Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Pay Yourself First

2016 is upon us!
No, seriously! It'll be great!

2015 was a low water year here at Casa de Aaron-Bach. I put out only one book (entirely my own fault), but it did really well! So yay and thank you all for that! The good news, though, is that 2016 is on track to be a lot better. More Heartstrikers, more blog posts, and maybe even a secret project! What secret project? I'm contractually obligated not to say, but the moment I can, I promise you it will be EVERYWHERE. ^__^

So yeah, 2016's looking good so far! A huge thank you to everyone reading this. You guys make this crazy train possible and I love you for it!

Now, on to the writing post.

Writing Wednesday: Pay Yourself First

There's a popular saying in the personal finance world of "Pay yourself first." 

In money terms, this means that if you have a savings goal (such as putting money in your retirement account or saving up for a big purchase, like a house), you put that money aside first. Before bills, before obligations, before food. The moment that money enters your sphere, you shuffle it into your savings account. Once it's safely locked away, you then proceed with the rest of the month's finances as though that money never existed.

If you've ever lived on a tight budget, this probably sounds pretty crazy. Some months you need every penny just to get by. But paying yourself first is the mantra of many many financially successful people for a reason, because if you don't pay yourself first, chances are you'll never pay yourself at all. There are simply too many other things, so many other places that money "needs" to go. If you don't take your bite out first, then chances are by the time you're done handling everything the month throws at you, you have nothing left for your own goals and dreams.

We humans are generally pretty terrible at handling limited resources over time. We are creatures of the moment, which means our long term priorities system--what's important in the long run vs what's important right now--is very easily screwed with. For an example of this in action, just think of every time you said "fuck it" and spent money/ate something/skipped a class you knew you shouldn't. We know these actions are counter to our long term goals, but even the most driven, disciplined person can get overwhelmed and make decisions for short term happiness over long term progress.

This inherent weakness is why paying yourself first works so freaking well. By making that money disappear before you have a chance to spend it, you've taken willpower out of the equation. You can't mess up and spend your savings, because you've already saved them. Did the loss of this money make the rest of the month harder? Of course. But no harder than it would have been if you'd scrimped and denied yourself to land at the end of the month with the same amount. Also, you'd be amazed how resourceful and The entire idea of paying yourself first is to remove all those places where we get weak and screw up by never giving us the chance to be weak in the first place. You can't mess up and go out to eat/buy something fun with the money you're supposed to be saving if it's not there to begin with.

So that's how pay yourself first works when it comes to money, but (no surprise at all) the same idea also works wonders when applied to writing.

If you've ever seriously tried to write a book, then you know your single greatest resource isn't creativity or talent or inspiration: it's time. Learning to write takes time, writing a book that ends up totally screwed and has to be restarted takes time, everything takes time! And not just a few hours on the weekends, either. We're talking part time job, serious MMO addiction levels of weekly time investment. This extreme time limitation is why I came up with my 2k to 10k fast writing method in the first place. I couldn't make more time, so I had to write more in the time I had.

This time limitation is universal. It's why every writing advice blog out there as some variation of "write every day," because making time to write every day is the only way most people will ever carve enough time out of their normal busy lives to actually finish a book. And this is where so many would be writers fall short, because writing every day requires a serious investment of a very limited resource--your time--in a dream that we all know may never come true. 

No matter where you are in your writing career, that level of investment takes discipline, which is why the other universal piece of writing advice is "treat your writing like a job," because our jobs are the only other mental construct we have for this level of daily time investment. 

People, this is HARD. In fact, I would say getting the discipline to write every day--even when you're not inspired, even when the writing sucks and you hate it--is the single hardest part of being a writer. It's certainly where the most people screw up and fall out. They start writing just fine, but then things get busy, and the daily writing gets put off and off until it stops all together. We know we should be writing, but we aren't, because stuff/life/time.

To be clear: there's no shame in that. If writing was easy, everyone would have a book. At the same time, though, you will never finish a book if you're not putting in the time to write. So if your goal/dream/New Year's Resolution is to finally finish that book, or even just write more in general, my advice to you is to treat your time like you'd treat your money and pay yourself first. Simply put, this means you make your writing time your priority every single day. Before you do anything else.

Sounds impossible, right. But before you start "But Rachel!"-ing me, just hear me out.

How To Put Your Writing First

Let's say you want to write two thousand words a day. 

Under the best circumstances, you could manage that in one hour, but realistically (counting in time to get settled and get into the writing mindset) 2k a day is going to take you two hours or more. That's a pretty big chunk of your day, especially if you have a 40 hour/week job, a commute, and a family. Add in being tired, unexpected interruptions, and housework, and it might seem like an impossible goal. How the hell are you going to get two uninterrupted hours out of a busy day?!

Well, not so fast. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Eight of those are for sleeping and eight of those are for work, but the remaining eight are yours to divvy up as you choose, and this is where the idea of paying yourself first comes in. Because chances are, your life has already eaten those eight free hours, and if you want the time you need to get that daily writing done, then you're going to have to get pushy and take it back.

Every morning, when you're thinking about your schedule, don't ask yourself "how am I going to get two hours to write today?" Instead, ask yourself "how am I going to fit everything else in around the two hours I'm going to spend writing?"

By switching that question around, you're making your writing your number one priority. You're paying yourself first, ensuring you hit that writing goal by making it the center of your day. This way, when all the inevitable BS that eats up your time comes knocking (and it will), you're making sure it takes its time bite out of something else.

Make no mistake: this will be obnoxious and annoying. There will be days when important shit doesn't get done because you chose to spend your time writing. And I'm telling you right now: that's okay. This is what we mean when we say that daily writing takes sacrifice. Spending two hours (or whatever amount of time you decide) of every day writing is going to change your life. There's no getting around that. There's no way to make more time. Part of being a writer is embracing the time writing takes, even when it means taking that time from other important things like family, housework, and hobbies.

This is the entire point of paying yourself first, because all of that other stuff is important, but it's up to you to decide that your writing career--your dream, your book--is more important. The most important. That takes conviction. Saying "my dream of being a writer is more important than (fill in the blank important thing)" takes guts. So much so that this decision--the choice to put your writing first--is often what separates the writers who make it from the writers who don't. Because if you don't believe in your stories enough to carve out time for them in your life, why should your audience believe in them enough to invest their time reading?

Writing is an innately hubristic art, and not for the reasons most people think. Sure it's arrogant to make up a story and expect other people to read it, but far more selfish and arrogant is the decision to put your foot down and declare that your writing is the most important thing you will do today, especially if you haven't yet made a dime off your stories. And yet, if you want to make good progress, if you want to be really serious about making writing a career, you have to make the sacrifice. Unless you're lucky enough to be drowning in free time, writing is going to take something from your normal life, and you have to let it. You have to put your foot down and make writing your priority, or it never will be.

If you shove your writing off to the margins of your free time, then everything else that comes along--all those little emergencies and opportunities and holes in your will power that constantly crop up--will steal your time until you have nothing left. Just like daily lapses in willpower and planning will siphon the money you meant to save away if you don't pay yourself first, life will steal all your writing time if you let it. With money and time, the only way to stem the tide and protect your very limited resources is to make your goals your priority. Pay yourself first. Don't give your writing time away. Hoard it. Invest in yourself. 

Is this easy? Hell no. If you make your writing time a priority, you will miss out on things. Important stuff will be left undone. Loved ones will be miffed that you're spending so much time on something they might not value. It's stupidly hard, easily the hardest thing I've ever done. I spent six years waking up two hours early to write before work. I didn't like doing that, but it was the only way to make sure the writing got done. So I sucked it up and did it, and in return, I got better. I became more skilled at writing. I finished books, multiple times! Now, I have a writing career, and while my pride wants to believe this is because I'm naturally talented and creative, the truth is that I'm a writer because I sucked it up and invested my time in my writing until my skills were good enough to take me to the professional level.

One of the most common questions I get in my inbox is how do I find time to write. I get this question from busy parents and students and people with stressful jobs all looking for the secret to turning up those extra hours when everything gets done and they still have time to write. Every day I get this email, and every day, my answer is the same. I don't find time to write, I make time to write by taking it from other things. Often important things, some of which I would much rather be doing. But I'm not. I'm paying myself first. For the last twelve years, I've made writing my priority. I wasn't always perfect, I had lapses and mistakes and whole months when I didn't write, but I always came back, because my dream of being a writer was important to me. I chose writing over everything else, and there were plenty of times where that sucked, but I stuck with it. I paid myself first, and eventually all that invested time and practice gave me the skills I needed to make writing my career, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

Will the sacrifice be worth it for you? I'm afraid that's a question only you can answer, but I will say this: no writer anywhere finished a book without first putting in the time.You can optimize and eliminate inefficiencies to use your time more effectively, but you'll never get rid of the time burden completely. If writing is your dream and your passion and the future you want, then time is your inevitable price. Given the great books and potential amazing career you get in return, though, I'd say it's a very fair one.

Happy New Year! GO WRITE!

Thank you as always for reading! If you enjoyed the post, I hope you'll consider subscribing to the blog or following me on the social media of your choice (TwitterFacebookTumblrGoogle+). I post new writing stuff every Wednesday. I also might have a few novels out there, which you can read samples of at I think they're pretty okay ;)

Thank you again for talking shop with me. Here's to a great 2016!

♥ always,


L.M. Sherwin said...

Such a fabulous article! As someone with a day-job, I can commiserate without difficult it can be to make time for writing. That being said, I agree wholeheartedly with your words here. There are days I go to sleep exhausted, because I have basically worked my entire day through with only minimal breaks. There are weekends that are spent entirely on prepping a book for publishing. There are days when all my breaks at my day job are spent on books stuff or writing beats. It takes time, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of heart to be an author. It's certainly not for those that only want to put forth minimal effort. Thank you for all of the tips you share with us!

Veronica Sicoe said...

THIS is exactly how I went from 3 years/novel to 3 months/novel despite having a full-time job, a toddler, and a household to run. I agree with every single word!

Unknown said...

I've started the NY thinking...knowing...exactly this. If I want to do write books full time, I've got to pay myself first. Tough, with big time commitments - but the only way. Fabulous to see that thought in black & white. Thank you. Always inspiring! Mx

Jimney said...

You hit the nail on the head this week, Rachel. I've been putting off my writing for a long time now - I could make the excuse that I was totally lost and didn't know where the book is going... which is the truth, but it's still not a good excuse not to practice and try to figure it out - but I'm going to make this a priority again. I allow myself about half an hour to do things like e-mail in the morning (because otherwise I'd be too sleepy/groggy to get my thoughts straight, if I tried to work right after I got up), but then I'm going to work, at least 2 hours a day. It's working well so far! The last three days have actually been exciting! :)

Nick Green said...

I do agree with this. However, I think there's another obstacle above and beyond time. Even on the rare occasions when I would have time to write 2,000 words a day (e.g. if I had an entirely free day) I don't think I'd write that much. There seems to be a limit to how much new story I can come up with at once. I think 1,000 words in a day is my all-time record. Usually I have to be content with around 400.

Maybe you've already addressed this issue somewhere else in another post? What's the solution for the tank running empty after 600 words? Or maybe that doesn't happen to everyone.

Natalie said...

@Nick Green: I'm not Rachel, nor do I have nearly as much experience with writing as she does (to put things in perspective, twelve years ago I was an aimless kid still in school and writing wasn't on my radar at all!), but I wanted to try to answer your question. In my experience, you have to work up to larger word counts. It can be a slow process. I used to only do 200 or 300 words a day, if that. Then I found the Writing Challenge on Twitter (there's more info about it on Participants aim for 500 words a day. I started doing that in 2014 and it REALLY helped me. Now, when I'm not outlining, I average well over 500 words a day. My point is, though, that I wasn't doing that right away. It took me a little while to get into that routine and work my way up to such a word count.

Anyway, I hope that helps, and thank you Rachel for such a great post! I have some pretty lofty goals for my writing in 2016 and I'm sure this post will help me accomplish them. :)

Madeleine D'Este said...

Some tough love but absolutely necessary. If you want to write, you have to make it a priority and it's bloody hard work. No shortcuts unfortunately.

Nick Green said...

@Natalie - I think my issue runs deeper than that. I've done plenty of writing, 12 novels, 8 of them published, probably around a million words in all. It's just that each novel takes around 18 months to two years. Maybe I shouldn't complain, though... Donna Tartt averages about ten years per novel, and she's pretty successful. Perhaps some writers are marathon runners and some are sprinters.

Jillian Boston said...

Hi, Rachel! I am new to your blog and stumbled on this post quite by chance, but I'll definitely be visiting in the future. Your article today has hit home for me - I have been writing and rewriting a novel for the last 4.5 years, dream of being published, and have struggled to balance my writing with my work-life. I'm trying to become more disciplined and take back time for myself. I've been aiming for 1K a day, but slowly I will be prodding myself up to 2K. And it is hard - thank you for the reminder that it isn't hard work for hard work's sake, but for the sake of getting better at the craft and working bit by bit everyday to polish those skills. I appreciate your post and your honest, tough language. I needed it!