I had been interested in work-for-hire projects for years but shied away from them while raising my children because of the tight turnaround times. But an opportunity presented itself in May when I was e-introduced to an acquisitions editor looking for a writer. The editor and I discussed a couple of projects then spent a few weeks going back and forth with writing samples before zeroing in on the word-a-day topic. The project was pitched to the editorial team and accepted, with me designated as the writer. You know you’re in trouble when an editor asks, “How fast can you write it?” As it turned out, I had seventeen days, which included the day we signed and sealed the contract! My work-for-hire experience had commenced. I had a ball writing The Word-a-Day Vocabulary Workbook. But there would be three important lessons learned on this book sprint.
Lesson #1: Self-care is the top priority.
Being an instructor and advocate of long-term planning practices, I created a wall chart and began establishing tangible tasks and deadlines for those precious seventeen days. I created a tentative plan to meet the contract deadlines, still not fully comprehending the scope of the work. While I knew how many words had to be completed each day and had a good idea how long it would take to copyedit and finesse the manuscript prior to submission, the time wildcard was research. As I stared at the chart, it was crystal clear. No matter how I sliced it, there was no room for error and, frankly, anything else for that matter!
In order to cajole myself into tackling the crazy daily deadlines, self-care had to be placed on my to-do list or there would be a rebellion of epic proportion. To survive nearly three weeks at the anticipated work pace demanded that I take care of my mental and physical well-being. So I rose every morning at 5:30 a.m. Some days it seemed a waste of precious time, but I never wavered from my morning ritual: meditation, Morning Pages à la Julia Cameron, and Pilates to stretch and loosen the ridiculously tight muscles. Only after those activities were completed did I sit down to write. I worked thirteen-hour days (except the last three, which were ’round-the-clock madness). I took a 45-minute cardio break in the afternoon and a short break for dinner. I quit promptly at 8:30 p.m. to spend the last hour of my day with my husband either chatting on the porch or watching a short sitcom. Then it was off to bed to read something light before dropping off to sleep. No movies. No novels. No social media. No news. There just wasn’t the time or emotional energy to squander. Remember that to take care of yourself, you might have to drop out energy-sapping activities that have become bad habits.
Lesson #2: Put your head down and don’t look up.
I discovered that if I could complete this manuscript on such a tight timeline, I could do just about anything! You know your inner critique? The one telling you that you’ll never be able to do it? The one saying you’re too slow, too old, too inexperienced? Turns out you can’t hear all of that garbage talk over the frantic tap-tap-tapping of the keyboard! If you can't create laser focus on your own, it can be simulated through the use of timers and accountability partners.
Lesson #3: Trust your gut. If it feels wrong, it is!
When I finally hit 'send' (with less than 90 minutes to go on my deadline), I vowed I would never, ever work under such a vicious timeline again. I had known early on—before the ink had dried on the contract, before I saw the contract--that I had overextended myself. Unlike my inner critic being drowned out by the work pace, my gut had been loud and clear. I had ignored it. Honestly? I hit the deadline only because I subjected myself to three days of insanity at the end of the project and because my husband shaved twelve to fifteen critical hours off my workload by completing some of the research. So if your gut is telling you something, listen.
Exciting and challenging projects will no doubt come your way, dear reader, but before you set off to tackle those dreams and tasks, be sure to:
For more blogs, check out Francine's past blogs on goal setting and other writing topics at www.24carrotwriting.com.