In 2012, I published my debut novel with Red Adept Publishing. I had no idea how much my life would change. As a result of this book, I’ve written four additional books, I’m starting my fifth. MY FIFTH. When I say it out loud, it feels crazy to me.
Writing is now part of my job. I still keep a day job, but I’ve pared down to part time to give some time to my family. On Monday and Friday mornings, I sit in a quiet office at a computer and write down as many words as I can. Some of those words are related to my manuscript.
But precious few.
Why? Because as a published writer, the demands on your time triple. Quadruple. Whatever comes after quadruple. I had no idea it would be like this: that I would eventually end up spending more time being busy than actually writing. I call it all “writing-related”, and it’s true, but never before have I needed such self-discipline.
A few months ago, I wrote a post here called How to Get Out of the Dreaded Slump. The last bullet of this post was about setting limits and this really seemed to resonate with people: it’s the thing I still battle with every. Single. Day. I have four things that kill my time. They are necessary, they are part of this job. They detract from writing, but I wouldn’t have a career without them. They still need to be kept in check.
1. Social Media
O.M.G. I could tell you to unplug. I could tell you to limit it to one hour a day. I could tell you pick one and focus on it. We all know that none of us are doing that. We’re here to stay: on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Goodreads. But here’s the thing: you have to find a manageable middle ground. Yes, my name is Kate and I am addicted to social media. I love it. I adore it. Sometimes it causes me physical pain (let’s blame the election). I could (and have!) dither away a day and have nothing to show for it at the end. If you string two days together like this (or more), you’re sinking fast. Here’s what I’ve done: I’ve picked a few communities on Facebook to focus on. Mine happens to be Tall Poppies, Great Thoughts and WFWA. I learned to use Tweetdeck and I make lists of people who I interact with. If people interact with me or they make me laugh they get listed. I ignore my feed. I post to my author page and try to get back to reply to comments. I tweet sporadically. I scroll through Instagram once a day (this is not a hardship, I LOVE Instagram). Social media, for me IS FUN. It must be controlled. Find what works for you and be vigilant with yourself. Check in throughout the day, but if you find your eyes glazing over and your scroll finger getting tired, back away from the computer. Go for a walk.
It seems like the moment your book is released, you start getting requests from other authors to read and blurb their book. Good news: people only tend to approach authors whose book they loved so, congratulations, you have a fan! It’s good juju to reach back and pull your friends up with you. But the sad fact is, blurbs don’t do a ton for the author or the blurber. And even sadder? They do almost nothing if you don’t share readership. I have science fiction author friends. I love them. They’re great people and good writers. Most women’s fiction readers do not delve into science fiction. For me to take a few days to read and blurb their book does nothing special for them: their readers have no idea who I am. They’re not impressed if I say it’s wonderful, no matter how many bestselling statuses I get. The exception to this is, of course, the mega giants: Stephen King, Danielle Steele. (Ahem, they’re not reading this post – they’re TOO BUSY!) If I say yes to this, I’m throwing away precious hours. I’m sorry. I love them, I do, but I have to say no. I will tweet and share their book and help in any other way I can. Say yes to blurbs that are in your genre, from authors you respect or want to know about, when you have the time to do so. Don’t say yes to every blurb.
3. Blog Posts
Like this one! I love writing for WITS because there’s such a robust community here. I get to meet new people, the comments section is always, always thriving. But, here’s the tough truth: anyone can have a blog. It’s true. I know it’s tempting to write a lot of content for precious little in the name of getting some air time, but unless the blog has a following, a community, or a recognizable name (Huffpost, Writer’s Digest, Writers in the Storm), I’ve really started to limit the amount of content I’ll write. Especially for free! Be selective about who and what you write for. Work on building a community with certain bloggers and focus your energies there. Writing thirty posts about craft for thirty different book bloggers nets you nothing but cramped fingers and a tired brain. And then when that big ticket publication comes calling, you’ll have maxed out all your blog ideas!
For me, this is my biggest time suck. I like to chat with other writers online. I like Facebook messenger. I like email. I like to hash out plot ideas and help others do the same. It’s not a time suck, it’s part of “the job”. In this job, I have no coworkers. No water cooler, no coffee room. Facebook messenger is my break room (there is no free chocolate here). That being said, if I left it unchecked, it would – and has – invaded my To-Do list. Everything is so instant now! There are people who really believe you need to respond a text message in under a few minutes or it’s rude. As though we’re sitting across the table from each other. I resist this theory. I will not stop talking to someone in person, ever, to answer a text message unless it’s from my husband or my house is on fire. I’ve had to explain this to A LOT of people in my life. These are my limits and not everyone will be happy with them.
5. All the other:
Phone calls. Events. Signings. Making cute little bookmarks and cards and business cards and postcards. Going to other author events. Meeting your social media friends in person. Meeting your editor, your agent, in person. Hustling for reviews. Thanking reviewers. Writing thank you cards. Writing up panel pitches. Appearing on panels at festivals and conferences. Developing workshops. Teaching workshops. Going to book clubs. Planning book club questions. GOING TO THE POST OFFICE, FOR THE LOVE OF DARK CHOCOLATE. The list is truly endless. Only you can determine what you do, what you forgo (for now), what you focus on at once. You cannot, and should not try to, do it all at the same time. Your priorities can and should change on a regular basis. For me, right now, while my kids are little, I do very little in-person events. A handful of signings a year, a con here or there. Because of that, I know very few local writers. In 2017, I’d like to get more seated in the local community, so it’s become a goal. Make priority lists and when something pops up (and it will, daily) that is not on your priority list, say “No, thank you not at this time”. You do not owe people an explanation. Be gracious, be humble. Be kind. But be firm in your no. I can’t tell you which things to focus on but I can tell you to not focus at all will burn you out. I have a friend who does not travel. I have a friend who does not blurb. I have a friend who does not do social media. I’m not saying you have to have absolutes like this, but if you are reading this it’s because you have not learned how to say “No, that’s not right for me at this time. But thank you so much for thinking of me.”
Here’s the thing: once you set limits, not everyone will be happy with you. THIS IS OKAY. PLEASE KNOW THAT THIS IS OKAY. Nothing has taught me this lesson more than being a writer. It’s been a huge growth phase for me. I have accidentally ignored people, made selective choices in who I spend a lot of time talking to, I have said no. I try to never, ever be rude or ungrateful. But sometimes, and I do think this is more a female thing, we try so so hard to make people like us. We will literally sacrifice our career at the altar of “like us please like us”.
The only way through the busy-ness and onto the business is to find your inner Sally Field and shut her up. With dark chocolate.
What is your biggest time suck? Any tips on how you control it?
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Kate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of the women’s fiction novel, Thought I Knew You. Her second novel Binds That Tie was released in March 2014. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.
She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like. Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.