The answer is so simple and something you've heard so many times. You're going to say, "Really? Is it really that easy?" And my answer is, "Yes. Yes it is." Bear with me a moment.
I've been a full-time writer since May of 2013. This is my job now, and like with any business entity, I'm learning how to function as a business, right down to creating a business plan and a company structure. Of course, my structure at the moment is little ol' me, but even I need structure. And in the last few days, I've learned that structure is everything.
For me, a schedule usually means filling a room, or in this case, my mind, with unusable clutter that bogs me down. As a writer, I'm a creative entity. Schedules don't serve me. They stunt my creative flow because they make me think about what I have to do next. So, schedules and I don't mix well.
However, I learned today that structure and I get along fabulously.
Last week, I took a free course called How to Write 50 Books a Year! by sisters Elle James and Delilah Devlin. Fifty books in a year!?!? I know, that's impossible, but that doesn't mean we can't aspire to write more than we do.
Here's what I learned from the class that helped me blow my daily writing goal out of the water this morning (more on that in a minute):
- The power of goal setting is immeasurable.
- Discipline is key.
- My time is as important as everyone else's.
- I needed to be brutally honest about how I was spending my time, and just as brutal about killing the time wasters that were preventing me from hitting my daily goals.
- I needed to have a plan I could stick to.
The first day of class, I wrote my author bio for five years from now. That was fun. Here's what I came up with:
Donya Lynne, author of such award-winning and bestselling series as the All the King’s Men franchise, Strong Karma, Hope Falls, and Cupid’s Playground, spends most of her time writing and building new fictional worlds for readers to love. In her free time, she enjoys vacationing—and writing—in relaxing locales such as McCall, Idaho, which was the inspiration for her Hope Falls Series, as well as on the beaches of the Carolinas and California. A New York Times Bestseller, Donya is working on the next novel in her Progeny Series, the much-praised dystopian spin-off from the All the King’s Men, Knights of Justice, and Children of the Sphinx family of series.Next, I wrote down what I called my shoot-for-the-moon goals for next year:
- Write 3 novels of 60,000+ words
- Write 3 novellas of 40,000+ words
- Write 3 short stories
- Send query letters to 5 agents
What's funny is that it's only been a little over a week since I wrote those goals, but now that the class is over and I've employed structure, I think those goals are a bit puny.
The next thing I did was identify the obstacles getting in my way of writing more books. There were six things on my list, but here are the main three:
- Administrative and Accounting Tasks
- Tetris Battle
Tetris Battle? What's Tetris Battle, you ask? It's a Facebook game. An addictive Facebook game. I used to justify my Tetris escapades by saying I needed a break to let my ideas simmer. I needed a break to shut off the voices. Blah, blah, blah. Excuses. All of them excuses. I knew it then, and I know it now. I didn't need a writing break or to let my ideas simmer. I wanted to get my fix. Tetris was my nicotine, my crack, my addiction.
I calculated how much time I'd spent in Tetris Battle over the last couple of months. You see, when you log into Tetris, it starts off by telling you how many rounds you've won and how many you've lost. In the latest spinoff in Tetris Battle, I'd played over 300 rounds. Each round is two minutes long. That's 600 minutes. That's TEN HOURS!! In the original Tetris Battle, I'd played well over 2,000 games. That's over SIXTY-SEVEN HOURS! I didn't even count the other types of Tetris that I played (there's different styles and arenas to play in), and I was already up to 77 hours of time lost. Being that I can write between 800-1100 words an hour, that's 61,600-84,700 words I could have written while playing Tetris. That's a novel or a couple of novellas.
Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Any author who plays Candy Crush, Tetris, Angry Birds (do people still play Angry Birds?) or any other online game but complain they don't have enough time to write, I beg to differ.
So, two days ago, I opened up my apps and, without hesitation, removed Tetris and any other game that could lure me in. Gone. Cold Turkey! And, really, I don't even miss it. When I faced the numbers and gave myself an honest gut-check, I realized Tetris was killing my writing career. I refuse to let that happen.
Now, remember at the beginning of this post when I mentioned the simple secret to how you can write more in less time? Do you want to know the answer? Tetris is part of the answer. So is your cell phone. And your email. And Twitter. And Facebook. And your cat, your dog, your kids, your husband, the INTERNET! Distractions are the main culprit. When it's time to write, it's time to turn off, shut down, close the door, and issue a commandment you are not to be interrupted until you open the door again (unless something's burning, bleeding, or broken).
"But, but, but...those are my kids. I don't want them to think they're not important?" You're not making them think that. You're showing them that you're important, too. That your time is just as valuable and important as theirs. You're teaching them that you respect yourself as much as you respect them. If they can't give you just one tiny hour of time per day, or two hours on Saturday and Sunday, then they need to learn how, and you need to learn how to set boundaries by teaching them. This will teach your children discipline and resourcefulness. You're not asking for the moon, just a little me-time. You deserve that as much as they do. Show them that. They'll respect you more for it and grow up to be more well-adjusted in a world that doesn't always give you what you want just because you want it.
Shutting off my social media and my phone has been one of my biggest problems when it comes to writing. I feel I have to be on and catching everything all the time, or I'll fall out of touch and fans will forget about me. What that way of thinking has given me is a whole lot of stress. I became overwhelmed. I was trying to do everything all the time. As a result nothing was getting done.
Check out what I did this week to solve this problem, which also solved the problem of my other obstacle, administration and accounting:
After doing a mass cleaning of my office and tossing out anything that I hadn't touched or looked at in several months or longer, I decided when I wanted my daily writing time to be. Then I got real with myself and said, "This is your job. You need to be up by 6:00 just the way you would be if you had to drive to a day job." You have to be disciplined if this is going to work.
Then I set this structure for my day:
6:00-7:00 Check email, yahoo groups, FB groups, etc.
7:00-12:00 Write. Nothing but write. I'm BIC HOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keys)
12:00-2:00 Lunch, shower, watch Young and the Restless (my guilty indulgence), and take out the dogs (they're up until 1:45 so they don't interrupt my writing time -- see how this goes? I'm limiting distractions.)
2:00-5:00 Read, editing, judge contest entries, write blog posts, check email, check social media, promote, research for next book, plot development for next book, character sketches for next book, etc.
In this way, I'm not scheduled, but I'm structured. Structure gives me an orderly framework to work in without restraining me. Giving myself a few time blocks for general purposes still allows my creativity to flourish while keeping me on point.
And did you notice what I'm doing there? I'm using my writing time for my current story while I use my afternoon slot to prepare for the next story. That way, when I'm finished with one, I'm ready to jump right into the next. No wasted time between books.
Once I had my structure, I performed a lot of calculations. I won't go into all that here, but I've kept track of my daily writing for over two years. I went back through and found my daily average, which was a lot lower than I had hoped. Then I mapped out the eight books I want to write or at least draft in 2015 and included the projected word count for each. I added up the total, then divided by my average daily count. Ugh. That was depressing. The numbers showed it would take me almost a year-and-a-half to finish those eight books. Since that won't do, I performed a bunch more calculations in Excel and determined that if I wrote 2,150 words per day for only 22 days in each month, I could complete all eight books in less than a year.
BOOM! Boo-yah! Shazam!
It's not fifty books, but eight is better than four, especially when one book is projected to be about 140,000 words long, and two others are expected to be 80,000 words. Imagine the damage I could do if I were writing short stories or novellas! I could get fourteen 40,000-word novellas out of my eight novels. That's a lot of cannoli! And I'm not even Italian.
But I'm not done. Knowing what it will take to complete all those projects is not the same as actually completing them. I needed a plan and some goals.
I knew I wanted my 2015 daily average to go up. A lot! My daily average in 2013 was actually higher than in 2014 by 200 words. In 2015, I want my daily average to be knocking on the door of 3,000 words/day.
To do this, I need to be ready to start the next book as soon as I finish the one before it, hence giving myself prep time in the afternoons while I concentrate on writing in the mornings. I also need to know how many words and days each book is going to take, hence all the calculations. This will also help me figure out when a book will be ready for publication. I also need to be superbly organized, hence the reason for purging my office this week. But I also need to take regular steps toward keeping my office organized, as well as in handling all the administrative tasks that come up.
The "sisters," as we began to call them in our class, provided us with a Word calendar (I would link it here, but I don't want to get into any trouble by sharing the handouts outside of class. However, creating calendars in Word isn't that hard using Tables. It might take a bit of time, but it's well worth the effort. Once it's built, you just have to make a few modifications from month to month and year to year.). What's nice about this is you can easily add to it, update it, and make changes to it as necessary, which is a bit harder to do with a paper calendar without turning it into a dysfunctional mess of scribbles and scratch-outs.
On my Word calendar, I filled in two days a month as "Admin Days." Typically, the 1st and 15th were my Admin Days. These are days used for tracking income and expenses, balancing the checkbook, cleaning the office, mailing birthday cards to readers, writing blog posts, assigning ISBNs, ordering copyrights, updating my website, sending out agent queries, etc. These are days completely set aside for non-writing endeavors. I also entered my errand days on my calendar. I take one day a week to run errands so I can remain home the other six days and work. Very little writing gets done on errand days, if any at all. I also filled in any events I'll be attending next year, as well as notes on contests I'm judging and workshops I'm giving so I could plan accordingly. Lastly, I determined my the daily writing goals for the days I'm writing and filled in those numbers for January. I'll fill in the next month's numbers on one of my admin days. This way I don't get too far ahead of myself.
The calendar now hangs on my bulletin board beside my desk. As each days passes, I cross it off. I won't allow myself to cross off a day until I've met the goals for that day. I've also added a few handwritten notes at the top of each month for where my focus will be that month. For example, January's focus is on publishing Winter's Fire and finishing the draft for Full Circle while I prep to return to my draft of Bound Guardian Angel.
After days of planning, today was the first day of this new, more structure method, and it was a HUGE success! I can already tell.
My word goal was 1,860. When I sat down at 7:00 and started writing, I had no idea how I was going to hit it. I was at a place in my manuscript where I wasn't sure where to take the story and lead in to the scene I needed to write.
Ah, but the other thing I learned from "the sisters" was to turn off the internal editor during writing time and just write, no matter how awful the writing sounds. So, I did that. Within minutes, I was on a roll and wrote a powerful scene between my heroine and her father, who disapproves of her choice in men. Maybe some of what I wrote is shit, but I can edit shit. I can't edit nothing.
In less than ninety minutes, I had written 1,872 words. Goal met. In less than five hours, I'd written 4,561 words, doubling my word goal. Since September 1, I've written more than 4500 words in one day only three times. THREE. And that was when I was uber motivated, wrote "all day" (ah, but I didn't actually write all day, because I allowed myself to be distracted way too much...obviously), and the words were flowing out of my fingers on a tidal wave. And in less than five hours this morning, when I wasn't feeling the least bit inspired, I cranked out over 4500 words because I shut everything else off. And there was some good stuff there to work with when editing time comes around. Without adding the structure to my writing business this week, I wouldn't have done that.
Will maintaining this structure be easy? Not at first. It take 2-3 weeks to build a new habit. After that, it will probably feel funny if I'm not hitting 4500 words every day in my 5-hour writing slot. And this time next year, I'll have a bounty of finished stories either published or in edits, with a bunch more in the planning.
What's great is that this plan works whether you have eight hours, five hours, one hours, or thirty minutes. You just have to use it.
Here's to better—and more—writing in 2015. May you find structure and bounty in your new year, too!