Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Being More Effective, Split the time up between activities: new material, submission of work, networking, etc.

In my mind, it's still the late months of 2000. It's late 2000 and people are bitching about Florida fucking up the election. It's late 2000 and there are a few people lamenting the fact that the world did not end at the onset of the new year. It's the year 2000, and there is a real reason why I'm there in my mind.

It's also the searing hot summer of Tucson, Arizona, 2005. The heat of the summer is oppressive, especially in Tucson. The heat waves will obscure the city even if you're a few blocks away from it. It's hot, yes, but you're still outside because smoking cigarettes is more of a comfort than the air conditioning. It's so hot that the asphalt melts under your feet. It's hot enough that you could, should you feel inclined, cook food on the steel rails of the 32nd parallel line. It's hot, 2005 in Tucson, Arizona and there is a reason why I'm there in my mind.

It's 2009. I'm a recent graduate of the Goddard College MFA program. It's 2009 and I have just quit my job as a restaurant manager and I've just sold my house. It's 2009 and I'm suddenly homeless, jobless and writing for the cartoons. It's 2009 and I'm still stuck there a little bit too, just like 2000 and 2005.

I bring up these three time periods for one very solid reason. Each time, 2000—Portland, OR; 2005—Tucson, AZ and 2009—Denver, CO have one thing in common, at least for me and my life as a writer. In each of these situations, I did nothing but write. I know I worked, I know I had bills to pay, I know I had all the sorts of things that people have in life during those times. But I was, and I mean I really was, writing and nothing more. I can say with the utmost certainty that each of the three times that I cite here, I was writing in an excess of 8 to 10 hours a day, every day, and it went on like that for months.

Yes, for months on end, and 2009 is the greatest example of it because of the time the duration and the produce. In 2009 I wrote 5 novels, a dozen short stories, and a half a dozen screenplays. I made a film “Pastrami and Rye” in 2009, and I started Umbrella Factory Magazine in 2009. The latter two things, although a big deal in their own way, were not the focus at the time.

At the time all I wanted to do was to write. I wanted to write more than I had ever written before. In a way I think I was successful. I doubt I wrote more in that year than I had in the 25 years prior to it, but I wrote more in that year than I would normally write in any given single year (or 3 or 5 years) before or since. In fact I would have said the same about the fall of 2000, or the summer of 2005, that is, until 2009. It was all I wanted to do.

And it remains all I want to do. All I want to do is fill notebooks and fill it with whatever novel or short story or bad poem suits my desires at the moment I sit down to write. I want to get up at noon, open my notebook and not close it again until well on past midnight and I want to do that seven days a week. I want to be a writer, and a writer writes, right?

It is so much more than that initial draft in the notebook. It's writing, yes, and rewriting and rewriting again and again. And if a writer you must be, the next step in the process is to submit whatever it is you just wrote to someone who will read it and possible publish it. Because to be a writer means that there is an audience.

There are all the smaller tasks that arch the process between the final and completely revised work of writing and publication. This portion can be set up in steps: research, queries, all those endless emails and correspondences, cover letter writing complete with an analytical look at your our words, and the endless wait to receive the editor's rejection only to do the process all over again. This process sucks until it ends in publication.

When it ends in publication, then the list of tasks change, somewhat. First, you get as many people to read your publication as possible. Then you figure out how to market yourself and your writing to secure more readers and future publications.

Then there are all the other things that happen to the writer. For me, all those other things are great and they all take time. There is my blog, there is my magazine and there are the collaborative projects I take on. And in the past there were the regular places where I contributed, the films I made and the classes both at the college level and the community workshops that I taught.

I became very busy as a writer. I like to be busy, and I like to be popular. I would not say in the times that I've been busy that my writing suffered from the time I spent away from the notebook. However, the times that I have been busy doing all those writerly things were all the years outside of 2000, 2005, 2009.

Even now, I would love to spend all my time writing new stories, new novels. And I would love to do this because I feel, and I have always felt like it's more important than anything else I could possible do. I mean, I'm a middle-aged white guy living in Boulder County, Colorado, who the hell is ever going to read anything I've every written? As depressing as a thought as that may seem, I feel like it's just a call to arms to write even more.

I'm having a bit of a change of thought about these sorts of things. I recently took an inventory of everything I've ever written. It was an amount that really baffled me. Then I took a look at my CV and the publications I've had. It's a good list and I'm proud of it. There is, however, a very big difference between the number of things I've written and the few things that have been published.


Well, I realize that it's time to work a more balanced set of activities. There is the new material that's important. There is the submission of stories and all the tasks between my manuscript and publication. There is the writer's professional image, whatever that means. There is the need to work or to get a job as a writer. There are many other things to do other than just write. I know this, and I accept this, but what if all I want to do is write?

My suggestion is to break things up. This means that there are fifty hours a week to work and sixteen tasks that need attention. Rather than write for 50 hours a week, I like I did in 2000, 2005 and 2009, write for maybe half of that. Spend some time submitting work to magazines, creating a presence via a blog, or a magazine of your own, and then do all the professional marketing including the social networking like LinkedIn. Out of the fifty working hours, maybe only 30 of them should be the generation of new material. Once you have a writer's plan (see last week's post) it's easier to stay on target.

It's easier to stay on target on paper. However, do your really want to stop in the middle of a good writing session to see what your writer friends are doing on LinkedIn? Probably not. Any other activities outside the notebook are valuable too. Since I find looking at social media, teaching workshops, editing my magazine, and to a lesser degree writing this blog post to be sheer drudgery compared to joy or writing something new, I have discovered a few ways to overcome this.

First, make a plan, a long term plan, a short term plan and a weekly plan. This is what I call the writer's plan. This plan must include everything you want to accomplish and the steps to get there.

Second, stick to the plan.

Third, don't do too much of the things you don't want to do in one sitting. I suppose the argument could be this: do all the bullshit first then reward yourself with writing time. Whereas that doesn't work for me, I can see how it might for others. What works for me is this, I have ten items on my list and only one of them is writing something new. I'm inclined to spend my time doing one task a day and then getting to my writing session. Or likewise, write first, in the morning when I'm fresh and then do the other stuff later in the day when I'm too tired for creativity but not tired enough to sleep.

Last, commit to all the smaller tasks and know that they are valuable and just get them done. For instance, for me, I will spend this week writing, submitting a handful of short stories, doing work on my magazine, networking and as you know, writing this blog post. And hopefully I can avoid all the distractions and pitfalls and really optimize my time

Next time:

- Understand that Youtube videos are short, until you watch 50 of them
- Break everything up in small easily attainable tasks

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