Chip MacGregor

January 20, 2008

State of Confusion


I’m not really in the state of confusion. I’m in the state of Washington. But the two apparently border each other. A week in the mountains with no cel service, no internet, no emails — and no chance to update my blog. Sorry! I’m back at it.

Dianne wrote to ask, "If I really wanted to move from being a part-timer toward being a full-time writer, what advice would you have? What are the steps I need to take in order to make the transition?"

I can think of a long list of things you should consider…

1. Find a place. Make this your writing space and designate it as your office. (If you’re serious about this, make that your official home office and start looking into the tax deduction you can get from the IRS for establishing a home office.)

2. Establish a writing time. Having a block of time dedicated to your writing is probably the first step every professional writer takes on their way to a writing career. You want to have a protected chunk when you’re not checking emails, answering phone calls, or meeting people for coffee to bitch about how little writing time you have. For many authors, it’s simply "morning." When I began writing full time, I set aside 6 to 8 every morning to write (I had one job and three small kids, so I couldn’t do it later in the day). I would get up and write every morning before going to the office… which was amazing, since I’m really not a morning person. But it was the discipline of sitting and writing for two hours every morning that really helped me flip the switch in my head and get me going on a writing career.

3. Create a filing system. All it takes is one office box and a set of files. You can arrange it alphabetically by topic, and create sub-files as you get deeper into your work. Doing this will keep you on track, and has the added advantage of giving you the feeling of being a grown-up — as though this writing thing were an actual JOB you’re doing.

4. Set up a bank account. Make this just for your writing business. Run all your expenses through it, so that you can see what sort of investment you’re making in your writing career. Deposit every dime you make off your writing into this account, so you’ve got a clear record of what your income and expenses are come tax time.

5. Fill out that stupid address book. Type in all the names, titles, addresses, phone numbers, and emails of everybody you know in publishing. Yeah, it’s a drudgery. But you only have to do it once. Then you’ll never be in that situation where you REALLY have to ask somebody a writing question, but can’t figure out how to get hold of him.

6. Give yourself a goal. Many writers have a goal of 1000 words a day. Others work on a bigger scale, like "one chapter per week." A writing goal gives you something to work toward.

7. Create a to-do list. Work on the top thing of your list every day, cross it off, and move to the next thing. On Fridays, start at the bottom of your list (so that you get to that one task you’re always putting off).

8. Establish a calendar. This is critical if you’re trying to move from part-time to full-time. A writing calendar just gives you a big-picture view of what you need to be writing. It might show something like "take the first two weeks of the month to complete your introduction and first chapter," then remind you to take a week to write that magazine article, followed by a week of revisions to an earlier project, then three weeks of working on your book chapters. In other words, you’re using a calendar to break a big project into bite-sized chunks. It’ll also reveal what night you’re going out to dinner and remind you to take Kaitlin to the orthodontist.

9. Learn to group similar activities. Do all your snail mail at one time. Schedule your phone calls back-to-back so that they go faster. Things that are "occasional-but-regular" (for me, that means "looking at submissions") will move much faster if there’s a time on the calendar to go through a bunch of them all at once.

10. Invest in yourself. Take a class, join a critique group, attend a conference, get therapy — whatever it is you need to grow. Oh, and buy a good dictionary and thesaurus.

That’s a start. Let me know if that’s helpful. And if you have a publishing or writing question, send it to me. Now that I’m back to work, I’ll catch up on the questions you’ve been sending.


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