An Author’s Attempt at Organization

Please welcome Guest Blogger: C. Hope Clark

When I promote my new mystery release Lowcountry Bribe, A Carolina Slade Mystery, I’m asked often how I organize my time. See, I’m known for, which has been around for thirteen years and selected by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for twelve. I’m known for my nonfiction essays and freelance efforts, so my fiction talent amazes a lot of people. They never saw it coming.

The easiest way for me to describe what I do is to say I prioritize instead of plan.

We see gobs of how-to posts on planning. I’m amazed at the intensity in which people will plan, and the sluggish way they implement. It’s as if the planning takes the fun out of it. The more complicated the system, the less we adhere to it.

First of all, I know each day which priorities need addressing. The newsletters have deadlines that cannot be adjusted. New subscribers have to be entered. Freelance deadlines are nonnegotiable. These tasks are so deeply engrained in me, that I often note my calendar only after they’re completed.

My short term calendar sits before me, open to the current week, instant reminder of my short-term duties. My long term calendar, however, is on a spreadsheet—for 2012 and 2013. There I post conferences, interviews, travel, personal days I will not be able to write, and critical big deadlines (like book edits and contract requirements). I can see two months at a time.

With a long-term project…I immediately analyze for short term, midterm and long term priorities. Writing a book is a major item. So is its promotion. So might be a new website, or a new blog. Study each project, note the duties required, and set them up for attention.

A spreadsheet records administrative items like income, freelance submissions, and, in my case, business, for tax purposes.

My spiral notebook sits open next to my calendar, and as I have blinding flashes of genius for a blog post, freelance pitch or promotional idea, I note them. By bedtime, it’s covered with items starred for importance and scratched through for completion. I then condense a to-do list on a fresh page, organizing the next day.

I socially network in between duties, keeping Facebook, Twitter and the blog continually open in case I have a remarkable thought.

And I write fiction at night.

It’s quite important that you use the time you have to the best of your advantage. My clock functions creatively best at night; factually by day. When the sun sets, my characters come out to play. Yours might be morning people. If you have another job, they might appear at lunch and between appointments. I didn’t always write full-time, but I can honestly say my fiction always came alive in the middle of the night.

Know what’s important, and be adamant about responsibilities. Cater to customers and editors. They come first. Without them, your writing is worthless. Theirs are the first emails I address in the morning as I sit down at the keyboard. I may work in seclusion, but my people connections are first and foremost. I suggest that you adopt this outlook. Think about it, otherwise, when you publish in that magazine, or release that mystery, who’s there to give it life? I stay connected on the road, just in case I hear from these people.

Again, it’s prioritizing rather than planning. Of course some days the duties clash for limited minutes. That’s when you shut the door and commit 110 percent. Family cooks dinner. Television waits. Dust builds. Exercise skips a day. When writing is your profession, you learn how to drive it properly. Just remember to make the tools work for you, not the other way around. Know who’s boss.

And most importantly. . . you need to want it badly.

C. Hope Clark is editor of reaching 44,000 readers each week about contests, grants, markets and publishing opportunities. She is also author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, published by Bell Bridge Books She’s noted for taking lessons learned from her fiction to fuel her nonfiction . . . and vice versa.

3 Responses to “An Author’s Attempt at Organization”

  1. Mahala Church Says:

    As usual, Hope hit one out of the park. I’m thrilled to see I have some of her habits – maybe it’s a good omen for my future. I adore spiral notebooks, buy them by the stack when Wally World has their back-to-school sales. I love to hear the sound of a completed page being ripped, crumpled, and tossed. And, as usual, I learned some new tricks to help me keep organized. Hope practices what she preaches; her customers always come first.

  2. Patricia Fry Says:

    Thank you for commenting Bonnie and Mahala. I, too, buy packages of spiral notebooks (they used to be called Steno Pads), and I use them daily (rather nightly) to outline my schedule for the following day.

    I’m going to make sure that Hope sees both of your comments, but, Bonnie, I’d like to address a couple of your concerns, as well. I agree with Hope that the key (or the “secret”) to becoming organized and accomplishing something within the realm of your writing work is prioritizing. But I would say that the reason why some people can’t get organized is because they are not appropriately motivated. If you do not have a strong enough motivation to write, you may not be making the (sometimes) necessary sacrifices.

    Certainly, I don’t mean to imply that we should turn our backs on our families and not take care of ourselves when we need TLC. And I’d also like to point out that too much of a need for organization can sometimes sabotage our efforts to put time in on our projects.

    When I first started writing for publication in 1973, I couldn’t sit down to write unless the dishes were done, the floors were clean, the laundry was put away… I had to feel as though everything else in my life was organized in order to feel organized in my writing life. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I didn’t learn to write no matter what else was going on in my life–if I wasn’t willing to make sacrifices–I would never accomplish what I wanted as a writer.


  3. Marilyn Meredith Says:

    Good tips. I do far better with my writing in the a.m.

    Fortunately, if I’m interrupted I don’t have any problem getting right back to what I was doing. (From raising 5 kids, and 2 grandkids.)

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