Adjusting To Being A Full-Time Author – Part 3

In part 3 of this little series, let’s talk a bit about keeping yourself on track!

The Virtue of Self-Discipline

Our day jobs provide (or inflict upon) us some degree of structure. Some people have jobs that are very flexible in many ways, others not so much. But as a general rule, we’re expected to show up a certain amount of time and do or produce something for our pay. Bosses are there to yell at us if we don’t.

When you shift over to writing full-time, just as with many other self-owned businesses, that boss goes away. Poof. You can now do just about anything you want, as long as it’s legal. Don’t feel like rolling out of bed until noon? No problem! Just want to wear PJs and bunny slippers all day? You can do that.

Writing? Well, yeah, I do need to get back to work on that book, but I feel like playing Call of Duty on the PS3 today. All day. And all night. I’ll do some writing later. Oh, wait, somebody just mentioned me on Twitter. Or maybe someone posted something on a forum that has you all fired up, and you spent half a dozen hours during the day voicing your opinion. The fact that you just wrote as many words as you usually need for a chapter in your latest book escapes you…

You can see where I’m going, right? When you start working at home for the first time, your enemies will become the distractions that (presumably) you were largely insulated from while at your day job. It’s up to you to build an insulating layer and give yourself enough structure to be successful. And, at least in the beginning, you may have to be absolutely merciless on yourself to develop success-oriented habits.

Make no mistake: being a self-published author, with your royalties as your primary or sole source of income, can be scary. It’s all on you. Your creativity. Your ability to market your work. Your ability to run a business. There are times when you have to be ruthless on yourself, when you can’t let yourself go to bed until you’ve finished that next chapter or you’ll blow your self-imposed deadline. Or maybe you’ll run out of money.

So, one of the first things you have to do is establish whatever structure and self-discipline will help you achieve success. Set office hours when you’ll be available to communicate with folks on-line or on the phone, or can have meetings in person. Fence off certain hours for writing, and nothing short of a family emergency is to interrupt that time (you’re at work, remember?). Set daily goals for productivity, and deadlines for reaching milestones in your writing. Then hold yourself to them.

I’ll confess that I’m still struggling with this. I have a goal of writing 3,000 words a day (including new text on my next novel, blogs, etc.). Some days I make it, some I don’t. Keeping myself accountable to that goal is often dicey, but it’s one that I keep hammering away on. Because if I don’t focus on improving over time, my chances of long-term success dwindle significantly. There are some days when I just don’t feel like writing. But that’s okay, because there’s always something else you can be doing, as long as it furthers your business of being an author.

In our next and final installment, we’ll talk a bit about Socializing and Taking Time Out…

9 thoughts on “Adjusting To Being A Full-Time Author – Part 3

  1. Michele Cresmen

    Mike, as you learn & grow in your struggle to manage your work, you might want to look into something called Kanban – it’s a visualization of flow of tasks. A very helpful site is http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/. I’m not affiliated with them, but I’m constantly on the lookout for methods that help individuals (and teams) improve productivity. For this, all you really need is a white board and some sticky notes – and the thought process. There are free, on-line Kanban boards, but to start, if you have the wall space try it “low tech” and see if it works for you. I’m by no means an expert, but if you’d like to chat more on visualizing work and flow, feel free to contact me.

    Reply
  2. B.J. Keeton

    When I was working on my first manuscript, it was 2k words per day or 10k per week. It worked wonders, and my first draft was an ugly little thing I’ve been revising for a little over a year. Last summer–I’m a teacher, so that’s when I get the time to go full-time writer–I didn’t hold myself to that standard, and I got next to nothing done. However, during the semesters, I am now working at least an hour a day, words or no words. I am going back to 2k/10k this summer, and I expect to be able to pound out drafts of the next two novels between May and September. I may even go 3k/15k like you mention if I think I won’t go a little crazy. I went to 3k+ a lot, but it was a psychological thing that I didn’t HAVE to be that productive every day that made me work harder. Strange, maybe. But it worked for me.

    Reply
  3. Claude Nougat

    Thanks Michael for a very useful post. Yes, regularity in writing is a major key to achieving self-discipline as a writer…

    But I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here. Did you know that Queen Victoria wrote an average of 2500 words a day, every day and all through her long life…I sometimes wonder how big a series of books containing her writings would be! And who would read them anyway (apart from Historians of course).

    The point is that the quality of the writing is more important than the quantity and if some days that famous 2k words can’t be achieved, well, so be it…You’ll catch up tomorrow or the day after.

    At least, that’s what I tell myself (I’m quite capable of going through long periods of walking through the desert) but I know what you’re going to say: very true, but also very dangerous. If too many days go by without writing, you’re going to SLIP!

    And you know what I’m going to say to you? You’re right! But still…The Dolce Vita, the Dolce Farniente is begging me over (I live in Italy which makes matters worse, LOL)

    Reply
    • Michael Hicks Post author

      This is one of those things where, at least for books one plans to put out for sale, quality and quantity are both required. For me, the whole point of having a word count goal is simply as a mechanism to get my butt in the chair and write. It could also be measured in time, like “I’m going to spend X hours today writing new material.” I do that sometimes, too, especially when I’m in a spot in a story that requires some extra thought.

      But the bottom line is simply that if you’re an author, your primary focus should be on writing new material. You have lots of other things to attend to, but if you’re not writing, you’re not moving forward toward producing the next book. And, if you’re doing that for a living like I am now, that means you’re going to have a hit coming in your income stream. More books and a bigger backlist, leavened – hopefully – with periodic bestsellers is the way to achieve long-term success. And to do all that you need to crank out wordage! ;)

      Reply
  4. Sadey Quinn

    Yes! I totally agree with this. And luckily my partner does, too.

    I finished a book yesterday and today, when I woke up, I sat in front of my computer and mourned my loss.

    My partner is incredibly afraid of me not having a novel to work on, since it evidently turns me into a ‘sour’ person. SO we spent the next hour brainstorming a new book idea.

    Tomorrow I’ll be back on track! My goal is around 3k a day too, but sometimes less when I’m doing heavy editing.

    Great posts!

    Reply
  5. Lari Don

    I think there is another danger to being a full-time writer, and that’s not knowing when to stop! I have lots of ideas (which I can and do turn into published books – I have 6 children’s books coming out this year), but I also have two school-age kids and I spend a lot of time promoting books and writing in schools. I struggle to find time to write, so I write whenever I can. I pretty much work non-stop. I am useless at saying no to publishers, or to tight deadlines, or to a new idea, or even to schools and bookshops who want me to visit, because as a freelance every job counts. But I know that my creativity demands a bit of down-time, a bit of relaxation, so I have to force myself, not always successfully, to STOP, to allow myself to get distracted, to take a bit of time off. It’s probably all down to finding out what kind of person you are – I know that I’m driven, deadline-orientated and disciplined, so working hard isn’t my problem, slowing down is.

    Reply
    • Michael Hicks Post author

      Yes, that’s certainly a potential danger, as well. I typically work 10 or more hours a day, all told. I have learned to say no to things, because I’ve become a lot more discriminating in terms of what I’ll spend my time on now: time is literally money, and those things that I don’t think are going to provide enough of a return on my time investment don’t get done.

      But I’ve also found that it’s gotten hard to just sit back and relax, and I don’t have any time now for the hobbies I used to enjoy. I’m hoping that will return once I feel more comfortable about our financial situation (while I certainly can’t complain, we’re still vulnerable to sales fluctuations)…

      Reply
  6. Mike McHugh

    Thanks, Michael, for posting this. Sometimes, as a writer sitting there alone, you feel like you’re the only one struggling with these sorts of issues. Or that every other writer has somehow found a way to conquer them. The truth is that every writer, no matter who, has to deal with them, and we do with varying degrees of success.

    It takes some discipline, to be sure, and that’s why it takes more than just talent to be a success in the field. Your post gives me heart in knowing that I’m not alone.

    Reply

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