Summer’s End

This time next week my child will be back in school, and I will have 6 hours a day to get work done in peace.

Of course, it never ends up being 6 free hours. I do errands and sometimes chores, and other things that require concentrated time. And naps. I admit to naps.

However, it will be a relief to have some space to stretch, some flexibility. Summer is a time of squeezing writing into the nooks and crannies of life. While this may work well for some writers, my brain struggles to work that way, and it leaves me frazzled and exhausted.

I love the time I get with my daughter during the summer. I enjoy the family adventures when we travel. The slower pace of life is a welcome change from the often-hectic school year. But I confess to relief in getting my “me time” back.

I have several projects I want to work on, so my ambitions are high, as they tend to be. Sometimes unrealistically high. But for the first time in several years, I feel like I might be up to the task. We shall see what the school year brings for me.

Does the end of summer bring you more or less time to write?

A Modern Author’s Marketing Load: More or Simply Heavier?

Kerry Gans speaks to writers as part of the author's marketing loadAt a speech to a writer’s group on Saturday, I got asked the million-dollar question: since today’s authors are expected to shoulder most of the marketing load, wouldn’t self-publishing make the most sense? I answered that it was a matter of personal preference, but the question got me thinking: Are modern authors really expected to shoulder MORE of the marketing load than in the past, or is the burden simply HEAVIER today?

I know we all like to wax nostalgic about the good old days when the publisher would do ALL the marketing and the author would just churn out more books. It’s a wonderful dream, but I’m not sure that was ever the reality, unless you were a top-flight author. Most mid-list and lower authors had to do a lot of the hustling themselves.

So I’m not sure that we’re being asked to do MORE (percentage-wise) of the marketing for our books. I think the real problem is that the percentage of marketing we do is HEAVIER than it was back in the halcyon years.

Visiting libraries is part of the author's marketing loadBack before the internet, marketing took a very specific shape—in-person events, usually at bookstores or libraries or conferences. Sometimes schools if you wrote children’s books. The occasional interview, if you were lucky. These events could be intense, and while they occurred they consumed the entirety of your time. But they were finite. Even a multi-day conference had a defined beginning and end. A writer could look at their calendar and carve out precisely when she would be marketing, and when she could forget about marketing and just write. In other words, there was plenty of “down time” in the marketing schedule.

Now, there is no down time. Not only do we have in-person events, but we are expected to be online—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr… The list seems endless. And we’re asked to blog and maintain a website, too. In other words, we can never put down the marketing load. We are available 24/7 to our readers.

Social Media is part of the modern author's marketing load

So that’s why I think perhaps authors today don’t actually bear MORE of the marketing load—the majority of marketing was always squarely on the author’s shoulders. Today, we have so many more channels to use for marketing that the load has become exponentially HEAVIER than it was. There is no stepping away from it. We are “on” all the time. We weave marketing into our daily lives. There are no long stretches of concentrated writing time where we can put marketing from our minds.

Admittedly, I got published well after social media and the internet became fixtures of our ever-connected society. For those of you who got published back in “the good old days,” what do you think? Are we being asked to lift more of the marketing load—or is there simply more load to lift?

Time is Relative

Don’t panic! I’m not going to attempt to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity and how it applies to time. But I think we all know that time, or at least our perception of time, can vary a great deal. To a child, a week seems like a year, while to an adult a year passes in the blink of an eye. An hour at work can feel like a day, while an hour spent doing something you love seems like a minute. So we all understand intuitively what we mean when we say that time is relative, even if we can’t explain the physics of time.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I now have about 10 hours a week child-free. The first week I sort of loafed through those 10 hours, enjoying them and doing what I wanted. But even by the end of the first week, a pattern had started to form.

I write in the library when my daughter is at school. The problem is that the library doesn’t open until about an hour after I drop her off most days (Monday is the exception–they open early that day). So I’ve gotten into the habit, now that it’s cooler and I won’t sweat or stink, of walking several thousand steps around the grounds while waiting for them to open. I use this time to think about the things I am going to do once I sit down to work. For instance, much of this blog post was written in my head as I walked.

Then I sit in my car or at the tables in front of the library (depending on weather) and fire up my laptop. My laptop battery won’t last the full hour, so it’s just as well I walk for some of the time. Exercise is important, too! Then I work on whatever I need to until the library opens, when I move the writing party inside and can plug in.

My problem has been in planning what to do each day. I always do have a plan of action, but it always turns out to be woefully inadequate to the amount of time available–I often run out of planned things to do long before the two hours is up. Because, see, time is relative–a child-free hour is massively more productive than a child-full hour. But after a summer of writing catch-as-catch-can, it is hard to remember just how much work can be done when you’re not constantly being interrupted!

Almost 4 times as much work.

That’s a lot.

I need to get better at planning what I’m going to work on, because there is no doubt that when I have a focus or a path firmly in mind when I sit down, I write faster and better and more than if I sit and stare and wonder what to do next. This goes for fiction as well as non-fiction. If I know what chapters I plan to work on, I can really think them through the night before, the morning of, and while I’m walking, so I can sit down and really write, instead of thinking. Thus getting the most out of my concentrated writing time.

So, to be at my most productive, I have to realign my brain to Non-Parental Standard Time when I plan my child-free writing hours. And then switch back to Parental Sanity Savings Time once I pick up Preschooler.

I sure hope I can avoid the jet lag.

What makes time fly (or drag) for you?

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Finding Golden Writing Time

Most writers squeeze their writing in between jobs and/or family. Writing time is precious and rare. But a funny thing happened when I suddenly gained more writing time: I didn’t know what to do with myself.

My daughter started preschool this month, and that gives me about 6 hours a week extra to write. More importantly, it is CONCENTRATED writing time—no distractions from child, phone, or Internet (I work at the local library while she’s in school).

On her first day of school, I had planned what I would work on for the 2 hours I had that morning. Thing is, I had forgotten how much you can get done when there are no distractions—I finished my project in half an hour. So I moved on to another project. Then another. I actually ended up playing Solitaire for the last 5 minutes because I had run out of things that “needed” to be done!

These weeks of her in school have let me be a great deal more prolific in a shorter amount of time. I’m now able to work on short stories in addition to my novels and weekly blog obligations. And once I get home, I still have Toddler’s nap time (when she takes one) and after she’s in bed to work even more.

At first I felt like I needed to keep cramming in writing tasks in the nap and bed time slots. But I found that trying to use ALL my free time for writing was counter-productive. I ended up getting burnt out on the writing. So I did something totally radical. I started using the evenings to do OTHER THINGS I ENJOY! For instance, reading or genealogy or conversing with real people in my life.

I’ll admit I felt guilty at first, having fun during what had been dedicated writing time. I don’t feel guilty any more. Having that fun time has allowed me to focus better when I have the writing time in the morning, and it has left me more energetic and mentally sharp.

I still use nap time for “business” stuff – queries, social media, and, of course, more writing if I feel like it. I also will use the evenings to write if I want to, but I don’t force it if I’m not feeling creative. Overall, I am quite happy with the new writing setup. Am I a bad mommy that I am already looking forward to all-day kindergarten in 2 years? 🙂

Where have you found your golden writing time?

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