3. Get help.
There are two kinds of assistance that can make your juggling more effective. One is help with child care, yardwork, bookkeeping–any task you handle yourself now that takes time and energy away from your writing. You might feel that, especially if you’re working on a novel or another long-range creative project that isn’t bringing in any immediate money, you can’t afford to pay someone else just so you can steal more writing time. But if you’re not getting it done because you’re too busy chasing a toddler or mowing the lawn, then the minimal fee you pay someone else to free you up for an hour or two a day will be well spent.
The other kind of assistance I recommend comes in the form of a class or a coach or an editor or a group that can help you improve your writing and make the time you spend at your computer more productive. You may feel that you’re juggling so many things now, the last thing you can squeeze in is another few hours a week taking a fiction-writing workshop at a community college or conferring with a writing partner. But especially if your time is limited, you want to make those few hours count-to write the best possible prose in the time you have and not spin out subpar work that will only need to be rewritten or scrapped. So the short-term investment in your writing skills now can actually save you time in the long-run.
4. Just say yes.
I’m horrified when I think of how much work I used to turn down because I thought that I didn’t have enough time, or that I wasn’t really interested in that assignment, or that they weren’t paying quite enough (or at all). I had more time and energy back then, I think, but less capacity to juggle a lot of work and more fear that I couldn’t handle it all.
- Now, I just say yes. To almost everything. People are sometimes surprised that a much-published author is enthusiastic about spending an evening with a book group or writing a blog post for a small website, but I’ve learned that you can’t judge the benefits of projects purely on the basis of money, and having the chance to talk one-on-one with an enthusiastic reader or write something completely from the heart can be worth as much as a big payday.
I’ve also learned that I can handle a lot more time commitments than I thought I could. The more you do, I think, the more you can do, and writing faster, producing more, trying new things and taking risks all create energy rather than draining it. If you’re going to say no to something, make it the school bake sale or the lunch with the neighbor who only likes to complain. When it comes to writing opportunities, just say yes.
5. Take the long view.
You might feel so consumed with juggling every day, every hour, every minute, that you don’t think you have the time to step back and take a long view of what you’re trying to accomplish with your writing. But developing a vision of where you want to be in a year or what kind of book you’re trying to write down to how you want your cover to look and your author bio to read can help you focus what you’re doing with your precious writing time.
- If the books you admire and want to emulate are hardcovers with a literary feel, then your preliminary efforts should be focused on enhancing the language and deepening the characters in your work, more so than on developing the kind of spine-tingling plot that defines a more commercial book.
- On the other hand, if it’s a nice fat advance you’re after rather than the National Book Award, you should be constantly studying bestselling novelists like Dorothea Benton Frank and Harlan Coben for clues to what makes their books so widely appealing, and see how you might model that in your own work.
Then, if you want to be ready to send that manuscript to agents in a year, that means you need to produce roughly seven finished pages (or a scene or two) a week–or, more realistically, 15 weekly pages (two to three scenes) in order to finish a first draft in six months, get feedback from trusted readers, and allow yourself a few more months to revise and polish. Taking the long view can help you set realistic goals that will help keep you on track.
That way, all the effort you put into your daily juggling will get you, in the end, a finished product that makes it all worthwhile.