3 Tricks to Working from Home

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I love working from home. I wear my pajamas to my desk in the morning. I change after coffee before I get on the treadmill, and I can read my morning e-mail on the treadmill! Yay. But as a lot of people have discovered as they’ve worked from home the past two years, there are some tricks to getting things done.

Set a Schedule

Most of us need to set some kind of schedule. Mine has always been, more or less, a traditional work day, 8 or 9 until 5:30 or so. This is because I want to have time off work when my family is off work.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t work during the evening or weekends but that’s my decision and I set the schedule. After all, when a deadline is tight, I might be putting in twelve hour days. Don’t worry! I’m not at my desk for twelve hours straight. Especially with my husband working from home, there are lunchtime walks and there is lunche time in the dining room. But I’m getting a lot done during that twelve hours.

Set Goals

One trick to keeping to a schedule is having something to work on. Because of this, when I’m not under contract for a job, I set goals and projects for myself. It must work at least to an extent because I’m productive.

Sometimes this means setting word count goals. 250 words/day.

Sometimes the goals are what I call “get it done” goals. Update the welcome page on my site. Draft Airstream Act 3.

I set both monthly and weekly goals. The weekly goals are detailed in my bullet journal and I cross them off with a brush marker as I get things done.

Set Boundaries

It doesn’t matter if you set a schedule and goals if you don’t set boundaries. When people know you are available . . . let’s just say that the expectations they have for a freelance author working from home are going to be utterly and entirely different from the expectations they have for someone teaching class from home.

Ninety percent of the time, I work with social media open in the background. Part of the reason for this is because my goals include setting up my work related posts and Tweets for the following day. But certain people have realized that if they Facebook message me enough, the pinging in the background will annoy me enough that I respond.

Or so they think. I am an introvert who loves her boundaries. I have no qualms about telling someone I am working and will read their messages later. Click. Then I close the social media. I don’t answer the phone when I’m working. I don’t return texts.

This isn’t to say that I block people completely. I just checked everything while I was at lunch. That way I can deal with anything earth shattering.

Set a schedule. Set goals. Set limits. And then get to writing. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’ve put my character in quite a predicament. I need to get back to sorting her out.

–SueBE

Keeping Track of Your Goals

I’ve got an alpaca keeping an eye on my goals.

For 3 years, I have belonged to an accountability group. We write. We talk about writing. We post our goals. And we ask each other about those goals. “How are you doing on…”

I have to admit that I’m not super good at meeting these goals. I always get a lot done so I don’t feel too bad about the fact that I’m not accomplishing my posted goals. After all, I always have a reason for switching things up.

This year, I decided to try something new. Posting a twelve month goal means that I can drift pretty far from my original goals by the end of the year. To prevent this, I’m creating monthly goals. Instead of grand sweeping goals, I’m writing up four smaller goals for each month.

This month they are:

  1. I’m writing Act 3 of Airstream.
  2. I’m generating 30 ideas as part of Storystorm. 
  3. I’m working on a series pitch for an educational publisher.
  4. I’m taking a class on writing graphic novels. You can find out about this class here.

Half way through week 1, I realized that I wasn’t sure how I was doing. My goals were only written down on the post I did for the Muffin here. That’s a problem because I’m not going to go to my post every day.

I printed them out and posted them on my calendar. See the photo above.

So, how am I doing? I’ve only worked on two of these goals. That’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m generating story ideas and I’m working on Airstream. The class doesn’t start for another week.

But the proposal? I have no excuse for not working on that except that it has been out of sight. And you know what they say – out of sight, out of mind. Every time I enter or leave my office, I walk past my calendar. That means that every time I enter or leave my office, I will see these goals posted at eye level.

I’m a visual person so I think that this will work much better for me. When I get one of them done, I can strike through it with a sharpie. Hot pink should get my attention. Or orange. Or lime green. Fortunately, I’ve got a fair collection of sharpies and brush markers waiting to note my progress.

–SueBE

Five More Days to Meet Your 2021 Goals

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Tic tic tic tic tic. The seconds left in 2021 are counting down. At least that’s how it feels if you have a writing goal from the year that you are trying to meet.

My goal is to finish a draft of my middle grade science fiction novel, Airstream. I set a goal to double my word count this month. Will that get me to the end? I hope so. I was doing really good, writing every day. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Christmas really got in the way. I did manage to write every day but only about 125 words each day.

I did the math and if I write about 511 words a day, I should meet my word count goal. Will that take me to the end of the novel? We shall see!

The biggest problem is that my husband and son are both home all week. You and I both know that I’ll be hearing a lot of “Hey, honey . . .” and “Mom, why don’t we. . .” Fortunately, 511 words isn’t much so it should be do-able.

What about you? Do you have goals that you want to meet? Here are some things to consider as you think about whether or not you want to push yourself the last few days of the year.

  1. This isn’t a great time to submit your work to agents. If they are reading, many want to start the year with a clean box. That may not mean good things for late submissions. If they aren’t reading, your work is just going to sit there. Instead perfect your query letter so that you can get your work out next week.
  2. You can always find a reason not to meet your goals. Your family is home. Today is a day with a “Y” in it. Instead of looking for reasons not to write, look for reasons to write. It’s a nice change of pace and you’ll eventually end up with something to submit.
  3. A small amount of progress is still progress. You may not have the time to write chapters and chapters but a small amount of progress, whether that is a few sentences a day or a page, is still progress. A bit of progress here and a bit of progress there will add up.

What do you say? Are you going to try to finish something up before the ball drops in New York?

–SueBE

No No NaNo or Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo

I’m saying No to NaNoWriMo.
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As a writer who blogs and who reads blogs, I felt a little out-of-step the last few weeks. I keep seeing other people’s posts about NaNoWriMo, but I haven’t said a thing. That’s because I’m giving it a miss this year.

For those of you who don’t recognize the abbreviation, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.  What it amounts to is this — in the month of November, participants promise to draft a novel.  One of my problems with this is that so much of my work is for young readers. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words.  I can draft a middle grade novel and not meet that word count. By NaNoWriMo standards, I’m a failure.

For me, the 2021 reality is this. I’ve committed to not one but four nonfiction books. Three of them are drafted. I rewrote one last week. I’m rewriting another this week. I also have a chapter and an outline due for the book I haven’t written yet.

Yes, I can work on other things. But do I want to try to write 50,000 words?

I would say yes if I was reworking my cozy. But before I do that, I want to finish the draft of my middle grade SF novel.

I’m extremely goal oriented. If I set a goal, I want to meet it. I don’t have 50,000 words to go on my middle grade novel.

So I am going to set a personal goal. I’m going to do my contract work. I’m blogging. I’m teaching my classes. AND I’m going to start working on my book proposal again and my middle grade novel. If I do a bit very work day, I’ll have made serious progress by the end of the month.

I’m not saying that YOU shouldn’t take part in NaNoWriMo. Do it if it makes sense for you.

If somewhere deep inside, you know NaNoWriMo is just not the path you need to take, then don’t.  Write what you need to write. Write what will move your craft forward.  It really is that simple. You too can say No No NaNo.

–SueBE

5 Ways to Get Words on the Page

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It doesn’t matter whether you write essays, novels, or short stories, often the hardest part is getting yourself to sit down and put words down. My critique group discussed this on Wednesday and it was also a discussion in my novel writing group.

What I quickly realized is that different things work for different writers. That’s why it helps to be aware of various ways to get yourself to sit down and write. I don’t know what will work for you. You may not know what will work for you next month.

Here are five things for you to try.

Accountability or a Deadline

This is the idea behind NaNoWriMo. You have one month to write 50,000 words. For some writers, belonging to a critique group works much the same way. My group meets twice a month – once on Zoom and once in person. That’s two opportunities to get my work in front of my peers but only if I get something done.

Where You Write

Another factor can be location, location, location. My friend Pat cannot work on longer fiction at home. She has to go to the library. I told her that I didn’t think that would work for me because I’m too busy people watching. She admitted that she usually gets one of the study rooms. In this small, well-lit room, she isn’t distracted by her dogs, the laundry or anything else. She just sits and writes.

Turn Off the Monitor

Actually producing words can be tough if you keep going back to change the previoius line. Some people solve this problem by turning off their monitors. I am a horrible typist. Often enough when I can see things, I position my hands incorrectly. I would be the person who typed an entire page with my left hand one key off. But this might work for you.

Stop Mid-sentence

One of the writers I know online said that he always stops mid-sentence. He hates leaving a sentence unfinished and this pulls him back to his desk to write some more. Again, he stops mid-sentence.

I’m going to try this out tomorrow. I often stop mid-scene but if it is a tough scene, I’ll leave it for two days while I work on other things.

Just Five Minutes

Something that has worked for me is to give myself permission to write for just five minutes. This works when I am really busy. Or stressed. Or also working on a work-for-hire.

I don’t have to write two pages. I don’t have to write for fifteen minutes. I just have to write for five minutes. I can do that while pasta cooks!

There are a variety of reasons that we avoid writing. Perhaps one of these solutions will work for you. Or, you might want to share in the comments various techniques that you have used in the past.

–SueBE

3 Reasons to Celebrate Small Successes

Last month, I took part in Camp NaNoWriMo.  In this month long challenge, you set your own goal.  It might be to outline your novel, reach a certain word count or send out x number of queries.  My goal was to add 25,000 words to my draft.  I actually managed a little more than that, adding 25, 252 words to my total.  I thought that 25,000 words would give me a finished draft only to discover that I’m only about 3/4 of the way through my outline.

Do I celebrate or not?  Today I baked a cake so my answer is clearly celebrate.  I may not have a finished draft but I am much closer than I was which takes me to the first of the three reasons to celebrate.

Progress

One of my writing buddies lives by the motto – celebrate the small things.  While I love writing more than any other job I’ve ever had, it is a lot of work and writing a novel looks almost impossible if you think of all 80,000 words and multiple crafts at once.  As my friend puts it – how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Celebrate every bite.

Tangible Negatives

Another reason to celebrate your successes is that so many of our failures are horribly tangible.  When every chapter is a goal met, it still seems fairly insubstantial.  Rejection letters, on the other hand, are concrete and real.  “Thanks but no thanks #53.”  If you are submitting, you are earning rejections.  You can’t avoid them, but you can celebrate your wins.

Take Joy

I hope that you’ve read Jane Yolen’s inspirational book, Take Joy.  In it, she encourages readers to grab ahold of the joy in writing.  Look for what in your writing gives you joy and seize it.  That will be what keeps you going when . . . 2020.

I may have another 25,000 words to go but I am celebrating the 25,000 I just wrote.  Why?  Because they put me that much closer to my goal – a final draft.

–SueBE

 

A Writing Plan: Customization is Key

The key is to find what works for you.

Monday one of the son’s friends found me in the kitchen. He’s a college freshman who, like many freshman, finds himself adjusting his life plans.  In spite of the common knowledge that boys don’t read and boys especially don’t read fiction, he’s an avid reader who loves teen fiction.  We spend some time talking writing and his agony trying to work writing in around college.

Him: I know you’re supposed to write every day but when I get home from work I’m spent.  I can’t write for an hour.

Me: So write for fifteen minutes.

Him: But I can’t get much done in fifteen minutes.

Me (shrug):  You have to find what works for you.

Oh the joys of being new to the trenches and having the well-meaning tell you exactly how you should do it.  Write first thing in the morning.  Keep your butt in the chair no matter what.  Don’t write without an outline. Slap down a first draft – it doesn’t matter how bad it is.

We spent time discussing plotting vs pantsing.  He’s a plotter.  I’m a pantser who tries to plot.

Him:  If I know where I’m going, how it will end, I can craft the perfect opening.

Me:  I have to write to where I’m going and then come back and write the opening.

Him: So my way won’t work?

Me:  Not for me but that doesn’t matter.

Him: What do you mean it doesn’t matter.  You’ve got books and I don’t.

Sigh.  This isn’t a high fantasy adventure with a keep full of gold and one treacherous way in and only one treacherous way in.  There are as many ways to work as there are writers.  Your writing plan needs to be customized to suit you.  And the funniest part?  What works for you  today probably won’t be what works tomorrow.  And that’s okay.

Customization is key.  That’s what makes it your writing plan for where you are now.  Explore.  Fiddle.  Improvise.  And find what works for you. That is, after all, what we writers do.

–SueBE

Happy New Year

2019The year never ends quite as expected.  Last year, we planned to borrow a friend’s kids and cook hot dogs in the fireplace before watching movies.  The main stack pipe clogged and my husband finished snaking it about 45 minutes after they got here.  Fortunately, Mom came too and our college son was home.  We ultimately had a great night but really?  Things could go as planned.

This year we planned to be out of town at the lake in the woods.  But this weekend was also the end of deer season.  Hiking seemed like a really bad idea so we stayed home.  Again, we had a great weekend but it wasn’t the weekend we planned to have.

Still, we make plans, even writing plans.

Cozying Up with My Cozy. Ironically, this nonfiction author will be continuing to work on fiction. I started drafting a cozy mystery this year and, as much as I’ve done, I’m a long way from a finished draft. It feels odd as a nonfiction author to spend this much energy writing fiction but I’ll get over it.

Pitching a Series. Not that working on my cozy means that I’ll be giving up on nonfiction. Recently I saw a publisher with a call for nonfiction series for elementary students. I’ve pitched single nonfiction books but never a series so this is going to be a learning experience. It’s a good thing I like learning to do new things!

Graphic Novels. As if one series idea wasn’t enough, I actually have an idea for a second nonfiction series. I don’t have a specific publisher in mind for this one so I’m going to have to explore publishers as well as learn how to write these books.  Why learn how to write the books?  This series will consist of graphic novels. How many graphic novels have I written? Zero. More learning!

Add to this my blogging, my work-for-hire and all the other things that I find myself doing and I’m sure 2019 will be a busy writing year. Cozies, nonfiction series, and graphic novels – oh my!

So what are your plans for 2019?

–SueBE

Setting Goals: 5 Steps to Getting the Writing Done

When you write full-time, people have no problem telling you how lucky you are.  “You get to do what you want every day?”  While that isn’t quite true, I am far too easy for people to find, I do acknowledge that this is pretty awesome.  But it can still be tricky to squeeze the writing in.

Squeeze it in?  You bet.

When you have an eight-hour day and you are working on something tricky, it can be really had to put the writing off.  And then put it off some more.  And then it’s bed time and look how clean the windows are!

With that in mind, here are five steps to help you meet your writing goals.

  1.  Set concrete goals.  Yes, that’s right.  Oddly enough, to meet goals you have to set goals.  Strange but true.  Your goals also have to be concrete.  Not “I am going to write this week” but I am going to write 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday.”  Make it straightforward so that you know you have been successful.
  2. Know what works.  This may take some time. Write down the goals that you set.  Write down what you managed to accomplish.  Then take a look at what worked.  Some people do better with word count goals.  “Write 200 words a day.”  Others need a time frame.  “Write for 15 minutes.”  Others need what I call writing specific goals.  “Finish a draft of my new picture book.”  “Write 2 chapters of my novel.”
  3. Evaluate.  Once you’ve worked toward your goals for a week or two, review them.  Are they working?  If not, try something different.  I can’t coffee shop write.  It is too distracting.  A friend can’t write at home.  The quiet is annoying.  If things are working, that’s good.  If not, try something new.
  4. Look for positives.  As you work to set your goals, look for the things that work well.  If you are a morning writing, set a goal to write in the morning.  If you need an outline before you write, include this in your goals.  Work with your strengths.
  5. Adjust upward.  As you develop a writing habit, nudge your goals upward.  Try to write for a longer period.  Try to write one more day a week.

Just remember to be realistic.  I remember reading that an author I idolized wrote 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. As a new writer, I found this very discouraging.  I was doing good to write for 20 minutes!  That was before I developed a solid writing habit.

Find what works for you.  Adjust it as you go.  Soon you’ll be adding words and pages to your count and making progress.

–SueBE

 

Setting Goals: Combine both short and long term goals

goal postsAre you a writer who sets goals?  I am but it may just be a byproduct of my somewhat anal personality.  When I enter my office Monday, I want to know what I’m going to be working on over the course of the week.  Not that that is always what happens but if I don’t set any goals, I don’t tend to get anything done.

If you haven’t been particularly productive, why not try setting some goals?  You might also consider setting goals if you’re writing income isn’t what you want it to be.   I use a combination of what I consider short-term goals and long-term goals.  I have both short and long-term writing goals as well as short and long-term financial goals.

Long term writing goals are big projects like a book.  This week, I’m finishing up the book that I will workshop at the upcoming Missouri SCBWI writers retreat.  I just agreed to write another book for Red Line.  That’s a long-term goal.

Short term writing goals are the steps to these long-term goals as well as shorter projects like brief articles or single craft activities to submit to a new market.

Then there are my short and long-term financial goals.  Short term financial goals are the ones that will bring in one check and one check only.  Red Line is a short-term goal because that is a work-for-hire project.  The writing a do for Education.com falls under this same category.

Long term financial goals pay in royalties.  This money is less certain because the sales have to be there for the check to come in but there is also the potential for long-term gain.  Because I can earn royalties on these sales, they hold the possibility of multiple checks into the future.  The books I have coming out from Schoolwide?  Those are long-term financially because they pay in royalties.  I want to be able to pay my bills nows but I’d also like to have money coming in to pay next month’s bills.

Do you set long and short-term goals?  If not, what kinds of goals do you set?

–SueBE