Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Busy holidays

It's been nearly a month since I last posted, thanks to an extraordinarily busy holiday season.  I can maintain my new schedule under normal conditions, but I totally underestimated my ability to deal with it when I have extra things like holiday shopping to do.  Adding to the chaos was the fact that I worked different (and increased) hours last week, since the kids I nanny for were out of school.  I was contemplating increasing my hours over the summer too, but I may have to reconsider that — or at least how much I'm going to increase them!

This week, luckily, I have off, as the family I nanny for is out of town.  It's a relief to have an entire week to get caught up on reading, writing, sleep, and other things, but already two of those days are gone!  And the rest of my week is destined to be spent at home, rather than at the barn as originally planned: Our dog Emma was diagnosed with pneumonia yesterday, and needs to be watched closely (and fed lots of fluids) for the next few days.

 Aside from the pneumonia, we had a pretty good holiday.  I got a Nook Tablet for Christmas (though Michael gave it to me a couple weeks early), and I love it.  We had a fairly quiet holiday — my mom was sick, so we didn't have dinner with my parents Christmas Eve as planned, and Christmas Day we had to ourselves as well.  We did go to a late showing of War Horse Christmas Day, and we spent the following day shopping — some remaining holiday shopping for his family, and some shopping for our house.  The day after Christmas is the perfect time to decide to buy all new window treatments for your living room, didn't you know?

What about everyone else?  How have the holidays been for you so far?

Monday, December 05, 2011

What I've missed

I had a revelation over the weekend that may have changed my mind about how soon to start on the next book in my series.  I finished a book I've been reading for about 2 weeks — a ridiculously long time for me — and started reading a back issue of The Writer that I'd never gotten around to reading.  And I realized, Wow, I have time to read again!

What a concept.

So I might take the research for the second book a little slow, like I did with the first one (except maybe not quite that slow), to give myself a chance to catch up a little on my reading.  I have quite a few books that have been on my "To Read" list for a while now, and the thought of curling up with a book in the evenings instead of my laptop sounds downright luxurious!

What hobbies or pastimes are you rediscovering now that NaNoWriMo is over, and you suddenly have all this time on your hands?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Why novelists need to be good copywriters too

Barnes & Noble's self e-publishing service, PubIt!, linked to a very interesting blog post the other day: The No. 1 Overlooked Skill for Every Author.  The blogger makes the argument — and a very strong one, I think — that authors need to also be good at promoting themselves in order to be successful.

The most common place where a background in copywriting is helpful is with writing queries, of course, but there are other areas, too.  Writers typically need to do a lot of marketing and self-promotion (websites, blogs, etc.) in order to sell books, find work, etc.  In addition, self-published authors need to be able to write effective promotional materials — book blurbs, press releases, blog posts, websites, etc. — since they don't have a publisher to handle some or all of those things.

I couldn't agree more.  I think there are a lot of self-published authors and authors published by small presses that really suffer because they don't know how to promote themselves effectively.  A friend of mine has gotten two books published and is working on the third, but he'll be the first to tell you he doesn't do enough promotion.  From what I've seen, I think this is pretty common.

It's one thing that I think will work in my favor if — or should I just say when — I publish something.  Online promotion, especially written materials, are my background, so I feel pretty confident about my ability to do a good job of promoting my work.

I don't know if any novelists follow my blog, but if any do, I'd love to have you weigh in: How do you promote your work?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Finishing my first draft - 855 words shy of the mark

I finished my novel last night — I'd put an ending on it a few nights ago, but last night I finally finished a scene that I had skipped over (not being sure exactly what to write) a few weeks ago.  The first draft is, unfortunately, only 79,145 words — 855 words shy of my original goal — which is a little disappointing.

I'll now be putting the novel aside for a little while — I'm planning on picking it back up and doing the first round of revisions in January.  In the meantime, I've settled on what I want to do next: I realized that the next book was going to require some additional research — I have some historical facts to get right this time, and not just a general setting — so after a short break to get caught up on some other things, I'm going to get started on that.  We'll see how long it takes me, i.e., whether I'll be starting the second book before or after the first round of revisions on the first, but I lean toward getting the first book started before I do revisions (in case the second book brings up anything that needs changing in the first).

As I write this, in fact, I am printing a copy of the first draft, to be set aside until I am ready to start revisions.  I will go through the novel first on paper and mark the revisions I want to make (I know, I know, not very green, but when I'm revising fiction I prefer doing it on paper rather than on a computer screen), and then put the changes into the computer.

Watching the novel emerge from my printer, page by page, is very satisfying.  Even though I know it's not really done yet, it gives me a tremendous feeling of completion to see and feel it on paper!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

TGIO: Are we really glad it's over?

NaNoWriMo ended last night at midnight.  I'd reached 50k a few days before, after which I added 1,283 words Tuesday night, finishing my novel.  I had intended to add a little more before NaNo ended, as there was a skipped scene I needed to fill in, but I didn't get it done before midnight, so my NaNo word count ended at 53,557.  I did add 582 words after midnight, though, and wrote at least half of the missing scene.  A little more tonight should do it, and then I'll set the first draft aside until January.

There is all sorts of talk on my local NaNo forum about TGIO meetings and parties, but I can't really say I'm glad it's over.  NaNo always makes November busy, but it's such fun — it's such a high to get going at such a fast pace on your novel, and write-ins are always a hoot, not to mention the word wars provide plenty of incentive to write if you are struggling.

In short, I am going to really miss NaNoWriMo for the next 11 months.

What about you?  Did NaNoWriMo wear you out?  Are you glad it's over?  Or will you miss it, like me (perhaps even though it wore you out)?

Monday, November 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo winner - what next?

NaNoWriMo winner 2011Last night I finally hit 50,000 words for the month of November!  I say "finally" even though it's a little early, because I probably could have made 50k a week ago, if it weren't for all the yellow, orange, and red days you see in my calendar widget in the sidebar.  I had a period of about a week when my word count really started flagging — I had a good lead, so I never actually fell behind, but there were a couple of days where it was a close thing to stay ahead of the game.

I don't have much left to write in the novel.  I think a few thousand more words will finish it off, plus a thousand or two for a scene earlier on in the novel that I skipped over a couple of weeks ago, primarily because I didn't know what to write.  I'll have to figure that out now, I guess.  I'm hoping to finish the first draft entirely by Wednesday night, so that I can set it aside for a month or so before I edit.

What I'm struggling with now is whether I should get right to work on the next book in the series.  I've been coming up with some good ideas for it while I've been writing this one, so once I finish the first draft I could feasibly start outlining, and then start writing.  The best thing about that is that the characters and story are fresh in my mind right now, and I'm still excited about it, which is a good thing.  Also, it might make for a more seamless transition into the second book.

I also see a couple of problems with this approach, though.  One, if I start writing the second book before I finish revising and editing the first, I may have to make changes to the outline and/or what I've written if I make any major revisions to the first book.  Two, am I going to be able to revise the first book objectively if the characters and story is still active in my mind from writing the second book?  It might negate the benefits of putting your work away for a month or so before starting revisions.

Maybe I should restrict myself to just making outlines until I finish at least the first round of revisions on book one.  What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Updates and lofty goals

I've been dragging somewhat with my word count for the past week — a busy weekend and a really busy holiday week has kept me from having as much time as I wanted for client work and novel writing.  I've skipped several days altogether lately, and on the days when I have worked on my novel, I've failed to reach the NaNoWriMo minimum daily word count of 1,667 (let alone my personal goal of 2,000).

Luckily I had, at one point, a full 5-day lead on my word count, so I have yet to fall behind, no matter what the yellow and red squares on my calendar widget might make you think.  And I have solid plans for getting my lead back again: I've set my word count goal for the day at 4,000, and since I've already written more than 1,000 words today, I think I have a pretty good chance of getting the rest of the way at our write-in tonight.  (Our regional 24-hour write-in, originally planned for this weekend, was canceled, so I plan on staying at tonight's write-in a little later than usual.)

This weekend should also be a little less busy than the first three this month, so with any luck, I'll be able to follow up with two solid 2k days — which will, of course, put me well above 50k for the month, and hopefully come within 10k of finishing the novel altogether.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2,818 words: Stops and starts

I had an extremely busy weekend, so my novel suffered as a result.  Instead of my usual of a busy Saturday followed by a day off on Sunday, I babysat all day on Sunday.  The end result was a fat check and an exhausted me, so I failed to write anything both days.

The good news is, though, that despite a busy day yesterday (my riding lesson was yesterday because of the holiday — my usual day is Thursday), I achieved the goal I set for myself of getting to at least 42k.  Although I didn't achieve 1,667 words for Monday before the clock turned midnight, by the time I stopped writing I had 2,818 words for the night.  That left me with 42,174 NaNo words, and 66,174 total words in the novel.  I'm drawing closer to the end, both in the word count and in the story, and it's very exciting!

Even though I'm about 3 days ahead on my NaNo count, I am going to maintain my original goal of 2,000 words per day.  If I can keep it up, I think I should not only "win" NaNo this year, but also be finished with my novel by the 30th.  Then I'll have to decide whether a break is in order, or if I want to start on the sequel, which I am getting many ideas for as I get closer to the end of this one!

Friday, November 18, 2011

As expected

In my last post, I anticipated not having as much time to work on my novel over the next couple of days, and boy was I right!  I did write a bit more on Tuesday than anticipated, getting 2,377 words down, despite a slow start.  Most of those words were added after midnight, so if the calendar widget and my stats graph on the NaNo site were actually working, you'd see them on Wednesday instead of Tuesday.

Unfortunately, though, the widget isn't working.  All my days are now red, even though anyone who has been following knows that all but one of my days were green before the widget broke.  I think this happened last year or the year before, too...

Anyway, as expected, I didn't get anything done on my novel on Wednesday.  In fact, I didn't get much of anything done, period.  We moved my new horse to my barn that morning, and I stayed there until I had to go to work in the afternoon.  And in the evening I went back to the barn to meet up with a friend and check on the new horse.

Yesterday was very busy as well, with a riding lesson and some horsey time with the new boy in the morning, and a book club meeting in the evening.  Those usually go quite late (we always go to Applebee's afterward), but I did manage to get some work done on my novel late last night, after midnight again.  Not much — I only added 599 words, for a NaNo word count of 37,055.

Luckily, tonight is the weekly write-in at Fireside, the 24-hour bookstore and coffee shop near me.  The past two Friday nights, I've gotten quite a lot written thanks to this write-in, so I have high hopes of getting "caught up" (although I'm actually still several days ahead on word count — so it'll be more like maintaining my lead) tonight.

How's everyone else doing?  I feel like so much has happened in the past couple of days, so even though it hasn't been long, I feel like it's been forever since I checked in with everyone last!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the brink of change

I am so incredibly pleased to be doing so well at NaNoWriMo.  I can't say it enough, and it's all because I've failed the last four years (and only barely scraped by the very first year).

Last night I ended at 34,079, which meant that I put 2,980 words on paper (or on file?) yesterday.  I squeaked through a tough scene, and for a while there I thought I was going to quit with just a thousand or so words.  But then I caught the thread again, and kept writing until I had reached nearly 3k (and turned today's square on the calendar green, even though it was only about 1:30am).

I don't know whether tonight will be as successful.  I had a busy day — this morning I had to go out to the barn to check on my horse, and clean and treat a recent injury to his ear.  That and a bath nearly killed the first part of my day, and then of course I had my nanny job to go to in the afternoon.  That left only this evening for my client work, so as a result I am getting started on my novel a little later than the usual.

And tomorrow may prove to be the beginning of many changes.  I am bringing Rondo, the 2-year-old horse I've been working with down at my in-laws' place, up to my barn; he is tentatively mine now, assuming everything works out with him.  This will mean more time to be spent at the barn, of course, which may or may not interfere with my writing work.

On the bright side, though, I've noticed a marked improvement in my productivity since I started my part-time nanny job.  My time sheets, which had dwindled until I was marking down only a few lines' worth of activities every day, are once again full almost every day, right down to the bottom of the sheets.  (Yes, I keep handwritten time sheets — I started doing it a few years ago as a way to track how much time I spent on my work every day, how much my hourly wage worked out to, and so on.)  I'm getting more done now, even though I have less time than before.

I may be on the brink of even more changes to my routine, but based on the past two weeks, I have good reason to hope that they will make me more productive, rather than less so!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The 26-hour day

I've been moving along at a screaming pace (for me) on my novel — with 2,353 words on Friday, 1,695 words on Saturday, and a whopping 3,169 words last night (867 of those being after midnight), I had a 7k weekend and am now nearly 5 days ahead of schedule on my word count.

This is a dramatic difference from previous years.  The last 4 years I've crashed and burned, and even though I reached 50k the first year, I struggled to keep up nearly the entire month, and made it in just under the wire.

The difference?  I am, of course, sacrificing time usually spent on other activities.  I'm not reading my favorite blogs as regularly as usual, I have a little less client work than I used to, I haven't been riding Panama as much as I did during previous years, and my husband and I have been watching less TV in the evenings.  I think there's probably a little bit of sleep deprivation going on here too, but nothing too extreme, even for me.

But that of course isn't the only explanation, since I also have a new part-time job that takes a minimum of 3 hours out of each weekday, and I don't have much time to write at all on Saturdays, when I'm busy practically from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed.  And when you consider all the other draws on my time this month — vet appointments for our dog Grace, who is starting physical therapy for her hip dysplasia, and at least one morning ride a week — I think it probably makes up for all the things I'm sacrificing for writing time.

So why is it that I've been able to not just keep up, but stay ahead of schedule?  Dare I hope that my part-time job has encouraged me to be a little more efficient in the time that is allotted for client work and fiction writing?  I don't know if I'll go so far as to say that yet, but obviously I can't have added a couple of extra hours to my day, so it's got to be a good sign!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Moving write along

I've been hopeless at keeping track of my daily word count, I'm afraid.  I discovered that the graph of my word count on my stats page does show my current word count each day if you hover over the top of the bar, which would theoretically help me keep track — if I weren't writing after midnight every night.  Oh well.  I'm moving along at a steady pace, which is really all that matters, right?

I currently have 24,618 words on my NaNo count, which means I've written 4,104 words between Wednesday and Thursday combined (my word count Wednesday morning was 20,514).  I know I didn't quite reach 2,000 words Wednesday, so that means yesterday's word count was well over target.  My total word count for the novel is now 48,618, as well as the novel is moving along, it's looking more and more like the final word count will end up over my original goal of 80k.

It's a great feeling to be over halfway done with the novel, and to feel how well it's moving along.  I've had a few sticky spots, but I forced myself to write on through them, and I'm pretty pleased with what I ended up with.  Sometimes forcing yourself to push on through when you are stuck results in a bunch of crap you have to rewrite once you get unstuck, but this time I think it's all pretty usable.  I've felt all along that this novel is The One That's Meant to Be, and maybe that's because I'm so engrossed in it, but whatever the reason I'm glad it's coming as easily as it is.

I think I've mentioned before that I intend this to be the first novel in a series, and as I get deeper into the novel, it's not just this one that's coming easier — I can also see all the potential of the series.  I am even developing a pretty good idea of what is going to happen in the next book.  I am going to really love writing these, I can tell!

How is everyone else doing in NaNo this year?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Calender widget and a 3k day

Yesterday I found the URL for the calender widget from a previous year, so I don't have to wait on NaNoWriMo to roll them out any longer.  It also turns out that my box for Monday, when I didn't quite make 1,667 words, is yellow, not red — I guess to demonstrate that I was almost there.

Yesterday was a productive day — in addition to getting some client work done, I also pounded out more than 3,000 words on my novel.  I lost track of the exact math, but I know I was a little over 17k when I started, and when I put my computer away late last night, I had 20,514 words.  So I wrote somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 words last night.

Of course, because I kept writing after midnight, 1,937 of those words went on today's count.  (I'm not sure that's exactly correct, though, because I know I got over 1,667 before midnight, which would make yesterday's total word count over 3,600.  That doesn't sound right to me, so I think the NaNo site is miscounting.)

Although I've technically met today's word count, I'm still planning on working on the novel some more today!  I want to maintain my lead, but I also want to finish the novel this month so that I can take a short break in December, and get started on revisions in January!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

2,108 words and my first red box

Yesterday was a good day for working on my novel.  I felt somewhat reluctant to get started — not working on it at all on Saturday affected my motivation a lot more than I expected, and I struggled a bit with writing both Sunday and Monday evenings.  I'll need to make an effort next Saturday to still write a little, even if it's only a few hundred words, and see if that helps.  (Saturday is my crazy-busy day.)

Last night I wrote 2,108 words, but because I got started late in the evening, I got only 1,567 done before midnight — which means yesterday will be my first red box on the calender (if they ever get the word count widgets ready).  Still, I know that I achieved my daily goal of at least 2,000 words, so that's all that matters.

I also will have some client work to juggle this week, along with my novel — I just got a couple of assignments in from one of my larger clients, and I have a weekly project and an article for two other clients to do this week as well.  Luckily I think my schedule is settling down a bit, so other than trying to find time for horseback riding tomorrow morning and a physical therapy appointment for our dog on Thursday, I should have more of my mornings and early afternoons to myself than I did last week.

I have to say, I love the challenge of trying to do NaNo and keep up with my client work at the same time — it can be hard at times, but it is always infinitely satisfying to know that I managed to stay on top of both!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Free ebooks on writing

A few of you may know that I've made almost a complete switch to ebooks, and that I regularly keep an eye out for freebies — often limited-time promotions from the publishers.  There are currently 7 ebooks on writing that are free from a small publisher, and several of them look like they are worth checking out.  The timing — offering these during NaNoWriMo — seems rather coincidental, so I wonder if they are deliberately targeting wrimos.  In any case, download them now before they go back up to normal price — there may only be a day or two left on these promotions.

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My weekend: 2,307 words, 1,798 words, and 1,871 words

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday weren't the stellar word count days that many wrimos aim for the first weekend, but I stayed afloat.

Friday evening there was a write-in near me at the 24-hour used bookstore and coffee shop that I love.  We spent a couple of hours there, and although I got hung up on some research at the beginning of the write-in, it ended up being a very productive evening for me.  I got a total of 4,105 words written that night, both at the write-in and when I got home afterward — 2,307 words before midnight and 1,798 words after midnight (the latter went on Saturday's count, which was good because I knew I likely wouldn't have a chance to work on the novel before midnight on Saturday).

Sunday was a little less productive with 1,871 words, but at least I did surpass the official minimum requirement per day (1,667 words).

My personal goal has been 2,000 words a day, so I didn't make that either day this weekend, but I'm glad to at least have gotten the minimum for both days (thankfully so many of Friday's words technically went into Saturday's count).  If they ever roll out the word count widgets (a week late and still no widgets?!), that means that so far I won't have ANY red days on the word count calender widget.  This is a big deal for me, since I usually fall behind so quickly every year!  So far this year I'm sitting pretty with 15,227 words in November, which is a two-day lead.

How is everyone else doing?

Friday, November 04, 2011

2,419 words: Rocking the novel

I'm happy to say that I am still kicking butt at NaNoWriMo.  Three days, and so far my total word count for November is 9,251, with 2,419 of those having been added today.  I decided the night of the kickoff party that my personal goal was 2,000 words a day, and so far I've gotten there every day.  Let's hope I can keep it up!

Another good thing has happened: More of the plot has fallen into place.  I knew where I was going with it, but hadn't entirely decided how I was going to get there, if you know what I mean.  But tonight I figured that part out, and if I say so myself, it's so perfect I don't know why I didn't see it before!  It's a relief to have worked it out, let me tell you, and with that problem solved I don't see why I wouldn't be able to meet (or even exceed) my overall word count goal of 80k.

Unfortunately the word count widgets, which I put in my sidebar every year to show my daily progress, are not available yet.  I hope they will be available soon, as I feel like my sidebar is a bit naked without one!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Another 3,384 words yesterday!

Yesterday was a crazy day.  My morning and early afternoon were pretty much claimed by a doctor's visit for a medical study I'm almost done with, and a vet appointment for our dog, Grace, who had to have x-rays — she has some pretty significant hip dysplasia, and in the past 6 or 8 months it's gotten steadily worse, to the point that we can no longer keep her comfortable with aspirin and daily walks.  The vet has her on some better pain medications now, including one for nerve pain (turns out she has some back problems too), and if I had a crystal ball I'm pretty sure I'd see weekly physical therapy appointments in my future.

Seems like everyone and everything wants a slice of my time lately.  I don't begrudge her that, of course, but I'm finding that my writing time is being steadily whittled down to next to nothing.  Working some evenings and getting good at managing my time will be absolutely necessary if I am going to adapt.

Despite all that, I did manage to get some serious novel writing done in the evening before dinner, and later on while Michael was heading to bed.  The result was that I fell into bed too exhausted to read much before I went to sleep — unusual for me, but becoming more common lately, I'm afraid — but I did get another 3,384 words pounded out.  A few hundred of those were updated after midnight, and went onto today's count, but that's fine.  I hate it when that happens when it makes it look like I didn't meet the goal for the day, when in truth I just met it after the clock turned over, but since I'm way ahead of my daily goal at the moment it's okay.

I'm happy with my wild success at the moment, even though I know it's only a cushion for those days later in the month where I don't get anything done.  How is everyone else doing?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

1,678 words: Off to a strong start

I attended the NaNoWriMo kickoff party tonight, which I blogged about on my novel's website.  It was busy, like last year, but it was a blast!  I made a few new NaNo buddies, and got off to a strong start with 1,678 words — my goal for November 1st already accomplished.  (Not that I plan on stopping there — if I have some time in the morning, I'll write some more.)

I'd been hoping to get to 30k before NaNo started, but as it turned out I didn't have another chance to write after reaching 24k on Thursday.  That's fine, though — I'll just have to try to make 55k during November, instead of the usual goal of 50k.  Technically, then, my daily goal should be a little over 1,800 words, but I'll let it slide for tonight.  I'm tired and have a big day ahead of me tomorrow.

If you're doing NaNo this year, how did you do right out of the gates?

Monday, October 31, 2011

My last hurrah

I start my new afternoon nanny job tomorrow, so today I took advantage of my last weekday of freedom and visited my in-laws (and my soon-to-be-mine horse).  I'm catching up on blogging and some work this evening, and I'll be attending the NaNoWriMo kickoff party in my area tonight.  I won't be able to stay very late, because of early-morning obligations (tomorrow will be a very busy day for me), but I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and getting started on my NaNo word count!

I'm looking forward to starting this new job and having the additional income, but I know I'm still going to miss my afternoons off.  I'll have to get used to a new way of doing things — I used to allow myself the mornings to answer personal email, check Facebook, and blog, but now I'll have to be conscientious about getting right to work when I have client projects waiting for me.  I may have to get used to getting up a little earlier again (gasp!).  I've been allowing myself to stay up late reading and sleep until 10am many mornings, but with less time for working, that may not always be possible.

The other thing I may need to start doing is going out to the barn in the mornings.  I've been going in the evenings, but as it gets colder that may not be as pleasant, even if I do generally have the barn to myself late at night.  Afternoons will be out, so mornings will be my only opportunity to ride.  I expect that some days I'll want to ride in the mornings, and make up the lost work hours in the evening — a distinct possibility that my husband and I have already discussed (and he's fine with — says he wants to play more video games, anyway.  Grownup boys and their toys...).

It's definitely going to require some changes in thinking, scheduling, and time management skills, but I'm looking forward to it nonetheless.  I love the family I'll be working for, and I'm very much looking forward to the change in pace!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo begins in just a few more days.  Of course, I've been working on my novel since summertime or before, so I'm not waiting to begin a new novel like most folks are — my goal is simply to put 50,000 more words on it during November.  I'm shooting for 80,000 words total, so I was trying to get to 30k before NaNoWriMo started.

I was starting to lose hope of that happening, but then Wednesday I had a phenomenally productive day: I added a whopping 5,670 words to my novel, bringing it to 23,935.  That seems a lot closer to 30k than what I was at before (about 18k).  Maybe I'll be able to get there before October 31 after all!

One other thing I've been doing as I geared up for NaNoWriMo was to create a website for my novel.  Yes, perhaps it seems a little premature, but I'm pretty serious about this one.  The website keeps me both excited and committed, so I figure it can't be a bad thing. I'm using old (no longer copyrighted) postcards and photographs for character images, my website header, and potential book covers (I'm thinking of e-publishing when I'm done).  Doesn't it all look great?  I'm thrilled with how the site is turning out!

Anyone else planning to do NaNo this year?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A writing-only tool for the easily distracted

Recently Barnes & Noble's PubIt page on Facebook posted a link to a Writer Unboxed post, about better writing through cheap technology.  Most of the technology listed was uninteresting to me, except for the bit about the NEO — a word processing keyboard that literally just writes.  It sounds like a great little device — takes AA batteries (and they last forever), doesn't have to boot up, and doesn't have stuff like the Internet to distract you.

Of course, something like this isn't for every writer or even every writing job — with no Internet, you can't do any research or post progress updates to your blog, for instance.  The little screen would make changing something you wrote ten minutes ago, or flipping back to an earlier page to double check something, rather challenging, and I also wonder about the ability to back up — or how likely you are to lose what you've written before you have a chance to upload the text.

For something like NaNoWriMo, however — where the goal is to write as much and as fast as possible, no revising or distractions allowed — it would be ideal.  If I could find a used one for a little less, I actually might consider it — I don't think I'd get enough use out of it to justify the $169 price tag.

What about you?  Have you ever used one of these, or a similar device, and if so, how did you like it?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A chance of pace

I had to make a tough decision lately.  I've been wanting to take on a second horse, but work has been a little slow (for a multitude of reasons: clients cutting back, I haven't been marketing enough, but also partly my own decision to focus a little more on fiction), and honestly I've been feeling a little burned out on some of what I do.  So instead of looking for more writing work, I mentioned to the family I babysit for that I was looking for more hours, and (with my permission) they recommended me to some friends who were looking for an after-school nanny.

It'll be a big change for me — aside from the babysitting, which is pretty irregular and more my choice as to whether I accept a job or not, I haven't punched a clock (so to speak) in 6 years.  (My anniversary as a full-time freelancer was this month, actually.)  For those of you who don't know, I have a background in teaching preschool and after-school programs, so when I decided I wanted part-time hours doing something other than writing, it was pretty natural to turn to my skills as a childcare provider.

My ultimate goal is to squeeze these 15 hours a week (or so) into my schedule without changing much, except for (of course) my productivity and time management habits.  I'll have the mornings and early afternoons to work on client work, my novel, and my blogs.  Hubby and I also agreed that our evenings could probably give a little too — we'll be giving up the occasional nightly movie so I can go to the barn or work (the latter if I went to the barn in the morning), but we're both okay with that.

The hope is that the money from the part-time nanny job will allow me to continue to work on fiction without feeling like I ought to be doing client work and earning more money instead.  Both families (the one I babysit for and the one I'll be nannying for) pay well, so the extra income should allow me to pursue both my fiction and my plans of taking on a second horse.  I think that's well worth learning to juggle a new schedule, don't you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Getting organized in style!

Although I've been working on my novel for some months now, I decided recently that I wanted a way to get a little better organized visually.  I have an outline, but I wanted a visual stimulus to help keep me focused and organized, so I decided to put a bulletin board over my desk.  The idea was to post the images I've been collecting (representations of my characters as well as intended book covers), notes with details I don't want to forget, and that sort of thing.

I looked for a bulletin board at Target, but the cheap, plain ones are so hideous, I couldn't bring myself to even think of hanging on in my pretty little office.  Instead, I thought of buying a custom one, one covered in fabric.  I checked on Etsy, and there were tons of them, but none were quite what I wanted.  I did get some good ideas, though, so I went looking for instructions for making my own, and found this: Fabric Covered Cork Board Frame Tutorial.

Making one myself looked easy enough, so I shopped on eBay until I found a frame I liked: big enough, inexpensive enough, but still vintage.  Then I browsed Hobby Lobby's site, found a few fabrics I liked, and took the frame in with me to make sure I got one that went well with the frame.  Add a roll of cork, some hot glue, a staple gun, and a felt backing, and I had this:

Fabric covered bulletin board with vintage frame

It didn't take me long to make, and it's a much better look than a plain cork board, don't you think?  Choosing my frame and fabric based on looks instead of price caused it to cost just as much as some of the cheaper ones on Etsy, but it's what I really wanted, so I don't mind a bit!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Swamped

Ahhh...  That's better.

I just sat down on the couch, snuggled up in my blanket, and arranged the tools of my trade around me — lap desk, laptop, to-do list and time sheet, phone, and (a little farther away) my Nook.  I've been so busy lately that I don't think I've been able to work on the couch in two weeks — in fact, I haven't had a chance to do much at all, aside from the necessary client work.

Last week, I spent most of my time completing client projects and getting ready for a doll show my mom and I were selling at on Sunday (which went fairly well, by the way, even though it made for a very busy weekend).  This week, I've had doctor's appointments (for a medical study I'm participating in), family obligations, car problems, and plumbing problems eating up my time, so having an afternoon when I can sit down, put my feet up, and work without any time constraints sounds like an amazing luxury right now.

I have found a little time to work on a website for my novel — it's a little premature, but it's been fun nonetheless, and I figure having a site ready will give me some networking power during NaNoWriMo.  Doesn't hurt to have some potential readers already lined up, right?

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, it starts in just a week and a half.  Anyone else doing it this year?  I intend to provide a better accounting of myself this year, though if my weeks don't get a little less busy, adding 1,667 words per day into the mix should be interesting!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Week on, week off

Despite a busy week last week, I was fairly productive.  This week: not so much.  My mom and I spent part of the week getting ready for a doll show we're selling at this weekend, and on top of that I got loaded up with assignments from clients, so between doll show preparations and client work, my novel has been rather ignored.

I did, however, get somewhere with my search for character images.  I found someone who sells scans of old French postcards, and found quite a few from the 1920s that are perfect for my characters and my book covers.  I also started getting ideas for a blog and website to promote the books.  More on that at a later date though — I don't want to get too far ahead of myself.

I'm not expecting to be too productive this weekend, but hopefully next week will offer some time to work on my novel.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Where did my week go?

It's Friday night, but it doesn't feel like Friday night.  I'm having a hard time convincing myself that tomorrow is Saturday — and yesterday I was unable to shake the feeling that it was Tuesday, rather than Thursday.

Despite this feeling that I don't know where my week went, it was pretty productive — at least as far as my novel went.  After my Monday was hijacked, I made sure to work on it a bit on Tuesday, and ended up adding about 800 words.

Wednesday I wrote about 1,100 words, but then I got distracted by looking for period pictures of flappers to represent my characters as I've been imagining them in my mind.  From there I got excited about the idea of finding some images in the public domain to use on a future blog or on a cover if I self-publish (more on that at a later date).  I spent the entire day looking at old photos and listening to 1920s music, which wasn't exactly progress on my novel, but it was fun and got me excited about it nevertheless, so I can't totally discount it either.

Yesterday I made the most progress — my afternoon plans fell through, so I was able to spend an unplanned amount of time on my novel.  I ended up adding about 2,000 words, for a total of nearly 4,000 for the week.  Today I didn't have time to work on it, but I'm hoping to do a little more this weekend.

I was so busy with my novel all week that I hardly updated any of my blogs, and I completely forgot to update my novel's progress bar, too.  Hopefully next week, when I'm not as distracted, I'll be able to do a better job of keeping you posted!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I had a brain fart

...and forgot how busy I am.

Last week, a friend of mine from NaNoWriMo posted on Facebook, "Does anyone know how to change brakes?"  I'm no more humble than I am practical, so of course I immediately announced that I do!

I'm sure you see where this is going.  I, somehow, missed it, so I had kind of a "headdesk" reaction when she immediately messaged me asking if I'd help her do her brakes.  They were grinding and she didn't have enough money to take it to a shop.

Well, of course I wasn't going to back out then — how selfish would that be? — so I agreed to help.  And so that's what I did yesterday afternoon.

Predictably, I got very little work done yesterday.  We did the work in my parents' garage (hubby and I don't have one), and afterward I went to the Barnes & Noble cafe with my mom and to the barn to ride Panama.

It wasn't a bad day by any means, and I didn't have anything pressing to do so the timing was right.  But it's also been over a week since I added any word count to my novel, so I feel a bit guilty for not working on it.  My week is shaping up to be a busy one, in a non-work related way, so I'll have to be pretty determined if I'm going to carve out some time to work on that novel!

Friday, September 30, 2011

It's the novel that suffers

The week started out very productively.  I got a lot done Monday and Tuesday, and picked up a new client to replace some of the work I've been missing from a client that isn't as active as they used to be.  I'm feeling like I don't have quite enough client work lately, so I'm looking for maybe one or two more small-but-regular clients, preferable something fun.

The rest of the week wasn't as productive.  Wednesday my mom and I started getting organized for a doll show we sell at every year, so I guess that was a productive day, just not in work terms.  Yesterday I had my riding lesson and then just a few hours in the afternoon to do some administrative kinds of things before a friend came over for dinner, so I got virtually nothing done.

Of course, as you might have realized from the title of my post, it's my novel that has suffered from the lack of work time.  I didn't work on it much at all the two days I did work, except for a little research that I did (thankfully) get done.  I haven't added anything to the word count all week.

As a result, I ended up changing my plans for today.  I was going to go over to my in-laws' house to work with my mother-in-law's 2-year-old colt, something I've been doing once a week most weeks, but between sleeping in (apparently I was very tired!) and a last-minute babysitting job, my window of useful time today narrowed so much that I decided I'd better stay home and get some work (and some laundry) done.

It's disappointing in some ways — I really do love my time with this colt — but at the same time, it feels like the right thing to do.  Besides, if I can make a spontaneous decision to put aside work in order to do other things, I ought to be able to make the reverse decision when needed, right?

What about you?  When you lack the time to do everything you want to, what is it that suffers first?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do you ever have those days

...where you just stare at the page (or screen), and nothing comes?  Today has been one of those days for me, and I'm not even talking about my novel.  I'm talking about before I even got to my novel, when I was still blogging.  I worked on a book review blog post and a post on my horse blog, and in both cases, I stared at the screen for a good long time before I decided what I wanted to write about.

This is an unusual occurrence, especially for my horse blog.  I always know what I want to write about on my horse blog.

As a result, I haven't gotten around to doing what I wanted to do on my novel today.  So frustrating.

Does this ever happen to you?  How do you deal with it?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reading novels as research

I've read a lot of differing opinions on whether or not a writer should read similar novels to what they want to write.  Some say yes, because it helps you to gather information for your book and to learn about the market, while others say no, because the risk of "borrowing" tone or style from other writers is too high.  Some say only read them before you start writing, and stop once you begin working on your novel.

I've been doing a little of everything.  I read fairly quickly, so I'm constantly reading something else, and something else, and something else.  A few of those novels have been similar in some theme or another to what I'm working on, but not all that many.  When you consider that I also haven't been working on my novel consistently this entire time, I suppose the risk of "borrowing" isn't too high.  But I have found that the similar ones have all contributed something to my understanding of my setting (1920s Chicago).

One book in particular I found helpful, not only because of the book itself but also because of the author's website.  I recently read the second in a series of YA books about the 1920s, and at the end I saw a reference to the website.  I checked it out, and found this little gem: a glossary of 1920s slang.  I'd been compiling a list on my own, but finding this greatly sped up the process.

What about you?  If you write fiction, do you find that reading similar books to what you are writing helps or hurts the creative process?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My fingers fly when I'm having fun

I didn't add nearly 5,000 words to my manuscript yesterday, but I didn't do too badly, either: 2,702 in just an hour and 45 minutes.  Between that and some work on my blogs, I had a moderately productive day.

It just goes to show how productive I can be when I'm enjoying my work.  I mean, that's more than 1,500 words an hour!  Pretty fast when you consider that I'm creating something.

In the past, I've blogged a lot about burnout, and procrastination, and other productivity problems that plague me.  What if the answer, all along, was to find something I enjoyed more than what I was doing?  Not that it necessarily has to be fiction, but I think there's something to be said for the idea that procrastination is a sign that you don't like your work.

In any case, I'm finding that I enjoy my current balance quite a bit.  Part client work, part novel writing.  I know that there will be times where I'll be doing mostly client work because of upcoming deadlines, or mostly working on my novel because I don't have much client work at the moment — and that's fine.  I just hope I can maintain the balance — and my new outlook — over the long term!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fits, starts, and writing out of order

I had a couple of very busy weeks, as you probably guessed from my lack of posts.  The first week of September, Michael was off of work, so I took some time off too — hard not to when he's home, because we end up doing stuff together anyway.  After that I was busy playing catch-up on all the assignments I'd neglected while he was home.  And then when you add in all the horse and family stuff I've been doing lately — well, it's no wonder it's already fall, and I'm left wondering what happened to my summer!

Yesterday, however, I finally felt like I "got it back" — the productivity on my novel that I experienced briefly a few weeks ago, that is.  I worked hard and got all of my client projects done, and found yesterday that I had nothing to do.  Then I remembered my poor, neglected novel — oh, right, I was supposed to be transitioning to working on that more often!

I started out with a little research, and by the time I was done checking on what I wanted to check on, I was excited about my novel again.  I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.  Then hubby came home and we had to meet a friend for dinner, so I had to stop.  (Very reluctantly, I might add.)  So afterward, I came home, and wrote and wrote some more, until it was quite late and I was quite tired (underneath all the excited energy that comes from getting wrapped up in writing a novel).  When all was said and done, I had added a whopping 4,648 words to my novel, all in one day!

I'm doing something very uncharacteristic of my usual style.  I am usually a fairly linear person when it comes to novel writing, starting at the beginning and working my way to the end.  But this novel has been different.  Occasionally scenes have come to my mind and I feel I just have to get them down before I forget what I wanted to write.  Other times, like yesterday, my research triggers some ideas.  In this case, I was doing research for one character's backstory, and decided to write the entire scene (or scenes) where he tells his story, which takes place somewhere in the middle of (my vision of) the novel.  So far it's been wildly successful, and I'm about two-thirds of the way done (it's a long story).  Once I finish, I have to work out the details that will fill in between the beginning and the middle, but that won't be so hard now — since the backstory is so heavily wrapped up in the entire conflict and resolution of the novel, it turns out I actually had to write this part before I figured out the rest of the story.

Luckily, I don't have anything else pressing to do today, so I can make it another novel day!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There are good days...

...and then there are bad days.  Today was one of the bad days, at least as far as productivity goes.

It started out all right.  I posted to my book review blog, scheduled a couple of future posts, and worked on updating some of the affiliate links (an ongoing project I've been working on).  By the time I was done with that, it was lunch time, and I was hungry.  I decided to read a little, and instead of reading some of the research material I've assembled for my novel, I picked up the book I'd been reading at bedtime last night.

Big mistake.  It was a couple of hours before I put it down again, and even then it took some serious willpower.

I was so proud yesterday, when I worked on my novel all day long, doing a little research and nearly doubling my word count.  Oh well.  I guess you win some, you lose some, right?

I've got a little bit of my day left, so I think I'm going to try to complete some client work (what I'd originally wanted to get done yesterday).  I want to free tomorrow up for some more noveling!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Prioritizing and the difference it makes

Lately I haven't gotten much done on my novel, not even much research.  I started thinking that perhaps it's because I haven't been putting it first on my to-do list each day — even though my intention has been to shift my focus and work more on fiction, "Work on novel" still ends up being fourth or fifth on the list every day.

Today was different.  Even though my list, as I made it last night, still had my novel down as #4, I woke up wanting to work on it.  I had a scene that I was thinking about as I was waking up, and I was burning to get it onto paper (or into type, techically).  And so as soon as I rolled out of bed and into my office, I started working on my novel — writing, not researching or outlining.

The difference in productivity was amazing.  I hardly checked email, and when I did, it was only to respond quickly and return to my novel as fast as possible.  I stopped writing once for a bit to research something, and again to eat lunch, but otherwise I worked on it fairly steadily for a large chunk of the day, ultimately adding more than 3,500 words.  Moreover, the details that I wasn't sure about before are coming to me quickly as I write.

Now I don't know if this is really how I want most days to go — now that I'm calling it quits for the day (forcibly — I could probably keep going for a while, no problem), I don't really have much time to finish the other tasks I was going to work on today.  But I'm thinking that, if working on something first thing is the best way to make sure it gets done, I ought to plan on starting off with my novel at least a couple of days a week.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hello, my name is Katharine, and I am a bookworm...

When I was a kid, my mom and dad were once told at a parent-teacher conference, "We try to get everyone else to read more, but we have to try to get Katharine to read less!"  Even then, I was reading when I shouldn't be — in class, namely — and although most teachers in elementary school were pretty tolerant of it, as I got older they started getting less so.

I can remember in fourth (or was it fifth?) grade, when my teachers finally stopped letting me get by without doing my work.  Apparently I hadn't been doing my assignments all year, and when that information came out at a parent-teacher conference, I had to make up all the assignments I'd missed throughout the year.

After that, I learned that if I did the work and got good grades, most teachers just didn't know what to do with a kid who read in class instead of paying attention but was obviously still a good student.  If I had good grades, how could they justify telling me to put the book away?  Some still did, obviously, but I got away with it an awful lot.

Fast forward to today.  I've been reading a lot lately, more than in previous years.  In the past year, it's started to interfere with my work.  I'm more likely than I used to be to take an hour or an afternoon to finish a particularly engrossing book, and I'm finding that lately I've been reading so much that I'm finding it harder to do any research for my novel — even though I read all the time, very little of that time is spent on the books I've picked out for research.

Obviously, reading is a good thing.  Great writers are great readers, and all that.  But maybe it's time to admit that I might have a teeny little addiction.

One thing I'm trying to do differently is to change what I read while I eat lunch.  I used to take that time to read for pleasure, but I find that's often what gets me into trouble, because I don't want to put the book down and get back to work.  Lately, I've been using that time to read my current "research" book (in this case, Flapper).  I'm also trying to leave my Nook in another room while I work, but that isn't always successful.

It's funny, but that book on procrastination that I read talked about how TV is one of the biggest time-wasters that people use to procrastinate.  I never even think of turning on the TV during the day, so I was pretty pleased when I read that, but the truth is, reading IS my television!

What about you?  What do you love to do that tends to encroach into your workday if you don't watch it?  I don't mean browsing the Internet or checking email and Facebook, as I think those are fairly mindless time-wasters — you're not doing it because you love it, necessarily, but because you're on the computer and it's easy to get distracted.  I'm talking mainly about hobbies or other pastimes that refuse to stay in their own time and place.  What do you find the most difficult to limit during your workday?

Monday, August 08, 2011

How to stop procrastinating

Over the weekend I finished reading The Procrastination Equation, the book I blogged about on Friday.  I have to say I'm impressed — the book combines solid research on why people procrastinate with suggestions on how to stop.  I've got a lot of ideas now that I'm hoping will help me to be more productive going forward.

The author says that there are three different factors that cause procrastination, and everyone procrastinates for different reasons.  Early on in the book, he has you take a quiz to see where you stand in each of the three categories.  The first factor he calls expectation — i.e., the expectation that you're going to do poorly at a task causes you to put it off.  This one is linked to low confidence and sometimes even depression.  However, overly high confidence can also be a problem, as you tend to underestimate the amount of time it will take to do a task (a problem when you also tend to leave things to the last minute).  I scored really high on confidence, so obviously lack of belief in myself is not a problem, but apparently too much may be hurting me in other ways.

The other two factors are value and time.  The first represents how much value you place in your work (e.g., how meaningful it is and how much you enjoy it).  Time is more about impulsivity and how easily distracted you are, but also how likely you are to put things off to the last minute.  I scored the minimum "problem" score in both categories, so both are equally an issue for me, but neither is much of an issue.  In other words, since I scored just barely within the procrastinator range in each category, I ought to be able to get beyond this and improve my productivity pretty easily.

Once you've determined how you rate in each category, the author discusses all of the ways in which we procrastinate, individually and as a society.  He lays it on pretty thick, and by the time he's done, you feel pretty terrible.  Once you're properly disgusted with yourself, he goes into fix-it mode, and walks you through approaches to combating each type of procrastination.

The value section, for instance, talks about how to increase your perceived value of what you do.  He does suggest viewing your current job as a stepping stone to what you really want to do, or even trying to move into a different job altogether, something you will be more motivated to do.  I'd like to think I've already started down that path, having made my decision to freelance part-time so that I have more time to work on fiction.

He also talks about making goals in order to challenge yourself and make your work interesting.  He explains how to make effective goals: positive (instead of "Not doing such-and-such"), reasonable (something you can actually achieve in the near future), and specific (rather than general goals).  I already make a to-do list every day, but I could probably stand to make the items on my list more specific goals for that day, rather than a list of everything I need to do (more than half of which I never get to).

The value section also addresses energy, because as he said, it takes a lot of energy to keep yourself focused.  He talks a little about your natural rhythm, and how that affects your productivity.  He said that night owls are often procrastinators, because they are trying to force themselves into an unnatural (to them) schedule.  Bingo!  I've said before that I feel I'm less productive now that I'm trying to work during normal hours (instead of late at night).  The good news is, it sounds like there's a way around this: The author also talks about doing your most difficult tasks during your most productive time, which (apparently) starts a few hours before you get up, and lasts for only about 4 hours.

Interestingly, my typical schedule of answering email, blogging, and marketing first, and then moving to more important things, fits into this time frame pretty well — IF I can learn to focus myself better once I start on the actual work.  There's where my distractability comes in!

In the section about impulsivity and distractions, he talks about using precommitment, which is where you commit to something ahead of time to make it more difficult for yourself to back out (or procrastinate) once it's time to do the task.  One example is software to keep you from getting onto certain sites during work hours.  He mentions LeechBlock, which is a Firefox add-on that I was thinking about downloading a while back; this book gave me the extra push I needed to do it.  I get easily distracted by the Internet when I'm working, but of course most of the time I can't turn it off entirely, because I need it for work.  But LeechBlock allows you to block certain sites (Facebook!) during certain times of the day, or limit yourself to, say, ten minutes out of every hour.  It looks like there is also a lockdown feature, which presumably also allows you to lock yourself out of the chosen sites for a specified period of time — say, the hour you need to finish some certain task.

I'll play with LeechBlock a little and see what settings work best for me.  I'm thinking of starting of by allowing myself ten minutes on each site an hour during my peak productivity times, and using the lockdown feature when I really need to focus for a designated period of time.  I also took the author's advice and disabled all of the "new mail" notifications in Outlook.  I have a habit of immediately checking any new email the minute it comes in, and as the book points out, it takes a little while to get back to work after such a distraction.  I'll still have the distractions of the pets (my cat Ivan is distracting me as I write this by doing things he's not supposed to, which requires me to get up and make him stop), but at least the worst of the distractions — Facebook and other sites — will be minimized.

One more thing the book talked about, although I think this was in the value section: using productive procrastination.  This is when you avoid a bigger task by working on something else you've been avoiding.  Many writers will recognize this as their tendency to clean when they have writer's block, but you can also use it to, say, work on a different client project.  (Or, in my case more than once recently, work on fiction when you're avoiding a client project.)  A somewhat related technique (this one being from the time section) is breaking a larger task down into smaller tasks.  I've used this before to get myself going on an intimidating project, by starting with something easy like research or outlining.

As you can probably tell, the book is a treasure trove of suggestions, and I'm hoping I'll be able to put it to good use.  What about you?  Do you struggle with procrastination?  Have you tried any of these techniques before, or do you have a technique of your own that has worked for you?

Friday, August 05, 2011

How badly do you procrastinate?

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Procrastination can be a real problem for me, so when I saw this ebook available from my library, I put my name on the wait list.  Amusingly, I procrastinated about getting it, moving my hold back several times because I had too many other ebooks checked out and knew I wouldn't have time to read it... and now I've procrastinated on picking the book up until just a few days before it's due.  Not much hope for me if I'm procrastinating on reading a book about fixing my procrastination, huh?

Anyway, I've only just started reading the book, but I wanted to share my results to the author's procrastination survey.  It's a 70-question multiple-choice survey, so it's a perfect distraction when you're procrastinating on getting something else done.  (Ha ha.)  There's also a shorter, Facebook-based quiz, but I took the longer survey.

Your score is 53 out of a possible 100
You're an Average Procrastinator!


You rank in the middle 50% of the population in terms of your level of procrastination. That is, when it comes to putting things off, you do so at times even though you know you shouldn't. Likely, you are about average in terms of conscientiousness and self-discipline. Probably, your work doesn't consistently engage you or perhaps you are surrounded by a few easily available and more enticing temptations. These temptations may initially seem rewarding, but in the longer-term, you possibly see a few of them as a waste of time. Though you likely still get your work done, you could probably could do it sooner and experience less stress. You may want to reduce what procrastination you do commit. If so, here are three tips that have been scientifically shown to work.

Answering the questions in the survey, I started getting the feeling like I wasn't going to rate as highly as I'd feared.  I do get frustrated at myself for procrastinating, but I also don't have terrible issues with impulse control otherwise (lots of questions in the survey ask about that), so theoretically I should be able to control my procrastination.  And while I do often leave things for the last minute, I don't do that with everything.

My test results also gave three tips for how to reduce procrastination: goal setting, stimulus control, and routines.  It says that goals should be short-term, detailed, and achievable (we all know what happens when you set general New Years resolutions!).  I don't think my problem is there, unless you count the fact that I tend to put way too many items on my to-do list every day.

The section on stimulus control advises me to have one place that I work that's free from distractions.  This is probably my biggest problem area, but the advice doesn't work for me for a couple of reasons: One, I do like a change of scenery sometimes when I work (and often find that I can jump-start my productivity halfway through the day by moving, say, to the couch), and two, my biggest distractions come with the territory.  I need the Internet for research when I work, but it also happens to be my biggest distraction!

The last section, on establishing routines, is probably also part of my problem: I don't really have one.  I definitely think having a routine is helpful as a freelancer, though.  For instance, a lot of freelancers I know start out with something easy to get warmed up — checking email, blogging, etc.  Next might come marketing, and finally some client work.  Or, as I know many freelancers do, you might jump right in by starting out your day with client work (because that's the hardest and therefore the most likely victim of procrastination).  I personally tend to follow the warm-up approach, but sometimes I find that I run out of day before I get to the things I most need to do, so perhaps I need to rethink that strategy.

The problem is that not every one of my days starts out the same way — as I mentioned in my last post, about making time for hobbies, I go to the barn a couple of mornings a week to ride.  So perhaps what I need to do is establish two different routines, one for full days and one for half days.  The half days are the ones where I'm most likely not to get anything done, so perhaps I should skip my "warm up" on those days, and go right to the more pressing tasks.  Hmm...  Food for thought!

What about you?  How do you score on the survey?  Any thoughts on the suggestions for how you can improve?  If you write about it on your blog, please feel free to include a link in the comments — I'm interested to see how my own bad habits compare with my fellow freelancers'!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Playing hooky and making time for hobbies

After the progress I made last week on my novel, I'm sorry to say that I spent the last several business days playing hooky.  On Thursday I had a riding lesson, and on Friday I went on a trail ride.  Then my mother-in-law was in town Monday and Tuesday, and hubby was off work too, so I spent both days either with them or with horses (or both).

This made me think of something that I neglected to figure into my visions of my new, fiction-inclusive schedule: horse time.  I ride a lot, especially in the summer, and I do need to figure in several mornings a week being spent at the barn.  (Although I do try to make smart decisions and pass on rides when I get really behind, as I did this morning.)  This leaves less time to be split between client work and fiction writing, but the horse stuff is something I'm not willing to give up, so I just have to do my best to work it in.

I think what I'll do is continue to plan, say, 2 mornings a week to be spent at the barn, and try to make other rides in the evening.  (Evening rides interfere with work less but don't allow for trail rides — I need daylight for that, which means mornings, because the afternoons have been too hot lately.  Plus mornings are when the rest of my trail-riding buddies go, and Panama and I don't hit the trail without at least one other horse and rider with us, for safety reasons.)  This will be a flexible schedule, though: I'll continue to stay home when I need to work, and plan on adding extra mornings in to make up for it when I have slower weeks.  Slower weeks will be defined as less client work — I can generally get work done on my novel at any time of day or night, but with client work I am more productive when I don't lose half my day by going somewhere in the morning.

What about you?  Do you have any hobbies that you try to plan your work schedule around?  The nice thing about freelancing is that you do have a little more flexibility, even if many of us pay the price by working more hours in the long run.  (Hard to get away from work when you don't leave an office at the end of the day!)  Or do you find that you work better if you treat freelancing like a 9 to 5 job?  I know freelancers on both end of that spectrum, so I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to this question, just personal preference.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Some small progress

I was getting tired of only researching, and feeling like I had nothing to show for it, so yesterday I worked a bit on writing for a change.  I've been reading some books about the time period, but I'm only reading/researching about an hour a day, and I feel like it's not enough.  I also feel like I needed to write a little more, to keep the spark of interest alive as much as to add to my word count.

Once I got started writing, I couldn't stop.  I wrote a bit toward the end of the day, then again at Barnes & Noble, and again after a late-evening ride.  In the end, I added more than 1700 words to my word count, and updated the word count meter in my sidebar.  Eighty thousand words is kind of a rough goal — I actually have no idea yet how long this novel will be, or even what it should be.  Further research is needed in that area, too.

I still have background research to do for the novel's setting and some of the details of the plot, but I'm thinking it would also be a good idea to start writing here and there, sketching out scenes as they come into my head, and fleshing out an outline.  Not all of this requires a lot of research to make it right, and it would be good to feel like I'm making some quantifiable progress on my novel.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In need of a timer app

Last week I finished one of the books I was reading to research my novel, and so far I haven't picked anything else up yet.  I've had a couple of freelance deadlines the last few days, so that's taking precedence.  I might, however, do a little online research today, if I can carve out 30 minutes or so.

I read an interesting blog post last week about how to write 2,000 words a day.  You could substitute any number of words you want — the point of the blog post is that it's more manageable if you set aside several 30-minute time blocks, instead of trying to carve out 2 consecutive hours.  It makes sense.

I like the idea of setting aside 30 minutes at a time to work on my novel — or to work on anything, really.  I think it would help me stay focused if I decide that for the next 30 minutes I'm going to work straight through, and then I'll take a break.  I tried some years ago to use a little kitchen timer to do this, but I found that it didn't work as well to have the timer on my desk.  So a couple of days ago, I started looking for a timer app for my computer.

Unfortunately, Windows computers don't seem to have as many software options, though I'm sure there is probably exactly the app I need for a Mac.  I did find this online timer, which so far is working pretty well.  I can set the timer, switch my windows, and it'll make a gong-like sound when it finishes its countdown.

What I really want, however, is software that will put a small timer, perhaps the size of iTunes's mini player, always on top of all my other windows.  That way I can see how much time is remaining without having to switch windows.  I think it would really help me to stay focused if I can tell myself, "Just 10 more minutes, and then I can check email/get a drink/take a break."

Does anyone know of a software tool like that for Windows-based computers?  I have Firefox, but so far I haven't seen that any of their add-ons will do what I want (though they do have a lovely add-on called LeechBlock to block or limit your use of websites that distract you while you are working).  I'd love to hear about any software apps or add-ons you've tried, and how well they worked!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Writing vs. research

One of the concepts that I'm struggling with right now regarding my transition to writing fiction part-time is whether research counts.  As I said in my last post, I'm somewhat disappointed with the reality that this will be a slow transition, rather than an abrupt change.  Right now I'm spending roughly an hour every day researching the time period I'll be writing about — I've been reading a nonfiction book on the subject, and have one or two more I want to read, as well as some other research to do.

The logical part of me knows that reading and researching counts toward working on my novel, because it does have to be done.  But at the same time, it's work on my novel that's hard to quantify — I can't update my word count in the sidebar, for instance.  (I do have a small word count, from when I got inspired during my week off, as you can see now in the sidebar; but I feel like most of the writing should be done after I finish my research.)

Being able to quantify my research would be nice not only because it would allow me something to update in my sidebar, but also because it would give me a way to measure my progress, and feel good about what I've accomplished so far.  I could just get a final count on the books I want to read, and measure my progress as the percentage of reading material that I've finished.  Any other ideas?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New progress bar in the sidebar

I finally got a progress bar up in the sidebar for the novel I'm starting on.  I've only written the prologue and jotted down a few scenes that were burning holes in my brain, so the word count isn't high yet.  I have a title in mind, but didn't put it in the sidebar yet — I think I want to have a more official unveiling once I'm sure it's going to stick.  For now, it'll be a mystery.

I have some thoughts on writing vs. research that I'll blog about in a couple of days — I hate that the word count is not really going to move for a while, until I finish the research I'm working on.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Easier said than done

Even though I made my decision to start splitting my time between freelancing and fiction writing a couple of weeks ago, I'm struggling with the realization that nothing has changed yet.  I'm still doing a lot of freelance work, and I'm still struggling with motivation.  About the only thing that has changed is that I've started doing some research, which basically consists of reading a few chapters here and there of a nonfiction book on the time period I'll be writing about.

What I'm struggling with is giving myself "permission" to take my time with my transition.  I should have known that I wouldn't be able to switch to part-time novel writing overnight, yet somehow that's what I had pictured.  (And of course, in my fantasy, it fixed my motivation problems right away, too.)  I still have some deadlines to meet, and therefore, some work to get out of the way before I start working on fiction in earnest.

The tough thing to get my head around is that, since I will still be freelancing part-time, the presence of client deadlines won't change — I'm going to have to get used to setting aside time to work on fiction, despite the deadlines.  I feel like it is going to take some time to transition to a half-and-half schedule, and to learn how to juggle both freelancing and fiction at the same time, and that frustrates me a little.

Obviously, the first step needs to be to meet all the current deadlines; from there, I need to make sure I consider my workload every time I accept a freelance assignment.  Staying on top of my freelance deadlines will also be important, in order to preserve the balance in my workload.

What I'm realizing is that it's going to be a tougher road than snapping my fingers and saying, "I'm going to write fiction now!"  I'll keep you posted on my progress, and hopefully pretty soon here you'll see some updates on my sidebar.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

My big decision

I mentioned last week that over the course of my vacation, I did some cleaning house, in both a literal and figurative sense: I rearranged my workspace, but I also rearranged my career plans, as well.

If you've followed my blog for a while, you know that I've been really struggling with my productivity and time management for probably the past couple of years.  Every once and a while, I'll come up with something — a new way of taking breaks or motivating myself, a new chair, etc. — that seems to solve the problem for a little while, but it never lasts long.

Some time ago — maybe a few weeks or even a month or two — I had an epiphany: My productivity is suffering because I'm not doing what I most want to do.  It's not that I don't enjoy my work — once I stop procrastinating, I usually do enjoy it, and am able to finish articles and other work quickly.  But I also tend to feel really burnt out all the time, and it makes it difficult to get stuff done.

The thing is, I love freelancing and the freedom it offers me, but I also set out to be a writer with one ultimate goal in mind: to write fiction.  And I haven't been making time for that.  A couple of years ago, I tried to devote an hour a day to my own projects, but it didn't work out very well.  I was trying to assign time I didn't have in my day, essentially.

So here's my decision: I'm going to essentially go part-time with my freelancing business.  I want to try to divide my time pretty evenly: half to client work, and half to fiction (research and writing) and other projects of my own choosing (blogging, some ebooks of my own, etc.).  This means cutting back somewhat on the amount of work I take, as well as the amount of time I spend marketing (or should spend marketing — I've been a bit lax about that).  I've talked it over with my husband, and he is supportive; plus I was able to reduce my bills a little recently, so I can afford to make a little less.

I'm still only in the initial stages of the transition, but I've already started doing some research on a novel idea has been burning a hole in my head since November (I thought of it last year during NaNoWriMo).  I'll blog about it some more as I make the transition to half-freelancer, half-novelist, and I'll start updating my "Current Project" section in the sidebar again once I start working on the new novel (the old one will get shelved for now, to be finished at a later date).

It's a major change to both my mindset and my career, and I'm very excited; hopefully this excitement is what I need to make me want to work again!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My workspace makeover, part 2: Layout

I'm reviving an old series of posts that I had planned, since this is really a continuation of the same theme: making over my workspace in order to encourage greater productivity.

In the first post, I wrote about my new desk chair.  I was having a hard time sitting at my desk for long periods of time, and suspected that part of it was the chair I was using, a vintage wooden chair.  It was more comfortable than you'd think, but just not enough to justify sitting in it for long stretches.

The new desk chair is comfortable, but it wasn't working to keep me in my desk as much as I wanted.  I was still taking my laptop into the living room and working there instead.  I started thinking maybe I needed a different desk — this one has been a challenge because the footwell is small (it's an older desk) and many chairs don't fit underneath.  My office chair doesn't, so I'm still in a position where it's far too easy to hunch forward, which is fatiguing.

I was thinking about getting a secretary desk or a piano desk (I like antiques), because either style would have a writing surface that would either fold down or pull out, coming out over my lap so that I could lean back in my chair.  I even found a gorgeous Eastlake secretary desk that I might have walked out with that very day, had the price tag not given me pause.

While I was thinking about the Eastlake desk, I decided to go ahead and rearrange my office space.  My husband and I share the second bedroom in our house — he has a secretary desk in one corner, and I had my desk against the front window.  However, it occurred to me that this might have had a hand in causing my problem, since the bright window behind my screen made it hard to see unless I leaned forward.

Here is my old workspace:

Freelance writers desk

Note the old armchair rocker in the corner.  As I mentioned in this post, about being comfortable when I write, I used to sit in this rocker to work.  It's extremely comfortable, but my older cat has taken it over since we got the kitten last summer.  I never had the heart to move her so I could work there, but last week I decided to get rid of the rocker and put my workspace in that corner, facing the adjacent wall.  I also exchanged my floor lamp with the one in the living room, which will give more direct light.  The printer is on nesting tables on the far side of the desk, in front of the lamp, and instead of the rocker, I moved in a Victorian parlor chair that my mom gave me recently.

Here is the result:

Freelance writers desk

Yesterday was the first day I sat at my desk for a lot of the day since moving it here.  I'm able to get my chair partly under the desk, so I can pull my laptop forward, and with a wrist rest (ordered from Etsy), I should be fairly comfortable sitting back to work.  I still catch myself leaning forward occasionally, but overall I don't seem to have as much of that impulse with a wall behind my screen instead of a window.

I'm hoping this will be another step toward improving my productivity.  If so, it seems I will be able to keep my current desk, which makes me happy because I really do like it!