by Jennifer Brozek
When I first attended conventions or traveled for the holidays, my freelance work suffered. Not just during the event but for the few days before and after the event as well. I knew this and scheduled for it. This worked for me for a while. However, as my writing and editing project deadlines grew in number and volume as well as the number of conventions I attended, I knew I couldn’t just “not work” around and during my travel time. I had to come up with a way to allow me to remain productive while still dealing with, and enjoying, the unexpected time sinks of travel.
For me, there are three things I need to keep producing to the level I’m required to by my deadlines: awareness of my schedule, concreteness of the project, and discreteness of the work.
Awareness of My Schedule. I am a list maker. I adore lists because they keep me on track. They also keep me from panicking. If I only know I have four short stories, one novel, one chapter in a book, and two articles due in the next three months, I freeze. My first list tells me, by month, what is due when. It also tells me when I’m traveling. My second list tells me my daily schedule for one or two weeks out. This second list includes specific travel and event days as well.
Keeping on top of my schedule allows me to plan according: what do I work on before I travel, during travel, and after travel? This leads me to the next thing that I need to remain productive: concreteness of the project.
Concreteness of the Project. I have multiple projects going on at any one time. They all have different due dates. But, as I’ve discovered, many project deadlines tend to clump together. Thus, I need to choose what I will be working on. Instead of spinning my wheels, knowing that I have to finish my novel, and write three articles, and a short story, and do an interview, I choose the project(s) I will work on during my travel days with specific intent. In short, I look for the low hanging fruit.
This specific intent says: I will work on two articles and one interview because they are due next week. Or it says: I will work on my novel to the exclusion of all else because it needs to be done before I lose the thread of the current plotline. Or it says: I will work on this one short story because everything else requires too much information I have to leave at home. I can’t carry an extra twenty-five pounds of research notes and books with me.
Knowing exactly what project(s) you will work on during your travel days allows you to set up the discreteness of the work.
Discreteness of the Work. It is one thing to say, “This trip, I will work on my novel.” It is another thing to say, “This trip, I will complete Chapters 3 and 4 of my novel. Each chapter will be about 2500 words. Chapter 3 will cover A and B. Chapter 4 will cover X, Y, and Z.” It is the difference between “I will write a short story.” and “I will write a short story on the dawn of space travel in a 5 act structure with each act set to about 1000 words each.” This is where outlines help so you are aware of what needs to be done.
Figuring out the discrete portion of the work allows you to bring the outline, or the specific page of notes, for reference. It allows you to break down what you plan to do into bite-size productive chunks that you can manage while waiting at the airport, the two hours in your hotel before dinner, or the morning/evening hours you have to yourself during the trip to Grandma’s house for the holidays.
Planning. All of this takes planning and forethought—but not too much. Just enough to know what you are doing for the time you will be out of your regular schedule. Once planned, you’ll find that you frequently complete the concrete tasks before you thought you would because of the discreteness of the work at hand.
I’m writing this the day before I leave for the holidays, rather than during the holidays, because I finished my pre-travel work a day early. Writing this now means that I don’t have to write it while visiting the in-laws. Instead of two projects to do, I have only one. The second project is a much longer piece of work but it does not require anything more than my brain, my time, and fingers on the keyboard.
Give it a try. Look at your schedule. Pick the easiest, most discrete project you can, and stick to it. If you’re in the middle of a project, pull out 1-3 specific pieces/scenes/chapters to work on for your travel days, and focus on them. When you are done, you are done. Let your worry go and enjoy the rest of your trip. There is no more work to do. You have been productive.
Unless, of course, you are like me and you have an extra concrete, discrete project in your back pocket. Something to work on so you don’t have to play cribbage or monopoly or listen to Uncle Joe’s fishing stories one more time.
Jennifer Brozek is an award-winning editor, game designer, and author.
Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fourteen anthologies with more on the way, including Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields. Author of In a Gilded Light, The Lady of Seeking in the City of Waiting, Industry Talk, and the Karen Wilson Chronicles, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.
Jennifer also is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of both the Origins and the ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include Dragonlance, Colonial Gothic, Shadowrun, Serenity, Savage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS. Jennifer is the author of the YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns.
When she is not writing her heart out, she is gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest in its wonderfully mercurial weather. Jennifer is an active member of SFWA, HWA, and IAMTW. Read more about her at www.jenniferbrozek.com or follow her on Twitter at @JenniferBrozek.