The Indie’s dilemma: Achieving a work-life-writing balance!

If you are an Indie author, you’d be well aware of this dilemma: how to manage your time both efficiently and effectively to achieve a successful outcome.
Looking back on 2011 and the beginning of 2012, I can safely say that I did not spend my time efficiently or effectively when it came to my writing goals.  Unfortunately we mortals have a limited number of hours per day and a finite number of days per week to juggle between your actual job (i.e. the interference that pays the bills…), life (family, friends, partners, social life, sport, chores), managing your author platform (refer tip below: facebook, twitter, goodreads, your blog… even if you have an agent!) and lest we forget, actual writing (write, edit, publish)! It is very easy to fall into the main pitfalls that will hold you back from achieving your goal: becoming a full-time, successful author! And I have fallen into the traps. Repeatedly (just to make sure I fell into them, I suppose…). But I've also found the solution...
Fortunately (because not many do), I came to the realization that I needed to change my behaviors if I wanted to achieve my goal of becoming a successful, full-time author. What I really needed was an excellent time management routine. It sounds simple, right? Then why did I struggle? Did I just try too hard? Did I not perhaps value my writing efforts enough? Or did I not yet appreciate what I needed to do to become an author. Why was the time I spent on my writing efforts not efficient or effective?
Let’s start off by explaining what I mean by efficient and effective time management. When looking at the time you have available to spend on your writing endeavors, I believe the goal should be the following:
  • Efficient time management: Spending the time you have available in the best possible manner, with the least waste of time and effort. In other words, don’t just do something for the sake of staying busy, but perform the activity in the best possible way you can. If you ask yourself the question after spending time: “Could I have done it better?” your answer should be NO. Otherwise your time was not spent efficiently.
  • Effective time management: When you spend your available time, make sure that you spend enough time to accomplish a specific purpose AND that you achieve the intended goals. If you ask yourself the question: “Could I have done more?” your answer should be NO! Otherwise your time was not spent effectively.
In the second half of 2012 I spent quality time to identify my time-robbers, in other words, everything that reduced my time-management efficiency and effectiveness and held me back. By the end of October I thought I had a system in place, but I needed to test this. Which was much easier than I had thought: I entered Nanowrimo 2012! I thought, if I could write 50k words in a single month despite my hectic job-life schedule, then my system would prove itself.
I guess I now have a system that works: I won Nanowrimo 2012!
Let’s move on and focus on the main pitfalls that caused me to lose efficiency and effectiveness.  Off course the list of pitfalls can be long, and yours might be different from mine. I managed to sort my time--robbers into these three classes:
1) Deer caught in the headlights syndrome: Do you know the expression? Google it, but in essence, when a deer / rabbit gets caught up in your car’s headlights, they become hypnotized / paralyzed with fear and can’t seem to react or take speedy evasive action – often with fatal results. As an Indie writer without an agent / publisher, I found myself overwhelmed by the creative writing industry. There’s so much to learn, and so many sources to learn from. You can spend days and countless hours on the Internet researching the art of writing, editing, publishing etc, and fail to actually write. Procrastination becomes your middle name, the weight of the writing journey rests heavier and heavier on your shoulders and you achieve less and less. You might focus on so many things that you need to do, that you actually get to do none. You might steal an hour out of your busy schedule to do stuff, just to realize at the end of the hour that you have not achieved what you wanted. The only way the deer can avoid being hit, is to close her eyes and step aside. Out of the spotlight and into the shade where she can think and act. That’s in essence what a time-management routine will allow you to do: To prioritize and focus on the activities you need to spend time on, when you need to spend time on them. And then to make sure you use the time wisely.
2) Getting stuck on establishing your author platform: You don’t know what an author platform is? Then start with this blog by Joanne Penn (The Creative Penn) and make sure you also study the 31 trackbacks listed at the very end of the blog post). Now that you appreciate the importance of an author platform, you’ll agree that establishing one will not come easy. It’s not good enough to have just your Amazon author page. No, you need Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, a blog… So, off to create The Platform. If you’re not a technophobe, you may have difficulties to massage these sites to your liking and may spend countless hours to get the look just right (unless you want to spend good money to have others help you). Now what? Now you have to get followers, friends, subscribers. And you can’t just buy them. You need to find your target audience then engage with them through tweets, likes or comments. You need to post reviews; write interesting articles about you or your writing (not your novel, just side-line stuff) that will make others like and retweet you and spread the word to make you famous! HOURS will be spent on this activity, and every hour you spend is an hour you could have written another 1000 words! A structured time-management routine will help you prioritize your activities to make sure you get to write your novel. After all, you cannot be an author if you don’t produce novels…
3) Procrastination: Oh hell, this one requires no explanation. Procrastination can come in so many forms, e.g. you open the laptop to write et voila, you have nothing to type (writer’s block); you spend countless hours editing and polishing the novel before you’ve even finished it – preventing you to write to the end; you mysteriously discover a critical chore just as you sit down to write, distracting you from the keyboard; you just have to make a quick cup of coffee before you write, then discover the television, iPad or phone; you’ve published a novel but Amazon (or others) distract you – you check the sales reports every 5 minutes; you read your reader reviews and get distracted by negative comments etc. In my case I found the main reasons for procrastination three-fold: I have not outlined my objectives clearly; I suffered from deer caught in headlights syndrome; I got stuck on establishing my platform… And so the vicious circle continued. Having established a strict time-management routine, I reduced the opportunity for procrastination and find that I have more time to produce novels.
So, you ask, what is my routine? First off, this routine helps me to write my second novel. Once the novel is finished (goal is end of January 2013) and I enter the editing phase, I’ll adjust my routine to cater for the editing functions rather than writing ones.
Weekends:
  • No writing. Spend time with friends and family, catch up on chores (unless you have this compelling urge to let the words out – by no means do not hold yourself back! But do not let your writing interfere with the tasks below).
  • Set your writing objectives for next week. This might involve a high-level plot; a chapter outline etc. Don’t ever entirely give up on your novel when you don’t write. Keep a notebook handy to capture those riveting thoughts that do sometimes pop up.
  • Do your research for next week’s writing (unless you write historical fiction, then you may want to do more research per writing day in addition to your quota). This helps you to focus on the writing goals for next week’s writing.
  • Dive into your author platform. Make updates and spread the joy of likes, comments and tweets. Make new friends, defriend those who don’t support you; plan your blogs and tweets for the week and schedule them (yip, you don’t have to tweet / blog daily, but can use software to schedule your updates).
  • Sunday, before the weekend is over, check out your sales numbers and rankings. This is either an excellent way to end the weekend on a high note, or strong motivation to write more during the week and get the next novel out!
Monday – Friday:
  • Establish a writing quota (mine is 1,500 – 2,500 words per day), then write the quota daily at your own pace. Read my blog on writer’s block for a view on how I frame my writing routine.
  • DO NOT force yourself to do more than your quota per day (unless it flows). Instead, establish a consistent daily pace and routine rather than trying to make up for the week’s quota on a Friday.
  • DO NOT check Amazon (or other) sales reports or rankings. Leave this for a Sunday treat and don’t spend too much thought on negative reviews. Read my blog on this topic.
  • DO NOT touch your author platforms (author emails, facebook, blog, twitter etc), unless you have already written your quota for the day (not before). And then, do not spend more than 30 minutes on the platform per day (otherwise you’ll get hooked and spend too much time on it). Exception: If you just cannot get yourself to write because of a heavy work day etc, chill, grab a glass of wine and attack your author platform with gusto!
Monthly:
  • Throughout the month, plan and plot to write at least 1 blog article of interest that can be shared across your author platforms. This will definitely help to establish your platform and give your target audience a view of your interests.
During Nanowrimo 2012 I found the above basic routine works for me. It helps me to prioritize my activities and focus on what I need to do. When I have an hour spare, I can use the hour efficiently (i.e. focus on the activity I need to do) and effectively (achieve the outcome I planned, e.g. writing my quota).
Perhaps I don’t spend as much time on my author platform as others do, but the one thing I’ve learnt is that you can only be an author if you have novels to show for it; and novels only come about if you keep on writing!
With this routine, I plan to finish my second novel by end of January 2013; to edit and polish the novel in February – March 2013 and publish by the end of March 2013!
I’d love to hear your comments on my thoughts!

2 comments:

  1. Great advice - thanks! I am working on my second novel and suffering from trying to establish a platform for my first novel which is out in February, do a house renovation, look after my kids during school holidays, chair a community project, write my own blog as well as writing the second novel! Sometimes it's overwhelming and hard to prioritise. Once my kids are back in school and I can establish a routine I am going to try out your schedule.

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  2. Greetings; I loved your article. I think every writer has experienced this dilemma. I admire all the writers who have written a book. It literally is a work of blood, sweat and tears, sacrifice, frustration and disappointment. Often a writer feels lonely, insecure and intimidated. Like going through a hard, birthing canal, the process can be painful. You wonder what drives them; their masochistic desire to write words on paper. The answer is passion. Like the salmon who suffer unbelievable obstacles swimming upstream; so is the writer driven to write. It’s a natural instinct he/she was born with. They can’t help it, like an addiction to a drug, when they’re not writing, their thinking about writing.
    So I write amidst chaos and noise in my kitchen. Dinner is cooking on the stove, grandchildren dogs, husband all need my attention. Sleep . . . what’s that? Every waking moment I have I try to write. And yes it is all in nano-seconds. Needless to say, I have a number of unfinished manuscripts collecting dust in the closet. So I applaud all the writers out there. Well done
    I am looking forward to reading your books. Congratulations

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