Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Can't I Get a Handle on This?

I know I've blogged about this before, but I feel like I'm drowning here, and could use some good input. Here's the question: How do I balance my writing life (i.e. working on works in progress) versus answering emails, facebooking, other social networking, creating interviews, and so forth?

I thought I had it figured out: Forget the emails and write first. The problem with that is that I know those emails are there, waiting for me. It's always in the back of my mind, nagging at me. So, I go clear emails, but there's always something that I have to do with some of the emails, thus I have to do those things before I can move on.

Of course, a lot of times I just leave those emails because I don't want to work on them, but work on stuff I HAVE to interviews, most of the time. Then, every time I'm getting internal pressure about emails, and I go to the emails, then SLAM - there are all those emails waiting for me that I've left, nagging at me, jiggling my conscience.

A lot of the writers I know are very, very busy and seem to thrive on it. I'm not that way. I have to make sure I have enough down time, away from the computer, to have hopes of getting anything done. So, I have to be careful about what I commit to.

And somewhere in the back of my mind is the knowing that I have a few problems with my work-in-progress that I haven't figured out yet, so that when I do get back to it, I have to go in problem-solving mode. Who said that writing is all fun? Certainly not any authors I know!

So what do you think? How can I solve these problems? I'd love to hear your story and suggestions.


Joylene Nowell Butler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Katie, about that long comment I just made... I change my mind. Sticking to a tight schedule can be too demanding. Instead, decide what it is you want to accomplish for today, make a list, and check off what you complete as it's done. Otherwise, you'll drive yourself crazy listening to that annoying timer.

And don't forget: this blogging is supposed to fun. If you're not enjoying yourself, then it may mean it's time to take a walk and smell the roses.


Diane J. said...

Well, I found a coffee shop that I like with no WiFi. I had withdrawals at first, but after a few times, you get used to not having internet and start using the time to write. It's hard to ignore. And, I'm like you, it's mainly the emails. And when I'm home and stuck on writing, I start realizing all these things I need to do, like check out blogs and respond and look, the dishes need to be done.

I'm a bit scattered, so I have to put myself where I can't access the internet and force myself out of the house to get away from "to-dos".

Unknown said...

You struck the very chord of my discontent with this post. *lol* I'm the exact way. I sit down at the computer and I see emails popping up, then I hear the tweet from tweetdeck, and I totally forget why I'm write, and I have so many WIPS to finish, but I spend almost my entire day, blogging, guest blogging, answering emails, and interacting with my friends on my new publisher's loop. I don't know how people do it. I used to pride myself in organizational skills...I'm still paper organized, but time management or lack of it rules my life. I plan to go camping for an entire week, free of the computer, emails, etc, where I have no access to the Internet and all I CAN do it write.

Unknown said...

I just read Diane's comment, and I think I'll research some of our local cafe's. Great idea. The problem with the Internet is that it's here and accessible. I need to find a place where it isn't. Darn Wifi places make that hard, too.

Vivian Zabel said...

I cut back on my blogging. I try to blog twice a week, but sometimes do well to post once a week.

Something had to give.

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

This is always a tangle, isn't it? One way or the other, the writing deserves a major part of the weekly schedule or pretty soon there won't be any reason for blogging, being on twitter or getting e-mail.

In many ways, the e-mails represent a nagging intrusion. The reason the people didn't call was so we could read and respond to the e-mail when convenient--that tells me I don't have to respond RIGHT NOW. If it were that important, the person knows my phone number.


Alice said...

I have this problem too. Really, if you are honest, its just a way to procrastinate and not write. I know that's what I do. Time passes so fast on the internet when I get involved reading blogs, reading "how" to write that I don't just sit down and write.

I think you have to set a time to write, even if it's only an hour. Sit down in one place, where you write. And challenge yourself not to do anything else. You don't have to write, but you can't do anything else.

Afte a couple of times sitting doing nothing, you will write. That's what I had to do.

unwriter said...

The solution is simple, really. First you turn off all sounds so you don't hear the beep of twitter (do this on all machines). Then on one side, close enough to reach, put the coffee pot (big one), Put your main computer in front, and on a long table on the other side, put two laptops. Each computer doing different things, write on one, twitter on another and do email on the third. In the empty space behind you, leave just enough room to get out. Fill the rest of the space with shelves so you can put the aspirin, no-doz, and other assorted legal pain killers.

Donna McDine said...

Katie...seems like so many of us have the same problem.

I know for myself I don't even go near my computer until I work on my W-I-P when I'm writing the first draft, which I always do in long hand.

Like Vivian I've scaled back on my blogging (except for this week, where so much was going on with fellow writers I couldn't help but post info about them). I also like scheduling posts weeks ahead od time so I'm not blogging all the time. My blog is linked to my Faceboook and Twitter so my posts are announced their automatically.

Joylene's idea of a check list is terrific too. I've been doing just that with accountability over at the CWCC and it is working.

Good luck in finding what works best for you.

Sloane Taylor said...

Katie, I found a daily to-do list REALLY keeps me focused. At the top is the writing I want to accomplish on that specific day. All other duties and chores follow. I'll admit, rarely do I complete the list, but I do stay focused. Maybe it'll work for you, too.

Karen Cioffi said...

Katie, I think the social networking is a writer's biggest dilemma today. It is so time draining, but unfortunately it's also needed.

I take it as it comes. If I try to stick to a schedule it's too frustrating. I just try to limit the time I spend on my emails, and other social networking areas.

Holly Jahangiri said...

I don't DO this, mind you, but I suggest reading this:

Carol J. Amato said...

I'm in the same boat as you, Katie. I'm really trying to develop a schedule for myself, so I'll be interested to read everyone's comments.

Katie Hines said...

Thanks for all the suggestions, guys. I think unwriter gets the credit for the most creative way to manage my time! I'm not sure which way I'll go, but some sort of schedule seems to be in the mix.

Cheryl said...

Hi Katie,

What I found very helpful was to track my time during the day for about a week to see where I might be wasting time. I use a weekly to-do list to keep me focused. I was always against them, wondering how in the heck I could spend time writing a to-do list when I'm so pressed for time, put I honestly can't imagine trying to function at this point without typing up my to-do list each Monday.

If emails are going to be on your mind and keep you from concentrating, then go ahead and read through them, but give yourself a time frame for that each day. I will spend the first 15 minutes reading through my emails. After that, stop, make notes if you're afraid to forget something, and then move on to your next to-do item.

The one thing that really caught my eye, though, is you said blog interviews comprise a lot of your emails. If that's the case, maybe you need to consider stopping that for a while. Blogging takes time. If you only have X amount of hours a day to spend writing and putting together or posting blog interviews is cutting into that, you need to decide which is more important--supporting your fellow authors or writing. Supporting other writers is imporant, but you need to keep writing too.

You have a book out and you need to dedicate time to promote it, and leave time to work on your next manuscript. I don't think anyone would fault you for pulling back from blog interviews. Even if they would, you have to do what is best for you.

Good luck. I hope my ramblings have helped a bit.


Virginia S Grenier said...

LOL. This is something I deal with everyday as well. Especially when Stories for Children Magazine was open to submissions. Talk about emails pouring in. What I learned to do was set a certain hour or two aside for emails only. I never went over the time I gave myself to take of email. I also picked a day each week where I would update, post, etc. on my social sites. I also looked a status to see which social sites produced and which didn't. This helped cut down on how many places I need to update content.

Lastly, keep in mind that no matter what you do . . . There Will Always Be Something Needing Your Attention!

You will never see your desk cleared off with no work needing to be done. Just tell yourself it will be there tomorrow and I can take care of it then. The world won't come to an end if I don't get it done today. Unless you have a deadline you must keep that is. :)

The Writing Mama

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

What I try to do is skim my email and answer only the most pressing ones. I leave the other ones for later and try to work on whatever I need to do. At the moment I am caught up with poetry and visit that website quite a bit. I don't mind it, because it is writing so I can rationalize that it's okay.

When I have something to do I totally ignore email and then go back and check it out. Also I check my email on my IPhone and that is usually when I'm out running errands anyway. No, it's not while driving, but while being driven or in a stationary place.:)

Unfortunately, if you're subbing your work to a group it is in emails, so those I usually check on and answer. Sometimes I have to critique too. It's a problem, but ignoring most of the things that can be done later usually works for me. <3

Viviane Brentanos said...

Interesting posty, Katie. My writing scedule is divided into two. Creating time and editing and propo time.
Each summer season, I am employed as a hotel reception. Between te hours of 2 and 5, it is quiet, most guests are out on the beach, so I use this time of complete tranquility to begin a new ms. I scribble away in long-hand. The result is reams of near illedgable words but it is my baby; its ME.
My mornings at home are rushed, taken up with normal house duties etc but I have my routine. One hour over my morning coffee I deal with emails, posts etc. I am felxible, however. I you begin to see something as a chore, it no longer is fun. Above all, we write because we love it.

Vivinae Brentanos

Mayra Calvani said...


You really have to work out a plan. You can't let social networking get in the way of your writing--that should come FIRST.

Make a schedule in which you get a specific amount of time for emailing only AFTER you have finished your writing quota for the day. In this way, emailing becomes a reward and you can do it guilt-free.

Do the same with networking.

I won't, ever, do social networking before I've worked on my novel. Nowadays I do 99% of my networking on weekends. Weekdays are for writing, preparing submissions, pitches, writing reviews, etc.

Margaret Fieland said...

Katie, I'm a compulsive email reader, and here's how I handle it:

If I'm very busy, I delete unread based on the subject and sender

I read first anything that looks critical. If I don't need to do anything, I delete it. If I do, I flag it and leave it in my inbox.

Eventually, I read everything else. I delete it if I don't need to do anything, flag it otherwise.

I do check email frequently for new stuff -- partly because when I need a break for whatever the reason I find this is a nice one.

I don't prioritize the flagged items, but if I were a more organized person, I suppose I'd do that.

I do have a to-do list for the day, with items marked
A, B, and C.

I do very little with social network stuff -- I have what I consider a minimum and stick to that .. I do post stuff about my writing that I want to publicize.

I don't blog very often -- I post interviews once or twice a month, and other articles occasionally.

I do check my bulk email to see if anything has gotten there by mistake, unless I'm REALLY, really overwhelmed and then I just empty it.

I do have a list of things that I need to do for the week -- generally, revise last week's chapter of my novel in progress, write this week's chapter at a minimum. I have a writing buddy I exchange chapters with, so that helps keep me on track with the novel.

Anonymous said...


I feel your pain. Everyone has given great suggestions. Unfortunately, I've tried almost everyone and still can't seem to get it all done.

Email folders - it emptied the inbox, but now i have piles of email in folders.

Tracking time - nothing's really wasted.

Last night, I took vanilla folders and labeled them: Blog, Examiner, Critique Partners, ect. I ran through a few papers and got them filed. I'm hoping this will help. Pick what to do, grab that folder, do it, and be done. I plan to have a folder for each wip.

The email, I need to narrow down the folders and get everything emptied. I like the idea of doing something with them instantly and not checking the email constantly.

The to do list sounds like the best bet. I have tried it in the past, but it's worth another shot.

I have gotten a little further this week. Actually began a story, which I haven't done in a good while now.

Also, if you'd like to check it out, I'm doing a summarized version of the twelve week program, a Artist's Way, on my blog.

Katie, good luck in getting life under control. I sure hope I accomplish this one day. :)

Anonymous said...

Katie, I hope you are able to find something that works for you. I've enjoyed reading all the comments. I've even taken some notes and will try some of the suggestions myself, so I thank you for your blog post on the subject.

Do you have a couple of different emails set up that you can use for different types of emails?

1) one for emails from friends and family
2) one for just your critique/writing groups
3) one for all other writing related stuff

It might help in keeping your emails somewhat sorted and easier/faster to go through.

If you find something that does work for you, I hope you will share it with us.

I hope you have a great day!

Janie Franz said...

I think as writers we all face this, especially if we have books coming out that need publicity. I, too, have found some days dribbling away with all of the marketing I do, plus the freelance journalism that comprises the rest of my writing life....Fortunately, I can write at night when my husband is asleep. Since you have a family, that may be problematic...I agree that you should put writing first, if you can do that. If you cannot put marketing tasks (blogs, emails, etc.) into a specific time allotment each day, perhaps designating one day a week for that may be better.
Good luck with developing a plan.

Ken Weene said...

I shouldn't be posting this question here, but I don't seem to have a direct email for you. A while back you did a blog about my first novel, Widow's Walk. Now I have a new novel out, Memoirs From the Asylum, and wonder if you'd be interested in it. Here's a link to my trailer.

Katie Hines said...

All of you have made some great comments and suggestions. Now I have a pad of paper where I've written down a lot of notes, and have even begun a to-do list. I've never been much of a list person, but most of you have suggested it in one form or another. I guess if I have a list where I see things are taken care of, I can relax and know I'll get to certain things at some point in the day. I know that works for me in making out our family budget - once it is listed, I forget about it until the day when bills need to be paid. I can see where this would easily work for my writing, too.

Thanks to all for some really great suggestions!

Anonymous said...

I rarely work on my social networks. I'm having a hard time just writing and bogging. I'm going to revise my writing schedule and follow it. Schedules are great, but don't work if you don't follow them.
J. Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer
Children's picture Book Klutzy Kantor
Coming Soon Marta Gargantuan Wings

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Katie,

You've already got some great suggestions. Here are some of my strategies:

1. Read email only twice a day. Close your email client and any messenger or Twitter applications while you are trying to write.

2. Set aside dedicated time for writing and simply refuse to pay attention to anything else during that period (barring emergencies).

3. If you blog on Blogger, make use of the facility to schedule posts in the future. That allows you to allocate time to blog work on a schedule that makes sense for you.

4. I spend very little time on social networking. I have yet to see any evidence that it is an effective marketing tool. I do keep up with a few of my lists and try to visit fellow author's blogs but that has a dual benefit. It lets me build relationships with my peers but also gets my name out on the net.

There's no simple or one size fits all solution. However, remember that if you are not enjoying your writing career, it will show in your work. A year ago I made a New Year's resolution to let go of the guilt about promotion in order to recover the joy of writing. This has helped.

Good luck!