Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, May 31, 2012

There's Always More You Can Do


One of the hardest things about an endless task like writing and promoting a book is that there is always more you can do.

You can always edit some more. You can always try to find more Twitter followers. Or write another blog post. Or reach out to another writer. Or give another interview. Or answer another e-mail. Or go back and edit. Or try to write two novels a year instead of one.

When you're a hard worker with a big dream it's hard to know where and when to stop. How do you decide when enough is enough?

I'm not sure I have the answer. When presented with an insurmountable task I just start digging in and try to tunnel through. By the time I look up I'm usually exhausted. 

But there's still that nagging voice that says I should be working more and dreaming of the things I might be able to accomplish if I started digging harder.

At some point you have to quiet that voice and be content with your efforts, and try to find balance. There's only so much you can do. But drawing that line can be difficult.

What about you? How do you handle an infinite task?

Art: Knieende Bäuerin mit Sichel - Theodor von Hörmann






59 comments:

Mr. D said...

How do I handle an infinite task? Just keep working on it. For a manuscript, that would be until it's in print. And until it is, you keep improving it while you still can.

Erin said...

This is something I struggle with everyday as there always seems to be more that I CAN do.

What I find is helpful is setting specific goals. For example, I will answer 10 emails before bed. I will edit my novel once through and then send it to a friend for their thoughts.

Then I have large goals that keep me moving forward rather than stuck on the little things. Like, I will send queries by September 1st. I will self-publish my book by the fall...

You need to weed through the details to see the big picture and that's when you can create space and energy and actually get stuff done.

I'm interested to see what other's say though because even though it helps I still struggle to know when to stop and how to get everything done.

Nicole Palmby said...

Sometimes my infinite tasks are limited by time. I'm a single work-at-home mom, and while I do my best to use my time as efficiently as I can, sometimes I flat-out have to go to bed.

When I'm not limited by pesky things like life, though, I do the same thing Mr. D does. I just keep working at it. Use the time I have as wisely as I can, and go from there.

Richard Sutton said...

Editrix Extraordinaire, Lynn Price has written about the importance of time for a manuscript to "marinate" away from the writer's hovering. Time AWAY is really important to successful rewriting. I find I'm unable to do more than copy editing if I re-approach too soon. I also have a rule of no back-chapter-tweaking until the book is finished and "marinated". But at some time, the tweaks and rewrites will be finished and I'll move onto the next project.

Kathy Collier said...

I was thrilled to see others experiencing the same dilemma. My WIP has been on the back burner because other things (Life) takes precedence sometime. Everyday I say I am not going to blog, facebook, or twitter until I've written or studied. It never happens.

There comes a time when watching the clock is important. We need to set a timer on all of the above and make sure we use our time wisely. Setting goals like Erin suggested is wise.

I say set a timer, and stick to it with emails, twitter, blogging and facebook.

Just like we should write a minimum of four hours a day, or whatever goal we set for writing, so we should set for all the other tasks involved.

Life is important, and it you wouldn't bring your work home with you, you should apply the same rules to writing at home. Keep it within a limited amount of life. The balance of time, life and work are key to a happy home.

Kathy Collier said...

Limited amount of time. (hehehe)

Rick Daley said...

The infinite task is best managed with eternal patience.

Richard Mabry said...

Since the publication of my first book, more and more I've felt like Sisyphus rolling that boulder uphill again and again. How do I handle the infinite tasks of writing, editing, and marketing? Very poorly, with time out for golf every Wednesday.

Louisa said...

Self-imposed deadlines work best for me, otherwise I find myself endlessly editing! I try to use a calendar and give myself dates for sending out queries, handing out review copies, etc...

E.J. Wesley said...

I think that's why writing is called work. It's a daily thing. It doesn't end. There's always more. Every job I've ever had has been that way.

So the key, for me, is to keep perspective. Everything doesn't have to be (and will never be) accomplished in one day. You make progress toward goals. You reach a goal and start on the next.

Putting my head down (and I do it too) usually just leads to me being frustrated by how deep I'm in it, and how far I'll have to go to get out when I finally do look up.

As crazy as it sounds, recognizing the task as one that can never be "finished" is probably the first step to making it more manageable.

D.G. Hudson said...

I break the infinite task into manageable parts and pick one to tackle.

It's that sort of plow-through work ethic. A perfectionist is never satisfied.

abc said...

Teeny tiny steps. Teeny teeny tiny. And to only look at what is right in front of me. The very next step. I can't multitask very well and if I try to plan for what's down the line (3 chapters from now or the ending or whatever) I'll get overwhelmed.

We are moving to a new place in July. I'm starting to pack now and taking it slow. I can't handle thinking about how its all going to work and where it will all go and who's going to drive the truck. If I do that I'll just cry and shut down. I'm starting with the teacups because they don't get used very much.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post because it side steps the nature of what one is doing with all this infinite effort (a false thesis, btw, since we are mortal - at least, me and Whitney Houston are / were.) that nitpicking aside, you bring up a topic I've often been thinking about: WTF AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE? &, since this is a publishing blog, the question intersects with books, and, more specifically, my writing them. Given new e-publishing opportunities, I can now (& am) revising my first novel with all that I've learned (about life, sex, power, & craft) at my disposal.

But the novel's kind of trashy - or, maybe not, with FShadesofAColorI Can'tBringMyselfToSay maybe it would be considered upmarket commercial fiction - and is this what I want to leave behind?

Then again, the process has been relatively quick to the first time around because I know the material. Am I a bad person for wanting to make some coin, and if I write under a pseudonym, nobody will know ...

Then I started reading Virginia Woolf's diaries, and I realized even taking into account the distance of time and place, her aspirations and sense of language were both quite different from mine (thankfully, I don't hear the wings of bats when I get upset.)

So, I do what I can, keep it interesting and when I get really sleepy, close the laptop and go to bed.

A. M. Perkins said...

One of my favorite sayings in this regard comes from a made-for-TV Disney movie from the '80's about a talking millionaire cat. Not the first place one looks for wisdom, I grant you, but this time it came through...

"Inch by inch, life is a cinch. Yard by yard, it's very very hard."

I keep working at it, inch by inch. Eventually I'll get there.

If I start going too insane, I can count on family to pull me back. As my dad always says, "You're not spider-woman, you know."

Can you tell we're a movie-quoting family?

Kristin Laughtin said...

The best way for me to approach an infinite task is to break into smaller ones. Sometimes many, many, many smaller ones, but it makes the task seem less overwhelming. I can approach a long checklist more easily than a single task so big I have no idea where to start. That, and setting goals on a weekly or monthly basis instead of a daily one. It helps me schedule my time better to account for days where I have more and days where I'm running from dawn until...the next dawn.

Even then, that push to do more will always be there, whether it comes from you wanting to do more or external pressures that you should be doing more. The way to find out how you can reasonably manage is to experiment, and being willing to pull back when/if it becomes too much. After a certain point, we have to accept that we can't do everything.

Anonymous said...

I try to do things with promotion and marketing that I enjoy. It makes it easier when you look forward to doing it.

But, generally speaking, everyone does it differently. And learning how to shut down and give it a rest sometimes is the most important thing any author can do. You need that time to recuperate.

If an author is going to go the distance, he/she needs to look at it that way. And I think you're going to be around twenty years from now. There's no rush.

beckylevine said...

Wonderful post. My husband (and probably many other people) talks about CDTs: Clearly Defined Tasks. For some reason, the more concrete my to-do list, the less overwhelming it seems. So I try and break things down into small pieces and just keep checking things off. And at some point, I do try and say--Okay, it's time to just WRITE!

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

What do I do? Scream. Cry. Pull my hair out. Get no sleep. Eat a lot of chocolate chip cookies.

Nothing very helpful, I'm afraid. LOL.

~Kimberley

P.S. I swear emails multiple like rabbits!

VikLit said...

I think time based limits are important. Or setting a particular time of day - I'll check my twitter in the morning, but my spare time in the evening will be devoted to writing, for example, and I'll try and stay off twitter. Excellent question. Baby steps toward the infinite task!

Matthew MacNish said...

So far: never give up.

It remains to be seen how long that will last.

Peter Dudley said...

Do the things you like. Avoid the things you don't. Become familiar with your strengths and use them every day. Stay away from tasks that make you live in your weaknesses.

When you have 20 things on your to-do list and you can only knock out 12 a day, pay attention to the 8 that fall off the list. Chances are you should figure out a way to live with those things never getting done. It's OK. Move them to a "someday" list which you keep off to the side with your New Years resolutions. Then forget about them.

Oh, and there's always this.

Genissa said...

Great post and perfect timing for me! Due to the pressure of building a platform prior to publication these days, I just started a blog and a twitter account. Don't get me wrong, I think I'll have fun with both, but it's a whole other chunk of time I need to allot for now. Balance is so important, but finding balance isn't easy :-)

Jen P said...

Laundry. Dry laundry. Clothes on spare room sofa ready to sort to put away. Kids wear them for varying number of minutes/days before dirty. Laundry. Dry laundry. Clothes on spare room sofa ready to sort to put away.Kids wear them for varying number of minutes/days before dirty. Laundry...

I am inspired to consider moving my family to a nudist colony.... (;-)

E.B. Black said...

This is a very hard issue for me as well. I wind up writing so much all the time that I stop taking care of myself and get ill. My boyfriend usually recognizes it before it happens and tries to warn me, but I won't listen. It's so hard to have balance. I was on a break from it all the past week because I was so sick all I could do was sleep all the time. I felt useless and like I was missing out on so much I needed to do, but it's necessary to rest.

daphneshadows said...

I set a weekly goal. If I meet the minimum each day of what I set as my goal, then I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to and I don't sweat it. Makes things simpler all the way around. When I wrote my first manuscript, I didn't do this - and it was hectic, unorganized feeling, and chaotic because I didn't have any set idea of where I needed to be or how much I needed to have done. Setting a loose goal makes it much more enjoyable and gets rid of the stress. That way I can just enjoy the writing.

Kellyann Zuzulo said...

Steady does it.

Diane said...

I review my bigger goals. As a creative soul, I can easily get distracted because of so many interests. If I find myself getting overwhelmed, I revisit the goals I set. If it does then I prioritize or maybe I let go of something else or I say No Thanks. I put my energy where my passions are and then do my best to let go.

Colleen Walsh Fong said...

I try to break big projects down into manageable chunks, with definite deadlines. My work is better when I do a little bit, take a breath, and then give it another look with a fresh eye before moving on to the next step.

Susan Gabriel said...

Nathan,
I've subscribed and unsubscribed to many blogs over the years and you consistently deliver good content. Thanks for that.

To answer your question, I am a worker bee and I can easily get out of balance from trying to do too much. One of my solutions to this is to set a kitchen timer when I'm at my computer (trying to sell books--I never do this when I'm writing!) and limit my time on email, social networks, blogs, et al. No, I'm not OCD, I'm just committed to making the best use of my time AND taking care of myself. So when the timer goes off it reminds me that I need to get up and stretch, look out the window, take a walk, or whatever.

Bryan Russell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan Russell said...

Well, sometimes when you attempt an infinite task, you fail. But failure is how you learn, and when you incorporate what you learn, somewhere down the line you'll get it done right (or die tryin'...).

Naja Tau said...

I feel better just knowing someone else struggles with this issue. I usually run around in a blind panic with a vague idea of what I want to experience in life- then life likes to take over from there. lol

Helen W. Mallon said...

I practice Buddhism..Yes, Naja, other people struggle with this!!...and talking with my teacher about this very issue TODAY.

There's no end! No rest!

I have to give time to things that have no reward bound up in them--where the value is intrinsic in the act itself. For me, it's meditation. It gives me a broader, spacious mind in which to view the maddening details that crop up around writing, running a business, etc. (Not to mention being w/ other people!!!....)

Mira said...

Great question. I like what you said about balance!

I think the thing about writing, and even social media, is they work better when you don't push, but instead let things unfold at a natural pace.

I think it's really important that writers take care of themselves. Carpenters and mechanics take care of their tools. We are the tools that we use. If we really want to give our peak performance, I think it's not so much about pushing, as it is about flowing. That doesn't mean it's not hard work, but the work ends at natural stopping points, and then it's time to rest or re-nourish. Because your work is so much better when you feel nourished and relaxed. Writing doesn't flow well from a dry well.

And then I think it's important to try to let go of some control.
To let go of some of the results, since we can't control the results anyway, and to...trust. I don't know, maybe that sounds weird, but I guess just to trust that if you do your best, the results will happen on their own and be good enough.

Dreams are incredibly important, and so are real life accomplishments, but I think the process of striving for a dream is as important as acheiving the dream itself, and that includes finding a balance, like you said.

So, to answer your question for me, what I TRY to do, is pick my priorities each day and focus on them, and let the rest go. And I build in time, every day, for fun and social connection and rest.

KG Arndell said...

Take a bloody break. Let it go. Realize that if I don't blog that day, the world's not going to end.
Pace myself. Remember to have fun. Because if it's not fun (at least most the time), what's the point?

Mira said...

Guess I'm not done. Sorry. I'm sort of talking this out....

So, I want to quickly add that I think it is more effective to aim for quality, as opposed to quantity, when you're talking about writing. I don't mean first drafts need to be anything other than messy, I just mean that I'm aiming for quality of time, not quantity of time.

And trusting the process, without pushing. Letting it unfold. I find there's an inner rhythm inside me that tells me what feels right to do right now, where my attention needs to go. What is calling my attention. Learning to listen to that feeling and trust it has been really helpful for me. And letting go of what gives me an 'off base' feeling. Going with what gives me an 'this is right, full speed ahead' feeling.

Anyway, hope that makes sense. Thanks for this discussion, Nathan! :)

wendy said...

It sounds like to me you're juggling everything very well, Nathan. You've done a great job at the creative side and the marketing one, including locating an agent and publisher. You're obviously meant to write. It's not just a dream. It's your contribution to society. I think I was meant to write, too, however my path has been harder, I think; at least, I've managed to make it harder. Perhaps I should give up on the four or so novels that I keep fine-tuning and start a-new. I believe you mentioned retiring your first attempt. I actually have retired my first novel, but I still hope to go back to even that one. :)

kdrausin said...

I struggle with this too. There is ALWAYS more to do... like Twitter which has been haunting me for months because I haven't taken the time to understand how it works.

When I begin to beat myself up too much - I grab a book. I sit down, relax and remind myself to enjoy the moment. Breathe. This clears my mind and reminds me to be thankful for all that I have accomplished which then lights the spark to keep going... believing all will get done. Even Twitter.

Matthew J. Beier said...

I've been struggling with this very thing lately. The new book is out, so I'm trying to market it while also working on [8] more books. I'm also starting a new day job, rebuilding my websites, running a side photography business, working on a screenplay, trying to exercise regularly, see my family and friends, and...I'm realizing this is a recipe for disaster.

I've finally reached the conclusion that I need to slow down and not try to bite it all off at once. I haven't yet followed through on this completely, but I'm finding peace with the process rather than experiencing anxiety over not having all of my goals fulfilled and surpassed. Productivity is relaxing for me by nature, but only when the result is something I'm passionate about. Note: I am not passionate about marketing, web design, and day jobs.

The struggle with writing is that it isn't just writing; it's a constant shaping of products and a brand. If you plan to make a career out of it, it's a business, and with that comes a ton of peripheral blah (at least for me) that can eat away at your soul if you don't keep it in check. Lately, I've forced myself to take walks, watch movies, spend more time with friends, and not worry about time and all the preconceptions it brings. So far, I'm finding much more peace. It has also become easier to recognize when I'm falling off track and not living to the best of my ability. I now know when this is happening, because the result is exhaustion and unhappiness. And it definitely isn't worth it.

Christian Frey said...

I try to listen to "zen meditations". I have some good ones which talk about lining up with your intentions - law of attraction kind of stuff. The gist of it is that when you take time to adjust your vibration, it can be like a multiplier effect on the impact of small actions. And whether that's true or not I don't really care as it keeps me sane and happy in the process ;)

Jaimie said...

Whenever anyone says you should get on Facebook, that's when you stop. You've done enough.

Lillian Archer said...

I go running, or take a walk, or just get out and do. Gives me a break, and much needed perspective.
Lillian

Anonymous said...

Blogging is supposed to be cathartic.

I know reading your posts do that for a lot of people :)

JD Revene said...

As someone who is currently taking beta reader comments on the fifth major rewrite of the my work in progresss, I may not be the best person to answer this question! It is one I've been pondering recently though, and my answer is: I stop when it is as good as I can make it.

thewriteedge said...

I do it one small piece at a time. I don't think of it as one big task -- if I did that, I'd never get out of bed for just the sheer fear of what it is I had to accomplish! As a domestic engineer, I have many tasks to tackle and not much time to do them. So I just focus on this day and set small goals -- "Today I'm going to spend 15 minutes on my new story." And before I know it, six months have gone by and I look back and see how much I've accomplished!

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Was it Oscar Wilde who said, more or less, that a novel is never finished. It's eventually shipped off to a publisher, but there's always something more you can do.

Dracula said...

There's always less you can do, too. Unless, of course, you're doing nothing. In which case, it might be time to reevaluate this career path.

PJ Sheridan said...

I agree with Diane - it's really about priorities. Everything we say "yes" to, means we're saying "no" to something else, or many somethings. Making my "no" a more conscious act helps me gain clarity, and power. When I start getting overwhelmed with to-do's, I call a timeout and force myself to identify what I can say "no" to in order to focus on what's really important at that time.

Marilyn Peake said...

I’m actually trying something unique for me right now because my life is actually temporarily way too busy for me to write, to work on writing-related tasks or even to read very much at all. This has been going on for some time now, and I really didn’t want to leave the writing world completely until a few months from now when I know I can return to an approach that is very similar to the approach you describe. Right now, I have several books and short stories published through Amazon’s KDP Select program, so I’m entitled to offer each of my publications for free for 5 days of every 90-day period on Amazon Kindle. I decided to try that to see if I could continue to sell books without any real promotion at all. The results have surprised me. Each free day, I often get thousands of downloads which puts my publications on Amazon’s free bestseller lists; and, after the free days, that publicity leads to continued sales throughout the month if I stagger the free days so that I have a lot of those going throughout the month. This has worked well enough for me to sell books every day of the month, which has kept me in the book world and motivated me to return to writing in earnest in the Fall. I’m really looking forward to that!

I love what Mira said. Great wisdom there. I had to surrender some of my drive to keep plugging away at writing recently, since giving up sleep wasn’t an option, and I think it will be OK. I was very worried when I first realized I would have to step away from writing for awhile.

MJRose said...

ecause of the internet and ebooks - no book ever dies anymore. Everything we write can be on sale forever. That's the good news. But it requires a new way of looking at what we do. I used to think I couldn't get it all done. And I was right. Its endless. So it took me a long time to come up with a livable approach, but I have. The job of writing is a daily job. 1500 words a day 5 days a week. The job of promoting is a daily job. 1-2 hours a day 5 days week. And any of my books I want. Not just the newest. Its not going to stop being my job until I stop wanting a career. And once I figured that out, and gave myself daily tasks, I stopped feeling overwhelmed.

Mira said...

Marilyn, what a nice thing to say, thanks.

I'm glad that you decided not to give up sleep. :)

I hadn't realized you had so many works available. I'll have to check them out!

K. C. Blake said...

This is the horrible feeling that used to keep me up at night. I can do more! No matter how much I did during the day, I always felt like there was so much more I could have done. I finally decided to make a short list of things to do for marketing each day and be content with that. Then I can spend more time writing and less time worrying about what I didn't do.

John Stanton said...

How much more can you do?

There are two dimensions to this question, the business aspect and the artistic aspect.
The business aspect is easy. You never stop promoting, building your platform, seeking new markets, etc. It has been said that writers don't retire, they expire at their keyboard.

The artistic aspect of the question is much more interesting and challenging. When is your manuscript really finished? Rules for being a good writer tell us that we keep writing, rewriting and editing until the manuscript is the absolute best it can be, which sets us upon the infinite task. One can imagine a painter who is never satisfied with the painting he's working on and continues to tweak and dab at it for years and years, never finishing it. I think it helps to have a clear vision of the end product when you start.

Now, in the world of print-on-demand and e-books, that process can be strung along even after publication. At some point, you have to let it go out into the world and have its own life.

Lena said...

I don't see the infinite as infinite. I set goals for myself, say weekly, and if I accomplish them I'm more than happy.

Deb said...

As Lena said, set yourself small goals. Make lists of the little things you want to achieve; write 500 words today, for example, and you will soon find that the bigger things happen.

SM said...

As I work in software, my response would be that writing a novel is an iterative process, but it helps see each iteration clearly. I knew, a while back, that I had to remove an entire subplot. So I concentrated on that, and accomplished it. The next iteration, I deepened the remaining content and filled in the holes. And then another iteration for polishing and character development. I think if I just sat down and tried to work on it all at once, I'd go nuts. I like to think of each revision as resolving a set of bugs.

Meredith Towbin said...

So, so true. I've taken a four-month break from my WIP. I've already edited it like crazy but I'm now at a point where I don't know if I'm ready to start submitting to agents or should completely rewrite the darn thing. I'm driving myself looney.

bettye griffin said...

I handle my writing the same way I handle my weight loss efforts and my housekeeping...I try to stay on top of it. Regular efforts will always net results. If I meet my daily writing goal, I'm happy. If I surpass it, I'm ecstatic. If I don't meet it, it's okay. Just as that ice cream bowl in the sink won't keep me awake at night, neither will not having produced my self-imposed minimum. That dish will still be in the sink in the morning...and there will be new words to put down on paper in the morning as well.

LK Watts said...

Hi Nathan,

This is me - oh yes, absolutely. Last year I did nothing but write my second book. Unknowingly I also gave myself a severe panic disorder and freaked out every time I left the house. This year I am taking things a little more slowly. When you're a writer you need to have a life as well. Writing is one of the few jobs that never ends and we need to remember this. There's no such thing as 9-5 in this job.

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