The Time Management Triforce

It’s rare, the author who doesn’t have to pad their schedule for extra time. They do exist, and they know themselves intimately. Their health habits, productivity foibles, available time and intended schedule. Though they too can be felled by unintended life and schedule changes, the rest of us often operate on a less clear picture of ourselves or not too distant futures. Unpredictable health—ours or that of family—further complicate our ability to navigate our schedules with a clear head. Writers have to be a lot of things to themselves, and project manager is one of them.

There’s a strong temptation to take on projects for money, to continue publishing regularly—and while those aren’t inherently bad they can lead to unpleasant consequences. Getting locked into a contract for a product or publisher we end up disliking, taking far under what we’re worth, or doing it ‘for the exposure’ are things that qualify as unhealthy for our careers.

People, as the saying goes, die from exposure.

So how do we prioritize what to say yes to, and what to say no to? Half our careers are about making spinning plates look like something a toddler can do.

I bust it down into a few things.

  • Payment (monetary or otherwise)
  • Bandwidth
  • Impact

 

Payment might be monetary, trade, or even a favor. Monetary payment scales—for charities or for certain markets I will accept substantial rate cuts or even do it for free. I’ve done some projects as a trade, editing something because I’d later get graphics help on a project of my own. When it comes to magazines, news outlets, or fiction, payment breaks down into it being about what I get out of it in terms of monetary/trade gain, and platform. I’ve sometimes blogged for highly reduced rates or for free because the platform afforded to me by the publisher was valuable enough to equal out the loss in money or bankable favors. I don’t recommend piling your plate with platform not payment assignments, but consistently doing them over time around your other projects becomes one more way to build your audience. Great platforms and poor paychecks can create readers that follow you to other projects. Won’t be all the readers, but a few dedicated fans can go a long way.

Bandwidth is all about my emotional, physical and time limits. If I say yes to something, from a one-off blog post to contributing thousands of words to a roleplaying game text, it’s going to hit all three. Writing’s fatiguing, and it takes a lot of time. If I say yes, I have to have the time to do it. Preferably with a long enough lead time to build in some padding for unexpected events, but I’ve done short stories in under a week, and proofed a 65,000+ word manuscript in under a day—the literary equivalents of making a turn on a dime. How’s the rest of my schedule, both personal and for work? What about my boyfriend’s schedule? I want to keep my own scheduling needs in mind, but if you have a partner, or a family, you also have to consider what time you can sacrifice versus what time you want to see them. In a crunch, I know we won’t see each other a lot during some of our projects, but building in room to see and connect with your loved ones is a big deal. If you book yourself too solid, you wipe out your bandwidth in every way, and that hits you harder—because it hits everything including that project. I can write an eight thousand assignment in a day if I have to, but I’d like to never do that again. Keeping bandwidth concerns in mind protects your ability to produce quality work, not make yourself crazy, and prevents driving work between you and your partner as a wedge of obligation.

Impact is at least in part a long game, career oriented concern. Does this assignment have any impact, positive or negative? Does this build my skills, challenge me, or expose me to an audience that may not know me? Will I learn from people I admire, something that ties closely into payment concerns. Will the name of this anthology follow me forever, and can I own that? If you’re afraid of the impact of a possibly controversial publication, weigh in with yourself on whether you can own that decision. Do you have the ability to turn jokes or rage around on others? To defuse others, or just deflate them? Sometimes a project isn’t worth the potential negative impact, long or short term. But the stomach churning days of hate mail as a journalist make me far more prepared for rejections and negative reviews. You don’t have to do projects you’re reluctant about. But a good way to step up your game is to say yes now and then to the stuff that might make you—or others—a little uncomfortable.

Payment. Bandwidth. Impact. Keep the three in mind, and you’ll be a better project manager for yourself. Expertly managed time means a better use of the opportunities we say yes to.

So go get ‘em, tiger.

Stress, Real Life, and Professionalism

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and it’s all you can do to not strike out. And sometimes that curve ball shows up in the middle of a deadline, when you’re in the home stretch of editing your book, when everything is so close yet so far and your capacity for higher-order thinking skills are being put to the test. At this point, you have two options: you can push through and get that deadline handled despite the chaos, or you can set aside the work to handle life.

I’ve always been the kind of person to take the first option. In college, dealing with personal crisis, I pushed through my courses as hard as I could, eventually driving myself into a five-month case of bronchitis that to this day will flare up whenever I get stressed or exhausted.

Since then, however, I’ve slowly been learning that sometimes you don’t push through. You just don’t.

Recently, a part of my life that was once-stable has flipped, and a lot of changes have happened in the past week. It’s been emotionally and physically draining, and the lack-of-sick I’ve blessedly had all winter long has started to waver, and there’s a constant press in my chest and a nagging cough. All little signs that are saying “Hey, we might be pushing things a bit here.”

I made a tough personal call to let people know that I would not be meeting certain deadlines I’d set, because of this nonsense. Really hard conversations to initiate, really hard emails to write. I take it as a point of personal pride that I make deadlines when I say I will. But sometimes, it’s just not possible. And sometimes when it is possible, it’s just not responsible.

I’ve been really surprised, to the point of tears, the kindness that people have shown me in dealing with my professional life, both in writing and in my dayjob as an engineer. I’ve always believed the world to be fairly unforgiving of failure and of personal problems, but not everybody is like that, and it’s comforting to work with such wonderful people.

And let’s be real, folks: when your head is somewhere else entirely, you’re just not going to be able to put together a good book. So if you’re dealing with personal crisis, take your time, handle your shit, and come back to the work when you’re able to make it the best. If you’re a perfectionist like me who has to push through everything to meet your deadlines, take a step back and give yourself space. You might be surprised by how understanding people are.

What’s Your Resolution?

It’s the start of the new year and so I thought I should write the obligatory “new years resolution” post. We all do it, right? We resolve to write more, or to watch less TV (or browse less Facebook). Maybe you’ve set out big goals—start a novel, finish one, get an agent?

My wife wrote out a list of fifty-two goals—not specifically to achieve one a week, and most are small, very achievable actions or changes. She’s a very organized person.

So, new year, new resolutions?

I’ll pass.

I’ve never been a fan of big resolutions, and certainly not centered around New Years. For me, new years is such an arbitrary line in the sand. While much of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, it’s no more than an agreed upon system. New years day? It’s really no more or less important than any other day circling the sun. Yeah yeah, we need a system to function, for society to be on the same page, to have at least one socially acceptable “get loaded” day (not counting conventions)—but why New Years? Why not winter solstice, or the spring equinox—those both seem like ideal points of change. Why not your birthday?

I should point out that I have a personal reason for seeing this as arbitrary—my birthday happens to fall on the fifth of January. To me, this is the start of the new year, not the first. Start a new diet on the first? No way—I have a nice dinner and dessert (okay, desserts) planned just a handful of days later. And from a little before Christmas through (and perhaps slightly past) my birthday, I’m in holiday mode—the last thing I want to do is mess up my fun by trying to have less of it.

My bigger objection, though, is the idea of a resolution—your realization that something needs changing so significantly that you have to force yourself to do it. If the need is really there, you should not wait until the new year to make it, nor for your birthday, or even the coming Monday. Do it now. Stop reading this blog and go do it. It’s okay, really—go do your thing. Need to work on your health or weight? Go take a walk, and make the next meal a better one. Do some writing over lunch, or before going to bed, and maybe even first thing in the morning. Skip TV this evening—it’s the same junk that’s always running anyway (you can always catch it later with Netflix or elsewhere).

I’ll fess up to the fact that I don’t always follow this same advice. I mull over ideas; I get excited about something and don’t end up executing it; I know there’s plenty of things I could improve and end up kicking that can down the road a bit. I have goals, some of which I’m actively working on and others I will…soon. But I started a new diet in the middle of October, with both Halloween and a vacation just ahead of it (I’m still on it, by the way, even with the small hiccups of Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday as well as a few others). When I first jumped into my exercise phase, it was the middle of May—that was almost five years ago, and I’m still active. I started writing my first novel on the first of April (no joke!), after spending a month or so cleaning up a year’s worth of notes. It took me another eight months to finish writing it, but I did, along with maybe ten or so short stories along the way.

I’m also deadline-oriented—I have to be with the work I do if I want to keep clients happy. It also helps when writing for anthologies and ensuring you get something done before they close to submissions.

There are reasons why you aren’t doing what you think you should be doing—rarely do those distractions or habits go away just because of a resolution. Correct them if they’re a problem, and if they aren’t find a way to embrace them in a controlled, healthy way. Adjust your goals, refine your expectations, and don’t wait for some arbitrary time to make the big changes.

And now, with this out of the way, it’s time for some World of Warcraft—I have goals to work on after all.

What’s Up With BLN: January 2013

Ever wonder who the writers at BLN are and what we’re up to? We thought we’d share some of our current projects!

Damien Walters Grintalis

Ink Cover Art - Resized My debut novel, Ink, was released from Samhain Horror in December. The Horror Fiction Review said, “… even when you might think you know where the story’s going, you’ll be in for some clever and nasty surprises.” and “Debut novels should not be this good.”

A tattoo can be a work of art…or a curse.

The fearsome griffin inked on Jason Harford’s arm looks real enough to climb off and take flight. Jason thinks his new tattoo is perfect. Until he wakes up one night to find his arm temporarily ink free. Until he finds a brick wall where the tattoo shop should be.

As Jason’s world spins out of control, he comes to realize a truth as sharp as the griffin’s talons. The tattoo is alive, it’s hungry, and if Jason tries to kill it, he’ll die. The artist will remove it for a price, but he’s not interested in money or Jason’s soul. He wants something far worse…

Ink is available in both trade paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and others.

So far for 2013, I will have new short fiction published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Apex Magazine, and others. My agent has my next novel, entitled Paper Tigers, in her hands, and I have two other novels and a handful of recently completed short stories that need editing.


Lillian Cohen-Moore
I’m continuing work on my statless setting book, Guide to the Village by the Sea. Outside that, I’ll be keeping up with a little client work, and  trying to clear a few short stories and essays off my plate to formally close out 2012. I’m also looking for a job in Seattle, which is trampling a lot of my writing time. On Dec 17th, I started an 8 week long guest blog at Bitch Magazine, “Save vs Sexism,” which is about sexism in tabletop games.

Galen Dara
I’m working on wrapping up the Geek Love anthology, finishing a cover for a historic ghost story, working out the contract details for cover art for a YA novel and an anthology about body modification, plus my usual 2 to 4 illustrations a month for Lightspeed. Also, I have GOT to get my work space in better order; it’s still in boxes and piles after moving this summer.

Jaym Gates
I’m finishing up and submitting a handful of short stories to clear my slate for 2013, wrapping up the Geek Love anthology, promoting Richard Lee Byers’ “Called to Darkness” for Pathfinder Tales, and starting on the Nebula Awards. Also working on a shared-world anthology, and getting ready to move up to the ranch for a few months.

Adam Israel
I’m doing long overdue rewrites and revisions on a dozen or so short stories, and finishing the first draft of my first novel. I’m also polishing up my EBook Store, currently live on Nightmare Magazine. Finishing things is my mission over the next few months.

Caroline Ratajski
Right now I’m editing my novel, YA scifi action, trying to whip it into shape so it can maybe go on-sub someday soon. Also I’m in a recently-released anthology titled Danse Macabre with my short story “Death in the Family,” a retelling of the classic folk tale Godfather Death.

Bear Weiter
I’m working on wrapping up edits for my first novel (tentatively titled The Arrival) while working on my second (Mirrors Stairs and Doors). I have short stories coming out in Atomic Age Cthulhu (story title: Within the Image of the Divine), The Speculative Edge (story title: Dear Diary – my first reprint sale!), and Fish (The Talking Fish of Shangri-La). While I’ve worked as a designer for almost twenty years, I recently did my first book design project (Geek Love) and it’s been a great experience (if not a lot more work than I had expected). My plans and goals for this year – research agents and try to find one, sell the first novel, finish the second, start the third, write and publish more short stories, and maybe even dabble in a personal graphic novel idea.