Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Finding Time for Fiction

How do you balance working on your novel with freelancing? I'm having trouble carving out time for fiction writing--it seems that paying work always gets the priority, and I can't figure out how to change that.

Excellent question. First, in the spirit of full disclosure (because I know you guys value my honesty!), I'm going to say that I'm not the primary breadwinner in my household. This doesn't affect how hard I work or how many assignments I take on, but I'm sure that it does affect my stress level when it comes to devoting time to fiction. So...I wanted to put that out there because I'd hate for someone to read about what worked for me, and think, well, "I can't pay my bills if I follow her example." I'd never, ever advocate that. That said, even though my bills will get paid, I still struggle with finding this balance - for me, it's more about my inability to turn down work and my need to stay constantly busy. (See: me blogging on my maternity leave!) So, I do relate, and hopefully, I have some good suggestions.

The first thing to know (or to do) is that if you're going to try to juggle paying work with fiction writing, it is absolutely imperative that you get yourself organized. Incredibly organized. If you're going to devote, say, two hours a day to time that you'd otherwise spend on your magazine assignments or other work, you need to find a way to be more efficient when you devote yourself to this other work. For me, it's all about making lists. If I have a list in front of me, I absolutely can't ignore what I need to get done and instead surf the web for a mindless hour or two. My to-dos eat away at me until I've crossed them off. So each night, I jot down a list of what I need to get done the next day, and more often than not, I'll hit my desk and tackle these tasks first thing in the morning. But if they're not written down, who knows when I'll get around to them?

Second, for me, it really helps to understand my schedule and know when I'm most productive. Given my two kids, my dog, my need to go to the gym, and my daily errands, I usually have two good writing blocks in my day: one, from about 10-1, and another from about 2:30-5:30. I can also always head back to my computer once my son goes to sleep, but frankly, I'd rather spend that time with my husband. But it is a fallback. So, knowing these time chunks, I tackle my paying work first: those deadlines are requirements, and since I have people counting on me, they get first dibs. Once those are out of the way (whatever I have on my to-do list for the paying work), I can then devote my energy to my fiction during the second chunk of my day. Often times, this might mean an hour or an hour and half in the later afternoon, but if you're focused, that's easily 1000+ words a day on your novel. It also helps if I spend the time I'm not writing (walking the dog, working out, whatever) thinking about the novel, so when it comes time to sit down and write, I'm not staring at the computer screen. All I have to do is literally type.

Finally, I think it's important to sit down and review all of your past assignments/work over say, the previous six months to a year. Assess which assignments are really meeting your desired hourly rate, whatever that might be. And for the ones that don't? Stop pitching or working for those markets. A scary leap, yes. But one that will pay off in the long run. By ditching these markets, you'll not only open up time for your fiction, you'll also be forced to aim for better paying opportunities, and they will come. I made a decision a few years back to stop pitching FOBs. I write them when an editor brings them to me, but compiling ideas, researching them and finally drafting them was taking far too long to bring in my desired hourly rate. And once I've never regretted this decision: I freed up time in my schedule to pitch (and write) longer stories, and to get back to the crux of this question, I also freed up time to devote to my fiction. do you guys manage to squeeze in paying and non-paying work?


Jenny said...

When I first started freelancing, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried I couldn't keep track of my time. I was all over the place -but eventually I also started making a To Do list. I make it in bed at night before turning off the light. It has helped my focus immeasurably and freed up time to work on a book.

Anonymous said...

I believe women have to strike the word "balance" from our vernacular. Get up an hour earlier, write during your lunch break, find 15 minutes between assignments, or all of the above.

Julia Glass was a freelance writer when she wrote Three Junes. She wrote it in 20 minute snatches between assignments, and in every spare moment, always composing in her head while doing the mundane (as Allison said,showering, walking the dog). She won the National Book Award.

Plow forward and make it happen; you can do it. It's worked beautifully for Allison.

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Anonymous said...

I've found it helpful to read about how different writers approach writing. When I first started I thought I was the slowest writer in the universe, I'm just not that prolific. I recently read an interview with a well known writer (can't remember who it was?) and he said that he only had an hour or two, a page or two (if he was lucky) of productive writing a day. That made me feel better! I guess the point is, everyone is different, find what works for you and as Nike says, Just do it!

Jade Walker said...

Time chunks are good. But I tended to break down my writing sked by day.

Mondays: Queries for new assignments, follow-up on freelancing gigs

Tuesdays: Writing, usually non-fiction.

Wednesdays: All fiction and poetry.

Thursdays: Writing, usually non-fiction, and interviews for articles.

Fridays: Research new markets in the early part of the day. Spend latter part of the day writing topic of choice.

I also suggest freewriting each day, just to keep your imagination limber. Who knows? You might sell one of these shorts, or simply create new fodder for your blog.