Writers@Work: The Calendar Hacks of Five Successful Authors
October 4, 2016
Note From Rochelle
I’m hosting a special Write Now! Mastermind event as a kickoff for my Write-A-Thon Book Coaching Program. This Wednesday—tomorrow—I’ll be offering you a sneak peak at the first three sessions in the class: The Three Elements of a Bestselling Book. We’ll meet Wednesday, October 5th at 12:00 PM CT. If you’re not already signed up for the Write Now! Mastermind class, you can do so here.
Today’s tip is a collection of writing and scheduling advice from some of my favorite mystery writers. Two of the women, Jess Lourey and Lori Rader-Day will be at Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee on November 5, 2016. If you’ve never been to that event, it’s a fun and information-packed day with some of the best writers I’ve met! (Visit the site to see the list of amazing authors who will be there. It promises to be an amazing day! )
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
The Calendar Hacks of Five Successful Authors
I love wandering around office supply stores almost as much as I love hanging out in bookstores. (Paper, pens, markers! Oh my!) I’m a bit of a calendar addict, often purchasing more than one calendar for a new year, hoping to discover the tool that helps me get more stuff done.
A few months ago, several of my favorite mystery writers debated paper versus electronic calendars on Facebook. Most of the writers shared photos of their calendars along with their favorite hacks. I’ve suffered through many years of purchased calendars that don’t quite work for me. This year, after searching far and wide online, I created my own calendar/Bullet Journal.
Because these women had so many good things to say, I invited them to share their tips and hacks with you. This post is a bit longer than most, but you’ll thank me for it. Promise!
Lisa Alber, author of Whispers in the Mist (A County Clare Mystery)
What I use: I’m probably one of least organized people you’ll ever meet. I buy some kind of calendar at least twice a year, and this year, it was more than that because I wanted to be oh-so-prepared for book launch in August. My problem is that being organized enough to write everything in calendars doesn’t stick as a habit for very long. That said, for my pre-launch/launch activities, I used a simple August-to-August calendar organizer made by Mixed Role Productions, and also a regular wall calendar that I didn’t hang on the wall. I kept it on my kitchen bar counter, which was command central for authorial activities.
Now, I’m off the calendar thing again, alas. In September I bought a notebook with just subject and date headers on top (designworksink.com) so that I can make lists.
Why it works: It works for me to have different methods (wall calendar, lists, etcetera) because I have a hard time maintaining any organizational system for long. So to accommodate this, I switch around a lot. Mostly, I rely on Post-It notes stuck everywhere and piling up on every table/counter top.
My writing tip: I recently discovered a new organizational method! Yay! If you’re like me—naturally chaotic and in love with Post-It notes—you might want to check out something called “Personal Kanban.” (Overview here.) Basically, you stick all your scribbled Post-It notes on some surface (whiteboard, wall, wherever). A friend of mine uses four groupings: “Queue” for every task under the sun, “Ready” for time-sensitive tasks (i.e. deadlines approaching), “In Progress,” and “Done.” The trick is that you can only have three tasks under “In Progress,” which keeps you focused. Tasks move from left to right. You can be as anal as you’d like, which can mean many groupings in neat columns or the minimum three groupings with Post Its slapped on the wall in the correct general area. (I’m of the latter category. Google “personal kanban images” if you’re curious.)
Shannon Baker, author of Stripped Bare (A Kate Fox Mystery)
Here’s my method: In a previous life, when I was raising kids, had a full-time job, juggled multiple freelance writing projects, and did lots of community volunteering, I used a Franklin Day Planner. I honestly believe that without that – and I used all the goalsetting tools that accompanied it—I’d never have put in the work it took to be a published novelist. Sadly, the planner itself became stressful for me, so I quit using it over a decade ago.
What I use now is less organized and more organic. I generally don’t list writing and exercise because that’s like listing meals and sleep. What I track are events and deadlines. Most tasks come to me in email, so until I get them scheduled or completed, they sit in my inbox. If my box had more than 25 emails, I get crazy and am forced to take care of them. If it’s something I need to schedule, it gets color coded and put on the Google calendar. This is important for travel because it helps my husband keep track of what’s coming up.
For this latest book launch, Jess Lourey and I did a big blog tour and I planned a physical tour. Lots of interviews and stock signings, and things got very complicated. I just needed something bigger and more tactile, so I wrote the travel out on a big wall calendar. It just made it easier for me to plot. The size of the physical calendar made it easier to see all the notes and get an idea of the whole month at one time.
My Writing Tip of the Month: Turn off the wi-fi and time writing sessions. I’ve never had a problem with discipline before now, but lately, I can’t resist popping over to Facebook or checking email. This is not new or shocking advice, but it has sure made a difference for me.
Jess Lourey, author of Salem’s Cipher (Witch Hunt Series)
What I use and why it works: I use the At-A-Glance Monthly 3-year planner, but only because I didn’t know they had a five-year planner until I just went online to find this link: PLANNER.
I’ve used some version of this planner for nearly two decades because the monthly layout let’s me see my whole month so I can balance (ha!) if I’m getting too clotted in a particular chunk of a 30-day period. Also, the 3-years out is useful for setting up writing workshops, which are often scheduled a year in advance, if not more. My husband is trying to get me to use my iPhone calendar because then we can sync up our schedules, so now I iPhone and paper calendar. I don’t trust an electronic calendar alone (get off of my lawn).
My writing tip: Like most writers, my writing of one book overlaps with my revising of another and my promoting of yet another. Then, all of that is smushed between the bread of a full-time teaching job on one end and writing workshops on the other (find your own sandwich, husband and children). My writing tip when it comes to scheduling is to keep myself on a steady drafting diet (7 days to outline, 2000 words a day once I’ve outlined, and then 25 pages a day when I revise), and to plan that writing schedule around less-movable activities, like promoting, which has to be synced to the release of a book. So, for example, I wrote my March book in the month of August (a record for me) because I knew I had a book releasing on September 8, and I didn’t want to have to juggle writing with the whirlwind of promoting.
My second scheduling hack is that when I know I have a lot of work coming up, I schedule time for my kids and my husband. It’s not romantic or sweet; it’s my sanity. Plus, then I get one more thing to cross off my list. Another scheduling hack that I swear by is getting anything small done right away because it will eat brain time whether or not you do it, so it saves time to do it immediately.
My third and final writing/scheduling tip is to not eat over your calendar while writing things down, because then you’ll be asked to post a photo of your writing calendar and everyone will know you’re a jelly donut of a human being.
Lori Rader-Day, author of Little Pretty Things
What I use: For writing stuff, for personal stuff, for birthdays, for all events having to do with the writing association I’m currently president of—Google Calendar. That’s right. Totally digital, online and on my phone. I never thought I would get there, and until I left my day job last year, where I had to use a different online calendar, which I hated, I could not make the switch entirely.
Why it works: It works because I have everything in one place and it’s portable. It’s a lot of stuff to keep track of these days. I couldn’t switch to digital entirely for a long time because I didn’t need to. Most of my weeks weren’t that different from one another. And then I published a novel and started attending Bouchercons and traveling for author events, basically having ridiculous-looking weeks (see photos) all the time.
That’s when Google Calendar became my best friend. As long as I remembered to use the time zones correctly when I entered the information, I could easily use my phone to get from event to event. But keep your phone charged, and get one of those little pocket chargers for emergencies. And woe to you the day Google is down. Understand your risks. Print your week if you’re going to be traveling, just in case.
My writing tip: Most of us are introverts, but I have discovered that planning ahead—and getting all my plans in detail on the calendar—helps me get geared up for putting on the extrovert suit. I also learned early on in my first book launch that two events a week when I was working full-time was enough, and that had to include after-hours work events. Anything more is too much. You have to protect your energy levels for the long haul, and publishing is a very long haul.
Diane Vallere, author of Masking For Trouble (A Costume Shop Mystery)
What I use and how it works: I am, unquestionably, the most disorganized person I know. So when I tell you the steps I’ve taken to try to organize myself, understand that none of this comes naturally, and that everything I do is an attempt to compensate for my shortcomings in this department. And despite these attempts, probably more than 50% of my “organization” (quotes necessary) comes from me remembering that there’s something I’m supposed to do, not because I’ve written it down. But still, I am hopeful. Probably because I am also fearful that one day my memory will cease to be as reliable as it’s been so far.
In 1999, I had a daily planner. It was the best daily planner I’ve ever had in my life. Each day had a top to bottom lined section for to-do items. Not a couple of lines, but a full page of lines. As I tend to be optimistic when it comes to what I think I can accomplish in a day, I require more than 4-5 lines for action items. Thirty is a good number. They stopped making the calendar in 2000. I won’t bore you with a list of failed products that I discovered after that.
Last year I decided to make my own planner. How hard could it be? I created a page for every day of the year (26 lines per page!), made month-at-a-glance views in Excel, 3-year snapshot (prior, current, future), and, because I wanted each month to start on the right hand side, occasional note- to-self and quotes from one of my series (yes, this was quite the vanity project). I formatted the files to 6×9 and uploaded them, and then ordered my copy.
What I love about it:
- enough room for a very long to do list!
- notes-to-self are like little surprised along the year
- daily reminder that I was so motivated to try to get organized that I made my own planner, so clearly there is hope for me yet
What I wish were better/different/improved upon:
- Spiral bound would be a better binding, b/c mid-year, it’s hard to open the book completely
- Month view is a wee bit small
- Holidays should have been listed on the daily pages (this would have prevented an unfortunate Dr.’s Appt on Labor Day situation)
As much as I love my planner, I’ve had to layer a monthly calendar into my organizational routine. The daily planner is good for day to day, but the monthly calendar is necessary for long term planning and keeping track of things like conferences, travel, book releases, blog due dates and posts.
About the authors
Lisa Alber writes the County Clare mysteries. Her first novel, Kilmoon, was nominated for the Rosebud Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, Whispers in the Mist, follows up as a “worthy successor to Kilmoon in tone, mode, and keen insight into human failures and triumphs.” She’s a recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant. You can find her at her Website and on Twitter.
Shannon Baker is the author of Stripped Bare, the first in the Kate Fox mystery series (Tor/Forge). Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent, who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. Visit Shannon at her Website.
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” Jessica also writes sword and sorcery fantasy as Albert Lea, edge-of-your-seat YA adventure as J.H. Lourey, and magical realism, literary fiction, and thrillers under her given name. She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 “Rewrite Your Life” TEDx Talk. SALEM’S CIPHER, the first book in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hit stores September 2016. I hope to see many of you at Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee in November! Visit her online at her Website and on Twitter.
Lori Rader-Day is the author of The Black Hour, which won the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and Little Pretty Things, which won the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award. The Day I Died is out in April from Harper Collins William Morrow. She lives in Chicago and is the current president of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Visit her online at her Website and on Twitter.
Diane Vallere is a former fashion buyer turned mystery writer, trading fashion accessories for accessories to murder. She writes the Samantha Kidd, Madison Night, Material Witness, and Costume Shop Cozy Mysteries, and is the incoming president of Sisters in Crime. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since. Her most recent book is Masking for Trouble. Visit her online at her Website or on Twitter.
Great post! Diane and I are going to have to duke it out over who’s the most disorganized. 🙂
That was the first thing I thought too, Lisa!
Great blog. I’m inspired! And now to go check out that 5 year planner Jess mentions…
Can you both be really disorganized? Equally? 🙂
So fun to hang out here!
Jess, you’re such a peacekeeper!