Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Time, like mischief, should be managed

As a young/novice/aspiring author, I have a lot of other things on my plate that aren’t strictly writing-related. I work full-time at a job I really care about and want to do well in. I’m trying to get my stuff together to apply to grad school at the end of this year to start attending next fall. I have reading goals, and fitness goals, and savings goals. I’m in a long-term relationship. I’m trying to be a better friend.

A lot of young/novice/aspiring authors like me have the same or similar strains on their time.

So where does writing fit in? How are we expected to make progress in our careers if we have all of these other things we have to balance? And how are we supposed to get better at writing at all?

There are lots of books and methods and theories on time management, and it can take a long time to find the right one for you. What follows is a list of what I do to make time for writing and all the things surrounding it. Take what you need, and feel free to leave a comment on what you do to manage your time!

The way I manage my time is by establishing a routine.

One of my favorite things on the internet is an infographic1 showing the daily routines of famous creatives. While I don’t believe they followed these routines to the hour for every day of their adult life (or even when they were at their most prolific in their creative work), they probably followed these patterns to a close enough approximation.

Looking at these charts, many of these famous creatives had the benefit of long, uninterrupted time to work on their creative pursuits. After all, for many of them, it was their career. They were professional creative people. Young/novice/aspiring authors often don’t have that benefit, unless they have the resources to go to a writing retreat for an extended period of time or are in an MFA program. (And even in an MFA program, teaching and classes can quickly eat up time.)

But there are no excuses: A writer has to take (or make) the time to write.

There isn’t a magical formula. As you can see from these charts, these famous creatives had very different ways of living. Franz Kafka kept weird hours and did most of his creative work at night. Charles Dickens took long walks around London. Maya Angelou blocked off her afternoons and evenings with her husband. A decent number of these people had day jobs (and many of them did some kind of teaching).

But they all have a chart. They all have a basic outline for how a day would go and stuck to it.

Data gathering is an important step to putting together a routine that will work.

I had a Passion Planner2 for a while, and though it ultimately ended up not meshing well with my organization style, I did make use of the hour-by-hour breakdown for each day. It was useful to block off the time I had to spend at my full-time job, and then figure out how the rest of my goals fit in around it.

At the beginning of the week I would write in my expected time commitments for each day. Every time something changed, I changed it in my Passion Planner, but I would still keep what the original expectation was. Did I expect to work 10-6 but instead worked from 9:30 to 7? Did I take my lunch break at 1pm like I planned, or at 2 instead? Did I exercise that day? If I did, was it at the time I slotted for it?

After a few weeks of this, I was able to see some general patterns emerge. I can pretty reliably get up to work out in the morning, but if I’m not out the door by 5:30am then I’m probably not going to exercise that day. Most days I prefer taking my lunch at 1:30 or 2, and I’ll typically take a longer lunch break so that I can have a solid chunk of writing time. As a result, I’ll stay at the office a little bit longer. My commute is the longest part of my day, and also the most variable. Some days I’ll spend 20 minutes door-to-door, and other days the trains will be delayed and it’ll take me 40 minutes.

Once I figured out my natural inclinations, I was able to create a pretty solid routine that I could stick to.

But still, that initial routine I created a few months ago doesn’t actually apply anymore.

It’s important to build in flexibility and allow the routine to change.

My routine now looks something like this:

My routine

Light Blue = Sleep; Yellow = Leisure; Red = Creative Work; Green = Day Job/Administrative; Dark Blue = Exercise; Grey = Other

My exercise happens a bit later in the day now because I’m running with my boyfriend, who is definitely not a morning person. I’m still writing during my lunch break, but since the weather has been nicer I can write in one of the many outdoor seating areas around my office. I no longer have to walk to the Barnes & Noble several blocks away, so I don’t have to take quite as long of a break.

And I’m sure this schedule will change once again. It’s all a matter regularly reviewing what my expectations are for my time and examining what the reality is.

Time tracking can be a great motivator.

One thing I struggle with is actually taking the time to write and edit fiction. I write a lot, and fill in every crack and crevice of my day with writing, but a lot of that is journaling or planning, and not actually putting effort into fiction writing.

So I appealed to the data nerd aspect of my personality.

For several months I’ve been tracking my time with Gleeo Time Tracker3 on my phone. I started using a time tracker when I switched jobs last year and needed a way to keep track of how many hours I worked in a day. Because the tool itself is quite flexible, I decided to use it to keep track of my writing as well.

I created categories for the five kinds of writing I do: Journaling, Blogging, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry. Then I broke these down into even simpler tasks, i.e. Planning, Editing, Writing.

From there it was a matter of being rigorous with actually tracking the time. I kept my phone screen on throughout my writing sessions and anytime I would switch tasks (from editing a short story to starting in on a new draft of a story, for example), I would switch my time tracker. I also have a category for administrative tasks, like submitting to journals, organizing the writing on my computer, and compiling my time charts themselves.

At the end of each month I plug the data into Google Sheets and make some charts:

Did I actually spend enough time writing and editing fiction? How does that compare to my other types of writing? And do I feel satisfied with the amount of work that I’ve put in?

What it ultimately comes down to is rigorously and honestly examining my writing life, and how it fits into the rest of life.

My system isn’t perfect yet. Hell, it’s hardly a system, really, and more an amalgam of time tracking, productivity, and data-gathering techniques I’ve learned over the (very short) years of my life. But every month I can answer, with solid evidence, two questions:

  1. Did I write?
  2. Was it enough?

And I solemnly swear that the answers go pretty far.


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Notes:

[1] The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People, https://podio.com/site/creative-routines
[2] Passion Planner, http://www.passionplanner.com/
[3] Gleeo Time Tracker, https://gleeo.com/index.php/en/

Header image from Pixabay.

Reblog from Raimey Gallant – Announcing new monthly blog hop for authors: #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Hi everyone,

Life has been busy, but I just wanted to take a quick moment to share this new blog hop hosted by the wonderful Raimey Gallant! I’ve added my name to the list, so I’ll be posting every month about tools and resources I’ve come across that are (hopefully) helping me along my (aspiring) author journey. I also urge you to regularly check in on this hop once it gets going and read the advice from the participants. I definitely will be, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot.

As a teaser: My first post will be about time management for aspiring authors, especially for those who are working full-time and trying to make headway on improving as a writer. Be on the lookout for that closer to the start of the hop on April 19th!

Ever yours,
Caroliena

Raimey Gallant

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

For those who aren’t familiar with me, I created the 400-participant Nano Hop in 2016. We aren’t going to let this one-time-signup, monthly blog hop get quite so big. I think anywhere from 20 to 30 participants would be a great number for the first hop in April, and considering how many people I recruited for my last hop, 20 to 30 for a start won’t be a problem. You will get out of this hop what you put into it. Because of the way the rules are laid out, if you give 20 comments, you should expect close to that amount in return. If you’re hemming and hawing over whether to sign up, remember that those coveted top positions in the blog roll are first come first serve.

The Rules:
1. Theme:This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the…

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Notes from the bottomless pit

  • I have not blogged in a while, but not for want of inspiration. There is no shortage of things to write about, of news to comment on. But much of it has been overwhelmingly discouraging. I find myself wanting more than ever to isolate myself in the escape of fiction.
  • Whatever I expected out of Donald Trump’s administration did not make it easier to stomach these past few weeks.
  • I no longer want to write about writing or read about writing—these topics seem inadequate now, feel like relics of an idyllic time when we could worry about things like craft and style and publishing.(And yet—)
  • I have been diving deep into Scribophile, and I worry that I might be using the site as an escape rather than as a serious attempt at improving my writing. I have been critiquing some interesting work, have put my own writing up for scrutiny, and have been taking seriously the feedback I have been giving and receiving. But sometimes I feel like I’m not engaging with the world at large, just putting off the inevitable.
  • Where do I start? I feel as though I have hit the ground running, but what exactly am I running toward? (Something better than this is the hope.)
  • To continue living as I had before is oppressively inadequate. And yet to face the future feels equally impossible.
  • “A word after a word / after a word is power.” I have been repeating this idea in my mind whenever I put my pen to paper or my fingers to my keyboard. And yet I find it harder than ever to believe it to be true.
  • I wake up. I go for a run. It is warm for the winter season in New York. I go to work. There is so much work to be done.
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From the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., 21 January 2017.

Dozens

Here’s something from memory lane: I’m currently listening to Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” from the soundtrack of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement on loop.

The movie and song came out in 2004. I was twelve years old. Now, it’s 2016 and I’m twenty-four.

What a wild ride.

It has been twelve years since I first listened to “Breakaway,” but I remember how quickly I integrated that song into my personal canon. Like every preteen at the time, the song painted a romantic picture of leaving home, of exploring the world, of growing up and doing Big Things. The repeated plays fueled my daydreams of living an exciting life in a place that wasn’t my hometown.

For all intents and purposes, I’ve achieved that dream, and have been living it for the past six years.

When I sit and think about 2016 in particular, I am surprised by just how much has happened. On a personal level, these twelve months were packed. I made a commitment to my health, and, holiday season aside, I exercised regularly. I came out to my parents as bisexual and polyamorous in June. I changed jobs in July (something I kept referring to it as my “Big Life Change”). I won this year’s NaNoWriMo events (both Camp NaNoWriMos and the November NaNoWriMo).

My younger self would have thought these were meager accomplishments, but to me right now, they feel colossal. Right now, I’m closer to living my “ideal” life than I ever have been before. And maybe it’s different than what I dreamed up as a twelve year old, but it’s still good.

But outside of the things I’ve accomplished for myself, the world turned. We lost iconic figures who made indelible marks on human history and culture. Politicians seemed to constantly give us cause for despair, from Duterte in the Philippines to Trump in the U.S. And throughout, there was a steady thread of injustice that plagued vulnerable people.

I can already see that 2017 will be a challenging year, and not just because I will do my usual thing and force myself out of my comfort zone. The Trump administration looks more and more like a disaster every day. What we thought were mere specters of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other types of bigotry have turned out to be warm bodies, alive and kicking. We have so much work to do.

What will we say in twelve years about 2016 and all that happened after?

So here’s my (cheesy, but true) 2017 motto: “Take a risk / take a chance / make a change / and breakaway.”

This post was inspired by this week’s Discover Challenge: Retrospective. Check out a few more responses below.

New New York

I am not a native New Yorker. But, like many people in this city, I have given myself the title of “Honorary New Yorker.” I am not from here, and six years is not nearly enough time to explore the decadent history and fervent artistry of this place, but I’m on my way to getting there. I’m on my way to knowing.

Yesterday, I spent the day writing in the Milstein Division at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. The heater next to me blew warm air onto my face as snow and freezing rain fell outside, and there was a faint rattling sound in the stacks—I found out as I left that it was the clacking of a keyboard as someone used a library computer to look up a book.

Best seat in the house.

A post shared by Caroliena Cabada (@cecaroliena) on

On days like yesterday, I can feel just how much I am a cliché—I am yet another young writer aspiring for greatness in the literary arts, and I believe that if I can make it in New York City, I can make it anywhere. I sat in that room, grinding out words as I waited for divine inspiration to strike me and make me write the next great American novel, one that will redefine what “American” is.

I came to this city not intending to be a writer. Before this city, I wrote in my journal, personal flash fictions of emotions that ran through me as I went through my teenage years. As a freshman at NYU, I wanted to capture all of the glorious hustle of living in a place so radically removed from what I had grown up knowing, and I did it in the two ways I best knew how: in photographs and in words. And New York has never stopped giving me reasons to take pictures and write, and write, and write. I didn’t come to this city intending to be a writer, but my god, it made me one.

Call number: Oversize PS.I9 G72 1973 c.1

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(A quick note about the image above; this was one of the first Instagram photos I took, about four years ago in NYU’s Bobst Library.)

This isn’t to say that if you intend to be a writer you better get yourself to New York because it will magically make you one. (Just look at me and my magical transformation in just six years from not-a-writer to definitely-a-writer!) But New York has a way of taking what was already within a person and magnifying it. The city reflects back to us who we are in our entirety, and we make the choice what to amplify.

And sometimes, New Yorkers, Honorary or not, like to return the favor, and show the city what its citizens are made of.

Union Square motivation.

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(A quick note about the sticky note above; I did not write that particular one, but it is one of my favorites from the Union Square subway station.)

This post is in response to this week’s Discover Challenge: Finding Your Place. Check out a few more responses below!

The view from December

I entered this November with a very particular set of expectations, and came out of it with those expectations shredded, taped back together, then ripped apart again as I tried to squeeze out 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.

And I did it. I reached 50,000 words, bragged about it (with charts!), and now, on the first day of December, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about writing, being a writer, and the election.

To start, a quotation that has been with me all year:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

—Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

Before November 8, I focused on the part after the comma: “but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.” This was the phrase that got me to pick up my pen every day and write. I was intent on gaining the discipline I had so sorely lacked as a student. I was intent on getting better at this craft. Whatever “it” was, I dragged myself through by digging my pen into the page and scratching deeply.

After November 8th, I focused on the part before the comma: “Art can’t save you from pain.”

I wrote some in the time immediately after, but I engaged more in all the feverish activity of calling representatives, supporting organizations fighting Trump, and having those conversations of “What now, what now, what now?”

NaNoWriMo slipped away. I had built an early lead of a few thousand words, and as the days after the election passed by that lead got narrower and narrower. When I decided to try and write for NaNoWriMo again, I felt hollowed out and drained from the tears, the anguish, and the uncertainty. It was so hard to bring myself to write the story I set out to write.

I made peace with the possibility that I wouldn’t reach 50,000 words.

And at first, it was fairly easy to give it up. Everything else seemed more important: supporting vulnerable communities, engaging with people, and gearing up for the fight ahead. It was easy to tell myself that winning this year’s NaNo would be minuscule compared to everything else. (If I’m being honest, I still feel this way to a certain degree.)

But then I picked my novel back up. After a few days away from it, I saw its worth again. I saw that though it isn’t the most topically relevant story, it’s still an important story. I reaffirmed my belief that I must finish a draft, even if it’s a terrible, sloppy, incoherent mess of a draft. (Because turning it into something great is what editing is for.)

I got so close to 50,000 that suddenly the idea I wouldn’t make it seemed unconscionable. I needed to make it, more than I had needed it in the past.

Now, I feel like I can see the quotation as a whole.

I reached 50,000 words, but I’m nowhere near done with the draft. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to keep adding words to it in December, or if I’m going to shift gears and edit some short stories from the summer before coming back. But I’ve decided that I can keep fighting the good fight while still caring about the little fictions I eke out in the in-between times.

Art may not save us from the incoming administration, but the intrepid act of making it can drag us through it.

It happened here

Today I cried for the first time since the election. It seems overdue, somehow. Delayed. Tardy. I just missed the mark. Everyone else has shed tears every day since the election, but I just started.

The day after the election, “White’s Only” was scrawled on a bathroom stall at my old high school. Someone wrote “Trump!” on the door to a Muslim prayer room at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, my alma mater. These are just two instances of countless similar, and much worse, stories that have already started to crop up around the country. Racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic bigots are already emboldened by the election of Donald Trump.

But for me, these two instances strike close to home in a way that I hadn’t imagined. It would never happen there, right? Though I never once believed that my high school and my college were perfect, unproblematic spaces, I thought that my high school and college were better than this, would somehow be untouched by this.

I was wrong. And it pains me that I was so wrong. These are nowhere near the worst news I’ve heard this past week, but they’re the two measly pieces of straw that broke this camel’s back.

Today I cried for the first time since the election. This entire weekend I’ve felt the need to rest, to somehow get my energy back after being sapped so thoroughly in the days after the election.

I have not yet regained my strength. I have not yet decided that I’m ready to face all of it again.

But on the other hand, there is no time to wait. With the steady news of Trump’s potential cabinet and his top advisors being a who’s who of the people you really don’t want leading, it feels like the clock is running out. There cannot be any time lost in waiting for the perfect moment, for when I’m energized and “ready” and feeling safe enough to put myself back out there. I may never feel truly safe and at peace again.

Because it happened here. It happened here.

I’m going to sleep soon. And I don’t know if tomorrow I’ll feel ready to get up, go to the gym, get ready for work, and head to the office.

But I will do it because I must.