I just finished writing my novel, Grift and Shadow, which is currently being line edited and will hopefully be published in the beginning of August. Shameless plug of the cover:
(Art by Travis Bewley)
As some of you may know, I had originally hoped to finish and release this book at the end of last year, but moving to the Pacific Northwest, among other challenges, pushed everything back. Just to get this book done and off of my plate required massively shifting around my schedule this past month.
Totally worth it!
Now that the book is done and out of my hands for a bit, I find myself in a strange mental place. The joy of accomplishment certainly feels amazing. I know I should be moving into super-promotion-mode, including setting up pre-orders and everything else. That said, I also need to get back into my regular schedule.
Despite all of these happy emotions and realizations of what I should be doing, I feel adrift.
REALIZATION: I’m coming down from the high of 100% art focus.
How I Got Time to Hyper Focus
Normally, I split my time between client work and fiction projects. On a normal Monday-Friday week, two days are spent on fiction projects, and three days are spent on client projects and prospecting for new leads.
At least that is the ideal.
In reality, bleed over happens. Late nights happen. Working on the weekends happens. I’m my own boss doing two jobs. I try to keep regular hours, but the definition of “regular” can shift from week to week.
Due to certain events over the last year, I found myself in a financial position where I could take several weeks off from client work to focus on getting the book done. I also had finished all of my client projects and had the time available, if I decided to take.
I took it.
Self-Employment and Author Life (Un)Balance
I spent the last three weeks of June writing like a madwoman just to get the book out; I was almost half-way through writing it when I started three weeks ago. Three weeks was the most amount of time I could afford to lose from contract work. I was still putting in some prospecting time for my contract work, but only the bare minimum.
The whole time I was writing AND sending out follow-up emails with potential clients, I was worried that I would get a huge client project and have to push my book back even further.
You might be wondering why I would even put in the effort to prospect for leads if I really wanted to get the book done. The fact of the matter is I need a paycheck. Not just a paycheck for right now, I need paychecks down the road, too, which means keeping positive relationships with potential clients.
When you don’t have a consistent stream of regular repeat clients, (and sadly that’s the place where I’m at right now), you have to do a lot of cold calling and following up on leads. Potential clients may love your portfolio and really want to work with you, but they don’t always have extra jobs for you. Following up with them is just par for the course to keep your name on their minds.
Since I’ve been doing this cold calling for a while now, I’ve streamlined the process. It still takes time, but I knew going into this how much focus I could afford to put toward my follow-up efforts AND still get the book done. I knew I wouldn’t be drumming up any new business with regular cold calls or emails during this time, but the trade-off was worth it to me.
Writing a Book is More than Writing a Book
As described above, normally I only spend about 2-3 days a week on my fiction projects. That doesn’t mean I spend 2-3 days writing ONLY fiction. There’s a lot of other things professional writers have to do besides just writing books.
In today’s day and age, if you don’t have an agent or the money to invest in various services, you have to do ALL the extra work yourself, including:
- Marketing each book/project
- Social networking
- Going over changes to the book with your editor
- Writing/formatting/sending out newsletters
- Formatting books for multiple digital and print platforms
- Responding to fans
- Looking into speaking opportunities at conferences and conventions
- Setting up readings/book signings
- Networking with other writers
- Selling books at conventions, in person, and online
- Negotiating contracts with cover artist, printers, and other vendors
- Launching your book
To put it bluntly: Expect to spend 55% of your time on writing the book and 45% of your time on everything else.
During the past three weeks, I focused almost completely on just getting the book written. I was still writing promotional newsletters and doing other non-book writing duties, but I was trying to schedule that for my evenings and weekends, so I could spend my whole 8-hour workdays on the book.
Pros and Cons of 100% Focus
One of the pros of writing every day versus only writing a couple days a week is that you develop this almost surreal focus. All of the other distractions of your job and everything else that normally happens during the week have been temporarily pushed aside. With no distractions, you can just write out these fantastic scenes, and keep going.
Another pro for me included feeling like the quality of my writing had improved. Without the extra stress of all of my regular commitments, I didn’t feel like I had to get it done now, because tomorrow I had to switch gears to something else. Instead I felt like I could take a little more time with my scenes AND come back to them the next day.
I knew I didn’t have all the time in the world, because I had to get things done by a certain date. Nevertheless, knowing that at the end of the workday I was going to continue the scene I was writing the next day truly enhanced the experience and kept me pumped during the whole process.
Some of the cons of 100% art focus you don’t realize until problems arise.
Normally, I check-in with my life partners every day. We live together, which makes checking-in easier, but you still have to put effort into relationships to make them work. When I was in 100% art focus land, I was physically there at the house, but I was so focused on getting the book done that I wasn’t talking to them as much or asking them about what was going on in their lives.
A few loud and late night disagreements happened as a result. We were able to talk through everything and fix the problems, but we’re also incredibly blessed and fortunate to be good communicators.
My concern now is that I don’t know if I can prevent this from happening again the next time I’m in major art focus land.
I did tell one of my partners that when I’m this focused I need them to spell things out for me and approach me with issues, because my mind simply isn’t thinking about anything else but my work. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about it, or that I don’t care, I’m just dedicating my focus in one direction. I still want to be there for them, and they need to know that.
Another major con of 100% art focus was the fatigue. I felt positively drained after writing multiple days in a row. My stamina was for two days in a row, and going beyond that exhausted my mental muscles and made my physical body sore as well.
I do have chronic pain, and even though I do take breaks, stress can induce more bouts of pain. While I felt like I had more time to get things done, because I was so focused, the stress of getting it done by a certain date loomed over me, adding to my stress and making me more irritable than usual.
Transitioning Back to My Regular Schedule
This past Wednesday, the day after the holiday, I had scheduled myself to return back to my usual work schedule. That first day, I got through a lot of my normal client work duties without too many problems. I still felt as if I were lagging behind, but I attributed my sense of lag to the holiday and the aftermath of finishing such a big project.
Yesterday I still felt adrift. Today that feeling lingers.
When I was writing for my book, I was constantly working toward a goal and doing something with an end product in mind. With freelancing, I don’t currently have any active client projects, so mostly what I’m doing is prospecting for leads and maintaining business relationships with potential clients. It’s all necessary, but it doesn’t feel like I’m as productive as I was when I was writing the book during these last few weeks.
I am trying to give myself leeway time. Harping on myself is not going to get me in the right headspace. I know that a lot of legwork goes into freelancing, work that I don’t get paid for and that may or may not pay off. It is still being productive, but it’s a different type of productivity.
Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer , points out how focusing on the end result is what trips up a lot of freelancers. Freelancers need to focus on what they can control, which is the effort in which they put out to get and maintain clients. Freelancing is journey focused, not results focused.
In complete contrast to that, professional fiction writers, in my opinion, need to be more results focused on finishing their projects. The journey of getting there is important, but the whole point is getting there and finishing the book.
As I come down from this 100% art focus/results focused mentality, it will help me to recognize that I am not JUST switching gears. I’m completely getting into a whole other car!
The Author Car for me is akin to a rally car. It goes super-fast, it keeps going despite adversity, and it gets to the finish line.
The Freelancer Car is designed for comfort, commuting between projects, and long trips. You may have several destinations in mind, but you’re probably going to take the scenic route and make a lot of stops on the way.