Save Time And Let Your Novel Ideas Simmer

We've all stared at a blank screen or page unsure what to write next. For me, it's hardest if I'm starting a new novel and I'm out of ideas. Or I'm having trouble choosing which of my novel ideas to write about.

The concept of setting your ideas on the back burner to let them simmer can help.

Doing so does 3 things:

  1. Frees your creative mind by lowering stress
  2. Keeps you from getting stuck
  3. Uses your time well (especially if you're also working at another job or career)

Less Stressed And More Creative

The concept of putting ideas on the metaphorical back burner isn't original to me.

I got it from Don't Sweat The Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff: Simple Ways To Keep The Little Things From Taking Over Your Life. In that book, the author suggests that rather than racking your brain about a problem that makes you feel anxious, you should imagine setting it on the back burner of your mind to simmer.

That's because often the more you struggle for a solution, the more you reinforce anxiety rather than shifting your mindset to making things better.

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If you relax and let go of the problem, though, your unconscious mind is free to come up with creative answers.

In the same way, allowing ourselves to set aside concerns about finding the right idea frees our unconscious minds to sort through possibilities, make connections, and come up with entirely new thoughts.

Ones we never would have imagined if we sat staring at the blank screen.

On Time, On Schedule, And Unstuck

I'm a great believer in sticking to a writing schedule. That means if I carved out time to write, I do it whether I feel inspired or not.

If I'm not sure where to go next with my novel, though, or how to get it started, wracking my brain at the scheduled time doesn't usually help. So instead I imagine putting whatever part of my novel I'm struggling with on the back burner and turn to something else.

The something else could be a different writing project.

Maybe a short story a poem, or a chapter in nonfiction book. Ideally it's something I can easily pick up and put down.

If I really need to make progress on the novel to meet a deadline, though, I focus on a different part of it.

For example, let's say I'm stuck on the big picture idea for the next novel in my Q.C. Davis series. (The first one involved whether Quille's boyfriend committed suicide or was murdered. The second featured neighbors stuck in an apartment complex during a blizzard with a killer. The third relates to a self-help organization that has cult-like aspects.)

Right now I'm uncertain of the basic premise of the fourth book, but I can still make progress.

I might write about a new character I want to bring into the series. Or think about aspects of Chicago to highlight that haven't been in previous books. (One that will likely appear in Book 4 is the number of buildings that have multiple entrances and exits, allowing someone who knows them well to evade a pursuer.)

Writing about any of those points keeps me moving forward while leaving my unconscious mind to figure out who will be murdered and what the backdrop for story will be.

In this way, I'm more apt to stick to my writing schedule, reinforce my writing habit, and avoid getting stuck.

Using Your “Other” Work Time

The back burner concept also ensures that when you are working at another job or profession (or handling some other responsibility) you're still writing.

That's because even if your mind is completely absorbed in a non-writing task, your unconscious mind can imagine scenes, sort through plots, or generate completely new novel ideas.

You can help this process along by taking as little as five minutes before you start your day to choose a part of your novel to let simmer. Within a few days or a week new ideas or decisions will almost certainly pop into your mind.

When that happens it not only helps you make progress, it gets you more excited about your novel.

That's all for today. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. For more on lowering stress and improving creativity, you may want to check out my book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. Available in workbook and ebook editions.

Using Your Phone To Focus On Writing

Your phone can help you focus on writing or it can distract you.

The best way I've found to use it to focus is to consciously choose these 3 things:

  1. Where the phone will live while I write
  2. Who can reach me while I write
  3. How long I will write in one stretch

Where To Put Your Phone When You Write

Because you'll be using the phone's timer (more on that below), you'll need it to be somewhere close enough to hear. But don't keep the phone in the same room.

That's for two reasons.

First, studies show that having a phone within reach, even if it's turned off, lowers our mental capacity for other things. Some part of our brain is always listening for the phone.

This article about the McCombs School of Business study at the University of Texas at Austin puts it well:

The researchers found that participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.

My own experience bears this out.

When I leave the phone on the bookcase in the hallway outside my home office I feel much more focused and often forget about time passing. If the phone is within arm's length, though, my mind wanders often.

Second (you forgot there was a second didn't you?), putting the phone far enough away that I must get out of my chair to reach it ensures that I will move and stretch enough during my day.

Write Undisturbed

Most phones have a setting called Do Not Disturb (or sometimes No Interruptions).

This setting suppresses all alerts, including social media, and any notifications of texts, emails, and phone calls. When this setting is activated your phone will not ring, make any other noise, or vibrate.

You can customize the setting to allow calls from certain numbers or repeat calls from the same number to come through.

That way if, for instance, you're the person your aging grandmother depends on for a ride to the doctor, you won't miss her call.

Time To Focus On Writing

Now that you found a home for your phone and put it on Do Not Disturb, set its timer.

Choose a length of time to write that's short enough that you won't worry you're missing out or falling behind by not checking messages or social media or doing other tasks. But the block of time should be long enough that you can get something significant done on your current writing project.

For me, 30 minutes is ideal.

After 30 minutes, I walk over to the phone to shut it off. I then reset the timer for 3 to 5 minutes and stretch during that time. Doing so helps me alleviate aches and pains from sitting too long in one position. I also look at messages to be sure none require an immediate response.

If I still have time in my day to write, I reset the timer for 30 minutes.

You can repeat this process as many times as you want to. But even if you only write for one 15-30 minute block you will make progress.

That's all for today. Until next Friday —

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Not sure what to write during that 30 minutes? If you're having trouble getting your novel started or you're stuck in the middle, Super Simple Story Structure: a Quick Guide to Plotting and Writing Your Novel might be able to help. It's available for multiple e-book platforms, as an audiobook, and in a workbook edition.

Creating A Series Bible

Today I'm working on something I should have done, or at least started, a year and a half ago: a series bible.

A series bible is what it sounds like. One place where you keep everything you'll need to remember from one book to the next in your series.

But what should it include and what's the best way to create it?

What Should Be In Your Series Bible?

What to include varies with the genre of your series, but most topics fall into three general categories:

  • Characters
  • Settings
  • Styles

Characters

The character section or sections of the Bible usually includes multiple sub-categories. Below are few ideas. You may add more or drop some that for you feel unnecessary:

  • Appearance
  • Health
  • Family
  • Other Key Relationships
  • Habitual ways the character speaks (style or subject matter or both)
  • Work
  • Education
  • Key character traits
  • Backstory
  • Religion
  • Greatest Fears, Desires, Regrets
  • Current and past residences

Here's part of mine for Quille C. Davis, the protagonist in my Q.C. Davis series:

Chart of Recurring Characters for Q.C. Davis Mystery/Suspense Series

One tip I picked up from Author Lorna Faith in her article on the topic is to split out lists of characters. For example, you could have one for main characters and one for secondary characters.

I've started splitting mine by recurring characters, characters that appear in each specific book only, and characters that the short stories features. (I write short stories that fit between the novels to explore side character and side plots. Those stories are available to newsletter subscribers as a bonus.)

Setting Subcategories

Settings also may include sub-categories and may need to be quite extensive depending on what type of book you're writing. Here are a few:

  • Settings for specific scenes (such as a coffee shop, your character's home, a cave)
  • Locations (such as a particular city, country, planet)
  • Timeframe (especially key with historical fiction)
  • World-building  (special powers and other special rules of the world, history, culture)

At first I thought I'd just remember settings because my Q.C. Davis series is set for the most part in present-day Chicago where I live.

But now that I am on my third novel and am about to write the third short story, I've discovered details aren't so easy to recall.

Does Quille's favorite cafe have a fireplace? Is her friend Joe's condo in Chicago's West Loop or River North neighborhood? Did I talk about how Chicago streets are laid out on a grid before?

Style And Consistency

Tracking your styles to ensure you are consistent can help both your writing and your marketing.

Style includes how you name, format, and spell certain key things. Within your stories, you'll want to be consistent in things like whether you italicize names of books or movies characters mention. Also, how you spell a character's name. (I kept forgetting if a character names Carole Ports uses the “e” at the end or not.)

Style matters for marketing, too.

As I'm setting up the preorder for The Fractured Man, Book 3 in my series, I realized Book 1 on Kobo had the series name as “Q.C. Davis” and Book 2 as “Q.C. Davis Mystery”.  On another platform one of the books was missing a sub-title.

Nothing like making it harder for your readers to find the books!

Creating And Formatting Your Bible

I'm using tables in Word to save my information, but there are lots of options.

You might prefer other programs like Srivener, which has many options for creating bulletin boards and categories, or spreadsheets on a program like Excel. You could also hand write pages and put them in a binder, use index cards, or create a chart on posterboard on your wall.

The key is what will make it easiest for you to find the information you want quickly.

I suspect I'll eventually print the separate Word tables and put them into a tabbed binder. The Word doc will be good for searching for particular terms. The paper binder will be good for paging through for ideas or reminders.

One last tip: Color coding by book or story is a great way to remember when you introduced a particular character, setting, or fact.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about when (and when not) to use adverbs

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you're struggling with fleshing our your characters, you might find my book Creating Characters From The Inside Out helpful. It comes in workbook and ebook editions.

How Free Time Increases Productivity

As my many productivity articles suggest, I lean towards scheduling my work tasks in advance. It helps me focus and cut down on the time I spend each day trying to decide what to do next.

But free time matters too.

In fact, planning unscheduled time in each day (another tip I picked up from the book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours) can help you get more done and feel less stressed.

How does scheduling free time help you get more done? In three ways:

  • It makes room for unexpected tasks
  • You can pursue ideas that excite you in the moment
  • It opens time to consider the big picture

Free Time For The Unexpected

One reason to reserve free time in your work day or writing schedule is that things always come up that you didn't expect.

It might be something you wish you didn't need to do but that's vital.

Maybe your boss throws a new project at you. Or a longtime customer calls with a complaint. Perhaps you discover an article is due a week earlier than you thought or you miscalculated how much time you’d need to finish a manuscript before sending it to an editor.

We tend to treat these types of things as aberrations. But unexpected issues and tasks pop up at least once a week if not once a day.

If you don’t have open time in which to do them, you’ll need to spend even more time rearranging your other work. And/or you’ll find yourself working late or on weekends too often. (Something that I did a lot in my law practice. (I really wish I’d found Extreme Productivity back then. It explains so many of the issues I had.)

Planning time to deal with the unexpected makes work and writing much less stressful.

What Excites You Right Now

On a happier note, scheduling dedicated free time (I know, that’s an oxymoron but you know what I mean) also allows you to follow up on that thing that catches your attention and excites you.

Generally I’m a fan of putting my head down and doing the work, whatever that work is.

It’s how I've finished multiple novels. I don’t wait until I feel like writing, and I don’t stop writing if I feel a little frustrated or tired.

But spending your entire work life that way is wearing. And it’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to never go off on a tangent. That's part of what keeps life interesting and fun.

For example, a new story idea hits you that you're superexcited about right now. If you've got just 15 minutes set aside  in your day as free time, you can jot down your thoughts or write a few paragraphs.

Odds are that after you do you'll feel refreshed and more able to focus on your other work.

The Big Picture

Open time each day also ensures that you have time to think beyond just getting your day-to-day work done.

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When I was running my law practice I typically scheduled every hour, cramming in as much as I possibly could. In the long run, I spent so much time grinding through each day that I never stepped back to ask myself if this was the type of practice (and life) I’d hope to create when I went out on my own.

As a result, while I liked running my own firm, after several years I discovered I had many of the same problems. Too much work and stress. Too little time to relax or write. Not enough of the types of legal work I enjoyed most.

I’ve heard from many authors who get into a similar position.

In their push to turn out multiple books so that they can earn a living, they lose track of the love of writing that drew them to the profession in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with working hard to get to where you want to be. But reserving some free time allows you to consider where you are, how you feel about your work and your life, and what you might do differently for greater happiness.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about setting up a healthier home office —

L. M. Lilly

How And Why To Batch Your Writing Tasks

If you batch tasks–rather than schedule them–you can get more done, save time, and lower your stress level.

I recently figured that out when I started batching the steps that go into writing and publishing articles for this website, and I'm so glad I did.

Working Too Hard On Weekly Tasks

If you're like me you probably schedule weekly time to accomplish projects or tasks that recur once a week. That approach causes duplication of effort and eats into your free time.

For example, I publish an article here every Friday. Until recently that meant that around the middle of every single week I did the following tasks:

  • decided on an article topic
  • researched the topic
  • opened Word and outlined the article
  • signed into Canva.com and opened my title graphic template
  • created and downloaded a title graphic

Then every Friday, I did the following:

  • opened Word and revised the article
  • signed into this website and created a new post
  • pasted the article from Word into the website
  • opened the website photo library and uploaded the title graphic
  • inserted the title graphic into the article
  • formatted the article
  • revised, previewed, and published the article

Each week this work took me 4-5 hours, meaning I spent 16 to 20 hours a month.

Batch Your Tasks To Save Steps (And Time)

Batching rather than scheduling means grouping your tasks by type.

Last month I started batching the work. Rather than focus on a week at a time, the last week of the month I accomplished similar tasks relating to writing all 4 of the following month's articles.

On the last Monday of the month I now do these things:

  • brainstorm and choose 4 topics for the next month (.5 hours)
  • research articles (.5 hours)
  • Open Word and outline the articles (1 hour)

Last Tuesday of the month:

  • sign into canva.com and use title graphics template to create 4 title graphics and download all of them (.5)
  • sign into the website, upload all 4 title graphics at once, create 4 posts   (included below)
  • open Word and copy article outlines into each post, inserting appropriate title graphic in each (.5)

Then on each Friday of the following month I do the following:

  • sign into this website and write that week's article based on the outline (1)
  • format, revise, preview, and publish the article (1)

While I could write all the articles in advance, I find I get burned out trying to do that and don't enjoy the process as much, so I prefer to write one per week. That also gives me flexibility to choose among the 4 topics based on what might be timely or might be taking my interest at moment.

That’s 11 hours per month (3 hours advance work and 2 hours per week per article). Which means batching saved me between 5 and 9 hours per month.

There are other advantages to batching, too.

More Energy

Jumping from one type of task to another means changing your way of thinking.

For most of us, that means getting tired more quickly.

With my old way of doing things, publishing an article a week meant I was often switching between creative work like generating ideas and writing first drafts, performing administrative functions like opening programs and uploading and downloading files, using the visual part of my mind to create and revise graphics and format text, and employing my analytic skills for choosing topics, researching, and revising.

By immersing myself in one type of task at a time I not only avoid repeating administrative tasks (like uploading graphics), I feel much less fatigued. That leaves me more energy to write, accomplish other goals, and enjoy life more.

Less Stress

I also feel less stressed.

Switching from one type of task to another makes me feel like I am figuratively running all over the place. Doing the same thing for a longer time but only once feels less intense.

Also, now there are a lot fewer moments when I'm tapping my fingers on the desk waiting for a website to open, file to download, or the Save function to work. (Isn't that something how quickly we expect everything to happen these days?)

That's all for this Friday. Until next week, when I'll talk about the value of reserving unscheduled time in your day

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on getting more done with less stress, check out Extreme Productivity (Part 4 – Less Stress).

Extreme Productivity (Part 4 – Less Stress)

Lowering stress is one reason I transitioned from practicing law full-time to writing full-time. But the path to a successful independent author business is less clearly defined than the one for building a law practice.

As a result of that lack of clarity, my list of things to do (or that I “should” be doing) sometimes seems endless.

Which is why I've been writing about a step I learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. That step is to write down next to each task on your calendar what your purpose is in doing it.

This is my fourth and the last article on the topic.

But it might be the most important one because stress has so much to do with our happiness and health.

Not Knowing What Works

The more articles I read, podcasts I listen to, and authors I talk to the more possible paths to success (or lack thereof) I find.

Unfortunately, a strategy that works for one author might not work for me.

For example, if a romance author who publishes a book a month earns a lot of royalties by running Amazon ads, that doesn't mean my new mystery/suspense series will benefit from the same approach. Not only is it a different genre, I've only written 2 novels in the series so far. In addition, right now I'm still aspiring to publish a novel every six months, let alone one per month.

To add to the difficulty of deciding whether to adopt another author's strategy, it's not always easy to tell how well a particular book or set of books is selling.

A book that ranks in the Top 5,000 on Amazon regularly is probably selling well on that platform. A different book that rarely ranks above 40,000 on Amazon might, however, be earning its author more money.

How?

If the book is sold on multiple platforms in addition to Amazon (such as Kobo and Apple), and in multiple formats (paperback, hardback, e-book, audiobook), and the Top 5,000 book is sold only for Kindle, the lower-ranked booked may earn more money overall.

Because of these differences, comparing ourselves to another author won't always help us figure out which tasks will help us.

Comparison Shopping For Less Stress

As I wrote about last week, noting the purpose of each task when you add it to your calendar helps eliminate unnecessary tasks. Taking the unnecessary items off the To Do list helps with stress management right there.

But it also lowers stress in another way.

By adding a purpose, we are grouping the tasks in a logical way. Now instead of choosing 2 or 3 tasks to do in an afternoon out of a list of 50 that serve multiple purposes, we're choosing among the smaller number of tasks all intended to accomplish the same purpose.

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That makes it a lot easier to compare one task to another and decide which one is most worth doing.

To use a shopping analogy, I'm deciding which fruit to buy among a handful of oranges, apples, and pears rather than which food to buy from the whole grocery store.

What Works Best

Let's say my purpose in writing this article about stress management is to encourage readers to buy my most recent nonfiction release, Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. (While I'm happy if you check it out, that's not the purpose. My goal is to connect with other writers by providing useful content.) Once I define that purpose I can now compare to everything else on my task list that might increase sales of that book.

Based on how much time or money each task would cost, I can decide which is the most worth doing.

For instance, if it takes me three hours to write an article, it might make more sense to instead run a sale on the book and spend an extra $35 advertising it.

Which one I choose will depend in part on whether I have more time than money, what I enjoy doing, and whether the article (or the ad) might serve more than one purpose.

An added plus of comparing similar tasks is that it's easier to decide afterward which was more effective. In the beginning, I might try both of the above approaches on different weeks. I can then compare the sales of the book and decide which task resulted in more sales.

When I didn't group tasks by purpose, I was less likely to check my results–because often I didn't know what I'd been aiming for.

Knowing When To Stop Working

To bring this article back to feeling less stress, comparing similar tasks helps me choose which ones to do, but that's not the only benefit. It also helps me feel I have accomplished something when I complete each item on my list.

Before, no matter how much I did or how many items I crossed off, I always ended the day feeling uncertain whether I had moved toward my goals or not. That question often led me to do just one more thing.

Or, if I did stop working for the day, I kept thinking I should have done something more.

Now when I finish the items I've put into my calendar, I feel that my day is finished. I'm more able to relax and so have less stress.

That's because even if each task doesn't turn out to move me toward my goal, I know how to evaluate whether it was helpful or not. So at least in the future I'll be able to choose more valuable tasks.

Eventually, everything on my calendar will help me reach my goals.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about a podcast I recently discovered. It's not about writing, but it nonetheless could help you figure out by example what's working and not as you start your novel

L.M. Lilly

Extreme Productivity (Part 3 – Work Less, Achieve More)

Is it possible to work less and get more done?

Writing what I aim to accomplish next to each task in my calendar (learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen) is helping me do just that.

Creating The To Do List

Most of us who create To Do lists or include tasks on a calendar every day do it because it helps us get things done. In addition to keeping me on track, crossing something off a list gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

But that feeling can fool us.

If the thing you crossed off doesn’t serve a purpose, you spent time working for nothing.

But wait, I can hear you say, at work you get paid to get things done. So we are not working for nothing.

It’s true. When you work for someone else, that person or company usually creates your To Do list. And rewards you for crossing things off.

When you work for yourself, though, or pursue a project like writing a novel because you've chosen to do it, no one is paying you based on finishing tasks.

A task only has value if it helps you reach a goal. If not, you're better off doing something else (or taking a break).

Getting To The Goal

As one example, if your goal is to write a novel, you might include on your calendar participating in a writers critique group (in person or online). Let’s say the group requires all five participants, including you, to circulate 10 pages of writing 2 days before your meeting.

Everyone reads and critiques one another’s work. You meet weekly to discuss the comments.

You're hoping the group will help you reach your goal of finishing your novel.

But will it? And are the tasks relating to it truly necessary?

Necessary Or Not?

There is no one answer to whether a critique group is necessary or not. So let’s look at how you figure that out by adding your purpose into your calendar.

First, think about your overall goal in attending the group. If the goal is to finish your novel, write that down.

Second, look at each separate task.

Writing your pages serves the purpose of getting you closer to finishing a novel. That one seems easy, and we'd probably keep it on our calendar regardless of the critique group.

The reason to read other people's writing seems obvious: fair is fair. If you want group members to critique your work, in turn you need to critique theirs.

That reason, however, doesn't tell us if staying in the group serves a purpose.

The question is whether the group causes you to write more pages than you would if you freed up the hours it takes to read other people's work and to attend meetings. If without a group you won’t write, or you'll write a whole lot less, then the group-related tasks serve their purpose. I’d keep them on my calendar.

But let's say that you generally write whether or not you attend a critique group.

If so, the group is not serving the purpose of helping you finish the novel. In fact, it might be getting in the way of it because the hours you spend critiquing other people's work and at meetings could be spent on your own book.

Before crossing all the critique group tasks off your calendar, though, it's worth looking at whether you have any other purpose in attending.

For instance, you might attend because you want to improve your writing skills. If that's so, likewise you need to look at each task related to the group and ask yourself if it accomplishes that purpose.

Writing Your Purpose Every Week

Once you decide a critique group (or anything else) is worth your time, you might be tempted to block it into your calendar for the entire year.

Including the purpose each week, though, is key to spotting tasks that no longer serve a purpose.

Going back to the critique group example, I typically write whether or not I attend a group. But for a long time I attended a writers group for a different purpose. Reading and critiquing the pages of other people helped me become a better novelist.

That was so because I could often see things in their writing that I didn't recognize in my own, which helped me improve my novels.

As I wrote more and more, though, critiquing group members' pages helped less. I often gave comments on basic grammar or sentence structure. While I'm not a perfect writer, I felt pretty confident about those skills. And what I needed to work on most–overall plot and character development–wasn't covered because we read only small sections, not entire novels.

Nonetheless I kept attending for years because I thought going to writers groups was a good thing.

Had I started writing down the purpose for each task earlier, I would have realized much sooner that I was spending time on things that weren’t helping me reach my goals.

Now I am focusing particularly on things I do for marketing and promotion. I’m continuing with many of them, but already dropped three or four that didn't truly serve a purpose. Which means I'm working less.

If you'd like to work less, too, try looking at the tasks on your own calendar.

Write your purpose next to each one. I’m betting you'll discover a number that you can drop. Let me know!

That’s all for today. Until next Friday when we’ll talk about accomplishing more with less stress

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Writing down a purpose for each task also helped me stop putting things off, as I wrote about last week, and increase my energy and motivation.

Extreme Productivity (Part 2 – Motivation)

Today's post is about motivation. Last week I wrote about a simple step I learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen that made my life as an author so much easier. That step is to write in your calendar next to each task what you aim to accomplish by doing it.

Not only can doing so help you stop putting things off, as I wrote about last week, it can increase your energy and motivation.

When Short Stories Are Like Vegetables

Knowing exactly what I want to accomplish with each task gets me a lot more excited about it.

For example, while I love to write novels, I tend to put off short story writing. I just don’t enjoy it the way I do writing novels, and I don’t read as many short stories as I do books.

For me, writing a short story has always been like eating vegetables. I do it because I know it's good for me, not because I like it. (Sorry to all who love veggies, I am just not a fan.)

Reasons Are Not The Same As Purpose

Following Pozen's approach of figuring out and listing my purpose for a goal or task, I thought about why I want to write short stories.

One reason is that I know from experience that writing short stories helps hone my craft. It's easier to see what's working and isn't with the plot. I'm also more apt to focus on one character and make sure that person's motivations and growth are clear.

As important, because I don't release multiple novels a year (I'm still aiming to get to two per year), short stories can be a way to bridge the gap in between.

In that sense, short stories are a form of marketing.

Readers are reminded that the characters they remember and love from a series are out there.

Writing Short Stories
When writing feels like eating your vegetables

Also relating to readers, it's a chance to explore side stories that don't quite fit into the novels but that add depth to the characters. Because I release the stories initially exclusively to my email subscribers, it's a sort of inside scoop that they get about the world of my Q.C. Davis mystery/suspense series and the people who live there.

With all those reasons, you'd think I'd be diving into getting those stories written. And yet, until recently, I didn't.

Because reasons are not the same as purpose.

Purpose = Energy And Motivation

Because I had all those reasons to write short stories, I dutifully reserved time in my calendar this year to write the second short story, the one I wanted to release after Book 2 (The Charming Man), which came out in December, 2018. (I wrote the first short story last year after pushing myself to do it for about 6 months.)

That task appeared on my calendar at least 2 or 3 times a month this entire year.

Yet, almost every time it was the thing that got pushed to the end of the day, then the week, then the month.

As I read Extreme Productivity, I set aside all the reasons writing short stories was a good idea and asked myself what I truly wanted to accomplish by doing it.

I realized I wanted to do something nice for my subscribers. In other words, to improve my relationship with them.

When I thought of it that way instead of feeling I was working to check off a box, I felt excited about sending my readers a gift they’d enjoy. Not only did I finish a draft in a week, I added layers and further developed the characters in ways I hadn’t thought of before.

And it was fun.

Next week I'll be sending No New Beginnings to my subscribers.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when we’ll talk about eliminating unnecessary tasks (that you previously felt sure you needed to do)–

L.M. Lilly

Extreme Productivity (Part 1 – How To Stop Putting Things Off)

While I was on a long vacation, I started reading the book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen. (I know, I know, that doesn't sound very vacation-like. But I did spend most of my days having fun. See photos below.)

What I read led me to examine the way I schedule tasks and how much I focus on the amount of time to spend on each.

As a result, I discovered that while I no doubt got more done compared to simply winging it, I could increase my productivity and feel less stressed by adding one simple step Pozen suggested.

That step benefited my writing and my publishing business tremendously, including in these four ways:

I'll talk about the first one today and the rest over the coming weeks.

The added step is to identify the purpose of each task. Seems pretty basic, right? Well, it is and it's not.

Knowing What You Plan To Accomplish

Under Pozen's approach, when you schedule any task or event in your calendar you list next to it what you intend to accomplish by doing it.

At first that struck me as waste of time.

For most things, I thought my goal too obvious to bother thinking about. For instance, the purpose of advertising books on Amazon or BookBub is to increase sales.

Why spend time writing that down?

The other downside I saw is that my calendar has limited space. I use a paper appointment book because it helps limit my screen time and it's easier for me to get organized on paper than any other way. I don't have a lot of room on it to put in extra info.

To my surprise, though, forcing myself to define what I hoped to accomplish made my entire week more productive, and I felt full of energy, despite that I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag.

Beating Procrastination

Keeping my bookkeeping up to date for my author business, which includes balancing my accounts and paying bills, is a task I often put off. I do so despite that in my calendar I set aside one morning each month for it.

My purpose in scheduling the task seemed obvious.

Good bookkeeping is just good business so you pay bills on time, avoid overdrafts, and gain a good sense of your finances. So this task in particular seemed like a silly one for writing out what I hoped to accomplish.

But when I made myself think about exactly why I wanted to update my bookkeeping every month, immediately what came to mind was the end of last year. I hadn’t balanced my accounts in over 6 months. (Though I did pay my bills. I wasn't that much of a procrastinator).

Productivity And Time

Because I waited so long, the time it took for each bank statement tripled due to how much more difficult it was to track down missing entries. A month after an expense or of receiving income, I usually remember what a $35 payment was for.

Or I can easily find an email about it.

Finding the same charge or royalty payment 6 months later is much harder. Especially if, for example, the company to which I made the payment, or that paid me, has a different name from the brand names it uses on its products or platforms.

All that extra time spent on bookkeeping is time I can’t spend finishing a novel, creating a large print edition of a book, or practicing law and getting paid an hourly rate.

In short, spending more time on bookkeeping costs me money.

Time Off In Paris
I really did go on vacation.

Putting off bookkeeping tasks cost me money in another way, too.

Productivity And Money

My mental picture of what I'm earning in royalties versus my expenses is usually overoptimistic. (For more on that, see A Major Mistake Using Amazon Ads To Sell Paperbacks.)

Balancing my books makes me take a good look at the actual numbers. If it’s 6 months down the road, it’s too late to get back 6 months of spending on an ad that’s costing too much. It's also often too late to double down on an ad with great returns. Things change quickly, and reader interests may already have shifted.

In contrast, a monthly snapshot of spending and earning means I can quickly adjust.

The Purpose

So what purpose did I list in my calendar next to my bookkeeping task? Increase income.

Seeing that purpose this past Wednesday prompted me to pull out my bank account statements and balance my books first thing in the morning. And I felt great doing it.

That's all for today. Until next Friday when we'll talk about increasing motivation and energy

L.M. Lilly

4 Reasons To Stop Saying You Don’t Have Time

We've all said it, probably several times in the last week or two — “I don't have time.”

Most of us, especially if we're juggling writing and another career, a job, or family responsibilities, feel like we don't have enough time to do all the things we want to do.

In one way, that's true. It's not like we can manufacture more hours in the day.

In another way, though, it's not accurate, as I'll talk about in the first of four reasons to stop saying I don't have time.

Reason 1: It's True But It's Not

When we say we don't have time to do a particular thing, that's only true in the sense that we can't fit in everything we'd like.

But it's also not true. Because at that moment we are doing something, even if it's sleeping. We could choose to do something else.

As an example, imagine you're working on a report for your boss that's due in an hour. Your mom calls. She just wants to say hello. Even if you and your mom have a good relationship, you'll probably say, “I don't have time to talk.”

Now imagine instead your sister calls. She says your mom had a terrible accident. She needs a blood transplant, and you are her blood type.

Do you tell her you don't have time to help?

No. You tell your boss you need more time for the report and leave to go to the hospital.

You literally have the same amount of time in both scenarios. Your report is due in an hour in both. Yet you make a different decision.

I can hear you telling me to hold on.

In the first example, your boss will be very unhappy with you and might fire you while in the second, assuming your boss is a reasonable person, there will likely be no negative consequences. Or you'll deal with getting fired if you must, as your mom's life matters more.

But the difference is consequences and what matters most to you, not time.

In the first scenario, it's accurate to say, “I have a report due in an hour, so now isn't the best time for me to talk.” Not “I don't have time.”

This change may not matter to the person to whom you say it. That person understands what you mean.

But, as we'll talk about below, it does matter to how you feel and the choices you make.

Reason 2: It Makes You Feel Out Of Control

If you say “I don't have time” and believe it, it leaves you feeling like you have no control over your life. Sometimes it's as if we're careening from one crisis or responsibility to the next with no say in how we spend our time.

I felt that way often when I was practicing law full time at a large law firm and writing on the side. That feeling intensified when my dad was in the hospital. Every waking minute was spoken for. And when I looked ahead, I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel.

On the one hand, the busy law practice was great. It meant I had lots of cases and clients and no trouble paying my bills. I also had job security. Loads of it, despite a recession on the horizon.

But it also meant I had very little time to write, relax, or be with family or friends, and I felt as if I never would. That made me sad and angry, on top of how I already felt about my dad's injuries, which were life-threatening.

Because I framed the issue as not having time, though, I felt there was nothing I could do. I couldn't manufacture more time. Everything felt completely out of my control.

That's not a place anyone wants to be. The good news is that changing how we identify the problem can help us gain control.

Reasons 3: Values Matter More Than Time

As the examples about your mom show, what we value governs our lives and how we spend our time. When we choose words that reflect that, we can decide what to do based on those values rather than feeling helpless.

That one change may not give us every option we'd like, but it gives us more than when we blamed time.

As to the work situation I described, I became more honest with myself. I'd chosen to work where I did knowing the schedule that was expected. I wanted to quickly gain experience as an attorney. I also wanted to earn the salary I did.

For the first five years or so that trade off seemed worth it. That was especially so because I'd had times when I couldn't work and couldn't pay my bills due to a repetitive stress injury.

But now I more highly valued time to write, time to spend with my friends and family, and time to relax. My job wasn't compatible with those values.

I'd been blaming lack of time for my unhappiness. The reality was, the structure of the firm where I worked depended on attorneys working excessive hours. Also, my practice area didn't allow for a regular schedule. Though I did have some free hours, I never knew for certain when they would be.

That type of work situation simply no longer fit with what I wanted from life.

Once I understood that, I could deal with it.

Reason 4: It Keeps You From Changing

So how does refraining from saying “I don't have time” and focusing on values change anything?

Even if your situation can't immediately be changed, identifying and talking about it accurately allows you to think long-term and figure out what to do.

For me, talking about values rather than time wouldn't make my dad recover or heal. In the short term it wouldn't change my schedule. (Unless I wanted to quit my job on a moment's notice, and I didn't. I still valued paying my bills!)

But in the long term, accurately identifying the issue as a values conflict gave me back choice and control. I devoted an hour or two each month over the next year to figuring out what I could do for work instead. Eventually I did change my work situation by starting my own law practice. A few years later, I published my first novel.

(Unfortunately, to a large extent I recreated much of what I'd left and had to relearn some lessons the hard way, but that's another story.)

For a different example, let's say you've got small children and are working a part-time job. You feel there's not enough time to write the novel you'd love to write.

First, you'd look at your values.

Cramming writing a novel into your schedule might add too much stress to your already stressful life. For your mental and emotional health, you might need to value peace of mind more than writing. Or you might feel strongly that writing a novel would take too much time away from your children, and you're not willing to do that.

If either or both are true, you might decide you won't devote significant time to writing until three years from now when your kids start school.

Having decided that, you can stop blaming time and feeling out of control. And you can start looking for ways to satisfy your desire to write.

That might mean writing a poem here and there. Or starting a journal. Or you could carve out fifteen minutes whenever possible to plan that novel so that once the kids are in school, you'll hit the ground running. (For ideas on that, see Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.)

None of that gets your novel written this year. But you'll feel better because you're moving toward your goal and acting in a way that's consistent with what you value most.

Also, you'll stop feeling like you have no control, so you'll be calmer and happier. Which might make it easier to free up those fifteen minutes here and there.

That's all for today. Until next Friday when I'll talk about Using Your Writing Skills To Become Happier

L.M. Lilly