April Moore on Work Habits (Part 1)

I’m pleased to announce that April Moore, author of Folsom’s 93  and all-around great writer, has agreed to do a few guest posts about writing from her perspective. Without further foolish foofoorah, heeeeeere’s April…

I think many writers revel in the idea of a secluded place to work; a long retreat, free from interruptions and time to master our craft. However, this concept never seems to end well for Stephen King’s writer characters. So before you head to a vacant mountain hotel, or a remote cabin in upstate New York, consider these work-from-home tips that won’t involve axes, poltergeists, or dead bodies.

Take Care of Distractions

I’m easily distracted, whether it’s something shiny or a pile of laundry. Sometimes, no matter how determined I am to get several pages written, even small things can veer me off the creative path. Working from home poses a plethora of distractions that can keep you from settling into work mode. Combat them by dealing with those things before you flip on the laptop. Wake up early and take care of that load of laundry, pile of bills, or a sink full of dishes. Schedule your chores and writing time. Perhaps designating one day to household tasks can enable you to work the rest of the week. Another distraction is the internet. Aren’t you curious about your blog stats, Twitter updates, or Lindsay Lohan’s latest court appearance? If you don’t need internet access to write, then turn it off. What about noises? One word: Earplugs.

 Get Organized

Treat yourself to a shopping spree at an office supply store. They say if you buy great workout gear, you’re more likely to get your butt to the gym. Same goes for writing. If you want that fancy pencil holder, get it. Do what you need to do to create a productive work environment. Organization is critical for me since I have 93 dead guys to keep track of. I bought a few file boxes with hanging folders and together, my label maker and I went to town. Each inmate has his own folder containing absolutely everything pertaining to him: transcripts, newspaper articles, and even critiques from my writers group when I’ve submitted his story to them. If your work is disorganized, you may not feel motivated and driven. Get the right tools to help you.

Tune in soon to hear April tell you about rewarding yourself, breaking work down and going to your room. 

Thanks for listening.

 

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Goal Setting: Volume

This is what I used for my most recent productivity cycle. You figure out how much you want to do, then divide it by the number of days you want to do it in. The result is how much you have to do, on average, each day to meet your goals. I arrived at my weekly goal by dividing my financial needs by nine weeks…resulting in the benchmarks I used for my accountability posts these past two months.

That part isn’t exactly rocket science, but there are some fine points a lot of people miss.

Set small short-term goals. It’s natural to dream big, but many of us set our goals when we’re in a gung-ho state of mind. We decide to get it all done, plus fix that riser on the stairs, this week. Reality intrudes and we fall short, discouraged. It makes it hard to want to set goals the next time around.

Set big long-term goals. So many of us get caught in the short-term goal trap that we forget what we’re capable with small contributions over the long haul. Tom Callos taught me this by asking me to run 1,000 miles and do over 50,000 pushups in one year. That’s just three miles of running each week, and 75 pushups per day. The point here isn’t that I’m a badass…it’s that you can do incredible things if you give yourself time and make yourself keep at it even after the new wears off.

Set benchmarks. Business managers know about this, and so should you if you want to manage your own writing business. Don’t say “I want to write a 365 page book this year, at one page a day.” Unless your Mr. Spock, or maybe Data, this will inevitably lead to you taking January through September off and scrambling during the fall. Instead, say “I will write 30 pages per month for one year.” This keeps you on track for success from day one…and gives you something to gauge your progress against in real time.

Remain flexible. Alert readers might have spotted some of this during my last productivity binge. My surgery took more out of me than I expected, and for longer than I’d planned for. I didn’t abandon my goals…I just shifted some numbers around and worked harder when I felt better. You can always change your plan to suit reality, and a changed plan is always better than no plan.

You can set volume goals according to work completed, money made or both. When setting money-based goals, choose between money earned and income paid to your accounts. These are sadly very different numbers. In my current cycle, I’m going to do both work and money: money for immediate income, and work for speculative projects.

Thanks for listening.

Accountability: The Finish Line

Thank you, one and all, for your support with my accountability project for April and May. With your help, I reached my productivity goals. I know you didn’t actively help, but that’s the beauty of stating goals publicly. It was simply knowing I would post — and that somebody might razz me if I didn’t post — that kept me on track even when it was hard.

I’m making a shift in my working goals going forward. I don’t need the kind of immediate money I did for the past cycle. Instead, I’m going to spend the summer focusing on speculative projects. This requires a different kind of accountability and a different approach to goal setting.

  • I can’t put a dollar total on the goals, because speculative projects don’t earn money immediately.
  • I shouldn’t set a hard goal based on things out of my control, like “five hundred daily visitors to my blog.” This leads to frustration and eventually abandoning my goals altogether.
  • I will need to include a minimum earnings per month so I can keep paying rent and spoiling my wife and children.

I have a basic plan, but will announce it next Sunday. In the interim, I’ll be focusing on programs of assessment and accountability for authors. It might give me some good ideas.

As always, I’m eager to hear what you all have to say. Please comment with your own methods for making sure you get done what needs getting done — especially for projects with no hard deadline.

Thanks for listening.