Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Staying Focused As A Self-Published Writer
"The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places." - Author Unknown
If anyone has noticed lately, my blog posts have fallen sort of flat over the last few weeks. It's not because I haven't had interesting things to talk about. Part of it is just that I've been busy with writing and trying to get the first three books of my upcoming young adult series finished and out the door. The other part...well...it's a combination of complacency, procrastination and a tad bit of laziness.
Being my own boss, I fall victim to many different things. It's easy to procrastinate - to put things off that don't need to be done right away. Sometimes, this causes me to put things off indefinitely. It's never my intention to do that, it just...well...happens. I also tend to hyper focus on one thing and neglect the others. For example, I'll get so focused on writing, that I'll completely ignore my marketing efforts for that day, or vice versa.
I'm not a lazy person by nature. If anything, I am known as a workaholic and I tend to push my own limits sometimes when I try to get projects done in a timely manner. But lately I've just been under a spell, not really caring if anything gets done and just feeling fatigued and worn out for who knows what reasons. I think it may just be lack of structure that's bringing all these things to my daily routine.
See, being a self-published, full-time writer is hard. I know some people think I'm living the dream by making my own hours and getting to do what I love - which is to write - full time. But there's so much more to this profession than just writing. There's marketing, there's cover design, there's marketing, there's blogging, there's marketing, there's social networking, there's...you get the point. Add in the fact that this can be a very lonely job, and you have the makings of a challenging career.
I'm sure many other writers, both who are doing this full time and who are doing it aside from a typical 9-5, experience some of these same issues I have been plagued with. And since this is my career, and not just my hobby, I've been forced to create a set of remedies to try and counteract some of these vices. I figured I'd share them with my fellow writers who are struggling to stay focused on their daily tasks, and hopefully help them accomplish their short term and long term goals.
First, I make a daily list of what needs to be done. I make this list the night before and have it sitting on my desk/computer desktop first thing when I wake up in the morning. The list details everything I need to get done during the day and the order which those things need to be done.
I for one find myself more disciplined in my writing efforts in the morning, so I make writing one of my first tasks each day. This includes blog post writing, working on my novel projects, even interviews or guest posts.
I tend to market and social network better later in the day, after I am completely awake and alert to the world. So I set most of my marketing tasks such as trolling the forums, emailing people, and commenting on fellow authors' blog posts for the afternoons.
Second, I am learning the value of getting out of my environment for a while and cutting out distractions. Sitting at my desk, in my apartment, for 10-12 hours a day can drive one insane. Granted, I love having a sanctuary of sorts to get away from the world so I can focus, but working in an area where the television, the internet, and the phone are so easily accessible makes getting things done a bit of a challenge sometimes.
Lately I've been trying to make it a point to head for library for a few hours in the morning to concentrate on writing. Cutting off all internet, I take a seat at one of the large tables overlooking the man-made lake behind our local library, pop in my headphones, crank up the beats, and write for a few hours. During the evenings of certain nights of the week, I meet up at the coffee shop with a friend of mine and we focus solely on writing.
Third, I set up a system of discipline. Having a wife has it's benefits in terms of a writer's career. She helps keep me on track. I have it set up where if I don't complete certain goals on time or if I don't keep myself disciplined and do what I need to do, my wife can ground me from certain things that I like to do in my spare time. I have a gamer's heart and denying me a bit of R and R on the Xbox 360 is enough motivation for me to work hard to get done what I've set out to get done. I know it may seem a bit childish, but it works. If I was in a typical work environment and I didn't get requested projects finished, there would be consequences, so why shouldn't the same apply in my writing career?
On the flip side, if I accomplish my projects on time, I usually give myself a half day/full day off to veg. This usually comes after I've worked a 50+ hour workweek to get my projects done, so the rest and relaxation is refreshing, and the satisfaction that comes with finishing a project is great too.
Fourth and final, I make sure to keep up the boundaries between my personal time and work time. Being a full time writer, it's easy to say you have time for lunch with a friend or to help a friend or relative with a task they need a hand with. But this writing career should be treated like any other. You wouldn't be able to just leave when you want from a typical job.
I'm not saying we have to go to extremes here. I believe there is a time for everything. But I've had major issues in the past where people I know don't really think of what I'm doing as a full time job and constantly contact me for favors or to hang out even though I have projects that desperately need to get done. In the past I've given in out of guilt, but more recently I've put my foot down and treated my writing as the business it is. As an alternative, I'll sometimes offer a time that works with my schedule to help/hang out with my friends and family.
As a self-published writer, my livelihood is resting on my ability to stay focused, to put aside distractions, and to resist the lure of laziness. Bringing balance to your self-imposed work day can be a real challenge, but one must understand that writing full time is more than just writing. It's running a business. You're the manager, you're the marketing department, you're the one who fails or succeeds. It's okay to draw up some boundaries to make it easier for yourself, even if others may or may not understand.
When a year passes by, are you going to be happy with what you've accomplished, or are you going to regret all the time you spent on X or Y, things that didn't really bring you closer to your goals?
Photo Credit -boboroshi