Friday, August 12, 2011

Organized Chaos by Anna Michaels

I love this month’s topic - managing time. But I have to chuckle at the idea that anybody in the writing profession can actually plan a day’s writing and have it turn out that way.  That might have been true twenty-six years ago when I started my career.  I got up in the morning, made breakfast for my husband and children, then went into my office and wrote, first on an electric typewriter where revision required two gallons of whiteout, and then later on a cumbersome old computer powered by DOS, which made me cry every day for three weeks after I switched from electric to electronic.

Today, here’s how those plans turn out. I get up every morning and make breakfast for myself.  What luxury. The whole day is mine! I take a cup of green tea chai into my office and open up the computer. I plan to finish Chapter Three of my next Anna Michaels book. (I say this because I write comedic mysteries under my own name, Peggy Webb, and literary fiction under the pen name, Anna.)

First, though, I check my email. Sound easy? Try checking a personal email which contains an urgent message from one of my editors that he needs promo material for the next book, pronto.

“No problem,” I reply via email.  “You’ll have it by this afternoon.” Add that to the calendar. 

Next, go to the two business email addresses for Peggy and Anna. Two people want interviews with Peggy and have sent questionnaires, three want to book Anna for signings and lectures, and fans on both sites have sent lovely letters that absolutely must be answered that day so they will love me forever and recommend my books to the thousands of people on their Facebook pages. Not to mention their Twitter accounts.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I then hurry to post something on my two Facebook Accounts...and send new material to my web guru to update my two websites?  And I’m feeling guilty because I haven’t yet opened a Twitter account under either name, and I hardly ever say a squeaky word on Beyond Her Book and Goodreads and so many more great places where readers and writers gather that it makes me dizzy to think about it.

Where did the time go? I wanted to be writing by ten, and here it is and I’ve tackled only two of the urgent requests, I still haven’t written the promo material, and I don’t know whether I’m Anna or Peggy. Sigh!  Since it’s lunchtime I decide to be both so I can eat for two!  Fun!  Two hamburgers, two bags of chips, two ice creams.  Wait. I think I’ll leave off one of the ice creams or I won’t fit in my chair.

Now it’s afternoon and I’m exhausted because I have a deadline and I’ve been busy all morning but I still haven’t written a word. I take a ten-minute power nap to refresh myself, and I don’t even have to loosen my clothes because I’m still in pjs. I meant to wear real clothes today, but I got caught up in the business end of my career and couldn’t find a place to stop.

Since the day is half gone, and I’ll be in pjs in a few hours, I’ll just be comfy while I write. At last! 

The doorbell rings.  It’s the UPS delivery man with a box of books from my publisher. I try to act as if I’m an Eccentric, Exciting Writer in Cute Lounge Clothes, instead of a disheveled-looking woman in wrinkled pajamas.

With that crisis over, I’m finally back at the keyboard, ready to do what I love best, telling the story.  By I’ve written only half the amount of material I need in order to meet my deadline. Here’s the real discipline. Here’s the time management. I keep writing. I don’t let the clock dictate when I should leave the office. In twenty-six years I’ve never missed a deadline, and I don’t intend to start now.  I write until I’ve met the page quota I set for myself.  Sometimes that’s till , sometimes till   I do what it takes to complete the real work of an author – writing the book.

My time management plan can best be called Organized Chaos. When I sign a contract to deliver a book, I figure out how much time I need to write it, then I factor in travel and emergencies in order to plan monthly and weekly page quotas. The next step is to meet those quotas, No Matter What.  I can’t control what other people do, and I certainly wouldn’t want to miss a single one of the invitations, letters, and requests that come my way.  But I can control whether or not I meet my writing deadline. It’s called Discipline. Plain and Simple. And it’s the best time management plan a writer can have.

 I’d love to hear from you about the ways you meet the challenges of too much to do and too little time.

Anna Michaels is the author of The Tender Mercy of Roses, a novel Pat Conroy calls “astonishing.” She is now in love with a new set of characters and the story they are whispering in her ear.  She is also working on another Southern Cousins Mystery as Peggy Webb, who has produced almost 70 books in a career that spans 26 years. Visit her at and and on FB under both her writing identities. Ask for Free bookplates on both her websites. Enter her Goddess Contest. Win signed books.  Send chocolate. 


Grace Burrowes said...

I get up and go to the WIP first, then do all that other frolic and detour. I just don't have the stamina as a writer to start the hard work mid-afternoon. The undertoad drags away my creativity, and the next thing I know, I've won another game of Solitaire.

Hats off to you for Controlling your Chaos, but don't you love the part about getting dressed for work means putting on a clean pair of PJs?

Paula Petty said...

I struggled for the longest trying to have a writing schedule. It was hard to organize when the day was so chaotic.

I have to dress to write as I find my mind becomes too comfortable and lazy and less creative in pjs and I really don't want the mail carrier or a delivery person catching me without make-up. I have to have my morning Diet Coke.

I like your idea of a daily quota and not being so stressed with a rigid writing schedule.

I think I just need to glue myself to the chair.

Thanks for showing me how to organize the chaos in my life to make room for the writing.

Anna Michaels said...

Hey, Grace, I think you're very smart to do your writing first! I'm going to try that. And yes, I do love that my business attire is a clean pair of pjs.

Anna Michaels said...

Hi, Paula! That page quota trick has worked for me since 1984! It allows me great flexibility, and I don't get so stressed when an emergency - or a movie with buttered popcorn - calls me away from the computer.

I used to be rigorous about getting dressed, but nowadays, getting dressed often means choosing which caftan I want to wear to the "office."

Vicki Hinze said...

Great post, Anna.

I do have production goals but I stopped with rigid methods years ago. Too many writers get locked into specific ways of writing that when those ways aren't available, they feel they can't write. So I learned from them. No set method, no set time, but no fudging on production. That's worked well and I like the illusion of creative freedom in doing different books different ways. :)

Anna Michaels said...

Vicki, you made some very astute observations. The one rule of writing is this: there are no rules! Thanks for stopping by.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I'm a morning person; that's when I'm the most creative and clear headed. So, for me, the choice is simple. The writing HAS to come first!
When I'm in the process of writing a novel, I start somewhere around 8-8:30 in the morning and write until at least lunch time. I don't check email, Face Book, anything else until then because, if I do, I get caught up in all that and my "window of opportunity" to create is lost.
I've written two women's mystery/suspense novels that take place in Cincinnati, Ohio and I'm in the early planning stages of a third novel for the series. When I begin to actually write it, I won't be posting comments until at least early afternoon. (It's 8:30 a.m. in Cincy now.)

self-publish book said...

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