Organize Your Writing in 2009 With Julie Hood
Is organizing your writing life one of your New Year’s goals? Julie Hood of OrganizedWriter.com says this is finally your year to get organized and write what you want.
Julie’s e-book, The Organized Writer: 30 Days to More Time, More Money, and Less Frustration, was written primarily on the laptop in her family room while her oldest child played nearby. It was finished shortly after a high-risk pregnancy and the birth of her second child.
Julie is the daughter of the most-organized woman she's ever met—her mom! Julie credits her mother with teaching her just how useful the left-brained skill of organization can be. Of course, her right-brain mind likes to scramble her best-laid plans so she is always looking for solutions to fit her personality.
WOW: Welcome, Julie, to WOW!’s issue about time. Time management seems like a problem most writers have as we try to juggle our personal lives, our money-making lives, and our writing lives. Hopefully, our money-making lives will one day be our writing lives, too. But until then, what are two main tips you can give to writers to find more time for writing in the New Year?
Julie: Isn't the New Year just the best time of year for writing? We can erase last year's slate of plans and start brand new.
The first thing I would recommend is to really look at your calendar for the new year and see where writing is going to fit into it. Sometimes you have to be ruthless and really say, “My schedule is so full right now that for me to write, something has to go.” That can be painful because often we don’t want to give up anything!
I have an exercise in my e-book that I like my coaching clients to do: Make a grid with the days of the week across the top and the times of the day down the side. Fill in the “regular” items of your weekly schedule—things like cooking, work, sleep(!), piano lessons, boy scouts, and so on. The empty boxes are where everything else has to go, including your writing. Is there any time left?
This kind of grid calendar is perfect for finding the holes in your day and is better than the standard calendar. I use a program called Agendus or Google Calendar. You can even have it email you reminders about your appointments.
The second recommendation is to schedule writing appointments with yourself each week and then stay accountable to fulfilling them. On Sunday night each week, sit down with your calendar and map out your writing time. Then find someone who can hold you to it, preferably someone who is very supportive of your writing. This might be a fellow writer or even a coach. Send them your writing times, and ask them to check in with you to see if you did it.
WOW: I love that extra step of asking someone to check in with you and see if you actually made your writing appointment. I often make writing appointments, but the only one I am accountable to is myself. Thanks for the tips. Can you give us some suggestions for how to set writing goals, so they are manageable, specific, and guide our valuable time?
Julie: Hmmm...what a great question! I’ve heard so many writing coaches say that you have to write every day or you have to write so many words per day, and that always felt very restrictive to me. I don’t know about you, but my days are so different! One day I may be able to commit to writing for hours; another day I may be lucky to get five minutes. If I said, “I’m going to write an hour every day,” I’d be setting myself up to fail.
My recommendation is to take a top-down and a bottom-up approach. Top-down means stopping every quarter (and especially at the beginning of the year) and saying, “What do I want to write this quarter? Is it a novel, or maybe 15 queries for freelance articles?”
Make sure you write these goals down somewhere that you will see them at least once a day to remind yourself what you’re trying to accomplish.
Then think about how much time you might need to complete that goal. For example, if you know it takes you two hours to write a query, then you know you’ll need at least 30 hours to reach that goal.
The bottom-up approach goes back to the question above where you sit down each week and schedule your writing time. It means making your writing time sacred and important enough to schedule.
Another suggestion is to think about how you can chunk your writing activities into smaller and smaller pieces that only take short amounts of time. While we would all love to have big blocks of writing time, those can be hard to find. Make yourself a 15-minute list, a 30-minute list, and an hour list. On each list write what you could accomplish in that amount of time. For example, some of the things on my 15-minute list are: pick a title, find a market, and read my blog reader.
Type these lists so you have them handy whenever you get a free moment.
I also recently got an iPhone with unlimited access to the internet, so I can check my email or surf the web while I’m waiting at piano practice or standing in line at the grocery store. It really helps fill those small dead times.
WOW: What a great and unique idea—a 15-minute list, a 30-minute list, and an hour list. In today’s busy world, it is important to take advantage of all short chunks of time! One problem writers seem to have is losing focus. They start various projects, but they don’t seem to finish them. Or they send a lot of queries one month, and none the next. What are some ways writers can stay focused on their goals?
Julie: The best way to think about this is to imagine a football field, and you are starting in your own end zone. Finishing your writing project is the equivalent to scoring a touchdown. To score, you have to move the football all the way from one end of the field to the other end of the field—100 yards.
It can be a lot of work to get the football from one end to the other, but as long as you stay focused on moving the ball just a few more yards ahead, eventually you’ll reach the end.
Now, imagine if you had 10 footballs (or 10 writing projects!) all trying to reach the end of the field. If you keep running back and forth between all 10 balls, trying to keep them all moving forward, it will take forever! It’s much easier (and faster and more effective) to just march one ball down the field.
You’ll notice, too, that football games take a whole team of people—so who can you add to your team to make it easier? Maybe you need a writing buddy, or a coach, or maybe even someone to clean your house, so you have more time to focus on your writing.
This is a big challenge for me—I have so many fun and interesting projects that making myself focus on one, or maybe two, is really difficult. I’ve done it both ways for a while now, and I can tell you that it really takes discipline to stick with it to the end.
Another piece of this puzzle is avoiding the boredom factor. New projects are always more exciting than something you’ve been working on for years. The secret is to recognize that you are getting bored, mix it up and make it more fun, and give yourself rewards as you power through the parts that aren’t as exciting.
Finally, give yourself permission to drop a project that isn’t working or isn’t in the flow. I did that this summer. I was pushing and pushing myself to finish a new book, and it just wouldn’t flow no matter what I did. So I let that one go for now and got such a feeling of relief. I know if I’m feeling relief, then this wasn’t the right time for this project. If I’m frustrated or disappointed in myself, then it’s time to power through the frustration and keep at it.
WOW: The football analogy is great, and it makes so much sense to move one football, or writing project, down the field instead of 10. I also like the part about giving yourself permission to change your projects at any time. Why do we punish ourselves? What are the main factors that seem to work against writers accomplishing their goals, and what are a couple ways to get past them?
Julie: The number one factor, I think, is time. Everyone thinks they are so busy, and they don’t have time to write. But really it isn’t “having the time”; it’s “making the time.”
Another factor can be the mask of “writer’s block,” which can be just an excuse we let ourselves get away with! When you feel stuck, just start writing about anything—even your to-do list for the day. Once you get the juices flowing, it’s so much easier to jump into your writing project.
I’ve also seen a lot of writers, who don’t have confidence in their work. They are afraid their writing isn’t good enough. If that’s the case, then get some feedback. Friends and family may not be the best for this. Find someone who is willing to tell you the truth. Someone who will tell you not only what they like but also what needs improvement.
Another factor may be not planning very well. I like to see my writers set aside their time to write and plan what they will do ahead of time. The night before, they get their subconscious starting to think about the next chapter of their novel, so the next morning the content starts flowing as soon as their fingers touch the keyboard.
Also, the internet has made us feel like we are working even when we’re not! You have to really limit your surfing time, otherwise your prime writing time can slip away when all you wanted to do was check your email.
The most important thing, however, is to get to know yourself and learn what works and doesn’t work for you.
I can’t stand to sit at a computer and do nothing, so once I get to the desk, I’m pretty good at getting to work. A friend of mine is the complete opposite though. She would be content to sit and daydream without getting any writing done. She had to find other ways to motivate herself to write.
One of the best skills for a writer is knowing what you need, what kind of personality you have, and what motivates you.
WOW: Yes, the internet, email, and even social networking can really take time away from writing. I actually set a time limit for myself when I sit down to the computer to look at email and Facebook, and I have to force myself to get off at the end of the time period. So, I can really relate! What are three great organizational tools that all writers should have?
Julie: There are so many great ones, I’m not sure I can pick three! Here goes…
1) Spiral notebook that goes with you everywhere. I use a page a day, and it collects everything from morning to night. At least once a week, I go back through the notebook and see what’s been completed, what still needs to be done, and what gets moved to another list.
2) “Clicker” pens that you can click and start writing with just one hand. Periodically, I go through my house and get rid of all the pens with lids!
3) Three-ring binders with dividers and a hole punch. I store most of my projects in individual binders.
OK, can I list a couple more?
WOW: (laughs) Of course, we are learning so much organizing from you!
4) This year I got a lateral filing cabinet where I can file my papers while sitting at my desk (before I always had to get up and go elsewhere to file). This has made me much more likely to get the files off my desk!
5) I am also using the Paper Tiger software for my files, and it helps take the pressure off trying to remember where I filed everything. There is some initial setup time to type everything into the system, but it’s worth it.
6) Google has some amazing new tools that save me hours every day. The Google Notebook is fantastic for taking notes while you are surfing online. It has a clip feature that lets you highlight something on a website and then it saves the content and the link. It gives you a place to type in your own notes. Then you don’t have to print everything and then find a place to file all that paper! The Google Toolbar also has a great button that lets you search just on a specific website. I also use Gmail and Google Docs. Google Alerts tell me whenever someone mentions my e-book or Organized Writer online. Google Desktop helps me search my computer for files I can’t find. You can find most of these tools at http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/.
7) And I’d love for all your readers to get the tools we have at OrganizedWriter.com. They can download a free planner and a free 2009 writer’s calendar. I also sell an e-book with a 30-day get organized plan called The Organized Writer: 30 Days to More Time, More Money and Less Frustration.
Thanks for the opportunity to “chat” with your readers. Happy writing and organizing in 2009!
WOW: Julie, we appreciate all your tips and especially your explanation of the tools available from Google. I think many of us hear about those, but we aren’t sure how to use them to help us get organized. Thanks again for your time and aiding with our organization in 2009.
Ladies, OrganizedWriter.com provides tools and resources for the business of writing, including a free planner and a free calendar for sidetracked writers. Sign up for your own planner at OrganizedWriter.com.
Margo L. Dill is a freelance writer and elementary school teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. She is a columnist for WOW! Women On Writing. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids in 2009. She also writes a blog about “using” children’s books called, “Margo Dill’s Read These Books and Use Them.” When she's not writing or wrapping, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Charlie, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound. You can read more about Margo at http://www.margodill.com.