I’ll admit it. I have a reputation for getting a lot done. People ask me if I sleep, or take vacations, or have down time. And the truth is that I generally log about seven hours sleep a night, take a couple of trips for fun (in a normal year), and spend some time each night reading for pleasure or watching a movie.
Personally, I always feel like a slacker because my to-do list inevitably outpaces my ‘done’ list. I make calendars and lists with the best of intentions, and life gets in the way, which slows me down. So I always cringe a little when someone asks ‘how do you get so much done’ because in the back of my mind, I know what I also planned to do and didn’t. But I guess it’s all relative.
I publish multiple books a year under two names, do a lot of marketing, and (again, in a normal year) attend more than a dozen conventions, plus I’m usually participating in a handful of anthologies. I didn’t start out doing all that—for a long time, I wrote one (big) book a year, and eased into the other elements. Now that we are largely indie published, the frequent publication schedule is just part of making a living. I’m not competing with anyone or trying to out-do anyone else. And there are a lot of things that I don’t do to make room for what gets done.
There’s no one ‘right’ way to be productive, and that word is going to mean something different for every person. Your priorities are going to shape how you spend your time. When I still had kids at home, I couldn’t do what I’m doing now. When I was earlier in my career and didn’t have as much experience, I couldn’t work as fast as I do now. Practice helps. (So does doing things wrong the first time and learning from it.)
I rely on lists and outlines to structure my work, matched to a calendar and a good idea of what my ‘average’ wordcount is for a day’s writing and what my ‘exceptional’ wordcount can be, for short spurts. I can’t function without a to-do list, and without an outline, I waste writing time going down dead ends or off on tangents, which requires time-consuming major re-writes. I outsource as much as I can on marketing and some other tasks, to buy myself some time. And it’s a huge ‘cheat’ that my husband (and co-author, Larry N. Martin) is in the business full time with me, because that saves time by sharing the load on so many things.
Some authors swear by specific programs that help them organize and be more productive. That can include note-taking/research storage programs, story structure programs, or voice dictation. None of those seem to work for me, so for as much as I am very much a computer person, my lists and calendar remain on paper. Your mileage may differ.
Aside from that, it’s really just priorities. I don’t watch very much TV. Outside of conventions, I don’t do a lot of socializing. I try to look for ways to make errands and chores as streamlined and time efficient as possible. And lists! So many lists.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to do things better, or new software programs or websites that make things easier, quicker or cheaper. I try new things, and sometimes they work better. That all helps. But the lists are at the heart of it all.
The point of all this is….do things the way that works for you, and it’s okay if other people get great results doing other things. I’ve tried in the past to make myself use some fantastic system that everyone swore by, and it just made me miserable and brought everything to a halt. You’ve got to do you. Our brains don’t all work the same.
So write at the pace and in the way it works for you. Be willing to learn from other people, but don’t worry about who’s faster. It’s not a race. Just turn out the best books you can, and you’ll get where you’re going!
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Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, SOL Publishing, Darkwind Press, and Falstaff Books. Recent books include Witch of the Woods, Sellsword’s Oath, Inheritance, Monster Mash and Black Sun. With Larry N. Martin, she is the co-author of the Spells Salt & Steel, Wasteland Marshals, Joe Mack and Jake Desmet series. As Morgan Brice, she writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance including the Witchbane, Badlands, Treasure Trail, Kings of the Mountain and the upcoming Fox Hollow series. Nearly all the books are either already available on audiobook via Audible or are coming soon.
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