Jeffe’s Five Tricks for Juggling Multiple Projects and Deadlines

004This time of year, all of my flowering vines blossom, like an end of summer special treat. They’ll be the first to go when we get a frost, so they are all the more fleeting for that. Transient and precious.

Speaking of which, Dear Author is giving away three copies of Ruby.As of this writing, the giveaway ends in 36 hours, so hie on over if you’re interested.

I’m over at Word Whores, as I am every Sunday, come holiday or foul weather. This week we’re looking at Juggling Multiple Projects & Deadlines: How to Do It Well.

Does Writing Faster Mean Cutting Out the Art?

001During my travels last week, I stayed with a friend of many years, Kristine Krantz (aka KAK). She blogs on the Word Whores with me and also writes fantasy. We met via the RWA online chapter FF&P, sometime back in the vicinity of 2009. We became critique partners and friends.

At that time, we were both in the same place – shopping these fantasy novels we’d written and hoped to sandwich into some pre-cut genre somewhere. Though my path was hardly a straight-line – no A-ticket Cinderella ride for me – mine has gone faster than hers. She’s still “pre-pubbed” or whatever euphemism you’d like to slap onto that vicious purgatory of waiting for the market to catch up to your genius. I know this is a hard place to be, because I’ve been there. Another friend and sister Word Whore, Allison Pang, who I met at the same time and in the same way, also shopping a like novel, did manage to pull the A-ticket and full Cinderella ride.

(The moral of our three paths, by the way, is that none is strewn with rose petals and nobody, so far as I know, has received a sparkle pony life companion.)

At any rate, (I’m sure by now KAK has scanned ahead to find out just what the hell I plan to say about her) KAK invited me to stay at her house while I attended the Lori Foster Reader & Author Get Together. This turned out to be an unexpected delight because we spent many hours on her delicious screened back porch, overlooking her park-like back yard, while we worked on writerly things and talked.

There’s something truly restorative about rambling conversations on writing and publishing with like-minded friend who’s as keenly interested in the minutiae as you are. Though we see each other on IM, the conversations only go so far. I also realized, as we talked, that I haven’t been updating her regularly on all of my “business.” It’s a funny thing – as you get into dealing with Published Author World, you tend to talk most to people in the same tangle. I don’t *think* I ditched my pre-pub buddy, but we’ve been working on really different things. And, as you faithful readers know, my life has been moving really fast lately.

In fact, she FINALLY (hee hee hee) completed a monstrous revision of her epic fantasy novel. “Revision” is probably a misnomer because she really wrote a whole new novel with the same world and characters. I feel quite a bit of guilty responsibility for this since I was the one to give the crit that triggered the massive rewrite.

She says she doesn’t blame me.

But it took her a long time to do this. Meanwhile I’ve been working fast. It’s nice for her to be able to do this, because she has the luxury of time right now. We know you pre-pub authors get sick of hearing this from us – we got sick of hearing it, too – but writing before contract is REALLY different than writing for contract and under deadline. We know it’s not nostalgia-worthy since being in that hem-tugging, please-see-me stage of publication wears on the soul, but having the luxury of time is something we look back on fondly. Also the lack of expectations.

KAK and I had this conversation. She mentioned that she’d noticed me blogging about writing books I sold on spec and how it feels different. I said, yes, that it feels like another kind of writing altogether. For me it means:

  1. I have to form a plan ahead of time, because selling on spec means I sell the concept and THEN write the book. This is not a natural pattern for me.
  2. Writing a story you’ve “pre-sold” to an editor creates this lens where I feel like I’m writing FOR the editor. That person is very firmly in my mind, because they are now the primary recipient of my story. I haven’t decided if this is good or bad.
  3. There is a firm external deadline. I have to plan ahead – by a year or more, in some cases – to ensure I have the time to write and revise the way I want to.

This last is crucial because, as I rambled on the topic, KAK nodded and said, yes, you write faster and cut out the art.

Which I’ve been mulling ever since.

Because I don’t think that’s true. I can totally see why it would seem that way. There is certainly not the time to lovingly tweak and polish every bit. There is, also, a definite sense of creating a product that fits a particular expectation (see #2 above). However, I don’t feel like I’m cutting out the art.

Maybe this is self-delusion, because I really HOPE I’m not cutting out the art.

I definitely have not managed to short-cut the suffering. Writing a book faster is no less painful than writing it slowly. It’s more that I am more efficient about it. Some of this is experience. I know by now where I’m going to bog down and how I’m going to feel about it – and I’m quite a bit more ruthless about pushing through it. I don’t have time to wander for weeks through the Enchanted Forest (see last Friday’s post, if you have no idea what I’m referring to). I’ve BEEN through that stinking forest and now I just take the direct – and sometimes arduous – path straight through to the Fountain of Story.

I think it’s less cutting out some of the art and more knowing how to pack the art in there. Like really experienced travelers can pack for a two-week trip in 30 minutes and not forget a thing. You just get good at it.

Mainly because you have to.

Speaking of which, I have a novella due on Saturday and just shy of 9K to go to finish.

See you on the flip side!

 

Everything I Know About Task Lists I Learned in College

Me at the Book FairAngela James, now Editorial Director at Carina Press, took this pic of me at the RT Book Fair. Love how skinny she made me look!

So, now I’m home and getting back in the groove. I spent most of yesterday on day job conference calls and with my spreadsheets – organizing the next month of my life.

That’s how it works for me, kind of in chunks of time. I keep this running To Do List in Excel, with a column for each day. So, today’s list looks like this:

To Do ListDon’t worry about not understanding my cryptic notes – it’s a mix of writing life, day job and Other. Significantly, I don’t have writing work on there because that two hours happens every day, regardless, and I have Another, FAR more complex set of spreadsheets to track what I’m doing there.

At any rate, that’s today’s column and there’s one for tomorrow and the next day, and so on, until Sunday 6/9, when it stops.

Why Sunday 6/9, you might ask? Well, this is the interesting part.

(And okay – I totally accept if you all find NONE OF THIS even remotely interesting. Feel free to move on and read something amusing like this XKCD comic.)

Still here? Go figure.

So, the reason it’s Sunday 6/9 is because that’s the day I fly home from the Lori Foster Reader/Author Get Together (RAGT). Up until yesterday, the list ended on Monday 5/13, RUBY’s release day. (Yay!) It’s also a week past getting home from the RT Convention. Do you see the pattern? It just hit me as I was doing this yesterday.

It reminds me of the habits I developed in college. I used to carry these day calendars that showed a week at a time. Don’t be alarmed, kids – this was back in the days when we didn’t HAVE handheld computer devices, also known as the 80s. I would organize my life my semester. At the beginning of each term, I wrote down all the dates of my exams, midterms and finals, along with major papers due – peppered with school holidays. Then I proceeded to work from deadline to deadline. Once a test was taken or a paper turned in, I looked to the next milestone down the road.

Which is totally what I’m doing now. Conferences, release dates and book deadlines – along with vacations – form the structure of my new life.

I’m not sure this is a good approach or not, but it’s interesting to see how I’m still working off those early habits. It might be worth examining if there’s a better way to do things.

Anyone have suggestions?

Tuesday 5/7
my blog
 
make mani/pedi appt
make wands – 10
send books & wand to Sullivan
send wands – Amy, Much Ado
 
 
Send WV notes
NN Report – check errors
Establish dates for GWR & NN
 
to QA – 5/7 CCR Protocol
write up Ph II/V history
5/8 Laura’s PA
before 5/9 call – figure 5-18 hours
WV Enforcement Policy
GWR Protocol
 
 
 
Laramie place to stay
 
 

How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating and Cheerfully Meet Deadlines with Room to Spare

We brought home this fresh boxwood wreath to hang on the front door and Jackson immediately inserted himself in it. For those keeping score at home, he’s just shy of eight months old now.

He’s going to be a Big Kitty.

I’m looking forward to the holiday season this year. I have ideas for decorating and even a cool homemade gift for people. I take this to mean that I’m feeling rested and the creativity is flowing. Part of this, I’ve suddenly realized, is because I changed some of my fundamental habits. What’s more is, I change a bad, lifelong habit without really realizing it.

Which is just extraordinary to me.

It’s *hard* to change habits – we all know this. Especially the bad ones. Those junk foods we crave but shouldn’t eat. That wine we shouldn’t drink nearly so much of. The TV shows we waste time on. The internet surfing when we should be working. I imagine each of us could list our top five bad habits – and then write a book on how many times we’ve tried to change them, how and why it ended up not working. (Because if it worked, it wouldn’t still be on the top five list, right?)

So, here’s one of mine: I’m a procrastinator.

Always have been. Back in school, I was the kid who wrote EVERY paper the night before it was due. I never studied until the day before the exam. (Well, the entire weekend in college for brutal classes like organic chemistry.) I once read the Iliad and the Odyssey over a couple of days during reading week before finals. Even with work, I don’t really get going on a deliverable until the deadline was breathing down my neck.

Deadline stress was my eternal motivator.

Which is awful. If you’re like me, you know just how stress-inducing this Very Bad Habit is. The late nights, the great fear that you won’t finish in time or that, if you do finish, the product will sucketh mightily.

I’ve known this about myself pretty much all my life and just hate it. And yet, over and over again, I would fall into the same pattern. Always dealing with the next fire, the next emergency. I always kind of envied the work-ahead people, but never found a way to break this habit.

Until just recently.

You know what worked? I didn’t change that particular habit, I changed other things that just happened to result in me at long last not relying on deadline pressure for motivation.

It’s like I tricked myself into operating differently. Isn’t that amazing?

I’m amazed.

So, what happened is, I had a number of writing deadlines. One was external – my first ever turn-in-your-book-by-this-date publication deadline, which I was determined not to blow – and several internal deadlines, important to me for keeping everything on track.I really, really, really did not want to be finishing that book the night before the deadline. I could not risk that it wouldn’t be as good as I needed it to be. No shortcuts, no crossing fingers, no Hail Mary’s. I wanted lots of time to get it done and get it done right.

So I planned out all my work. I finished another project that I wanted out of the way, to clear time for the one with the external deadline. I planned my dayjob work so that nothing would actually catch on fire enough to divert me. I worked in both measured paces and intense doses, depending on my time and inclination.

This was the amazing part.

I finished both projects early. Like, 7-10 days early. I’ve *never* finished anything early before in my life. Bizarrely, everything else fell into place, too. I’d wanted everything done before Thanksgiving, so I could relax and not worry about ongoing projects. I finished all my day job work by early afternoon Monday – where usually I’m working into the evening before we leave, trying to clear my desk.

At that point, I realized I had nothing on fire. Nothing that I was leaving undone.

It was miraculous.

I’d somehow learned to do my work ahead of time, in an un-stressed, no-deadline-pressure way, all because I’d restructured my other habits.

Now those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I’ve long been a proponent of writing every day. I have my rituals, my good and productive habits. This overall change in my pattern of behavior grew out of that foundation. I suspect that’s key – I didn’t change everything overnight.

But I also think it’s important that I never tried to stop being a procrastinator. I changed the way I work towards a goal.

And that has made all the difference.

(with apologies to Robert Frost)

Deadlines and Lifelines

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

Of course you all know that’s from the opening of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s a great set-up. Alice, the human, is feeling sleepy, stupid and lazy. The bucolic wildlife is racing around with important appointments.

It’s clearly unnatural, a rabbit with a watch, running late. That’s how we know the world is turning upside-down. If the rabbit was chewing on daisies and Alice running late, that’s perfectly natural.

Or is it?

Allison posted an interesting blog the other day about the struggling writer and spousal support. Not necessarily financial support, though that’s part of it. More the whole “does he support your writing” question.

And, yes, this is going to be totally about women writers and their male companions.

One thing Allison mentioned is the spousal deadline. This is surprisingly common. I can think of five women offhand whose men have “allowed” them to try the writing thing for a given amount of time, after which, if they haven’t succeeded, they must stop.

No, not all of these women are writing instead of working, though some are.

No, not all of these women are unpublished; they just aren’t necessarily raking in the money.

I suspect this comes from a number of things. Our culture and the male members of it, in particular, are heavily fixed on goals and deadlines. It’s possible these guys think they are being supportive, by helping to create an outside deadline, a framework for measuring success. I think there’s also an element of the husbands feeling like they need to curb the frivolous activities of their wives. Don’t tell me that’s not true: I’ve heard men say it.

We do it to ourselves, of course, too. One gal I know gave herself a year to become a successful writer. Yes, that’s from typing her first word. When she didn’t make her goal, in a fit of despondency she asked me how long I’d given myself.

As long as it takes,” I told her.

As I’ve mentioned, everyone right now is about NaNoWriMo. A writing friend asked me if I was participating and I told her I don’t need more pressure in my life. She said she does — she needs the motivation. She is also one who’s published with an epress, has two young children and whose husband has asked her to stop. A big craze right now is a program called Write or Die. It’s a program that monitors how fast you’re typing and buzzes you if you slow down. If you stop, it will actually start deleting your text.

It all comes down to the eternal question of how you measure success, I suppose.

It was funny to me, the friend who asked how long I’d given myself, because I’ve already acheived some writing success by several measures. Not ones that she thought were relevant, but ones that are important to me.

I live my life by deadlines. As most Americans do. My work deadlines are the kind that, if I don’t make them, I can jeopardize a $24 million contract. For me, writing is a different world from that. I can see a day when, if I’m making approximately my salary by delivering a book on time, then that deadline will matter.

Until then, I’m a fan of write and live.