By Thonie Hevron
Before becoming a full-time novelist, I made a career in law enforcement. Most of that time was as a 911 dispatcher. For that job, multi-tasking is a necessity. Each second was a triage: you take a call of a barking dog—low priority; goes to the bottom of the calls for service queue, while I’m talking, listening and typing simultaneously. Next, an officer calls in a license check on a rolling vehicle that turns out to be stolen—high priority, get back up immediately; which unit is closest? Whoops, the barking dog call goes up several notches—it seems an intruder has just walked into the house; that’s why the dog is barking.
It’s what dispatchers do—obtain information (sometimes like pulling teeth), decide what type of help is needed (police, fire, ambulance…), then create and execute a call for service accordingly. All this is done within moments.
Dispatchers must master this immediate prioritization and execution to effectively do their jobs. The right kind of help (rescue in nature) must get to the right person and place as fast as possible. This is literally life or death.
With a bit less at stake, writers must also be able to prioritize and do more than one thing at a time. If this was thirty years ago, a writer could just write and leave the marketing up to their publisher’s marketing department. But today is 2017, and that doesn’t happen anymore. Writers must do many things. Because there’s only 24 hours in a day, much of these activities should be done at the same time.
I query agents and publishers but while I wait, I write. Sometimes, I never hear from them. I’d be squandering my time if I sat and waited for an agent to answer. I am active on social media, but I truly believe it’s not about selling books. Social media is more about relationships. I’ll host you for your blog tour at your next book release; would you like me to pitch you as a speaker at my writing club? Relationships take effort, give and take: someone likes a post you published yesterday and asks you to write something for them. You do it, unless you are unequivocally unable to do so. Relationships are work.
Then there’s marketing: whether you have an agent/publisher or are an indie writer, you must do your own marketing. My previous publisher required a short-term and long-term marketing plan for each title I sold to her. I’ve continued that on my indie journey. Even best-selling authors must market— along with talent, it’s why they’re best-selling. Marketing involves public speaking, attending book-selling events, as well as online avenues.
All the above take time. You’ll note that there isn’t a syllable about writing—you know, sitting down and putting words to paper (or your computer). Here’s where the multi-tasking comes in: while I’m waiting for an editor to return my manuscript, I’m working on the next one. While I’ve sent requests for guest posters to be on my blog, I’m writing. When my head is full of the next story, I’m jotting down notes for the outline. I write blog posts and schedule other authors’ work.
Multi-tasking is a broad topic because it involves prioritization—when an agent says, “Yes, send me fifty pages of your manuscript in double-spaced New Times Roman 12 point, etc.” you drop everything and make that your emergency. Get the work back before he loses interest! And of course, you have to prepare that submission. Who has the first fifty hanging around on your hard drive?
Multi-tasking is also time management: “What can I do while I’m waiting for—” “What’s the most important thing to do, how long will it take me?” Every writer has their own methods. Mine is pretty simple. I get up at five o’clock in the morning. Early seems to be my most productive time. Who knew? I can knock out 500 words or so. I have chores I begin at, eight-ish o’clock until noon. Lunch, then afternoons are filled with the marketing, social media, update and schedule blog, and work-on-that-speech hours.
But it’s ingrained in me: do something while you have something else percolating.
With all this said, this month’s topic was so attractive to so many authors, I have stretched it into two months. September and October will host authors discussing, ranting, maybe even instructing about multi-tasking. We will hear from award-winning mystery writer Judy Alter, author of the Blue Plate Café Mysteries and the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. She has a new release this month so be sure to check in on September 8th. Mar Preston, a Public Safety Writers Association colleague who is a novelist and craft writer, appears on September 15th; Marilyn Meredith, one of the nicest ladies you’ll ever meet and author of newly released Deputy Crabtree Mystery, A Cold Death will post on the 22nd. September 29th brings Susan Littlefield, a prolific short story, poetry and novel writer.
October is booked with four very capable and fascinating writers. C Hope Clark (one of my favorite authors) on October 6th. Susanna Janssen on October 13th. Catherine Bramkamp appears on October 20th. Finally, winding up the Multi-tasking topic will be Paty Jager on October 27th.
Visit us on Writers Notes on Fridays at Just the Facts, Ma’am. You’ll meet some wonderful authors and you may even learn something!