Monday, November 13, 2017

Ten Tips for the Wanna-Be-Focused Writer by Tina Cho

One question I'm constantly asked is, "How do you it--writing and working full time with children?"
Me and my kids, 8 years ago!

I don't have a perfect formula, but I'll share my writing process and how I try to balance priorities with kids. This post has caused me to reflect back many years, as my kids are now in 10th and 7th grades. 

In no special order, here are 10 tips or behaviors that help me stay on top of my writing.

1. Deadlines & Support
When my kids were ages 6 and 3, I started writing. While my daughter was at school, I wrote when my son was occupied with his toys, nap time, etc...I started writing for the educational market as a freelance writer. This meant I had deadlines. And deadlines meant I needed to write. period. My husband helped out with the kids, taking them to the park or entertaining them so I could write peacefully without interruptions. And sometimes, I needed my kids to help me develop crafts for educational sites.

Paper & Pen All the Time
I kept a small notebook and pen in my purse. When I took the kids to the park, I carried a bag with a big notebook and pen. While they played, I wrote. And oftentimes, their play was my inspiration. I used every minute--waiting at a restaurant, riding in the car, riding on the subway. I thought and planned through stories. 

Solitude
By solitude, I mean, being the ONLY one. As most of you know, I'm in another country, hardly speak the language, and so I don't go out as often as I would if I were home in the states. So that pretty much confines me to my office. I don't meet up with a lot of friends like I would if I were in the states. I think that has made a difference in the time I'm able to commit to writing. I'm not suggesting you need to move across the world to get writing time in, but limiting social outings does enable you to get more accomplished.

Order In or Go Out
One awesome thing about South Korea is that you can order anything, and it arrives via motorcycle--KFC, pizza, McDonalds, noodles, soup. So when I'm on a tight deadline, I don't cook. We either order out or go out. If I cook, the whole ordeal can take 1.5-2 hours because Korean cooking is a lot of chopping and marinating. I try to plan ahead sometimes and have meals prepared, but it doesn't always work for me. I'm not skilled in this area. And sometimes, my wonderful husband has supper ready when I come home :)
Lists, Baby!
I would be totally lost without my lists. I have notepads or Post Its that I list things that need to be written or accomplished for the day. Boy, does it feel good to cross something out. And for a writer who needs to be serious, it plans your day so you don't need to waste time thinking about what you're supposed to do. I know some writers have a writing calendar and schedule what needs to be done.

BIC & Stay on Task
You all probably know Jane Yolen's famous BIC, "butt in chair," wisdom. It's true. You don't get writing accomplished if you don't sit down. But taking it even further from a teacher aspect (I'm also a teacher), means you have to "stay on task." That's one behavior I have to grade my students on. How much do we writers stay on task without peeking at our email, notifications on Facebook or Twitter? So if I'm crunched for time, I let those things be my REWARDS for good behavior. Even today, I had horrendous revisions on my novel. I was BIC for 8 hours. (It's Saturday.) I critiqued a manuscript for a critique partner, then revised for the next hour and a half. Then I did a load of laundry and called family in Iowa. (You have to give your eyes rest periods. And that's how housework gets done!) After revising two chapters, I gave myself the reward of checking Facebook and email. Hubby took me to lunch--there's that no cooking thing. After that I wrote all afternoon with a 20 minute nap in the middle, more laundry, and more revising until my kids came home from a basketball tournament in Seoul at 6 pm.
No TV
I don't watch TV here. Frankly, I don't know what they're saying, and if there is a program in English, I'm not interested, nor do I have the time to watch it until school vacations. 

Keep Priorities Straight 
I've learned the hard way that it's important to keep priorities. For me, God must come first before I open my email. I spend quiet time reading the Bible and praying. I know others of you do similar things or meditate. Second, my family comes next. It's very easy for me to put work ahead of my family, and that's something I have to constantly work on. If my kids have a home volleyball or basketball game, I'm there. And if my husband planned something for us or with his dad, I'm there. I just have to be flexible and work around it. And since I also work full-time as many of you do, we have to use our time wisely, which is why I spent my entire Saturday revising my novel for my agent. It's impossible to do on weeknights when I'm groggy. Speaking of weeknights, I do write after supper. I have to. I have three educational clients. Thankfully, the work evens out so things aren't due at the same time.

Critique Groups
Being in three critique groups also keeps me on my toes. I'm critiquing throughout the week but even better, I have to work on my own WIP to send to them when it's my turn. This is excellent training for BIC.

Chocolate
Need I say more?  :)

Actually, I will. Eating chocolate means I need to exercise. While riding my exercise bike, I listen to writerly podcasts or catch up on blog posts about writing because I'm still learning. #killing2birdswith1stone

And at the end of the day, I still tuck my kiddos in bed and kiss them goodnight. I write in my thankful journal and go to bed. Yes, I do have pen and paper nearby.
Mother's Day 2017
I hope some of these tips might help you in your writing process! If you have other tips, please list them.

You can find me at tinamcho.com, @TinaMCho




34 comments:

  1. Wowzza! You certainly have developed self discipline, Tina. Think of what would happen if you could bottle it! Thanks for sharing your tips and encouraging us to stay prioritized,focused and organized.

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  2. Thanks, Anne. Maybe it's a little extreme right now, but it's what I have to do to stay sane and get everything done on time :)

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  3. I am tired from just reading this. Amazing suggestions and common sense, let's get it down attitude. TY, Tina.

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  4. HA, Kathy. Hope you can focus today :) Sounds like you've been quite busy yourself with writing activities!

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  5. Great tips, Tina! I am a list person - and a chocolate person. And I'm positive I'd get more writing done if I gave up my bad habits (TV, reading books with coffee in the morning...)

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    1. Yea, another list person. I don't like coffee, but for some they need it!

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  6. Wonderful tips! I'm in awe of your focus & energy. Thanks for taking the time for sharing with us.

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    1. Thank you, Patricia. Have a great writing week.

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  7. It's amazing what turning off the TV and going out less can do, right Tina? Thanks for sharing your tips!

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    1. Exactly, Miranda! And you are quite busy yourself with all the books you and hubby are writing!

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  8. Tina, love your priorities and suggestions ❤️ You have a writer’s heart. Keep up the great work!

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  9. Gosh Tina, that is one amazing list. If I even did 1% of what you do I'd be so productive. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Ha! Hope some of the tips help, Leslie.

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  10. I like the NOT cooking tip, for sure! Thanks, Tina. You are an inspiration.

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    1. Yes, one of my favorites, too, Mary Kay! :)

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  11. Thanks for sharing, Tina! Love all these suggestions. I needed to read this today!!

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    1. I'm touched that it was so helpful. Happy writing!

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  12. I ditto your whole list, although I still did not become productive before my youngest started kindergarten. I cannot imagine how you did while homeschooling. You know what you are writing about here.

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    1. Indeed, Mirka. I look back on those days and wonder how I did it. Thanks for all your support through the years!

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  13. Terrific inspirational list, Tina! I seem to cycle through being efficient and then less efficient. Not sure if it's psychological or situational. But I've got a lot to do before the end of the year, so your advice came at the right time. Thanks!

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    1. Oh, I'm so glad it was helpful, Jilanne. I hope you accomplish your list!

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  14. Great advice and tips. Thank you, Tina :)

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  15. Wow! You sure are a busy and organised lady. I'm exhausted after reading all the tips. Time management is always my down fall. Thanks for sharing Tina. (The kids look so cute)

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    1. Thanks, Diane. I miss the days when they were little.

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  16. Thanks, Tina, for this! It's very inspirational. Although I don't write books yet, I'm learning and trying to get in routines, personal journals, a gratitude journal, etc... so that when it is time, I'll be more ready. Did you know Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't write her books until her children were grown, and she was 65! I don't know that I'll wait that long, but that's my inspiration, along with learning everything I can from you on how you do it! Now, to get my 5 kids (2 with special needs) homeschooled and raised first! :) (2 down, 3 to go!)
    Love you, Tina!
    Annette

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    1. That will be awesome for you to start writing, Annette!

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  18. If it weren't for lists, and writing calendars, and lots of organized folders, I would get nothing done. It's so easy to get distracted. Thanks for a great article.

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  19. Hi Tina,
    Thank you for sharing your superb tips. I wish fast food could be delivered to my home. I also don't like to cook or should I say, the time it takes to cook a proper meal.
    Keep writing and inspiring others.
    Blessings,
    Tracy

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    1. I hear ya! Thanks for stopping by Tracy. Hope writing & illustrating is going well!

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  20. I enjoyed your very practical advice. This shows how you have become so successful at your craft. And of course the wonderful husband has a huge part in it!
    Trine

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