I’m writing to you poolside from a hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. My family drove down from Colorado last Friday to watch my high school sophomore run in the Nike SW Cross Regional XC race–an annual post-season event for his very talented cross country team. We decided to turn his race into a family vacation this year and stay in the warmth until the kids have to return to school next week.

So, what’s the point of this story, and what does it have to do with writing? Well, the catch is, while I’d love to just hang out at the pool all day, or play volleyball with my daughter, or watch SpongeBob with my seven-year-old, as usual, I have work to do. I promised myself, as always, that I wasn’t going to work over vacation. But, as always, I have no choice. Deadlines loom, and somehow or another, the work must get done.

So instead of a happy-go-lucky, carefree vacation, I’m spending my time trying to achieve a balance between working and spending fun, quality time with my family. I try hard to avoid having my kids’ (and my own, for that matter) memories of our vacations include me always having laptop or pad of paper within reach.

Since I’ve in no way yet mastered this dilemma, I’d really enjoy hearing from some of you who’ve been able to win the struggle of being a writer on vacation. In the meantime, here are some ideas I’m toying with at the moment:

1. Set aside a definite, particular time every day for work. This way, everyone will know what times are off-limits for Mom and can work around my schedule accordingly. But, what if something we’ve already planned ends up interfering with this allotted time?

2. Wait for everyone else’s moments of downtime to sneak in some work. This is actually what I’m doing now, but, what if my four other family members’ downtimes don’t always coincide?

3. Don’t worry about it; just enjoy my vacation, and work nonstop when I get home. Possible, but then I’d have all the stress of hitting all my deadlines once I return home, which of course, would make my vacation stressful simply thinking about it!

I apologize for whining, but you can see my dilemma–and why I need your help! I also apologize that this isn’t much of an instructional post–actually, I’m hoping to learn from you! Managing the writing life isn’t always easy. Freelancing can be tough because you ten to always be on the clock–no matter how hard you try not to. But, on the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for being able to work in your bathing suit next to a pool if you wish. I doubt that I would trade it for anything!

Until next week when I’ve returned home and hopefully, everything’s returned to normal.

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One comment I’ve had about my blog since starting it just a couple of months ago is how the subscriber enjoys that it’s for writers who “have” to write as well as for those who do it for the sheer enjoyment of it. If you’ve noticed my tag line, it reads, “Encouraging and equipping those who love to write. Rescuing those who don’t.” Consider this post a rescue post.

More and more, as companies cut back on their work force and try to do more with less, people who never had to write on their jobs are now finding that they have to. And for those who have been promoted into management positions, they suddenly find themselves staring down deadlines for reports, company memos, and executive-level communications on a regular basis.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of time. How do you now make time for the on-the-job writing that’s required of you and still squeeze all your “normal” work functions in? Here are a few tips that may help:

• Just as I always encourage the at-home novelists, block off your writing time. This is obviously harder at work, when you have meetings to get to and fires to put out, but as best as you can, schedule in an hour a day (more if you need to) where you do nothing but write. It’s a lot easier to write effectively and efficiently for a continuous period of time than to keep having to start back up after you’ve been interrupted with other tasks.

Capitalize on downtime. This could take the form of commute time, lunch time, or while you’re waiting on others to arrive for a meeting. Begin looking for opportunities to write, or at least, jot down ideas related to what you need to write. Always be prepared to write, as you never know when the perfect opening statement for your sales letter may hit you.

Work with your supervisors to carve out the time needed for your writing projects. Be realistic as you discuss with them how long it takes to properly prepare a sales report or write a compelling letter to a potential client. Review the process and time line with them and see what kind of daily time you can negotiate into your schedule strictly for writing.

Train others to help you. With some correspondence, you can almost use a template and simply change the names and dates involved. For such documents, construct an appropriate original and then train someone else to tweak the writing to fit the situation at hand. You will have to review it, of course, before it goes out, but at least it will save you some valuable writing time.

Take writing classes. This may not seem like a good solution for saving time, but in the long run it will. The more you learn about how to write properly, the easier writing will come to you, and therefore, the less time it will take you to write effectively. Writing classes are available at community colleges, through workforce seminars, and online. Choose those that are specific to your needs so you can zero in on trouble spots. You might even be able to talk your company into picking up the tab! I’m hoping to have some online writing courses available through this blog during 2010, so keep your eyes open for that!

Don’t forget to stop back next Monday, January 25, for Part 2 of Monica Cane’s guest blog post.

When it comes to writing, I find I work best when I’m organized. I know most creative types thrive on chaos and clutter, but typically, even these personalities like some order to their lives occasionally. In addressing issues of organization, I’d like to zero in on time, space, and materials.

• I’ve talked about time management in earlier posts, so here I’ll simply reiterate that the best way to organize your time is to block off chunks of it on a daily and weekly basis. Within these chunks you should have family time, time allotted to specific writing projects (along with how much time you plan to devote to each), time for fitness, time for educating yourself on industry matters and your craft, and so forth.

As much as you probably want to just “go with  the flow,” having a schedule will really help keep you on track so you don’t end up wasting your time. And…remember to build in some margin for those days when nothing seems to go your way!

• Another key area for organization is your work space. It’s critical to have some sort of dedicated space for writing. This doesn’t mean you have to have an office with a door. But you do need a stationary location so you won’t have to continually move your work from place to place. Make sure this space is as conducive to writing as possible–good lighting, close to materials and tools you need, and quiet (if you need quiet).

• Within your work space, you’ll need to properly organize your materials. I recommend a file cabinet, plenty of manila folders, and accordion files or large, expandable envelopes. Everyone will organize their work differently, but I can tell you what’s been effective for me. I keep manila folders for each project I’m working on, or if there’s one project that is particularly large (this would apply to novels or large nonfiction works) I will use accordion-style folders to organize the work into smaller chunks, yet still keep it all together.

It helps me immensely to have everything at my fingertips when I need it so I don’t have to waste time trying to find things. With everything in different folders, I just pull the folder I need from the file cabinet, and all my work for that one project is all together. Along these lines, it’s helpful to keep whatever research materials or resources you need in one place. I have my writing books organized by frequency of use,  so the ones I most often refer to are always close at hand.

Aside from organizing your writing projects, you’ll also need a good system for keeping track of clients and publishers. I recommend using both an electronic spreadsheet as well as hard copy backups to track your submissions, contracts, queries, invoices sent, and payments. This is information you definitely do not want to lose.

Another tip for keeping materials organized is to set up some type of inbox or bin for papers you don’t want to deal with immediately. If you keep all these together in one place, none will get lost. Then it’s just a matter of occasionally going through your bin to file them or respond to them.

Speaking of going through papers…it’s so important to schedule regular times to organize and clear out your work space and files. Get in the habit of regularly re-prioritizing projects, sorting through your industry magazines and newsletters, and cleaning up your emails and electronic files. It’s very hard to get caught up on this once you fall behind. Then the task becomes so monumental, you never want to start. Ask me how I know!

Hopefully, this will help you get a jump start on organizing as we head into a new year. I’d love to hear about any tips or methods you have for staying organized!

Next time, I’ll look at how to juggle part-time writing with a full-time job.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2010!

In my last post I offered an overview of some various areas of our lives as writers that we often struggle with, and promised I would tackle them each in detail over the next few posts. Today, I’d like to take a look at one, which, in my opinion, is the most important one we face: balancing our writing lives with our family time. Juggling the two most important aspects of our lives is never easy, but it can be done. I certainly do not yet have this down to a science, but over the years, I’ve discovered a few “rules” that, when followed, can create peace of mind with this balancing act.

  • Work out a schedule with your family that will help you most effectively work around your family. Talk to your family before you schedule your work hours. By getting a general consensus upfront regarding what the best schedule will be for everyone, balancing your time with family down the road will become easier.
  • Set definite hours for yourself, then leave your work in the office when your work day is done. For me, this has become the most difficult rule to actually follow. When you work from home as I do, it’s too easy to do “just one more thing.” Having tough, consistent boundaries here, however, is very important, especially if you have children at home who are expecting you to be available when you promised you would be.
  • Pre-warn your family of upcoming tight deadlines or other anomalies to your schedule. By now, they probably realize writing is not a “regular” job and can have its share of crunch times. Instead of just locking yourself in your office for weeks on end with no one knowing why, alert them to your deadlines ahead of time and let them know you need to temporarily adjust your schedule. If you have young children, you may also want to reward their patience during this time by promising some quality time with them once your schedule is back to normal.
  • If you work a regular full-time job in addition to writing, limit your writing hours to a certain amount each day, and try to schedule your time so it’s most convenient for your family. I’ll address this issue more in an upcoming post that looks specifically at juggling part-time writing with full-time work, but for now, let’s just say that your writing time may not be an optimum time of day for you. I know writers who get up at the crack of dawn just to get an extra hour of writing time in before they head off for work and then squeeze another hour or so in after their kids have gone to bed. This way, they’re still in touch with their families, and they’re still writing. They’re just not sleeping! But…sometimes you just have to do whatever you have to do to make something work.

These are just a few starters, and I’m sure you have your own that have worked well for you and your family. The most important aspect of making any rule is to enforce it. Once you’ve established time boundaries and set a schedule for your writing, be sure to keep it. Your family will thank you!

What’s the first thing you do when you turn your computer on in the morning? Check email? Scan the news headlines? Log onto Facebook or another social network? Have you ever stopped to actually log the amount of time spent on the above activities or similar activities during the course of your day?

Time management is probably one of the most difficult aspects of a writer’s job, especially freelance writers who work from home. With never-ending deadlines and typically several projects being juggled at once,  having a time-management plan becomes critical.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered that help keep me on track:

1. Log your time. When you first attempt to get a plan together, spend the  first week logging how much time you’re spending on various activities. If you’re like me and you have small children at home, the time you spend with them would get included in your log. Track  actual writing time, family time, marketing time, time spent emailing and Facebooking–everything. Do this for a whole week to get an average of how much time you spend on each activity during a typical work day.

2. Eliminate time wasters. When I worked as a commissioned retail associate, I would sometimes get customers who asked question after question about a product, wanting to know every minute detail. They continued to act very interested, so I appeased them. Then, after  sabotaging my time with other customers, they’d decide they’d have to “think about it.” These people were affectionately called “time wasters.”

So what are time wasters for the writer? Continually checking email or a social networking account while you’re writing, answering your phone and/or texting, and, in general, getting caught up in any nonwriting distraction. This is the main reason for logging your activities. Find out exactly where your time is going and which activities you can eliminate or drastically decrease to free up your time.

3. Block your time. I find it more difficult to write when I only get 15 or 20 minutes here and there, although I’ve learned to capture every possible moment I can.  It’s much more effective to block off hours at a time to do nothing but write. Then have other hours devoted to marketing and promoting your work. Block more time for blog and website maintenance, and additional time for reading and returning emails. You’ll have to test your time blocks for a while to see what’s realistic, but it’s better than grabbing time whenever you get it,  because most likely, you won’t ever get it.

4. Make daily and weekly plans. At the beginning of your week,  plan everything you hope to/need to accomplish during that week. Next, break the plan down into daily chunks, leaving yourself some cushion for life’s inevitable emergencies and distractions. Each evening prioritize the  following day’s list. If you’ve come to the end of your day and your list is not as exhausted as you are, move the remaining items to the next day, making sure they are top priority.

5. Take advantage of downtime. Even though you may feel like you have zero downtime, you can capture more than you know. You just have to be creative! I have learned to use time spent in the carpool line at school, time in the library while my kids are book browsing, time at Chuck E. Cheese–any place where I don’t have to be actively involved in an activity–to get productive.

I’ll typically use this time to catch up on industry reading, jot down ideas for writing pieces I’m working on, organize outlines, etc. I usually need extreme quiet to actually write, so I have to save that  for my office, but there’s a lot of preliminary work I can do from anywhere.

Don’t you just feel more organized already?

For tips on building cushion and rest into your busy schedule, see this week’s Inspirations blog.