A Year of Full-Time Writing or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Daily Structure

Well, I’d been dreading it for a while, but I finally bit the bullet and… rearranged my books and stories page.

Not such a colossal undertaking, I suppose, but one I kept putting off nonetheless. It’s a little more intuitive now, I think. Still divided by novel vs. short fiction, but with my recent releases closer to the top for easier discovery, and a whole new section just for highlighting the newest, shiniest thing I’ve put out. (Pssst, I’ve just put out a story today, and you should totally check it out!)

It might not be the fanciest of such pages on the net, but I think it’ll work for the time being. Should be easier for me to keep up-to-date, too. So I can check that off the Neverending List of Dreaded Chores and skip along to the next task.


 

The Husband and I made some changes to our lives last year, including moving to a new house in a neighborhood that suits our lifestyle and values much better, lessens his commute by at least half (thus giving him back a huge chunk of time that he used to spend dodging idiot drivers and white-knuckling through Michigan infrastructure), and allows me to work from home. These changes have made such a huge impact on our happiness and quality of life, it can sometimes make the time before the move seem like a dream out of someone else’s life.

So, my first year working as a (essentially) full-time writer wrapped up about a week ago. It’s taken me pretty much all of that time to really figure out how that was going to work for me. I’ve kind of ended up focusing on a lot of short fiction this year, doing various stories for a variety of bundles and other markets, and using those smaller projects to hammer out the kinks in my daily, weekly, and monthly work schedules.

Writing while holding down a day job is tough, frustrating, sometimes even impossible. Sometimes you have to make some annoying choices about how to use what free time you have. Get some progress done on the WIP, or spend some quality time with The Husband?

But somehow, bits and pieces of time are found, and the work gets done. Maybe not as fast as you’d like, but it gets done. The idea of quitting your day job, of finally being “full-time” and having the ability to get tons of projects done, is a billboard that reads “If Only I Had More Tiiiiiiime,” and it glows way off in the distance on the dusky interstate of life, indicating an exit that may not even lie along your current route. Or an even better metaphor.

A funny thing happens once you suddenly have all that tiiiiiiime, though. Because all that tiiiiiiime does not come with the built-in structure for how to use it the way a day job does, and, for someone like me, lacking structure leads to floundering, flailing, and ultimately, surfing the internet all day before finally getting maybe a hundred words written.

If it weren’t for all the other wonderful things I mentioned about our new life, I’d have slid head-first into depression within a handful of months.

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I’ve never had to define my own daily structure before. Maybe this reveals something about me, about the privileges I had while growing up and then as a young adult. But it is what it is, and suddenly having the freedom to decide exactly how I’m going to use every second of my day turned out to be a lot scarier than it seemed back when it was just a big, glowy “If Only” waaaaay off in the distance.

For a big chunk of this past year, even though I was still turning various projects in, I felt like I wasn’t getting anything done AT ALL.

I tried a lot of systems to manage my time. Some worked once, some worked for a few days or even a couple weeks. Maybe all of them would have worked right off the bat if my personality were more attuned to this sort of thing, but maybe not. I have no way of knowing.

But I think the reason none of them worked is that they were designed around the writing. They were designed to get myself motivated, or to trick myself into writing with various rewards or Pavlovian responses, or even to berate myself for not doing the work, rather than being built around giving myself a daily structure. Because once I focused on structure, it all suddenly clicked.

My writing schedule today isn’t really about writing, it’s about my whole day and where writing fits into it. Because I’m not just a writer, I’m also a wife, a home owner, a cat guardian, a reader, and a gamer, plus I still have a small part-time job that has to fit in somewhere, too, and all of those parts of myself deserve time on my schedule. The structure makes it so I don’t have to decide every day when to do each thing or how to prioritize the parts of them, and thus removes a huge piece of the fear that used to paralyze me in the earlier parts of this past year.

So I’m learning to love my daily structure, as scary as it seems, because it’s my own. At the very least, I’m a lot happier with the way I’ve utilized my writing time since implementing it.

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I Was Only Pretending to Procrastinate

I just finished my first real read-through of the first draft of book three of The Songbird River Chronicles, The Fount of Magic.

I finished writing that draft… um… a while ago.

And while I did, in fact, beat myself up over the fact that I was spending all of this in-between time NOT editing it and preparing it for publication, I find now that the distance has actually been extremely helpful.

First off, I had a chance to forget some of the story. Oh, I remembered the big overarching skeleton of the piece, and lots of chunks of the flesh, but some of the details had escaped me. I actually went back and reread books 1 and 2 as well to get back into the story.

Second though, and more importantly, I’ve had time to grow as a writer between finishing the draft and now. I’ve been reading a whole lot for pleasure lately, as well, something I haven’t had time to do since I was in high school, really. I’ve been critical of the books I’m reading, picking out things that I think work really well and things I can see don’t work at all, and I’m analyzing them as best I can. It’s been really fun going through my own work now and using those skills to see how I can make the second draft actually work.

That isn’t to say that the draft is broken, currently. It works, the story is there, and it’s pretty decent. Pretty damn good in lots of places, to be honest. It’s just the bits in between those “pretty damn good” chunks that need some reworking.

And that’s where this whole distance thing is coming into play. Because, when I first finished the draft and immediately turned around and read through the thing again to attempt some clean up, I floundered. I knew it needed something, but I just could not tell what it was. I knew particular chapters flagged, but for the life of me, I had no idea how to make them crackle the way the other chapters did.

So I got frustrated, and I put the draft aside.

And now, many, many months later, when I opened it up and read through chapter one (which needs some not insubstantial work, though is by no means the worst offender) the answer immediately snapped into place in my head. The same thing happened when I got to my other trouble chapters.

Two chapters will need heavy rewriting, and I mean total scrapping, tossing out the window, light those suckers on fire because just GAG me already they sucked. Most of the rest need some light reworking to adjust the information flow, or to adjust for the major changes in those rewrite chapters.

But there are some that I’m just not touching, because as far as I can tell, they are in exactly the form they need to be. Those are the chapters that I was reading along, and suddenly realized I’d forgotten I was editing them. They’d sucked me in, and I’d just been going on a ride with them.

Like I was reading a real book! An entertaining one! With plot and characterization and pacing that worked properly!

And when that happened, I stepped aside, patted myself on the back (because, as writers, we don’t acknowledge our own good work often enough. I say, if your own work carries you away like that, let it! That’s the whole point of writing, after all!), and made myself reread the section more critically.

So, long story short, I no longer feel so guilty about the procrastination. Well, I do, but I feel it worked out for the better this way.

I’ve got the house to myself this Saturday. I’m planning to make some decent headway into this thing, now that I’ve got my edits outlined. Maybe I can even wrap it up before we leave for our Germany vacation in a week?

So long as I don’t start procrastinating again…