by Megan Haskell
Most writers worry about finding and maintaining their inspiration. Their muse. God forbid we have to deal with writer’s block or a dearth of work, am I right? No writer worth her salt wants to find themselves wordless.
But sometimes, the opposite problem can occur. Sometimes, you have so many ideas and projects and commitments, you find yourself scatterbrained and unfocused. The end result? Nothing gets finished, nothing gets accomplished.
Richard St. John gave a TED talk on the importance of focus and concentration. His thesis is: to be successful, you have to eliminate the unnecessary, and practice both long-term focus toward a goal, and short term concentration on a task. I tend to agree.
The problem is there are always demands on our time. When we’re first starting out, we have to learn how to balance our writing with our day job and family. But as we grow in our abilities and careers, there will be more and more writing-related demands and opportunities. Whether that’s marketing, blogging, co-writing, or simply an abundance of stories to write, you have to learn how to say no to the unnecessary, prioritize the necessary, and focus on the job at hand.
So how do we do that?
Pull Out Your Trusty Calendar
A calendar is an essential weapon in the professional writer’s arsenal. I firmly believe every writer should have some kind of calendar, organizer, or planner. I don’t care if it’s digital or paper, if you have a dedicated app on your phone or a six-inch binder, so long as it has space to write down dates and events. If you don’t have one, go get one.
Now that’s done, let’s take a look at what you have planned. Everyone has personal preferences as to how they like to schedule their time, but for our purposes, let’s look at the big picture stuff. Deadlines, birthdays, social events and holidays, book promotions or marketing events…everything you’ve already committed to should be written down on your calendar.
Example: A Blog Post
For the purposes of this exercise let’s say I’ve asked you to write a blog post for O.C. Writers. The submission deadline is this Saturday. Will you say yes, or no?
What else is on your calendar? Nothing? Okay, then a yes might be a possibility.
Are you already behind schedule with your copy editor, and need to send your manuscript by end of day Friday, OR ELSE? Then it’s probably not a good idea to attempt a blog post, no matter how much you might want to. A polite, ‘sadly, I’m on deadline’ email gets you out of that one easily enough. (‘Cause I’m a writer too, and I get it.)
What about social engagements? Your friends want you to go out for drinks on Thursday night, but your manuscript is due by end of day Friday, OR ELSE. What do you do? Well, I don’t know about you, but I learned this one in college the hard way.
Consider the Benefits
Even if there are no immediate conflicts on your calendar, you’re a working writer. Your manuscript should generally take precedence over any other writing. So why should you do it? What are the benefits to writing the blog post?
O.C. Writers gives a byline and link to your books. Most blogs do. That can increase your visibility in the market, or boost your ranking on Google. Maybe you’ll even sell a few books. Plus there’s the added benefit of giving back to the writing community. Some blogs even pay! (Sadly, O.C. Writers is not currently one of those.)
What if instead of a blog post, you’re considering attending a writing event, like a conference or workshop? Will you learn something new? Network with other writers? Best yet, engage with readers and have the possibility of selling books?
All of these are great reasons to say yes. But when you say yes, you have to say no to something else.
Consider the Sacrifices
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As much as you might strive to be superman, you can’t spin the planet backwards and control time. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, therefore everything you choose to do sacrifices something else. And I do mean everything.
Every third Tuesday of the month, our own Maddie Margarita hosts Lit Up at Kean Coffee in Tustin. Three authors are invited to read from their books, and then the crowd discusses the work. It’s a really fun event. Especially when you’re also friends with one of the authors!
I desperately wanted to go hear my friend read. I love his book, and I knew he would be great behind the mic. Unfortunately, I was also working on the edits of my latest manuscript, and yes, I had to get it off to my editor soon, OR ELSE. I knew I couldn’t lose a night’s work (I’m a night writer) so as much as it pained me, I had to say, no.
Another sacrifice I regularly and willingly make, is no TV during the week. Sunday through Thursday nights, I am working. (So don’t talk to me about the latest episode of Westworld or Veep until next weekend. Thank you.)
The Gray Area
There are people who argue that every author should write a blog to help build their platform. I don’t necessarily disagree. For some authors, that’s absolutely the right choice. But for me, when it came to fiction, I decided to say no.
Writing a blog can take a lot of time. It doesn’t always have to, but it can. Especially if — like me — you struggle to think of topics you want to write about. I didn’t want to write about writing on my personal blog, because the point was to grow my fantasy readership. But every week I told myself that I needed to post something, or I was never going to be successful.
I worked on the blog for over a year with little noticeable return. Each post was increasingly painful, and it took time away from my work in progress. It was a stressful addition to an already overloaded schedule. Eventually I came to realize that the pain wasn’t worth it. I chose to pare down my reader outreach to a once-a-month newsletter and quick Facebook updates so I could focus on quality over quantity, and producing my next novel…which is what my fans really wanted, anyway.
Was ending the blog the right decision? For me, it was.
Look at your calendar, your pros, and your cons, then ask yourself one simple question: Does this advance my writing goals? Does this project, or conference, or social media platform, or event bring me one step closer to becoming the writer that I want to be?
If the answer is no…well, then I think your response should be obvious.
Legend has it, I was born with a book in my hands. Thirty-ish years later, I’m a stay-at-home-mom who prefers a good story over doing the dishes. Only now, I’m building my own fantasy worlds! I’m the author of the Amazon best selling series,The Sanyare Chronicles, and Program Director of O.C. Writers. You can find me on my website at www.meganhaskell.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
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