Juggling, Attention, Ambition, and Goal-Setting

I am an ambitious person. I’ve consistently and always tested into Ravenclaw, but, as Hamilton says, ‘ambition is my folly.’ And as easily as I switched between fandoms in that sentence, I switch between projects. My writer friends always joke that they can’t keep up with what I’m working on at any given moment. This has especially been true over the last year after turning in Finding Center last year and waiting while The Girl with the Red Balloon was on submission. I let myself have some time off and I’m glad I did that. I needed it.

But when I needed to get back on the job, I struggled a little bit. I’d amassed a huge number of ‘Books to Write’ ideas in various stages of completion, from a few paragraphs to a nearly complete first draft that needed heavy revisions. And I wasn’t sure where to start.

So I put together a large spreadsheet of all the ideas that I found feasible, a one to two sentence pitch, when I wanted to write them by, and my pub plans for the book. I sent it to friends first and then I sent it to my agent. All in all, there were nineteen books that I wanted to write in three years. I looked, I laughed at myself, and I hit send anyway. 

I expected her to come back with a “KATHERINE, NO” response, but we had a phone call a few weeks after I sent her the spreadsheet when she was done traveling and the response was not ‘no’ but rather, “KATHERINE, YES.” It is the best feeling when your agent stares your ambition right in the eye and says, “Let’s go!” We went through each of the story ideas, talked it out, put a handful on the back burner, rearranged a few, deleted four, and made a plan for my immediate projects, put deadlines on them, and set winter/spring goals together.

At the end, I felt like I had a strong game plan and I had both focus and deadlines. I’m far from the only writer who thrives on deadlines. We picked which two books I was writing over the next few months, and now, even when I feel the lure of the other ideas calling to me, I can say no–I have to meet my deadlines for my agent (and for the second book on my contract!). Sure, maybe, ideally, I’d have more self-restraint and be able to set those deadlines for myself and keep myself focused on one book at a time. But external motivation is great and I’m glad I have it. (And very glad for an equally ambitious agent!)

Right now, I’m drafting the second book on my Girl with the Red Balloon contract. I can’t share anything about it yet, but trust me, I’m in love with this book and the heroine makes me turn into that emoji with the heart eyes. It’s also coming quite quickly, which I appreciate. Thanks, book!

I’m also drafting a middle grade novel. Middle grade is challenging! I firmly believe the younger the target audience, the harder the book is to write. But I really like this story and I really want to make this story work.

So how am I juggling?

Normally I’d laugh and say, I’m not!

But I actually am right now. Ask me in a couple of weeks when The Girl with the Red Balloon’s edits come in but for now, I’m juggling well. Here’s how.

  1. I’m using a bullet journal. Fellow authors Megan Erickson and Brighton Walsh turned me onto this system and I’m obsessed but for a good reason: it keeps me on track and forces me to plan ahead and check things off. I don’t bounce and weeble and wobble between “which one do I want to work on tonight.”
  2. Because of the BuJo, I know that during the week, I typically work on the middle grade, and on the weekends, I typically do a Saturday all day writing session to get about 10k at a time on the YA. I have found that it’s hard for me to jump between WIPs on the same day, so separating them out like this has helped solidify the voices and my confidence.
  3. I reread 2K TO 10K by Rachel Aaron, one of the best and most practical, pragmatic writing books out there. My YA isn’t a problem because I’m vomiting that out in stream of consciousness and I’ll fix everything later. My MG, as much as I know what I want it to be, is one where I’m struggling even though I outlined. Rereading this reminded me to do a pre-writing session scribble on a piece of paper about what was going to happen in the scene I was writing today. On Sunday, I wrote 212 words in about an hour and a half. On Monday night, I pre-wrote and turned off my internet (let me tell you the good word about blocking social media). I wrote 1183 words in an hour. Don’t go into this book thinking you’ll magically write 10k every day. But you are likely to come out of the book writing more words than you were before, and that’s always a win. (Aaron helpfully talks about how to write BETTER words too, so it’s less of my “vomit onto a page” method)
  4. I’m blocking social media every time I want to get something done. Look. I have a short attention span. Like, probably pathologically short. And I am pretty lazy, considering how ambitious I am. I’m one of the best procrastinators I know, and I probably should state that with slightly less pride. Using apps to block social media on my phone and my computer forces me to zero in and get my work done.
  5. A writer in motion stays in motion. I firmly believe this. This does not mean you have to write every day, but I do think that it can help. I write more words per hour at the end of my Saturday sessions than I do at the beginning. I gain momentum as I go along, just as I gain momentum the farther I am into a draft. My writing speed, confidence, and word quality in the first ten thousand words are far less than those in the last ten thousand words. It’s probably why, despite outlines, I almost always rework my beginnings more often than any other part of the book. But momentum helps. I’m staying in motion.

I also freelance edit! But I’ll save my Freelance Juggling for another post.

I hope that was helpful. If you have any questions, ask me here (comments are moderated) or @ me on Twitter!

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6 thoughts on “Juggling, Attention, Ambition, and Goal-Setting

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