Hey, hey! It’s Christina Kaye!
I’m your host of Write Your Best Book, the podcast. And today’s episode is one I think we can all learn from, including me.
I am so excited about this episode, folks!
We’re talking today about how to make time to write in your already busy life. And, boy, could I use some advice on that front. I’m really looking forward to sitting down with our guest host for this week, she’s my new friend and prolific author of cozy mysteries Author Elizabeth Spann Craig and we’re going to discuss this issue further.
First, Elizabeth is the best selling cozy mystery author of the Southern Quilting mysteries, the Myrtle Clover Cozy Mysteries, that one is a tongue twister, the Village Library Mysteries, and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House, Midnight Ink, and she writes independently. She lives in Matthews, North Carolina, which is near my hometown, folks, with her husband and is the mother of two.
Before we go any further, I promised to read you some of your amazing reviews we’ve been getting lately on the show, so here’s another one. This one is from, of all things, The Chapstick Witch, and she says, I’m assuming it’s a she, “My go-to podcast for all things writing related. Love Christina Kaye.” Well, Chaptstick Witch, I love you, too, whoever you are. Thanks for listening, and thanks for leaving such a sweet review.
Now, let’s dive into this week’s topic.
Like so many authors, it’s hard for me to find time to write. When I first started writing, I was a single mom of two young girls AND I worked a very stressful full-time job. Now, my girls are both adults, and I’ve gotten rid of th very demanding job (thank goodness, so that I can focus on everything else for authors), it’s still hard to carve out time to write when I have so many other commitments between my one on one clients, consultations, running a business, working on my podcast, and now the online course that I’m creating. The one thing I love to do most in the world falls by the wayside and sometimes days even weeks will go by without me typing a single word. And it makes me so frustrated that it takes me so long to write a book. I know I’m not alone with my frustrations. Whether you have a full-time job or kids at home or both, I’m sure many of you know what it’s like to look at the clock, realize it’s 10 PM, and that you have yet again not written a single original word.
One thing I wonder is, how much of my not-writing can be attributed to excuses that I’m making, even subconsciously, due to my fears and insecurities? Do I really not have the time to write? Or am I simply not making the time as I should to devote to one of my true passions in life – and that’s writing. Sometimes, I think I fear I will write poorly or that I’ll hit writer’s block or that I’ll forget things even I know after all my training and experience. Maybe that sort of holds me back when the reality is I could easily find and set aside even thirty minutes each day to write, if not more, despite my busy schedule. Do any of you have the same insecurities? Or are there other factors involved that are preventing you from making time to write?
I’ll let you think about that a moment while we pause for this week’s book plug.
TODAY’S BOOK PLUG IS FOR SOFTLY AND TENDERLY BY LISA BINION. Here’s the blurb:
“Mom died in her sleep last night.” Those are terrifying words for a child to wake up to. The death of Lori’s mom is the beginning of one of the strangest and most frightening times in her life. Death is not a pretty thing, especially when the funeral is to be at the Lights Out Chapel and Crematorium.
As if the death of her mother wasn’t enough, young Lori experiences terrifying visions after losing her. Were they real or were they imagined? Years later after another death in the family, the visions return and are more horrifying than before. This time, there is no doubt they are real.
Lisa Binion’s book, Softly and Tenderly, is available on Amazon, and a purchase link will be featured in the show notes.
Now let’s get back to today’s topic.
Another thing that I think gets in the way of our creativity is social media. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. If I’m not busy working on my business, I find myself slipping into the abyss that is known as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. I’m sometimes obsessed with my number of followers and with increasing engagement, so even though I have a social media manager (thanks Nicole!), I still spend more time than I should on social media, goofing off and getting caught up in the latest trending conversations. When the reality is, if I’d simply step away from the internet, at least for half an hour every day, I could knock out at least one chapter every day. I know all of these things, yet I sometimes find it hard to put them into practice. There’s an old Bible verse, Romans 7:19 that says, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Now, I’m not saying that social media is evil. If anything, it’s a necessary evil for authors. But you get my point. We know the things we should be doing, but instead we do the things we should not do.
Okay, before I confuse the heck out of you, let’s just bring in our guest host for today, Elizabeth Spann Craig, and we’ll see what she has to say about all this.
CK: Welcome, Elizabeth. Thank you for joining us.
ES: Thanks so much for having me today!
CK: Can’t wait to talk to you about this topic! But first, tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey.
ES: I’m one of those writers that has always been a writer. That’s the only thing I’ve been- I’m kind of a one trick pony. That’s the trick, it’s a pretty decent trick, but it’s the only thing that I know how to do. In second grade I was like, that was it! It was all over at that point for me- Nancy Drew. And that is what I wanted to do: write mystery novels. It was so much fun. And then I got to be in my twenties and I played around with some books that fortunately never got finished, never got to see the light of day. But you know how it is. You did the same thing, right? You try experimenting with voice and style and just what you want to write. And maybe you haven’t happened into what you are subgenre you need to be in or whatever. But those are very valuable. Those books are not a waste because you are just learning the process. So I did some of that and I did some journalism which was not the kind of writing that I was interested in doing. So I would be doing interviews with people and I would be like “gosh these interviews would be so much more interesting if they said this instead of this”. NOT what you are supposed to do as a journalist. of course I didn’t change anything but I definitely thought about it. And then I realized, okay let’s just get into the more creative writing. So I would say that it is probably, my daughter was probably, she was one-and-a-half when I started in earnest. And I think we will talk a little later about how a parent can actually handle a young child and writing. But for me, that is when it all started and then I started sending out the book that I wrote in about 2005-ish and was really querying in earnest and probably got, gosh, what like 120 rejections from you know, agents and stuff and then I decided to start going directly to the publishers which is what you are not supposed to do. Every publisher is like “do not send a direct submission to us” don’t do it. But I got two bites and that’s how it all started. So I ended up with two publishers, and finally got an agent after I got two publishing contracts. Did traditional publishing with Penguin for some years. I have 3 series, and then I took it self-publishing after that. Around 2011 I started self-publishing. I was doing much better self-publishing than I was traditionally publishing and switched to that completely where now most of my income- of course I still got residual royalties coming in from trad. pub. but almost everything, everything that I am doing now is self-pub.
CK: Interesting! It’s interesting to hear you say that you’re doing better with self-publishing than with the traditional publishing. That gives us a lot of hope out here! It’s good to hear!
ES: Yea, I mean you just have more opportunity to kind of put it in different formats. I mean Penguin had a lot of rights and they didn’t really use the rights that they had so the books weren’t in audio and they weren’t in hardback and they weren’t in various different formats. So obviously with your own books you can do lots of different things with them.
CK; Right, you have more freedom. Well, today’s topic, as you know, is “how to make time to write.” and the extended part of that is in your already busy life. So many authors, including myself, struggle with making time in our already busy schedules to do the thing we love most – which is writing. Can you tell us first when you write and how you manage your schedule?
ES: Sure. And this is something that we all have to figure out on our own. I am a first thing in the morning writer. And I kinda believe in that saying, if you swallow the frog first thing in the morning, the rest of the day is going to be very easy. You know? And you hate to think that writing is the frog because, we love writing! You know? This is what we enjoy doing. But the truth is that it is also the most difficult thing that we do as well as the most fun thing that we do. So to me, if I go ahead and knock it out first thing in the day in terms of my writing goal, then the rest of the day I’m kind of like smug. It just makes everything else-
CK: I’ve done it !
ES: Yeah. Exactly. But I think that what writers need to do is figure out- I read a book before that is called Magic Hours when your actual magic hours are when you are most productive. Because if you are trying to have magic hours in the afternoon- that wouldn’t work for me. I’m really kind of sluggish. Then you have lunch and something happens
CK: food coma
ES: Food coma, yea, your brain turns off. So I think that every writer just has to figure out the best time of day for them to do that. And then as far as scheduling everything, every writer knows that there are a ton of things to do. Today I was writing one book, I was editing another. My editor sent me back edits and then I went back through those. But I have scheduled social media today. I have been talking to somebody about a Facebook party for the launch I’ve got next month, I mean it just goes on and on and on. It doesn’t stop. So for me I use a variety of different calendars and notebooks to help me manage my time. For a while I was waking up at night going “oh my gosh, you know, there’s something I forgot about” and I just decided that I have to stop doing that. Because sometimes I wasn’t going back to sleep so I was up for the day at 2 AM or whatever. So now what I do is I do a brain dump, you know, every Monday- definitely every Monday- and then if I need to do it more than that, then that is fine, too. But I just list everything that I can think of that I need to do. And some of that is personal stuff that I need to get done. Honest. Cause those things, you know, we have a life aside from writing, but it makes me feel so much better that I know all of these things that I have to get done. And as well I have a wall calendar that kind of lets me see the big picture of all the things and help me to see conflicts better than sometimes my digital calendar does. I have an editorial calendar for my blog so I can keep up with my own blog post ideas, guests posts for people who appear on my blog, and things like that. Kind of keep that all straight, and also just ideas. I can list ideas for blog posts. Cause sometimes you’ll have ideas for things and you will forget it. You know, you don’t think that you are going to forget it, ever, and the next thing you know you have forgotten about it forever. And also batching tasks is also really helpful. So if you have a day where you are like, well just this morning I’m just writing blog posts, and then maybe you can knock out a few blog posts. Or you say, okay today I am just going to schedule social media or come up with social media, come up with some cool images to promote my book. Whatever it is. And then you kind of get in that mindset and then it makes it much easier than me saying okay, I’m going to spend 15 minutes doing this and another 15 minutes doing something completely different and it takes me awhile for my brain to kind of pop into that task. I don’t know if you are the same way.
CK: Yea, especially those of us who are completely ADD it’s like that’s not a way to do that.
ES: That’s right! ! I think all writers are ADD. Yea, I think we are all ADD.
CK: I think if you are a writer, at some point, you kinda become that. Whether you were to begin with or not.
ES: You’re right. Exactly, cause we are easily distractible, but everything is an idea or a character or-
CK: “Oh, there’s an idea! Yes!”
ES: Yea! Exactly! That’s exactly right.
CK: Well along the same lines with timing, I think it’s important to have a special place or a quiet place that you can write, like a “writing cove” for lack of a better term, do you have a special place where you like to write?
ES: I do. But I don’t think it really matters. Except I think it needs to be comfortable, and friendly to your back and, as I have gotten older I have terrible terrible habits, I guess it was 5 or 6 years ago, where I sat on this comfy-it was comfy at first- sofa. And I had my legs up on the coffee table and I had my laptop just perched on my lap and I was in PT for 3-months, and they were like “you did this from sitting” and I thought “that’s insane!” So now I am- I’m really careful about not only does the space need to be a part of my ritual, and I think a lot of writers, we need a ritual everyday. That we can be like “okay, I am in my special place, I have my coffee or my tea or whatever, and this means that it’s time to write.” But also, we need to make sure that it is a comfortable place, that’s making sure that we are taking care of our arms, our backs and things like that, too.
CK: That’s a great point. That’s a great point. Especially a lot of us, I know a lot of writers who already, I struggled with back pain before I became a writer. And I did the same thing. It’s funny that you mention sitting at the coffee table, I did the same thing when I first started writing. Only I was sitting on the couch hunched over, leaning over with my laptop on the coffee table.
ES: OH NO!!
CK: Yea, that was not good for my back. I agree that it should be a quick, comfortable place where you can not only have the peice and quiet that you need to write, and you know, not throw your back out in the process!
ES: Exactly! Cause that doesn’t help anything!
CK: No, it doesn’t!
ES: You know, it’s almost like muscle memory when you have these types of rituals where you sit down, and I just know that it is time to write. And that doesn’t sound very inspired but that’s just- yea it works. But I think we also have to be mindful that sometimes we get in a rut like that and we need to shake things up a little bit. So that might be, I don’t know, like going to a coffee shop or the library to write instead. I have found these writing sprints lately on Youtube and it’s really cool cause you can kind of just like schedule like a month in advance and have different people that tell the organizer “hey, I’m going to hold a live write in” and it is fun because you can run them live, but you can obviously watch them taped later if you want to. And you feel like you are a part of it. So they’ll be like “okay, we are going to do 20 minutes and then they chat for 5 minutes about various things, writing related or not.
CK: That’s interesting!
ES: Yea! It just makes it a little different. And that just makes it- I’ve been doing this now for so long that sometimes I need to-
CK: You need to shake it up a little
ES: Yea. Keep it fresh. Yeah. For sure.
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Now let’s get back to my conversation with Elizabeth.
CK: Elizabeth, I think many authors feel pressure to get a book written in say 6 weeks, 8 weeks, the way Stephen King does, for example, or he talks about doing. Do you think there’s a right or wrong amount of time it should take an author to write a book? Or do you think that we are putting too much pressure on ourselves?
ES: I think we are definitely putting too much pressure on ourselves. Just, I mean all the time. I think writers are guilty of that just constantly. Anyway. I would say honestly there are plenty of slower writers out there that do a great job, it just takes a little time. They are just thoughtful writers, they want to pick the right word. I think that it used to be, with traditional publishing until VERY recently, that these publishers expected a book a year. I was writing more than that for them and they were like “Nope! it takes a whole year to go through the publishing process.” which is pretty amazing because I uploaded pre-orders for my book today and it only took me about 20-minutes to hit a few platforms. So I don’t know what they are doing.
CK: Yea! What are they doing for a year?
ES: I don’t know what they were doing for a year. But that was the pace. And they did things in a particular way and now it has just exploded, obviously, and I guess we have done it to ourselves. I certainly have readers writing me and asking me when is the next book coming out and you feel some pressure, you definitely feel some pressure.
ES: For me, I just thought I need to make sure that I am not burned out. Because I am doing about, I guess it’s about 5 books a year now which is up from my usual three. And I’m doing that by, you know, writing two books at a time which is kind of insane, too. I don’t know I started doing that and now I can’t seem to stop cause I’m on this schedule. But I have also been more aware just that burnout is really real and you have to work to refill the well and I’m a real believer in intentional free time where you plan what you are going to do with your free time instead of just like you know- sometimes you don’t know. You know you need a break but you’re just hanging out and you’re channel surfing and trying to see what’s on and you waste all of this time trying to relax when you haven’t actually started it. So I’ve got a good to be read or TRB list on Goodreads. When I hear about something that sounds interesting I add it to my list and I always check things out from the library and they’ll hold things for me. I will request books. So I have a pretty good stream of things to read and I have watchlists on Netflix, Amazon Prime, movies, Hulu, things like that. If I hear something good or if I go to a website like digital trends where they will list the movies streaming right now on Netflix then I can kind of develop a good list and then when I need to have some free time I just immediately click over. I guess that’s me being productive about my free time.
ES: It’s kind of sad in a way but at the same time, it works.
CK: Well, do you think some authors don’t find or make time to write because they may be subconsciously procrastinating? If so, what would you say to those authors?
ES: I know I have done that before. Definitely.
CK: Where do you think that question came from?
ES: I mean with you, did you ask yourself what was making that happen?
CK: I did. And it’s funny that you asked that back because I just thought about it when I wrote this question for you, I thought, well I know that I’m doing that, why am I doing that? And I think for me it was I realized I had a fear of either messing up or not writing a good book or not hitting my word count that I wanted to hit or just hitting that writer’s block. I think it was fear that was holding me back cause I want to write about this book in my head but I would just find reasons not to. So that’s exactly what it was for me and I wanted to find out if it was the same way for others. If we are subconsciously procrastinating sometimes.
ES: Definitely! I mean, obviously we are our own worst enemies. Sometimes it’s very specific for me. I can say “I don’t want to write this scene because it’s an important scene, it’s a turning point scene or its a sad scene and I’m very upbeat right now, I’m not in the right mood to write this scene”
CK: That’s true!
ES: Sometimes with that, if I can narrow it down, I will just skip the scene and come back to it another day. I’ll put in a couple of asterisks in my manuscript and then do a control-search-find thing and I will just look for asteriks where I’ve skipped. And that helps. Once I even wrote the book backwards because I knew how the book ended and I just felt like I really needed to do something to shake it up and do something different because I was feeling really stuck at the time. I guess the only downside about that would be that sometimes when you do that you need to go back and make sure that your transitions all work on the way forward. But aside from that it was a good way to help me to move forward with something by going backwards, which is a weird thing but it can work that way. I think we are all worried. We want our books to be good. We want our readers to not be disappointed and we know we’ve got these important scenes and it’s just hard to come to grips with it
CK: I totally agree with that. I can identify with that, too. I know I have felt that way. How can authors who have a full-time job or who have kids home all day, or both even, find time to write?
ES: I- that’s a tough one, obviously. You don’t want to burn yourself out. I think having a full time job is really hard. I think you either need to be extremely flexible in terms of when you can write, grabbing a few minutes here and there, dead spaces, lunch hour. I like to be the first one up in my family. That’s not going to work for everybody, but that way I know I’m not going to be bothered and I don’t have to be reactive if I know that I am up first thing in the morning. I don’t have to respond to email, I don’t’ have to- nobody has any expectations of me at five o’clock in the morning. They don’t expect anything from me, and I can just do what I need to do. At the same time, if you are working, you need to be the last one up, after the kids are put down or whatever. Parents it’s a tough thing. Especially stay at home moms. As I mentioned me daughter was about one and half and she was not a napper. She wasn’t a TV kid. I didn’t have either of those things going for me. It was terrible.
CK: Oh no.
ES: She’s 18 now. We got past that. But, we would choose- the only thing she would watch was Elmo’s world which is the last segment, you know, on –
CK: I’ve been through it!
ES: The last, what, 15 minutes of Sesame Street, that’s the only thing that she would watch. I could just count on putting the tape on and just running that and I could get a page. And that is what I did everyday and that is how I got my first book written. And she would kind of dance around and that was my fifteen minutes! It was a little crazy, but, you know, if you can train yourself to be a little bit flexible it gets better. I mean it is frustrating at first, but the kids get older, obviously. You go through stages, you know, in the carpool line. Sometimes I would honk the horn you know cause I was on the laptop and I would be enthusiastically typing and honking the horn.
CK: That’s funny.
ES: It happens.
CK: Then you’ve gotta give that ackward wave to the people in the carpool “sorry! I’m sorry”
ES: “That’s that crazy lady with the laptop again”
CK: Well, aside from work and family obligations, would you say it’s fair to assume one of the biggest distractions for many writers that we have is social media?
ES: No question. It obviously. Absolutely. There is just no way. I think, for me anyway, and anyone who reads my blog knows this. I’m a huge fan of timers. If I can write to a timer of any kind. Oh, you do the same thing, too?
CK: I do 30-minutes sprints, yep.
ES: And then you probably give yourself a break and you are like “ok, I can check my email or I can check my Facebook” or whatever it is that we are wanting to be distracted by. And it’s like a little reward. And that is what helps me because I can focus. And sometimes I can’t focus for 30-minutes. Sometimes I can only focus for 15 or even 10 minutes or something like that. And that has been a problem with editing because I have to go back through and say “okay, sometimes people have changed clothes in the middle of the scene.” There are some continuity errors that- gosh- so I know to look for that kind of stuff because sometimes I do pick it up and put it down a lot and there are some days I feel really distracted. But timers, they definitely will work for me to work for certain periods of time.
CK: And during that time I guess your advice would be, unplug, as far as social media goes.
ES: Definitely! Just turn off notifications especially because you hear that ding, you know, and it’s like a slot machine.
CK: You can’t help it! When that ding goes off, it’s like Pavlov’s dogs or something. We must go see what the notification is.
ES: Must look! And I will be like “it might be my kids” You know, the kids are fine for five minutes! It’ll be okay.
CK: Turn off notifications. Everyone knows that. It’s a good one.
ES: That’s right. Yeah
CK: Alright Elizabeth. Do you have any parting advice for us?
ES: I would say, never try to catch up. That is the most dis-spiriting thing. If you feel like you are behind, you haven’t met your goals for a couple of weeks, you got the flu, your kids have been sick, your job has been bad, your parents are ill. Whatever it is, don’t ever try to catch up with a goal. Just start fresh. Jump in with where you are and just do your regular goal. And just keep doing that. Just move forward with it and don’t look backwards! Because to me that is worse than anything. It’s more important to have a daily writing habit than to try to write a ton of words everyday.
CK: Good advice! Well, thank you for joining us Elizabeth, it has been a pleasure!
ES: Thanks so much! I have enjoyed it!
CK: Yea, so have I! We will talk soon.
ES: Thank you!
Well, that’s all the time we have for this week, folks. If you haven’t already, subscribe to this podcast so you can be automatically notified when each episode drops. And if you like what we’re doing so far, please be a sweetie and rate this episode. You subscribing and rating this show can make all the difference in how well we do.
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Talk soon, and in the meantime, go write your best book!