What It Takes To Succeed

How do you find time for all that, I’m often asked. How did you accomplish so much in so little time with your writing? Here’s the honest answer: I don’t do anything else.

The mark of a successful income-earning writer is that they’re dedicated, disciplined, and focused.

woman asleep at laptopIn late 2008, Marcy and I sat down together at Write! Canada, a writer’s conference we try to make a point of attending every year. We decided to cowrite a few articles about a shared experience, and were also asked to take on a book review column. Those two decisions launched our writing careers early in 2009 when those articles began appearing, and we started writing full-time. We launched this blog in November 2010 which has given us further credibility.

So, here’s an insider’s view into our messed up chaotic schedule. You want to know what it takes to be able to write full-time? Here’s the down and dirty details:

How many hours/days a week do you write on average?

Marcy: I’m writing 7 days a week (on average) between the grant writing company that I’m on retainer with, my freelance work (both writing and editing), my blog, Girls With Pens, and our co-written novel. My long-term goal is to cut back to 6 days a week. I’d love to have a 5-day work week, but I think that’s impossible for writers. A girl can dream though.

Lisa: I try not to look at it in terms of hours – it’s too depressing. I write 7 days a week. Mon-Fri I work 9-5, and then go back to it after 9pm when the kids are in bed for another 2-4hours. I’m working freelance for 3 non-profits, and am on retainer with a fourth. I accept work from one small business, and write regularly for a few magazines and newspapers which means I’m always looking for a good story and interviewing people. I also write my own blog, Girls With Pens, and am writing a fiction manuscript with Marcy. I try not to work a lot on weekends, 2-4 hours at the most each day when the kids are awake, then more after they’re in bed. If I’ve been up late, I’ll crash for an hour or so in the morning after the kids go to school.

What time do you shut down the laptop at night?

Marcy: Do I have to answer this one honestly? Right now, I usually fall asleep with my laptop in my lap, and my husband has to come wake me up. Some nights it’ll be 1am before I crash. Other nights, it’s more like 11pm. (P.S. Don’t try this at home. It’s a recipe for eventual total meltdown.) I’m not always writing that late though. Sometimes I’m paying bills, answering emails, etc. There’s never enough time in a day.

Lisa: I’m bad for this. I’m often up until at least midnight, if I’m under a deadline for a blog post it’s not unusual for me to be up until 2am.

What’s your most productive writing time?

Marcy: I’m not one of these writers who can get up and crank out 1,000 words before breakfast. (I could try, but it would be a waste because I’m not at my best.) I’m most productive between 1pm and 7pm.

Lisa: I’m not a morning person. I tend to do my blog reading and social media in the morning because I don’t have to think as much. My best writing times are 1pm til about 4pm, and then 9pm and on.

What other hobbies do you spend time doing?

Marcy: I play the flute and World of Warcraft (it’s endorsed by Chuck Norris you know), and I train our one-year-old Great Dane in obedience. I read, but I’m not sure anymore if that’s a hobby or work related. Most of my hobbies are so neglected they’re buried in dust.

Lisa: I don’t. I go to a writer’s club meeting for 2 hours once a month. Between running kids to cheerleading, horseback riding, aikido, helping with paper routes and homework, and trying to keep the health department from storming my house, there’s no time for anything else. I try to get out and walk the dog. A real treat is to go out to a movie with friends, cuddle with the hubs in front of the tv, go shopping with my girls, or take a weekend off to read a novel.

What has caused you to miss publishing a blog post on your scheduled day?

Marcy: As of yet, I’ve never missed a scheduled day 🙂

Lisa: I’ve never missed posting a blog. For me, it’s a credibility issue so I make it a priority even when I get a last minute assignment from an editor with a short deadline, or a frantic email from a non-profit that x or y needs to be done yesterday.

Where in your house do you eat breakfast and lunch?

Marcy: Clearly these questions are meant to bring out all my dirty laundry for public viewing 🙂 I eat lunch wherever my laptop is because I usually do social media while eating breakfast and lunch.

Lisa: C’mon – I didn’t make you share what you wear to ‘work’ 🙂 I eat breakfast and lunch at my desk, that’s when I do a lot of my social networking and blog reading.

How do you decide which new projects or assignments to take on and which to turn down?

Marcy: Three simple questions:

(1)   Do we need the money to pay our bills?

(2)   Will it advance my long-term career goal of writing novels?

(3)   Does it help support a charity/cause that hits me in the heart?

I also consider whether I’ll enjoy it.

Lisa: Freelancing is a bit like feast or famine. One week I have time on my hands and my house is super clean, other weeks I’m so busy I forget to eat.

1) The job has to be interesting to me, or further a cause I’m passionate about

2) Depends on my workload at the time and the publication date. I often get work because I’m willing to accommodate a short deadline. An editor will say, I’m looking for x but I need it by Friday (this is Monday), but it won’t come out for 4 months. Translation: I don’t get paid for 4 months. I’m constantly searching for more freelance opportunities because a gap in work can mean no income for months.

3) Will it help or hinder my ultimate goal of writing novels?

As you can see, we’re busy. We rarely see each other at all, we communicate through a frenzied flurry of emails, IM’s, Tweets and Facebook messages. (If Marcy would start texting we could probably eliminate at least 3 of those things.)

We don’t miss deadlines. We deliver quality material to our employers and editors that garners us more work from them, and from word of mouth. We’re focused and determined to reach the same goal, and we don’t let much else distract us from that. People have accused us of being ‘intense’ and ‘too-driven’. Maybe.

We both agree that we’re looking for better balance once we get this novel finished – of course, ultimately we want to be able to stop freelancing as much and just write fiction. Are you this passionate, dedicated, focused, on your writing? What’s your ultimate goal in all of this writing frenzy?