Monday, October 10, 2011

The 4-Hour Novel: How to Balance Work, Life, Blogging and Your Passion By Ollin Morales

I know your pain.

Everyone's telling you you've got to write that novel and stop putting it off. Everyone’s telling you that you’ve got to stop wasting your time watching Desperate Housewives already and start dedicating that time to building your author platform. Everyone’s telling you that you can't be irresponsible--you've got to pay those bills. Everyone’s telling you that you have to have a social life. (Where else are you gonna get that inspiration for your novel, anyway?)

Everyone’s telling you to do all of this, but what you can’t help thinking to yourself is: “YEAH, BUT HOW? HOW CAN I JUGGLE ALL OF THESE THINGS ALL AT ONCE?”

I know your pain.

Today, writers—and everyone else for that matter—are being asked to balance so much. Along with balancing work, life, blogging and our passions, we got to be expert “Twitterer's” and dynamite “Facbookers” and smart and hip “Google Plus-er's,” too. We have to read up on all the news that’s going on in the world and we have to keep nurturing our rapidly growing networks and connections.

But, if you’re like me, you’ve probably realized that doing all of this, and doing it all effectively, is no easy task. In fact, trying to balance work, life, blogging, and your passion is not only nearly impossible—it can drive you insane.

Work can often be demanding. Life: all consuming. Blogging: a full-time job in and of itself.

But… what if there was a better way?

What if you could “do it all” by making a small, little tweak in your writing schedule? A small tweak that might seem innocent and simple at first, but that will eventually makes it a whole lot easier for you to balance ALL of your responsibilities?

Introducing “The 4-Hour Novel” Writing Schedule

For those who are swamped with a day job, and want to still maintain their sanity, I recommend that you dedicate only four hours a week to your passion (a.k.a. writing.)

Why four hours? Well, through trial and error I’ve found that four hours is just enough time to dedicate to your novel so that you don't feel like you’re neglecting your passion—but not too much time that it’ll make you feel like you’re not fulfilling other important responsibilities.

I know. You already have doubts about this.

But, you think, if I only dedicate four hours a week to my novel--does that make me a real, committed writer? Or just a half-hearted one? Aren't writers with day jobs supposed to write at least 20+ hours a week by waking up before the crack of dawn, drink 25 cups of coffee and 40 Red Bulls, and avoid contact with their family and friends for most of the year except for on holidays and sick days?

Listen, if you can manage to do all that, more power to you. But I've found that waking up at the butt-crack of dawn just to write my novel makes me exhausted, cranky, and very unhappy all week. And it doesn't make for good writing. I have also found that locking myself in a dungeon and never seeing my family or friends for months at a time makes me feel awfully depressed and isolated. This type of writing-schedule-on-steroids “strategy” made my life feel drained and, consequently, there was no joy or excitement in my writing, either. In fact, I hated writing because of it.

So that’s why I searched for a better way.

Balance: Your Passion (Writing)

For those who really want to balance everything and then some, the “The 4-Hour Novel” schedule might work for you. It’s actually the best writing schedule I’ve ever been on.

When I’m on this schedule, my writing comes out so much better, I’m a lot more productive, I procrastinate less, and the schedule invigorates both my life and my passion.

I know, right? Who knew REDUCING the amount of time you wrote actually was BETTER for your writing than increasing it? But it's true. Try it out yourself.

Here's are some of the benefits you might discover:

- You are granted "ever-lasting" fresh eyes. The more time you spend on your novel, the more you risk getting "tunnel vision.” Your objectivity gets skewed, and you risk falling into what I call a "Writer's Paranoia.” A Writer’s Paranoia is when you start to think you’re a really a bad writer, or strongly suspect that the novel you’re writing is total piece of crap—but no one wants to break the bad news to you. But, with the 4-Hour Novel schedule, you get a huge amount of time in between one writing session and the next one which gives you the opportunity to return to your work with fresh eyes all the time. You’ll easily see how far you have come in the editing process and you’ll be able to better measure the true merit of your work—because your perspective will always be closer to that of a brand new reader.

- It makes you more excited about the work. Believe it or not, I always look forward to my novel now. When you write too much, I think you risk letting your novel take over your life. This will make you start resenting your novel for not giving you enough space. (Yes we can resent the thing we love if it becomes too “clingy.”) But by dedicating only four hours to your novel, you give your novel (and you) ample space to breathe and be independent of each other.

- It increases your productivity and your focus. Because you've spent most of your week not writing your novel, your eagerness to write during those four hours is at its peak. You’re at “Level 10” of excitement, when, if you write regularly, you normally average about “Level 5.” With the 4-hour novel schedule you dig into novel as if you were a starving man who has just been given a whole feast to devour. Just like that starving man, when you have those four hours to write you are so much more focused because you’re trying to savor each moment--

because you know your time with your novel is short and you'll have to wait a long time before you see it again.

Balance: Blogging

Now that you know the benefits of only dedicating four hours a week to your passion, let’s talk about how blogging fits into all of this.

Here are some more ways that we can make blogging an even less time-consuming job:

- Schedule posts in advance. You may miss that excitement that comes with writing spur-of-the-moment posts, but having your posts all written and ready to be rolled out ahead of time relieves you of some of the stress that comes with keeping up a blog.

- Close your comments after a period of time. I set my comments to close after two weeks. This means I can reply to comments and interact with the most urgent posts, but I don’t have to spend times on posts that don’t require my urgent attention.

- Write less by cutting down your posts to 500 words each. In my work as a freelancer--writing online content for a websites--I’ve noticed that the shorter the articles the more views the articles get. Let’s face it: we live in an ADD culture. So not only will reducing your word count save you plenty of time blogging, it might even get your blog more views and shares.

- Mix it up. You can have posts with videos you've found on the Internet, or you can share reviews of your favorite books. These types of posts require less of your time and effort to create, and they also bring a welcomed diversity to your content.

- Post "Re-Runs." You’ll be surprised how many of your readers will actually appreciate you revising an old, popular post and then re-posting it on your blog. This is because your readers don't have time to look through all your archives and so many of them might be seeing the old post for the first time. As long as the content you repost is really good, and as long as you don't post too many re-runs too often, this is a great way to free up more time for other responsibilities.

Balance: Work

Finally, with the 4-hour novel schedule, your novel becomes a reward for all that hard work you put into your day job. If you allot at least four hours for your passion every week, and you keep that time sacred, then your novel can remain as a constant reminder of why you sweat and toil so much at your day job.

Balance: Life

I have found that dedicating 4 hours a week to my novel makes me a happier writer, a more productive writer, and a writer who enjoys his life and his passion more.

But please know that achieving a perfect “life balance” is never easy, and it is certainly not consistent. Some days work will overwhelm everything else, or life will take center stage, or your passion will demand the spotlight. Sometimes absolutely nothing will fall in place.

Very rarely does everything fall in place.

But why should it?

When we think of balance, we should see it as a process—not as something we can really achieve, but as something we're always striving for. Instead of focusing on trying to attain “perfect” balance, then, maybe we should just pay close attention to the times when we feel like something is “off” balance.

Instead of focusing on how much your life needs to be perfectly balanced, instead, when you feel a great imbalance, check in with each part of your life, and see which one of those parts is taking up too much of your time, or too little, and then revise your schedule accordingly.

In this way, the balancing act of life is less of a law you must follow, and more like a set of guidelines that help you cope with an ever-changing journey.

Good luck to you, and happy balancing!

Ollin Morales is a writer. Courage 2 Create chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his very first novel. This blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. After all, as Ollin’s story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear to him that in order to write a great novel, he must first learn how to live a great life. His blog was named one of The Top Ten Blogs for writers by Write To Done in 2011, and has been featured on The Huffington Post and