Friday, July 15, 2005

Work Habits--by Request

So you want to write? To borrow a phrase from a popular shoe company, just do it. I prayed so long and worked so long to have kids that I didn’t want to give up one minute with them until I absolutely had to. But my writing career had begun by the time my children came home, so I learned how to write in those quiet hours of naptime and early evening. Even after my children outgrew their naps, they knew that those few afternoon hours were mom’s work time, and they played quietly. I was always available if they needed me, but they also learned to respect the work I had to do.

I’ll be honest—I was a fledgling writer in those years, so I wasn’t attempting to write the great American novel. I was concentrating on magazine articles, catalog copy, and brochures--short assignments that did not require hours of uninterrupted time.

Working at writing and being a full-time mom, I even managed to home school my daughter through kindergarten and first grade. I also experimented with “once-a-month cooking,” which worked well until we all got absolutely SICK of the same recipes over and over. I did learn to organize my household chores and manage time efficiently.

If you have small children, heed this advice from someone who’s been in your shoes—those toddler and preschool days will pass like a heartbeat. Enjoy your children. Everything else—including the great American novel—will wait.

My work habits may not appeal to some folks who are right-brained. I’m an organized person by nature—the spices in my kitchen are in alphabetical order. (Aren’t everyone’s?)
But my work philosophy has always been “divide and conquer.” Beginning a project is always difficult at the first stage, but if you envision a 400-page book or a 1500-word article as a series of smaller parts and several drafts, the task suddenly becomes manageable.

You will need two particular tools: a calendar and a pencil with an eraser. Take your project and divide it into drafts (at least three, preferably four or five). Now count the number of days between today and your deadline (if you don’t have a deadline, give yourself one!). Let’s say you have forty five days. (Which is about the number of day I have to complete my work-in-progress!)

Divide the number of days by the number of drafts (45 divided by five equals nine), so you have nine days to spend on each draft. Now you might want to adjust things a bit—the first and second drafts will require a few more days, you’ll be sailing through the fifth draft. But plot your course on the calendar, remembering to leave at least one day free each week for health and sanity’s sake. Saturdays are literally my "sabbath."

And there you have my work system—I actually go so far as to pencil on the calendar how many pages I must have completed each day, and I don’t quit until I’m finished—or at least until I’ve managed to move things around on the calendar so I can be done by my deadline.

Yes, it’s a bit obsessive/compulsive, but, after having written 105 books in 17 years, I know it works for me!

1 comment:

Sara said...

Thank you so much Angela! Exactly what I was looking for! I've heard of variations on this system so it must be a winner. Thanks again!