January 13th, 2014

How To Negotiate a Writing Life in 10 Easy Steps

by Susan Squires

Messy Desk

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/epc/301006644/

Whether you’re just starting out or under contract, being productive isn’t easy. There isn’t enough time. Or enough space. Or enough quiet. Or enough organized thinking. There isn’t enough something, always.

How many times have you heard writers say, “I sure wish I had more_______. Then I could write.” If wishes were horses we all would ride, as my mother used to say. It being the New Year, you might think making resolutions will do the trick. But we all resolve every year to get more writing done. The problem is, resolving to write more is too vague. How will you accomplish that goal?

I’m here to tell you, it’s all about identifying your barriers and negotiating your way out of them.

1. Broaden your definition of Negotiation

I can hear you say, “I’m not a corporate raider or a diplomat. What does negotiation have to do with me?” Everything. Negotiation is defined as “a discussion aimed at reaching agreement.” We negotiate every day, with husbands, children, bosses, friends. Negotiation is everywhere, and you’re already an expert negotiator. So let’s get started.

2.   Identify barriers to writing

Think hard and be honest. Is it that you don’t have a personal space in which to write? Does childcare leave you no time for writing? Does your family constantly interrupt you? Is your desk such a mess that it depresses you? Do you dread sitting down because you’re afraid what you write won’t be good enough? Do you find yourself watching TV every night in what could be productive writing time? Make a list of your barriers.

3.   Pick one barrier to handle first

You can’t tackle everything at once. If you take on too much, you may just throw up your hands in disgust and do nothing. So pick the most pressing barrier to work on first. Put your list away. It has done its job for now.

4.  Decide who has the power to make the barrier go away

Whoever has the power to make the barrier go away is your negotiating partner. Hint: it could be you!

5.   Decide what you want as an outcome

Be realistic here. For instance, if you don’t have a writing space in the apartment you share with your significant other, is it really realistic to negotiate a move? Maybe. Maybe the time and the finances are right. Maybe you both want to move. In that case, what you want as an outcome is agreement that you’ll try to find a place with some writing space. But if it isn’t realistic for you to move, maybe the library can be your writing space, (it was for me during the remodeling of our house) or the Starbucks at the corner, or your mother’s house, etc. and what you really want is agreement from your partner that you can set aside time to go to your writing space. So, decide on a goal for your discussion (negotiation) and write it down.

6.  Decide what you’re willing to give up to get your outcome

Scales

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Negotiating is a two way street. No one gets everything they want without giving up something in return. If you want your husband to take the kids on Saturday afternoon, are you willing to give him a golf day, or basketball with the guys on Thursday nights? If you want your kids to leave you alone when they come home from school, can you promise them time after dinner for help with their homework? If you want a space for your writing, can you give up some furniture in the spare bedroom to create one? (I’ve even seen closets used to advantage). If you want more time to write in the evenings, which TV shows are you willing to give up?

If fear is keeping you from writing, negotiations are a little tricky. Is it possible to  negotiate with fear? Try vowing to allow yourself to write badly in your first draft, because, as Hemingway said, “Great books aren’t written, they’re rewritten.” Promise to give up on having your writing be perfect, and allow yourself the satisfaction of completing something. Perhaps all you can manage is to promise yourself you can be afraid later, after you’ve written the book!

7.   How to start the discussion

If your negotiation is with someone other than yourself, be sure you set some time aside. This isn’t something you do on the way to soccer practice. Begin by telling them how important writing is to you, and why. You might talk about needing balance in your life to be a happy and productive member of the family. You might talk about writing as something you do to take care of you, so you’re there for the family when they need you. Give examples of ways they take time for themselves, so they can understand and compare. Don’t be emotional. No crying. No shouting. This is a discussion to get an outcome that works for everyone. If you are negotiating with yourself, give yourself some quiet time to have the discussion too. Don’t make commitments to yourself lightly that you know you can’t achieve. Go easy. Slow and steady wins the race here.

8. Listen

Don’t be so focused on what you want as an outcome that you don’t listen to others’ points of view. They may see your writing as taking something away from them. If you hear that, you can reassure them that just because you need writing in your life doesn’t mean you love them less. They may be defensive about not having realized what you need. Cut them some slack—don’t back them into a corner and make them feel like bad people. “I’ve decided this is really important to me just recently. How could you know?” If it’s yourself you’re negotiating with, listen to that little voice that says you’ll be really unhappy about giving up Downton Abbey.

9.  Propose your solution, and what you’re willing to give up in return,then prepare for your partner to propose an alternative.

Agree if you can. If you want Saturdays to write and instead your partner wants to give you evenings, maybe that would work for you if you could get started writing earlier than your usual dinner schedule would allow. Don’t be afraid to propose an alternative. “I’ll try that, but I need to get started by eight p.m. If I cook dinner, will you do the dishes three nights a week to make sure that happens?” Right about here is when your partner, if they’re not used to negotiation, realizes that they’re going to have to make SOME compromise to keep you happy! Be gentle. If you need to postpone the discussion at this point, do. “Maybe we should wait to discuss this again when you’ve had a chance to think about what might work for both of us. How about Friday over a glass of wine?” Notice that you need to set a specific follow-up date. Otherwise this might get swept under the rug.

If you are negotiating with yourself, don’t demand too much of you. It’s okay to keep Downton Abbey and give up some other TV that doesn’t mean as much. You don’t have to give TV up entirely. I wrote 17 books for New York publishers by writing two nights a week and Saturdays. If you try to give up everything you love in order to write, pretty soon you won’t love writing.

10. Write down your agreement

You don’t have to give a copy to everyone, like a contract. But writing it down helps you remember what you’ve agreed to, especially if you were negotiating with yourself! Those are the agreements we tend to fudge on because there’s no one to hold us accountable.

Of course, there may be other barriers to tackle. You can do that. But be sure that when you’ve negotiated your way past a barrier, you take full advantage of the deal you’ve achieved. If you are frittering away the Saturday afternoon you achieved, then there’s a hidden barrier you haven’t addressed and you have some serious negotiating to do with yourself!

I know that the word “Negotiation” sounds intimidating. But remember, you do this every day. You’re just going to apply these ten steps to your writing life in a conscious way. The results with shock and surprise you, in a good way. Happy negotiating.

Waiting for MagicThe large and successful Tremaine family is descended from Merlin of Camelot. The magic in their DNA comes alive when each sibling meets a destined lover who shares that DNA. Just Kee’s luck she’s fallen in love with someone who doesn’t have the Merlin gene. Now she’ll never get magic. She’s afraid to tell her even her best friend, Devin, adopted by the Tremaines when he was nine, that she’s about to give up on her destiny.

Devin harbors a secret that’s driving him to leave the family for good. To repay them for their kindness, he vows to acquire the Talisman that can protect the Tremaines from their enemies, the Clan. And only Kee can keep him from making the ultimate sacrifice.

13 comments to How To Negotiate a Writing Life in 10 Easy Steps

  • Thanks for this! I especially like the thought on acknowledging ones fear after the first draft. That really speaks to me along with not giving into others opinions. I’ve been working on my story for so long and get sidetracked versus plugging through & addressing in a edits. So inefficient. Also the “day job” and life interfer that lends to my excuses, where I need to negotiate better. Thanks again, great article!

  • I love this, Susan, because it puts the power firmly back where it belongs – within OUR hands!

    I wish all WITS readers a productive and successful 2014! If you read Fae’s post about the Year of the Horse, you know it’s just waiting for you!

  • Terrific suggestions for a very common problem. Thanks for sharing, Susan.

  • Holly Robinson

    This is great–I love seeing such a practical approach to creativity, because it makes it seem possible to live a creative life. Nice post.

  • I just vowed to lose weight after a doctor’s visit on Sat. Then I saw your blog this morning. As they say, “shit happens,” and my life the past two and half years as been an outhouse. Ha! But when I saw those digits on the scale keep blinking up and up, it woke me up. Only I can take the bull by the horns. I think, like you said recognizing the obstacles are the biggest share of this writing gig or anything else worth doing. Your blog reminded me that getting a plan to get my act together will help every other aspect of my life too. 🙂 Thanks

  • Susan, I’m taking a class with Margie Lawson right now called, “Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors” (it’s AWESOME) and this post speaks directly to that.

    When I was in sales, we had a saying that “No” was actually “Yes, later.” It’s a good idea to keep that in mind when you’re new to negotiating. Don’t give up too easily if it’s something you really want. 🙂

  • Glad people are finding this useful. I think many people understand how negotiating works in their profession life. But we don’t understand that it applies to our personal life as well, and it’s actually harder to do it there, because we care about the issues more and emotion gets in the way… And our writing life is both professional AND personal, so it gets tricky. Now, I negotiated an afternoon of writing for myself, and I’m not going to fritter it away! I’ll check in later.
    Susan

  • Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    Something I need to work on for sure 🙂

  • Absolutely a must! Great tips, Susan, thanks!

  • Thanks Susan, this is really helpful advice. We all struggle with allocating our time to the numerous calls it sustains. I have my list.

  • #6 is so important, especially if you have little ones. Hubby still doesn’t understand that I’m less spontaneous and will sometimes pass on a movie or dinner to reach my goals. Thanks for the awesome list! Already retweeted but tweeting again.

  • julielrobinson

    Thank you for this article! It felt like you knew my deepest, darkest secrets. It’s a printable keeper I will refer back to it when I’m falling behind.
    Your novel’s premise has a fascinating concept.

  • Robyn, #6 is the one that requires self-examination, so of course it’s one of the most difficult. It’s actually hardest, I think, to decide what you WON’T give up. Because we all say, “I’m never watching TV again so I can write.” But is that realistic? It’s just like those diets where you vow to eat only grapefruit for six weeks. Is that really going to happen? Nope. You have to set goals that GRADUALLY get you where you want to go. Pick something smaller (remember, I wrote a lot of books on two evenings a week and Saturday) and be successful rather than promising the world and coming up short.
    Susan