We finished the annual anthology workshop on Saturday. Forty professional (or professional quality) writers, gathering for a weeklong discussion of the fiction they wrote, and networking, and all kinds of fun things. Lots of great discussions on what makes good fiction. Lots of great discussions of craft and art and short fiction in general.
Lots of great discussions on the changes that are looming into the future. Lots of great discussions on how to work in this new world. Lots of laughter as well.
(There are a few slots left in 2018’s anthology workshop, but they’re going fast.)
I took the day after the workshop off to rest and recover (hard-learned experience there). I read something not workshop related, watched a little TV, got my steps, and mostly didn’t talk to people. As one of our editors said, she had talked more that week than she had in the six months previous. It wasn’t that dramatic for me, but it was socializing, and I’m an introvert. So I’m tired.
The week before, I finished a novella, and the first draft of a novel (I’ll get to that in a minute.) I finished a blog post (the one on chronic health), and did a few newsletters.
I had adopted a new system to increase my productivity and damn if it wasn’t working.
But…and you knew there would be a but, didn’t you? Having finished February’s projects, I felt I could shut off the schedule brain for a week or so. Which I did.
Then the workshop and the day off, and I find myself here, on the Monday after the workshop, ready to write the scheduled blog, and realizing that I hadn’t given anything writing related the kind of in-depth thought that leads to these blogs.
I even looked at the note I left myself for today and didn’t understand it. I have since figured it out and also realized that I don’t have enough information to write that particular blog.
I spent my first session organizing myself (I do that after a long [for me] hiatus), and that sent me into a screaming panic, because I had forgotten that March started almost a week ago! How could I have missed that? (9 days of 16 hours of socializing, work, and barely sleeping, that’s how.)
I am calmer now, less distracted, but still out of focus. I figure it’ll probably take me the next two days of quiet to figure out exactly where I stand on everything. Which I had planned for, kinda sorta, but only as happening on the first of March, not the sixth of March.
(Yes, I’m a date-challenged airhead. Yes, I’ve had this problem before. Yes, it drives me crazy. Yes, I have work-arounds—except when I dump them because I’m busy…)
Like the last time I wrote a process blog, at the end of December, I am writing this blog to figure out what I’m doing. Only then, I was figuring out my year. Now I’m just trying to get myself back on track—even though I haven’t really gone off the rails yet.
After I wrote that blog, I built a new structure for 2017. Rather than think about all I wanted to do, and work on a daily word count to get to all of those goals, I looked at my year, figured out how much time I had given all the commitments I had made to non-writing things, and then figured out how much I could accomplish.
I was initially disappointed—how was I going to get to favorite projects, given how little time I actually had? Then I realized that, in the past, I got frustrated at my lack of time stretched out through the year, and by the fall, I had essentially given up on any goals at all, because doing everything was impossible.
I always reset on January 1, and that was no different from the past. So I decided to see if this new method would work.
It worked spectacularly in January and February. I hit all of my goals, although I did have to double-up on a few days because I had fallen ill early in January. While I accounted for illness, I hadn’t accounted for that long of an illness. Fortunately, it was at the start of the month, and I could make some of that time up.
In February, I not only accomplished my goals, but I accomplished them before my deadline, leaving me time to do a few extra things. That surprised me.
And now, I’ve lost a week in March—which was planned. The fact that I planned for it calmed me right down this afternoon. I had to refresh myself on all that I wanted to accomplish this month, and even though I was panicked about time when I started, I realized that I had been realistic about what I could do, and it was possible—if I stayed on schedule.
In other words, the schedule saved my bacon today. It saved me from a daylong dither which, when I look back at my calendars for all the previous years, was pretty standard for the days after the anthology workshop in the past.
So what, exactly, did I do at the first of the year?
I buy a lot of calendars—nine, to be exact—and I use them in different parts of the house. I also use my computer’s calendar as a back up and to have reminders ping me throughout the day.
In the leather-bound desk dairy that sits beside my writing computer, I always write down my goals for the week, and then I write down what I have accomplished at the end of every day.
This time, I used the desk dairy to help me plan. I marked off my travel (none), the meetings I have, the workshops that I teach, and all the other things that take actual time away from the desk.
First, I wrote down everything I wanted to accomplish this year. All the books outstanding, all the short stories I promised, all the blogs I will write, and all the random nonfiction that I do but don’t really count throughout the year.
That list went on for pages. I suddenly understood why I felt overwhelmed every year. I had done this by feel ever since I left traditional publishing, and “by feel” doesn’t work for me, much as I want it to.
So, I let the muse decide. Which projects did my muse label urgent? She gave me a shorter list, but still longer than I could accomplish during the year. I reminded the muse that I had some projects that were what romance writers call “stories of the heart,” and she could decide those on the fly because I was going to block time for those. She could also decide what short stories I wrote if I didn’t have a looming deadline.
I also (sneakily) promised her that if I sped up as a writer, she could get more free time. If you picture me and my muse wrapped in a series of mind games, like 3-dimensional chess played over decades, you’ll get close to the way we work together.
The muse came up with three large projects, including one I’ve been putting off for years. I then had to plan, to see if they would fit into the schedule I was building.
I want you to note that I did not choose what I was going to do based on what my readers are clamoring for, or what sells the best according to the numbers I get every month. That way lies burnout. If I’m not enjoying myself, if I’m not entertained, I will quickly find something else to do or to write.
Once I had my big 2017 projects, then I figured out all the other stuff I had to do. First, I wrote down things that had to be done every week. Beside this blog, I wrote tick-tick-tick because Thursday rolls around whether I like it or not. I also planned to do video/audio/podcast things in 2017, and I figured I had time every Sunday for that.
Then I backed up to monthly. I listed a short story per month as a goal (with “minimum” marked beside it), a novel per month, and a newsletter because that’s writing.
Then I separated out the weird deadlines by the month they’re due. I write a bimonthly column for the Grantville Gazette. I also write interstitials and forewords for some Fiction Rivers. I do a bunch of other things like that, all of which can be planned. So I added those into the mix. I did realize I had to dump the audio/podcast/video for the front part of the year because WMG rearranged its offices, and I need to set up my office again. (I hate that, I really do.) It’ll take too much time if I tried to set up the office and do the work. (Sigh.)
Armed with my list, I approached each month as an individual item. First, I examined those months. How many writing days did I have? I blocked off one day for meetings (which I have at WMG), and another one for a day off. So, five days per week times the available weeks. For example, I planned to lose one full week in March to the workshop, which left me with 22 possible writing days.
Then I figured out what, exactly, I needed to do.
First I plotted how many blog posts I needed. (March is especially lovely. I have to have five instead of the usual four.) I figured out how much time I would need for the short stories, given the assignments. (Some might not be so short.)
I figured one day per blog, and 3,000 words per day on each short story, although I never figured a short story in one day (just because I didn’t want that kind of pressure).
Then I gave myself at least one day per week for a project of the heart. (Some months that was four days; other months it was five; one month it was three.)
So, looking at March, for example, I had four days budgeted for the heart project, five days for the blog, and three days for a (rather long) short story.
That gave me 12 days of writing something other than the book project I’m working on. The math works like this:
22 writing days – 12 days = 10 days for the novel.
In February (which had fewer writing days), I ended up bunching the projects together—so that the novel work was all in one sprint. In January, I divided everything by week. So I was flexible within the month, as long as I hit my days.
The other thing that I did in January and February, and which I continued for March, was that I wrote down the goals on my leather-bound desk calendar—in red, in a little box on the side of the weekly page. As I finished part of the work, I would change the numbers.
For example, after I finish this blog post, I’ll cross off 5 blog posts and write in 4. Next week, when I draw the little box, I’ll write 4 blog posts instead of 5. (And, with luck, cross off one of those posts.)
I can see my progress, then, in real time. Which is working for me.
In January and February, I stayed at my desk later to finish words because I wanted to hit the monthly goals. I also didn’t stress about being behind when I was, because I could adjust the rest of the week.
It turns out that I didn’t work more, but I was more effective when I was at my desk, because I had broken down the goals into manageable chunks.
Not project-chunks. But monthly and weekly chunks.
So far, that’s working for me. And having March already plotted out made re-entry into the writing after 9 days away much, much easier.
I’m not setting unrealistic goals, and I’m hitting the goals I have.
I have no idea if this new schedule will continue to work for me. I’ve got a reassessment point on my calendar at the end of this quarter. But we’ll see. If March is as good as February and January (provided I don’t get some hideous cold like I did two years ago), then this new system will work for me.
I can tell you one thing. Having the new system has made me happier. I actually feel like I’m accomplishing things, instead of treading water or going backwards.
Or drowning in projects.
I suspect I’ll always have more projects in mind than I can actually do in the time allotted me on this good Earth. But right now, I feel like I’m actually giving the scheduled projects a shot without constraining myself from coming up with something new.
That’s progress for me. I’d been groping toward a system once I stopped selling novels into traditional publishing which gave me external deadlines around which I could build my calendar.
Fingers crossed that this is the system. The first two months seem to indicate that it is. I’m hoping that little streak will continue.
I’m still trying to get ahead on blog posts while my brain is a bit fried from workshops. I have another workshop coming up in April, and if I can bank a couple of blogs, then I will feel better about what I’m doing.
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“Business Musings: The Second 2017 Process Blog,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2017 by Can Stock Photo / AndreyPopov