Doing it All: Keeping Your Writing Goals a Priority

I can bring home the bacon (at least from the grocery store), and I can fry it up in the pan. I can…well, never mind. You all remember the rest.

Most of us handle the daily stuff just find. What gets tricky, though, is keeping the writing, or a specific kind of writing, at the top of the to-do list. For the past few years, I’ve been handling the fiction very well. I’ve made steady progress–got a book ready for submission and started researching and brainstorming the next. I loved it.

Then I started writing nonfiction. I also love this part of my writing life. It uses a different part of my brain, it goes much more quickly than the fiction (which makes for many more instant-gratification moments), and–with it–I’m getting published. Always a plus.

When I got the contract for this latest project, The Critiquer’s Survival Guide for Writer’s Digest, I faced a realization. I might not be going back to work full-time, in an office or cubicle, from nine to five, but I was back to work. The deadline is not impossible, but it’s tight, and signing that contract was a serious (albeit ecstatically happy!) commitment.

And because of that commitment, I have a new challenge: to make time for my fiction. I refuse to push it aside, lose track of my characters, or give up the sheer joy I get from writing it.

There are many variations on my theme:

  • Full-time workers writing at the end of a long, hard day
  • Parents fitting in a few minutes of writing while a baby naps or Sesame Street is on TV
  • Journalists making space and time for that dream novel
  • Series writers scheduling time to draft (or just propose) the next book, while writing another and revising a third (Hi, Terri!)
  • Every other writer with a challenge I haven’t specifically listed here

I don’t know one writer who has it easy, who doesn’t struggle with this juggling act. LIfe happens, and–wonderful as it often is–it does give us too many reasons and excuses to turn away from our writing.

Don’t.

Here are some things I’ve been mulling on over the past couple of weeks, reminders to myself about how I canmove foward on all parts of my writing path–nonfiction and fiction. Thought I’d share.

  • Put your work on the calendar. If you schedule the time, it will come. Block out specific time slots for your writing–whatever kind you want and need to do. Work hard NOT to schedule anything that’s a conflict.
  • Write a little bit, on everything, every day that you can. Fifteen minutes may seem like nothing, but it’s more than zero (see, I can do math). One of the biggest steps you can take for your writing is to keep it in the front of your mind. Every day that you stay away from it is another chunk of time that it will take you to get back up to speed on your story.
  • Talk to other writers. I know, for some of us, sharing the details of a story before we’ve reached a certain point is hard, even scary. You don’t have to take it that far. Just have a conversation, discuss your progress or your struggle. Connect. It will remind you that you are a writer, and that will make you act like one.
  • Reward yourself. Chocolate. A new book. These days, I’m using writing as my reward. When I use my main writing hours to be productive on the nonfiction, I get to spend my evening time with the fiction. The balance of time is definitely skewed toward the nonfiction, but that’s how it needs to be right now. But this method is keeping my fiction world alive.

Finally, I’ve given myself a mantra or a visualization or a statement–whatever you like to call it. I wrote it on a small piece of paper and stuck it to the bottom of my monitor, where I can see it everytime I sit at my desk to work. Three short words. It says simply: Room for Both.

What balance are you trying to achieve on your writing path? Do you have tricks or tips, or another mantra, to share? Drop into the comments and let us know.

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17 thoughts on “Doing it All: Keeping Your Writing Goals a Priority

  1. Jaimie says:

    I’ve become more organized. I actually keep myself on a schedule that’s flexible enough to handle life’s curve balls. If I’ve written something(a poem, query letter or blog) then the day isn’t wasted for me.

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  2. beckylevine says:

    Jaimie–I think a schedule is great. Otherwise, we forget. And I like that idea of writing SOMETHING every day. And query letters definitely count. 🙂

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  3. Ugh, hard. Ugh, hard. I am a big fan of scheduling, too… The “I’ll get to it” attitude always fails lazy me!

    Thanks for this post, Becky ~ and we gotta get in touch about Lucy!!!! The last email I sent, I am not sure you received and for some reason I cannot find it in my own Gmail storehouse. I’ll be in touch again, though, if that sounds good to you!

    Take care, Becky, and talk soon!

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  4. Nice list. Writing something everyday helps a lot. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for what you DO do. I think we’re good at berating ourselves, not as good as being nice to ourselves.

    Rewards help.

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  5. The thing that helps me most is to schedule time to write with a friend. We meet at a coffee shop or book store and write for two hours, with just a small bit of chit chat thrown in. Also important–selecting a store without internet access!

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  6. beckylevine says:

    Gottawrite Girl–I don’t think I DID get the email. Definitely try again! I wish the “I’l get to it later” attitude let me forget about things like laundry and dishes! Hmm…wonder why it only works that way with writing.

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  7. beckylevine says:

    Kim, I find it really helpful to write with other writers, too. Because, then, it’s RUDE to do anything other than write! And, yes, I need to get focused on the places where I CAN’T get online. 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by. Off to check out your site.

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  8. Becky,
    You already know I’ve been posting a word count on Facebook, but I thought I’d go into more detail here.

    I could totally relate to what you wrote here. I now fall into the journalist working on the dream novel category thanks to my new job. It’s a sequel to my first published novel, Awesome Lavratt. The struggle for me has always been getting out of the habit. So I set a low daily word count for myself mostly to make sure I writer EVERY day. Some days will be more, of course. The other thing is that I’m great with a deadline but it needs to be more than just my own arbitrary one. Too many things are “procrastinatable” — that’s my new word I’m trying to get into the dictionary. It’s so easy to move things to the following day when no one else is effected by your procrastination. So I enlisted the help of a writing buddy that I can check in with. Kind of like the NANOWRIMO thing only not just November. I also, as I said, post my word counts on facebook. If they stop, hopefully someone will rattle my cage. 🙂

    Yesterday ended up less than 100 wds due to a friend dropping off her ms for me to edit at work on my lunch hour — that’s one of the times I carve out during the day — and then my daughter went into labor. Very wonderful distraction. I got to be her coach and see the baby born. Anyway, that’s an extreme case. Today, I plan to get about a thousand words cranked out.

    And it’s not just about the household chores and errands that intervene. I also have to spend a lot of time on publicity. I don’t want the momentum from the first book to fizzle before the next one comes out, or the first may be the last. Almost every day, I do something like blog, update my website, contact editors who have exceeded their return time on my stories, and networking, and connecting, as you say with other writers. We speak the same language. We know about getting swept away by our muse, about having to work through a plot problem while walking the dog, etc.

    It’s very true that it gobbles more time when we have to get our heads back into our fictional worlds after being away, or even back to our flow on our non-fiction projects.

    I’m falling behind in one thing right now and that’s an article I’ve been meaning to write for a magazine. I’m sure it won’t take long, since I’ve been cranking them out now at my day job fast enough.

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  9. beckylevine says:

    Ann, First–congratulations on the new grandbaby–so great for you to be such a big part of her birth. And to still be writing today!

    I think you’re right–setting our goals TOO high can be discouraging and frightening. It’s a balance, to find the right kinds of goals that help us keep focused and making progress, instead of stalling us out. And writing every day is, I think, is one of the best goals I can make.

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  10. janflora says:

    I guess i would fall under the “Parent juggling children w/ writing” category, though I am not sure I have figured out how to do both yet. There are many days I do not write at all, though there are also days I do not do the laundry and/or dishes because the muse is with me. [As long as the kids are fed, dressed and “clean” I think I am doing OK] Most days I am trying to do everything at the same time. It’s not so much “multi-tasking” as what I call “random-tasking”. I am trying to set mini-goals for myself with writing, i.e. Make a submission a month. Revise a poem a week. Complete NaNo.

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  11. beckylevine says:

    Janflora–I’m not sure any of us figure out how to do the parent/writer thing flawlessly! Good for you for letting the muse take control, though, when you can.

    Random-tasking–I love the phrase and totally know it. It’s not fun. Mini goals are great.

    Have fun with NaNo!

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  12. Becky,
    Of late I have had a few of life’s curve balls – as one reader put it – thrown at me. My father, Harold J. Chadwick (former director of Writer’s Digest School) is undergoing chemo and radiation therapy, I am moving closer to my parents (tomorrow, in fact) in order to help out during this time and have been negotiating for a home, and prior to all this, I signed contracts with two additional publishers to edit and proofread textbooks (on top of my fiction and non-fiction editing position with another publisher) and I also snagged a couple more regular writing gigs.
    Don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely thrilled to be swamped with work and thank God for it every day, all day.
    But I have had to schedule each and every moment of my life practically. In any given day I have to write two columns, edit a non-fiction book, proofread a college textbook, and write a biography. So I schedule blocks of time to commit to each project depending on the individual deadlines.
    Now today I was emailed 22 pages of a Gr. 4- 6 Social Studies text to edit that is due tomorrow at noon – so it will take up all of my time today.
    It happens – and I would not dare refuse the work with this company as they pay me well and pay me often.
    The advantage I have is I am an early riser – early as in the chickens are not up yet. I have quiet time from 4:30am to about 8-ish. I am incredibly productive then.
    I also don’t have children at home now as all three daughters are grown and gone.
    I have a cat and a dog. Not much time allotted to them right now, but they sit at my feet still and gaze adoringly at me.
    So there you go – that’s how I get it all done.
    Social life? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha

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  13. Caroline says:

    Becky,
    As a beginning freelance writer, the hardest part for me is is doing (DAILY) all the things writers do before actually getting paid – research, drafts, exercises, marketing, professional development, networking. Hence, the instant gratification part is definitely being thwarted! That’s the crux of visualization I’m told, acting like you’re already there in spite of present moment evidence to the contrary.

    In the motivation department, I just finished writing a personal mission statement – a long time in the making. Scheduling discipline is indispensable. My computer monitor sticky note says this: I have the Spirit to guide me, the skills for the task, and the people to help. And it’s up to me to use these gifts!

    Great blog 🙂

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  14. beckylevine says:

    Hollee–

    Wow. A “few” curveballs? I’d say a ton! I’m so sorry about your father–that’s just such a hard thing to deal with, but good luck to you on moving closer and helping. You’re the perfect example, I think, of when scheduling is a must.

    Also, you should scroll up one level and click through to the link I posted to Free2cr8’s post about taking care of yourself. Find time for some, small rewards to help you through the next tough while. 🙂

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  15. beckylevine says:

    Caroline–YES! The big projects make instant gratification really tricky. I think this is what Free2cr8 is talking about, too, in her post (I linked to it in my latest post)–taking care of ourselves, rewarding ourselves, can take the place (somewhat) of getting the direct rewards of our writing.

    Good luck on this new journey!

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  16. Caroline says:

    Becky –
    Yes, I did read Free2cr8’s blog and taking care of yourself is the key to taking care of business. Stephen Covey calls it ‘sharpening the saw’. American culture seems a bit compulsive about working (i.e. unbalanced). I am working to live, not living to work!

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