The Big Picture And What You’re Not Doing

Time Management and the Big PictureRecently, I started feeling more and more stressed about time management. As if I were constantly failing to do something important, but I didn’t know what it was.

This feeling persisted despite that the last month has been one of my most productive.

If you’ve ever felt like the proverbial hamster on the hamster wheel, moving your legs faster and faster but not getting anywhere, you understand.

So what to do?

The Big Picture And The Long List

Most of us have a long To Do list. If you work for yourself — or you're pursuing writing alongside another full-time endeavor — your list, like mine, probably includes a lot of projects and tasks.

Every month I choose two or three goals to focus on. Then each week I put the tasks that will help me achieve those goals at the top of my list. The remaining tasks I feel okay about carrying over another week if I need to.

Buffy and the Art of Story Season OneThat’s how I achieved my goals for April and May. I reached the halfway point in the first draft of my latest mystery novel. On the nonfiction side, I published Buffy And The Art Of Story Season One: Writing Better Fiction By Watching Buffy. And I improved the return on investment for my Amazon and BookBub Dashboard advertising.

Yet I felt pressured. And stressed.

Checking The Boxes

Feeling that type of pressure isn’t new to me. When I ran my own law practice I often felt that way. I was fortunate enough to have so much work that I was always busy. Too busy. Looking back, I can think of a lot of things I might have done to better manage that workload and lower my stress.

But after thinking it through, I couldn't see that any of those solutions made sense for my author business. So at first I thought my law practice experience had nothing to teach me now.

Until I listened to Joanna Penn’s recent podcast episode The 7-Figure One Person Creative Business With Elaine Pofeldt. In talking about one-person businesses (and what else is an author?), Pfeldt said that a lot of people scramble “from one project to the next.”

She went on to point out: “If you're always in that mindset, your business will not grow and you'll never have a very peaceful business.”

During that same interview, Joanna Penn noted that she is someone who likes lists and crossing things off of them (as do I), and sometimes that gets in the way of the big picture.

That’s when it hit me. Yes, I feel more peaceful these days because I love writing so much and find it less stressful than a full-time law practice. But my author business still can’t grow if all I ever focus on is getting the next project done.

Because feeling happy about writing and using time well requires more than simply hitting a word count goal or publishing the next book.

What You’re Not Doing

I went back to my “I don’t know” feeling. And realized that was the big picture issue I needed to tackle. To be more specific, I needed to set aside some time to learn more so I could figure out which projects on my list made sense and what I might want to add or change.

If I didn't do that, I'd just keep on with one project after another. Yes, after another year or two I'd have more books on my shelf to sell, and that's good. But what did that add up to? More to the point, what did I want it to add up to?

I've got resources to help me figure that out. An email folder labeled “Industry Items To Read” full of messages and articles about writing and publishing. Three video courses I paid for and only partially completed.

But I hadn't set aside time to read or watch or learn.

And every time I saw those folders with those materials, I felt that sense of pressure. That feeling that despite all the projects completed, I was missing something. So I blocked Saturday afternoons in my calendar solely for education. And on the very first Saturday, as soon as I started my three hours on course materials, the feeling of pressure eased.

If you’re feeling stressed about time, ask yourself if there’s something significant you’re not doing that might help you chart a new course, change direction, or improve your writing or business on a big picture level. If there is, carving out time for it might just help you manage the rest of your workload.

That’s all for now –

L.M. Lilly

P.S. So much of my creativity and productivity has been inspired by online courses I took from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. You can check them out here. While I'm an affiliate and get a small fee if you opt to take one, that doesn’t change the price to you.

Think Small To Overcome Writing Fears

When I ask people what stops them from writing a novel, they often tell me about their fears. Fear of success, fear of being judged, fear of failure.

While there's no one-size-fits-all way to conquer fear, I've found one approach nearly always helps:

Think Small.

The Small Picture

Eight years out of college I decided to attend law school at night while working full time. I talked to an acquaintance who'd gone to law school the same way, and he gave me the best advice I ever got.

He told me to think only about what I needed to do for the semester I was in, and to forgot about how I was going to get through the entire four years. That would be overwhelming, he said.

I realized he was right. I had already decided to go to law school, so I knew where the finish line was. And all I could really affect was my work in each class as I took it. Which meant there was no point in looking too far ahead.

The same advice applies to writing.

Once you decide to write a novel, thinking too much about how much time it will take, whether you know enough about writing to finish it, or whether anyone will like it when it's done undermines your motivation.

One Scene At A Time

No one writes a novel in one sitting.

Now and then you hear a story about someone hiding away for a few weeks or a month and banging out a best seller. Maybe it's true. And maybe those stories are missing something — such as the author is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who wrote 8 novels before and spent 2 months outlining this one.

The point is, however quickly or slowly you write, every novel is written one scene at a time. (Or, literally, a word, line, or page at a time.)

So if you find yourself worrying about whether you can finish a novel before you've started, ask yourself if you can write one scene that might belong in that novel. Or, if that feels overwhelming, one paragraph that might fit into a scene that might fit into your novel.

Breaking it down that way makes it easier to find time to write. And, perhaps more important, to enjoy writing and let go of what others might think of the finished product. And if you decide later a scene isn't working, it's easy to change, cut, or move it around in your story.

Plotters, Pantsers, and Writing Fears

I fall somewhere between a plotter – someone who maps out the entire novel in advance – and a pantser. A panster, also known as a discovery writer, wings the whole writing process.

For me, knowing the key plot turns before I write speeds my process and alleviates my fears about finishing, as I know where I'm headed.

But regardless how much you plan, you still can only write a scene at a time. For that reason, if I'm in the middle of one scene and have an idea for another, I type a quick note to myself about it in boldfaced brackets, then keep going with the current scene.

That note often becomes the starting point for my next writing session or my next scene.

Give it a try and see whether thinking small helps.

That's all for now. Until next time –

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you want to try out the plot turns and story structure I've found helpful, download these free story structure worksheets.