Monday, November 30, 2009

Finding Time to Write - Day 6

My guest today is Ann Charles. She writes part-time while working full-time and raising her family. I asked Ann how she organizes her time. This is what she shared with me:

"Per day, that depends, but I probably average the following per week:
Writing--I write one book a year currently, from Jan to June, and devote a good 20 hours a week to writing during that time.
Editing--Probably 10 hours editing per week during that Jan to June timeframe.
Networking--About 4 hours a week networking from Jan to June. From July to December (when I'm wearing my marketing/promo hat), probably more like 10 hours a week in networking-related things.
Marketing--Again, from Jan to June, maybe 3-4 hours; from July to Dec, more like 20-30 hours a week.
Queries--For the past few years, I have had an agent so I haven't spent much time at all querying.
Research--About 3 hours a week while writing my books.

"I determine how much time I devote to them based on how much time I can manage to round up in between work, kids, and my husband and life."

I also asked Ann what she thinks it means to be an organized writer.

"It seems like part of being an organized writer has to be a character trait. I'm a big-time right-brain pantser when it comes to plotting and writing my books, but when it comes to marketing/promo and goal setting, I'm disgustingly organized and left-brained. I have a five-year plan, a career plan, yearly goals, monthly goals, and weekly goals; and I keep a post-it note of "to dos" next to my keyboard that I update almost daily. I didn't always used to be this organized when it came to non-writing writing-related tasks, but I learned a couple of years ago that I work best when I have written goals to meet. Also, the more I learned and dabbled in the marketing and promo side of writing, the more messy my desk and files became. Soon, I was forced to be organized or risk losing crucial information or missing important meetings/deadlines.

"So, for me, it seems to be partly my character trait (I am a Virgo, after all) to be organized, but it's also a learned trait after wading deeper into the fiction-writing business.

"How do you get to the point of being an organized writer? Since writers these days have to wear three hats (writing hat, promo/marketing hat, socializing hat), it seems the business forces you to become more organized to succeed. OR you can just hire an assistant and be as messy as you like."

Ann Charles

Ann, thanks for stopping by today and helping me to understand more about organizing the writing life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Finding Time to Write - Day 5

Today, my guest is Matt Briggs who works full-time as a technical writer
and writes fiction in his "spare time." He has published five works of fiction, including Shoot the Buffalo, just re-issued by The Publication Studio in Portland. His second novel will be released in early 2010.

"I write when I first wake up, before I begin the work that people pay me to do. I work as a technical writer. I do okay with technical writing in terms of pay. I am paid very little or nothing for my fiction. I would starve dead on the proceeds from my fiction writing.

"I average about 800 words a day. Sometimes I spend the time revising. I feel guilty if I am not actually typing and making new word combinations. Revising is enjoyable but feels to me sometimes like I'm cheating because usually I'm just organizing or even removing what I've already written. On those days my overall word count is probably negative.

"I'm a very bad editor, but typically people who are not writers, that is the people who pay for writers, often don't understand the difference between a writer and an editor. I have worked at getting to be a better editor, but it is futile. It is a different task compared to the act of writing or revising. Writing is about making mistakes. Revising is usually about identifying what works. In contrast, editing is about making the writing easier to understand. Copyediting, yet another skill, is about removing the mistakes and making the writing conform to a standard such as the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide. A polished piece of writing requires all four skills applied to it. Yet, I've often worked for people who don?t understand this. They'll hire editors as their writers or expect their writers to edit. None of this works out well.

"I also make a list when it comes to writing tasks. I'm always making schedules and trying to keep to them even though it is futile. My fiction writing isn't a proper job or even an obligation.

"No one is asking me to write fiction. If I stopped writing fiction, I'd probably be the only one who noticed. I don't feel bad about this, but really, are you really clamoring for the next Russell Edson, Lydia Davis, or even Stephen King book? When Stephen King retired the first time this seemed more notable than another book by the guy. With the type of writing I like to write and read, there just isn't that hunger for more. I like Julian Barnes a lot. I've read a handful of books from him. I will probably never read another Julian Barnes book again. Not because I don't like his books, but there are already a ton of great books in existence. There are more great books than I can read in my lifetime. I bought an ISBN scanner and scanned all of my books into LibraryThing. I had maybe 1,200 books at that that time. These are all of the books on shelves in my house including the ones I haven't read. If I generously doubled this, that would be about 2,000 books that I've read in my life so far. I'm nearly 40. So let's say I live to 80 and keep up the same reading clip I've kept up so far, that means I'll read less than 5,000 books before I die. There is a finite number of books that can be read. But there is infinite number of books that can be written. Writing this now I find this kind of alarming. It makes me think I should be choosy. You could do the math on how many meals you had left in your life, and then you'd never eat crap again. You'd become obsessed with only putting food in your mouth that was an experience. But that is an exhausting way to live. No one does that. Sometimes you are hungry and you eat whatever is in your cupboard. You do what you can. I write because I like writing. I read because I like reading. I make reading lists because I there are certain things I want to read and if I don?t write it down I'll forget and end up reading whatever is in the cupboard.

"I like writing fiction in the same way I like reading. I feel like if I make a schedule for it then it is somehow more serious and I can organize my effort into making something big like a novel or book. With a schedule I will treat it like a job. But it is only like a job. I?m not paid much for it. I don't have to track my progress or status with anyone.

"I keep thinking about Tobias Wolff saying "Time is a writer's friend." He said this at a reading and it was clearly something he said a lot. I think he said this to convince himself of it because I don't think time is a writer's friend. Time is my enemy. It doesn't mean I need to rush or anything, but there is only so much time, which means only so many books I can read and only so many pages I can write. And anything I read or write displaces other things that I could be doing that might be better for me and actually make me happy. Time is a fixed resource and once I use it, it is gone. I believe an efficient way for me deal with this scary thought is to write a little bit every day. I enjoy writing this way. It happens in the same way that other things happen in my life such as taking a bath or going for a walk or answering the mail. I can enjoy it. Very quickly 800 words becomes a short story or a chapter or a novel and that is another problem, but it isn't the problem of writing."

Matt Briggs

Matt, thanks for joining me today and sharing your thoughts.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Finding Time to Write - Day 4

Today my guest is Karina L. Fabian, a full-time writer. I asked Karina the following questions and she was gracious enough to provide me with the answers.

Karina, How much time do you devote per day or per week to: writing? editing?
networking? marketing? queries? research? How do you determine how much time
to devote to each of these?

"I can't really tell you because I don't measure them. I have a schedule of
days and tasks. Monday, I do work for the Catholic Writers Guild and any
conferences I'm participating in. Tuesday is marketing day; Wednesday is all
for writing; Thursday writing and the basic administration; Friday, computer
work--websites, clearing out files, back-ups, etc. I also blog twice a week
and miscroblog/Tweet three times a week. I try to make an hour each day for
some kind of writing--whether an article, edits, etc.--on my non-writing

"Since I'm a seat-of-the pants writer, the research is usually done in
conjunction with the writing. Sometimes, I edit before or after I write or
when I get stuck.

"I let the tasks determine how much time I spend. When I have a conference
coming up, I spend more time on preparation and webwork (because I want
folks to look at my websites.) When I have a contract or an overwhelming
inspiration, I will put other things aside and write like mad. When I have a
contract, I can get a book done in about six weeks; when I don't, they
languish, sadly, moving forward at a snail's pace.

"I'm not sure one ever reaches the point of becoming "an organized writer."
Quite often, our writing lives are influenced by things we cannot
control--an unexpected acceptance, a submission that never gets a reply, an
event that ties perfectly to our book's theme (and is thus presents a great
marketing opportunity." Then, of course, our lives can influence our
work--from creativity to time--more than they would for say, a plumber.

"The key is finding a system that works for you--something that lets you move
toward your goals as a writer and not spin your wheels in fruitless efforts.

Karina L. Fabian

Thanks, Karina, for sharing these tips with my readers and me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Finding Time to Write - Day 3

My next guest is Tamara Kaye Sellman ( who works in several different areas of the publishing world (writer, editor, literary outreach, networking).

"For me, the schedule changes radically everyday. I'm one of those people who has ongoing projects as well as one-time projects. I used to be more "organized," meaning I slotted certain hours and days to do certain kinds of word, but everything varies so much that I just have a feel for prioritization now. It all gets done, and on time, and I rarely have to work outside of my normal hours (8:30am to 4pm). I've learned to be flexible with my time after years of juggling and so it's no longer a stressful thing to do so, but I remember a lot of anxiety about getting it all done. Probably it's worth adding here that I say "no" to a lot of things all the time (and refer
clients or projects, when I can) when I feel like I have too much on my plate.

"Deadlines determine much of it for me, but also, the work I do for others almost always comes first (that is, I won't work on my own novel manuscript if I have an editing project due).

"In addition, my number one time management tool is the Google Calendar. There, I color code the category where my work fits (such as purple for my creative writing projects, orange for my blogs, teal for my writers' community outreach work); this way I can reduce the schedule by day, week or month, at a glance, by focusing only on one project, or I can look at all of my projects together to see what's coming up. I also share calendars with a couple of agencies and that helps me to see what things are going on in their world so I can plan accordingly.

"As a working mom, I also build in my kids' activities here as well as my own appointments AND time off that can't be taken away; this way, I guarantee myself some recharge time during the week that's not just a harried lunch break at my desk. I also never answer emails on weekends or work unless I absolutely have to or am traveling.

"The writer needs to figure out what it means for them to be organized.

"For me, it's piles of paperwork kept in their assigned places (traditional files for active projects don't work for me), a well-kept Google calendar, and the discipline to keep things on schedule (while being flexible in the face of personal necessities like caring for sick children or working around lagging sources).

I" think a writer knows they are organized when they can sit down in their workspace and aim their focus on the work at hand without being delayed by the administrative tasks that surround it.

"Arriving at that organizational zen is really more a matter of mindset than anything that can be made physically apparent. I can have a hugely messy office and still be organized in my thoughts, after all. If you haven't already figured it out, I'm not a proponent of clean desks and tidy offices! And I don't know a busy editor or a writer who cares that much about office clutter. To do so would take too much time away from the real work.

"But if you can't work in a slightly chaotic world, you may need to rely on hanging files, electronic reminders in your Blackberry, a rolodex: really, whatever it is that keeps you on target. Only you can know what that is for certain.

Tamara Kaye Sellman

Thanks, Tamara, for being my guest today.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finding Time to Write - Day 2

Day 2 of my series of guest bloggers. Today, Devon Ellington, ( multi-talented, full-time, professional writer is sharing her thoughts on how to be an organized writer.

"I write full time, although I still make the occasional foray into
backstage Broadway work, if something good's offered.

"I devote as many hours per day to each aspect of the writing business as
possible, dependent on deadlines and payment. The earliest deadline with
the highest payment gets first priority. Deadlines are reshuffled as
necessary. I usually spend a full eight hour day on my work -- more if
necessary, less if it's appropriate.

"It has to be WRITTEN before it can be edited or marketed or anything else,
so the writing comes first. I do my first 1K of fiction at the very
beginning of the day, after my yoga, but before I do anything else, and
then I see what's due when and figure out the rest of my day.

"The beauty of it is that I get to structure each day as it needs to be
structured. I'm not stuck in a 9-5 rut. If I want to take off a day, I
do. If I want to take a trip, or spend a day researching rather than
haunting job boards and prepping queries, I do.

"The less structure I have, the more large swaths of uninterrupted work time
I have, the more productive I am.

"The amount of time spent each day depends on what's on the current roster.
Social networking is the thing to fall by the wayside first. Research,
queries, marketing is all dependent on what's due when, what has release
dates, what are the long term projects, what are the short-term projects,
and figuring out how to slot everything in each day to get it all done.

"(It helps if) you take the time up front to set up systems. Once a system that works for
you is in place, it's quite easy to pull what you need for whatever work
you're doing.

"For instance, at the top of every year, I set up a pitch log and a
submission log, so that I can keep track of pitches and submissions, track
payments, track pub dates, and see what needs follow-up. I took the time
to set up an invoice form. I create a clip file for each article as it is
published, both electronically and as hard copies, so if I need to use them
for other pitches, I don't have to hunt them down. I set up files for new
projects as they're created or the contracts are signed.

"I don't throw out the research files as soon as the book or article is
finished, because usually I write again on the same topic, and why do all
the research again?

"It should take 15 minutes to put together a sparkling pitch with relevant
clips. If you're constantly taking an hour or two to hunt down
information, you lose billable time, you get discouraged because of the
wasted time, you wind up not pitching as often, and you don't land as many
well-paying jobs.

"When you find that the system you've set up doesn't work for you, you
change it.

"If you put it aside to do "tomorrow", you wind up with piles of paper on
your desk and around it, and you can't find anything. I still have too
many unfiled papers on and around my desk, but I've gotten much better
about setting up the systems and tracking everything, and the payoff has
reflected financially and emotionally in the quality of the work.

"I don't have the luxury of writer's block. I just sit down and do it."

Devon Ellington

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Devon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finding Time to Write

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting guest bloggers. These wonderful people all helped me when I was researching an article which now appears on the Writing World web site. (

The first person to visit is Poetry writer and editor of The Centrifugal Eye, Eve Hanninen. (

"I write full-time and part-time, depending on my editing schedule for the magazine, and many tasks often overlap. Sometimes my writing is not for me.

Per week:
writing - avg. 25-50 hrs
editing - avg. 30-80 hrs
networking - 10 hrs or more
marketing - avg. 1-10 hrs
queries - 1-2
research - avg. 2.5-10 hrs

"For me, this is a typical "by needs" schedule, based on the features and regular requirements dealing with editing and writing for the magazine. My personal projects and freelance editing (also freelance artwork) require flexibility, and I gauge hours spent based on routine writing and editing. I try to work on personal projects 2-3 times a week, and market my work during slower mag sub-reading periods; 1-4 of my own sub packages go out per quarter, typically.

"To even start to be organized as a writer, I think writing has to be thought of as a job first, before a creative venture. Most people take having a job seriously. They set their alarms and adhere to a schedule.

"Clearly marked files (whether in a file cabinet or on a hard drive) help keep research materials, notes and manuscripts in order. I use several calendars pinned to the wall next to my desk to jot writing and editing tasks on (make sure the daily spaces are big enough to write down at least 5 or 6 tasks per day!), and I try to adhere to the calendars' schedules as closely as possible -- making sure to cross off what I accomplish.

"I also re-establish writing priorities almost everyday, making sure to choose the most important task first, in terms of deadlines, desired results, compensation, to complete. And then the second, and so on.

"Writing more specific and detailed lists often help me greatly. It helps me to sort out what smaller activities are necessary to get past before the larger ones can be completed.

"Notebooks and lots of pens or pencils nearby the usual work area, if you have one (and I recommend having one -- it reinforces the "going to work" attitude) are a must, but also in key areas around the house (or other workplace) for those ahHA moments.

"Also keep track of all correspondence with care, as good records of contacts make your other writing jobs more streamlined. And keep a notebook or binder that lists all pertinent information about your submissions to publishers and journals! You may be surprised to hear how many longtime writers keep poor records of submission. As and editor, I run into this issue all the time! Dates, journal and editors' names, article or poem titles, whether simultaneous submissions or reprint rights offered -- all these things in one place avert time-consuming letters and emails about duplications and other problems which probably won't arise if you're keeping good records."

Eve Hanninen

Thanks, Eve!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Muse On Line Writing Conference 2010

It's time to sign up for next year's Muse OnLine Conference. This is one writing opportunity you don't want to miss. This conference is the brain child of Lea Schizas and Carolyn Howard-Johnson. A large number of talented writers, editors, publishers, and agents donate their time for a week to offer live chats and forum workshops in a variety of writing areas. This year, as in past years, there have been sessions devoted to web site building, writing for the trades, children's writing, world-building, improving your writing skills and a number of other sessions to improve your writing. New this year were live sessions where you could pitch your novel directly to a publishing house such as Damnation Books, White Rose Press, Wild Rose Press, 4RV Publishing, Twilight Times Books, and others.

Next year's conference will be held October 11 - 17, 2010. Only those who register and follow Lea's INDIVIDUAL EMAIL request will get updates throughout the year about upcoming new workshops and pitch sessions she'll be hosting in 2010 before the 2010 Conference.

To register go here:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Read It Out Loud

Today, I read Hope Clark's latest Funds for Writers newsletter. In it, she wrote an editorial listing things one should do to make their writing improve. While her thoughts were not new, they are ones which should be remembered. Briefly, she mentioned reading your work out loud; making a print copy instead of reading on the computer; take a break from the work and look back at it later; read your printed copy someplace other than your work area; use a thesaurus; and edit one area of your project at a time - e.g. first grammar, then sentence structure, then voice, etc.

What struck me as a great idea, and one I didn't know existed, was the possibility of having your work read back to you when there is no one around to listen. There exists a web site, Here you can paste your manuscript into the provided blank, then sit back and listen to your work as it is read to you. If you're like me, you may be shy about reading your "baby" to someone else. Yet, I've learned the importance of hearing your work read out loud. Here is a way not to feel intimidated by reading to someone else, but the experience is greater than simply reading (or whispering) the words to yourself. Try it and see.

Thanks, Hope, for this tip.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Do You Do When You're Stuck?

Okay, I have to admit, I'm stuck. I'm working on the sequel to my middle grade novel, Ghost for Rent. When I wrote the original book, I had several people say they'd love to see my young sleuths tackle more ghostly mysteries and that they could see a series. This sounded reasonable to me and I began work on the second book, Ghost for Dinner.

We live in an area of high paranormal activity. Several of the older buildings around town, including the high school, what used to a notions shop, a restaurant, and a few houses have had ghostly sightings. It's easy to see where my MC could take on another "mystery." I decided the restaurant was the next place to go ghost hunting, but I wanted to tie it to my first book, which had left one skeleton in the closet, so to speak.

I've woven in back story and moved the plot along until Wendy arrives at the restaurant and the ghostly happenings begin. Unfortunately, I seem to be "stuck." I'm not comfortable with novels, as I'm more used to the short story. I'm finding it difficult to give my MC enough problems to make the story interesting. I'm also having a problem getting the ghost from the restaurant back to Wendy's house where they found the skeleton in the first book. A skeleton not associated with any of the ghosts haunting Wendy in the original story.

All of you who write for middle grades or young adults, what do you do when you're stuck? I have put the manuscript aside a number of times and have written short stories, craft articles, non-fiction articles, and two picture books, but I keep coming back to my middle grade ghost novel. I want Wendy to solve this next mystery. How do I get back on track? Any ideas? Thanks.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Guest Blogger, Terri Main, "Beyond Writers Guidelines"

Today, we have a guest blogger, Terri Main, author of Creative Calisthenics, a wonderful book filled with tips to "jump start" your muse. I reviewed this book a few months ago and I'm still impressed with Ms. Main's ideas. Below are some of her thoughts on the best way to study a magazine to ensure article acceptance. Read through to find a link to a free guide to help you with this process.

Beyond Writers Guidelines:

One of the old chestnuts of wisdom about magazine writing is to study the publication. However, rarely do you hear anyone tell you how to do this. Too many writers, with good intentions, just read, take random notes and end up more confused than when they started. Like anything else, if you have a plan you will do better. So, here is a simple plan for studying a magazine.

Start with the Cover. Editors design covers to attract readers. What they feature most prominently on the cover tells you what that editor considers to be the most interesting articles in the magazine. Write down the name of each article featured. Put a star by the main article featured. Go through several back issues doing this. Do you see a theme emerging?

Study the Table of Contents. Look down the table of contents. Make a list of each article. Mark off those written by staff writers and ones likely to be written by freelancers. Categorize the topics like: health, home improvement, food, cars, celebrities, etc. Again look for patterns. Also, note the columns. Are they written by the same person each month or do they have different “guest” writers? Those “guests” are probably freelancers.

Study the Articles. What is the average word count per article? What type of leads do they use (story, statistics, quote, etc)? Do they use pictures? What is the article structure or type such as: how-to, problem exposition, persuasive, celebrity profile, Q&A interview, etc. Once again look for common patterns. Editors reveal their preferences through the articles they publish. These preferences are often not even known to them and will never appear in the writer's guidelines.

Study the Photographs. What type of photos do they have with the articles? Were they stock photos or ones likely provided by the author? Were they of people, scenery, activities, processes?

Study the Advertisements. Advertisers know their market. You can find out a lot about the readership by looking at the ads. Are the models glamorous or more like everyday people? What products are being sold? What type of people would use those products? What appeals are being made such as economy, quality, status, utility, safety, altruism, etc.

I can see you saying this is a lot of work. And your point is? Of course, it is a lot of work, but if you do this type of work, you will know that publication as well, if not better than the editor, and dramatically increase your chances of selling to them, To help you do this analysis you can download forms at either or

Terri, thank you for stopping by and sharing this valuable information.