Changing Hats — Author to Household Manager and Back

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Two weeks ago, after I wrote about Writing More, Faster, Smarter (and my goal to have written about half a million   published and/or publishable words by this time next year), Laura had a question.  She asked:

[Y]ou handle a lot of the household stuff. How do you balance that while working, exactly? Do you have specific time slots, or do you retreat to a cafe? I found myself getting sidetracked by household stuff and it bugs me. Stuff that felt like it was hanging over my head because I was home from the dayjob and had the “chance” to take care of it. Even if it could have waited. I was still successful in getting *something* down, just not nearly as much as I’d hoped. What would you recommend?

Laura’s right.  I handle almost all our household stuff — all the grocery shopping, other household goods shopping, cooking, household correspondence, and the limited gardening we do, along with the vast majority (95%, maybe?) of errand-running and home maintenance.  (I consider it a fair deal — my husband commutes downtown every day, works a job that requires him to sit at a desk at specific hours, and he earns a paycheck that evens out the craziness of freelance cash-flow — not to mention guaranteeing us benefits such as health insurance.)

While it’s a fair deal, it still requires a lot of time management.  My solution is uniquely suited to “full-time” writers (the quotation marks mean I’d be full time if I didn’t have to do all the other crap in the above paragraph), but it might be helpful for part-timers trying to structure their time.  My secret:

I alternate.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other Friday, I write.  I do almost nothing but write, from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  (I take breaks to shower, make and eat lunch, prepare elements of dinner that have to be prepared before 5:30, and, um, use the restroom.)  I *try* to fit fitness breaks in — walks around the block for 10 minutes at a time, but after taking the first one around 10:00 a.m., I’m usually too time-pressured to do another couple in the afternoon.  Yes.  I know this is unhealthy.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I do everything else.  I take an exercise class from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. on both of those days.  From 10:00 on, I complete all the household crap (including cooking meals that can be made in advance for days when writing runs long).  I also socialize — these are the days I schedule lunch or coffee breaks with friends.  I do my damnedest to schedule doctor’s appointments on Tuesdays or Thursdays, although that’s not always possible.  I also use Tuesdays and Thursdays to do all my self-publishing work — corresponding with editors and designers, formatting ebooks and print books, uploading files to vendors, fighting with vendors over payments, coordinating group projects, such as SIX TIMES A CHARM (6 light paranormal novels for less than a buck — buy your copy today — Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo!), etc., etc., etc.  Finally, I use Tuesdays and Thursdays to do all my publicity and promotion — writing posts for blog tours, doing advance posts for my blog and Magical Words, updating my website, etc., etc., etc. 

(Every other Friday, I take off, to correspond with my husband’s Flexday program, where he works long hours on nine weekdays and gets every other Friday off.)

My to-do list for writing days is brief:

  • Make my husband’s lunch
  • Make my lunch
  • Eat breakfast
  • Respond to urgent email
  • Write (I specify which chapters)
  • Eat lunch
  • Write (I specify which chapters)
  • Make dinner
  • Eat dinner

My to-do list for admin days typically runs to about 20 items, but may be longer if I’ve got a lot of household stuff and a lot of publishing admin stuff.

I settled on this system after spending several years where I set priorities for each day, based on my perceived urgency of the overall to-do list.  Using that system, I found it very difficult to carve out writing time — the concentrated butt-in-chair time seemed always to come last, around 4:00 p.m., when I couldn’t produce enough to meet my deadlines.  Moreover, in times of writing crisis, *nothing* got done on the household/admin front.

My current system has made me vastly more productive than I was.  It also leaves me constantly dissatisfied — On Mondays, Wednesdays, and writing Fridays, I *always* want to write the next day.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I *always* have more projects I want to complete.  That dissatisfaction, though, drives me to be more efficient and more likely to complete each day’s assigned work.

(Incidentally, I just completed a 45K romance novel in a month — from blank screen to edited, publishable draft — using this system.  My admin days gave me a chance to muse on plot problems and to research details, so that my writing days were maximally useful.)

If I were adapting my schedule for a part-time writer, I would consider a couple of models.  I could mandate “before noon” to be writing time and “after noon” to be admin time.  Or, if I were investing a week of vacation, I could apply my every-other-day model.

So?  What do you think?  Do you use a model like this?  Do you think you could make one work for you?

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11 comments to Changing Hats — Author to Household Manager and Back

  • sagablessed

    Point blank: I am doomed. My work schedule is not what one would call stable. On my days off I admit I lack discipline as I get Monster (my puppy, best friend, and companion). So time then is spent with him. I am also a facebook addict. (I need a 12-step program.) I also recently stopped chemo for a while, as the side effects were getting too much to handle. So there is that worry. I am also a slow typer. *hangs head in shame*

    However, reading your post, it lit a fire under my tookus. The ideas are there. They are good ideas. I have had some awesome feedback from my betas. As the next two months of work are set in semi-porous stone, I shall set down my tasks and make it happen. If you can do it with a whole household to run, so can I with my meager duties.

    I also pledge to myself and the MW collective to write at least one page a day (about 500 WOP), save emergencies and 1 day a week of Monster time, everyday in October. I will manage my time far, far better. So be it.

    You, my dear contributor, have given me inspiration. Thank you. 😀

  • Ken

    I write in the late evening, as close to 9:30-10:00 Pm as I can get. I write 6 (sometimes 7) days out of seven and I’m not particular about word count. What matters the most is that I’m actually there. That I’m forming the habit. The hour is late because that’s when I get done with the “Life” stuff (it has nothing to do with the fact that, if left to my own devices, I would probably go completely nocturnal :)). I’ve had to cut back on some things. Facebook, gaming, etc wait until the weekends.

    I can’t say that I wouldn’t maintain the same schedule if I was in your situation, Mindy. After being on my scedule for the last month or so, I’m finding that the “Same time (most) every day” thing is working for me. I can see heading up to the office around 10:30 and staying there until about 2 or 3 am. It takes me about 4 hours to get down 2000 words. I’d catch a (not so) quick 8 hours of sleep, then get up and do the house stuff.

  • Wow, Mindy. I’m not sure I could do what you do. My ability to write productively is all about momentum, and your system is inherently . . . not. I think it would be very difficult for me to function the way you do. Which leaves me with my productive but highly unorganized, get-the-non-writing-crap-done-whenever-I-can system. At least for now.

  • Mindy, I used to be able to set a writing schedule, but recently (for the last 20 months) there have been continuous eldercare issues. For instance, today was writing day, but mom was too dizzy to drive to the chiro, who fixes her dizziness. So I lost 4 hours of writing time to be with mom. Now I have to dig in and work. It’s become a mish-mash of *finding time* to write. And it’s hard to do. Very hard to do. And I have no idea how to fix it except to write in spurts of time. I wrote 2 books that way long ago, and finding that rhythm has not been easy.

  • Mindy, thanks for addressing this. And wow.

    I think I’ll have to really look at my schedule. Things are a bit chaotic during the week. It’s helping by setting goals, but reading others’ comments, I have to agree, right now it’s been about finding time. But making time would help, too. I go to weekly write-ins. With NaNo coming we’re cracking down on using the time for writing time and not chatting time. I also have my lunch hours, which eating aside are mostly free. Saturday Morning Chores seem like an inevitability, but if I set a deadline on how much time I devote to them, I can probably manage. And I write best first thing when I sit down, before I let the distractions bug me. So maybe for me, it’ll be a balance of using scheduled time I *know* I can apply to writing, and then finding other time when I can, but also setting aside time for the household stuff so it doesn’t drive me crazy. Right. *deep breaths* Speaking of which, I still have half an hour on my lunch break…

  • I haven’t been able to get a writing schedule set up yet for the semester. And in a couple of weeks I’m actually adding another class, so I’ll have even less time. I tried to set aside time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my light work days, and on Sunday after errands and chores, but I think I’m more like David–my productivity seems to be more momentum based, so writing every other day isn’t really working for me. Once I get the new class planned, I’m going to try to write at least a little bit everyday no matter how tired my brain and body are. I need to walk in the door and start writing, because once I sit down somewhere I don’t tend to move again!

  • mudepoz

    Pass the suntan lotion? *Rubs on shoulders* *Rolls over* On vacation on beach, I’m writing in my head. Now if I could just download it via BluTooth.

  • Tom G

    Interesting system, Mindy. Glad it works for you. As someone said above, I need momentum. I write 7 days a weeks, and get up at 3am to do so, too. So from 3am to 6am Monday thru Friday I write, and then go to my full time job in the city. On weekends I tend to write until around noon, with frequent “Blog breaks” to check my favorite writer sites. Doing that, I was part of a group that aimed for and I achieved 100k in August. Of course it burned me out, and I barely wrote 34k in September, but on average I write between 50k and 70k a month. It isn’t easy at times, but I’ve written sex novels and around 300 short stories (okay, fanfic shorts) doing it since 2006.

    I’m too tired after work on weekdays, so I do my indie publishing non-writing stuff on weekend afternoons.

    It works for me, but I have a stay at home wife to handle household duties.

  • I love how polite everyone is here. At least half of you are (politely) saying, “You’re nuts, Mindy, and so is your system! But you do it so nicely!)

    sagablessed – No need for shame! Discipline is a huge challenge, no matter *how* you divide up work and play time — I suspect every single one of us would rather play full-time and have the words magically appear as we imagine them. There’s a special challenge when your distraction *needs* your attention, like Monster needing food and walks (but not like Facebook needing clicks! :-) ) Good luck with your pledge!

    Ken – I’ve had times in my life when I was much more nocturnal than I am now. (In college, I discovered the magic time block between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., when I completed the vast majority of my programming class assignments!) When I worked an office job, my most useful writing block was 4:30 a.m. – 7:30 a.m. — because I could do that consistently. Sounds like you’re on track for something working for you now, with a useful modification if your life schedule shifts down the line.

    DavidBCoe – My writing is also tied to momentum. My problem was that I had ZERO momentum; my inertia kept my overly tied to Facebook, and the Book View Cafe collective boards, and Facebook, and my email, and Facebook, and Livejournal, and Facebook. I was producing close to NOTHING until the very end of the day, when I wrote in a brief, productive, panicked spurt. Knowing that I CAN’T write tomorrow seems to be helping get momentum going. For now. ::wry grin::

    Faith – As I wrote my post, I was trying to be especially sensitive to people with office jobs, but I *totally* forgot to address the other major impediment to My Way — minors and elders who are dependent on us. I’ve had three different periods in the last year (two, since I adopted this schedule), where I had to throw all plans out the window because I was taking care of children or elderly relatives with major medical needs. And yes, the only solution I found was snagging spare seconds, and hoping for the best. Hang in there, and know that you’re an inspiration to all of us adjusting to changing life roles!

    Laura – ::grin:: Jim Hines has very successfully harnessed his lunch hours for years, writing numerous published books that way. And yes, I find that setting a deadline makes me get the chores done much faster — what doesn’t happen today isn’t going to happen until Thursday/Tuesday — that motivates me. (Although some things *do* always slip — most notably recently, washing the windows, which my husband did yesterday, and I am *still* marveling at how cloudy the world had become, without my realizing it!)

    SiSi – I think the key to my system is more *setting* the time, rather than the specifics of those times (although my specifics work for me, because I goof off a lot, if left to my own devices.) I’ve mentioned before that I think academic semesters pose one of the greatest challenges to authors — your schedule is *always* new and changing, with substantially varying demands as papers, mid-terms, and exams come due.

    mudepoz – We can assimilate you, and you can download to us! Enjoy your vacay!

    Tom – Just in case you read this, but don’t read my other responses… I, too, need momentum, but that requires initial energy, which I generate through my broken schedule. (Otherwise, the inertia kept me from writing at all.) It’s interesting how your writing life dovetails with my homemaker life — my spouse enables my writing with his day-job, and yours does with her homemaking…

  • Thanks, Mindy! Well, that’s a happy coincidence. I’ve got a Blue Pencil appointment with JCH at SIWC on the 25th. Maybe I’ll ask him about that. :)

    Otherwise, insanity aside, I am fortunate in that DH takes responsibility for some chores (though bugging him to do it is itself sometimes a chore, sigh), and that I have the biweekly flex-day off, myself. Guess I’ll just try to do what I can with what I have.