Getting the Most Out of Your Creative Day

This post is part of an ongoing series for HBIC Nation, a community that helps creatives learn, grow, and dominate in their fields. Our motto is Dream. Do. Dominate. You can find out more by going to or joining the HBIC Nation Facebook Group. I recently transitioned from working a full-time day job and writing on contract for a publisher to writing full-time. I’ve been dreaming for years about making this jump. I figured I’d wake up, roll out of bed, and the words would just flow. If my fantasy was a formula, it would look like this:

All the time in the world + Writing full-time + Dream fulfilled = All the books in the land

Wasn’t I adorably naïve?

Instead of being the writer utopia I’d imagined, all of this uninterrupted time was daunting. In the past, my day job forced me to be extra disciplined and protective of my writing hours. I was getting stuff done before because, ironically, I had so little time in which to do it. It turns out that for me the formula looked like this:

No time + Deadlines + Stubborn determination = 4 books a year

Obviously, I was happy that I had one focus in my professional life instead of two, but without the structure of a demanding schedule I was feeling lost. I was too unstructured.

Fortunately, I have lots of creative around me who don’t work traditional day jobs. Instead, they create their own schedules that work at the pace of their own artistic flow and — this part is key — still get the work done.

I reached out and got a lot of great advice from women who’d made this jump before me, including from HBIC members Alexandra Haughton and Tamsen Parker. Then I took a step back to assess my own working habits and came up with these things that have been working for me.

Survey Your Week

I’m going to come right out and admit that I’m not great at future planning. At least not long, long-term future planning. However, what I am good at and find incredibly helpful is looking at the week ahead.

Every Sunday I sit down with my bullet journal and brain dump a list onto a piece of paper. I write down my appointments, important emails and calls, and every project that I know I need to get done next week.

Here’s a sample list of things I jotted down on my weekly to do list:

• Email London networking contact • Finish The Taste of Temptation draft • Make notes on Patreon • Dinner with Maegan, Tuesday • Agent/Editor lunch, Thursday • Podcast interview, Friday • Pick up dry cleaning • Long run • Cancel cable

See what I mean about brain dump?

One thing I don’t do is write down every little step to get those projects done. Finish The Taste of Temptation draft could look like this: finish hero realization scene, write grand gesture scene, write epilogue, finish transitional heroine scene you neglected to write because you got excited about other things. That, however, doesn’t help me see the big picture for the week. The nitty gritty details? Those are more likely to cloud up my view. Apparently I’m exactly who that seeing the forest through the trees adage is about

Make a Daily List and Make It Early

Once I’ve got a weekly list (which I make on Sunday nights), I get down to my big organizational tool: day-to-day task lists. The night before I start writing down everything I need to do the next day. Monday gets planned on Sunday night, Tuesday gets planned on Monday night, and so on. I do this because it helps me shut off my brain and keeps me from working 16 hour days. If there’s a to do list for tomorrow, those things can get done tomorrow.

This day-to-day list is where those nitty gritty tasks I avoid putting on my weekly list become helpful. They keep me on task and help break big projects down into actionable steps.

I’ve also found it to be helpful to sometimes write out a little schedule for myself like so:

7:45 a.m. — Shower, breakfast, morning pages 9 a.m. — Morning writing session 11:30 a.m. — Run errands, lunch 1 p.m. — Afternoon writing session 5 p.m. — Email catch-up 5:30 p.m. — Run

3 Daily Goals

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a lister. I put everything on lists, and that sometimes makes it hard to figure out what absolutely needs to get done and what can potentially get pushed to another day. Because of that, I like to highlight the three biggest things that must get done on a given day. I literally write a 1, 2, 3 next to them to mark that they’re my priorities, but you can use this prompt to help you organize:

Today I Will: 1)   ____________________

2)   ____________________

3)   ____________________

If those three tasks get done, the day’s a win for me. (Don’t we all need little wins for motivation?)

Make Time for Admin — And Keep It

Admin has been a huge pain point for me for a long time. The problem isn’t so much sending emails, writing blog posts, and social media. It’s getting myself to stop once I start. There’s always one more thing that I could be doing. One more newsletter draft. One more Facebook post. One more tweet. It’s enough to make an HBIC want to pull her hair out.

I’ve started to think about admin like I think about my writing time. I build out space in my week for it and I protect it fiercely. However, I’d say I go one step further when I work on admin during the predetermined time because I’m protecting the rest of my life from it creeping out and taking over everything.

On Sundays I’ll go into my CoSchedule app — an expensive but worth-it-to-me content marketing tool — and set up my blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagrams for the week. If I have a newsletter I’ve got to send that week, I’ll make sure that’s ready to go and scheduled in MailChimp. I’ll fill up my Buffer with snazzy content from friends and make sure I’ve got some things ready to go if people I know have launches or book sales during the upcoming week.

Then, after all that is done, I close CoSchedule and walk away. Other than making sure that my content is going out into the world, I try not to open it again. I’ll jump on Facebook and Twitter from time to time, but that’s mostly for interaction and catching up on everyone’s news rather than promoting my content. The temptation to cut into writing is just too great. All of this content creation is supposed to serve the writing, not hinder it by taking excessive time and mental energy away from me.

I’m still learning my own best practices for working as a creative full time, and would love to hear what works for you whether you’re working on a side hustle or your art is your full time gig! Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at, and be sure to check out

How Bullet Journaling Changed Everything

Last year was a game-changer for me. My first books with a publisher came out, and I switched roles at my day job and took on more responsibility than I've ever had before. The only way I was able to keep on top of those big, big changes and everything that came along with them was because for the first time in my life I found a planning system that works for me. Some people are planners and some people aren't. I'm definitely the planning kind, but in 30 years of searching I hadn't found a system that I liked. I've tried everything from simple pen and paper lists to complicated apps that give you lots of options to categorize and tag your tasks. Typically I'd use a system for a month thinking I'd found something I could stick with, but then each and every time I'd cast it aside because it didn't fit.

It turns out, I was looking for a planning system that "looks like my brain" and mimics the way I think. I found it when I discovered bullet journaling.

I'm not going to teach you how to bullet journal. There's a whole website dedicated to that and the video above is a good place to start. (I'm also not terribly artistic so I won't be showing off inspirational, beautiful bullet journal pages.) What I am going to do is tell you why this system worked for me.

Remember how I said I needed an organizational plan that looks like my brain? Bullet journaling has stuck with me for more than a year because it's flexible and nimble, just the way my brain is. I use a squared Moleskine Cahier notebook in a larger traveler's notebook for my bullet journal. That means no strict calendar pages or pages that I'll leave blank and that will bother me when I'm on vacation. Perfect.

My bullet journal is basically two types of to do lists and a meal planner. When I sit down each week, I start with a spread of two blank pages. This is my weekly spread. The left-hand side is a meal planning page with each day broken down into lunch, dinner, and an afternoon snack (especially important on days when I know I'll be working out after my day job). I use that page to plan a week ahead of time when I'm going to be cooking and build a grocery list next to it.

A weekly spread with meal planning on the left and a weekly to do list on the right.

On the right side of the weekly spread I create a to do list for the entire week. This isn't every minor task that needs to get done, but the big picture things or tasks I don't want to forget about if they're a few days out. I don't separate out personal life, day job, and writing because I've found that if I do I neglect the tasks that I'm less enthusiastic about. (Who really wants to pick up their dry cleaning when it's 18 degrees outside?) If it's all in once place, I can't avoid it.

Check out two daily to do lists for the price of one!

The second type of to do list I use is a daily one. I wanted to save paper in this example so I collapsed Saturday and Sunday onto the same page, but you can see that each task is listed. If I didn't finish a task on one day, I carry it over and write it down the next day. The list is always changing and very flexible, but it's always there. Since I'm adding everything from writing to appointments to household tasks, I always know what my time constraints look like at a glance. If I go on vacation, I can set the bullet journal aside and not worry about wasting paper.

Many people are attracted to bullet journaling because of the "collections" (more permanent lists that can easily be found because many bullet journalers also create an index and page numbers for their collections). I use a separate notebook to write down all of the books I read each year, and this year I've expanded to include a list of all of the movies I watched. For now, however, that's enough for me. I've realized that the best organizational system is one that you actually use, and the weekly spread, meal plan, and daily lists are what works for me.

What if any planning system do you use? I'd also be really curious to hear what readers to do keep track of their books. Goodreads? A paper list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

How to Organize Your Writing Life: Tracking Characters

Espresso Shot (4)When you're a writer, the struggle to stay organized is real. Different drafts. Different books. Different projects. Release days. Blog posts. Facebook parties. No matter the stage of your career, we all have responsibilities pulling us in different directions. Organization is key to making sure that everything gets done when it should without leaving you feeling completely overwhelmed.

Every Wednesday throughout the month of May, I'm sharing some of the tips and tricks that I used to keep my writing life in order. We've already covered your calendar and your daily writing goals. Today we're tackling tracking your characters.

Keep Record

I started to keep notes on all of the characters that appear in my books about three novels, four novellas, several short stories, and countless pitches into the process. I really, really regret not starting from day one. I'm still playing catch up on entering all of my character names as well as their defining characteristics.
So here's what I recommend. No matter where you are in your writing career, build a spreadsheet for your characters. Start it now. Today. And keep it updated. It will save you when you're editing manuscripts you haven't looked at in awhile. Even better, you can build your mini character profiles while you're writing and keep yourself on track as you draft.

What to Include

Your character spreadsheet can be as extensive or minimalist as you like. Here's a look at the things I track:
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Title (mainly for historicals)
  • Book the character appears in
  • Role (hero/heroine/antagonist/secondary character)
  • Race
  • Height
  • Hair color
  • Eye color
  • Profession
  • Additional notes
Once I enter all of that information in, I use Excel's sort function to alphabetize by first name. That makes it easy to find characters fast, and it also helps me notice any trends. I have a tendency to like men's names that start with an "E" and women whose names start with a "C." I don't know why, but having a visual remind of that is hugely helpful.

Use Your Spreadsheet

Just like a calendar or a to do list, a character spreadsheet is only helpful if you actually use it. When I'm writing, I have it popped up in the background. If I write about a new character, I'll add their traits to the sheet. Similarly, I refer back to that sheet if I'm drafting and I can't remember the color of a character's eyes (something I seem to be incapable of). Doing this will save you a lot of annoying stopping and starting while you're editing a manuscript--especially if you haven't looked at it in a few weeks.
If you are interested in getting a copy of my character spreadsheet, just send me an email to, and I would be happy to send you my template.
Good luck, and happy writing!

How to Organize Your Writing Life: Maximizing Your Calendar

Espresso Shot (1)When you're a writer, the struggle to stay organized is real. Different drafts. Different books. Different projects. Release days. Blog posts. Facebook parties. No matter the stage of your career, we all have responsibilities pulling us in different directions. Organization is key to making sure that everything gets done when it should without leaving you feeling completely overwhelmed.

Every Wednesday throughout the month of May, I'm sharing some of the tips and tricks that I used to keep my writing life in order starting with the basics: your calendar.
Keeping Your Calendar
I shouldn't have to say this, but I suspect that it's necessary. If you're going to take your writing career seriously, you're going to need a dedicated calendar. Just like you have to keep track of deadlines in a day job, you've got to keep things straight when it comes to your writing.
I use separate calendars for my writing, day job, and life events. They're loaded into my iCal that syncs to my phone and Mac. I do this because I'm never without my phone, and I can always keep it updated on the fly. I color code my writing calendar in blue so that it's easy to find at a glance, and I can uncheck the other calendars to isolate it when I need a writing overview.
Whether these are set by your publisher or by you, you need to take your deadlines seriously. You're a professional. You wouldn't blow off a big presentation at work. Your manuscript isn't any different. But even when you take those dreaded deadlines seriously, sometimes they get away from us, making them a whole lot scarier when you finally remember them. If you use it correctly, your calendar can minimize the changes of that happening.
Here's what I consider a deadline in my own writing calendar:
  • Each draft of my book. For my latest indie release, One Week in Hawaii, that meant my first, second, and third drafts. Then, once copy edits came back, my final draft. I was working with anthology partners so I also included the dates I had to get them back first and second draft critiques back. If you're working with a traditional publisher, you want to note the dates that you need to get all of your various edits back.
  • Blurbs and cover copy
  • Updates to back matter
  • Cover art and formatting if I'm publishing independently
  • Marketing rollout
  • Cover reveal
  • Release date
  • Blog posts, articles, and other things I owe other people. This includes publisher blog obligations as well as blog tours and the occasional Facebook party.
I input each of these things into my calendar in all caps as soon as I find out about them. This means that I'm positive I have the most up to date information about what I owe who and when. If there is a change of date, the first thing I do when I find out about it is update my deadline in my calendar. My apartment could be on fire, and I probably would still stop to make a calendar adjustment. If I don't, there's  a 25% chance I will forget.
Writing Life
Your writing life is everything else that takes up your time or you need a reminder about. Some people block out time on their calendars for their daily word count to make sure that they know that's a permanent appointment. These are their office hours.
Since I have a day job and I write when and where I can, I don't keep office hours. I do, however, write down just about everything else I do related to my writing career. Here are some of them:
  • Conferences
  • Workshops and signings
  • Articles for my blog
  • Website updates
  • Teasers, excerpts, and other materials for any upcoming releases
  • Swag/business card order reminders
  • RWA chapter meetings
  • Writing dates with other authors
  • Broadcast dates for First Draught, the writing talk show I co-host
I use my writing life calendar in conjunction with my to do list which includes emails I owe people, social media post reminders, maintenance on sites like Goodreads and Amazon's author page, and little day-to-day things that need to get done. Just like I mentioned in deadlines, the moment something comes up that will require my attention it goes on the calendar and possibly the to do list too.
Using Your Calendar
Writing all of this down is just half the battle. Now you actually have to put that beautiful (possibly color-coded) calendar to good use. I open mine every day and look at two views: the daily view and the monthly view. I'm looking for any red flag, deadlines, or projects that may have slipped my mind. I also try to do a three month look ahead once a week so I know that I'm looking ahead to. This helps minimize deadlines creeping up on me (especially blog posts I've promised to other people as those have a nasty habit of lurking in the shadows of my calendar).
Hopefully this gives you some jumping off ideas about how you might start managing your writing calendar to make it work harder for you. Now it's your turn to share. What advice can you give to writings looking to optimize their calendars and stay organized?


It's time for another chat with the First Draught ladies! Alexis Anne, Mary Chris Escobar, and I will be debating the merits of planning or writing off the cuff.

When: Tuesday, March 4th, 8:15 PM

Where: Check out our Google On Air page ahead of the chat and leave us a comment about your writing style.

So what are you? A plotter or a pantser?