Destiny: it all adds up, eventually
by Anna Castle
I’ve been a full-time novelist since I retired from my job as the manager of a digital archive at a state university in September, 2012. I became an indie author June, 2014 when I launched my first book. I’m every bit as busy as I was at the archive, although, I meet friends on campus for lunch more often now, oddly. Novel-writing is not as demanding as founding an archive or writing code at a software startup, but it is — or it can be — a fully engaging, full-time job.
Doing field work for my dissertation, I learned to set daily, weekly, and monthly goals, with a daily work log to keep track. My first summer in the field was spent on a group project where this practice was mandatory. I also acquired many good project management habits at the archive, where I was pretty much a one-woman band doing everything from dusting the lab to hiring the grad students to maintaining the software infrastructure. If I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done, but I could organize my day to suit my mood. Programming or writing proposals in the morning, dusting the lab after lunch, scanning in the late afternoon to keep me rolling. (Literally; I’d get things going on three scanners at once in our long, vinyl-floored lab). Do smart work when the brain is fresh and routine chores in the afternoon.
That schedule works just as well for the self-publishing novelist. I set goals, although things tend to slip by a few weeks. (This is a problem with self-imposed deadlines: no penalties. My performance has improved since my deadlines grew teeth.) I keep a worklog during the first draft, when writing down that daily word count helps keep me on target. I’ve written a business plan and a marketing plan and I really work that Google calendar. I’m still struggling with planning the revision phases, but that’s getting more predictable as my work habits improve. The goal is two books and two short stories a year.
The rhythm is the same: creative work in the morning, chores in the afternoon. My first draft goal is 2K a day, totaling 10K a week. That gives me room to have a bad day and one day off. I’m a morning person, so I start about 8:30. Unless I’m badly stuck, I get my quota done by 1:00. I don’t go longer, even when it’s going well, because then I’m drained and worthless the next day. I can do plot work all day long, because it’s more active: pacing, experimenting, looking things up. Love those plot-a-thons! I can go all day on revisions, too, or rather, I can keep coming back to it with energizing breaks. It’s that first draft that’s such a beast to get through.
The best thing about being self-employed is that I can go to the gym in the middle of the afternoon when it isn’t crowded. That’s my low energy time: brain gets stuffy; needs oxygen. After that, I’m good for an hour or so of social media or formatting or whatever business task is on the program that day.
It usually adds up to a 6-8 hour day at my desk working on book production and marketing, with time off for the gym. I’m using all the hard-won skills from all my previous jobs, which makes it feel like destiny. “Ah,” I say to myself. “So this is why I changed careers every 7-10 years!”
Anna Castle writes the Francis Bacon mysteries and the Lost Hat, Texas mysteries. She’s earned a series of degrees — BA Classics, MS Computer Science, and Ph.D Linguistics — and has had a corresponding series of careers — waitressing, software engineering, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. Find out more at www.annacastle.com.
When the internet service provider in a small town in Texas blackmails one client too many,
murder follows. Photographer Penelope Trigg has to rattle every skeleton in every closet in Lost Hat to find the killer and keep herself out of jail.