What to do When Your Work is at War

photo credit: Road Closed via photopin (license)
photo credit: Road Closed via photopin (license)

Something that happens to me a lot is that I have more projects I want to work on than I have time to work in. It isn’t really possible to take time away from work if the bills are still going to get paid. There are other things that have to get done every day – meals, transit, exercise, time with family … we all have our own specific limits on our time. If you freelance like I do, you probably have your day divided into specific time blocks during which you can try to get everything done.

Blocking time

Even if you aren’t a freelancer, blocking time can be effective to help you get things done. Essentially, you figure out how much time you have available in a day. For me, this could be all of my waking hours, but I don’t recommend that. If you don’t have a job to report to, I’d recommend you plan for 10 hours available in a day. The other six will be eaten up in random family time, personal care, mealtimes, etc. If you do have a job, be sure to take out the time you already have scheduled for work, including getting ready and making the trip to and from your workplace, and other daily routines. What’s left is your available hours.

Make a separate list of the things you want to accomplish – writing your book, engage in a new creative project, start a new fitness routine. Now combine your two lists, deciding how much time you have each day for each of the things you want to do. If you don’t have enough time in a day to fit it all in, try alternating days with a specific activity. Maybe you do a heavy workout Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and you focus on flexibility and stretching on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

But what do you do when you suddenly get two projects competing for the same time slot and alternating just won’t work? For me, this happens with my creative writing projects which necessarily also must compete with fast-turn ghostwriting projects that won’t fit into the work blocks.

Find the Fusion

If you read my creativity post from a few weeks ago, you’ll know that I don’t like to dwell on the negative too much. Every time you look at a challenge as a negative or an enemy of whatever you want to do, you create a real block in your energy flow. Your mind tends to focus on the idea of being blocked and that’s where you stay. This creates a sharp divide between where you want to be and where you are with no clear path on how to move past it.

But not every meeting of opposing forces needs to be negative. Think about some of the opposites you know:

  • Hot and cold – when they meet they can create an ethereal mist, changing the landscape into something otherworldly
  • Day and night – when they meet, they produce a magical purple twilight period
  • Black and white – when they meet, they introduce all those wonderful shades of gray that provide the world with nuance and interest

Instead of focusing on the block as a block, try thinking of it as an opportunity to fuse. Where can this project fuse with another project to perhaps create something new and magical that you hadn’t planned.

My Block Fusion

As I’ve been working to finish catching up work I’d fallen behind on from recent events, I also managed to acquire a new ghostwriting project. My work hours are already full of other commitments, so ghostwriting needs to bleed into my creative writing time at least in the short term but I already have five titles I want to be working on. It would be easy to look at this situation as a complete bottleneck. No way can any of this be done!

But that isn’t true. The ghostwriting opportunity came just as I was trying to figure out if it would be viable to rotate four different stories through four days of the week with maybe a fifth given over to Delta Shadows. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep everything straight doing that or how it might work in terms of NaNo. My fusion came when my client mentioned he’d be willing to share credits for the work – something we’ll be talking about more as the project moves forward.

For now, it has provided me with enough flexibility to talk about the subject of the book in general terms, it gives me a definite project to work on for NaNo that is completely new, it doesn’t pull me away from my desire to work on Delta Shadows, and it doesn’t even necessarily take up additional time. Plus, because it is paid work, it can flow between work hours and creative hours with ease as the opportunity presents itself, opening up time for other projects in either category as the month moves forward.

photo credit: Kosovo Basic Education Program Book Fair via photopin (license)
photo credit: Kosovo Basic Education Program Book Fair via photopin (license)

How about you?

What do you think – is it cheating to work on a paid project during the NaNo period? It is completely creative, a completely new work, fiction, and needs to be at least 50,000 words – we’re actually planning on twice that. Since the goal for everyone in NaNo is to have the work published and eventually hopefully make money from it, it’s hard for me to see what I’m doing as much different, but I’m curious about what you think. Also, I know some of you work on multiple titles at a time. How do you organize that and keep your stories (and characters) straight?

You May Also Like

5 thoughts on “What to do When Your Work is at War

  1. I have been meaning to toss in my 2 cents worth…its Canadian so its barely worth a penny.

    I probably will not experience NaNo. I am easily distracted and have found that my greatest pleasure as a writer these days is flash fiction. There is a speed and a varying completion date (1-5 days, usually) and that satisfies most of my creative urges.

    I will continue working at a snails pace on my larger projects but it is the variation in theme afforded by myriad flash fiction sites, zipping in and out of mini-genres, just enjoying my private writing moments and the occasional recognition that may come along that spurs me to keep writing.

    Most writers, I imagine, are drawn to the magic mix of the words they assemble, the thoughts and imaginings that transfix them. It is the pure pleasure of word smithing that moves many of us along.

    1. Thanks for chiming in Bill, whether it’s two cents worth, a nickel, or barely a penny 🙂

      I can understand finding pleasure and fulfillment in working with flash fiction contests. They give you so much opportunity to stretch your creative muscles in so many different ways – part of why I have so many ideas I want to write about. I love your approach of reveling in the moment of creation and letting the rest come together as it will.

  2. Wendy, I’ve heard the idea of blocking/chunking up your work day before, but it never really clicked until I read this post. I immediately grabbed my pencil and notepad and started jotting down a schedule.

    I’m going to try to follow the schedule for the next full work week, and see how it goes. (It helps that the little ones will be with my mother-in-law the whole weekend! That’s two extra work days I hadn’t expected to get. Yay!)

    As for multiple projects, I have done it with limited success. As a freelancer and an author, I often have to make time to do both my commissioned projects and my own writing. Sometimes it’s a struggle. Right now, with the help of my new blocked-out schedule, I’m going to try to work on:

    1. My new novel/NaNoWriMo project
    2. Commissioned projects (usually 1-3 at any given time)
    3. My blog
    4. Three e-books I want to write

    All of that, of course, with the added bonus of promoting Maladaptation, still writing & submitting short fiction and articles, AND being a parent/spouse/daughter-in-law/friend.

    I’ll report back this time next week and let you know how it went.

    1. I’m so glad schedule blocking finally clicked for you! And hope it has the desired effects. I found I needed both flexibility and accountability, so I got index cards and labeled them things like Work Block – 2 hours, Play – 30 minutes. As my day shifts around, so do my cards. Another plus, if work block is on the table next to me when my dear one comes in to chat, he now knows to ask me my timing 🙂 .

      What a great idea on the accountability concept, too. Let’s do this together. Here’s what I’m working on this week and we can both report in on Friday:

      1. My ghost NaNo project – get the outline approved
      2. Copywriting projects – currently have 8 on deck, I’d like to finish 5
      3. Play with you guys on WOW by keeping the blog up to date (thinking about changing the contest)
      4. Finish all my creative organizing before NaNo starts

      OK, those are the biggies without many of the additional duties you have. Good luck to us both!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: