Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Being Your Own Boss by Beth Groundwater

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 and her blog at 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. 


Bobbi Mumm said...

Wonderful article, Beth. And so painfully relevant to me. You've given me some great ideas for self-discipline. On my writing days I aim for at least 1000 words. My only question is: Where do you fit in a nap?
Thanks, Kaye, for bringing in a great writer like Beth!

Beth Groundwater said...

A nap? Why after lunch, of course! I have a cup of coffee after lunch, then I kick back in the recliner to take a short nap. When the caffeine kicks in and wakes me up 15-20 minutes later, I'm good. I don't nap every day, but I know that when I do, I needed to.

Vicki Lane said...

Oh, my! I do admire your work ethic -- I badly need to implement something of that sort for myself.

Mason Canyon said...

Enjoyed the post. Breaking the work into smaller tasks sounds like a great idea that would be helpful for any type of work, not just writing. Best of luck with your writing.

Thoughts in Progress

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Rewards work as motivation to write for me! Great post, Beth. :)

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Vicki, Mason, and Elizabeth!

My work ethic is certainly not perfect, and I have my goof-off moments or days, but having small goals, rewards, and accountability to friends such as my critique group help me keep Employee Beth mostly in line!

Jill said...

Great post! I also am self employed. I am an illustrator for furniture companies and also do architectural renderings. It is very hard to stay on task when the outdoors are calling. Often times I find myself working at night and on weekends just to meet a deadline. Being self employed is the most difficult job that I have had. See....I am here writing a comment when I should be working!

Beth Groundwater said...

Hey Jill,
I sure know how that goes! Here I am responding to your comment instead or preparing for the workshops I'll be teaching at the RMFW's Colorado Gold writing conference this weekend. ;-)

Sheila Deeth said...

I love this article Beth. Neat to see some real numbers on employee Beth's output (that must be the software engineer in you:)). So now I'm comparing them with mine. Of course, yours is productive output, and I love our books.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Beth -- I'm a lenient, easy-going boss, the kind any employee can take full advantage of. The people I used to manage when I worked in the real world would laugh to see the teddy bear I've become. Maybe if I crack down a little, the way you've done, my subordinate will get more done? I was thinking of forcing her into NaNoWriMo to instill a little discipline. :)


Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Sheila and Pat!

I'm considering participating in PPW's NaNoTRYMo program this year like I did last year. Instead of trying to write a 50k draft of a whole novel, we set realistic goals (in my case 20-20k words of my WiP) and report to each other on them. That might be a more realistic goal for your "Employee Pat" to tackle, too. :)

Anonymous said...

My characters keep me to task. If I don't finish their stories they haunt me, even into my dreams.
I started a short story about a woman named Mattie, but she wanted more so I started a novel, but that dragged so I wrote a play and I haven't heard a word since.
By the way, the picture of the basement office resembles mine to an almost scary degree.

Lisa Bork said...

Fun post, Beth. You're one of the hardest working, most productive authors I know--you must have a great boss!

Positive results are very motivating for me.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Anonymous and Lisa! Having your characters nag you to write your stories is a GOOD place to be. When I'm well into a manuscript, the last 1/4 or so often becomes like that, with characters pushing me to finish telling their story. The middle of the manuscript is what I find drags most for me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. This is just the article I needed to read right now.


Earl Staggs said...

Beth, you're lucky you don't have to manage Employee Earl. Except for the parts about naps and chocolate, he's impossible. Of course, he did take time off to be a hurricane recently, so he deserves a little slack for that.

Enjoyed your post and wish you many more successes.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Terrific piece, Beth!!

you know, I think I'd be a wonderful employee if I were my own boss. I'd be a good boss too, I think. Why, I'm just sure of it. Wonder if I'll ever get the chance to find out?!

Beth Groundwater said...

Brenda and Earl,
Thanks so much for your comments! Earl, I hope you didn't do too much damage as a hurricane. :)

Thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog. I really enjoyed it, and I am already looking forward to my return visit next March.