Tool or Time Sucker? (Balancing the things we need to do)

Writing for Children Blog | craft
March 24, 2016

By Jan Fields


The writer's task list tends to look like this:

Project Research

Improving Skills



Market Research

Social Networking


Multiple tasks shoved into an already busy life and all of them important. But
are they all equally important? And can any of them turn bad? Not if we keep
two important things in mind: the purpose of the task and balance. When the
time we allocate to our tasks lacks balance and thought to the purpose of
the task, they can easily become ways to procrastinate without guilt.
Writers can spend so much time working on market research or building their
platform that they never get any of their actual writing projects finished
and revised. Other writers can get caught in an endless revision loop,
working on a project for years and years without ever actually finishing.

Why do good tools go bad? The reason hiding in the background is often fear.
Fear of rejections (because rejection is painful even if you psych yourself
up well). Fear of never succeeding. Fear that negative voices about your
work are actually correct. And fear can stand in the way of finishing
projects and getting them out for submission.

So, it is important to pay attention to the purpose behind each of these
tools and to keep them in balance. When you do that, fear will have less of
a free reign to abuse them. So, what is the purpose of each of these?

Project research
helps up create fiction and nonfiction that is factually
correct. Even the most fantastical fiction will have a solid basis in some
kind of fact. Fantasy rabbits living in the woods in burrows may talk to one
another in your book, but they probably won’t eat bugs, because even though
you’re writing fantasy, you’ll need to keep in mind that rabbits are
vegetarians. If you do decide to write about carnivorous bunnies, it should
be a conscious choice, not a mistake due to lack of knowledge of what actual
rabbits eat.

So research is important. But research cannot be allowed to become an
endless loop. The purpose of research isn’t to know everything about
everything in the world. It’s only to know the facts necessary to complete
your project well. For writers who love research, there’s a real problem
with research becoming a replacement for the project. Know when to draw the
line. And don’t be afraid to start writing before you know everything, and
dipping back into research as you write, so that both tasks happen
concurrently. This can help you avoid the endless research loop at is
actually a way of postponing the scary task of writing something that may
succeed and may not.

Improving skills is an ongoing job for every writer. We’ve never “arrived,”
so we’re always interested in hearing new thoughts on plot of
characterization. We fall in love with words so we’re always interested in
learning more of them or learning more about using them. We want to
communicate clearly, so we take the time to understand how language works
grammatically to produce meaning. All of these things are an ongoing
process. Skill building also happens as you write. It must be happening in
small bites all the time rather than becoming a postponing tool. You don’t
need to wait until you know everything before you write. In fact, if you
refuse to write until you’re sure you have all the skills, you’ll actually
have trouble gaining the skills you need, because writers learn by writing.

If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!

Which brings us to the most important item on our writer’s task list:
writing. Writing helps you build skills. Writing points out the places you
need to research. Writing gives up the text that you’ll need to revise.
Writing gives you insight into which areas of the market you need to study.
And writing gives you something to build you platform for.

So, does that mean that writing is never a bad tool? Not usually, but if you
find yourself writing the never ending story that goes on and on for
hundreds and hundreds of pages, then you may be letting writing become a way
of putting off the scary stuff of revision and submission. If you never
reach “the end,” then you never have to take the next step. That is a fairly
hard-core device for procrastination so it’s not one you see often, but if
your free-form novel has reached the length of two or three novels combined;
you may be letting that good tool go bad.

Once a project is written, the writer’s work isn’t done. Many writers will
tell you that the place where the real story magic happens isn’t in the
writing, it’s in the revising. Revision is when you polish the work you’ve
created. Revision turns a weak story into a strong one. It can turn dry into
lively. Revision rocks.

But can it turn bad? Sure and it happens with some regularity. Writers often
ask, how do you know when to stop revising? One “rule of thumb” is that when
you start changing things, then changing them back, you’re probably done
revising. Critique groups can be a help with letting us know when to stop
revising. But so can a careful emotional self-check. Why are you still
revising? Because you have fresh vision and ideas for how to improve the
work? Or because you’re scared it isn’t good enough? Fear is usually a flag
that your tool is getting unbalanced.

After revision, you have to find someone who wants to publish the work. Some
writers love to skip this step and just send their work to everyone who will
accept anything. They don’t worry about whether their project is a good fit.
They just send it. This is not the way to avoid letting market research
become procrastination.

Good market research will provide you with a list of agents or publishers
who (1) accept projects of this type and (2) are a good fit for this work in
some way. For instance, if I know an agent will accept science fiction but
often writes about how the only good science fiction is the space opera,
then that person may look at my humorous, social-commentary science fiction,
but he’s highly unlikely to buy it. So, good market research produces a list
of possible matches (and often it can be a ranked list, with the ones that
seem like the best match at the top). Once you have a list, you’re ready to
move to submitting. Market research shouldn’t take longer than revision and
certainly shouldn’t start to compete with writing time.

The final tool that many writers feel needs to be in their toolkit is social
. Writers hear so much about platform, and feel they absolutely
must invest massive amounts of time in platform. This can easily eclipse
things that will give you a lot more value. Yes, it’s good to have a website
(if for no other reason than the reality that you probably have more time to
make one now than you’ll have when/if you become a huge writing success),
and it’s valuable to become comfortably with social networking. But you
don’t need to work it like it’s your job. Think of it as something to dabble
in a bit so that you’re not staring blankly someday when you actually need
to put real time into building a community of fans for your work. So dabble,
but don’t drown. And only do what you find enjoyable. Social networking that
feels odious isn’t doing you any good at all. Your joy in the process will
show and so will your frustration or dislike. Choose wisely and guard your
writing time. Having a platform with nothing to put on it isn’t good time

So, think about the purpose of your tools and use them wisely, balancing
your time so that the things that bring you the most value don’t get lost.
Do that, and you’ll find they’re worthwhile tools, not time suckers.


If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!


Sign up for our weekly tips & market leads. 

If you write for children, sign up for our ICL newsletter.

Writing for adults? Sign up for the IFW newsletter.