My name is Julie, and I'm a recovering plate-juggler.
And by "recovering," I mean I couldn't even get my 30-day chip in this program. I have serious trouble with taking on far more than I can handle, and my list of ideas and projects rivals St. Nick's naughty-nice list.
Are you in the program too? How well are you doing?
Most writers have more story or marketing ideas than they have time for. If we don't intentionally prioritize, the urgent or the easy or the involves-others projects will weed out what we most want to accomplish.
Last week, I was excitedly talking to someone about a new opportunity, and it wasn't until a day or two later that I realized I needed to pass. As cool as their idea was, it would take time and effort away from other projects I'm doing—projects that are more meaningful to me.
We simply have to say "no" to some projects so that we can say "yes" to others.
Do you even know how much is on your plate? You may not realize how many projects you've taken on if you haven't taken stock.
Take inventory of what obligations you currently have, what projects you're working on, what you have planned, and what you'd like to do. You can make a list, a visual map, or a spreadsheet—whatever works for you. Also consider what other daily activities engage your time.
Are you spending time where you really want? What could you offload? What could you add from your "like to do" list instead?
Get a clearer picture of where you are now to figure out where you want to go.
For the last few years, I've tried to follow the principle of "if one comes in, one goes out." So to take on a new project, I must push an existing one off my plate. That could involve finishing a current project—book published, conference over, etc.—or letting go of something I'd planned to do.
We have finite resources. There's only 24 hours in the day, 7 days a week, and you have to sleep, eat, and groom yourself in there somewhere. (Though grooming may be optional when up against an immediate deadline.) Unless and until you figure out how to clone yourself, you have to work with what you have.
If you're already up to your eyeballs, one more project will drown you. Commit to the principle of One In, One Out.
Or, for some us, it should be One In, Two Out. But let's start with a step in the right direction.
How do you decide what comes in and what goes out? What if you love all of your current projects AND the one that's just come up?
Ask yourself: What's my your overall writing goal? Why am I writing?
Not every potential idea or project will meet your goals equally. For example, if you want to make X amount of money in the next year, you prioritize tasks that could bring immediate sales—like more books out the door, marketing new or existing books, redesigning your website. If you want to publish traditionally, you might prioritize polishing your best manuscript, attending events with agents and editors, getting submissions out. If you want to develop your craft... Well, you get the point.
Look at each project honestly and ask how it furthers your primary writing goal(s). If something sounds good but doesn't make the cut in this analysis, cut it for real. Make space for what matters.
If you still feel overwhelmed and don't know where to say no, ask the people who support you—family, friends, fellow writers, therapist. Whoever has your back in this writing gig, request their feedback on where to focus your efforts.
My husband has been invaluable to me in this. I will often go to him and say, "Hey, I have this great opportunity!" Almost before the words leave my mouth, he's smiling but asking, "So what you going to give up to do this new thing?" Hmm. Good question, sage fellow.
Then I process through my options with him, close friends, siblings, or whomever is the best one to ask on that particular project. But I'm forced to think through the pros and cons while hearing their great advice, from a perspective often more objective than my own.
So if you're on the fence, involve your peeps. They'll help you land on one side or the other. (Even if they have to push you.)
Do you have too many projects up in the air? How do you decide what to keep and what to quit?
Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® and is now on sale! When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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Julie, this is a great reminder of how to keep one's sanity. My husband is like yours - he knows before I do when a project will push me over the edge. Part of it, I'm sure, is that he doesn't want to be the one picking up the pieces when I fall apart!
Ah, that's true! If I'm overwhelmed and super-stressed, my husband feels the stress too, and he'd like to avoid that. Glad you have him to bounce your ideas off.
I know this in theory. My mom told me years ago that "no" was a legitimate word. I'm now at the age my body can't keep up with my "want to." Thanks so much for the reminder.
Good advice from your mom! But even though "no" is just two letters, it can be such a hard word to say.
I suck at least as bad at this as you, possibly worse. My problem is, I’m distracted easily by bright shiny things. What I have on my list is boring but, oh, look! I’m not sure there’s any hope for me at all.
When you're thinking of doing something new, you could always call me and I could yell NO! into the phone. Lol.
Hahahaha! I'm laughing at both of you. Shiny is definitely hard to resist over "boring." And Julie, you can call me and yell NO too. I could use a friendly service like that. 🙂
I mapped out my priorities and the goals to achieve them as I read your article.
Many, many thanks!
Aw, how nice that this really helped you! I've noticed a big difference just by writing everything out so I can look at it more objectively. Best wishes with your list, Judith!
The "one in one out" really works for me too, Julie, as does the "set priorities." With these two I can usually stay sane! :O)
"Usually sane" is our goal! Sounds like you're doing great. 🙂
I try to do one in, one out with physical things, like paper books, clothes, and shoes. But I REALLY need to do it with writing and business projects, too.
That principle has been a lifesaver for me! Hope it helps you too, Laurie.
Julie, I'm a day late, bu I wanted to say thank you. "One in one out" may just may get me through the holiday season.
I said no to a small editing job last weekend because I needed to put me first.
I need to do that more.
Hello, My name is John and I am a plate juggler. "Hi John!" It has been two weeks since I accepted a new project. "Applause." It is definitely a balancing act for SURE. I have learned to say pass more and more. Thanks for this Julie. One in and One out!