Making more time for my writing was one of the reasons why I quit my full time job last spring. I took the summer to decompress and to tackle my very long to do list – check! Now that the boys have started their school year my own writing year to be underway. I'm considering my writing year to last through the school year until late May and then imagine I'll take a break or at least cut back during the summer while the boys are on break.
I put a lot of thought into my writing goals for the year and the structure that would support them. I've felt myself caught between being so excited to have time to write and wanting to do so much while also keeping in mind that this year has many unknowns. I have more dedicated time to write but I'm also doing much more primary childcare than I ever have before. Plus I don't have a sense of how long it will take me to complete bigger writing projects like a book proposal. I'm a diligent but somewhat slow and steady writer. I don't want to set myself up to fail by expecting too much this first year.
Writing year goals
And so I arrived at writing goals that I hope will push me to do new things while still being attainable. With this in mind I've given myself three writing goals for the year:
+ Post consistently on my blog. Seven+ years and going strong, I still love posting new content to this place: connecting with readers and feeling that I've offered a helpful tip, support, or encouragement; capturing what life is like for me right now and what I think about it. On days when a new post publishes I get a little happiness boost and just feel like I have my life together. This blog is both a time capsule and a writing portfolio for me and this year I want to establish a regular publishing schedule of either weekly or twice weekly posts. I see the regular practice of writing about motherhood, creativity, and intentional living to be very supportive of my next goal, too.
+ Write a complete nonfiction book proposal for a book for working moms. This is the big one! I've been percolating and have written sections of content that was going to be an e-course for working moms. Now my plan is to turn that content into a nonfiction book proposal. (My understanding is that for nonfiction books you write a proposal with specific sections summarizing the book and your ability to write it before reaching out to agents/publishers. For fiction books you write the entire manuscript and then reach out to agents/publishers). I want my book to address the range of emotions including "mom guilt" in its many forms that working mothers feel as well as include strategies and tips for logistics like choosing childcare, being strategic and efficient at work, getting out the door in the morning, and finding quality time with your kids when you have full days. It's content that's very close to my heart and that I'm excited to collect in one place. If this goal goes just swimmingly and I finish it with time to spare the next book proposal I want to write is a book about budgeting for couples co-written with Chris.
+ Reach out to nonfiction book agents. As I'm nearing the completion of my book proposal I want to reach out to nonfiction book agents to inquire about interest in working with me and pitching my book to publishers. I'd like to attempt the traditional publishing route first and if I give it my best go and am getting nowhere then I plan to go the self-publishing route.
Writing schedule + resources
And now the very important business of when and how I'm going to do all this. In part the answer is that I'm figuring that out. That's partly what this year is about. I've never written a book proposal before but I have given a lot of thought to how I'll set myself up to succeed.
The first component is the time that I have to work. Cedric's preschool schedule is a big factor dictating the time I have to work. Luckily we have a lot of flexibility and can choose week to week how many days he goes. I've settled on sending him to preschool on an alternating schedule of two days one week, three days the next, two days the next, and so on. I did this so that on the extra third day I get every other week can be dedicated mostly to Girl Next Door podcasting.
Choosing which days of the week Cedric would go to preschool was important as well. I thought about when I have the most energy and motivation to work. For me it's at the beginning of the week and in the mornings. By Friday I definitely have very little energy for focused work. I think there might be an inclination to choose a Monday/Wednesday/Friday preschool schedule because that seems so common but that wouldn't make use of my best working energy. And so every week Cedric goes to preschool on Mondays and Thursdays and every other week also goes on Tuesdays as well. I love it so much! On weeks with three days of preschool I can get in a working groove Monday and Tuesday. And every Thursday I still have enough energy to get creative work done. On Fridays I go grocery shopping with my sidekick and get ready for the weekend. I'm really loving it so far.
Mondays are designated for focused writing on my proposal. I drop the boys off at school and have biked home by 8:30. I make myself a second cup of tea and head to my desk to write. I leave my phone in the kitchen, open up my in-progress document, and fight urges to look up anything online. I give myself a stopping time, usually three hours from whenever I started but I'd like to work up to four hours. Over and over again I see writers talk about having to show up to do the hard work of putting words on a page. You just have to keep showing up and even if on some days all you have to show are a few sentences or you end up deleting it all the next day you keep showing up. So that's what I'm doing.
I'm trying to keep all Girl Next Door Podcasting tasks on my every other working Tuesday. This includes prepping outlines, recording, and editing. We usually record back to back episodes one Tuesday per month and then have another Tuesday for investing in the podcast – social media, brainstorming improvements or changes – as well as keeping each other accountable on our writing projects (Erica is also working on a book proposal this year!). So far it's been great and is keeping us farther ahead in recording episodes than we've ever been and that feels really good. That will give us flexibility as things come up – travel, the inevitable winter sicknesses, etc.
On Thursdays I end up doing a lot of household administration tasks from errands to laundry to cooking. However, I'd like to consistently get another chunk of time to write on Thursdays, maybe this could be dedicated blog post writing time? I'm thinking a lot about this (especially as I read 168 Hours) and how I might shift household tasks to other times or be more efficient at them. A couple times a week I'm also trying to wake up early, by 4:30 or 4:45 a.m., to write for a little while before the boys are up (usually around 5:30 a.m.). I love starting the day this way, but it really requires me to be asleep by 9 p.m. or a little later and I often stay up reading.
And now the how. The blog posts I already know how to write. Takes bow. And while it's new territory writing a nonfiction book proposal doesn't feel terribly intimidating to me any more thanks to diligently listening to the #amwriting podcast and reading the book they frequently reference, The Art of the Book Proposal. This book is like having training wheels and a cheerleader while writing a book proposal. It walks you through exactly what should be included and has writing exercises to complete along the way. When I'm working on my book proposal it is always right next to me and is opened frequently.
As far as reaching out to nonfiction agents, I'll learn more about this later this year but I expect the creative network I've built over the past several years will be a great resource. A tip I read a while back that I put to use is reading the acknowledgements of nonfiction books I enjoyed that are somewhat related to the content I'm writing and making a note of who the agent is.
Reality + guarding writing time
In reality, not every week goes according to my carefully laid plans. This past week I've felt like we're just trying to catch up from camping last weekend, for example. I often have a to-do list longer than the available hours in the day. A strategy that helps me is carefully planning out my creative work days and even assigning a time span to activities. This gives me more realistic expectations of what I can get done and then when things take longer than anticipated I can learn to estimate more accurately the next time.
I also am learning, as anticipated, that I have to guard my writing time fiercely. Life is persistent in trying to encroach on that time! I'm working to ignore household chores when it's writing time (although it's so hard if the house isn't tidy!) and to not schedule appointments or catch up phone calls with friends during that time, even if it's the time that would be the most convenient otherwise.
What I do know is that at the end of my first writing year I will have written lots of words and learned a lot, and that will make for a successful year in my book.