Mar 11, 2014

Time Management Tuesday - Guest Ovidia Yu

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?
Write as much as you can. When you can’t write any more, read. When you can’t read any more, grab the dogs and get outside.
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.

If you found Ovidia's tips as interesting and helpful as I did, please share them with your social media network through the buttons below.

If you have a question or comment for Ovidia, she'll be around to reply.  

Mar 4, 2014

The world does not need another writer blog - Time Management Tuesday Tip

When I first started on the road to creating the dreaded “author platform”, the one thing I was 100% sure of is that I did not want to be an “authors for authors” blog – a blog that caters to other authors. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach for platform building. And I’m thankful every day to my fellow authors who are out there adding value to our community. I just never could see myself doing that. Others are much more informed and have way more passion for the topics of “writer sausage making” than I do.

Over the months, though, as I’ve gotten my feet down, I’ve realized there is a specialized area that I can probably add a bit of value and (lucky me) it’s an area I tend to have some passion around (translation, don’t get me started talking about it or you may not be able to shut me up until you’ve agreed to let me professionally torture you in my area of expertise).

As I mentioned in my Writer Wednesday post Just Finish It, one of the largest issues I come across in my critique groups is writers having trouble balancing it all and getting a work across the finish line.

In my real life, not just when I’m playing Author on the internet, I am a certified project manager. I strongly believe that not only should whatever you’re working on have a project plan, your whole life should have one. Goal completion does not just happen. There is a science to time management. Even those who manage to complete their projects just fine, thank you, could always pick up a tip or trick to being more efficient.

Let’s face it, the majority of writers have a day job. Even those writers who are lucky enough to be able to write full time are juggling that with managing their writing business. Gone are the days where publishers and agents did a big chunk of that. Now writers, even traditionally published ones, but especially those who are self-published, spend countless hours on things like marketing and accounting.

Given that, I will be launching a new series called Time Management Tuesday. The series will alternate between providing information on the science of project and time management and interviews from other authors who will share their tips and tricks to making it happen.

So, without further ado:

This week’s Time Management Tuesday Tip: You must pay attention!

Time management is a science, but like the science of weight loss, one size does not fit all.

The basics of weight loss are simple – eat less, move more. But many other facets play into that. For example, some body types are more sensitive to carbohydrates than others. Some body types are genetically predisposed not to give up weight or not to lose weight through exercise.

Time management/efficiency principals work in a similar way. Essentially the basics of time management are simple – focus on the right things at the right time for the right amount of duration. But how your brain is wired to produce, will greatly affect what works and what doesn’t for you.

So what’s a writer to do? – Start paying attention.

The first step when taking on any “be more efficient” program is to pay more attention. Get off of autopilot and start understanding how you work. When are you tired? How long can you go before you need a break? What are your derailers? What keeps you from getting to it? Are you simply a procrastinator or do you have something bigger going on from an emotional perspective? Are you better at night or first thing in the morning?

There’s a stuffy old business saying in the lean manufacturing space – “We expect what we inspect.” In other words, if you want to understand something, change it for the better, you have to pay attention to it.

Over the course of the coming weeks and months, I’ll be providing templates to help you begin to sort out your own productivity style, as well as additional research on human efficiency and time management. But none of it will help if you don't start paying attention to how you work.

Stay tuned next week for an interview with cozy mystery author Ovidia Yu on her tips and tricks for managing her writer life.

If you found this interesting, please share it with your network below with the sharing buttons below.

Also, I have a great slate of authors lined up in my interview series, but am always looking for more. If you are a published author, and would like to share your time management story, leave a comment, send me an email or hit me on Twitter.

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