The Writer’s Bible: schedules that work

This is my evening writing spot:
on bed, classic 80’s movie playing for background
noise and cat. Can you name the movie?

Discipline is what makes a writer. It means staying in when the weather is nice, waking up early when the kids are asleep, skipping a ski day at college to get in eight hours of writing. But you’re there…you are willing to do all these things.

In the last 20 years I’ve learned that crafting a schedule that works is harder than actually writing, because it continually changes. Writing schedules during college are different (school, study, sleep, social),  and this is dramatically different from a full-time job with no kids, which doesn’t translate to any job (or no job) with children.

College schedule

Write in between study breaks.
After class, hit the library, take 10 minutes and re-read your outline, or your last chapter. Set the timer for 15 minutes minimum. That’s it. Then stop, do your homework. Why this order? Because you have put your dream first. It’ motivating. It’s inspiring, and this inspiration will encourage you to study more intensively, ignore the hot guy who’s eyeing you and get back to writing.

Career Writing

I couldn’t focus on writing before work until I’d had several books published. I was too tired to do it after work, usually because I had more take-home office materials that left me more time. The best time for me to write? When the rest of the world is on the Internet (not kidding. Just ask Jupiter Research).
3 PM in the afternoon.
Studies show this is when the brain needs a break. Assuming you have the right location (and vocation), set the timer and go. Short break is 15-20 or 30 max. Apply the same methodology. You will find the same sense of motivation as with college, but this environment lends itself to the benefits of creativity. I found that problem solving was made easier…my mind switched from dull to sharp. I was happier, because I worked on my dream. I was getting one step closer with each sentence and each paragraph. In a week, you can have a chapter.
Friday night.
Hit the gym and then go home and get after your dream. Even if you do this two Friday nights, while your peers are spending money and preparing for a night of carbo-loading, you are geared up for a serious progress over the next two days.
Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday is a “free day,” so it’s yours to plan. I will relate a my own experiences. When I exercise first, shower and then sit down to write, I’m so relaxed that after about 30 minutes, my body wants to sleep, not write. Because of this, I will write first, take a break to exercise, then go back.
During my many years in the career world, I traveled for 70% of the time. I didn’t bother write until I got on the plane. I prepared to write by reading my present work or other materials, so the minute I was cleared to open my laptop, and got after it. I found that writing on a plane can deliver a book in just a few months.

Writing with a Family

Marriage didn’t change my writing in the least. In fact, it improved my output. Rog is as determined and disciplined in his own life as I am–who else would work a full time job, play a college sport and get his graduate degree in 13 months. Compared to him, I’m a complete slacker.
Never, EVER, prioritize yourself over your children.
From day one–to now–I never opened my laptop when my kids were home. This only changed when my oldest daughter hit 1st grade (this year), and I’d sit by her with my computer as she did her homework. When she’s done, I’m done.
I love nothing more than waking when the house is quiet. Going back to patterns I set in college, I get in at least 15 minutes–sometimes only 5!–but it’s starts me off right.
Boy, is this the best time ever. It’s a no-brainer with one kid but harder with 2 kids.
Rotation. I found that Rog and I got testy when we didn’t have our “me-time.” Because of our personalities, this ‘me-time’ usually involved either physical activity (him hockey, me lots of things), we’d rotate. Not kidding you. This is what it looked like for the first 5 years–not it’s only slightly modified.

  • Saturday outing. At least 2 Saturdays a month (usually rotating) Dad would, and still does, take the girls for an outing by himself. The park. The zoo. The library. Whatever. Two hours was more than enough for me to crank out a nice set of pages. I’ll be honest. Sometimes I just napped. Don’t tell.
  • Sunday morning. Same thing as above, but this was on the opposite weekends. It was also nice because Rog could then mix in his own personal activities and be satisfied as well.
  • Evenings. I can’t get quality/quiet time until the kids are down. This has varied with age. Since they stay up later with each passing year, it’s gotten more challenging, because I wind down. I don’t push it now, but if they get to bed 9 latest-which is quite late, I will still get 2 solid ours in.

When you add all the hours up, it’s @2.5 hrs in the am, and 4-8 each weekend. Even without any strange evening slots, I’ve got 6.5-10 hours a week. That’s nearly 40 hours a month. A ton!

Time to create a novel.

Boy, isn’t this the most over-asked question. Authors are reluctant to say–why, I’m not sure, but I guess it’s because there is no “right” answer. If you say 3 months, it comes across as an egotistical lie (unless you’re Stephen King who says he writes 20 pages a day). If you say 6 months, then you suck. Reality is you write the framework, front to end. Then you go and add ‘layers.’ One might be narrative. Another description. Another character depth, and so on. This means another 7-11 times, but it’s here and there. Nothing like the first.

Here’s my answer. I go by hours. It takes me, on average, 20 hours to write 50 pages. That means in 1-3 months, I can have a book completed. The subsequent re-writes vary dramatically, but it’s another 2-3 months. So a completed, agent-ready book is 5-6 months, and it also includes a proof-reading period so the basics are caught–only a few days.

There it is. It’s achievable. It’s straightforward. It’s bloody time consuming, but you can do it.

Reclaim an hour of your life each day: Get this robot. The Roomba 5-star Review

It doesn’t matter how many times me, my husband sweep the floors and vacuum,  we can’t keep up with the daily dirt and grime that comes with three kids, two adults and two animals going in and out of the house.

Offender #1. White cat + dark floors=
Roomba heaven

The day or reckoning occurred as most things do in our house; with a marital spat about how often we clean the floors and how often we need “reinforcements.” As a bit of context, our cleaning people (a lovely pair of 2) have come every other week for 5 years. For this, we have paid $245 per time, and it takes them 2.5-3 hour. Not bad. But let me be clear. We aren’t spoiled. No. We “clean” daily. We don’t have a lot of clutter. We vacuum daily and sweep after every meal (and many times in between).

But here’s the deal. My husband’s version of “clean,” equates to using a toothbrush on the sink faucets (I’m not kidding you either. You think this happens only in movies. Nope. It’s my life).  My version of clean stops at the disinfectant and the dishrag  after every use, and mopping once a week. But then, what do you expect from a “hobbiest” how takes apart his Porsche engine for fun and flies planes because it’s faster than driving. He’s slightly anal. I think I’m the normal American wife. I have a job. I cook. I clean. I do my own laundry (the notion of cleaning people seeing our underwear is likewise gross). But I digress.

Can you tell where the Roomba is hiding?

Thus it was, after 10 years of marriage, I drew the line. Or rather, I handed back the toothbrush and said “have at it.” The following day, he comes home from Costcowith a big box with green packaging. It was a Roomba by iRobot. The invention that has saved me hours of daily cleaning and nearly saved my marriage (ok, maybe saved a daily fight or two over the indoor animals).

“This is how much I value our marriage.” He shows me the Roomba product. I’m unimpressed. I’m not down with a Rover-like machine that looks more comfortable on Mars, and certainly and weirded-out and skeptical when he tells me it “learns the house,” thereby memorizing the furniture. Anything that learns better than I do is far too Matrix-meets-Terminator of artificial intelligence.
A different photo. Right behind the piano

Nonetheless, he’s believed the marketing and packaging hype enough to spend $300 on the thing. As a refresher, Rog spent years at Microsoft as a product manager before moving up and eventually running three businesses totaling $1.2B in revenue. I spent years as a product manager, before skipping to partnerships and business development (where I could do deals that allowed the products to be sold). We are marketing people by nature and background, thus, the truism is…true. We love to be marketed to. Just don’t market to us with a crappy product. Do it with a good product, and we are yours for life.

The review

First, the terrain.

Mixed flooring with multiple transitions and stairs. We have angled transitions from wood as well as a flat, but raised, transitions. Multiple oriental rugs with different materials (some with tassles, others not) as well as rugs in the kitchen that have intentionally frayed edges. Also have invisible stairs and couches of different heights. Main floor square footprint: 2,500. Top floor is all wood, multiple rugs, two transitions to marble, footprint is 1100. Bottom floor, all carpet, two step up/down transitions but only about 1 inch. Footprint: 1100.

What happened

The Roomba got plugged in. It charged. Roger programmed it for the time of the day for 9 am. It came out on the mark, and we watched as this foreign-looking thing whirled around and got familiar with its new home.

On the stairs. It stopped on the smooth edge, and didn’t go over. That was good. On the other edge (below our floating stairs), where we have a slight lip, it got confused (or so we thought). What we hypothesize occurred was it started to go over the lip and then knew it was going to suffer a sudden and immediate death by robotic suicide and changed its mind. However, when that happened, it couldn’t recover. We had to reset it.

In the kitchen. It worked as advertised. I give it a 4.5/5. It couldn’t get in the wee-corners because it’s round (not sure if longer whisks would help or not). On the upside, it proved itself superior to other devices we own, having no problem on the uneven slate, which is fantastic, because I’ve had 3 different electronic vacuums (Electrolux to name just one) that weren’t as good. By this, I mean that some items get flipped by the whisk and do no more than bounce across the surface. Not so with the Roomba. It comes. It whirls. It leaves a clean floor underneath.
Bar stools. We have four bar stools in the kitchen. It goes under, picks up and around, but unless the stools are pulled out, it misses the 2 inches between the front two legs and the wall. It can help itself. It does not, as yet, have the ability to fold space and time (Dune reference) and get between.

Rog didn’t say “merry Christmas.” No. He skipped right over
that and said “Look at this. You HAVE to blog about
this. Right now.” That’s a believer. (note: Roomba
product managers: you deserve a bonus in 2013). 
On the rugs. It loves rugs. It devours everything. And I do mean everything. Poor tassles. They are clean, but a little worse for the wear. If I were my mom, I’d have one of those Persian-rug tassle rakes to use after its been one-overed by the Roomba, but I’m not that crazy. (Besides, who sells those things anyway?). And we have another rug that is frayed at the edge, and one of us is too cheap to get it fixed. So the Roomba isn’t helping things by continuing the damage. That said, it’s not the Roomba’s fault. At least it’s clean.

In one hour, the Roomba picked up so much gunk (that would be the technical word for disgusting hair, dirt and filth), both rog and I were a little sick. We always thought we had clean floors (I really do take the Electrolux around the house once or twice a day no matter what). Further—this was the day AFTER we had the cleaning people. Goes to show what a house of 5 people and 2 animals will do to a floor.

“If it can do this for the main floor, think of upstairs!” Rog told me. The next day, he was back at Costco for another. My brother recently built a 6,000 square foot home in Vegas, and my sister told his wife all about what the Roomba could do with her floors , and all the time she could get back for herself (because all she was doing while we were there was running around behind everyone, sweeping). She too, was skeptical, but after hearing my sister rave about ours (she’d witnessed it’s magic first-hand), she went out and ordered 2. One for upstairs and another for downstairs. She also bought the infared device on my recommendation.

My biggest (and only) complaint is actually a product marketer’s dilemma. The height goes up and down, as it should, in order to get up and over objects. However, it constantly gets stuck under our bed, which is atop another Persian rug. So we suspect what happens is that it lifts itself up to get over the rug, but then can’t go down fast enough to make it under the bed. This doesn’t happen under our couches downstairs, nor even under a chaise lounge that’s in the bedroom. In both those scenarios, the edge of the rug is at least a foot away from the start of the couch/chaise lounge. On our bed, where it’s getting stuck, the edge is only 2-3 inches. (As you can see, we are giving the Roomba the benefit of the doubt, like a scorned lover who’s in denial, already making excuses).

Tip 1: Purchase the infa-red device. We put ours by the stairs. The invisible light is Roomba-suicide prevention.

Tip 2: Pick up underwear or strings before the Roomba starts. It has a taste for my iphone cord It ripped it to shreds (clearly, it’s an Android fan), but with a little ducktape and a blessing, it worked. Thankfully.

Tip 3: If you have 2 floors, save yourself the gas money. Buck it up and buy 2.

Overall product review: 5 stars. I have faith that the product managers (who are of course, brilliant), will fix the up and down issue, since I can’t be the only customer that suffers from the incessant getting-stuck-under-the-bed thing.

Meeting Integrity Two words for good business

Being late to a meeting is disrespectful. It’s arrogant. It bespeaks of a self-importance on the part of the person being late while at the same time, dismissing those that are at the meeting, the person who called the meeting, the most of all, the individual(s) who are actually conveying the information. However, sometimes the bad karma of the universe comes back around to bite the creator in the butt, and this is one such true story, and I’m delighted to tell it.

Here’s the context. Partner at a multi-million dollar consulting firm calls Rog, my husband. Partner indicates he is interviewing a woman who “used to work with Rog” at Microsoft. Partner tells Roger her name. Roger keeps his peace, and says nothing negative, not wanting to allow past experiences taint the opinion of said Partner. “She might have changed,” Rog told me later. Rog says “yes, she’s smart, perhaps even brilliant, but she didn’t always listen to other people’s opinion.” Partner replies that he will take a chance on a brilliant person, even one who won’t listen, as long as they are respectful.

Meeting time is set. Partner waits for “Woman”- the interviewee- who, by this time, has left her position as a Director at Microsoft, where she left a trail of dead bodies in her wake, mostly due to climbing over them like locusts after they’ve devoured their young. After 30 minutes, Woman calls and claims a meeting has gone late. (Keep in mind that Woman had called Partner to attain new business for her own newly-formed consulting firm, and she figured-hey, I’m smart, I’ll leverage a few names, get referrals and get going. Why not? Everyone does it).

Partner calls Roger Was she like this before? Rog’s answer- Yes. Before Partner could ask the next question, Rog answers it for him. “Because she thinks she’s entitled,” he continues. “She’s used to being rude and getting away with it, and because she was a lone female in her area at Microsoft, she could do and say things and no one complained.” Evenso, Partner gave her another chance. Meeting two was set for 5:30 pm to allow for enough time. 5:45 comes and no call. At 6:15, Partner is in his car and driving home when Woman calls on his cell phone, apologizing, asking to come over and reschedule.

“No,” replied Partner calmly. “I won’t reschedule and we won’t ever be meeting in this lifetime.” (direct quote, no kidding). The woman is flabbergasted, and acted rather offended. Partner later explained to Rog that it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d offered an apology (which she didn’t), it wouldn’t have mattered.

“You lack meeting integrity,” Partner told her unsympathetically. “If you can respect a person enough to show up on time, not to mention blowing me off entirely, especially if you are the one wanting something from me, how are you going to treat a client that you are supposed to be serving?” As a parting shot, Partner added not to bother calling his organization again. Ever.

I was so thrilled when I heard this, for I can only describe her as a person who comes from a densely-populated country, is well-educated (several degrees) and has had no issue letting others know she is smarter, better informed and generally speaking, in a higher power position than they. In other words, she had it coming to her, proving once again that really bad attitudes and bad karma comes around.

Need a sales boost? Try Career Days (at school)

On a whim, I looked at the comments of this blog and was embarrassed that quite a few had been posted from July and prior that I’d never seen. eek. One very good question was about getting into schools, and while the comment was from an author, Cyndy Etler, I know that other professionals have seriously benefitted from spending an hour or two at a career day. It may work for you, your sales/revenue and your career. Here’s how.

What is it?
prgrsvimg Day is a one-day event common in most elementary, junior, senior high schools and colleges around the world. Pre-college, the teachers and administrator’s, but also members of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) reach out to the parents of students that can spare some time to educate students on possible career choices. Activities included in the day vary from school to school. The youngest I’ve seen is 5th grade (10 year olds) and it goes up from there. Sessions are typically 40 minutes.

Who does it?
Doctors, authors, pilots, firefighters–you name it. Individuals who appear to have interesting careers. Admittedly, I’ve not run into any accountants, but hey, accounting is a serious profession, so why not?

Does it pay?
Nope. Free.

Why do it?
A few reasons.

  • Networking. You get to meet all the other administrators, parents and other speakers (who prob use accountants).
  • Sales. Dentists need new referrals. See above. For an author (like one of my alter egos), kids regularly purchase my books after I speak, but I am very careful not to “pitch” my book– rather– I keep it to the business of writing and what being an author is all about. That said, if I’m asked to talk about being a movie producer, then it’s all film clips and talking about living in the LA world- which is weird anyway.
  • Pride. This means for your kid(s) who think you have a cool profession. This gets serious points on the home front.
  • Referrals– and by this I mean-inter-school referrals. The kids are usually asked to “rate the speaker” and if you are good, then you will get referrals to other schools. I suppose one could eventually make a living from doing this, and it sure beats the heck out of cold-calling.

Fall–now–is the time. Career days are usually organized in the fall.

The 5 o’clock Friend

Two weeks ago, during a pre-holiday lunch with a girlfriend, she told me about getting motivated, and “reaching her dream.”

being a 5 o’clock friend is a
good thing

“I’ve listened to you and watched your story, but I just couldn’t get going,” she lamented. This coming from a reporter with more awards than she could fit on a five-shelf bookcase and sidewall.

“What are you talking about?” I responded. “You live and breath on deadlines,” which she admitted was true enough. The difference she told me, was ‘getting paid.’

“I know it’s ridiculous, but my dreams aren’t as important as getting a paycheck.” She was half-done with a picture book that’s been on her mind for years. I’ve already talked to Lucas about and he loved the idea. What could be more important than that? (I’d have stopped sleeping to finish my project had a big-time producer given me such feedback).

In the moment, I gave her my usual pep talk, the one I share with anyone who starts the “I’ve always want to…” statement. Just do it. Start. It takes a lot of missed free-throws before one gets to the NBA finals, or even the college ball level. She nodded her head, listened and soon enough, our time was over.

Two weeks later, this last Friday, we meet again. Feasting on a lemon mousse cake, she happily told me she’d completed her book. I smiled, preparing to gloat over my little pep talk as I asked what happened.

“My friend kicked me in the butt.” My level of glee increased and sped up like a rollercoaster going up the hill, then declined just as fast when she continued talking. “I was relating my saga and he just got tired of it and said ‘you need a deadline.’ He didn’t give her time to think, he just told her the deadline. “Five o’clock, Friday night. Get me your manuscript.” No squishy, you-can-do-it-meaningless-mantras. A date. A time. A deadline.

“I blinked and said ok,” she said, as though being issued the order put her on the gerbil-esque treadmill. “Just knowing he was expecting made me not want to fail. How lame would that be?”

As of this writing, she’s one edit round shy of sending it off to my editor, the same one that hooked me up with my agent(s). I’m thrilled for her. My only regret is that I wasn’t the one smart enough to suggest the deadline.

My Monday morning advice? Be around at 5 pm. Your friends will thank you.

Time management tips

Mondays are for practicality. Kids in camp. Cleaning. Work. The fun stuff. For men, it’s the thrill of escaping the madness at home for the relative calm and peace of the office.
Don’t deny it. You know it’s true. It’s what I have felt for the brief times I’ve gotten to leave the house for a  meeting. Rog, in his big moments (and by big, new readers may not know this means the antithesis of being small, OTW, you acknowledge a trueism), will say “wow! It is so much easier to go to work than stay home.” All stay-at-home people unite and sing koom-by-ya. It don’t matter if you are on an aisle in Greece, kickin’ it is an apartment in Moscow or chilling with homies in MV, WA. It’s not easy feeding, cleaning, wiping, answering and in general, keeping the sanity, all the while looking prestine when your other (assuming you have one, or want one) walks through the door.
Since you are taking a break from your day to read this ditty, let’s get to it.
1. Don’t stress. Obama and abt everyone else on the planet is doing that already. Push some good mo-jo out in to the world. Smile. I read it actually helps increase endorfens due to the number of muscles in the face.
2. Compartmentalize. In other words (IOW), break down your tasks in to 10 min allotments. 10 min is better than nothing in my humble opinion (IMHO). I’ve had 3 children and written lots of books in 10 min alotments. (and no, i won’t answer the question abt creating the children vs having them. It’s Rog’s bday today and I don’t want to out him. we are nothing if not efficient in this household).
3. This is important. Prioritize around tasks where you must have quiet or alone time. E.G. things where you need a) the dogs quiet, b) the kids asleep, c) no plumbers coming over d) you can do when you have your spouse or other help. I save all my interviews and writing until the kids are out, down or with my husband, but this time must be shared with phone calls. I split it 60/40, and try and keep the phone calls to 10 min (yes, now all of you who I get off the phone know why). This also means that my personal convo’s that aren’t hindered by a child or dog in the background are before or after my quiet time.
4. Put yourself first and last. This isn’t being selfish, it’s being sane. Rise early (or earlier), study your scrips, praise your mahatma, exercise or do 10 min of whatever you need to do to find your happy place. This will get you centered by reaffirming you aren’t sacrificing yourself for everyone else (this concept annoys me, even though I’ve been guilty of it myself. How can one truly give to another when resentful? I don’t think it’s possible). Then, when the day is over, retire after–and only after–you’ve found your happy place again. It’s the notion of never going to bed angry. Why? It’s stupid and pointless, since an angry person has bad dreams, tosses and turns, and wakes up worse than he/she was the night before.
5. Be flexible and make adjustments. I’ve had times of 20 min time management and 5 min time management. The difference was my circumstances and what I  needed to feel like I was progressing in all areas of my life. Remember, even 5 min on the treadmill will do a body good. 5 minutes of writing. 5 minutes of praying. 5 minutes of kissing…:) A little something is better than a whole lot of nothing.
Happy Monday, Sarah