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'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' 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


Kat Heckenbach said...

Great post, David. And you are correct to say that those of us who aren't doing this full time share these feelings. I'm going through the same thing right now. I think I'm a bit burnt out. And lack of structure is a big part of my problem.

The biggest issue for me is the draw toward spending time online. And it's hard to avoid, when I do my writing on the computer, which of course makes it so easy to hop online....

Good for you for being so disciplined!

B Throwsnaill said...

Interesting and entertaining post, David. One of my concerns about the concept of becoming a full-time writer is whether I could be as creative for 50 hours a week as I am in the 50 hours a month that I spend now. Being part-time gives me a lot of time to recharge my creative batteries. Just curious if you have anything you want to share on this topic? One thought that I had was that if I ever did try full-time, I'd have to have multiple projects going at once so I wouldn't burn out on any one of them.

Unknown said...

Kat, I agree with you about the draw to hop online. That's why I'm finding it a bit easier to write when I slink away to the library or the coffee shop. Although there are people around - I love to people watch - I don't access the internet and that really helps me to be much more productive.

B, I usually do have many projects going on at one time. Right now I have three books I am trying to finish up. But aside from writing, I like to skip around to marketing as well. I find it a nice break in the day when I interact with others online and do design work - book covers, web design, blog design, etc.