Category: The Writer’s Life

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More Mantras!

Believe It field Unsplash

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts provides these and more mantras to help writers with whatever draft they’re in. For the second, or “method draft”, it’s all about change.

Sometimes Isolate Unsplash

Or not changing.

The second draft is re-visioning your manuscript, and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts gives you the tools you need to take the best parts of your book up a level.

To help you ASAP, here is a package of free screen savers of the book’s Draft Two Mantras.  You can download them: HERE. And if you’re a technoklutz like me, you can get the instructions for how to install them: HERE.

Ten Tips for Working from Home

Writers and editors find themselves oddly prepared for the situation many of us now find ourselves in.  

As it happens, I have just written extensively about working from home for my book, Making a Living as a Freelance Editor, which will be published by the University of Chicago Press in Spring, 2021. I gained permission to reprint the following excerpt, which might, unfortunately, apply to a wide variety of industries right now. If you have to create structure (including breaks!) in your day and no longer have a commute to signal when it’s okay to quit, there might be something here for you, too.

  1. Design a workweek that suits who you really are. For example, I am ready to work at 6:30 a.m.—but it could be 4:30 a.m. if there is a pressing reason. You might feel that the only way you are working at that hour is if you are still up. Conversely, my brain shuts down at 8:00 p.m. and things take two to three times longer to process. I am only working harder and not smarter. Even with the restrictions that may be upon you where you are sheltering, you can still think about, What am I like?..
  2. Start with your own system. While you are designing your perfect workday you might derive inspiration from other sample list-making systems but, bear in mind, trendy time management and productivity gurus can change with the season and it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. It is better to start with your present system and evolve it rather than overhaul it based on someone else’s ideas, only to quit your new plan almost immediately.
  3. Create a Weekly Calendar. My spreadsheets are pretty simple: In the first column I list the client’s name, the second column the hours I intend (or estimate) I will spend on their project this week, the third column how many of those hours I have accomplished, and the fourth column any notes regarding such things as due dates. After I have completed a client’s work for the week, I will cross it off, digitally speaking, by highlighting the line in a darker grey. Even just seeing everything I have to do for the week ahead in one place helps me take a deeper breath. It also helps me manage additions that pop-up into my schedule.
  4. Create a Daily List. In addition to your weekly calendar, you need your list for today. To be able to concentrate, you first need to know what you are focusing on. I make my list each morning, ideally after I meditate for twenty minutes. If I make the list (or check my email) before I meditate, everything feels pressing, with those who shout the loudest seeming to be heard the most clearly. If I make the list after I meditate, some surprising things see the light of day—and everything else has a more purposeful feel to it.
  5. Do your hardest tasks first. A lot of people know to do this; doing it, on the other hand, can take some discipline. This is just a reminder that when you work your way down from the most complicated assignments to the easiest ones—when you knock out the key projects earlier in the day—you get more quickly to that great feeling we love to have at work: I got this.
  6. Work real hours. I realize this is a time when we may not be meeting all of our goals, but a good week for me is forty-five hours of work. When I say forty-five hours a week, I mean forty-five real hours, recorded in quarter-hour increments. Going on Facebook doesn’t count. Waiting for someone to call who doesn’t, doesn’t count. Either we are doing things that are tangibly contributing to the business or we are not at work.
  7. Take breaks. Your day can’t be all work, of course. We need to take breaks to refocus our minds, and breaks are best when we take them intentionally. If you are coming up from one work session, and before you head into another, should you check email? Is that a break? Unlikely. These days, menu planning, helping a middle schooler with homework, or running the dishwasher again are more likely to empty our minds temporarily.
  8. Tame the email beast. I have set times during the day when I review my email. This may not work for the nature of your job, but I still think we should eliminate the phrase “checking my email” from our vocabulary entirely. There is no point in just checking email; this puts you in a reactive, burdened state. When you review your email you should have the time to do something about what you are reading. During my set times, I engage with email instead of just checking it, by using three related strategies:
    • If it will take less than two minutes to respond to an email, I do it now (H/t to David Allen for this strategy.)
    • Second, not every email needs a response. I know. I couldn’t believe it either when I first really figured that out.
    • Third, after an email has been responded to (or not), I put it in a client file or a general archive. Let’s face it, no email is ever really gone unless you put it in the trash and then delete the trash. If you do a search by name, you will come up with everything you and that person have ever talked about, so you don’t have to worry about losing anything. But you don’t have to look at it every day, either.
  9. The joys of punching out. If you have worked all the hours you planned to today, it is time to go home. Even if you are already home. Taking time to regenerate, whether it is simply for the rest of the day, or for the weekend, is important for you to do your best work (as is taking a real vacation again someday). Some people like to make their list for tomorrow at the end of their workday. I say, let tomorrow take care of tomorrow.
  10. Write a brief work journal entry. At the end of every day, I make an entry into a journal: 100–150 words about the biggest challenge I faced, a question I don’t yet have the answer to, a long-awaited triumph or a small piece of an evolving strategy—whatever is the most pressing content on my mind. When I shut that journal, I will listen for that imaginary socking noise of a timecard entering and being stamped by one of those metal clock boxes…punching out, people. I’m done.

You can consider all of this a work in progress. What matters is to reflect on what you are like, and then to evolve a system that is sane and works for you. And don’t forget to write it down.

P.S. If you can’t stick to a rule, that means that it needs to change, not you. These aren’t official laws; they belong to your system, and that system should be set up to maximize your efficiency, income, happiness, and performance.

Announcing the 1st Annual Book Architecture GIT-R-DONE Travel Grant

Last year, we traveled 19 states to tell the story of Doris Buffett’s unique philanthropy. Crafted with co-writer, Anita Mumm, and accompanied by Stephanie Craigs dynamic images, LETTERS TO DORIS: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those with Nowhere Else to Turn presents a slice of the heartwarming and selfless community that Doris created through her Letters Foundation. One thing that working with the Letters Foundation has taught us is that our charitable giving has been all…over..the…place. Executive Director, Amy Kingman, challenged us to really think about where we wanted to focus our efforts. What do we think is most helpful for the writers that we work with?

The answer was resoundingly clear: A travel stipend for the author of a work-in-progress to get away and finish the damn thing.

Book Architecture thrives as a finish line business.

Our proudest testimonials go something like: “We’ve been thinking as an organization of doing a book for ten years and with your help we were holding it in 9 months.”

 

Hence the BOOK ARCHITECTURE GIT-R-DONE GRANT was born.

Without further ado, then, the Particulars:

Grant Money Awarded: $2,500. Book Architecture will also provide 1 hr. of coaching prior to departure to help you get clear on your production goals and 1 hr. of coaching while you are away to help you stay on track.

Deadline: Jan. 15th, 2020, to BAGrant@bookarchitecture.com

Submission Criteria: 10 pages of writing (max 2,500 words) from a work-in-progress of any genre, along with a 1-page cover letter (max 400 words). This cover letter should answer the following three questions:

  1. Why will getting away from the unending stream of responsibilities (children, aging parents, day jobs, chores, etc.) help you push this project over the top… i.e, git-r-done? We want to know things like: How long have you been working on it? What number draft is this? How clearly can you see the finish line, etc.?
  2. What good is this project doing you? Who were you before this project started and who do you hope to be when it ends?
  3. What good is this project doing the world? Like, really. We’re interested.

Stipulations:

  • Grant money will not be delivered to recipients. Instead, travel expenses up to $2,500 will be paid directly by Book Architecture. Approved expenses include transportation, lodging, and meals. Requests for equipment upgrades will be considered as part of a getaway package. Wine-in-a-box you will have to get on your own.
  • Grantees will share a description of their travel/writing experience in a blog on the Book Architecture website.
  • Grantees will be required to sign a legal waiver stating that if anything happens to them while they are away it’s not our fault (duh).

Judging: Book Architecture has partnered with InkHouse to be the sole judges for this award. InkHouse is an integrated PR agency for innovative thinkers, creators and leaders who believe in the power of stories to effect positive change. We are satisfied with their judging criteria, and their decisions will be final. Book Architecture will be able to confirm that your submission was received and passed along…but that’s about it.

Jane Friedman: The Business of Being a Writer

I’m not going to waste a lot of space here with words of praise because I’d rather get straight to the good stuff. If you are a writer, you need Jane’s new book: The Business of Being a Writer. The end.

Jane allowed us to choose the excerpt we publish below, which was hard, because we could have excerpted the book at random 750 word intervals and it would all have been great. Maybe it was the word “Kafka” that caught our eye…

Is it Better to Just Have a Day Job?

If thinking about the business of writing causes you to feel, at best, uncomfortable, then it may be better to keep your pursuit of it unadulterated by market concerns. Some literary legends have never experienced conventional employment, pursuing a writing life underwritten by existing wealth or family support (Gertrude Stein and Jane Austen, for example). But many held day jobs: Franz Kafka worked for an insurance company, Herman Melville as a schoolteacher and customs inspector, and Louis May Alcott as a seamstress and governess— to name but a few. For some writers, the day job actually fosters their creative work.

 

When agents, editors, and other writers say, “Don’t quit your day job,” it is simultaneously the best advice and the worst advice. On the one hand, it helps moderate one’s expectations and acknowledges the most common outcome for writers: you’ll need another form of income. But it also perpetuates the misconception that writing can’t or won’t make you a living. It can, just probably not in the ways you would prefer… 

 

As a young editor, recently out of school, I asked professor and author Michael Martone if he could tell which of his students were going to succeed as writers—was there a defining characteristic? He told me it was the students who kept writing after they left school, after they were off the hook to produce material on a deadline or for a grade. The most talented students, he said, weren’t necessarily the ones who followed through and put in the hours of work required to reach conventional publishing success. 

 

Similarly, when Ta-Nahisi Coates was interviewed by the Atlantic, he said, “The older you get, that path [of writing] is so tough and you get beat up so much that people eventually go to business school and they go and become lawyers. If you find yourself continuing up until the age of thirty- five or so . . . you will have a skill set . . . and the competition will have thinned out.” 

 

Few demonstrate the persistence required to make it through the difficult, early years. Some people give up because they lack a mentor or a support system, or because they fail to make the time, or because they become consumed with self-doubt. They don’t believe they’re good enough (and maybe they aren’t) and allow those doubts to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

 

I used to believe that great work or great talent would eventually get noticed—that quality bubbles to the top. I don’t believe that anymore. Great work is overlooked every day, for a million reasons. Business concerns outweigh artistic concerns. Some writers are just perpetually unlucky. But don’t expect to play the role of poor, starving writer and have people in publishing help you out of sympathy or a sense of moral responsibility. They’re more likely to help writers they see as indefatigable and motivated to help themselves—since they know that’s what the job of a working writer requires. If you find yourself demonizing people in the publishing industry, complaining as if you’re owed something, and feeling bad about your progress relative to other writers, it’s time to find the reset button. Perhaps you’ve been focusing too much on getting published. 

 

No matter how the marketplace changes—and it always does—consider these three questions as you make decisions about your life as a writer: 

What satisfies or furthers your creative or artistic goals? This is the reason you got into writing in the first place. Even if you put this on the back burner in order to advance other aspects of your writing and publish- ing career, don’t leave it out of the equation for long. Otherwise your efforts can come off as mechanistic or uninspired, and you’re more likely to burn out or give up. 

What earns you money? Not everyone cares about earning money from writing, but as you gain experience and a name for yourself, the choices you make in this regard become more important. The more professional you become, the more you have to pay attention to what brings the most return on your investment of time and energy. As you succeed, you won’t have time to pursue every opportunity. You have to stop doing some things. 

What grows your audience? Gaining readers can be just as valuable as earning money. It’s an investment that pays off over time. Sometimes it’s smart to make trade-offs that involve earning less money now in order to grow readership, because having more readers will put you in a better position in the future. (For example, you might focus on writing online, rather than for print, to develop a more direct line to readers.)