Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, nominated for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award, and To Hell in a Handbasket, May, 2009) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventure mystery series (the first, Deadly Currents, will be released March, 2011). Though she doesn’t have her own gift basket store, Beth makes gift baskets for family, friends and charity events. She was an avid "river rat" in the 1980s, running whitewater rivers in an open-boat canoe, and she has enjoyed reacquainting herself with that subculture and its updated boating equipment while researching her second series. Beth lives in Colorado and savors its many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Please visit her website at http://bethgroundwater.com/ and her blog at http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/ to get to know her better.
Being Your Own Boss
by Beth Groundwater
In my previous life as a software engineer, I spent many years as a manager, first of one project, then more than one project, then of an entire small office of fourteen people who worked on multiple projects. I became very proficient in constructing project flowcharts, estimating the number of person hours needed to perform each task, and in tracking progress and keeping my staff on task. So why can’t I do the same thing with the one recalcitrant employee I have now, who goes by the name of Beth Groundwater?
Employee Beth would rather play on Facebook, take a break to sneak-eat a dark chocolate bar, throw in a load of laundry or go outside for a hike or bike ride or even to pull weeds than to put that butt of hers in the chair and write. Because writing is work, and work is hard, and takes concentration, and makes her head hurt. So, I, as Manager Beth, have to come up with strategies to keep Employee Beth on task, cranking out those pages, working through those edits, meeting those deadlines, and writing those blog posts!
What are those strategies? First, I break large tasks into small weekly or daily ones that can be measured. My largest task right now is to write the rough draft of the third Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery (working title Basketful of Trouble) and finish it by the end of January, 2011. That’s because in February I need to start promoting the March 1st release of Deadly Currents and start researching and outlining the third book in that series, the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series. So, I broke my large task into weekly ones.
My average word count per page is about 275 words and my average book length is about 77,000 words or 280 pages. A reasonable output for me is 20 pages a week or 5500 words (I know! Employee Beth is a slow writer.). That means I should be able to write that rough draft in 14 weeks, with a few partial or full weeks added on for vacations, conferences, and such. Taped on my writing table right now, where Employee Beth can’t help but see it, is a weekly schedule from mid-August to the end of January, with the number of pages each week I need to write.
I start each day writing, and I don’t allow Employee Beth to do anything else (like read her yahoogroups or Facebook status updates or friends’ blogs) until that daily word count is done. And, if she slacks off and doesn’t finish the 5-day work week with at least 5500 words written, guess who’s at the computer Saturday morning?!
Now, Employee Beth is slippery and squirmy and can find all kinds of excuses and ways to delay progress, so the next strategy is to make her accountable for those weekly goals. My critique group is excellent for that, and I report to them at each of our bi-monthly meetings on how work is progressing on the manuscript. Also, I feed into Employee Beth’s Facebook habit by having her post her progress in status updates there every few days. If her friends don’t see progress, hopefully they’ll come looking for her and ask what’s up.
The last strategy is rewards. If Employee Beth meets her daily word count, she can have a glass of wine at dinner with her handsome hubby and watch a Netflix movie with him or get lost in a Margaret Coel or William Kent Krueger novel. And, if she meets her weekly goal, she can do something fun on the weekend (like whitewater rafting or skiing!) rather than sit at her computer Saturday morning.
Now all this isn’t to imply that I don’t enjoy the writing process. I do! My gift basket designer Claire Hanover and my whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner are cool chicks to hang out with and I love their company—in my head. And when I’m in the zone and characters are shouting at each other and I’m typing as fast as I can to keep up with their bickering, that feeling is the absolute best. Not every work day is like that, however, and I need to keep on writing even when my characters don’t feel like playing. So, I look at my schedule, put my butt in the chair, open the manuscript file and start fiddling with words until something happens. My fervent hope is that my readers enjoy the result!
So how do you keep yourself on task? What are your strategies for being your own boss?
PS. Kaye asked for photos of our workspaces, so a picture of my basement writing office is below.