Finding Balance in Writing & Life: Between Deadlines

Once I turned in my latest manuscript, I realized something—I was between deadlines, meaning I don’t have any contracted novels to jump right into. While that’s good to allow myself time to relax after back-to-back deadlines, it doesn’t help the bank account.

However, I needed the downtime. I needed to refresh my spirit and refuel my writing energies.

Here are five suggestions for others who may find themselves between deadlines or without contracts yet:

  1. Breathe. Maybe you’ve put in long hours finishing up your manuscript before your deadline. Or perhaps, you’re still waiting for that offer to come through. Either way, take time to simply breathe…relax. I submitted my last manuscript during a family crisis, which tripled the stress level. But, once I turned it in, I was able to exhale and know I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
  2. Give Thanks. Yes, that’s right. Thank God for His provision, wisdom, and help during your deadline. Thank those who helped you to the finish—family, supportive friends, craft partners, prayer partners, and writing team. Many say writing is a solitary occupation. While I agree to a point, I know I’m where I am today because of my writing team—editor, agent, mentors, prayer partners, craft partners, and of course, my supportive family and friends.
  3. Reflect. Take some time to reflect about your last deadline. Review the highlights and the struggles. What was the biggest challenge for you? What areas went well for you? I struggled with the plot for my latest manuscript, but after a couple of conversations with my editor, we got the problems worked out, and I was able to move forward. However, I had less time to write, so I needed to write smarter. Also, I was still in the middle of that family crisis, so that affected my attention. For future deadlines, I’ll make sure the plot is solid from the beginning.
  4. Learn. Take advantage of this time between deadlines to strengthen your craft. No matter where you are in your writing career, you need to keep learning. I’ve been reading James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle and Amanda Luedeke’s The Extroverted Writer. Additionally, I’ve pulled out MBT work texts from my past MBT retreats to review material to make brainstorming my next novel less stressful.
  5. Move Forward. Like I said, being between deadlines gives me some very necessary downtime, but it doesn’t help the bank account. In order to grow my business and my readership, I need to focus on my next projects. For me, this means reviewing career goals with my agent and determining the next steps to meet those goals.

Having deadlines is an incredible blessing, but there are times when they can stress you out, especially if the calendar dates are rushing past you faster than your fingers can fly across your computer keys. Just know you’re not alone—millions of writers are there with you, and your editor is just a phone call or an email away. Taking time to assess your story and laying that foundation from the very beginning will help you to write smarter, not harder. That way, when you submit your manuscript by the contracted deadline, you can do so with peace in your spirit, knowing you did your best.

Finding Balance in Writing & Life: When Your Cup is Empty

I knocked over my cup. Tea flowed out of the mug, onto the floor, and raced toward any crack or crevice it could find. I picked up the cup to find it empty, and my shoulders sagged.

I felt like that cup.

Empty. With nothing left to offer.

You see, I spent a week in June at my youngest son’s hospital bedside praying fervently for God to spare his life. A seemingly simple diagnosis of bronchitis led into pneumonia only to have his body attacked by an unknown virus that wrecked havoc on his organs, spiraling him near death.

Oh, and by the way, I had a book deadline that week.

I’ve been blessed with an incredible agent who told me to send what I had finished, and she would take care of the rest. While I listened to the soothing sound of my son’s oxygen humidification in the wee hours of the morning as he slept, I submitted my manuscript to my agent.

By the time we arrived home from the hospital, I rejoiced with the amazing progress my son had made in such a short period of time. Thanks to prayers around the world, he was recovering.

But those difficult days edged with back to back book deadlines have taken their toll.

My cup was empty. I had nothing left to give.

One of my mentors shared this bit of wisdom, “Get some rest. Let the Lord fill you.”

Five simple words.

Let the Lord fill you. 

Matthew 11: 28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

If you’re at a place in your life where you’re struggling to keep your head above water, spend some quiet time with God. Share your pain, your frustrations, your struggles. Then listen. Allow Him to speak truth into your spirit. Lean into the promises He offers. He will give you the grace to endure any challenges that come your way.

Finding Balance with Writing & Life: Regaining Balance After a Deadline

I rang in the New Year with three major deadlines on my plate–one contracted book deadline, one day job deadline, and taxes for two businesses. 

After many late nights and early mornings, two out of three of my deadlines have been met.

I’m so thankful for these deadlines because they represent pieces of a dream—business owner and published author.

Regaining balance after a deadline is essential for stability in the other areas of my life. For the past 12 weeks, I’ve been running on adrenaline, doing what was necessary to get by. Now that I’ve submitted my novel, I have a bit more breathing room. I have time to do those things I’ve been putting off like cleaning my bedroom, refinishing a dresser, painting my dining room.

Whether you’re completing a writing deadline or another type, here are three tips to help you regain balance:

  1. Celebrate your milestone. Completing a deadline is a major achievement. Celebrate it by doing something you’ve put off. Maybe your to-be-read pile is growing—choose a new novel. Go out with friends you’ve been putting off to complete your deadline. Have a special family fun night.
  2. Take a break. Take some downtime to relax and refresh your mind and spirit. Sign up for that photography class you’ve been thinking about. Or practice for the upcoming 5K you wanted to enter. It’s important to put some distance between you and your project so you can review it again with fresh eyes.
  3. Get back into your routine. I don’t know about you, but when I’m on deadline, I’m out of routine. For someone who likes order, that can create chaos at times. However, when I must get the story on the page, throwing off my routine is necessary. Once my deadline is over, I can get back into my routine to make sure laundry is washed and put away all in the same week, groceries are stocked on a regular basis and the dust bunnies have been evicted.

Taking time to regain balance after a deadline will help you to be more focused for the next project that comes up. Additionally, it allows you to strengthen connections with family and friends, so they understand their relationship are important to you. Regaining balance allows you to realign your priorities and focus on those fundamental relationships that affect your overall spiritual, physical and mental health. After all, you’re worth it.

Finding Balance with Writing & Life: Writing Efficiently

I shop for groceries at a market that offers discount prices. Most of the food items aren’t brand name. Patrons bring their own bags or buy them at checkout. In order to use a shopping cart, you need to pay a quarter, but you receive your quarter back once you return the cart.

The cashiers are efficient in scanning groceries because they are timed per transaction. This lessens gossiping with customers and co-workers that slow down lines.

As I was packing my own groceries into my cloth bags, I thought about the efficiency of the store that allows me to get in and out with a month’s worth of groceries (yes, a month) in less than an hour.

Carts aren’t left in the parking lot. Shelves are stocked daily by the cashiers before the store opens. Selection is limited, so customers aren’t overwhelmed by choices. Checking out is streamlined.

So what does that have to do with writing?

One of the challenges of finding a balance in writing and life is using your writing time more efficiently so you’re more productive with your words.

Here are a few tips to help you write more efficiently:

  • B.I.C.: The best way to write efficiently is BIC—butt in chair. It’s tough to write if you’re doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen or watching the latest episode of American Idol. When you have designated writing time, sit at your computer and write.
  • Limit distractions: Maybe you can write with background noise or music, but it’s pretty tough to write while surfing Facebook, replying to emails or sending Tweets on Twitter. When it’s time to focus on your novel, close those windows so they don’t distract you from your current task.
  • Zero In: My friend Michelle Lim is great in pulling me back from the plotting ledge by reminding me to zero in. Instead of focusing on the overall story and the overwhelming number of words that need to be written, I need to focus on one chapter at a time and zero in on the details that bring those scenes to life.
  • Add the Asterisk: During the first Storycrafters Retreat, Susie taught us if we’re stuck on a name or a specific element in our scene, then we should add an asterisk or two. That way you can continue forward without wasting precious writing time trying to figure out exactly what you need. Once you’ve completed that scene or chapter or even the entire novel, you can use the search feature to find those asterisks and replace them with the necessary information.
  • Plan ahead: When you’re done for the day, review your scenes, then think ahead to your next scene. As you’re going about your daily activities, ponder your upcoming scene so when you sit at the computer, you’re not staring at the blinking cursor.
  • Take some downtime: When writing time is limited, it’s still important to take necessary downtime to keep your creativity full charged.

Every writer’s time at the computer varies, but once you get in the habit of using your time more efficiently, you’ll be that much closer to completing your novel.