Thursday, October 11, 2007

Keeping Up

There isn't enough time in the day.

Strange as it sounds, the longer I'm in this business, the more I realize the importance of time management.

Way back in the 90's, when I was working 40 hours a week in a restaurant and trying to balance that with a family, leisure time, and writing, I longed for the day when I sold a book and could quit my job and spend my days in front of my keyboard, pounding out stories without having to cram it into my schedule.

But things haven't really changed. Life is still a balancing act, and even though I now prioritize writing I still have to find time to do it, even though it's my main source of income. October is almost halfway over, and I'm looking at my upcoming appearance schedule, with four out-of-state trips in the upcoming weeks, and am wondering when I'm going to have time to write three novellas and a novel by March, do line edits on two other novels, and get a head start on one more novel before my current contract is up.

I wish I could say I've discovered some time-budgeting secret which allows me to get things done, but I'm actually terrible at scheduling, awful at planning, and subscribe to the "don't sleep until it's finished" school of commitments. Those who know me are aware that I write down upcoming deadlines and events on a cheap picture calender, and I often don't know what I'm doing on any given day until I wake up and look at said calender.

So rather than offer answers with today's blog, I'm asking a question:

How do you budget your time and stay on schedule?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

That said, here's a bunch of stuff that I've been meaning to mention but haven't had the time to:

Friday Oct. 12, at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago from 5pm-8pm, I'll be hanging out with a bunch of other authors at the booklaunch party for CHICAGO BLUES, a collection of noir short stories that all take place in the Windy City.

If you're a Midwesterner, try to be there. It's going to be a lot of fun. If you're not from the area, you should still pick up a copy of CHICAGO BLUES. It's edited by the incomparable Libby Fischer Hellmann, and features some of the biggest names in thriller writing, including Sara Paretsky, Stuart Kaminsky, Barbara D'Amato, as well as talentless hacks like Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, Brian Pinkerton, Kevin Guilfoile, and yours truly, who contributed a brand new Jack Daniels short called OVERPROOF.

While you have your credit card handy, I also suggest picking up the sci-fi horror anthology GRATIA PLACENTI, which features a short story by me that is just plain wrong. Seriously, this is a warped, twisted, gross tale that I may someday regret, so get it now before I retract it. This book was edited by Jason Sizemore, who runs Apex Digest, which is a magazine you should be reading.

For you newbie writers who need a dose of inspiration, grab a copy of HOW I GOT PUBLISHED edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay. This terrific collection contains essays by over 90 published offers (including me), explaining how they got their lucky breaks. Learn about the starts of Christopher Moore, John Lescroart, Stuart Woods, JA Jance, Chris Grabenstein, Thomas Perry, Dave Barry, CJ Box, and friends of mine like Barry Eisler, David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, Lee Goldberg, Mario Acevedo, Raymond Benson, Steve Alten, Troy Cook, Jeremiah Healy, Sandra Balzo, Zoe Sharp, Laura Bradford, Michael A. Black, Jeff Shelby, Simon Wood, William Kent Krueger, and MJ Rose, among others.

Speaking of MJ, her Buzz Your Book class is coming up. If you're a new author, check it out. You can even ask your publisher if they'll cover the cost; many have.

Buzz your Book - the online marketing course- will be given only one time only in 2008. January 8 through February 7th. This isn't a theoretical class. M.J. Rose works one-on-one and online via email with each student on a marketing plan that includes an hour of brainstorming time. Again this year, Matt Baldacci---VP Marketing & Publishing Operations from ST. Martin's Press---will be the special guest lecturer and available via email for a whole week for Qs & As.

Sign up is very limited and open now and they're starting to fill up. If you are interested, please visit

If you aren't published yet, there's a great opportunity to meet agents and editors this November in New York.

Looking for an agent? Want to meet dozens face-to-face?

With only agents on the program, the Backspace Agent-Author Seminars (November 6 & 7, Radisson Martinique, NYC)
are a terrific opportunity to network, ask questions, talk about your work, and listen and learn from the people who make their living selling books.

Tuesday, November 6:

Emmanuelle Alspaugh, Rachel Vater, Paul Cirone, Scott Hoffman, Michael Bourret, Jennifer DeChiara, Jennie Dunham, Jessica Faust, Michelle Brower, and Liza Dawson with Daniela Rapp (editor, St. Martin’s)

Wednesday, November 7:

Laney Katz Becker, Janet Reid, Stephany Evens, Caren Johnson, Alex Glass, Lucienne Diver, Jennifer Unter, Miriam Goderich, Kate Epstein, Joe Veltre, Elisabeth Weed, Deborah Grosvenor, Paige Wheeler, Miriam Kriss, and Jeff Kleinman with Brenda Copeland (editor, Hyperion)

There's still time to register, for one day or both. Attendance limited to 150. And trust me when I say the best way to get published is to meet agents in person. This is well worth the time and cost of flying to NY...


Dana Kaye said...

I'm an MS Outlook nerd and use that to prioritize my deadlines. Everytime I turn on my computer, a little pop up comes on with a list of upcoming due dates. It helps with procrastination as well; whenever I sign on to surf the web or buy stuff on amazon, I know that list is lurking on my desktop and I usually give in and work on assignments.

Ever considered getting an assistant to handle the e-mails, promotional mailings, etc.?

Heather Harper said...

I recommend (Michelle Rowen recommended this first) Eat That Frog!:21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy

This book is great at helping you get the important things done first.

Jim Winter said...

I'm one of those fortunate souls who can write anywhere as long as I have a laptop and a thumbdrive.

That said, I've added other businesses to my bag of tricks to bring in income in hopes of ditching BigHugeCo. However, now I have to cram ALL of that in with writing.

Anonymous said...

I use iCal to budget my time and set priorities.

Unfortunately, the gap between planning and action often looms widely ...

Jeremy James said...

Joe, I'll go against prevailing wisdom and humbly suggest that your way of "managing" time is as good as it's going to get.

Time can't be managed, only spent (though I prefer the term "devoted" because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside).

Fact is, you're getting a lot done. Just listening to all the projects you've committed to makes me tired. If you bothered to map them all out in Outlook (a time consuming process), you'd see that getting everything done is impossible, and you wouldn't even bother to try.

Ignorance is bliss. When you die, your inbox will still be full. Keep up the good work.

JA Konrath said...'d see that getting everything done is impossible, and you wouldn't even bother to try.

Ha! That reminds me of the bumblebee, which, according to science, to too large and aerodynamically ineffecient to be able to fly. But the bumblebee is unaware of this, so it flies anytway.

Anonymous said...

Joe, Dana has a point. Many business professionals, especially entrepreneurs like yourself, have assistants who perform routine job functions which in turn frees up more time for their specialty work (in your case, writing ).

The big question is, what is your time worth? If you calculate that you make, say $25 an hour as a writer, and you could hire a part-time mom/college student/temp agency hire for $10 an hour to do the scheduling, calling, data processing and so on (roughly the going rate) you come out ahead on a per hour basis.

There’s also the sanity factor. As in, how much more clerical stuff do you want to deal with before your mind goes permanently numb?

Just some thoughts. I’m sure you’ll work everything out in well-thought-out manner.


Mark Terry said...

Sounds to me like you're doing pretty good. I use Outlook and the other "trick" I use is to have a big whiteboard on my office wall on which I write all projects and their deadlines as I get them. Then I scratch them off as I finish them. I love my whiteboard because I can see what's going on in my life at a glance.

Just about done with "Dirty Martini." I swear, you and I were working from the same outline when I wrote "The Serpent's Kiss." Great read, dude.

Anonymous said...

I'm the arty-farty kind of person who hates schedules. Even as a kid I dreamed of a time when I would be in charge of my time and do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. (I was a very naive kid.)

As a technical writer I had to work to deadlines, and that was okay. I didn't have that many projects going or meetings scheduled at any one time, so I could usually keep everything in my head or on a page-a-day calendar on my desk.

Then I got into supervision and management, in the kind of organization where everything is an emergency. Still naive, I thought I could continue to keep everything straight on a little calendar. But then I would find myself sitting bolt-upright in bed in the middle of the night in a panic about something that I needed to do for work. So I got myself a day planner. I started with a paper one, and took the Franklin-Covey classes and so forth. It helped a lot. I eventually progressed to a Palm Pilot. But if I were to choose a system today, I'd go back to the paper method, since it's so much more convenient for jotting down notes anytime I want than trying to use the little stick to press on letters for more than a simple calendar entry or phone number.

The secret to using a planner is learning to keep it virtually stuck with Velcro to your person 24/7, to use it for everything, personal and professional, and at the same time not let planning take over your life. It's easy to over-plan and not leave enough time to just sit or just think or muddle for a while without feeling guilty. At least it was for me, and I need my muddling time. But I was so busy then that it took me a couple of years after leaving that job to slow myself down to what feels normal to me without the guilt.

Back when planning was essential for me, I also got a lot out of a book titled, To Do Doing Done! by G. Lynne Snead and Joyce Wycoff.

Anonymous said...

"All you can do is all you can do".

Anonymous said...

Every morning, or the night before I make a to do list and I prioritize. A review of a book that I'm almost done with might rate above writing, just because it's so close to being done. The house might really need some attention so it might get the priority. And I try to get it all done, but if it's a difficult day (and lately, with two kids, they've all been difficult) at least I get those done.

I find that a lot can be done in a little time. Some situations, like doctor's appointments and days when I'm up early for an appointment and stuck up are perfect opportunities to get reading (for reviews) or writing done.

I also put writing and review projects on the desktop of my computer so that it's the first and last thing I see when I open the laptop. Knowing they're there makes me less likely to put them off. And I've discovered writing directly onto my computer can make me more efficient, if I can stay off the net.

Anonymous said...

>>The big question is, what is your time worth? If you calculate that you make, say $25 an hour as a writer, and you could hire a part-time mom/college student/temp agency hire for $10 an hour to do the scheduling, calling, data processing and so on (roughly the going rate) you come out ahead on a per hour basis.

I would ADORE a job like that. I am excellent at organizing and scheduling, just not as great at getting things done. I'm positive that in my own goals and career these things will be easier once both kids are in school.

Jude Hardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josephine Damian said...

After reading "Making a Literary Life" and "A Writer's Time" - I decided to hire a maid to do some of the housework - not all - but a big chunk, so that I can have time for grad school AND keep up with my blogs, myspace, and online workshops.

Also, I try to enforce strict limits on the time I spend on myspace, blogs, etc. so that I get other stuff (like homework) done (I even wrote a blog post about it called "The Element of the Ticking Clock.")

I recognize that right now, especially this semester, grad school precludes my writing any big projects (I have managed to write a short story or two), but it allows me time to research and outline my next book, which I'll start in January because I'm only taking one "easy" class next semester.

A well-known SF writer I know told me she's hired an e-assistant (lives in another state - a fan that the writer met at a con.) to manage her myspace, email, and yahoo group. This way, she focuses on writing and public appearances.

I think Michele Lee has a point about your hiring an assistant - what you spend in money should more than make it self up in time, which is.... money.

Cyn Bagley said...

Right now I am doing some copywriting. With my illness, I am pretty isolated. So I look at what I have agreed to do, and I write about one an hour. I do about three a day (more or less).

Since I started the copywriting, I haven't had much head time for short stories. Maybe some day I will learn how to do two types of writing in one day. But I doubt it.


Cyn Bagley said...

PS.. I forgot to mention that a lot of my time is taken up by medication, doctors, labs, etc. Managing my disease can be a full time job too. LOL

Sherryl said...

I teach part-time so I have to organise around that (and around bouts of grading). The little stuff goes on a list - sometimes I have three lists going, which I must admit I find depressing!
The writing projects go in a table, with title, status (what draft I'm up to or where it's been sent or if it's sold and I'm working with an editor) and notes as reminders. That table sits at the front of my desk so I can see it as soon as I sit down.
I pay someone to clean my house 2 hours a week so I can't use housework as a procrastination tool (believe me, I've even cleaned the fridge as an excuse). I figure if I'm paying someone then I have to use that time properly.
Some weeks though, I struggle with managing all of it, and that's when I procrastinate.

Brandon said...

Love the site, and your article in Writer's Digest. The reason, I'm here. Late reply, perhaps, but all the information was not only informative, it was motivating. So, there was a little inspiration there, too.

Time management? What a good question, especially now. Since I built my website, featuring a small handful of my stories, posted on message boards, and have been talking to other horror writers (Yes, I love horror), time has become vital, critical, life threatening. I'm working full time, too, at a bookstore, so time away from work is essential. If I didn;t have to sleep, I would be fine. But I've also cut a few hours off that per day just to get a few more things done. I have talked, gone to myspace, trying to gain freinds, chatted, laughed, and interacted, all the while trying to add something informative to each blog or message board, all the while, trying to figure out how to gain more exposure, and oh yeah, to write, too. Also, I still need to take that leisure time and just read. The Rockies are playing great baseball and I'm from Colorado, so I also want to help support the team. haha. So, while I feel doing all this is crucial, I also have to learn that quality comes into play. I focus the weekends on writing. I read a little in the evening during the workweek. I interact and contribute to message boards late at night. I ponder new ideas throughout the day. My web desinger told me the process was organic, and I see he's right. It's small steps, every time. But people are coming to read my stories, and the replies have been good. Several established horror authors have also stopped by. I've gotten four stories published just since its presence on the web. So, that's a plus, too. Thesite itself seems to haveopened a doorway. Also, I have to remember to take the time to thank all these peole who are coming, mention them in my blog, or post a link. Many people are willing and anxious to help upcoming authors. What a beautiful thing! And in return, you can do the same. There's a lot of gratitude I need to achknowledge, but I'm still trying to gain a more positove readership. So, after all that...? That entire spiel? The answer to your question is one word, and it is a cliche, of all things: Carefully. Oh, so very, very carefully. Every second (like words) counts.

Erica Orloff said...

I cut out the proverbial crap. I have four kids from seventeen down to a 2-year-old child with a demon seed, and I write full-time and am getting ready to do a fantasy series that's going to require exhaustive research. So the "crap" goes out the window. I don't watch mindless TV; don't see a movie unless it's something I am dying to see; don't answer my phone unless it's one of my kids (not kidding . . . never answer it). When I saw the final Star Wars release (number 3 of the prequels), I looked at my best friend and said, "That is a two-hour chunk of hell/time I can NEVER get back, damn that George Lucas." It was actually eye-opening. I don't want to waste time on something not worth it. So nothing I am likely to deem a time-waster gets into my schedule--of course, the kids derail that often--especially Demon Child. BUT . . . that's usually time well-spent . . . family time is precious. But everything else can fall away.

Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

I don't. I forget everything, even if I have it written on the calendar. Fortunately I'm so old that people just shrug and chalk it up to senility. The truth is: I don't care!

I like the new template. It is new, isn't it? And ... I forget.

WayneThomasBatson said...

I wish I could be like Stephen King and write ten pages a day, every day, but my life just doesn't work that way.

I have a wife and four young children, all of whom like to see me occasionally--not sure why.

I teach middle school full time as well. The good news is, my publisher wants books from me. The bad news is, my publisher seems to think I write full time.

I hope someone posts in with something helpful because I am feeling swamped these days.

Simon Haynes said...

Like others here, TV is out. So is most entertaining and socialising. I have a wife and two young kids, but working from home means I'm there for them, and I do try hard to separate working time and family time.

I've never done a publicity tour for my books, and I don't intend to. I attend one SF convention a year, usually on two of the five days it runs for, and the convention is held about 15 minutes drive from my home.

I do waste a lot of time on the internet, but given it's socialising (of a sorts) and only occurs when I get a few spare minutes, it really doesn't cut into writing time. After all, you can't write during every waking hour.

The other thing I do is NaNoWriMo, which gives me 50,000 words in one month. Add another 60-100,000 to that, boil down to 80-90k and I have another novel. Only need one a year, and the leftover bits go into a special ideas folder.

Simon Haynes said...

(And I use my own freeware Remind-me-Please app to manage can't miss stuff. It's networked with my wife, and we share family events so we both know what's coming up.)

ecommerce developers said...

I'd go back to the paper method, since it's so much more convenient for jotting down notes anytime I want than trying to use the little stick to press on letters for more than a simple calendar entry or phone number.