November 15, 2022
by Annie McCormick
As you know if you've read my previous posts (Tip Number 1 and Tip Number 2) my goal is to be an agented author, i.e. a writer who has an agent who sells the books that I struggle to write. It's a career change for me and just like a lawyer or a teacher or a reporter, there are certain steps that will help me to navigate the transition. I'm aware that blindly leaping is not a good idea (trust me #VoiceOfExperience). An intentional path tends to get you from point A to point B with less damage and better results.
So here's Tip Number 3 in my process:
Did you ever train for a marathon? Or a half marathon? There is a schedule: when to start training, the distance to run each day, how many days off to recover. Identified days to do other things, when to run farther, when to taper off. There are steps (literally) that outline the process of training for a marathon. It shapes your time, your food, your sleep, etc. It is foundational to everything else you’re doing, while you’re in training. And if you don’t stick to the schedule you might not cross the finish line. It’s not rocket science. Stick to the schedule, run at your own pace, get it done.
When I trained for the Chicago half marathon I put my schedule on my refrigerator and checked off each day. My kids saw it and encouraged me. Its placement established it as a priority.
Establishing a process as a writer is as self directed as training for a (half) marathon. If you don’t do the work, you won’t finish. No one can do it for you. Sitting in the kitchen, staring into space, waiting for inspiration is not writing. No more than imagining yourself crossing the finish line is marathon training. Lawyers don’t get to not go to work on a given day because they’re just not feeling it. Writers and runners don’t get to either.
Writing is work. You show up, sit down, do it and come back the next day. As an aspiring novelist you might not have a morning commute or coworkers in the breakroom, but it is work all the same.
Shape your day, set your goals, sit down. Do it. For some writers their goal or their “day” is a specific word count: 1000 or 2000 words a day. For others it’s a block of time - an hour, two, four… Some writers will focus on a section of the book, a scene or chapter. Others famously write and adhere strictly to their schedule so that when the time/word count is hit, they stop, even if they are mid-sentence or mid thought. This works for them, they say. They don’t want to stop when they have finished an idea. They love the idea of being in progress so they can’t wait to pick up again tomorrow.
In an interview John Grisham often gives his readers a glimpse into his process. He prefers to write in the winter. His commute to the office is a walk to an outbuilding on his property that was refurbished to replicate the historic era of its origins (air conditioning and electricity not withstanding). There are no phones, internet lines or faxes (lol) in the building. He does not want the distractions. He starts work at exactly 7 AM every day, five days a week. He works for no more than three hours each day. He works on the same computer and drinks coffee from the same mug. His process is his priority. And because he respects it, others do as well.
You don’t have to replicate anyone’s process. Just develop a process and stick to it. Print it out and put it on the refrigerator.
And if you’re following tip number one (don’t quit your day job), a process is key. Identify a day, or time of day, that is for writing. Get up an hour early and write before your normal day starts. There is an epic Twitter writing group called #5AMWritersClub. They check in each morning, hold each other accountable, take a picture from their desk (coffee mugs dominate) and create a bit of community.
I knew of a writer that went from her day job to her kid’s gymnastics classes and sat in the break room for the two hours her daughter was defying gravity four days a week. It was scheduled, uninterrupted, focused time. While all the other parents were imagining themselves at the 202X Olympics, my friend was head down, focused on her writing. And unless her daughter blew an ankle on a dismount, she knew she could count on those two hours, on those four days every week.
Build a schedule. In addition to writing, build some reading time into your schedule (see tip number 2) and set aside time for social media. It’s a reality in our world. Follow other writers and see how they do what they do—how do they unveil a cover, how do they help you get to know them (Marian Keyes is masterful at being herself on Twitter. You love her and want to read her work. And when you read her novels, you can literally hear her voice in your head). What are the moments authors celebrate? Who is wise and insightful? Follow, like and share. Then turn it off.
Make a list for your day and check things off as you do them. It’s a very satisfying feeling. Keep distractions at bay, protect your time with every ounce of your being. There are no extra minutes. You must make the most of the ones you have. You can decide if you want to squander them on another episode of reality tv or devote them to your dream. And in your spare time take care of the house, make the meals, carpool the kids to school, run the meetings at work and plan the family vacation. Your dream should get the same level of priority as the grooming schedule for the PomaPoo, for goodness sake. If you don’t value your time and your dream, and celebrate the progress, no one else will.
Highly successful people, regardless of their profession, attribute their success to a routine or daily schedule. They allocate time in their day to exercise, sleep, work, eat. Time for family, faith, reading, and hobbies/interest. This is not an original idea.
Create a schedule. Your first priority is your dream. It might not get the bulk of your time, in fact I can guarantee it won’t. However, it needs to be on paper, in a place of prominence. The foundation on which everything else is sorted. Your second priority is the must do’s—the job that pays the bills, the kids, your health. Everything falls into place behind your priorities. You may find that some things need to come off the list… can someone else cut the grass? Can another parent chaperone the field trip?
And as you keep your day job and stay focused on your dream, look at what you are modeling for your kids. For your friends. You’re doing it! You are making progress towards it every day. They will respect you when you say, “No, I can’t do that on Tuesday, I need to write.” If you respect yourself, your time and your dreams, others will too.
The ones that don’t get it don’t deserve your time. The ones that do… they are on the top of your guest list for the book launch party. They will sit with you while you wait for an agent to respond. They ask you how it’s coming and really care. They will proudly introduce you as my friend, the writer. They will want to help you cross the finish line.
It starts with you. You set the tone. You make the priorities. It all starts with how you build your schedule, with respect for yourself and your time.
Often referred to as the Queen of BS (Brand Strategy) Annie McCormick has a distinguished career, spanning nearly three decades, setting brand strategy for organizations big and small. She is a dynamic, strategic, nonprofit executive and storyteller with extensive experience setting strategy to advance the mission of the institution and engage key strategic partners. She currently reigns as the Queen of BS for Tall Poppy Writers.
She aspires to write novels that will make you laugh, go with you everywhere and be featured in your social media feed with glasses of wine and good chocolate.
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