Most of the writers I know manage some kind of a day job for at least 40 hours a week, but sometimes a lot more than that, as well as all of their writing projects. It can be really hard to figure out ways to manage that and in my case, I don't even have a spouse or kids to complicate my schedule further. What I want to share today are some tips and tricks I’ve found to help manage my energy while spending my day working.

 

1.     Taking a serious look at what my schedule actually looks like.

 I know that it may sound a little silly but actually conceptualizing the times that you are committed to anything related to your day job is vital. If your commute is an hour in the morning then you probably can't try and squeeze in an extra 45 minutes of writing without sacrificing some major sleep. If your job allows for remote working then maybe you can easily fit that in first thing in the morning.

Know the reality of your job: do you actually get to take a lunch break where you could write? It's a really vital part of figuring out what times are even available for you to write. Know when the busy seasons are for your day job. If you work in financials than the end of fiscal year is probably going to be a really stressful time for you. By knowing that, you can try to mitigate the number of projects or external creative due dates you have during that time. Be aware of the most stressful times in your job if it follows a pattern like that and try to work around them.

2.     What are your priorities?

Figuring out what projects are the most important to you can really help make sure that when you do you have time to work on your creative endeavors you actually know what to work on. For a long time I spent a lot of energy spinning my wheels trying to figure out what project I was even supposed to be working on or wanted to work on next. I lost a lot of time by not having my priority set. Now I know what projects I have coming up and what projects I really want to accomplish. It really helps make sure that the limited time I do have is used well.

3.     Figure out what your energy levels are through the day.

Some people get out of bed and can immediately write. Some people can stay up all night writing. Some people hit their peak energy in the afternoons. Figuring out how your energy cycle works give me a huge help. It also can potentially point out some problems in what you're eating or your activity. I noticed that I tended to get really sleepy in the afternoons which lead to me realizing that I probably shouldn't be having giant pots of pasta for lunch every day. It made me sleepy. Now I'm perkier in the afternoons and I've also found that I can get a lot of writing done during my lunch break at work.

While I still occasionally work in the mornings, I found that I am a lot more likely to use the mornings to read and ease into my day. Figure out what works for you rather than trying to work against your body’s natural rhythms.

4.     Take care of your body.

This one always makes me roll my eyes a little bit but it is really important to remember to take care of your body. Now I am by no means saying that you need to be a gym rat or anything like that. I know that for me if I'm not eating at least some fruits and vegetables and getting a little bit of exercise I am a lot less productive and creative. If I'm really struggling, I try to get out and take a quick 10-minute walk around the parking lot. This also means that I try to pay more attention to how I'm sitting and the ergonomics of my desk. It’s not a sexy or exciting tip but this really make a huge difference.

5.     Know what you're giving up.

Part of embracing creative endeavors outside of your day job mean sacrificing things. For me, it mostly means sacrificing video games and TV shows. I am woefully behind on every pop-culture series and I haven't played a game through to completion in years. I've given those things up for the most part because I know that my energy is better spent trying to accomplish my goals. I had to realize what sacrifices needed to be made in order to continue writing in a way that could potentially build a career. It sucks and a lot of the time I still fail and get sucked into playing the Sims. But remembering what I'm working towards and what that requires helps me get back on track a lot easier than it would other hand.

Most writers are managing some kind of a day job and everybody’s schedule and requirements will make that look very different. I'm incredibly privileged to have a remarkable amount of free time available to me because of where I am in life. What works for me may or may now work for you but I really think that stepping back and being thoughtful and deliberate about the choices you're making with your time and energy make a world of difference.

 

Source: Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

One of the things that I think is so easy to forget about any kind of habit or hobby is the importance of building a routine. Routines are the backbone of any habit. They make or break getting things and when they fall apart, well... it's easy to fall off track. Simply, a routine is a series of steps or actions followed regularly.

I speak from experience because when I started a new day job at the start of the summer all of my routines fell apart and I've been trying to piece them together again. First I denied that my routines would need to change and then reality set in hard. So I've been trying to rebuild these routines and create a pattern to my life. So here's some of the things that have been helping me rebuild the scaffolding around my life and my creativity.

1. Re-Establish Themed Days

I work on a lot of different projects. I run a podcast, Ink and Brain Monsters; I help run a Dungeons and Dragons Twitch channel, Roll for Trouble, and I write. Not to mention the daily life habits that creep in and take up a surprising amount of time every day. It's hard to managed all of it and not let a ball drop somewhere along the way. What's helped me is coming up with specific days to focus on a project. I work on my podcast every Tuesday. That could mean I record an episode, edit an episode or write up a script but that's what I try to do every Tuesday. By trying to give certain days themes it helps with the overwhelm because I know I have the routine of themed days to get work done.

2. Track My Time

I'm trying to pay attention to how I'm actually spending my time. What I've found is that if I don't go out and do something in the day then by 2:00 I am asleep on my feet. Learning that pattern has helped me realize the best time for me to work out or go on a walk is lunch time. I'm trying to build routines around my body's natural patterns and not against them.

3. Start Small

One of the best things I have done is started small. I give myself 10-20 minutes per task and that has started building these routines into place again. It's strange feeling like I'm starting over and it's easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed, but by starting with manageable chunks of time I feel like I am getting a handle on them.

Those are the three main things I'm doing right now to try to rebuild my routines. It's all in small steps and something that I am still struggling with, but I think it's important and I'm going to keep at it!

Source: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
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AuthorAndrea Judy

The Importance of Rest

 

The idea of all-nighters lingers for a lot of creative people who work a day job. Your passion project is fit into the hours you can carve out and a lot of that time happens at night or early in the morning. When you’re passionate about your work and driven to reach your goals, it’s easy to forgo sleep in the pursuit of writing.

For a while I definitely did this. I would stay up until 11 or 12 working on projects then get up at 4 or 5 to write before I went to my day job. Because I have a hard time sleeping anyways, I was getting maybe 2-3 hours of sleep a night for years.

Eventually it all caught up to me and I really think that lack of sleep was part of my big breakdown a few years ago. That moment of losing my ability to even think really made me step back and rest. I couldn’t think of ideas to write so I went to bed early. I slept so much that year.

Now that I am back upright and building my path as a creative once again, I’m presented again with the question of how important is sleep versus working on my novels?

For me, sleep has become priority number 1. I try to go to bed and get up at the same times roughly every day. I take naps when I am struggling to keep my eyes open. I take care of my physical needs when I am exhausted.

But something that is easy to forget is that even if you are going to bed at reasonable times and sleeping, are you actually resting? What I mean is do you take a break from working? Do you go out and have fun with friends? Watch a TV show you like, read a book just for fun? Are you allowing your brain breaks besides just when your eyes are closed?

It’s so easy to get sucked into the hustle all the time, no breaks, mentality but it’s important to understand that your brain deserves breaks too. If you work all the time you are wearing your ability to think down. You are emptying out that creative well without giving it a chance to refill.

So this week, try to give yourself even just 30 minutes of doing nothing or doing something just for fun. Give yourself a chance to rest.

Source: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
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AuthorAndrea Judy

Imposter syndrome is something that I feel like I've always had a little bit of. I didn't really know what it was called until the last five years or so. I frequently have felt like I don't belong or deserve the success that I've had. I downplay my accomplishments and struggle to take a compliment. When I'm in a room with my amazing, talented friends who have written dozens of books I feel like I don't belong there. I tell myself I am a complete fraud who has no business being in that room.

That feeling makes me turn inwards, fall quiet, and try to disappear into the background. I stop trying to join in on conversations and instead I sit in silence and wait to be invited to participate. When that does happen, I answer briefly then fall silent again. Hearing my own words, I take that as confirmation that I am a loser that no one no one likes and no one even wants here.

I don't write this as a pity party or as a way to for compliments, which I really do have a very hard time taking, instead I'm writing this to talk about the ways that I'm working on overcoming it. Maybe they'll hope you too and maybe sharing them will help me a little bit. So here are five things that I am doing to try to manage feeling like a fake.

1.     Remember that I'm still learning.

Yes, I've been around and trying to do this writing thing for a while but at the end of the day I am still learning. There's nothing wrong with that. Let me repeat that for myself there's nothing wrong with not knowing everything. Every time I start beating myself up for not knowing who someone is or what something means I remind myself the world of writing contains multitudes. I don't have to know the intricacies of every single piece of it right now. It’s okay to learn something from a conversation.

2.     My friends are my friends.

It's such a simple statement, but one of the worst things that happens when I'm feeling like a complete phony is that I start to doubt that any of my friends like me. I start thinking they're only keeping me around because I'm just so pathetic, or because they think I'm cute and want something from me or because I just don't have the heart to tell me to get lost. Pretty much all of my friends are very much tell-it-like-it-is people and I see them tell people to get lost or to leave them alone.

My friends are my friends because they like me. My friends want to hang out with me and make an effort to talk to me. I know that. So, when this challenge gets particularly loud I like to think of the quiet moments with my friends. The late-night conversations with just a small, intimate group. The foggy breakfast where we sit in silence over a cup of coffee but we are choosing each other’s company. Those are the moments speak the loudest against this particular monster.

3.     Your accomplishments don't have to look like everyone else's.

Success is a fickle thing that looks different for everybody. What counts as a success for me might not mean anything for you. It's so easy to get caught up in the comparison game. That thought loop of well so-and-so has 15 books out or well so-and-so is a best-selling author or even well so-and-so has 10,000 Twitter followers. Those are some of the arbitrary measurements that I've suddenly decided are a measurement of worth when before I haven't really cared about them or counted them as a success for me. But suddenly when I'm feeling insecure every little thing becomes a game of numbers and I always come up short. For me, it's important to remember what my goals are and that I am taking steps towards my vision of success, not anyone else's.

4.     Get out of your head.

Imposter syndrome frequently feel makes me feel like I’m locked inside my own head. I can't get out of head, and my thoughts and feelings of inadequacy turn into a spiraling silence before I finally flee in humiliation, all without saying a word to my friends of course. What I found helps me in these moments is to ground myself in the world around me. Mostly I do that through a very mundane task like naming every single in animate object I can see. Chair. Table. Glass. Plate. Etc. The simple act of slowing down and forcing my ring to focus on what is tangible instead of the swirling thoughts in my head gives me that instant to pull myself out of this spiral.

5.     Ask for help.

This is by far the hardest one. Honestly, it's still the one that I struggle with the most. I think I've actually done this once and it was a huge help. It was terrifying leading up to that moment of admitting how I felt. What makes it slightly less terrifying is to mention it before you're in the moment. I know that DragonCon triggers my imposter syndrome like nothing else so I reach out to a few friends before the convention even starts and tell them.

I don't need them to play chaperone or guard dog, just knowing someone else is aware that you're struggling can be a huge relief. Usually the person that you're telling this to will ask you how they can help you, and that answer varies widely from person-to-person. What helps me is to just check in. I don't need someone to talk to me every second of every day but if you haven't seen me or if I haven't spoken word in the hour we've been sitting together just checking and see how I'm doing, just a simple ‘Hey what panel are you going to next?’ Can be enough to help me out of the spiral.

These are some of the ways that I am working on dealing with my imposter syndrome and the strategies that I came up with to handle this year’s DragonCon. I'm technically writing this before the convention starts so we’ll see how they go. I’ll update on the success rate!

Almost every writer I know struggles with this but you're not alone in your feelings. Take some time to learn what best helps you and then implement the strategies. Really try to figure it out before you find yourself in the moment because trying to strategize while you're in the self-doubt spiral is not going to go super well. Take a deep breath, find the methods that work for you, and get on out there. The world is waiting for you.

Source: Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

At the beginning of this month I had a book come out. It's always a really exciting moment have something you've worked so hard on make it out into the world. I'm really proud of Cabinet of Aberrations and super excited to have it available to the world.

But lately, I've been feeling very much like a fraud and a liar. I paint an incredibly rosy picture online on my social media accounts where try to post encouraging things as reminders for people that they're not alone. I run a podcast, Ink and Brain Monsters, where I talk about mental health and the creative process. I share that therapy has helped me and I try always listen when people need to talk.

The truth of the matter is the rosy picture isn't at all accurate. A lot of the times, I'm struggling to get out of bed and into my day job. I'm overwhelmed by anxiety that all of my friends hate me, and that everything I write is garbage. There are days where I start to write emails to my publisher that I can't write anymore and I'm really sorry that I won't be able to finish the series.

And frequently I am ashamed to share those kind of thoughts with anyone. I know depression lies and I know that anxiety lies too. I know I frequently get caught up in catastrophizing things that will never happen. But in my mind, all of those things are the absolute truth.

There have been a lot of days in the recent past where I stop to wonder what am I doing. Why am I writing anything? No one wants to read this. You're wasting your time. You're tired and terrible, so Just give up writing and make things easier on yourself. I've listened to that voice before which is why Cabinet of Aberrations is my first book in several years. 

I don't share this for sympathy or pity or complements. I'm writing this post because if I want to talk about mental health honestly and openly that means talking about the bad times and not just encouragements. It means admitting that sometimes you feel like shit and stay on the couch watching the Great British Baking Show while internally panicking about deadlines. It means some days I don't write a damn thing and hate myself for that for weeks.

What I'm reminding myself of, and maybe you too, is that all is a part of living with depression and anxiety. In as much as I wish and hope that maybe this year of the doubts being quiet, I need to realize it doesn't stop talking if I listen to it. So I'm trying to remember but it's okay to take breaks, to rest, and to spend an evening or even a day playing a video game that makes you happy. For a really long time a lot of myself worth his been tied up in my productivity and that becomes a dangerous game especially in moments when you're sick or you just have a series of bad brain days. 

We are all we're so much more than our productivity. 

There really isn't any one reason that I wrote this post for it except to share what's going on in my head a lot of the times and to help me remember that talking about mental illness and mental health sometimes requires admitting when you're losing the fights. 

I’m fine. I've just had a rough few days. But even just writing this post out has already made me feel so much better.

Today, I'm going to eat some donuts and watch some funny videos. Tomorrow, I'm going to look myself in the mirror and remember that I'm a writer even on the days when my brain doesn't believe that. 

Source: Photo by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash
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AuthorAndrea Judy

Lately I've been spending a lot of time playing or writing tabletop Games. It's amazing how much you can learn about storytelling, people, and improvisation with something like Dungeons& Dragons. So for the month of June I want to talk about some of my favorite things as a game master, the person who runs the game, some things that helped me along the way.

Today I want to talk about non-playable characters. Either the people who inhabit your world start the heroes of the story necessarily. People like the barkeep, the shop owner, the farmer looking for help dealing with the werewolf problem, or anyone else that none of your players are controlling. I really love playable characters and I have a really bad habit of getting super attached to them. How do you make a memorable non-playable character?

For me it all starts with their character traits. What makes this person tick and how does that impact how they interact with the world? I actually put it together a chart of traits that you can use to roll and just come up with something on-the-fly. A lot of non-playable characters will come about based on pure improvisation. The players decide to go to a bar and they want to talk to the barmaid they meet there. You may not have anything planned for her and now suddenly having to come up with the character on the go. I suggest always having a few blank templates of characters that you can just pull on as well as a random name generator, just make sure that you actually taken note of what you've named to people and where they were so that if your characters decide to come back to that city you can have the same person stomach.

At the game master it can be really tempting to use a non-playable character as a way for you to get to be involved in the game. I've done this before for sure. It's where you create a character then travels along with your players so you get to play the game to and while it's not a with a bad thing, it's really easy to get too distracted into playing the character then into running the game. Your player should be the one dictating in leading the story with you but do not being pulled along by an NPC that you threw it in. I know it's so easy to get attached to some of the characters and you want to get the chance to play too because it's just not fair that you got to spend all this time building a world and doing all this work the players will never see. But I promise trying to keep a non-playable character with the group long-term is only going to add more work for you in the long run. I just think really hard before you do this.

Are you simple tricks that help me build an NPC on the go. You're welcome to downloading use the rolling chart character traits that I created and if you do, let me know what kind of character you make.

 

Reading the room

It's really easy to think about tabletop games as something only incredibly awkward, completely people illiterate groups play. For game master, and even being a player, actually require a lot of interaction with other people even if you're just playing in your character and not as you. Forgetting master however you really need to develop the skill of how to read a room. You need to be able to recognize when your players are disengaging, or when the story has taken a wrong turn and everybody is pissed.

Now I'm saying completely deviate from the past that you have already created but I am saying that if it suddenly becomes clear to you that no one is having fun, that's probably something you should pay attention to and learn from. But how will you know?

Watch the reactions of your players. I'm rolling, crossed arms, leaning way back from the table, playing on their phone, and just staring down word of their character sheet and no longer interacting. If you start to notice these things it might be a good idea to call for a brief break from the game and you take 10 minutes to evaluate what is happened, where things may have gone wrong, and what can be done to return enjoyment to the game. Pretty much everybody place to have fun so what the point that it becomes a chore or annoying, it's not something anyone wants to be doing.

And sometimes this can't be helped. They're going to be moments in a good story where think suck, the heroes have lost, the villain is in power and things look bad. There will also be times that somebody just have a shitty night of rolling and all they get our ones or twos and I thought anybody's faults and is not really anything you can get it fixed it. What I'm talking about our moments when perhaps your players we're really interested in a strange artifact they found an elaborate far beneath the town, but you are forcing them to abandon that and jump back onto the plot you'd already constructed for them to do today. It's not an easy position and it requires a lot of thinking on your feet. And sometimes you won't be able to do that and making everybody happy is pretty much impossible task matter what you doing but I found the one way to make sure that your players enjoyed the story is very simple.

Remember that they are the hero.

Give your players the chance to shine. Let your rogue but they're sneaking and stealing skills to use for an important what item. Your bard can talk her way out of what should be an impossible diplomatic situation. You're fighter deals the killing blow the terrible monster. Given the moments to shine, moments that you know their characters will be amazing in. As long as those moments are sprinkled throughout it helps again be more fun and helps everyone feel like a hero.

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AuthorAndrea Judy

If you've been watching my social media feeds lately you've probably noticed I'm posting a lot more about Dungeons and Dragons. Well that's because I am not running my first DnD game! It's a Southern Gothic game set in a world of my own creation. 

 

You can check out the first episode and follow us on Twitch to watch the game live! 

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

Just like with writing there are a lot of different ways to handle doing any kind of editing work. Some projects require a lot of work to polish up; some show up pretty polished. There’s no wrong way to do it so long as you get the work done. But sometimes you get stuck and don’t know what to do to fix a piece of writing.

Right now I am finishing up edits on a novella that has given me a ton of problems. I mean this thing really kicked my ass. The first draft I did was a disaster. I tried to fix it but it still ended up being a mess. Now after several more failed attempts at revision, I think I’ve finally figured out what went wrong and how to fix it. So I wanted to talk about the process of realizing what exactly I needed to work on. 

For this book, I kept walking away from my edits and just not doing them. That’s not like me since I’m usually pretty focused and committed to meeting deadlines. But this time around, I didn’t manage to focus on it at all. So I decided to test something.

I started my edits at a different point in the book then came back to the beginning. What that showed me was that the problem was that the beginning of the book was all wrong and that was forcing me to walk away. I didn’t know how to fix the problem because the problem wasn’t a lack of descriptions but a big ol’ plot problem. 

As soon as I realized the problem was that I as the writer didn’t care about the villain then I knew what needed to change. I had to find a way to make me (and thus hopefully the reader) care about the monster and the story happening in that tension. 

What sucks about that, is that it means I need to rewrite about a good chunk of the book but now that I can pinpoint ‘this is where I am struggling’ it makes it sudden;y feel like a problem I can solve. I’ve been stuck in the idea of ‘I don’t know what’s wrong so I can’t fix it’ and that just leads to a lot of stress. 

So for me to get unstuck what I needed to do was look into different parts of the book and then come back to the spot I was getting stuck. It showed me what the problem was and how I could fix it. 

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

Editing can feel like this huge overwhelming sized thing. Especially if you’re looking at editing something the size of a novel, it can seem very much like looking up a mountain knowing that you are about to climb it. 

But if you were about to climb a mountain, you’d have the right gear with you, right? The same thing is true with editing, by using the right gear or process, you can make it to the top and (maybe) have fun along the way. I actually enjoy editing most of the time, but only if I’ve got the tools in place to make it work for me. 

So how do I make editing work for me? 

1.     Make a plan.

I read over the whole manuscript and keep a document ready to take notes on the things that need to change. That includes character names not being the same the whole manuscript, a plot hole, a pacing problem, a scene I want to change, etc. I list it all out with page number references so that I have a record of everything. 

2.     Group. 

Next I take my group of notes and organize them by topic or change. If I need to change character Bill to a character named Sue then that is one theme or section. I group them by topic and then by order. if I need to change a major plot thread, that’s one of the first things I do.

3.     Attack. 

I start with the biggest changes and then work my way smaller. I used to go through the document chronologically, start at the beginning and go to the end, but I would quickly get lost in what change I needed to make. By focusing on just one major theme at a time, I know that I can work it through all the way and not lose my train of thought. 

That’s my three-prong method for working through an edit. The third step is repeated until I have finished everything I had on my notes page. It usually takes a few passes but when I’m done, I do one last read over everything and that pass is when I deal with the more grammar related things. 

As with everything else, this is the method I use and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. I really encourage you to play around with systems and processes to see what connects with you! 

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AuthorAndrea Judy