When I invited Clare London to write a post in our Ins and Outs series to help other M/M authors, I had no idea the guilt I would feel when I read it, that I dared ask her to take time out of her very busy schedule. She’s Superwoman, like many of you, and it boggles my mind that with all of her responsibilities she still manages to produce those wonderful stories that are either gripping and tension filled, (72 Hours) or funny as hell (What Not to Wear) and a host of other well crafted books with characters you just want to hug.
This post is a lesson to not just writers, but all of us whose days are so crammed with all the jobs we have to juggle that we forget what life is all about. I know I learned a lot when I read the post and I intend to take Clare’s advice. Here’s her post –
Hi all. This post is my viewpoint on juggling. Not with clubs or fire, though by God, it feels like it sometimes, but with everything in life: work, home, family and writing. I was kindly invited by Jessewave to post on this last month but…guess what? I dropped the spinning plates of life and couldn’t manage the time. A perfect example of how NOT to juggle, right? Or maybe a recognition of reality.
Many of us feel passionately about our writing, but not many of us can afford to do it full-time. So we start our writing career as a second job, running it alongside the jobs we already have, inside or outside the home, paid or unpaid, for corporation or kin. And reassuring ourselves that we can handle it, that our inspiration and love for fiction lends speed to our fingers and stamina to our waking hours. The stories start to flow, the wonder and reward of publication carries us ever onward, and so the juggling starts in a spirit of enthusiasm and confidence. We CAN have it all! we cry.
In Dec 2007 I was a full-time working accountant with two strapping sons of 13 and 18, a husband settling into a drastic career change, a mother with serious physical problems, a house constantly full of hungry teenagers, a pretty poor performance record on housework, and a psychotic goldfish.
Well, in Jan 2008 I was the same person but I’d taken on another job, publishing! And while I was still up on Cloud 9 with excitement at my first contract – and glamorous visions of BEING ON AMAZON – I hadn’t really thought anything through beyond that. What’s more, I don’t remember anyone offering me a gang of nubile young slaves to help out, or at the very least a couple of extra pairs of hands.
And I was going to need them.
Believe me, I’d never had trouble finding time to write. It was the publishing that added that extra dimension – and potential stress. No longer was it just “writing” (or “your tapping away” as my family used to say, less than fondly). Now it encompassed professional submission, external edits, deadlines, promotion, industry awareness and a launch into the Community(ies) of Fellow Authors.
Where was that “never had trouble finding time”?
How many times have we heard about the work/life balance? Whatever you add to one side, it’ll tip over unless you make adjustment. Most of us need good health and happy family/friends more than we need royalties *yeahcough*. But we have the opportunity to make something for ourselves, to let loose the stories inside, to share the fun and – yes, we like this too – to get recognized for it.
So the question is…HOW?
This is a lighthearted post, but with a thread of serious consideration underneath it. I’ll tell you how I try to keep everything going, you can roll your eyes, then both of us may pull a few tidbits of useful strategy from the whole thing.
And so, ladies and gentlemen of Jessewave’s big top, what do you need for juggling?
Yes, you got it. B.A.L.L.S.
You’re going to do it. You WILL do it.
When things get tough, remember – you took this step. You wanted it. Remember why! You love to write and you’re determined to get better at it. It means the world to you. It’s fun (most of the time). You’ve met great friends. You’ve read shit-hot fiction. You written some of it, too.
Hold that thought! YOU are in control of what you do.
And if/when it gets too much?
Read one of your favourite books, that maybe inspired you to write yourself. Remember what a joy and a reward it is to be an author and able to communicate that way.
Then read one of the WORST books you ever misguidedly bought…and reassure yourself you can do waaay better :).
Time to be brutally honest. Know how you are: how you work. Make your personality – and your Muse! – work for you, not the other way around.
Can’t write when you’re over-tired, upset or pissed off? (that’s me) So don’t. At those times, step away. It’ll be counterproductive, because what you DO write will likely be poor. And when you recover and go back to it, you’ll make up for that fallow time.
Can’t self-edit? Find someone else who can see your work more clearly (and BTW, listen to their feedback).
Can’t resist new projects? (good god, the confessional’s working well for me today…). PRACTISE saying NO!
Try to measure what resources you have, both actual and emotional. If everything you do just leads you back to the ‘overtired’ place…recognize that spiral and break the pattern.
I’m terrible for attention splat – easily distracted by the net, by website widgets, by pencilboards for sale. I’ve learned I have to cut myself off if I’m under pressure to get something done. My Muse is a demanding soul.
Think about what you’re really after. A career? A fun hobby? A way to reach out to others? International fame and riches? (cough) Are you in publishing for the long haul or more of a dabble? (answers on a postcard, please). And then enjoy it for what it is. Don’t chase after other people’s ambitions. They’re not you, they don’t live your life, they write their own way. There’s space on the bookshelf for it all.
Make things easy for yourself, as much as possible. Everything’s great when the words are flowing so fast they spill from your fingers. It’s a different thing when you realize you’ve lost your hero’s motivation, the edits are more evisceration than enhancement, and you still don’t know what happened to the letter in chapter 6. Then this writing thing is bloody hard work – and you don’t need additional barriers.
We all know how that brilliant idea arrives when you least expect – in the bath, on the train, half way through that call to mother in law.
So be ready!
Carry a pad and pen in your bag / pocket / whatever at all times. Keep one beside the bed. In the car. By the phone. In the bathroom, for God’s sake. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. I carry a sheet of paper in my jeans pocket at all times, covered in largely illegible scribbles that may one day constitute The Great Modern Novel (and next week’s shopping).
When do you write? Juggling means you have to prioritise, you have to choose. You can’t write all the time – though I’m still buying the lottery ticket – but listen to your internal clock. I can’t always write from a standing start just because everyone’s gone out for an hour *grrr*. But I can make the most of going into work early and having a blessed free hour before everyone else arrives and the phones start ringing. Choose those good times to follow your plot ideas, to re-read work, to plot through tricky re-writes in peace. Then use the nibbles of time for short term stuff. I use my lunch hours to update the website, write my emails, buy books (lots!), catch up on loops etc.
Working around a busy household? *rolls eyes*
I work on the edge of the dining room table. We call it ClareSpace. My laptop has to share with table mats, a constantly-growing pile of family bills, discarded cola cans, camping gear on its way to or from the loft, and the psychotic goldfish in the tank at my elbow.
BUT…it’s separation of a sort.
Find YOUR space if you can, however small. Your mind will hopefully register you’re moving into author mode whenever you go there.
Managing that promo? (or not?)
Take an hour or so to set things up in advance for yourself. I have a set format for excerpts, a standard signature. An intro post, my bio etc etc. Make it non-specific for time, fashion, latest releases etc, then updating is minimal. Embrace shortcuts. Copy Paste is your friend.
I keep all the promo in a specified file on my computer so I can find them quickly. I keep a copy on my memory stick as well, so I can post at lunch time at work – especially useful if you’re in a different timezone from the forums you’re posting in.
If you see someone’s post that looks great – borrow the format for your own! Don’t re-invent the wheel every time. Life’s too darned short.
Social networking? Gawd. Feels like you’re spread thinner than margarine sometimes, right?
Consider setting your networking base in one place, then just dip in elsewhere. Make it somewhere you feel comfortable, because you don’t want to waste precious time girding your loins to face your horror of posting on a Wall, fighting html or keeping your flowing wit to 140 characters.
Believe me, you’ll still keep in touch where it matters. I concentrate mainly on my blog, but I’ve set it up to link public posts through to Facebook, Goodreads, MySpace, Twitter and Amazon. God, the occasional times when technology works for me are to be treasured…
Can’t face all the Yahoo Groups? Follow the minimum of ones you should – your publishers, your best friend’s – then put the others on Digest (at the least) and drop into the others at a specified time of your choosing. Be regular, but don’t be slavish. See if you can find a friend you can share an Alert Status with – i.e. they can tell you if a chat’s coming up you should attend, and you can let them know the latest submissions calls (thanks Chrissy!).
Last Christmas’s present for me? Hubby got me a pair of ear defenders to block out the noise of Call of Duty and the washing machine when I’m in the middle of edits. Bless him .:)
Time. Ah yes. The elusive Pimpernel of modern life.
Unless you have large stretches of time to manage – which is a different skill entirely – you have to make the most of what’s left after everything else.
Be flexible. You’ll have it forced on you anyway.
Think how long you need to finish that short story for submission next month – then multiply it by three. I kid you not. Face reality. I call it the “coffee PLUS” time. Stop for coffee by all means, but then you find you also have to stop for the washing, the emergency call from MIL, the broken fridge, the scraped knee syndrome, the temporary power cut, running out of milk, the lost travel card, the goldfish floating perilously near the top of the tank… And if my family’s anything to go by, their support will wax and wane according to whose turn it is to make supper.
Learn words like “negotiation” and “compromise”. Maybe resist a couple of submission calls – there’ll be others. (Clare shudders)
SENSE OF HUMOUR
Seriously, I’ve found if I push too hard, it’ll show in my hair colour, my nerves – and my work.
Don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind whatever you hoped to get done (remember, Coffee Plus Time…). Look at what you did achieve, not what you didn’t. And it’ll be impressive to many people.
Lay off the stick, too. For example, we all need motivation, but I gave up setting myself a daily word count I was pretty sure to miss when Budget time came around at work. Find what genuinely works for you.
I write most days but I stop if it’s starting to feel like a chore. Better to enjoy a schedule of one day at the weekend, a couple of nights in the week. Which is what I (should) do.
And instead of the stick, dangle some carrots in front of your nose!
Stop writing and go and watch a Bill & Ted movie. Listen to music, make something, cook, exercise, surf outrageous poster art websites. Laugh at jokes, read a book. I do all that myself (apart from the cooking). And I feed the goldfish. Apart from the fact you need external interaction to inspire your future fiction, haven’t you earned it?
I also follow some blogs that never fail to give me something to think about. For example – and by no means all – inspiration at Christine Kane, constructive help at Jordan Castillo Price’s Packing Heat, the motivational tips at Shrinking Violet Promotions, the entertaining and accessible reporting at Nathan Bransford’s. I love to read review sites, other authors’ blogs, what’s happening in the industry. Oh, and watch daft clips on YouTube :).
What works for you? Do you have any other good suggestions for sites that help you battle onward to your best?
Remember what really matters. Seriously, I’m hopefully not being twee, but stop regularly and remember it. Bank the “wow” moments, you’ll need them. Watch the balance of what you want to achieve with what you can achieve, with what you’ve got.
Then turn all the trauma into your next book!
And surely I’m not the only person who sends the occasional text message while she’s in the bathroom because otherwise it seems such an appalling waste of time…? OK, so TMI right there :).
What do you mean, Wave, there’s another matinee at 4? Back to spinning those plates.
Clare London’s Contact Information
Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/clarelondon
GLBT Wiki: http://bookworld.editme.com/clarelondonbooks