It’s important for writers to read, and many writers make an annual reading list of what books to read.
But because I need to push myself to read, my overarching requirement is that the book interests me. This limits the range of what I read, which is not a good thing, but it’s better than not reading at all. So my first goal is to read what entertains me, or sometimes, what educates me.
My second goal is to identify what I like—so I can apply it to my own work—and don’t like—so that I can avoid it.
Third, I look at what keeps me turning pages and what tempts me to skim—or stop reading altogether. Again, this informs my own writing.
Fourth, I look for writing that confuses me. How would I edit that section?
Last, I listen to my editor’s internal commentary. Since I do a lot of editing as a periodical publisher, I can’t just turn off that part of my brain when I read—even though I try. Despite this, I remain mindful of the big issues: the flow of the work, the beginning, the end, the order of the chapters, and so forth.
As I do this, I’m vigilant about not emulating the author’s style or voice.
Writers struggle to find time to write, but the solution is simple
I commonly hear writers complain that they don’t have time to write. Some say “no time” and others say “not enough time.” Time, it seems, stands as the enemy of writing.
Yet the fact remains that everyone has twenty-four hours in their day. From the busiest person to the least active, we each have twenty-four hours to use—one way or another. Some of this time goes for eating and sleeping. And if you work, that takes up about a quarter of the week (forty out of 168 hours). But the rest of our hours are discretionary.
Yes, some of our discretionary time goes to extremely important things. Caring for children, paying bills, and grocery shopping come to mind. Yet even with these essentials, we exercise a degree of control over when we do them and how much time we spend.
If we intend to write, we need to make it happen. We must carve out time if we expect writing to occur. This requires sacrifice.
What will you give up so you can write?
I suspect everyone can scale back on watching TV and the social media time suck. We might socialize less, not be so worried about work around the house, or eliminate non-essential tasks.
Depending on where you are in your life and the scope of your responsibilities, you may only be able to free up a little bit of time for writing or maybe you can find more.
The worst thing, however, is to put your writing on hold. I can guarantee you that if you’re too busy to write now, you’ll be too busy to write next week, next month, and next year. And don’t put writing off until retirement. I hear retirees become even busier, which is one reason I don’t plan on retiring.
I am a writer. Writing is a priority. I make sacrifices so that I have time to write. I do this every day, every week, every month, every year. And as I do, my word count grows.
Finding time to write is simple. Implementation is hard. We make sacrifices and give up other things so we can write.
We need a realistic view of our history to plan a reasonable vision for our future
My wife sometimes says I view things as though my glass is only half-full, that I’m pessimistic. I counter that I’m simply being a realist, but the truth is I’m not sure who’s right. Perhaps a bit of reality resides in both perspectives. So it is in viewing my past year as a writer.
As such, I share two perspectives:
Best Year Ever:
After years of talk, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. What a great experience.
I wrote two novels, the second one in about three weeks. (I’m still editing them both.)
My work as a commercial freelance writer really took off this year, with more clients, more work, and more income—all new records.
I grew my Twitter followers from 2,400 to 11,500, surpassing my year-end goal of 10,000. I’m enjoying good connections and engagement there.
I took LinkedIn seriously and made 100 posts to a growing audience of 2,300, which more than doubled in 2016.
I didn’t publish a book this year.
I didn’t win any writing contests.
I wasn’t published in any anthologies.
I didn’t accomplish my number one goal for 2016. (Which is now my number one goal for 2017.)
Work/life balance continues to elude me. (It’s even harder to achieve when you work at home.)
I could reasonably adopt either of these two perspectives as my primary view of 2016. While it’s easy to dwell on disappointments, missed goals, and wasted opportunities, a better outlook is to focus on what went great this year. Though I might need to reread this post to remind myself, I can truly say that 2016 was my best year ever, and I look forward to 2017 being even better.
As you review 2016, I encourage you to celebrate the mountains and not allow yourself to wallow in the valleys. Though everyone is at a different place as a writer, no one had a flawless year and everyone has something to celebrate. Focus on these things as you move into 2017.
When our carefully constructed world of work comes crashing down, follow these steps to reconstruct it
Writers are often amazed at the amount of writing I do on a daily and weekly basis. They ask how I manage to consistently stay productive. Part of it is my stage of life, part of it is discipline, and part of it is an illusion. The reality is I seldom feel like I am doing enough of the right things and that I am careening through life trying to juggle five items, while I’m only capable of three. I do this as I speed on a motorcycle…in the dark…without headlights. Then I hit a metaphoric wall, and everything stops. Okay, maybe this is a bit hyperbole, but you get the point.
Hitting the wall happens to me on occasion. This time it was a combination of over-commitment, too many deadlines, excessive optimism about my productivity, family priorities, time away from the office, and a strange sickness that required me to sleep more and robbed me of my concentration. It was like a house of cards, carefully constructed and most tenuous. My house of cards imploded. Kaboom!
Here is what I do when I hit the wall:
Pause: The first thing I do is put some things on pause. Exercise is one. Reading is another. Social media is a third. All are important, but none are essential. I can put them on hold for a few days.
Scale Back: What activities can I reduce? I don’t need to listen to as many podcasts as I do. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what I’m not getting to, I merely pare back the quantity, unsubscribing from some and skipping episodes of others. I also curtail my TV watching and entertainment.
Eliminate: To make my writing life sustainable, I also look for things to eliminate. At one time I had five blogs, each with a different focus and strategy. A few years ago I stopped posting on two of them and just now stopped the third one.
Say “No”: I like to help people and don’t want to disappoint anyone. But I need to remind myself that sometimes declining requests is in my best interest or I’m of no help to anyone.
Reprioritize: If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. What is the one truly important thing at this moment? I do it and then move on.
Restore a Buffer: When new opportunities arise I try to squeeze them in. Before I know it, I’m living a life with no cushion. I need to re-establish some buffer to leave room for the unexpected—because surprises do occur.
A few months ago, I saw my wall looming. I took action to protect myself, such as scaling back the frequency of one of my newsletters, saying “no” to some new opportunities, putting one critique group on hold, and curtailing the amount of time I invested in Twitter. These were all good changes, but they were not enough. All these corrections did was delay the inevitable.
Today I am reconstructing my work and my writing life, striving for balance, sustainability, and a saner schedule. It will take time, but I will bounce back—hopefully with fewer projects and less stress.
Having a firm due date provides authors with three essential benefits
Few people enjoy being confronted by a deadline. And due dates apply to writers perhaps more than most others. Deadlines harass us; they make us write when we’d rather do something else, something fun, important, or beneficial. Due dates force us to make sacrifices, too. But deadlines are not our enemy. They are our friends because of the offer us three key benefits.
1) Avoid Procrastination: Most people put off doing things, even important, essential tasks, such as a writer putting off writing. We call this procrastination. The reasons for this are many, and those who struggle with procrastination should explore the reasons behind it. Regardless, having a firm due date provides the motivation to avoid the ugly threat of procrastination. For example, I post on this blog each Saturday. This is my deadline—no excuses.
2) Avert Perfection: Another characteristic of many writers is an inner drive to make every word, phrase, and scene be exactly correct, to be perfect. Without deadlines, writers will continue to edit and tweak without end, day after day. A friend recently completed writing her novel. I asked how long she would spend editing it. Her simple answer spoke volumes: “Every day until it’s due.” Without a firm due date, she would have continued an endless pursuit of perfection.
3) Advance Production: When we hit deadlines we produce content, one piece at a time. Our writing production grows. Sometimes we see our submitted work published; other times, not. Regardless, these annoying, inconvenient deadlines cause our writing output to soar. Deadlines serve to expand our portfolio.
To realize these three advantages assumes that writers take deadlines seriously and don’t miss them. Otherwise, a due date becomes nothing more than a nagging distraction. We need to embrace deadlines for the benefits they produce and thank them for pushing us forward.
Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter.Sign up today!