How do you live “a writer’s life”? By writing! (And editing, and publishing, and marketing. But we’ll get to that.)
But sometimes (okay a lot of the time) it’s hard to fit writing into our busy, busy lives. Kids, school, work, house maintenance, relationships . . . We’re pulled in a million directions every day.
The key to fitting in anything important is to find the time and protect that time.
It’s All About Organization
Our interviewee this month is a mother of two special needs children, is working toward a degree, and still finds time to write, publish, and market her work. She just released her first novel as an audiobook for all you other busy parents out there who never seem to have a free hand.
She agreed to give me some of her best organization tips for finding writing time, keeping everything straight, and living a writer’s life as you navigate the publishing industry. Spoiler alert: She is extremely organized!
Meet T.L. Mahrt
T.L. Mahrt is a former business owner, where she utilized her education in cosmetology, barbering and massage therapy for several years. She was raised on and is currently living on a farm in Nebraska, where you can find her running barefoot in the countryside with her loving husband and inspiring children and massive dogs.
After having her son, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, she made the life-altering decision to stay home to care for her two children and pursue her love for writing. She has a love for romance and poetry where, her overactive imagination, along with her adventures and upbeat lifestyle drives her inspiration for her writing.
T.L. Mahrt has a thirst for knowledge and is currently working on her Bachelor of Applied Science in Communication Studies degree.
She’s ALL OVER social media, but you can connect with her profiles via her website.
Get to Know T.L.’s Work
Hi, T.L.! Let’s jump right in because your book sounds awesome. You released your first novel at the end of January and just turned it into an audiobook. Can you tell me a little about Withstanding the Enemy?
Yes, Withstanding the Enemy is a suspense romance novel. It is the first book of three in the series.
Here’s a little synopsis: The main character, Emma Andrews, didn’t have an easy life with losing both of her parents at the young age of fourteen, and she finds herself in the broken foster care system. Emma decides to run away to a multi-millionaire that is known to help youngsters like herself.
Years later, Emma learns what real monsters look like. She uses her overactive imagination to survive her colorless prison. With the ability to blur fantasy with reality, Emma keeps her demons at bay.
But there comes a time when her demons bite back, causing Emma to make choices that she’s unwilling to make. Emma struggles to maintain the fine line between her fantasy of romance and the reality of her captor, or should I say monster.
Working Writing Into Life
I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, so before we get into how you fit writing into your life, can you go into what’s going on with you personally to give a bit of context?
Of course! I have been a stay-at-home mom for four years now, to two beautiful children (ages nine and four). Before, I was a business owner of a salon and spa.
When my son was born, he was diagnosed with DYRK1A Syndrome and about five months later, my daughter fell off a high-diving board onto the concrete and now is a warrior of a TBI (traumatic brain injury). So, my schedule throughout the week consists of therapy appointments, doctors, and working with my kids’ schools to make sure they are receiving the help they need.
That’s a lot pulling you in different directions. I think most people would agree you’re a superhero. So let’s get started in how it’s all done: time management. How do you manage your time? Any special tools and tips?
I manage my time with the use of a calendar, highlighters, pens and pencils—call me old fashioned. I must also say that with special needs children, I can’t spend a bunch of money on a fancy calendar. So, I use an appointment calendar, like the one I used in the salon.
An appointment calendar is a calendar that goes by days from 8 am to 10 pm. The day is broken up into fifteen-minute increments. I use my highlighters to mark out the time frame that I allow to focus on what needs to be working on.
For example, the purple highlighter is my writing time. I will block out my time to focus on my writing.
T.L. was awesome enough to share a picture of her calendar. Talk about organization!
On The Importance of Routines and Goals
Are you an advocate of a strict writing routine? What’s yours look like?
Yes, I am, or I would never get it done. I plan out my writing routine up to two weeks in advance. I am a strong believer in setting goals.
I have a larger post-it note with #goals and #myweekataglance written on it. And I do just that: I write # then fill it in with the goal or what is going on that week.
With that said, I have my next two books already mapped out onto my 2020 calendar with a weekly writing goal set. This gives me motivation to stick to my weekly and daily writing routine to accomplish my goals.
What’s your top productivity tip?
I use my Apple Watch to set a timer to help stay on task.
For example (I learned this in the 100 Day program), I set my watch for fifteen minutes and I do all my social media. Once my timer goes off, I set my phone in the other room and focus.
This stops me from falling into the black hole of scrolling Facebook.
What’s the weirdest productivity thing that works for you?
I would have to say, making sure that I have my drink of water next to me . . . sounds weird but I can’t start writing if I don’t have my cup full.
How to Stay in the Mood
Sometimes it’s hard to get into the writing mood or to stay enthused about your book. I hear a lot of people who only want to write when they feel inspired, or have a hard time slogging through the middle of their stories. How do you keep going? Any tips for pushing through?
I think it happens to every writer at some point. If I have a day that I try to get into my writing and I can’t for whatever reason, I will take a day off to read a book. I mean, that’s the goal we set ourselves as a writer, to have someone pick up our books and read it—for the love of books. I will read something that inspires me.
But at the end of it all, my best advice is to just write . . . and don’t look back. Seriously, don’t look at it; just keep writing. You may feel that what you are writing is crappy and it may very well be (mine was), but that’s the point of a first draft: they suck but it’s written out.
The Writer’s Life Is More Than Just Writing
A lot of people just joining the writing game think writers sit at their computer for a couple hours, type a few words, and then the story magically sells itself. As you and I know, that’s totally not true! There’s a lot that goes into getting a story ready for publication, and even more that comes after publication. Can you give a brief overview of everything, from start to finish, that brought Withstanding the Enemy to where it is now?
Wow, yes, there is so much more to it. I feel that I am learning even more every day.
After I had Withstanding the Enemy‘s first draft, I hired a professional editor when I felt that I was ready for the next step. I went this route because I knew that I had A LOT to learn about story structure.
It worked for me. I had someone who was very honest and willing to help. She looked over my manuscript and gave me homework. I did three rounds of editing with her—developmental, line and copy editing.
Then I had several people for proofreading and finally formatting. I did hire a cover artist as well.
Now, we have to talk about marketing. I started to build a social network of people who wanted to read my book. This is something that you want to start way before your book is about to be released. I am talking at least three to six months minimum.
You want to create buzz around what you are doing. You also want to create a network of fellow writers or people in the industry. That is one of the best things about The Write Practice: it has a great community to lean on.
I think having a vision of what I want to achieve with publication and setting goals has brought Withstanding the Enemy to where it is now, and I still have a long way to reach my goals. I aim high.
Time Management Is Key
How do you manage getting all that done? Do you block out time for each part of the publishing process? Do you use any tools to help you keep everything straight?
Yes, I block out time for each part. I use a highlighting tool, if you will say.
Each highlighter color is for each task. Purple = Writing, Pink = Marketing, Green = Paperwork, Orange = Creative Marketing (making posts and images) and so on.
These are the tools that I use to help structure my day.
Audiobooks Are Cool
Kind of a sidebar: We have a lot of readers who vacillate on whether to take the time to make their books into audiobooks. What made you decide to do so? How was the process and would you do it again?
I decided to create an audiobook because one, I am a big audiobook reader myself, and two, the audiobook is becoming a large readers group that fits my reading avatar.
My reader avatar is mostly women around the age of 18–55, most likely being a working mother with a busy schedule. Essentially, I was selling to myself or someone like me, a mom in my thirties and crazy busy . . . and I have, many times, plugged my headphones in and listened to an audiobook as I cleaned the house.
I would 100% do it again. It was fun. I hired a producer for my book. I used ACX. They have different options for you to pay the producer, making it more reasonable for me.
A Last Reminder for Writers
Any other writing tips you’d like to share?
You Can Live a Writer’s Life
If something is important to you, you find the time for it, right? Whether it’s spending time with your kids or seeing the latest romance movie, you do it.
Writing is the same way. If you want to do it, really want to do it, you will find the time. Plan out your daily schedule and you’ll see spaces you can squeeze writing into so you can live a writer’s life.
What’s your weirdest productivity hack? What does living “a writer’s life” mean to you? Let me know in the comments!
Today’s practice is simple, but has two parts. Part one: Set a timer for fifteen minutes and check your email, scroll through social, or text your friends. STOP when the timer goes off. Seriously, stop.
Then set the timer for fifteen minutes again. This time write.
Need a prompt? Write about a time you were bored.
After your fifteen minutes are over, share your writing in the comments. Don’t forget to read and comment on your fellow writers’ work!