Category: The Writer’s Life

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Ten Tips for Working from Home

Writers and editors find themselves oddly prepared for the situation many of us now find ourselves in.  

As it happens, I have just written extensively about working from home for my book, Making a Living as a Freelance Editor, which will be published by the University of Chicago Press in Spring, 2021. I gained permission to reprint the following excerpt, which might, unfortunately, apply to a wide variety of industries right now. If you have to create structure (including breaks!) in your day and no longer have a commute to signal when it’s okay to quit, there might be something here for you, too.

  1. Design a workweek that suits who you really are. For example, I am ready to work at 6:30 a.m.—but it could be 4:30 a.m. if there is a pressing reason. You might feel that the only way you are working at that hour is if you are still up. Conversely, my brain shuts down at 8:00 p.m. and things take two to three times longer to process. I am only working harder and not smarter. Even with the restrictions that may be upon you where you are sheltering, you can still think about, What am I like?..
  2. Start with your own system. While you are designing your perfect workday you might derive inspiration from other sample list-making systems but, bear in mind, trendy time management and productivity gurus can change with the season and it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. It is better to start with your present system and evolve it rather than overhaul it based on someone else’s ideas, only to quit your new plan almost immediately.
  3. Create a Weekly Calendar. My spreadsheets are pretty simple: In the first column I list the client’s name, the second column the hours I intend (or estimate) I will spend on their project this week, the third column how many of those hours I have accomplished, and the fourth column any notes regarding such things as due dates. After I have completed a client’s work for the week, I will cross it off, digitally speaking, by highlighting the line in a darker grey. Even just seeing everything I have to do for the week ahead in one place helps me take a deeper breath. It also helps me manage additions that pop-up into my schedule.
  4. Create a Daily List. In addition to your weekly calendar, you need your list for today. To be able to concentrate, you first need to know what you are focusing on. I make my list each morning, ideally after I meditate for twenty minutes. If I make the list (or check my email) before I meditate, everything feels pressing, with those who shout the loudest seeming to be heard the most clearly. If I make the list after I meditate, some surprising things see the light of day—and everything else has a more purposeful feel to it.
  5. Do your hardest tasks first. A lot of people know to do this; doing it, on the other hand, can take some discipline. This is just a reminder that when you work your way down from the most complicated assignments to the easiest ones—when you knock out the key projects earlier in the day—you get more quickly to that great feeling we love to have at work: I got this.
  6. Work real hours. I realize this is a time when we may not be meeting all of our goals, but a good week for me is forty-five hours of work. When I say forty-five hours a week, I mean forty-five real hours, recorded in quarter-hour increments. Going on Facebook doesn’t count. Waiting for someone to call who doesn’t, doesn’t count. Either we are doing things that are tangibly contributing to the business or we are not at work.
  7. Take breaks. Your day can’t be all work, of course. We need to take breaks to refocus our minds, and breaks are best when we take them intentionally. If you are coming up from one work session, and before you head into another, should you check email? Is that a break? Unlikely. These days, menu planning, helping a middle schooler with homework, or running the dishwasher again are more likely to empty our minds temporarily.
  8. Tame the email beast. I have set times during the day when I review my email. This may not work for the nature of your job, but I still think we should eliminate the phrase “checking my email” from our vocabulary entirely. There is no point in just checking email; this puts you in a reactive, burdened state. When you review your email you should have the time to do something about what you are reading. During my set times, I engage with email instead of just checking it, by using three related strategies:
    • If it will take less than two minutes to respond to an email, I do it now (H/t to David Allen for this strategy.)
    • Second, not every email needs a response. I know. I couldn’t believe it either when I first really figured that out.
    • Third, after an email has been responded to (or not), I put it in a client file or a general archive. Let’s face it, no email is ever really gone unless you put it in the trash and then delete the trash. If you do a search by name, you will come up with everything you and that person have ever talked about, so you don’t have to worry about losing anything. But you don’t have to look at it every day, either.
  9. The joys of punching out. If you have worked all the hours you planned to today, it is time to go home. Even if you are already home. Taking time to regenerate, whether it is simply for the rest of the day, or for the weekend, is important for you to do your best work (as is taking a real vacation again someday). Some people like to make their list for tomorrow at the end of their workday. I say, let tomorrow take care of tomorrow.
  10. Write a brief work journal entry. At the end of every day, I make an entry into a journal: 100–150 words about the biggest challenge I faced, a question I don’t yet have the answer to, a long-awaited triumph or a small piece of an evolving strategy—whatever is the most pressing content on my mind. When I shut that journal, I will listen for that imaginary socking noise of a timecard entering and being stamped by one of those metal clock boxes…punching out, people. I’m done.

You can consider all of this a work in progress. What matters is to reflect on what you are like, and then to evolve a system that is sane and works for you. And don’t forget to write it down.

P.S. If you can’t stick to a rule, that means that it needs to change, not you. These aren’t official laws; they belong to your system, and that system should be set up to maximize your efficiency, income, happiness, and performance.

Writing Mantras for Your First Draft

 The Notes You Have

 

How about some writing mantras?

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts helps writers know what draft they’re in. The first, or “messy draft,” is about writing as many words as you can before showing it to anyone else. Before you go back and revise it. Before you second guess yourself. It’s about putting the “creative” back into writing.

Generating new material so recklessly can be hard sometimes, but: Never fear.

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts provides writing mantras for each draft, helping writers remember which draft they’re in. Read the book for more help on powering through your messy draft.

If you want instant gratification, however, download the Book Architecture Draft One Mantras. Courtesy of our Colorado office, these fourteen images are easily installed as your Desktop Background for your Mac or PC. Then let these writing mantras guide you, nudge you, speak to you, and inspire you. Oh and you have to write, too.

Meditation For Writers

I started meditating to become a better writer. Pretty much everything I have done in my life has had “becoming a better writer” as its ulterior motive. Therefore, I hope what I am about to say about the connection between meditation and writing does not sound shallow or preachy. Just trying to help.

Read more

Announcing the 1st Annual Book Architecture GIT-R-DONE Travel Grant

Last year, we traveled 19 states to tell the story of Doris Buffett’s unique philanthropy. Crafted with co-writer, Anita Mumm, and accompanied by Stephanie Craigs dynamic images, LETTERS TO DORIS: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those with Nowhere Else to Turn presents a slice of the heartwarming and selfless community that Doris created through her Letters Foundation. One thing that working with the Letters Foundation has taught us is that our charitable giving has been all…over..the…place. Executive Director, Amy Kingman, challenged us to really think about where we wanted to focus our efforts. What do we think is most helpful for the writers that we work with?

The answer was resoundingly clear: A travel stipend for the author of a work-in-progress to get away and finish the damn thing.

Book Architecture thrives as a finish line business.

Our proudest testimonials go something like: “We’ve been thinking as an organization of doing a book for ten years and with your help we were holding it in 9 months.”

 

Hence the BOOK ARCHITECTURE GIT-R-DONE GRANT was born.

Without further ado, then, the Particulars:

Grant Money Awarded: $2,500. Book Architecture will also provide 1 hr. of coaching prior to departure to help you get clear on your production goals and 1 hr. of coaching while you are away to help you stay on track.

Deadline: Jan. 15th, 2020, to BAGrant@bookarchitecture.com

Submission Criteria: 10 pages of writing (max 2,500 words) from a work-in-progress of any genre, along with a 1-page cover letter (max 400 words). This cover letter should answer the following three questions:

  1. Why will getting away from the unending stream of responsibilities (children, aging parents, day jobs, chores, etc.) help you push this project over the top… i.e, git-r-done? We want to know things like: How long have you been working on it? What number draft is this? How clearly can you see the finish line, etc.?
  2. What good is this project doing you? Who were you before this project started and who do you hope to be when it ends?
  3. What good is this project doing the world? Like, really. We’re interested.

Stipulations:

  • Grant money will not be delivered to recipients. Instead, travel expenses up to $2,500 will be paid directly by Book Architecture. Approved expenses include transportation, lodging, and meals. Requests for equipment upgrades will be considered as part of a getaway package. Wine-in-a-box you will have to get on your own.
  • Grantees will share a description of their travel/writing experience in a blog on the Book Architecture website.
  • Grantees will be required to sign a legal waiver stating that if anything happens to them while they are away it’s not our fault (duh).

Judging: Book Architecture has partnered with InkHouse to be the sole judges for this award. InkHouse is an integrated PR agency for innovative thinkers, creators and leaders who believe in the power of stories to effect positive change. We are satisfied with their judging criteria, and their decisions will be final. Book Architecture will be able to confirm that your submission was received and passed along…but that’s about it.