One of the secrets to building a long-term career as an author is to actually think long-term.
It might sound obvious, but so many authors get obsessed with sales ranking and income for the current month that they forget to build for the future.
Of course, you need to pay the bills right now, so it's necessary to find a balance between immediate cash flow and long-term focus on building intellectual property assets.
In today's article, Tim Leffel explains how to build that mix.
Many of us have a nagging feeling that we could be more productive than we are. Sometimes we worked hard all day, but don’t feel like we accomplished much. Other times we got great writing done on a future book, but this week’s bills are still staring us in the face, demanding our attention.
A lot of productivity advice you find in magazines and books is directed at people who work in an office or run a predictable business. It’s all about organization, systems, and automation.
It can be hard for us creatives who are depending on our own self-employed income—income that often comes in spurts—to relate to these Type-A regimens. Rather than having the enviable focus that comes with working on just one thing, we often have multiple overlapping projects and assignments in the works that are competing for our blocks of time.
One way we writers can get a handle on our work and exert an element of control is to divide the tasks into three time periods: now, soon, and the future.
We are often required to be jugglers. The analogy of spinning three plates in the air makes more sense for writers though than one of juggling balls.
We are not constantly working on all three things, but rather keeping an eye on just one of them for a while, then giving another a spin. If we leave one plate alone for too long though without attention, it’s going to go crashing to the floor.
Writing for now
You’ve got bills to pay, right? Unless you’re independently wealthy or have a full-time non-writing job, at least some of your writing work is going to be revenue-generating.
- If you have a book out currently, you need to keep marketing it and getting the word out to keep the sales going.
- If you’re a freelancer, you need to meet current article deadlines.
- If you’re a blogger you need to keep posting new content and revising outdated posts. If you ignore all these things completely, your current revenue will shrink and you’ll feel the pain.
Working on only these items can be a dangerous trap, however. Focusing on the short term and ignoring the future can end up robbing you of long-term success.
Writing for soon
Not everything you work on today is going to pull in revenue immediately. Deals take time to gel, some work gets paid a month or two after you finish. There’s a lag in book sale royalties.
When it comes to 60 days from now, however, or the next quarter, that “soon” revenue will move into the “now” category. So you have to keep the pipeline full for the near future as well. Only by finishing projects that will get paid in the next 60 or 90 days can we manage any kind of a regular budget from month to month.
Writing for the future
Projects that are going to pay off far in the future and the ones that most writers procrastinate on the most.
When you’re working on a 300-page novel, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get to it next week.” Then something else gets in the way and next week becomes next month, then next year. When you hear it took someone six years to finish their book, this putting off of big and difficult work is usually the culprit.
The same challenge applies to a whole host of “deep work” tasks that are large in scope, from epic in-depth blog posts to dissertations to deep-dive research projects.
The best way to tackle these is to set aside blocks of distraction-free time to knock these out in chunks. A few pages today, a chapter a week, or one hour a day of just getting words on the screen. Eventually, those blocks of time produce a cohesive whole that lasts.
What’s the ideal mix?
Only you can determine what percentage of your writing time should be spent on the now, the soon, and the future. It will be different for a side hustle writer than it will for a full-time professional, different for a novelist than it is for a non-fiction writer.
A blogger working on a first book will have a different mix than a long-time author just starting a blog. It’s important just to be aware of the challenge and make sure there is a healthy mix.
Ideally, all three periods show up in your schedule weekly, if not daily.
The key is to make sure you look at all the things you could be working on each week and prioritize by goals—both short-term and long-term.
If you’re spending time on generating revenue now, spending time on what’s going to pay off in two or three months, and then also blocking off time for projects that may take a year or more, you’re probably going to find a consistent level of success. Feast or famine from month to month will at least turn into “full meals and snacks” instead.
If you’re not doing this already regularly, map out your key goals for the coming quarter, coming year, and the long-term. Ideally, they are specific, measurable, and actionable, such as “sell more than 50 copies of my book in a month” or “clear $10,000 in one quarter from freelance projects.”
The current goals are probably going to be pressing and quite clear, but the long-term ones may require some deeper thinking.
Where do you want to be in your writing career two or three years from now? From there you can back up and know what has to get done along the way to get there.
Some find it helpful to write a single sentence, such as “To have a best-selling e-book in x category in 2020 I need to finish my book proposal this quarter, finish the manuscript by the end of the year, and begin steps outlined in a robust marketing plan at least six months prior to release.” They post it on their computer monitor and let it guide their actions each week: the now, the soon, and the future.
Do you regularly spend time on these three types of activities? Or do you tend to focus on just one? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Tim Leffel has been a full-time writer for 12 years and is the author of five books, including Travel Writing 2.0. He teaches the online course Productivity Power for Writers. See his awards, articles, and blog sites at TimLeffel.com.
[Boardwalk photo courtesy Senor Sosa and Unsplash.]
J.P. Choquette says
This post really resonated with me, Tim. As a full-time writer (freelance and novels) it’s tricky to find a balance that doesn’t let any one “plate” fall or slip. I haven’t figured out the perfect way to do this (yet) but do find that time blocking helps me immensely. It also ensures that my most challenging creative work (fiction and certain nonfiction writing) is taken care of first thing in the morning when I’m fresh.
Thanks for the great article. 🙂 I need to revisit my goals soon!
Martin Lindeskog says
I published my first book on tea a few days ago. I am in it for the long run, and I will come up with a routine for creating content on a regular basis. I have been struggling with publishing blog posts now and then, since I started in 2002, but I have continued through the years.
All the Best,