Productivity Coaching and Small-Group Mastermind

Earlier this summer, I was chatting with my good friend, author Darynda Jones. Okay—I was hitting her up to help me with some plot brainstorming, because she’s so much better at pre-plotting than I am. Once we solved my plot problem, she mentioned her chronic lack of productivity. As often plagued her, she found herself months behind deadline—on multiple projects—and feeling that panicked exhaustion of never being able to dig herself out of that hole. Like I admire her ability to pre-plot, she wishes she had my ability to be consistently productive with wordcount so I always meet my deadlines.

“If I could just look up and see someone else writing and holding me accountable, I think I’d do so much better,” she said. Because she’s my friend, I told her that I could do that for her.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but I thought if I could help her at least get through finishing the most-pressing, truly awfully late book, that would be something. So, she switched to my writing schedule. We got on Zoom in the mornings, chatted briefly about goals, then each wrote on mute with our windows minimized. We took short breaks between, and worked for three or four hour-long sessions. After I got my 3,000 words for the day (my sustainable daily wordcount), she kept writing while I worked on other business and timed her.

We discovered a number of interesting things.

  1. She was interrupted less by family because they didn’t want to disrupt my writing
  2. She found herself getting up earlier, feeling more positive, and being hugely more productive. She got more done in two months of working with me than she had during the previous seven months.
  3. She began to have fun writing again! And she is now on track to meet all future deadlines.
  4. To my surprise, I liked it, too. Talking with her daily gave me the opportunities to vent frustrations and feel like I wasn’t so on my own in this sometimes lonely enterprise.

Three months later, meeting with her has become a key part of my writing day.

My husband, overhearing our Zoom meetings and Darynda’s enthusiasm for how well this was working, said it reminded him of a technique he’d learned as a young athlete to improve his performance—one that world-class runners use to increase their running time. He would find other excellent runners to set a pace for him. At first it was difficult for him to keep up with the pace, but before long he found himself running faster than he’d imagined possible.

Now, I am no athlete! But I can see that this is a perfect analogy. You can spend time alone trying to increase your writing productivity—and you may have some slight success—but what could increase your productivity the most in the shortest amount of time is to find a productive writer that knows how to set the pace for you.

It turns out I have the skills to draw that productivity out of you. I know how to challenge you in a way that creates a sense of playful participation. I can help you discover what your sustainable daily productivity looks like. Like Darynda, you will soon find yourself writing more smoothly and naturally, and effortlessly. It really can be fun again!

So, because this worked so well with Darynda, I’m going to offer this as a supplement to my other author-coaching services.

Actually, I’m offering two new things—which can be combined or not, according to your needs.

Because that’s the pivotal consideration here: what do YOU need in order to move forward in your writing career? Writing productivity is one thing, but we all know there’s more to being an author than just laying down words. (Alas for that, but so it goes!)

What I’m hearing from a lot of writers is they want a long-term community or partnership—and they want help with productivity. Let’s face it—2020 has been a vicious year for both keeping our chins up and putting words on the page.

So, here are my solutions.

I’m offering to set you up with a mastermind group of like-minded writers. I’ll match you up based on creative mindsets and processes, ambitions, needs, and outlooks. I’ll teach you how to function as a mastermind together, to make something bigger than your individual selves in order to move everyone forward. I’ll personally lead the group at the beginning, then—once you’ve all decided how you want to run your own group the way you all want it—I’ll visit with periodic check-ins to make sure the group is staying on track. We want this to be a positive part of everyone’s lives and creative careers.

As a step further, I’ll set up co-writing sessions. This can be with your mastermind group, or with a different group—or with a single partner, like I’m doing with Darynda. I’ll get you started and set the pace. Once you have a good rhythm, I’ll check in periodically with you.

The small-group mastermind will cost $200/month. If it’s not working for you, you can drop out any time. Or I can set you up with a new group if you prefer. Paying this amount each month is part of the incentive. You’ll value your participation in the group that much more if you’re having to budget for it.

You can also sign up to be matched with a co-writing partner or group (according to your preference) for $200/month. I’ll work with you and check in frequently to see how you’re doing. Again, you can drop out or be re-matched if it’s not working for you.

If you’d like to do both, you can do that for $300/month.

How can you get started? Email me via the contact form and we’ll set up an interview. We can do that via video or voice call—or another medium if you’re not comfortable with those. How you prefer to interact with people is part of how you’ll be matched up. We’ll discuss what you’re looking for, what you hope to overcome, where you are in your writing career and where you hope to be. You can ask me questions and so forth. For this initial conversation, I’ll charge $50.

If you decide the program isn’t for you, I’ll refund your money. If you decide to go ahead, the $50 will go to your first month. If I think you’re just looking for free advice, I’m keeping the $50 😊

You’re also welcome to ask questions in the comments, but all answers will be posted to an FAQ, with personal information redacted.

Increasing Peace and Productivity – No Monastery Necessary

I mentioned on my podcast – First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy – just about two weeks ago, that I’d read this very interesting article on how starting the day by looking at the internet changes how your brain functions. The author specifies going for three hours before looking at the internet, which I realize not everyone can do. Many people start their jobs within three hours of waking up and those jobs may specifically require checking email or company social media.

But for many of us… do we HAVE to look at those things within three hours of waking?

And I’m not saying it has to be like this author frames it. Not everyone has the luxury of spending the first three hours of the day meditating, quietly reading, or journaling. Sure, it sounds lovely in theory, but most of us don’t lead monastic lives. I don’t think it’s necessary anyway.

If a person, say, wakes up at 6 am, does the grooming/hygiene thing, maybe eats breakfast or has a hot beverage, could be getting other people ready for their days, perhaps some exercise, likely a commute to the job, then settling in – that’s usually about two hours, right? I mean, I know more than once in college I woke up at 7:30 and still made it to an 8 am class, but college students are not famed for their grooming, nutrition, or good planning. For someone a bit less subject to chaos and late nights than a college student, it seems that arranging a morning to allow for three hours before checking email and social media is entirely a possibility.

It would mean not checking email on the phone while sitting on the subway, and ignoring Twitter until later in the day. It means Facebook instant messages go unanswered for *gasp* maybe a whole twelve hours!! (Seriously – it pisses me off that Facebook tries to shame me by displaying how long it takes me to reply to messages on my author page, encouraging me to respond faster to earn some fucking badge like I care for their rewards. *ahem*) I’m not saying it’s easy to break this habit, especially when these internet companies are hugely invested in training us to look All The Time. I’ve turned off all of my notifications on my phone, and I can’t tell you how often they prompt, then try to command and trick me, to turn them back on. If they want that so badly, we have to know it’s not for OUR benefit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Time Before the Internet (TBI) and how different the flow of my attention was. And let me be clear: I love what the internet has brought to my life and to the world. Through social media and online groups, I have made many, many lasting friendships, kindred spirits I very likely would never have encountered otherwise. That’s a *huge* thing. As is the flow of information and sharing of important events. But, I’m not a fan of the way I’ve arranged my schedule, thinking, and life to accommodate the internet’s demands for attention.

One thing about the TBI, which closely predated cell phones (at least affordable ones normal people could actually carry around), was that no one expected us to be instantly available. I remember when email became widely used and my older boss commented that it used to be you’d send out a paper and could count on a week or two of it being off your plate before comments arrived in the mail. With email, that buffer time shortened to a day or two – or less. Now we have Facebook exhorting businesses to reply within an hour – or less. In some ways this decreased latency has helped productivity, but I can also see how it forces me into a responsive mode. If I let it, the internet could have me in a constant battle to respond to messages and notifications.

In that state, when I do produce work of my own?

So, I’ve been trying this. I wake up between 5 and 6 am, do the hygiene thing, feed the cats, exercise (which means some reading), record my podcast or write a blog post, and then I go straight to writing. This means I can’t post the podcast or blog to social media until later in the day, but oh well. Does it really matter what time those things post? I don’t think so.

The result has been astonishing. I’ve been getting my 3,000 words done before noon most days. Then, when I’m done and switch over to business, I get through email much more efficiently than before. I go from one task to the next: post my stuff, answer emails, reply to Facebook messages, reply to tweets. Work on other business.

People: I can feel the difference in my brain. My concentration is vastly improved. The book is flowing well. And when I do face the business tasks, those much-dreaded tasks that tend to slide down my To-Do List are actually getting done.

Highly recommend trying this, however you can make it work. No monastic existence necessary

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Refilling the Well

I finished THE FIERY CITADEL, book two in my Forgotten Empires trilogy with St. Martins Press, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE. Yeah, it doesn’t come out until 2020 – maybe summer? we don’t know – but I completed the first draft and sent it in to Editor Jennie. There will be more work to come, but that’s the big milestone to pass.

I promised myself this time that I’d take some time off before heading into the next project. More than the weekend. As a full-time author, I write five days a week, going for 3,000 – 3,500 words per day. It takes me an average of 3 – 4 hours to get that, with an overall elapsed time of about 6 hours, including breaks. I usually have a pretty tightly packed schedule, so finishing one book has meant diving right into the next. But I track my productivity pretty carefully – I can’t control my creative process, but I can learn all there is to know about it and plan accordingly (which is part of owning your process) – and I’ve discovered that the week after I finish writing a book draft tends to be unproductive.

Even when I schedule myself for my usual work week, the writing tends to feel like pulling teeth. My word counts are low, I screw around a lot, and I don’t really refill the well.

So this week I’ve been not writing. Yesterday I tackled the garage. We have this one corner with a built in workbench and set of shelves. When we moved in (lo, these ten years ago – sheesh), we stuffed a lot of stuff back in those shelves, especially the lower ones, and back in the deep corner where they form an L. The original plan was one side of the L (the long one) would be for David’s tools and the short side would be my garden bench. My husband, however, while possessing many sterling qualities, is almost pathologically incapable of organizing his stuff. So his workbench has been a mess since day one. In fact, it’s a more ancient mess than that, as he pretty much threw the existing mess of his workbench and garage stuff into bins when we moved and dumped it out here.

I keep a hammer and a few screwdrivers in my office, just so I can find them when I need one.

Not only is his workbench a nightmare, when he has no place to put anything – which is always – he’d stack it on my garden bench. It got so I couldn’t even get to my gardening stuff. So I ceded the field of battle. I moved the baker’s rack from our front patio around to the secret garden and put everything there that can safely weather outside. I’ve also pulled most everything out of that space – discovering numerous rodent nests in the process – and now I’ll organize it for him. I kept a lower shelf for my garden stuff that needs to be out of the weather, but otherwise my garden bench is now for his fishing supplies. I’m kind of excited to do the thing where you hang up the tools and draw Sharpie marker outlines to designate where they go. We’ll see if it works and how long that lasts…

Anyway, it’s been good to disengage my brain and simply lift and organize. I’ve been rearranging the patio and garden, too, and things are looking pretty. Plus, I found some cool garden ornaments I shoved back in that corner and forgot I had! Watch for pics of those as I get them put out.

Increasing Word Count and Training for #NaNoWriMo

I had a bit of a SNAFU with the podcast this morning, but since I talked about #NaNoWriMo – and this post from 2014 – I thought I’d reprise it here. I’ll podcast tomorrow with the same thoughts!

***

This seemed like an appropriate photo for the topic of the new week – Managing Your Time: If You’ve a Deadline, You’ve a Schedule. How Do You Get Back On Track When Your Schedule Goes To Crap?

I’m in this place right now, getting back on track on a number of levels. My schedule didn’t really go to crap. But I did take a huge step back in September and now, it’s turned out, a good portion of October. It’s been deliberate in some ways and very likely much needed. Also weird.

See, in August I wrote 68,050. The most I’ve ever done in one month. It was a lot for me. More, that followed a straight run since the previous August when I wrote at least 41,000 words every month. In 2013 I wrote just over 497,000 words and so far for 2014, I’ve written 455,000. To do the math for you, that means I’ll likely have somewhere around 550,000 by December 31.

Once I get back on track, that is.

Because, in September, I only wrote 22,402. So far, for October I have 16,831. These are my two lowest word count months since May of 2013. I haven’t been doing nothing, precisely. I edited the novel that comes out in January, Under His Touch – developmental edits up through proofreading – and developmental edits on The Talon of the Hawk, which took a lot of focus, though a minimal additional word count. I worked up a proposal for three more Twelve Kingdoms books and started the first in the concept for another contemporary romance series. There’s been a lot of promo with the release of Rogue’s Paradise in September and preparing for The Tears of the Rosein November.

But I haven’t been doing much drafting. Which takes a whole other muscle.

Speaking of muscles, I was also sick in September. Some kind of low-level respiratory crud that nevertheless laid me low for several weeks. I got behind in exercising, too. Though managed to use the treadmill desk some every day, if only to keep my lymph flowing, I couldn’t run or lift weights. The treadmill served as a cat bed more than it moved. All of this was by way of necessary recovery. I truly believe that. I don’t have another book deadline until March 1. I haven’t gotten sick in a long time. It worked out okay for this to be my down time.

However, it’s now time to ramp up again and the question, the focus of our topic this week, is how do I do that?

I take my own advice. The sort I had the opportunity to hand out a couple of weeks ago when Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, visited our local chapter meeting, something I mentioned in last week’s post, too. One gal asked if Chris had advice on how to get going on writing those 1,667 words/day to make the 50K words/month that’s the NaNoWriMo goal. He said he didn’t so I offered mine. I told her that the temptation is to do the math exactly that way – to divide 50K by the 30 days of November and focus on achieving 1,667 words for each of those days. The problem with that approach is that writing that many words on the first day is akin to learning to run a marathon by going out and running ten miles right off the bat.

Yeah, you can probably do it, but you’ll feel the pain later.

In fact, you might be able to do it for a couple/three/four days – and then the crash occurs. Like my recovery time recently, it’s a natural sequel to going flat out.

Better, I told her, to treat it like that marathon training. Build up a little more every day. Stop before you’re tired, because that energy will translate to the next day. Consider setting up a schedule for NaNoWriMo like this:

1 100
2 200
3 300
4 400
5 500
6 750
7 1000
8 1250
9 1500
10 1750
11 2000
12 2000
13 2000
14 2000
15 2000
16 2100
17 2100
18 2100
19 2100
20 2100
21 2100
22 2200
23 2200
24 2200
25 2200
26 2200
27 2200
28 2200
29 2200
30 2200

By the end of November 30, you’d have 50,150 words. Best of all, by the time you’ve got yourself doing 2,200 words a day, it will feel very easy and natural. Because you’d be in shape for it.

This is what I need to do, to get myself back in shape. I’ve gotten back into running and weight-lifting, working my way back up to my previous levels. I’m tracking my treadmill desk miles, making sure I do a little more each week. I need to get back into drafting, but not to 2,200 words/day. Not right off, tempting as that is. I’m going to ramp up like this. Get the words flowing.

Back on track.