Letters from the Real World: Tired? Stressed? Make a list. Make it twice.

By Cait Reynolds

So, I’m heading into my fourth week of this brave new world of author marketing. In the spirit of full disclosure and solidarity, here’s exactly how I’m feeling:

  • Overwhelmed by just how much there is STILL to do before my book comes out
  • Stressed by how little time there seems to do it in, even working seven days a week
  • Barely holding at bay every author’s deep-seated fears of being found to be a worthless hack
  • Frantic because my ADHD-riddled brain is full of ideas rocketing around and ricocheting off memory boards that are already operating at full capacity, and I’m terrified I’ll forget something important

Coming back from AWP with so much potential work and so many ideas was exhilarating, but all too soon (as in, as soon as the dog was picked up, the fridge purged of two well-past prime heads of lettuce, and the laundry bin full), the grim reality of everything I had to do set in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love what I’m doing now. I’m enjoying myself more than I have ever done in my entire professional life. The long hours are nothing to me, and if my body didn’t find ways to tell me to bugger off and get some sleep (like letting my iPad slip from my hands and bonk me in the face as I’m trying to read), I would work even longer hours.

The grim reality for me comes from facing down my biggest cognitive demon: prioritizing.

I think everyone has trouble to some degree with deciding exactly what is most important in any given moment, especially nowadays when the volume of information and variables coming at us doubles and triples by lunchtime. In ye olden days, the priority was probably clear: sit down, take quill in hand and write. Today, it’s monitoring Twitter, updating the ‘mothership’ website, working on edits, working on the WIP, keeping up with your groups on GoodReads, guest blogging, learning about new SEO techniques. A single email or tweet can rearrange your entire day in a heartbeat, and then 15 minutes later, do it again.

Right now, I’m operating on so many levels simultaneously that I feel like I’m juggling grenades, and I just lost track of the one without the pin. Here’s an example of the big categories of to-do’s I’m working on:

  • Building out the mothership: blogging, learning about meta tagging, SEO, making sure feeds work
  • Connecting with people: finding groups on GoodReads, spending quality personal time on Twitter interacting with real people, learning how to make the best use of Tumblr and Pinterest
  • Guest blogging: writing and pitching myself for guest blogs
  • Creative nonfiction writing: working on several pieces to submit to various journals
  • Publishing production: editing, proofing, filling out forms for my publisher to prepare my book for launch at the end of March
  • Writing (oh yeah, that thing): driving my current WIP to conclusion over the next few weeks, plotting the sequel to be written next month, polishing up and finishing another novel for submission, gearing up for a new stand-alone novel to be written in April as well, and researching weird stuff like electron diffusion portals in Earth’s atmosphere and the Flying Dutchman (just to name a few)
  • Misc: setting up a financial spreadsheet to track my income and expenses from my business (that would be me, Cait Reynolds, Author) so I can start to track how my books are doing and possibly correlate marketing activities to sales (*gasp* just like a business), and finding other writing conferences and trade shows that I will need to attend this year as part of my professional development

The worst part is that ALL of that is extremely important, and ALL of that needed to be done like yesterday. And a sub-worst part of that is that every item in those broad categories has three or four tasks attached to them. Suddenly, I am facing a nuclear mushroom cloud of work that is blazing “YESTERDAY NOW!!!!!!!!!” (including gratuitous exclamation mark use) across the sky.

So, what’s an author to do? Me? I make lists. Over the years, I have developed a specific method for making lists. Just writing things down doesn’t help me organize or prioritize. It’s just a bit list. So, I go through the following process, which usually includes taping multiple pieces of paper to my closet doors:

  • Write everything down…everything
  • Decide what the big categories are and rewrite the list into categories
  • Figure out what is going to support the ‘mothership’ immediately, i.e. setting a goal for three posts and a vlog every week and start putting that on a separate list of the week’s to-do’s
  • List out the social media outlets I am going to use every day and put them as repeatables on my week’s to-do’s, i.e. spend 45 minutes-1 hour checking Pinterest, Goodreads, Twitter, Tumblr every day, or maybe 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon
  • Determine what production stuff needs to be done to support my book’s upcoming publication and put that on the week’s list
  • Note how many chapters I want to get done on my WIP and what needs doing for outlining, editing, etc.
  • Put down specific deadlines for any of the creative nonfiction pieces I have

So my obscene three-page, single-spaced list is now down to one page. I now can take this one page and break it into a set of days with specific tasks each day. It ends up looking something like this:

This week, as only someone obsessed with lists can do it.

This week, as only someone obsessed with lists can do it.

In fact, March is looking so busy that I even had stuff spilling into next week, and I decided I needed to organize all that as well. Sooooo…maybe I went a little overboard…

Hyper-organized or paranoid? Or just garden-variety control issues?

Hyper-organized or paranoid? Or just garden-variety control issues?

I fully admit that I wrote everything down so I wouldn’t forget. However, I can also begin to see exactly what I did on each day, and I can begin to get a real feel for the amount of ongoing work once I’m past this crazy start-up period. Eventually, I would like to be able to use these as the basis of a routine as well as a template for marketing work around book launches and other projects.

It took me three hours, about 12 pieces of paper, seven markers, a lot of tape, and one puppy trampling of all my supplies to get to this point, but I don’t feel it was time wasted. I now feel that I am in control and have set things up so nothing falls off the radar and am making significant progress on every key area of my business every day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go rewrite my grocery list and reorganize it by aisle.

 

 

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