Time Management and Blogging – My Strategy

Blog

I have had a blog on WordPress for the past two years or so. I started the blog to coincide with the first published writing that I produced. That first year, I didn’t take the blog very seriously. I just used it as a place for announcements about my work with very little other meaningful content. I followed a few others that followed me.

Last year, I was a bit more active. I began sharing information about my experiences with independent publishing in some formalized tips. The participation was sporadic and my efforts resulted in minimal followers.

Beginning in February, I really started to put in some effort on the blog. The results have been good.

Even though I would consider myself a novice at blogging, I am a project manager by trade so organizing tasks is something I’m very familiar with. Those of you that follow me may have noticed that I try to post three blogs today at about 8AM, 12 Noon and 2PM Eastern US time. I have been doing this even though I have a day job that requires travel just about every week and about 50-60 hours of time.

So, even though I’m a newbie, I’ve been able to apply some project management and time management principles to my blogging that just might help you out. I also look forwrd to your suggestions on what you do to manage the time involved in having a happy, healthy blog.

1. Reading, liking, and commenting on the blogs of others

I follow about 230 blogs. I quickly found out that this was overloading my inbox. The reason for this was because I had every blog post set to update me instantly. I went through all of them and made sure that I selected the daily notification option so that I started receiving one digest of each bloggers post each day. To do this, you simply go into the WP reader and select Manage.

Manage blogs following

You can then select each blog and choose the Daily option:

daily digest

This results in a daily email for each blogger that you follow that you can work through in your email inbox.

It helps that I am a morning person. I’m usually up at 5:30 AM each morning. After that first cup of coffee, I start working through each daily digest and I view every single blog post.

Luckily, not all 230 blogs that I follow posts every day. There are usually about 100 digests waiting for me and I enjoy going through them. I comment on many. I reblog about 5-10%. and I try to like every single one.

A word about reblogs; I do see a lot of repeat posts in the form of reblogs. I usually try to comment on the original blog and like the reblog. When a blogger reblogs a post from a blogger I don’t follow, I will look at the original blogger’s posting history and may or may not follow them as well. I’ve become more selective because of the sheer number and my desire to devote attention to each one.

Going through my emails takes about 90 minutes each day.

2. Posting blogs regularly with organized, useful content

I promised myself that if I was going to actively use my blog as a platform to supplement my writing, I wanted to accomplish a few things. First, I wanted to help other authors. Second, I wanted to promote my own work, but not in a blatant, spammy way. Finally, I want to engage with other bloggers through discussion.

For the first objective, I’ve been trying to regularly post tips and tricks that I’ve used to navigate independent publishing. Everything from mechanics, quality, promotion, etc. are discussed in my posts. I’ve also started posting author interviews. I am currently on a pace to post three author interviews per week.

In order to promote my own work, I’m doing the usual things and some things that are slightly different. I tell people about my books. I’m trying to limit this and do it indirectly by relaying behind the scenes information or excerpts. I’m also putting content in my blogs. I had the idea in the shower one day to write some serialized fiction on my blog in the tradition of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I launched my story Road Kill which has new installments each week.

Finally, I’m using things like book reviews, social commentary (rarely) and humor for pure enjoyment and discussion.

This is a lot of content and requires organization so that it doesn’t get stale and repetitive. To accomplish this, like a good geeky project manager, I’ve set up a schedule to make sure that I can plan out my content for each day. Here is a sample of what it looks like.

schedule

You can see, that some of the content is fairly definitive, like the interviews, but others are yet to be determined. You’ll also notice that many of them have placeholders for things like reviews and tips that will be filled in later. Finally, You’ll notice that I have a status of pending, scheduled, and posted. The ability to schedule in advance on WP has made this all possible for me. I’m sure that many of you are already aware of how to do this, but just in case, I’ll put up a screen shot:

advance

Once you select a date and time, the ‘Publish’ button will become a ‘Schedule’ button. You simply schedule it and your post will be published on the day and time you selected.

I hope this has been helpful. Some of the more experienced bloggers that read this might feel the urge to pat me on the head and say that they’ve been there and done that.

That’s fine. I’m doing the best that I can based on my experience and what I know. Hopefully this will start a sharing conversation where we can all benefit from the vast experience that is out there.

 

 

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Keeping Track of Your Characters – Who is Who and What Have They Done?

This week’s blog is another opportunity for me to share a technique that works very well for me during my writing process.  Throughout my personal and professional life, I have been horrible remembering names. I can remember phone numbers, addresses, and useless facts that make me desirable on any trivia team. The writing process has revealed my one memory flaw to be a challenge for me as well when it comes to remembering character names, physical descriptions, life events, and ages.

When I hand wrote my first novel in a series of notebooks, I found myself having to write character names and characteristics in the back of one of the notebooks so that I could flip back and forth whenever I needed to figure out who did what and where they came from.

When I switched to using Scrivener along with my laptop, desktop, and tablet (depending on where I was doing my writing), I tried to come up with a better way to organize my characters and their back story. Let me first say that I don’t like to plot out every detail of my characters’ back stories. I would rather have details revealed to me as they occur or are needed during the story. That being said, failing to keep key details about your characters could come back to bite you. You’ll want to keep track of their marriages, children, illnesses, education, and other things that might end up feed plot elements down the road.

So, how do I do this? I actually have two techniques that have helped me keep things straight. The first is a picture. I create charts, or what I call ‘character maps‘ that are like mini organizational charts for my characters showing who they are and how they relate to each other.

I’ve included one of these charts that I used for my second book as the cover image for this blog. The chart shows groups within some of the key families within the book and how the members relate to each other. In the view of the chart that I included, there are members of three families shown. One of the characters happens to be the murder victim within the book and her designated box is x’ed out to show that she is dead.

I keep the charts related to my current project along with the mind map (see last week’s blog) on a bulletin board near my desk at home. I also have an electronic version of each that I can bring up as needed when I’m writing on my computer while traveling.

Another tool that I use if I need more information on my characters is a matrix showing deeper details about the characters.  I use a row for each character and the columns are used for such details as the character name, what books they’ve appeared in, their physical appearance, etc.

Shown below is an example of the matrix for some of my characters in my Frank Rozzani detective series books:

Character Table

This matrix gives me a quick view of who the characters are, when they first appeared in my work, what their personality traits are, and what significant events shaped who they are. It has been extremely helpful to me and helps me to overcome my memory gaps. It also helps to cut down on inaccuracies that can plague authors when they are writing a series of books featuring the same characters . It may seem like a lot of work, but it can be helpful and actually save time in the long run.

I have seen other suggestions around organizing characters. There are those that espouse writing complete and detailed biographies for your characters. This may work for some authors. I have always been a person that prefers to work smarter and not harder. The information in the character map and the character matrix that I have shared have been enough for me to provide continuity to my work without locking me in to biographical details that might change the characters’ evolution.

I hope that this has been helpful to you as authors.  I believe that as an independent author, with some measure of success, sharing tips with you is the right thing to do. There are plenty of readers out there and if these tips help you to create a better product so that you can entice readers to your work, then I welcome you to use them.

I also wanted to thank those of you that have been reading my blog. Last week, I doubled my best  ‘viewership’ of this blog. As I continue to drum up ideas for a weekly blog, your suggestions are welcome. If there are questions that you have about writing or suggestions for some aspect of writing for which you’d like to see a blog, please let me know and I’ll be happy to entertain them.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

To Outline or Not to Outline – Or is There a Third Choice?

This week’s blog focuses on the topic of whether or not it is better to outline your book or short story before you dive in and write. When I wrote my first book, it was in the days before airplanes allowed tablet devices to be used during that down time before the flight took off. I fly through Atlanta from Jacksonville, FL every week and usually the time waiting to take off exceeds the actual flight time. During those dark ages when ALL electronic devices had to be off and stowed, I wrote my first novel completely in longhand in notebooks. It was an interesting exercise that was very time consuming. I not only had to type everything I wrote later on, but, being a left-handed refugee from Catholic school, my handwriting is pretty horrible and I often had to guess at what I had written.

Needless to say, I did not outline this first book. While it flowed fairly well, it did take a longer period of time to figure out what my characters would do next. I didn’t have an ending in mind and the middle of the book was a struggle.

When I sat down to write my second book, Let Me Be Frank, I had just read a book on how to outline novels. The book extolled the virtues of meticulously outlining the book and writing full character biographies. As I began to perform these tasks, I found that it felt to much like work. I wanted to write, not outline. It was slow going and eventually I abandoned the process and started to go back to my stream-of-consciousness ways.

One Saturday morning, however, a light bulb went on (it was the light in my office). After it was light enough to see my computer, I started pondering different ways to create a road map for my novel without the tedious and limiting exercise of outlining. Then it dawned on me. I had used a technique to lay out complex documents and presentations. I also used this technique to lay out my doctoral dissertation. It is called mind-mapping. Mind-mapping is a visual technique for laying out the things you want to include in your work and then sequence them.

Usually, when I lay out a work-related document or presentation, I know all of the components that need to be included, but I don’t always know the order. Mind-mapping works well for this. The issue in translating this technique to a novel is that you may not know all of the components at the beginning. What I found was that this technique allowed me to think through the story and set up those components at a high level. This helped me avoid the dreaded “muddle in the middle” syndrome where you have the beginning and end of the story set, but the journey to get from one to the other is not clear.

So, what is mind-mapping and how does it work?

It all starts with a white board or a piece of paper. The format is a hub and wheel type configuration. The hub is the title of the book, or if you don’t have one, some working title. You can put it in a circle or other shape right in the middle of whatever you’re drawing on. Then, if you know how your book is going to start, draw some shapes for those early chapters and put a one sentence description in each chapter. For instance, you might have someone getting kidnapped in your book. The first shape might say, “Chapter 1: Susie Gets Kidnapped.” The next shape might read, “Chapter 2: Susie’s Boyfriend Discovers Her Missing.” This continues as far as you can go. If you get stuck in the middle, go to shapes at the end of your map. Maybe the last shape will read “Chapter X: Susie is Found.” You don’t have to number these later chapters until you know how many you’re going to end up with.

Once you have set up the starting and ending chapters, think about how you are going to get from one to the other. It really pays off to take the time to think this through. Remember, you can always change your mind map easily if your characters take you off in a new direction.

This truly is a road map. I would compare your mind map to mapping out a route in an app like Google Maps. You know where you’re starting, you know where your destination is. You are presented with options for your route. You can pick the route that you think will work best, but, if you run into traffic or an accident along the way, you can change your route to get around it. Also, if you want to get off of your route to do some site seeing, you can do so easily and then rely on your app to get you back on your route. The process of mind mapping is just like this. You can change it along the way to suit your needs.

Mind mapping also translates easily into whatever tool you might be using to write your novel or short story. I use Scrivener, which is a very popular writing application. Scrivener actually has a cork board within the app where you can set up “index cards” with short descriptions of your chapters and scenes within those chapters. You can take the descriptions from the shapes in your mind map and put them directly into these index cards and you have a pseudo outline for your work that can easily be changed or rearranged.

Once you have your mind map created, keep it with you as you write so that you can move from chapter to chapter easily. Don’t be afraid, however, to make changes. Your writing should not be fenced in if new and exciting detours emerge during your creative process.

To see what a mind map looks like, I’ve set the image for this blog to be the mind map that I set up for my book, Let Me Be Frank. If you want more information on mind mapping, please be sure to post your questions or you can contact me through my web site and I’ll be glad to share what I have learned about them.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Writer’s Block – Is it really a thing or is it just another form of procrastination?

During the holiday season, I took two weeks off from my day job. It was a great period of time to stay home and become reacquainted with my family. I normally travel four days per week for about 46 weeks out of the year, so it’s nice to become part of the household for a while. Usually, I think my wife is secretly ready to send me back out on the road after an extended time at home.

One of the things that I was going to do during that period was set aside time every day to write. I looked forward to this break for months so that I could make great strides on my next book and other writing ventures that I have in the works.

Do you know how much writing I did during this time period? Very little. If I cranked out a new chapter on the 3rd installment of the Frank Rozzani series, that would be generous. Now, as a new year has started and I’m back on the road, I am on fire with writing, recording an audio book, and thinking of all of the things I want to accomplish this year.

So what happened when I had all of this free time and produced virtually nothing?

I refuse to call it writer’s block. It was more like writer’s blob. I was a blob during the holiday season, an eating, drinking, binge-watching, late-sleeping blob. I didn’t have a routine. I didn’t have to organize my day so that I could find time to write. I had time, lots of it, and most of it, in terms of writing, was wasted.

I have never really had writer’s block in the classic sense. I have yet to run out of ideas. I have quite the opposite problem where I have many ideas that all want me to act on them simultaneously. I wrote the 20 page short story, “Lucy’s Christmas Miracle” on a two and a half hour flight from Boston to Atlanta.

When I’m busy and traveling, I can’t wait to write. It is all I think about and, as soon as I meet my work obligations, it is the first thing I do. When I’m home, however, I have my family, friends, and activities that take front and center.

This makes me nervous on my quest to be a full-time writer. If I don’t have the travel and the work to help organize my time, am I going to waste time like I did during the holidays? I don’t think that I will for two reasons; 1) I would be bored very quickly and 2) I would need to earn some money which is a highly motivating factor.

With my personal quirks covered, I think there are times when writer’s block or creative block has hit me in my professional life. With this in mind, I’d like to share some of the tips that I’ve used to overcome that creative procrastination and paralysis.

1) Eliminate distractions – It’s really easy to get distracted if you don’t have the right writing mindset. This doesn’t mean that you have to lock yourself away in a soundproof room with a coffeemaker and sit down and force yourself to write until you finish a certain number of pages. I’ve written in crowded airports and on noisy flights. I think that having children gives me the ability to block out noise. What I do mean is that you need to make sure that you don’t set yourself up to fail. Don’t try to multitask. There is no such thing (more on this perhaps in a future post). Don’t say that you can watch Netflix while you write. Don’t eat your breakfast while you write. You need to fully commit to the world you are writing in and become immersed in it. When you do this, the words will flow and nothing around you will matter.

2) Pick a consistent time to write each day – When I travel, I’m generally in my client’s office until 6 PM. I then arrive at the hotel around 6:30. Next, I change and hit the workout room for about 30 minutes. I then shower, make some dinner and eat. This means that it is generally about 8 PM before I can sit down and write. Lately I’ve been spending an hour recording a chapter of my audio book and then spend two hours writing. On days that I travel, I use my current two and a half hour flight to write on the plane.  With this schedule, in a given week, I can write about one or two chapters (about 3,000 – 5,000 words) per week.  I’m not sure how that stacks up to full-time writers, but I do know that I wrote two novels and four short stories in the past eight months, which I think is a pretty good pace. Does my schedule get compromised occasionally? Of course it does. I have a demanding job with looming deadlines and pressures. I occasionally have to go out to dinner while I’m out of town. If I use the schedule that I described, however, as a guideline, then I have something to shoot for.

3) When you’re not writing, think about your writing – I would love to say that every moment that I am at work, I am 100% focused on work for ten hours per day. This would not be the truth. It also would not be healthy. There is plenty of time available for me to think about writing and where I am with my latest project. The shower is a great think tank. So are meetings when the particular part of the meeting doesn’t apply to the work you are doing. There is lunch, the commute time, and that time just before you go to sleep. If you think about your writing, it will be easier to focus on what needs to be written when the time comes.

4) Read, read, read – One of my earlier blogs pondered the issue of whether writers read and what should they read. I am one of those people that has to read in order to go to sleep. It’s usually fiction, but occasionally, I read non-fiction related to writing or some aspect of business for my day job. Reading is like studying for writing. You learn from other authors. You learn both good and bad habits from them. If you follow me on Goodreads or subscribe to my newsletter, you know that I generally critique 2-3 books every two weeks. This means I’m reading 4-6 books per month. When do I find time to do this? At the gate in the airport, on the bus to the rental car, before I go to sleep for about 30-45 minutes, and on my short connection from Atlanta to Jacksonville every week. Also, waiting for my doctor’s appointment or for a haircut is a great time to read a couple of chapters. I love to read and I have read voraciously since I was a 2nd grader. You learn things, escape into other worlds, and learn about the craft of writing. If you want to learn to paint, you study the techniques of the masters. If you want to be a musician, you do the same. Writing is no different. If you don’t learn from those that have mastered the craft and have become successful, you are cheating yourself from a great deal of knowledge.

I hope this blog has opened your eyes. I personally don’t believe in writer’s block as an affliction. I think it’s more of a time management or procrastination issue. Maybe I’m lucky. As always, I’m sure your comments will let me know if you agree or disagree.  I look forward to interacting with you and sharing ideas.

Thanks.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com