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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making sure you have a life

Yesterday on the Pink Heart Society, new author Mira Kelly blogged about deadlines and how suddenly she could not do the things she wanted to. Writing had become a job rather than a hobby and this meant changes and have to forgo things because of deadlines. Lots of people are sympathetic but I wanted to put my head in my hands and go ARGH!

When you write, there is always talk of deadlines. Some authors get so het up about deadlines that they forget to have a life and this can lead to burn out, particularly if they have overestimated the number of books they can produce a year. Over production is a good way to get writer's block and burn out. Burn out is something that all authors want to avoid.

Some deadlines are movable feasts and others are precise. Before your book is accepted, in general, deadlines are movable if you speak to your editor in advance. After your book is accepted and you are dealing with things like Dear Reader letters, and Author Alterations (aka copy editors) deadlines are cast in stone. You miss them, these things are not included in the book.
The trick is knowing which is which and speaking with your editor.

The editors do know about burn out. They are human. They understand that authors go on holiday. They go on holiday as well and surprise, surprise they do not take manuscripts to read! They would be appalled if you took work, sat in a hotel room in some exotic location and wrote, ignoring your family. One hotel room looks very much like another. There are no prizes for being masochistic. In fact the cemeteries are full of people who were going to take a break but never got around to it.
In fact, if you speak to your editor and tell her that you are going and when, she will attempt to make sure you do not have work. She will tell you to step away from the computer. The last thing she wants is a productive author to become unproductive because she forgot to have a life.
Equally life circumstances change. For example -- illness and other serious stress can through your work into a spin.

Communication with your editor is key when you are on a multiple book contract. She wants to know if there are problems because she can help. She can also help more before rather than after the fact. Editors are not going to drop you because you take a holiday. They want your books. There are always more places in the schedule for an author whose voice they love.

With writing, you do need to prioritise and if you need to be at your children's play -- schedule it and go! You will probably be more productive for having taken a break. You will feel less guilty and while you watch or have dinner or whatever, your mind works. You might even solve that intractable problem.
Equally you have to learn to say -- no, this request is going to eat into my scheduled writing time. Scheduling your writing time is important. If you are going to schedule class plays etc, then you also have to schedule your writing time. Block out the time. Ring fence it but be flexible for things that take high priority. Let your family know your schedule.
Communication is key. Learn to make priorities. Simplify your life. Decide what is important and what is a time waster/eating into your time.
If you start constantly avoiding the manuscript, you have to ask why. The reason is probably several fold. You may have also over written a theme. Writers typically enjoy writing certain themes. When they become overmined, writing can suffer. You might have to start writing other themes. Or it may have to do with you taking a wrong turn, or some other problem. It may not have to do with all your other obligations. Be honest. Is it your work or your outside obligations? Sometimes you do hit a dry patch. It is far better to turn out a good book than to churn.

So have a life. Stop blaming deadlines. Learn how to set priorities and schedule. It is part of the bit about working for yourself. It is in your hands. Organisational skills count.


Jackie Ashenden said...

Interesting post, Michelle. Thanks for a glimpse of what life might be like after you get that first book accepted. It's difficult to see beyond that to what happens next but it's definitely something you have to take into account.
Life doesn't get any easier just because you're published! :-)

Michelle Styles said...

Jackie --
Before I sold and probably just after, I never worried about burning out etc. But it is a big concern. I have seen it happen.
And I have had my editors tell me time and again -- never to work on holiday.

michellewillingham said...

This is SO TRUE. I have met many, many authors who have burned out. I do think that your imagination can be a fragile thing, and we have to protect it.

I've often found that when I take a vacation, I am mentally more energized and I write faster than when I'm tired. It's necessary to take breaks. Just because you CAN write 4-5 books a year doesn't mean you SHOULD. :D

Donna Alward said...

LOL I didn't read Mira's post the same way you did, I don't think. Though I do agree with what you've said. Burn out is no good! You have to know your limits.

I think that with the validation of publication there comes a sense of responsibility. It can be a subtle or a big mental shift depending on the person. On one hand, I found it easier to "justify" writing time because it's my job now. On the other hand, sometimes I know I have to say no to things because I just have to get word count, etc.

It's all a balancing act, isn't it!

But I have definitely learned that sometimes the most productive time is the time you spend away from the computer! :-)

Michelle Styles said...

Ah Donna -- it was the line *But the deadline is in two days. And if I don’t hit it, there’s a ripple effect that goes well beyond me—to my editor, the artists, the other authors, the other lines etc…* that caused this post.

Basically, no. If someone misses a deadline, it does not cause problems for other authors or other lines. They operate independantly.
It might make things difficult for editors if you miss without letting them know, but that is all. They are used to coping. IN most lines, there is a surplus of stock.
With artists -- editors will fill out the art fact sheets if time is tight and they know a story will be delivered. Sometimes it is filled out way before the story accepted because editorial has other priorities. But mostly it is only after a story is accepted.
For the most part, it is only the author who feels it if she has to extend a deadline. It is why talking to your editor about difficulties is important.

Donna Alward said...

Yeah, you're right about the ripple effect. There is usually time before it has to be in copy edits- and it's that copy edit slot that is crucial!

I agree that it takes a lot of stress away to simply talk to your editor. And there is a huge difference between "could I have the weekend" and "It's going to be x months late". LOL.

Lucy King said...

A great reassuring post! I think for a new writer (at least for me) you kind of think delivery deadlines are set in stone, and that if you miss one somehow you've failed. Especially if you don't really know how the process works once your book has been accepted (which I don't - hmm, must ask ed).

I think it's also important to realise that productivity isn't a competition. Sometimes it's a bit scary seeng some writers producing 6 bks a year, when you only write 2!

Michelle Styles said...

I'm pleased you found it reassuring Lucy. If it helps one person to relax, it has done its job.
And I know what you mean about competition. But everyone has their own level of writing. The editors do not want to have burn out and unless you are a special person, writing six books a year can really take its toll. Do what you can and concentrate on writing the best story possible. BUt do talk with your editor. Communication is key.