Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More Time Management

Okay, so today I’m going back to time management for writers. Previously, I gave you my two best tips – learn to say ‘no’ and do a little something every day. Today I’ll give you some other tips that work for me.

One. Draw up a schedule for your manuscripts. Every six months I make two tables. On the left side of one I write down the names of the manuscripts I’m working on or which I hope to start and then under the headings of First Draft, Second Draft, Third Draft, Critique Group, I write my proposed dates. As an example, let’s say I’m working on a novella - Neptune’s Treasure Box – I might want the finish the fist draft by 30th October, the Second Draft by 1st December, the Third Draft by 30th January, and get it to my Critique Group by 15th February.

My second table will have the names of manuscripts that have been critiqued and amended as per any suggestions I felt were warranted and then the headings of the different publishing houses I want to send them to. Under each heading I’ll put the date I received any correspondence from the houses and the outcome. The schedules help to keep me focused and to know where I need to be with any particular manuscript. Do my schedules get screwed up? Sure, they do. One of my children gets sick, I have to pinch-hit for a co-worker, relatives drop in from out of town and, despite points one and two above, I have to revise the schedules. That’s life. It’s like an exercise program – because I can’t go running for a week or two doesn’t mean I give up and stop altogether – it means I just have to work a bit harder when I come back to it.

Two. Buy an Alpha Smart. I’d been reading about these great little machines on yahoo groups for a long time before I gave in and bought one and what a difference it made! I went away on a business trip that required me to spend a long time in airports and by the time I got back home I was about halfway through the manuscript I’d begun when I left. The Alpha Smart is just a word processor – it doesn’t have the internet and it doesn’t allow you to see more than a few line of script at a time so you’re not constantly double-guessing yourself so it’s just you and your writing. Now I’m not a pantser – I outline everything before I write – and, if the work requires it, I do ton loads of research so by the time I whip out the Alphie, the story is pretty much there in my head. I hear from other writers, however, that Alphie is just as super for pantsers – they can do that whole stream of narrative thing without worrying about whether it’s really coming together on the page. The best thing about the Alphie is it runs on three AA batteries which last and last so you can use it anywhere – even during a blackout.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yay! Sleep is Out!

My new novella, The Vampire Oracle: Sleep, is out now from Cobblestone Press. I had a lot of fun writing the story of a New Orleans vampire, captured and taken to Haiti in the 1800s to serve a witch doctor's need for power. Gabrielle and the hero Kai are two of my favorite characters ever. Kai is an ambitious agent with an organization dedicated to paranormals. When he finds out about Gabrielle, the first thing he thinks about is how rescuing her can propel his rise in the organization. But the search for Gabrielle turns into more, much more than he could have foreseen and changes his life forever. The following is an excerpt - the witch doctor has been captured by the organization but Gabrielle has fled from her rescuers.

“I can tell you where she is now, but if you’re down there and she breaks and runs we’ll be out of radio contact, and I won’t be able to help you,” Ivor broke in. “You’ll be on your own.”

“I’ll stay,” Kai said. “But, by myself. Nobody else.”

“What?” Devlin looked at him as if he was crazy.

“Why, Kai?” Ivor asked. “Devlin and his men are experienced in these situations.”

“Yes, but I know her.” Kai was desperate to make them understand. He had to do it alone. “I discovered her and I…I can’t explain it, but I know her.” He couldn’t tell them about the dreams. “I can do it. I can find her.”

“Devlin?” Ivor deferred to the commando’s judgment.

“We’ve captured Vixama, and the zombies who haven’t been eliminated are neutralized so there’s no danger on that front.” Devlin rubbed his chin. “As for the vampire, clearly, she is fearful of us. I think it might be a good idea to let him try on his own. One man is less threatening than several. She might respond better to him.”

“All right, then,” Ivor said, shouting to be heard over the noise of the helicopter’s descent. “That’s it, Kai. We’ll give you twenty-four hours, and then we’ll be back.”

“Thank you.” Kai shook Devlin’s hand, already impatient for them to be off.

“She’s cowering in a cell about twenty feet north from where you found her,” Ivor said as the helicopter rose back into the air. “Be careful, Kai. You’ve seen what she did to Jamal. Be very careful. Make no sudden movements. Avoid contact. Her long captivity could well have turned her mind. You don’t really know what you’re dealing with here. It may be fear or it may be worse.”

“She’s Gabrielle,” Kai replied, plunging back into the dark, chilliness of the citadel. “She was once a beautiful woman, who men desired and women envied.” He said the words aloud, as if repeating a mantra. “Jewels shone in her hair and on her fingers. She wore silks and satins from fabulous lands and ate only the choicest of meats.” Kai sensed Ivor’s worried puzzlement, but the other man remained quiet until a burst of static and then dead silence indicated he’d lost radio contact. “She was as beautiful and mysterious as a dark tropical moth. Her lips were designed for lovers’ kisses, her glances thrilled men’s hearts and stirred their longing.” It wasn’t the Song of Solomon, but it was the best he could do as he descended into the dungeon to look for the woman whose face and body had haunted his nights ever since he’d found out about her.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Time Management

One of the questions that writers are often asked is ‘how do we manage our time?’ Sometimes my answer is “I don’t; it manages me.” I mean, really, that’s how it feels. I’m a parent, I’m involved in neighborhood activities, I have several hobbies, oh, and, of course, I also have a day job. Meeting all the obligations that those and other claims on my time demand isn’t easy. But writing is what I love. It’s what I always wanted to do from the time I was a child so how do I balance everything?
One. I don’t say ‘yes’ to everything. Some parents wanted me to run for head of the PTA last year and it was something I think I could really have been good at but I knew my writing would have suffered so I had to say ‘no.’ I continue to help out on class trips and I drop in by the school once a month to back up the teachers but I cannot do more. Similarly, some friends wanted to go on a trip this year but I had to say ‘no’ – I would have loved to really, but I needed my vacation time to finish off some manuscripts. Is it easy to say ‘no’ to friends and family, or even to strangers? No, of course it’s not but I’ve got to do it if my writing is going to get the attention it deserves – if I want to finish that manuscript I’ve been working on since Methuselah was a child, if I want to attend writing workshops to improve my craft, if I want to network with other writers and learn all I can about this glorious business.
Two. Every day, I devote time to working on a manuscript. I might only write a page, I might only review an outline but I have to give my Muse that kind of attention or risk her going off in a sulk and refusing to respond when I finally make time for her. It’s not always convenient, sometimes it means that I have to ignore a house that looks as if the Tasmanian Devil swept through, but I have to get it done. Shut the door on your kids and on your man, don’t answer the phone or the door, skip the after-work social. Don’t become a complete hermit, that won’t help your Muse either, but weigh every social engagement to keep your balance. If you went out shopping with your best friend last week, surely she’ll understand if you can’t do lunch this week. And don’t feel you have to use all the time you save on your writing, sometimes sitting on a park bench just watching the pigeons can be as useful to your unconscious as diving into a research book.
I’ll continue these tips in my next entry so stay tuned.