~ By Sharla Lovelace
If you treat your writing as a hobby, it will always be just that…
Someone told me this once. Someone major. Someone like Jodi Thomas. 🙂 And it resonated with me in a big way.
I have a full time day job, so my writing has always had to be planned around my job, my family, etc. I always envied those full time writers tapping out words in their pajamas all day, and I thought “If I can just get published, this will all change!”
Yeah. Most of us know that magic door is deceptively shiny and pajamas don’t necessarily wait for us on the other side. LOL. And even being published, it nowhere near pays any bills. Maybe it buys me a Coke. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s my passion, what I want to do for the rest of my life, and therefore much more important than a hobby. It’s my career.
I have a job that pays my bills. That’s a job. A necessity. But I will still be writing long after I retire (God willing) and that is a career. Once I changed to that mindset, I look at this journey with all its dips and hills (and more dips, because yes there are many) in a whole new perspective. And I thought I’d share that.
Going To Work…
Do you have a day job? Do you get up every day, get the kids ready for school, prepare yourself to face the day and drive there to punch in at a certain time? Or is your day job taking care of children and the house, errands, etc.? Either way, it’s a job. Not many of us are fortunate enough to just wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and do the pajama thing, writing all day. But we all fantasize about it on our way to do everything else. That “if only” sets in. The only way to set that fantasy in motion is to get your head right. Start thinking of your writing as your job, and punch in.
This Is Your Job…Own up to it!
What do you say when people ask what you do? “Oh, I work at such and such.” or “I’m a stay-at-home Mom.” or “I’m a student and I work part time…” If you’re a writer, why aren’t you saying “I’m a writer.” first? Do you think you have to be a Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult to say that? No. I used to have a boss that wouldn’t promote you to a position unless you were already stepping out and pretty much doing that other job. He felt you had to be doing the job you wanted before you earned the right to be paid for it. So, you’re a writer. Are you published yet? If so, you’re an author. Say it. Eventually the squirmy will fade, as you make it a natural thing. “I’m a writer. Full time? No, not yet, in the meantime my day job is….such and such.” Want to get paid to do this? Then put the job you want first.
Get Your Family In On It!
This is hard. They love you. They are happy for you. You tell them you need writing time each night, or every other night, or over lunch, or whatever you carve out for yourself, and they nod and agree wholeheartedly and truly want to do this for you. And then they need something. Jeans are lost, socks are missing, the math homework turned to Russian in the last hour, somebody can’t find their keys, the dog just pooped in the living room, and oh by the way, what’s for dinner?
This can’t just be my house. Please tell me it’s yours too. In my case, this is after a full time work day at that day job I’m now putting second. It’s hard to look those people you love in the eye and say “I’m working.” Especially as they look at you funny because you don’t look like you’re working. You look like you’re staring off into space or piddling on the computer. But in a writer’s world, that is working.
Talk to your loved ones. Tell them your plan, tell them your dream, tell them they mean everything to you, but you need a certain amount of uninterrupted time to do this. Decide together on when that best time might be. And then…
Clothes wash just as well at midnight…they really do. Figure out how much time you want to devote to this job. Four hours a day? Two? One? It really doesn’t matter, as long as it is a regular commitment you punch in for. Even one hour can be powerful if that one hour is dedicated time that isn’t punctuated with questions and interruptions and just one more load of laundry and internet distractions…(we’ll get back to this one)… If everyone knows that you are “at work” from 5pm to 6pm, and that you’ll be back with them and available afterward, they can deal with it. Or if you have to carve out your writing time at 0-Dark-thirty in the morning or after everyone goes to bed, then those are your working hours. If laundry has to wait till midnight, then so be it. Laundry will never pay you a check. Your writing just might.
1 hour can equal 600 words conservatively, much more if you’re on a roll. (600 is my low avg). 80K words divided by 600 = 134 hours. At one hour per day, you could finish a book in 134 days. That’s 4 ½ months. Throw that other half a month in for blow off days and editing, and say 5 months. That’s awesome.
And don’t be so tied to only that schedule that you don’t utilize unexpected pockets of time when they come up. Come on, do you really need to watch Justified? (Sigh, yes. Yes I do. But that’s what the DVR is for.) Look for places in your day or night where you can grab a little writing time or quiet thinking/plotting time (lying on the couch and thinking about your story can totally count as working.) : ) I write on my lunch hour at work if I can possibly pull it off.
Location, Location, Location…
I don’t have an office. My house is tiny and full and I write on my living room couch. My laptop resides on the end table with my always present notebook and bowl of pens and flashdrives and fingernail file. It’s not ideal and I fantasize about having a door that isn’t the front door opening and closing, and that doesn’t have a 60 inch tv on the wall that my husband keeps turning on. But it’s my reality and I have to make due. My family knows that’s my spot, and that’s where I work, and that it isn’t the living room from 6pm-8pm, it’s my office. I’m not going to lie to you and say that works perfectly—it doesn’t. On my end or on theirs. But I make it work, and because there are days it doesn’t fall in line that way because of errands or the gym or working late at the day job, I work at my writing job on the weekends as well.
Find a spot where you can think. This can be the couch, your bed, the table, outside on the porch, at a coffee shop—whatever works for you. Make that spot your office and treat it as such. And if you are one of the lucky people that have an actual office…I am so envious! Go close your door once really loudly just for me. J
Those Shiny Objects…
They come in all forms, sneaky and glittery and full of happiness and promise. Phone calls from friends. A cool letter or email from someone you’ve lost touch with. Facebook…Twitter…Pinterest…Blogs…Bejeweled or Bubble Blast or …. You get the picture. All these things are wonderful and sometimes so much more fun than that story plot line you’re stuck on. Resist it. They are time sucking creatures that steal your precious minutes from you! Don’t count that in your scheduled writing time! It’s not writing! Sometimes that’s part of promo, but you need to keep that to a minimum and get back to the business at hand. Writing! I’ve heard of someone who uses a kitchen timer, set for two hours each day. When she takes a break or stops to do something else or wanders off into Twitter, she clicks the timer off. When she goes back to writing, she clicks it back on. It may take her eight hours to get her two writing hours in, but she does it. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m so tempted!
Deadlines Are Real…
Before you’re published, it can be helpful to get used to the concept of working under a deadline. Once you’re publishing, others are counting on you to keep your commitments. If you don’t have others placing them on you yet, give yourself deadlines and find a way to hold yourself accountable–maybe that’s telling a critique partner to keep you honest or writing it down and posting it on the wall where everyone can see. Stick to it.
Figure Out What Motivates You…
I’m fear-motivated. : ) Deadlines work for me. Some people find those little word count meters extremely effective. I have an Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of my word count and tells me exactly where I stand on the whole project, good or bad. I know every day what my word count needs to be in order to meet my ultimate goal. And I do not go to bed until I’ve at least hit that word count. Period. But maybe you’re motivated by rewards–a piece of chocolate for hitting your goal for the day, a new pen for hitting your weekly goal. Find what keeps you going even when that blinking cursor starts to mock you.
Working in the Other Stuff That Isn’t Writing But Is Part of the Job…
The business part of the job can become quite a beast once you are preparing to be or are already published. When I’m in writing mode, I want to write and not be distracted. But promo has to be done, guest blogs have to be written, emails from your editor/publicist/agent need to be answered, book prizes have to be mailed out, etc. All of these things can easily fall through the cracks OR take over your writing time completely–neither is good. Scheduling time for business only stuff is important. Depending on your workload, you may only need an hour a week or you may need more than that. I try to do this first thing in the morning before I leave for work, as I’m sipping my coffee. Or on my lunch hour.
Be accountable. Use that kitchen timer, write your time down, have your family help you, report to a friend—whatever works. It’s easy to blow it off when things get difficult, and do other things, but if you were off physically somewhere at work, you wouldn’t be able to do that. You’d have to do your job.
So commit! Do your job! Because we want to see more great books out there!
What was that we said in the beginning? Let’s say it again.
If you treat your writing as a hobby, it will always be just that…
Call it your job. Rinse…repeat…
Sharla Lovelace is the bestselling, award-winning author of small-town love stories. Being a Texas girl through and through, she’s proud to say she lives in Southeast Texas with her retired husband, a golf cart, a crazy mutt, and an aviary full of cockatiels. She is the author of The Reason Is You, Before and Ever Since, Just One Day, Don’t Let Go, and the forthcoming Stay with Me, coming in summer 2014. For more about Sharla’s books, visit www.sharlalovelace.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sharlalovelace.
Her latest novel about first love and second chances, DON’T LET GO, is out now!