A friend and member of the All Freelance Writing community contacted me recently with a question about being a more prolific writer and balancing multiple writing ambitions. She asked to remain anonymous but agreed to let me share her question here in the hopes my answer might help someone else in a similar predicament.
Here's the gist:
This is a writer in a similar position to me. She's a freelance writer. She blogs. And she's also an indie author. She has a lot of ideas bouncing around, and she's struggling to decide which projects to devote her energy to and which to let go or postpone. As she put it:
"I want to write fiction in several genres and have a writing business and sleep sometimes. But it doesn't seem possible. How do you deal with being ambitious and human all at once?"
Knowing that I, too, have far more ideas than I could ever possibly pursue, she also wanted to know how I deal with not being able to do it all. This post is an expanded version of the advice I gave her.
Being a Writer and Being Human
Do you want to know my secret for running multiple websites, publishing e-books, writing fiction, managing freelance writing clients, occasionally consulting, volunteering with a writers' organization, and still managing to function day-to-day?
Clones. Lots of 'em.
OK. I can dream.
Here's the real secret to how I deal with not being able to take on every idea I want to pursue:
I know myself very well. I'm about as stubborn as they come, and I almost always get what I want, even if it sometimes takes a while. So if I don't move forward with an idea, I don't harp on it. I know deep down that I didn't really want it as badly as I thought. If I did, it wouldn't have been neglected.
Really. That's it. I deal with it by allowing myself to be at peace with the fact that I'm human, I only have so many hours in a day, I already do more with those hours than most people I know, if I passed on something it must have been for something even better, and I'm happy with the progress I do make. Embrace the wins instead of obsessing over what you haven't done yet.
"Yet" is an important word here. If you really want to do something, who cares if you haven't gotten to it yet? Start today.
You'll only worry about what you haven't done when you give up hope of ever doing it. And if you do that, you probably didn't want it badly to begin with.
So cry it out. Have a drink. Do whatever you need to do. But get over it.
Start working on your next idea so you don't find yourself in this position again.
Tips for Being a More Prolific Writer
A pep talk is well and good, but it doesn't make it any easier to juggle projects or manage your time. So I also shared some of my best tips and insight into how I manage as much as I do.
You don't need to do all of these things to find more time for the projects you want to pursue, but hopefully at least one or two will help you.
Be ridiculously organized.
Todoist saves my sanity. Seriously. It's the best $29 you'll spend each year (and the free version might be enough for you depending on how many projects you have).
I have a work section and a personal section. The work section is broken down into four main areas -- admin, freelance writing, web publishing, and indie publishing.
Using the last as an example, I then set up projects for every pen name and sub-projects for every series or standalone book. Then I have things broken down into mini-tasks at various levels (from what's involved in building the author website to various stages of researching, drafting, and revising the book).
It's not just a to-do list. Todoist is like a personal assistant. It keeps me on task and integrates with Google Calendar. And everything is broken down to a micro level (like I talked about in my post on 5-minute lists). This way, when I find a bit of time, I know exactly what to hone in on to make progress. That's the key to managing multiple writing projects: always move forward.
Want to know more about how I use Todoist? Read "3 Tools for More Productive and Organized Writing."
Look for cross-promotion potential.
Sometimes the key to balancing multiple writing projects is finding a way to tie them together. If you've been following this site for a while, you might know that All Freelance Writing is a new-ish brand launched in 2013. But the site started in 2006 under the All Freelance Writing name (actually it launched as SixFigureWriters.com but was rebranded shortly after). The All Freelance Writing brand came from a merger of several different blogs for writers.
One of the ways I built up the popularity of All Freelance Writing was cross-promoting with other brands I owned. It also allowed me to use that primary blog to promote other new blogs, often helping them build an audience much faster than most new ones would.
It was effective. And to be completely honest, if I could go back and continue cross-promoting rather than merging those brands, I would. (One of my many "live and learn" decisions, and why I have plans to feature more site cross-promotion in the future.)
Now let's take the issue of writing under multiple pen names as another example. We'll focus on just two of them, using my case to illustrate how you might tie pen names together. Let's look at A.J. Klein (my horror writer pen name) and Aria Klein (my mystery writer pen name).
I rarely make a business decision without carefully considering the marketing implications. For example, one of the reasons I don't keep most pen names secret is the fact that I can cross-promote those author names with this site where I blog about indie publishing.
That's also why you'll notice those two pen names are so similar. The genres are similar, but my mysteries are cozies and the horror is much darker.
I wanted separate names for marketing reasons, but I also wanted the connection to be fairly obvious due to the potential for cross-promotion in certain circumstances. For instance, I plan to publish a dark fairy tale short story collection (currently half-written) next year, and it would likely appeal to many of the same readers as the mysteries.
If there's any way you can tie your pen names together like that, I highly recommend it. Then all the marketing you do and the visibility you build under one name has the potential to improve the visibility of the other name. The most obvious option to keep the names similar is to use the same last name as I did with these.
That cross-visibility makes it much easier to split your time between multiple names without feeling like you're neglecting one. Depending on how closely related your genres or niches are, you might even be able to use a single set of social media profiles for both names (maybe even a single website, though that could be trickier).
Don't multi-task. Project-hop.
I know this isn't everyone's thing, but I'm a big believer in project-hopping. To be clear, this is not multi-tasking where you do several things at the same time.
These days I only really multi-task when I'm doing simple admin (in which case I'm also usually monitoring social media updates or something along those lines). Other than that, if my attention is on a story, a client project, a blog post, etc., it's on only that one thing until I decide to switch gears entirely.
Project-hopping is how I like to move between pen names. For example, a lot of writers draft a novel then go into revisions, trying to release that book as quickly as possible. I don't believe in rushing anything to market (with the exception of experimental projects where I'm testing marketing theories that will apply to my other books), so I don't generally take this approach.
Instead of finishing one full book before moving onto the next, my process is more like this:
- Draft novel; shelve novel.
- Draft novel under another name; shelve that one too.
- Complete the first revision of the first novel, then shelve it again.
- Bounce back to the other one for its first round of revisions.
For me it's like cleansing my palate so I go back to each project with fresh eyes for each round of revisions (of which there are far more than I'd like -- the revision process is my least favorite part because I'm a big second-guesser).
This also satisfies the need to do something new, so if you're someone with a lot of ideas you want to pursue, this can be rewarding. By the time you get that itch to work on something else, you'll be finishing a phase on another project and can hop between them. It keeps things interesting.
Play with your schedule.
I work best very early in the morning. It's why I try to start work by 5am. But I also know I'm less inhibited with fiction when I write at night. It's a part of the reason why I've been working so many all-nighters on horror stories lately.
It's crazy what a simple schedule tweak can do for your productivity and creativity. So even if you think you know when you work best, try something else and see if it affects how well you work on a certain type of project. Just don't let yourself burn out. If you work a few hours at night on fiction, take a few hours off during your next daytime shift when you might prefer to work on client projects.
I don't advocate working extra hours on a regular basis. You'll end up exhausted and hating every project you have on your plate. It's not worth it. That said, while I usually keep a strict schedule in the sense of my number of working hours, and still do for client work, I make an exception for fiction. If I suddenly get the urge to write a short story for example, I sit my ass down and start writing. I try not to let bursts of inspiration slip by.
You can always take more time off later if you put in extra hours now. Just try not to make it a habit for your sanity's sake.
Use the Pomodoro method.
The Pomodoro Method is where you work for short bursts of 25 minutes and then take short breaks (I currently take 5-minute breaks after most Pomodoros and 15-minute breaks after every third or fourth Pomodoro). It will help you do more in less time.
I don't use this technique all the time. But whenever I feel stuck or uninspired, this is what I do. I love a good challenge, and it pushes me to do more than I thought I could in a very short period. As an added bonus, it's an easy way to split your time between multiple projects -- just spend a set number of Pomodoros on each one.
My favorite timer apps for these extra-productive writing sessions are Pomodoro Tracker (Android) and E.ggtimer.com (browser-based).
Tip: The Pomodoro Method is great for admin and social media time. It helps you speed up your process and doesn't interfere with your creative flow. If you only use the Pomodoro Method a couple of times a day, this is the time to use it.
Schedule your time.
Freelancing, fiction, blogging -- it can be tough balancing these types of projects, as related as they might be. The best thing I can suggest if you want a diverse writing business model like this is to schedule your time.
Have admin time and stick to it. Have blogging time and stick to it (you might want to cut back a bit if you're posting more than a few times per week to free up time for other things). I'd say the same about fiction, but I personally leave more flexibility here because sometimes I feel like I have a story trying to claw its way out of my head, and I prefer to give it a hand.
You don't have to be super rigid. But sticking to a schedule early on can help you build habits that let you focus on everything in a balanced way instead of getting stuck on one type of work while neglecting others.
While I haven't kept a rigid schedule over these past few weeks, when I do my schedule looks a little bit like this:
- Manuscripts come first. No checking email. Phone stays off. Nothing else happens until I reach my word count goal or other manuscript goal for the day. That applies to fiction as well as nonfiction.
- Next is basic admin. Check email. Check blogs for updates and comments that need approval or responses. Deal with invoicing and client follow-ups. Check on blog stats.
- Then comes client work. Again, I stay away from email and social media (unless I have to email a client about the project I'm working on).
- Next comes blogging for my own sites.
- The day ends with any marketing or other admin I didn't get to previously and another email and social media check. I try to save the least brain-intensive tasks for the end of the day when I'm less focused.
- Then I might write again in the evening if I feel the urge to jump back into a project or if I'm falling behind on a client project and it's my own fault. If it's their fault for changing the scope, I don't put in extra hours unless they're paying a hefty rush fee.
That's the gist of it, though things change from time to time depending on my priorities. You don't necessarily need to have set hours. Just try to set a basic task order first and rearrange things from there as you figure out how much time you need for each task each day.
One of my biggest time-boosters that allows me to squeeze in multiple projects is dictation. I don't dictate all the time (probably not as often as I should).
I type very fast, so sometimes I feel like it takes me longer to get into a good flow with dictation. But I use it when I need a change of pace, need to talk things out to figure out what I really want to say, or I want to write somewhere other than my desk, such as lounging in my recliner or sitting on the exercise bike.
I've had more luck using Google's voice-to-text through Google Docs than Dragon, Naturally Speaking. It's free. You can access it right from your browser or using a smartphone or tablet. So play with it a bit. If it helps you write faster, it might be just what you need to squeeze in more of those projects you're itching to take on.
Seek inspiration where you can find it.
I mentioned inspiration earlier, but let's expand upon that. Don't wait for inspiration to strike all the time. Seek it out.
Find things that give you a little nudge creatively to help you push through projects faster. In the past, book soundtracks were a big one for me. I'd find indie artists with songs that fit certain scenes, string them together into a playlist, and listen to it all the way through while I visualized the novel playing like a movie in my head. After "seeing" it, I desperately want to get the words down.
Your inspiration might be a person. There's someone in my life who's been a sort of muse for me. When they're around, I can write furiously for days. I recently drafted several short stories over a 48 hour writing marathon with no sleep (minus meals, a movie break, and some social media time -- between 35 and 40 hours of actual writing). It was like a full week's worth of writing in two days. I don't recommend it.
If you have someone who inspires you like that, awesome. Just learn to stop yourself a bit better than I did because I've been a terrible role model lately, and that was (while invigorating) totally not healthy. Try not to make a habit of things like that.
Look to the people you see every day in your life. Maybe your spouse inspires you. Maybe you're inspired to write to support your kids. Maybe a project is dedicated to someone. Think about them.
It doesn't matter what inspires you -- go on a research trip and take photos, read something you love, hang out with people who make you want to write. Anything. The more you seek inspiration, the more you'll find. And the more inspired you allow yourself to feel, the more you'll accomplish. And the sooner you work through one project, the sooner you can move on to all those other ideas you have.
Like I said earlier, all of these tips aren't going to be for everyone. But if you find one or two that help you work more productively, you can spend less time fretting over all the things you still want to accomplish and spend more time getting those things done.
Do you have any other suggestions for this reader? How do you deal with not being able to tackle every idea you have as a writer? How do you squeeze in more writing by improving your productivity? You can share your thoughts, tips, tools, and stories in the blog comments.