Finding Time: The Life Equation and the Three R’s

time-warp“There are not enough hours in the day.  Week.  Year!”

Like all writers (and lots of other people), I am constantly confronted with the fact that there does not seem to be enough time to get anything done.  At least, nothing we want to do.  Everything we must to do we find time for, of course.  But finding time for things like writing… Not always so easy.

So I decided to do some math.  My expectation was that by doing so, I’d reinforce the dismal idea that I don’t have enough time, and thus have plenty of excuses for not getting stuff done.  But, happily, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Here’s what I did:

ACTIVITY HRS DAYS/WEEK HRS/WEEK
work 14 3.5 49
sleep 7 7 49
eat dinner 1 7 7
make dinner 1 3.5 3.5
family time – weekday 1.5 5 7.5
family time – weekend 5 2 10
military extra duties 1 1 1
 Total: 127

A little explanation on these broad generalizations for hours per day times days per week:

  • My work days are about 14 hours long.  I get up at 5:30am and get home at 7:30pm.  (Assuming I’m on day shifts, but it’s about the same on nights, just flip am/pm.)  The shift is supposedly 12 hours, but in reality it works out closer to 13, plus I’m including getting ready, eating breakfast, etc.  Basically, time dedicated on a work day to my work day.  I work, on average, 3.5 days out of 7 per week.  (Maybe 3 on, 4 off; or 5 on, 2 off, whatever.)
  • I probably sleep an average of 6-7 hours a night.  I was generous and said 7.
  • Eating dinner: about an hour.  If I have to also make dinner (and sometimes, even after a 14 hour day, I come home and find it’s up to me to make that happen), another hour.
  • Rough estimates on “family time,” meaning just spending time with my son, wife, etc.
  • Currently, my extra military duty time–meaning time outside of my 14 hour day; meaning, my time off–is actually pretty low.  This is partially because I make the choice to allow my career to suffer so that my family and personal time do not.  (Because you don’t get promoted for being good at your job.  That’s not enough.)  It’s also lower because I no longer have to stand the 24-hour duty day every month, due to recent policy changes at work.  But this hour is also estimated for me being on days right now.  When I’m on night shifts, this goes way up.  (Because everything extra that you have to do, you do when everyone else is at work.  And that’s not at 3am on a Saturday night.)

So this is estimating the general, everyday stuff that must get done.  There are 168 hours in a week (24×7).  As per the chart, then, my “mando-time” (mandatory) is 127 hours per week.  168-127 = 41.  So this leaves 41 hours per week.

That’s where I stopped and thought, “That can’t be right!”  How could I possibly have so much extra time on my hands?  I certainly don’t feel like I have 41 hours of free time every week!

So, because the math didn’t support the pessimistic outlook I had on life, as I had expected it to, I differentiated a bit.  I broke it down to work days and off days.

work day non-work
14 working 1 eating
1 eating 1 making
1 making 4 family
1 family 8 sleeping
7 sleeping 14  TOTAL
24  TOTAL

That’s a little more accurate for me.  The family time may vary, especially if we take a day trip to go do something.  But, generally speaking:

  • On a work day, I should not try to make myself feel guilty for not getting anything else done.  Assuming I want to sleep, eat dinner, and see my loved ones in the same day, there’s no time for anything else.
  • On a non-working day, I should feel guilty for not getting something productive done!  Generally, if it’s a weekday that I have off and everyone else is at work or school, I have lots of time to myself.  Better make it count!  And even on a weekend, unless we are doing something specific, I can find a few hours to do what I want to do.  (I generally wake up early and leave the house to write, so it’s done and out of the way and nothing else can threaten that allotted time slot.)

Now, to go onto the next step, I shall set myself up for some optimistic expectations.  What are the priorities for making the best use of that time?  For me, it’s the Three R’s, redefined a bit:

  • The first is wRiting.  I literally have more than 30 books in mind right now and come up with new ideas all the time!  And they aren’t going to write themselves!
  • Reading is essential, and I don’t do nearly enough of it.  Again, because of time constraints.  Anything I can’t do everyday is hard to turn into a habit or routine.  And I can’t do anything everyday.  Other than eat, apparently, which leads me to the third R…
  • ‘Rithmatic is the saying, but that’ll be my code word for woRking out; or, more likely, swimming laps.  I get fired from my job if I can’t fit into my uniform, and it seems some evil elves have been gradually replacing mine with smaller and smaller duplicates.  At 40 years of age, overworked, sleep deprived, and having other priorities, its difficult to motivate myself to the gym or pool on a regular basis.  It also doesn’t help that my go-to activity is to sit on my butt even more in front of a computer to tell stories. But if I tell myself that on my days off, I have 3 Rs to accomplish, it’ll make it more likely that I get there.

Of course, this simplified rant doesn’t cover all of life.  There are more things to do, unexpected outcomes, and never enough time, however much you may plan.  I’d like to blog more, too, and not just about what damn book is on sale.  I know that makes me out to be a mercenary bastard, and I hate it.  I have so much more to say!  But… blogging requires a time slot.

And time is that most precious of commodities.  You can’t make more time.  It runs at a constant speed, like sand from the hourglass, and once it’s gone you never get it back.  Money you can make more of.  You can get a second job, but that costs more time.

And that’s the main reason I don’t put in the extra time at work needed to advance my military career.  My son is 6 now and growing older at that same, constant rate.  If I spend his childhood at the office, I might gain more money, but I’ll lose more time.  And he’ll never be 6 again, or 7, 8, 9…  Maybe I get to a nice, fat retirement one day, but I’ll miss my son growing up.  Time is worth more to me than money.  Time lost cannot be bought back, no matter how much money you have.

And speaking of time, I’ve spent enough on this blog post.  Unfortunately, I have to ration out such a valuable resource, and my lunch hour is nearly up.

In conclusion, well…  I expected to conclude that, “There’s just not enough time in the day,” and “This might be making a living, but it’s no way to live!”  And I can still say those things, but to my own surprise I discovered that there is time.  I’m just not making the best use of it.  I can always use more, but if I squander what I have, it’s my own damn fault!

Fantasy Series Waiting in the Wings

I took a minute today to actually count the potential fantasy series I have in mind to write.

Six.

I have six of them!  Not six books, six series.

And won’t get to them any time soon.  I’m still working on 3 or 4 superhero series and at least one, if not two, sci-fi series, plus other side projects.

If I could only feed the family without a day job!

 

Holy Word Count, Batman! 2016 in Review

fireworks

First, let me say HAPPY NEW YEAR!

May we all reach our lofty goals we’re now setting for 2017!  I know I’m making some resolutions, and started, in fact, in November.  I usually start looking into the next year by November, looking at my process for the current year and seeing what I want to improve on for the next year.

In this case, I’m looking to streamline things.  I want to produce more with less effort and stress.  This means, for me, tracking fewer numbers.  I’ve been tracking total amount of work in writing–expressed in “words,” though that isn’t strictly true, as I’ll explain.  I have been tracking words written in blog posts (like this one), as well as words revised and line editing done, which counts as half and one-quarter of new words written, respectively.

Confusing?  Yes, it is.  Contrived?  Yes, I agree.  That’s why I’m not doing it anymore.

In 2017, I’m confident that I can produce written work at a much improved rate than I have in previous years.  Keeping track of word count has helped me get there.  But now that I’m confident in the amount of work I can produce–which averages out to about 16,000 per month this past year–I no longer want to count them.

Cutting this tedious bit from my method will reduce time and stress and take some of the pressure off of myself.  I already feel I am behind, since I’v had the same 30+ books in mind for the last few years, plus come up with several more I’d like to write.

It might be like awaiting your death sentence and counting every tick of the clock until it gets here.  Not helping!

Okay, it’s not that bad.  But still, it’s no longer helpful for me.  It’s one more tedious flick of the lash across my own back that I can do without.  I know I can pump out words now.  No need to hound myself about it any further.

That said, I did have a productive 2016.  By my count (including the 1/2 and 1/4 word measurement of work I mentioned earlier), I produced 201,225 words!

My monthly goal was always 10,000 words.  I barely squeezed that out in Jan, Feb, and March.  After that, no problem, hitting 20,000 for five months and my most productive month being May at 27,500 words!  (Most of that, however, the task master in me would point out, was revision work.  So really, the would count would be like double that!)

Going into 2017 I am going to only be tracking published words.  I want to see the final product, not worrying about the process.  I want to see the sausage, not the ground up guts going into the tube.  (Yuk.)

So in 2016, I published…  100,500 words!  And 77,500 of that was never-before-seen new stuff cast into the world!

That’s not including blog posts or pages revised.  That’s pure story out there in the world for folks to read.

Holy poop!

To me, that’s more impressive than the 200,000 of work.  Especially since we can see that less than half of that 200 grand is actual story out in the world.

oneeyedjacksThe biggest chunk of that total comes from my novel One-Eyed Jacks, which was originally a rather long short story written in 2002.  Fourteen years later, I finally got it novelized and published for you to read. (Took long enough!)

I also had had two stories published in magazines:

“Moondance” online with Crimson Streets.  It may get into paperback there too, with their planned yearly anthology.

And “The Lion’s Share” in Cirsova #3, which you can get on Amazon at this link.

I’ve had my novelette “Frozen Heart” sitting at Tor.com for literally a year with no word.  If they haven’t sent me an acceptance by the time I’m ready to publish it in a SF trio collection (which is probably only a week from now), then I’m giving up on them.  A year in limbo…  that’s just crazy.  And, I feel, not very respectful to the writers.

My international contest finalist, The Thorne Legacy, was supposed to be published in the  Last Outpost sci-fi anthology before the year ended, but production has been delayed.  I’m hoping it will come out… well, any day now. legacy-17-mini

So it’s been a good year.  And I’m already anticipating 2017 will be bigger, better, and more productive.  I expect to pass that 100,000 words published by midway through the year.  That’s the goal, at least.  I have a lot of stuff already written that’s going to be coming out.  And I have a lot of writing to get done.

Can’t get to all those new shiny ideas I have until I finish what I’ve already started, right?  So I better get to work!

(Incidentally, this blog post is approximately 800 words, but who’s counting?  And I’m not going to spend 400 words worth of work revising them, so…  forgive any typos.  ‘Cuz I got more important words to write!)

 

NaNoWriMo and The Simpsons

homer

With the National Novel Writing Month on at the same time as FXX’s 600-episode Simpsons marathon, I figure now was a good time to writing down the “Simpsons Writing Theory” that I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

It really goes back to the pulp writers of old and the teachings of modern-day writing guru Dean Wesley Smith.  The pulp mag writers had to crank out stories too fast to pay attention to whether they were great or not.

No, really.  I mean it.

It didn’t matter if they were great or not, something had to fill those pages.  And whether the writer thought it was their best work ever or not, they got paid for it.  Then the story was read by thousands, if not millions, of dedicated fans.  And it all happened again the next day, the next week, the next year.

So, similarly, my “Simpsons Writing Theory” goes something like this.

If you’ve been an avid Simpsons fan over the decades, as I have been since I was a kid (it’s been on that long!), then you’ve probably noticed that not every episode is a golden nugget of raw television success.

If you think about it, it’d be pretty much impossible for every 22-minute Simpsons adventure to be the best possible half-hour of entertainment imaginable.  The writers, actors, and animators have to produce how many episodes per season?  Thirteen or more, right?  And for what, almost 30 years? And they have to do it on a deadline.  The writers have to turn out a completed script, send it to the actors to perform and perfect in the recording studio, and then send that on to the animators, which is probably the longest stage of the whole process.  And they have to do this 13+ times a year in a given time limit.  If you divide that out, more than one per month.  That’s a lot of work in under a month.  Some of us aren’t satisfied with one simple short story in that time!  And there are millions—maybe billions—of fans and dollars riding on that process.

So do you think they scrap a lot of the scripts halfway through?  Do you think the animators come back late in the game and say, “You know, this just isn’t going to work out.  Why don’t you start over again?”

Hell, no, they don’t!  They have to get this shit done!

What if the writers can only come up with eight zingers in a season, only eight story ideas they really think will be great?  Do they just not produce the other episodes that year?

Hell, no!  They need a full season.  So if a couple of scripts aren’t pure magic, so what, the others will make up for it.  The show must go on, after all, even if the team doesn’t think that every single minute of the season is their best ever.

And will the fans stop watching the show just because this latest episode wasn’t all they’d hoped it would be?  No, I’m pretty sure they’ll just say, “Hmm, not my favorite ever.  Hope next week is better.”  And then they’ll tune in next week and decide that their funny bone has been satisfied.  And then the next week.  Or they’ll binge on hours of reruns in a row, deciding that this one was one of their favorite, that one was not, and that other one was pretty much a stinker.  And then they’ll be back tomorrow to watch some more.

What’s my point?

My point is, that as writers we should not scrutinize every single thing we write as either being the best thing ever, meeting some imagined 96% or better standard, or, failing that, not being worth jack squat.  Don’t say, “This isn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, so I’m trashing it.”

Write EVERYTHING.  Finish your story and put it out there, either to editors or simply publish it yourself.  DO NOT get hung up judging your own stuff as worthy or not worthy.  That’s not your job.  And you might be surprised that the one you struggled to squeeze out, or the story you never thought would work, turned out to be someone else’s favorite.  Or millions of people’s favorite.

So in conclusion, when you write 13+ stories a year for 30 freakin’ years, some of them simply won’t be great.  Some will even be stinkers.  But in such a huge body of work, your readers won’t notice the ones that might have missed the mark.  They’ll just shrug and move on to the hits that they enjoy.  You can’t write pure gold every time.  No one can.  And yet, they succeed.

nano2

I hope everyone who dedicated themselves to writing this month met their goals.  And even if you didn’t finish as much as you wanted, typing one word is a net gain!

I personally had a December 1st deadline to meet for a novella that will go into an anthology slated for next summer.  And I didn’t make it.  But I did get over 16,000 new words poured into it, which is probably a record for me, despite the hectic holiday season and brutal day job hours.  And I will finish the story and get it to the editor by mid-month, which will make the fallback deadline just fine.  So a big Homer “Whoo-hoo!” for all of us!