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Multiple Projects

Working on multiple at one time is something I am very accustomed too.  Having worked as a manager and business owner for many years, I am well aware of the difficulties involved in multitasking.  However, until this month, I wasn’t aware of how hard it would be to do that with my writing.  You see, before this month, I had only one work in progress at a time.

I think more of my problems come because I am typically not an outline writer.  I don’t create and outline to work from, I just type.  Well, that also makes the ideas stored in my mind a bit harder to track.  There where a few things I was already doing that helped dramatically and there are some things I learned recently.

Juggle

Being an writer, and doing it a lot, is like juggling chain saws on a unicycle while up on the tight-rope.  If you don’t know what you are doing someone is bound to get hurt, and it will likely be you.

You may be planning to only work on one project at a time.  That you will complete one manuscript and move on to the next.  While, I don’t think you should do that, I can respect that.  But, there are still some other things to consider.  Lets look at what I juggle right now (and this is just writing related).

  • Novel A
  • Ideas for Novel B
  • Ideas for Novel C
  • Short Story A
  • Ideas for Short Story B, C, D, E, F, and G
  • Critiques and edits for Short Story A
  • Copy editing for Children’s Book
  • Keeping track of illustrator’s progress on Children’s Book
  • Researching best publishers for Children’s Book
  • Writer’s Group meetings
  • Critiques and edits for the works of writers in my writing group
  • Self Publishing research
  • Weekly Blog Updates
  • Webpage Management
  • Twitter Updates (to promote myself)
  • Facebook Page Updates (to promote myself)
  • Self Promotion
  • Planing to see if I can attend OSC’s Boot camp
  • Submission tracking
  • Short Story Market research

I am sure I have already forgotten a few things.  But, that is a lot.  Most of it has little to do with writing multiple projects at once.  The funny thing is, it didn’t become overwhelming until I tried writing my short story while working on the Novel.  The fact of the matter is that I refuse to trim back on any of this (and I still have personal obligations as well).  Each of these things is enriching and rewarding to my craft and my future in the craft.

So, let me share with you what it is that I have learned.

Organize

Organization is absolutely key to surviving the onslaught of things I need to do.

Schedule. I use my Google calendar like crazy.  It links with my android phone and my wife’s Google Calendar.  Aside from the list above, it keeps track of my kids’ appointments, my wife’s appointments, my personal appointments, my volunteer appointments, and my writing appointments.

Story notes.  I know I said that I don’t outline.  But often while I am writing one scene an idea comes up for a future scene in the same work.  So I have a file on my computer called “Story Notes” and on it I keep track of my daily word count, ideas for future scenes, characters (and their quirks), and much more.  It helps me to refresh my memory when I open my novel, especially after working on another project.

Ideas notebook.  Every good writer needs an ideas notebook of some type.  Maybe its a file on your phone.  Maybe it is a little notepad.  Whatever it is, you need to be able to carry it with you everywhere.  Ideas hit me at the weirdest times, from the middle of the night to the drive to the kids’ schools.  This gives me the ability to write them down.  Many of them don’t work out to a story right away, but recently two separate ideas merged when I was flipping through that notebook.  That became Short Story A that I mentioned above.

Submission Tracking.  If you are not tracking your submissions, you will be in big trouble.  I currently have two short stories out at different markets, and one more that will be going out soon.  The worst thing that could happen to those would be for me to forget about them or to even confuse them.  You might forget you sent one to a market already and resubmit it to them (wasting your time and theirs) or you might skip a market thinking you already sent it there.  I use Duotrope, it’s free and it works well.

Folders.  Organize your computer’s writing folders in one spot.  This keeps your works together while also making back up easier.  I have one folder called “writings” (original I know).  In that folder, I have a folder for novels, short stories, contracts, and the miscellaneous files.  I can drag and drop the ‘writings’ folder onto my Passport hard drive for simple back up.  Also, when I decide I want to write on a particular piece, I find it quickly.

Project Tracking.  It might be a cork board in your office.  It could be a program on your computer.  But you need to keep track of what projects are where and when was the last time you worked on them.  Set up three categories for your works in progress:  Writing, Editing, and Submitting.  Each project should be under one of those categories.  And, keep a date attached to it.  Otherwise, you may keep writing the newest thing while your other piece sits and collects virtual dust waiting for the edits.

Time Management

Time management is important.  You can’t expect to get everything done in every day.  There are only so many hours in a day.  I don’t plan out every hour of every day.  Life with three little boys doesn’t work like that.  Instead, I only plan for a few activities each day.  If I can get more done then great.

Check the Calendar.  Don’t tell yourself you will write for three hours today, when the Calendar says you have to be at the Doctor’s at noon, take the car in for an oil change at three, and you have a volunteer meeting at six.  With everything else you have to do, three hours of writing is not practical on that day.  But, perhaps you can fit in some smaller activities in between.

Know what fits.  I can’t write for one hour.  It’s just not how I work.  I have to write out a whole chapter and once I get going, there will be no stopping me.  So I know that I can’t sit down and write during the hour between when my two older kids get out of school.  I’m setting myself up for failure if I do that.  I do know, that I can read during that time.  So, I often sit in the car and read.

The point is, the first step to failing at multiple projects is assigning the wrong projects for the wrong times.  For example, my wife has the kids today.  She handles getting them to school and home.  That means I can focus on my writing today.  You won’t see much from me on Facebook or Twitter.  But, Wednesday through Friday you will see a lot more for me on the social networks because I can easily squeeze in a quick tweet or post while I am making lunch or entertaining the kids.  Every day you should work on your craft, but that doesn’t mean that everyday you have to type in a manuscript.  Take your weekly writing to-do list and plug it in around your life.

The best-laid plans of mice and men.  Plan on forgetting something.  Listen, you are human.  I know that may come as a surprise to you, but you will forget something you wanted to do.  Yesterday I forgot to write this blog post.  Even with all the plans in the world, something will be forgotten.  If it was a crucial line in your manuscript you can go back and add it.  If it was to even write, there is always a chance to make up for it tomorrow.  When I first pledged to write 1,000 words a day no matter what, I knew I would miss a day or two.  So, I have revised that plan to be an average of 1,000 words a day.  Much easier to manage.

Just know that you can’t do it all in one day, or even in a week.

Priorities.  Get your priorities down now.  And writing shouldn’t be number one.  Your life should be first.  Once you know what is important to you, you can better plan what needs to go where in your schedule.  Writing is very important to me, but my family is always first.  My own sanity is next.  So on a busy day, I may not plan to write in the hour I have to myself.  I may plan for a game or to zone out on the TV.   I won’t be writing anytime my kids deserve my attention.  I won’t be writing anytime the San Jose Sharks are playing.

Writing can’t be number one in out lives.  Recognize that, and place it where it really falls.  Then plan around that.  Your priorities change daily depending on what else needs to be done that day.  Once you get into a rhythm of your own priorities and schedule you will quickly realize there are certain days you won’t be writing in that manuscript but you may have time for reading, editing, promotions, and of course ideas come at their own times.   But, you will also see when you can maximize the writing time you do have with minimal distractions and without letting it consume your life.

Know your own limits

If you can’t juggle two tennis balls on the ground, I don’t recommend the tight-rope stunt above.  I know that I am just getting started in this multiple writing projects realm.  So, even though I have an idea for the next novel, I won’t start writing it until this current one is at least into editing.  I did put together a short story while I was writing this novel.  It is still waiting for it’s first round of edits.

I knew that one novel at a time is my current limit.  I also knew that I needed to push myself just a bit and try writing a short story while I was still working on another project.  It’s okay to push those limits just a bit from time to time.  But over doing it will result in burn-out and the possibility of dropping the craft all together.  That is something to be avoided.

Summary

In the end, I can’t tell you what will work for you.  You may not like my ideas, but I can hopefully point you in the right direction.  If you organize yourself, manage your time, and know your own limits; you can juggle all that life has to offer and still get your writing done.

As always share your ideas in the comments section below.  Let the readers know what works for you, and I am always willing to learn something new myself.

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The Author Who doesn’t Read

Don’t worry, I am not one of those.  In fact, it was reading that inspired me to write.  However, it amazes me how many aspiring writers who have told me they can’t read.  Not because they are illiterate, but because it “gets in the way” of their writing.  Some have even told me they don’t like to read.  Others write in a genre they never read or don’t like to read.  This really amazes me.

An Author who doesn’t read is like a painter who has never seen art.

Reading can not get in the way of your writing career.  It has to be part of it.  It doesn’t matter what you write, you need to know the genre.  This is true for many reasons.

  • Writing is an art, you can learn a lot from other prose.  You can see what you like, and what you hate.
  • Reading expands your own knowledge.  Even if you read fiction you learn a lot about punctuation, dialogue, and even a few new words.
  • If you are trying to get published you will learn what publishers are buying.  This is also true for short stories, you can learn a lot about what an editor likes by reading their magazines.  It will save you a lot of time with submissions if you see that publication doesn’t much care for your style.

Recently I noticed my reading time had fallen by the way side.  I am behind on my favorite magazine.  My solution, I bought two more books.  I have now made it a point to make time to read every day.  At the very least I read the story of the day on Daily Science Fiction.  They email me a story every weekday, and of course who can resist reading email.  I can’t.

If you hate to read, don’t write.  If you think you will get rich, you are wrong.  If you don’t read a particular genre, don’t write in it either.  You don’t know the genre, write in a genre you read.  Or , pick up a few books from the genre you are writing in, and see what they are like.  I hate nothing more than the aspiring Sci-Fi writers who think it’s all about spaceships and geeks.

Next, no matter what genre you write, for me it is Science Fiction (mostly), you need to read other genres.  I have read the classics, Romance (ugh), Horror, Westerns, and many others.  Some I have liked, others I hated.  With the exception of Romance, I have found at least one novel in every genre I have read that I like.  Even better, each of the books I read (even the Romance ones) made my Science Fiction writing better.

Last, you have to read some non-fiction too.  Writing help books, current events, even the newspaper are all good things.  Once thing about Science Fiction is that you really have to understand the workings of our current world in order to create new ones or speculate how ours might be changed in the future.

The Author who does not read, will ultimately fail.  While writing is time-consuming you have to dedicate some of that time to reading.

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Writing and Family Life

I didn’t write a blog post yesterday.  I had every intention of doing so, but I also have a great family and they needed my attention yesterday as well.  My two older boys had their first ever soccer practice, the wife and I had to meet with some people to talk about Life Insurance.  Then of course I had to have play time with the kids and cook dinner, and on and on and on.  Not exactly exciting stuff but it all piled up into a nice pile of excuses (valid ones) to not write anything.  No blog post and no story work.  Opps!

My fellow writers out there with kids know exactly what I mean.  So last night as I was laying in bed, kicking myself for not writing, I thought this would be a great topic for today’s post.

Writing with Kids!

When I first started writing for my own fun, I had no kids.  I would write for hours into the wee hours of the night.  I would put down thousands of words a day, easy.  Then my first son was born.  Having a child is one of the best things that can ever happen in your life.  My beautiful wife did all the hard work giving birth to all three of our children.  I was working so she even took care of most of the late night needs of a baby each and every time.  She is an amazing woman.

Well something else happened with the miracle of becoming a Dad.  The days suddenly got shorter.  There was not longer 24 hours in day, I am pretty sure time accelerates.  I would wake up in the morning with every intention of getting all my daily tasks done, including writing.  And then I would eat breakfast, and just like that it was time for bed.  I am sure something happened in between breakfast and going to bed, but it was all a blur.  Two years later, my middle child was born, and two years after that my youngest.  Time had now sped up exponentially with each child.  I no longer ate breakfast.  I woke up, did a bunch of things all related to child care (none of which I remember) and then I went back to bed.

Needless to say, writing never seemed to happen.  Days turned to weeks, weeks to month, and next thing I knew my oldest son was five years old and going to Kindergarten.  I know what you are thinking, I thought it too.  I can write while he is in school!  Well I have a two other sons, who need my time.  And you would be amazed how much of my time they need.

But I needed my writing time too.  My craft was for me, and I needed some me time.  At the same time I had some other epiphanies at the same time and really began to look into writing.  My passion for writing had bloomed, but now I needed to find the time.  The great people of my writer’s group has a lot of great ideas.

Some get up early before the kids and get an hour in that way.  The problem is, I am just to damn lazy to get up any earlier then I have to.  In most cases, laziness beats determination especially when you have three young boys who never stop sucking the energy from you.  So that option was out for me.  It may work for you, and if you want to try it… go right ahead.  I will pass.

Some suggested waiting for the kids to go to bed for the night.  But my wife works twelve hour days and the only time I get with her is after they go to bed.  Did I mention she is a beautiful woman?  So the last thing I want to do is spend time with my keyboard over her.  She is fully supportive of my art and would likely let me write to my hearts content, but I am a man too.  And as a man I want to spend time with her too.

Others simply wrote while their kids play around them.  I am a paranoid Dad.  The second the house in quiet, I panic.  My house is never quiet.  And as soon as they see me distracted they find something they should not have and they get quiet.  They think they can get away with it because Dad is busy.  Well when I write, I can’t have distractions.  The words come to mind far faster then I can type them (and I type at a decent speed).  Stopping every few minutes to put on the black and white stripes to referee the latest toy dispute distracted me to much.

Of course there was nap time.  In the early years that did not work.  When all three kids are asleep I was playing catch up on the house work.  The stuff you don’t want to do around kids because the seem to some how ruin it.  You know the toy the never play with so you pick it up and now they want to use it.  Or the dishes they see you doing, and now they need a snack (three boys always need snack).  And now, my two older boys don’t even take a nap.  So, that takes a lot of work.

Any of these tips may work for you, but not for me.  But I still needed to write.

So what did I do?

The idea actually came from my mom.  As she so often does, she has ideas for everything.  I suppose its her nearly thirty years of Mommy experience.  She suggested that when my little one goes for his nap, I impose “Quite time” to help the older two relax.  So we did that.

It wasn’t to long into this that an idea came to mind.  I should share my writing time with my kids.  I hear you all yelling at me right now.  “YOU IDIOT YOU JUST SAID YOU CAN’T DO THAT!!”  First, don’t yell at me.  Second, I mean to actually share the quiet time as art time.

So, I put my little one to nap.  Then I start the two older children on their homework.  This is when I work on picking up the house, doing the dishes, and helping with my kids homework.  After that we continue quiet time with “art time.”

They color, draw picture and read books.  I write.  For two hours we do this.  We stop and share with each other.  Mostly they show me what they draw or tell me what they read.  But sometimes we work together.  My oldest boy and I put together a children’s story.  And I am working to have it published very soon.  Its like a writing group with my kids.

Share in the passions you have with your kids.  Art is to important and too many kids don’t get it in school anymore.  I have completed a lot more writing sharing the time with my kids, and they are enriching their minds with books, arts, and crafts.  They need the time away from the TV.  You never know what they may become in the future and the art time may be what they need.

Family is always first, that will never change for me.  And it should be the same for you.  But, family time does not have to trump writing time.  It can be shared.

Does this work for me?  Yes.  Your results may vary.

If you have kids you have to fit your writing (or other art) around, please comment bellow on how you do it.  I would love to know.

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