurus, market guide, three-ring binders containing book outlines for manuscripts I’m working on, and even an emergency pair of socks (because you never know when the temperature will suddenly drop). It can get pretty messy in there if I keep adding to it, not to mention heavy and bulky! So once in a while I empty it out and make sure that what goes back in is truly necessary.

By ensuring I always have all I need to write, I effectively cut off any excuse the wimpy part of my brain might possibly find to trick me into skipping my writing session. Plus, it’s fun to be a pampered writer.

What do you need to write? Go ahead, pamper yourself!

P.S. If you’re one of those people who have difficulty indulging yourself, see this as investing in your writing career.

Fear of Success

We’ve all heard of fear of failure. Most of us deal with this on a daily basis. The phrase “What if (insert your particular fear here)? ” runs through our minds so often that we’re barely aware of it.

For a writer these fears might go like this:

What if my idea sucks?
What if my writing sucks?
What if, after all that time and effort, every single editor in the whole universe thinks my manuscript sucks?

But fear of success? Really?

Surprisingly, fear of success can be as debilitating as fear of failure. This is especially true if you’re a part-time writer. After all, if you can barely find the time to write, how on earth will you ever find the time to be successful at it?

For me this fear shows up right after I submit a proposal for an article or book I have yet to write. It usually goes like this:

What if it gets accepted?
What if I get swamped with translations? How will I manage both?
What if I can’t meet the deadline?
What if I get writer’s block and can’t finish it?
What if the end product sucks?

Fears like these may have such a strong hold on you that they can even stop you from starting a project or sending that proposal altogether. So how do you conquer your fears?

Here’s some suggestions:

1) MAKE A PLAN

Let’s say you’ve come up with a super concept for a book, and you just happen to know the perfect publisher that might be interested in it. Once the key components of your proposal are in place, you should have a good idea of the work that will be involved and the general word count. Now take that number and play with it. How many words a day would you need to write to finish the project in three months? How about six, or even twelve months? Which timeline seems most feasible for you? Keeping these numbers where you can see them should help convince, and reassure you, that you can make this book happen.

2) USE CONCRETE EXAMPLES

It’s easy to let your imagination run away with you when dealing with worst-case scenarios. But think back on an actual moment when you were successful. This doesn’t have to be about writing. It can be about anything really. How did it go? How did you deal with the unexpected?

For me, that moment came when my first novel was accepted. I was afraid I would not be able to meet the revision deadlines. My editor was behind schedule and by the time she sent back her first round of comments, the final deadline was right around the corner. Although I suffered a few hair-raising moments, along with having to make do with less sleep during that time, I managed to be prompt and thorough. In the end, everything worked itself out. Best of all, I proved to myself that it could be done!

3) SEE HOW OTHERS HAVE HANDLED YOUR FEARS

The best way to learn is through others’ experiences. The world is filled with examples of both success and failure. If you have a concern about anything, look it up or ask someone who might know the solution.

I first came across the answer to my own fears in Nancy I. Sanders’ book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. Near the beginning, Sanders talks about gaining confidence when proposing books to editors. Deciding to tackle her own uncertainties, she wrote three book manuscripts in a genre she had never tried before but which interested her. She did all this while continuing to work on her other writing projects. In the process, she learned each book took her a year to write. When she finally pitched an editor with a new idea in that same genre, she ended up landing a four-book deal for a new series. When the subject of deadlines came up, she told the editor it would take her one year to complete each book. His answer: “No problem.” Talk about putting your fears to rest! (By the way, I highly recommend Sanders’ book. It contains lots of examples on how to break down the time you have to suit your writing goals.)

Whatever your fears about success may be, take the time to analyze them. The more you take them apart, the less likely they’ll hold you back – and the more successful you’ll be!

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!