5 Reasons to love your day job…

I’m not sure about you, but I have a day job. If I were a betting girl, I’d hazard a guess that most aspiring or emerging writers do – as do a relatively large proportion of (even) mid-list established writers. Sadly, we can’t all be JK Rowling.

I’m actually quite fortunate – since moving to the Sunshine Coast, not only do I work remotely (back to Sydney), but I’ve been able to cut my hours back to 3 days a week. After years of trying to juggle my writing with a full-time role and a daily 3 hour commute (90 mins each way), this feels awfully close to being the perfect balance. Surprisingly though, I think I wrote more feverishly when I had less time to do so. Go figure.

Ultimately my goal is not only to make enough money from my writing to not only pay the bills and travel, but to have the freedom not to work for anyone else again. In the meantime, though, the day job has to take priority – and I’m grateful for it. There are, however, still days when I’d prefer to be writing. On those days I remember these things:

It pays the bills.

Well, it pays some of the bills. It buys me time until my books can pay for themselves – and support us in the manner to which I want to become accustomed…and travel for research and…you get the idea…

It allows me the freedom to self-publish

The income from my partition job means that I have the funds available to invest in self-publishing. It buys me a control over my writing career that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and allows me to work with the people that I want to work with.

It provides inspiration

Sadly some of that inspiration will never hit the page – confidentiality and all that. Besides, some of the things I’ve seen and heard in the workplace would never be believed if I wrote it in a book. Some of the characters would definitely be criticised as being too clichéd or too completely unbelievable – sad but oh too true.

I read somewhere once that 30% of your characters are based on yourself, 30% on others, and the rest on imagination. You know what they say: don’t piss the writer off – you could end up in a book…dead. All I’m saying to this is stay tuned for my cozy mystery series…

Seriously though, the experiences of the day job provide layers and realism in my creative work. My current protagonist, Callie, is in human resources. I’ve never been in an HR job before, yet in the last couple of months I’ve been relieving in a recruiting role. I’m not sure whether it’s art imitating life or the other way around. Either way the experience has meant that a lot of what I’d previously written has been, shall we say, rewritten.

It provides the drive to write

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been stuck in a spread-sheet and had the best idea for a story, or the solution to a plot problem. If only I could write full- time, I say to myself, I wouldn’t have this issue.

The truth is, having the pressure of the day job, and the need to squeeze my writing into a relatively small space has resulted in me being more disciplined and more able to set goals and deadlines and stick to them. I’ve written and published 3 books in 2 years while working a busy corporate job and juggling my daughter’s school, life etc.

I now have the freedom to write more, but seem to be more productive creatively when the partition job is at its busiest and most, shall we say, problematic. Perhaps it’s at that point when the motivation is there to motor through and get the product out there. Just saying.

It helps from a business viewpoint

I’ve learned so much about running a business from my corporate roles over the years. Over the last dozen or so years every one of my partition jobs has taught me skills that I’m absolutely using in my indie publishing business today. Skills like project management, budgeting, deadline setting (and keeping), IT know-how, business planning, strategy, and so much more.

What about you? Do you have a day job? How do you juggle the 2 parts of your life?

10 tips to work from home and get stuff done…

This isn’t my office…

Working from home. It’s the dream, right?

You lie in bed until five minutes before you’re due to log into work and then spend your day in your pyjamas while you are working. Yeah, that doesn’t work for me.

These days I work completely from home – juggling part-time hours in my partition job (remote work back to Sydney), with my fiction writing, astro writing, and content creation/ marketing. The thing is, I’m not naturally disciplined – I need the commitment to a routine in order to get anything accomplished. It’s a boundary thing.

Anyways, here are my tips to working from home and getting stuff done.

  1. Have a work routine

Just as if you had to get up, get dressed and commute to work, set a repeatable routine for yourself.

In Sydney, my alarm would go off at 5.30am so I could leave for the bus at 6.20am, to be in the city for coffee by 8 and at my desk and working before 8.30

These days, my alarm still goes off at that time, but I head down to the beach for a walk.

I’m still at my desk and working by 8.30, but I’ve had some exercise and fresh air as well. Hashtag winning.

  1. Get dressed

Yes, get out of your pjs. You don’t have to dress up and do the make-up thing, but getting dressed is you telling yourself that you mean business. It’s part of the ritual of going to work.

  1. Go to work

I’m lucky in that I have a dedicated office slightly away from the rest of the house –up 5 stairs. When I go to work, that’s what I’m doing. If you don’t have your own space, dedicate an area to your work zone. It doesn’t need to be huge, but it does need to be where you work. It’s a symbolic thing.

Of course, going to work could mean picking up your laptop and escaping to the nearest coffee shop, park, beach, or whatever. I do that too – especially if I need to change my headspace from partition to creative.

  1. Implement a reasonable internet use policy

Just as you have a reasonable internet use policy in the office, do the same when you’re working for yourself or at home. If it would be unacceptable to sit on Facebook all day while you’re in the partition, why is it ok to waste your working hours on it at home?

Naturally, the exceptions are if you’re on there for genuine research purposes, or for social media marketing/ content scheduling.

  1. Take regular breaks

Although the temptation might be to work through, make sure you completely stop for a lunch break. If you’d normally have a sandwich and a walk during your lunch hour, do this at home too. Just stop – for at least 30 minutes.

  1. Stock your pantry

If you don’t want your lunch hour spreading into a lunch 2 hours, have your pantry (or freezer) stocked with lunch options.

  1. Clock off

Again, because you’re at home, it’s way too easy to just keep working. Set a knock-off time and stick to it. Of course, the exceptions are deadlines and those amazing days when the words are flowing easily – but for all other times, close the laptop at the end of your designated working day.

  1. Put a full stop under the day

If you were commuting, you’d usually have a period of time between the end of the work day and the beginning of home time. Do the same here. Whether it’s taking the dog for a walk, relaxing with a book, pouring a glass of wine – whatever. Make a ritual of something that symbolises that your work day is done. I usually take the dog for a walk, or duck back down to the beach to watch the sunset. Then I come home and it’s time to make dinner.

  1. Set boundaries

By far, the hardest part of working from home is persuading others that you’re working from home.

My husband isn’t working at the moment, so is home most of the time. At first he had a few issues with this concept.

‘But I never know if you’re working,’ he’d say.

‘If it’s Monday to Friday and I’m in the office, it’s safe to assume that I’m working,’ I’d reply.

‘But I don’t know whether you’re work working, or working on your stuff working,’ he’d say, the inference being that if I was work working ie back to Sydney being paid directly for what I do working, he wouldn’t interrupt me. Hmmmm.

  1. Maintain a schedule

Ok, this is one I struggle with at present. The work I do back to Sydney is the only income producing activity at present – we certainly can’t pay the bills on what I earn from my writing…yet. This means that although I start each week with a schedule of when I’ll be doing partition work and when I can work on anything else, if it has to change to squeeze more partition hours in or move them around – then that’s what I have to do.

Blogging gets squeezed in usually on the weekends, and I always find extra time over the weekend or in the evenings for my novel.

I break my days into three sections:

  1. Mornings 8.30- 12pm I’m most productive in the morning, so this is the best time for me to be doing partition work, and anything where I need a clear run.
  2. Pm 1: 1pm – 3pm I use this for any leftover partition hours
  3. Pm 2: 2.30 – 5.30pm

At present I’m working on converting some astro blog content to an ebook, and my latest novel – although it changes depending on whether I have any freelance work booked. In general I prioritise whatever is associated with actual now income rather than future income e.g. from next week I’ll be putting together my presentation for the RWA Conference.

Anyways, on an ideal week, my days might look something like:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
am Partition Partition Blog to book Partition Blog to Book
pm 1 Partition Partition Novel Partition Explore & lunch
pm 2 Blog to book Novel Novel Blog to book content scheduling/ admin

What about you? Do you work from home? How do you get stuff done?

8 ways to beat writer’s block…

Exhausted and overworked

Writer’s Block.

noun. A usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

I’m at the soggy middle stage of I Want You Back. I’ve written the beginning, I’ve written the ending, now I need to work out how A will get to B…so to speak…and the words are having problems coming through.

My characters are still chatting away and jostling about in my head – as they do. The problem is, they’re chatting away and jostling about with other characters whose turn to come out and play hasn’t yet arrived.

Plus, their chatter and story is currently being drowned out by all the noise in my head associated with buying a house, selling a house, and arranging an interstate move. Next time I pronounce, ‘seriously, how hard can it be?’ remind me of this moment.

I know I’m being hard on myself – there’s a lot going on and perhaps I should give myself a break, but:

  • This is a business and commitments that get made have to be kept – just as they would be in any other business or if I had a book with a deadline to a traditional publisher
  • I am busy – as are all of us who are juggling writing with day jobs, kids and other responsibilities. As such I can’t afford to waste any of that precious time staring at a blank screen
  • I knew that we were moving when I set my production schedule at the end of last year. Any over-commitment is my problem.

I’m in this game because I like the process of creating – and (mostly) find writing fun. It got me thinking about what I do to keep it fun when the words aren’t behaving themselves.

1. Write a scene any scene.

When I’m stuck for words, I write a scene that’s completely out of order to where the manuscript is up to. Often the scene playing in my head is not the one that I set out to write, but there’s no way I’m wasting the limited time I have to write by trying to force a scene that isn’t yet ready to be written.

Because there’s always a lot going on in my life (and my head) I write this way a lot. It’s one of the reasons I love scrivener – I can easily move the scenes about when I work out where they need to go.

Writing in this higgledy- piggledy fashion certainly adds to the edit effort, but you know what they say: you can’t edit the words you haven’t written. Besides, we’re in this game because we like the process of creating – so

2. Finish at least one paragraph before you run out of words.

This is a little like the writer’s version of the rhythm method. Yes, I truly did say that. Anyways, my point is, leave a little behind. I’m making this worse, aren’t I? If you stop a few sentences from the end of your scene, you have somewhere to start in your next session that doesn’t require too much thought.

3.Write a blog post.

Aside from this site, I also have an astrology site (Jo Tracey Astrology), and and anyways – a site where I blog pretty much anything else: food, travels, rambles, thoughts, whatever.

I keep a loose schedule for astro blog posts, and a sheet of paper on my desk with a heap of word hints for blog ideas for here and for and anyways, so when the block hits, I get the juices flowing again with something from the list.

4.Watch good writing.

Ok, this could possibly be drawing a fine line between procrastination and research, but watching good writing (and I mean good writing) or something in the genre that you’re writing can help. Again this is about learning and inspiration – not entertainment. Oh, and set a time limit or before you know it you’ll be binge watching episodes of Lewis…did that come out loud?

5.Read.

Preferably away from the genre you’re writing. Sometimes the problem is that you can’t hear your voice over the voices you’re reading – especially if you’re reading something of a similar feel to what you’re writing.

I’m reading Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series at present. It’s cozy crime set in in 1920s London and country England. I’m reading it not just because I’m enjoying the jolly hockey sticks, and spiffiness of it, but because it’s so different to I Want You Back – which is contemporary women’s fiction set in modern day Melbourne and Hong Kong.

6.Go for a walk.

This is usually my fail-safe never fails to work option…except when I don’t do it – which I’m not at present. Somehow walking has the same effect as a moving meditation. Focusing on something else – being aware of everything else around you – clears your brain so you can sort out whatever plot or character problem that’s stopping you from moving forward.

7.Pull out your playlist…or pinterest board.

Playlists are to me an audible inspiration. I’ll listen to a song that I just know a particular scene has to feel like. I know that it doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but it does. Yesterday I wrote a scene that I’m hoping reads like Missy Higgins’ The Way You Are Tonight looks in my head.

Maybe you use a pinterest board or some other type of vision tool. Whatever it is, revisit it.

8.Interview your characters.

I went through a similar stage with Wish You Were Here. In that case my “block” was largely because I didn’t understand Max’s motivations. What did she really want, and what was she prepared to do to get it? Knowing her chart helped me answer that question, but so did a spot of free writing in her voice. Have some questions up your sleeve that could help, as could writing some back story that while never seeing the light of day will help you understand what it is that makes your characters react the way they do.

As the definition says, writer’s block is usually temporary – so take comfort in that.

Do you have any tips to beat the dreaded white page or blank screen?

Finding time to write: 5 tips to beat the excuses…

Feather pen set of abstract color

Tomorrow is November 1, ie the official start to nanowrimo.

Just lately, I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve said things like:

‘I SO want to do this. Like, seriously, really want to do this- but I just don’t have time. I have a job, you know.’

Or

‘I’m ready this year, but November is when the shit starts to hit the fan with school stuff.’

Or

‘I don’t know how people manage it. I have a family, and a job. I really want to do it- I know there’s a book in me- but I simply don’t have time.’

Here’s the thing- I know. I know all of this. I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy – in our own ways. Sometimes I think busy-ness is a competitive sport.

I have a family and work a stressful full-time job too. I’m out the door at 6.30am, and back home by 7pm. In the meantime, I have a heavy blogging schedule with the astro site, and like to keep regular posts happening on and anyways and here too. My house still needs cleaning, and clothes need washing, and shirts need ironing, and gardens need weeding, and social lives need arranging. There’s always something that has to be done. A couple of hours to sit down and write can seem like a guilty pleasure.

I used to say that I’d like to run a marathon. I said it so often that I had to enter a 10km event. Twice. Then it hit me that I didn’t really want to run a marathon- I didn’t really want to run at all. I hated it- so much I can’t put the words around it. Emily’s story in Baby, It’s You, is mine (well, the running bit is)- except that it took me longer to declare that I was never ever ever running again. Ever. A nice walk would suit me perfectly well.

The same analogy goes for writing a book. You might have been saying for years that you want to write a book. The experience of nano could help you decide if long distance writing is really for you. Or it will help you get it out of your system and convince you that the literary equivalent of a nice walk is more your style.

If you really (and I mean really) want to do nanowrimo, but have no idea how you’re going to fit it in, try these tips:

You don’t need to write 50,000 words

That’s right. You don’t. Any words you do write will be more than you had last month. Set yourself a session goal. It could be 500 words, it could be 1667…it could be somewhere in between. It’s all ok. This month I will be completely off the grid for 5 days when I’m tramping Milford Sound, and a further 3 days in the Victorian High Country. The likelihood of me making 50,000 words is slim – but, then again, I said that last year too.

Schedule your writing time

Get your calendar out and mark in all your commitments- places that you know you have to be. Be honest, and be realistic.

Maybe you can manage a half an hour in the morning before the kids get up and all hell breaks loose, or an hour at night after they go to bed. You might choose to fit it in on a weekend, or get together with friends for a marathon writing session.

However you schedule it, keep to it.

What’s my routine?

I tend to exercise first thing in the morning- at least a few mornings a week – so my alarm goes off at 4.45am. During November, I’ll use that hour to write and walk at lunchtime instead. I usually manage to write for an hour or so (in bed) each night. I write at the hairdressers, I scribble in my journal in the 15-20 mins I have every morning between getting off the bus and meeting my BMF for coffee. I grab every single minute I can.

I try and get next weeks blog posts done and scheduled on Friday evening and Saturday mornings before whatever maintenance appointment needs keeping. It’s mad, but it means I can spend time with my family on the weekend, and get my real writing done over the time that’s left.

Yes, it’s chaotic, and busy and all the rest of that, but I figure that one day (hopefully in the not too distant future) this will be my full-time job and I won’t need to fit a corporate role around it. In the meantime, I’m prepared to do what it takes to get there.

Schedule your down-time

You have to. Getting out for a walk, or a coffee or whatever will help keep the creative juices flowing- and ensure you stay sane. I tend to write to a playlist, so when I’m stuck, that music and a ramble often gets it all flowing again. If you want to stay inspired while you’re walking, podcasts are a great idea.

Limit your TV

Yes, yes, yes…but it’s only for 30 days. You can catch up on your favourite shows later. I tend to allow myself an hour a night. The same applies to internet.

Be kind to yourself

You don’t need to make like Superwoman. It’s ok if there’s a dust bunny in the corner, or a weed in the vegie patch, or leftovers for dinner or that New Moon post and newsletter. It’s ok to ask for help, and it’s ok to stand in the middle of the room when you get home and scream…or is that just me?

So, how about it? Are you in?