Diary of a freelance writer, 16 September 2015

young adults10 minutesHow did your homework go last week? Did you join in and send anything off? Aside from the first acknowledgement I received, I’ve not heard anything about mine. I might schedule in a chase session next week.

There are 2 books featured in today’s diary, GET STARTED IN WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION by Juliet Mushens, and WRITE A NOVEL IN TEN MINUTES A DAY by Katharine Grubb. Both are available from Teach Yourself Books. (The TYB link is to the creative writing section, but there are loads of other departments too in this series.)

I’ve already started the young adult book, but I’ve not even bought the 10 minutes a day book yet, although it is on my wishlist … and the more I read about it, the more tempted I am. I love good writing books, and I love good time management books too. If anyone has it and has read it, I’d appreciate your opinions. 

On Wednesday I wrote the second instalment of my freelance writing diary. I also had a recall from an editing client, where the client’s client wanted 3 spaces at the start of each paragraph. Every. Single. Paragraph. And they had to be physical spaces too. I couldn’t set an auto-indent throughout. They’d asked for a very quick, very light edit … but they got considerably more. So I’ll be thinking more carefully next time they approach me with work.

I had the day off on Thursday due to a series of appointments arranged throughout the day. In between time, though, I did start a heavy edit I should have started the day before.

The heavy edit took up most of Friday, so I didn’t get time to do any writing or admin work. I didn’t manage a blog post either.

We didn’t have any research trips arranged for the weekend. Instead we had to do shopping stuff, band stuff, and family stuff.

On Monday morning I received an email from one of my overseas markets itemising what they’re planning for their November issue – wow, a 6-week lead time. As it happened, I had a short story reprint I thought might fit their brief. So I checked it through, repackaged it and sent it off. Almost by return.

I finished the heavy edit on the hard copy client book I’d started. I was so busy with that, though, that I didn’t have time to write a blog post for the weekend.

I needed a rest from the book I’d just edited, before starting the electronic edits, so I started what I thought would be an easy proofread. However, it’s actually a heavy proofread and is taking longer than I thought. If I get it done today (Wednesday), then I’ll drop it in overnight. Otherwise they may get it Thursday night or Friday morning, when I have more errands booked.

I managed a blog post on Tuesday, started to read the young adult writing book and did a few of the exercises, and I managed to study a module of my fiction writing course.

Your homework for this week:

  • If you have WRITE A NOVEL IN TEN MINUTES A DAY, let me know what you think of it.
  • If there’s anything you didn’t manage to complete last week, do it this week. But make sure it is done this week.
  • If you’ve already had responses to queries sent last week, start to schedule the work in – research and writing.
  • If, like me, you’re waiting for responses, is there something else you can be getting on with? A longer piece of work or something that’s been nagging at the back of your mind?
  • If you don’t have anything to do this week, read a writing book with exercises and do the exercises, or research writing books to buy or writing courses to study.
  • Let us know how you get on.

Time management works

Tobermory (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

The weekend was hectic.

On Friday I spent much of the day completing electronic edits for a client job. I finished at about 6pm, sent it off, and by 7:45pm he’d paid me. This is excellent. After a busy week, though, I was quite tired, but at least I’d accomplished everything I’d set out to. Or almost everything.

Because I wanted to get that in before the deadline (Saturday), it meant I’d sacrificed my writing time. So first chance on Saturday I caught up a little on that, while the poet continued with a painting he’s started. I don’t often work at the weekends, but this was an exception.

I finally managed an hour of yoga, and B&Q called (for the third time), closing the complaint and offering to send us a gift card.

We also had a mad tidy-up session, which included changing the spare bed and clearing all the clutter from the spare room, as we were off to collect son #1 + g/f at 4pm. On the way home from collecting them, we stopped off at Yo Yo Noodle for tea, which is one of my favourite places but one they’d not even heard of.

When we got home and they’d settled in, we went for a walk up to the lake and back. Then off we went to the Gonzo Comedy Club in Holmfirth. This was our second time, but the first time they’d really been to a comedy show. We had a nice time, but one of the acts had a bit of a stumble from a not-very-well-highlighted step in the darkened room. Our table was right on this step and we’d already struggled to get in on that side. But in the dark, the poor chap didn’t see it, and he fell through the audience, taking 2 drinks with him, before landing heavily on the stage area.

I have to say he rescued the situation very well and turned the crowd right around, but it was at the sacrifice of his usual routine. So now we’d like to see him again to see what he should have done. We were very impressed with his attitude, but the club might like to address that hidden step issue.

By the time we’d got back and had a chat with a few drinks it was very, very late. But son #2 was up bright and early Sunday morning and walking the dog to the Co-op. Rufus, of course, had to shout to everyone that he was going for a walk, but he apparently calmed down by the time they reached the main road. The poet made us all a cooked breakfast, and then we took them home again. It was nice to have them with us and to meet his girlfriend for the first time.

Sunday afternoon we stopped off on the way home to buy a coffee table for the living room (aka an “occasional” table), and then we chilled for the rest of the day, even going to bed very, very early.

This morning I decided on my “one job I want to do today” thing and was at my desk at 9:30am again. First job was gig list work (after first “housework” chores of “empty dishwasher” and “fill washing machine”), and as the gig list didn’t take very long, I was able to start “daily competitions” earlier. Another time management tip I’m adopting is “start the next job as soon as you’ve finished the previous one”, rather than wait until the allocated time.

Then, because I also completed that job relatively early (despite catching up after the weekend), I was able to respond to a client query that came in over the weekend regarding the work I sent back to him on Friday. This was the one job I wanted to complete that wasn’t already on the list. But another was to stick to the list, which I seem to be doing.

My next job started bang on time, at 11am (“blog” 😉 ), and as it’s shorter than I thought it would be, I can see me having a cup of tea at 11:30am before starting the next job, “writing time (2 hours)” – hurrah! Then this afternoon I start the next client job – another 2 hours.

I have to say, the tips I’m reading in GET EVERYTHING DONE by Mark Forster are certainly working. And I’m trying to squeeze in either a whole chapter or at least half of one every day.

Right, there’s another job jobbed early. 😀 I can see I might be revisiting the schedule again once I’ve worked with it for a while.

How was your weekend?

So how am I doing? (*** list alert ***)

So on Tuesday I started a new time management routine, just to see if it worked or not. And so far, it seems to be. I’m getting more done and spending more time on things that matter and less time on things that don’t.

Let’s take today, for example. Here’s how today’s diary usually would have looked:

8:00 housework
10:00 daily competitions
11:00 blog
12:00 writing work
2:00 study skills (edit book) (2 hours)
(2:30 dentist – boo!)
3:00 invoices, admin, pc mtce
5:00 housework
6:00 TEA

It’s still in hour-long segments and yesterday I found out I had a dentist appointment at 2:30 … yes, really. My own writing work only had one hour allocated to it, and the book that’s due to be finished today only had 2 hours allocated to it – which doesn’t allow for hiccups like power cuts or the internet falling over (as I have to submit via the job board), and I lost a day’s work on it Tuesday when lots of new furniture arrived. Also, I have no invoices to raise this week (boo!) and pc mtce can be done while I’m doing something else, as it’s backing up critical data and can be done in the background.

So I had a think, and prioritised a bit, and postponed the dentist to next Friday. And here’s how it looks now:

8:30 housework – washing (laundry)
9:30 daily competitions
10:00 blog
11:00 writing work (2 hours!)
2:00 study skills (edit book) (3½ hours) PLUS pc mtce
5:30 TEA

Not only does my day start 30 minutes later, by the way. It also finishes 30 minutes earlier. Yet I’ve managed to schedule in 2 hours for my own writing work, which could be cut down to 1 hour if I feel the book needs more time – but at least I still have a writing session booked in – and the book job that’s due in today has 3½ hours allocated to it. If that job gets finished early, then I can do any outstanding admin (aka filing …) or housework. But it can also run over and the poet will sort tea if necessary.

Oh yes, and I didn’t get the rubber (eraser) out once this week, once I’d settled on the schedule.

With this new system, which I’m still testing, I’ve managed to give myself 2 hours of writing time every day next week*. Plus client work gets 2 hours every day Monday to Thursday*. AND I’ve managed to fit in an hour of study (aka personal development) on Wednesday and on Thursday. So there are 2 hours I wouldn’t normally be spending on my own work. Friday afternoon will consist of errands next week (dentist + hair appointment), otherwise I’d still have 2 hours of client time then too.

I have yet to see where yoga and dog walking will fit in, although walking the dog isn’t such a necessity these days as we have such a big garden. But I think we do need to fit it in somewhere, and not just at weekends and on holidays. And we do walk the dog to the lake after the poet has finished work whenever we feel like it.

The old first 30 minutes of the day (8:00 – 8:30) are the poet getting ready for work, so I’ve knocked that off my diary. I’m still having 60 minutes for dinner at the moment, because he comes home for his dinner now and he has 45 minutes. Maybe that’s where the dog walk will come in.

BUT I’m very pleased with it and, more importantly, I’ve been able to work on CATCH THE RAINBOW every day, which is a habit I really want to get into. And you can see what I have planned for today without me having to repeat it. 😉 (Although, I may swap the writing time and client time around to ensure I meet the deadline, but I’ll still have and take my writing time, even if it is only an hour.)

So, that aside, I still need to apply it to weekends as we have another very busy one coming up.

This evening, if we feel like it (the poet has tonsillitis threatening), we might go to see a band. Tomorrow, son #1 is bringing his girlfriend to meet us and we’re going to Holmfirth too, for something to eat and to take in a comedy show. Sunday morning there’s a farmers’ market in Wentworth, but that depends on what time we have to take son #1 + g/f back to the station.

I still have a very busy day, and so I’m going to clear orf now. Y’all have a good weekend. 😀

* Apart from Tuesday. I think I have a day off on Tuesday.

Time management (*** list alert ***)

get everything doneAs most of you know, diary work is one of my most favourite of activities. This is because seeing a full diary means I have plenty of work in and gaps identify gaps in the work. I’ve always filled in my diary with a pencil, as this can easily be rubbed out if (a) a job is cancelled, (b) priorities change, or (bad) (c) I just don’t get around to doing it. I’d rather rub out a job and write what I actually did than put a cross next to it. However, now I’m wondering if pencil isn’t the best thing as it’s actually too easy to just rub something out I didn’t feel like doing today.

I’ve always been very organised in my approach to work. When I was a very busy and prolific freelancer, back in the day, I needed to be organised. And that organisation included all of the mundane work too, such as admin, pc maintenance, finance work, filing … (which, actually, often gets rubbed out and left), and so on. But I’ve also been an absolutely superb procrastinator.

Emails, daily competitions, Facebook, surfing the internet, playing games – all come very easily to me regardless of whether or not my diary is chock-solid-full. But rubbing yet another job out because I’ve not got around to it, for whatever reason, isn’t very good feng shui for the soul, if you get my drift. And it can have a debilitating effect on motivation.

The diary was my best ever work tool. It enabled me to list work that needs doing, and then tick it as I went along doing it – ticks are ace motivators. And adding “fun” tasks meant I did them for that time only, moved on, but still remained happy. When I got really good at it, I started to allocate time slots to specific tasks. But I want to stop using that rubber (eraser). I want more ticks and more output. I work in a lovely environment, with a gorgeous view, comfortable ergonomic furniture, the latest technology, and a very supportive and enthusiastic partner, who also just happens to be my number one fan.

But something needs to change.

I’m editing a book for a client at the moment on revision and study skills, and on Monday I got to the part where he recommended a time management book: GET EVERYTHING DONE, AND STILL HAVE TIME TO PLAY by Mark Forster. So, being the great procrastinator that I am, I went to have a look. And I liked what I saw. And so I bought it. And I read the introduction, at the end of which is the author’s very first exercise, which I’m going to précis here (and I’m not doing him out of any book sales, this exercise is clearly available via the “look inside” function on Amazon) (and, anyway, there’s loads more juicy material in there for you to discover for yourselves).

He calls it an exercise in mental strength. Basically, at the end of each day you choose just one task to do tomorrow. Then tomorrow, even if you do nothing else, you do this one thing. If you don’t do it, then it’s too difficult, and you need to choose something easier; if you do manage it, then you can choose something similar at the end of that day, and so on, increasing the difficulty as you go. Then, when you find you’re completing every single task quite competently, you add another to it, giving yourself 2 tasks to complete the following day. And so on, until you’re setting 3 tasks, and 4 tasks, and so on, until you’re just doing stuff anyway and no longer need to do this (unless, of course, you find setting tasks in this manner gets things successfully done).

So, on Monday evening, I decided that if I didn’t manage anything else from my to do list on Tuesday, I’d empty all the bins in the house and leave those to soak that needed it. (You can apply it to any task, not just work or writing. So I applied it to a household chore.) It was bin day anyway, and I always do put the bin out. But I don’t necessarily go around the house emptying all of the wastepaper bins, usually it’s just the kitchen bin. And I certainly don’t wash them.

And when I’d done that task, I set myself another: wash all the pillow-ticks and the mattress protector in preparation for a new bed we were getting delivered. And hang it on the line to dry.

So, here is how my diary looked yesterday, Tuesday (*** list alert ***):

8:00 housework
10:00 daily competitions
11:00 job boards (2 hours)
2:00 writing work
3:00 study skills (edit book) (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin
6:00 TEA

Meals are very important to me, so I make sure they’re in capitals. 🙂

Now, this list of jobs would normally have a list of ticks beside it and any details of what I actually did. But with furniture arriving (2 settees and a bed), and with me wanting to assemble said furniture if necessary before the poet came home (so we still had the evening together), already the rubber had come out. However, it was still a very busy day and I still got a very lot done. Here’s the revised list by the end of the day:

8:00 housework – change beds, wash pillow-ticks and mattress cover, hang washing out, bins
10:00 daily competitions (+ much procrastination once complete)
 11:00 job boards = 3 jobs pitched (2 hours, but much procrastination once done)
2:00 furniture delivery – entertain delivery men, arrange furniture, vacuum carpet
3:00 assemble new bed, make bed (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin (the poet took it out)
6:00 TEA – poet treated me to KFC for working so hard ♥

So, this morning I decided to do it again. I decided that by 9am I would have done some household chore – this time, empty dishwasher. And in my breakfast hour, I would indeed have breakfast, read a chapter of the time management book, get washed and dressed, be at my desk by 10am.

Here’s how today’s diary looked (bear with me):

8:00 housework
10:00 daily competitions
11:00 blog
12:00 writing work
2:00 writing work
3:00 study skills (edit book) (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin (fetch it in)
6:00 TEA

But with me choosing another task to complete as soon as I completed the previous one, I was actually at my desk by 9:30 and able to bring everything forward a little. Here’s how it looks now:

8:00 housework – empty dishwasher
9:30 daily competitions
10:00 blog
12:00 writing work
2:00 writing work
3:00 study skills (edit book) (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin (fetch it in)
6:00 TEA

I have a whole hour that’s blank!

Now then, from just 2 extracts from my diary you can see how I structure and balance work, household chores and “fun” tasks to keep me motivated. But you can also see what’s first to fall to the wayside if anything else comes along – writing work and paid work. But today, I’ve completed 2 tasks in half the time I set for them – 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes. And I’ve given myself a whole new hour to play with.

In future, I can probably allocate just 30 minutes to each of “breakfast” (which also includes other activities such as reading) and “daily competitions” (although a Monday may still need the full hour as I’ve the weekend to catch up on). And I won’t sacrifice the “warm-up” things I do at the computer, such as the competitions and write the blog.

So, what to do with that extra hour? And can I also shorten “dinner” to 30 minutes?

There are 2 things I’ve really wanted to do, that I used to do, but that I’ve not done for ages. Years, in fact. One is walk the dog daily; the other is yoga. I could use one of those 30-minute slots for the dog walk, but while the yoga would start at less than 30 minutes, it gradually needs to build up to 60 minutes, but not every day. Another thing I could use the time for, either daily or in between yoga workout days, is self-improvement – study, reading, learning a new skill. Or I could spend more time on the guaranteed paid work or on the writing work.

“Writing work” can consist of anything – novel writing, short story writing, article writing, filler writing, market study, brainstorming ideas, reading (books on the subject I’m writing about, or the era, or the genre, or books on writing), research, editing, proofreading, thinking, lying back and gazing through the window … (honest, us writers are working really very hard when we do that). But it needs to be a priority.

So, while I wonder what to do with these extra time-slots, my question today is this: what would you do with yours?

Heather on Langsett

Heather on Langsett. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)
Heather on Langsett. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

The weekend was all about quiet, thinking and work. I was fairly occupied and wasn’t going to go out Saturday night, but when my friends asked me again to go with them, I decided I needed a break. It was nice to see them, and nice to get out.

On Monday I was very busy editing a book. I finished the manual edits and started the electronic edits, but by about 7pm I was ready to call it a day. I didn’t do much else as I wanted to crack on with this book.

Tuesday was spent down in Birmingham doing legal stuff with my family. However, when I got back there was a new job waiting for me from lovely already boss and I addressed a couple of work issues. But again I was done by about 7:30pm.

Today I have the electronic edits of that book to complete, some revisions to apply to a previous edit, that second edit to get into the post, the gig list to update and a dog to walk. I also bid for 13 jobs this morning, including one invitation to submit, and had been shortlisted for one, down to 2 from about 93 (first it was 9, then it was 5 …). Unfortunately I lost it to someone charging half as much as me. Lovely already boss has also asked me today how I’m fixed for more work.

I have plenty of work in now for at least the next 3 weeks with more promised. I need to get the invoices into the system, though, so that the money is coming in on a regular basis and I’m not swinging between feast and famine again. Time management is getting a lot of attention at the moment to ensure I keep a realistic diary and then stick to it. I’m turning work around a lot quicker and my time estimates are improving.

For the rest of this week I have another edit to start, preferably tomorrow morning. That will take me to Monday.

It’s nice being busy, it’s nice knowing I’m really earning a fair wage, and it’s nice to have a full diary. It’s horrible being broke, though, and I need to eradicate that word entirely from my vocabulary.

A few weeks before we went on holiday we went to Langsett Reservoir walking. This is one of the poet’s favourite shots of his own, if not his actual favourite. Enjoy.