I'm super excited to be debuting my author time management interview series with my Lotus Lit Agency sister Ovidia Yu. Last September, William Morrow released Ovidia's latest work, a cozy mystery set in Singapore. Auntie Lee's Delight, is a fun read and a terrific view into Singapore's culture.
Ovidia was kind enough to stop by and share some of her time management tips and tricks that she's picked up over the course of her twenty year writing career.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was 10 or 11 years old, when I wrote adventure stories in the style of the Enid Blyton and Noel Streatfeild books I loved so much.
Do you write full time or part time (do you have a day job besides writing?)?
Now I’m writing full time. But the fun fiction writing is sort of part time since I also do some commercial writing on the side.
Are you planner/plotter/architect or a pantser/gardener?
Both! Before I start I plan and plot and structure and it’s the greatest fun. I’ve got about three plots spinning around in my head right now. And I like to have to have a shape that feels good to me. The problem is when I actually sit down and start writing my (extremely) detailed plots just get forgotten as the characters take over. But then when I finish a draft and have this hideously overwritten, overloaded and over lengthy mass of material (the gardener / panster product) I switch back to planner stage and start weeding out stuff that doesn’t work and introduce borders and lawn sprinklers etc in the right places.
How do you balance your time between writing and editing?
Usually the writing comes faster. It takes me about 3 months to produce a rough draft. Then I’ll take about 6 months to work through it slashing and rewriting. Usually this gets repeated a couple of times so it’s usually the third draft that feels ready enough to get submitted to the agent. But occasionally when I get stalled on something I’ll crush down my instincts and send it in early. Like I have a piece I’ve been sitting on for almost two years and over seven drafts. I know it’s not ready but I’ve submitted it and I’m cringing now just at the thought of her reading it. Yes she’s nice and she’ll be nice about it, but I shouldn’t do that to people (ie make them read stuff that’s not ready)
What is your system for getting your writing done? (e.g do you have word count goals, write on a particular day or at a particular time?)
I set myself minimum targets. Very low minimums—the word count minimum is governed my quota on the Magic Spreadsheet which I discoveredvia Mur Lafferty and which I really love. Though I’ve broken my chain now because I’ve been doing copy edits which doesn’t give me word count totals. And the time minimum is a 20 minute pomodoro on the KanbanFlow timer.
(MJ Note: Be still my project management, beating heart! Magic spreadsheets and Kanban timers? Wow. I'm so impressed. I added links to the tools. I'll be talking more about these in a coming post, but if you're interested in trying them, the links should get you started)
These low minimums make it easier for me to get started and once I start it’s easier to go on. So on a ‘good’ day I’ll probably write about 3 hours and 1,200 words.
But that’s when I’m writing without a deadline. When I’ve got something due on deadline I use the project targets on Scrivener which lets me see how many words a day I need to get down to finish in time. I usually finish ahead of time so the great thing about this system is that it allows me to take a complete day off now and then without guilt. For instance I spent this morning walking around the Bukit Timah forest reserve because I didn’t have anything else ‘due’ except this questionnaire. But tomorrow I’ll be back on the next draft and my daily word quota.
What is your biggest writing time management distraction and what have you found works to overcome it?
For a while it was web surfing. I would look up something and then get distracted and go on to looking up something else and before I knew it the KanbanFlow timer would go off (break time!) and I’d realize I had a head full of fascinating facts irrelevant facts, a ton of ideas for new characters and books and hadn’t been writing at all. So now I just note down what I want to look up and look them all up during one of my ‘online’ time sessions… I usually give myself three, at the beginning of the day, at lunch time and at the end of the day. And if any time is leftover I allow myself to visit Facebook and Quora which is incentive to research stuff fast!
As we all know, writing is as much these days about building a platform to attract readers as it is getting the actual writing done. How do you fit social media into your writing time?
I’m afraid I don’t know enough about social media to talk about platforms. When my book came out I was lucky enough to have super energetic angels assigned to do publicity and they’re the ones who introduced me to writers and bloggers and readers who have since become friends. Now I’ve met them I read their blogs and books whenever I can and they’ve been very supportive and encouraging of my efforts and books.
If you could tell your writing start up self anything about managing your writing time, what would it be?
|After writing over 30 plays over 20 years, Ovidia Yu wrote her first children’s book, The Mudskipper, which was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award and the Hedwig Anuar Book Award, and Aunty Lee’s Delights, a Singapore murder mystery published by William Morrow last September. The sequel, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Special will be published in Fall 2014.|
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