the 7 habits of highly effective authors

First off: finished my third contracted book! BOO YA!

Many years ago, my grandfather gave my then boyfriend, now husband, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. At first we had a good laugh. My grandfather has a habit of giving books out randomly in a “I just finished this and I liked it, here you have it” sort of way. Actually, it’s a pretty awesome thing to do, but at the time it struck us both as sort of weird. However, my husband (then boyfriend) now looks on that book as the greatest present he ever received. It was dropped into his hands at just the right moment in his life, towards the end of college with real life looming on the horizon. It changed the way he thought about life, and thought I’ve never read it (I have a certain aversion to self help books) I might as well have considering how much my husband quotes it.

I’m not going to into all the habits, but there’s one that I keep going back to over and over again, that the promises we make to ourselves are just as important as the promises we make to others.

As writers, we tend to work in bubbles. Deadlines, when we have them, are distant, all or nothing sorts of things that have very little to do with the words we’re actually writing or editing or crying over that day. Even once you land that mythical publishing contract, most authors are left to fend for themselves during the day to day writing struggles. This means managing your own time, and it is a bear. Over the six odd years I’ve been seriously writing, I’ve set thousands of  self imposed deadlines, and missed nearly as many, especially for my first book. What did it matter, anyways? It’s not like anyone knew that I’d missed my deadline but me.

But as time went on and my time began to fritter away, my husband’s repetition of this little phrase from a self help book kept coming back. Eventually, I began to understand that if I was ever going to have the kind of writing career I’d imagined, I would have to start taking myself, and my self-imposed deadlines, seriously.

The first thing I did was cut waaaay back on the number of deadlines I set, especially the arbitrary, unrealistic ones I knew I couldn’t make. Then I picked 3 deadlines I felt I could realistically make, and set these in stone in my calendar. I treated them as I would deadlines for my day job where there were real consequences, and real stigma, for missing milestones. I made a solemn promise to myself that I would keep these deadlines, even if it meant working more than I’d anticipated or missing something fun because my time was already promised. I would write, I would make these deadlines. And I did.

Sure, I still missed a few, and I made myself pay for that with extra work rather than playing like I wanted to. Then I went back and looked at why I’d missed that deadline, making notes so that I could set the next one more intelligently.

It seems like every writer and agent blog tells you that if you want to be a professional writer, you have to treat your writing professionally.  This is much harder than just keeping a schedule. This is keeping your schedule when your book is an unfixable mess and it’s spring time and real life is busy and there are new raids in WOW and the internet is interesting and no one will ever know if you blow off writing and watch Hoarders.

Make promises to yourself, and keep them. Never treat your writing time like free time. It’s your great dream, if you won’t live it, no one will help you. Never make excuses, never let anyone take it away from you.

7 Responses to “the 7 habits of highly effective authors”

  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    March 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Very good advice, that. I’ve given myself pretty tight deadlines the past few years, even though they were only MINE. Now that I’ve sold a book (yay!) I’m more aware of REAL deadlines. Getting the new book written in between stuff for the one being published looks tricky from the end of it I am currently standing at. (That being the VERY beginning–before edits have actually started!!!)

  2. March 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Great post. I am a master scheduler. I block out my time, pad the blocks appropritely to deal with unexpected circumstances, expand blocks to take advantage of extra time. I know what I am going to do. And of course I make sure to balance things I want to do and things I don’t. If necessary I reschedule things to take my mood into account, but I try to remain flexible yet firm.

    I then proceed to ignore the vast majority of these blockings entirely. Not on purpose. Right up until the moment I pass the mark, I am entirely intending to hit it. But then I don’t. Afterwards, I get discouraged and it screws up my schedule for days. Of course, no one but me ever notices, unless I missed an external deadline. I am terrible at keeping promises to myself.

    But I am working on it, and it’s nice to know I am not alone. Perhaps I will try cutting my schedule down to the essentials, and then work my way up from there.

  3. March 19, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Congrats Terry-Lynne!!

    And Atsiko, I was right there with you on blocking time and then ignoring it. It took me a long, long time to start taking my promises seriously. Rest assured, you are not alone! You’ll make it, though, I’m sure!

  4. March 20, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    That’s what I keep telling myself. Thanks. 🙂

  5. March 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Right on. I struggled with this a lot, but I think I’ve finally come to a place where I can realistically manage my goals and expectations. Meeting those deadlines builds up positivity too, which fuels me forward even more. It’s a never-ending cycle, in a good way.

    So yeah, great advice. 🙂

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