How To Set Writing Priorities

Many of us struggle with how much effort we should really put into blogging and other social networking. I believe the answer partly depends on where we're at in the writing journey.

In order to help us, I've broken down the writing journey into four basic levels. Of course these lists are not all inclusive. But they give an overview of the priorities we should have at each stage, specifically with how much effort we should give our blogs, facebook, and twitter.

Priorities for Beginning Writers: Someone who is still at the early stages of learning writing skills; possibly having completed a novel or two, but still needing to learn more about what is acceptable writing craft in today's modern writing industry.
  • Spend most of your time learning.
  • Read how-to books.
  • Soak in writing techniques from well-written books by modern authors.
  • Put it all into practice by writing a couple books.
  • Use blogging and social networking to meet other writers and grow in the craft.
  • Take the pressure off yourself to use social media for anything more than just learning.
Priorities for Query Level Writers: These writers are the ones who've had objective, qualified feedback (not from family), that lets them know their writing skill is reaching publishable quality. They've completed at least a couple of novels and are ready to query agents or editors.
  • Continue to read and learn from craft books.
  • Start reading agent and editor blogs. Study the guidelines.
  • If you haven't started a blog, now is a good time.
  • And if you've already been blogging, practice it more consistently and with more focus.
  • But don't worry about attracting a flock of followers
  • Work on writing the next novel instead.

Priorities for Agented Writers: Once a writer lands an agent, publication begins to loom closer.

  • Continue to read and learn from craft books.
  • Study how to write a book proposal.
  • Start to think about building a platform.
  • Blog with more intentionality.
  • Sign up for twitter and facebook if you haven't already.
  • Begin to set aside some time in your writing schedule for social networking.
  • View the networking as part of work time.
  • But devote the best and most concentrated time to writing your book.

Priorities for Contracted Writers: After getting a book contract, obviously priorities will shift even more. Here are a few of mine.

  • Read the newest craft books on the market and learn more.
  • Put what I'm learning into practice in my next book.
  • Develop my brand.
  • Establish a website.
  • Plan time every day to network, answer emails, twitter, facebook, and blog.
  • Protect and maximize my writing time. Remember my book is still the most important aspect of my writing career.
  • Realize my writing career is shifting from part time to full time.

The dilemma for most of us is this: The demands on the twenty-first century writer are increasing, especially the closer we get to publication, BUT the time we can devote to our writing is not increasing at the same rate.

We're expected to do more, and we have to squeeze that work into limited time. That's probably the reality of many jobs in today's economic climate, but it's especially true for writers since most of us write "on the side" in our "spare" time.

I'm beginning to wonder if it's possible for a writer to have a successful career, if all we ever give ourselves is leftover burned-out time. At some point, if we're really serious about pursuing writing as a career, will we need to carve out more quality time?

It stands to reason, if we hope to give additional time to our writing, then we'll have to cut it out from something else. But how can we do that? More in the next post. . .

Today I'd love to hear how you're doing with your writing priorities. Where are you at in the journey? Are you on track? Or do you need to do more or less? Do you think it's possible for writers to have successful writing careers, if all we ever give ourselves is our leftover time?


  1. Girl, you're such an organized person! I love how you broke this down. I'm definitely the querier stage and it's pretty much what I'm doing. When I first started blogging I didn't know that I was attracting followers, but now I know it's from visiting a ton of blogs. My visits to new blogs have really slowed and I won't be picking that up until my place in the writing world changes.
    Excellent post!

    About leftover time... I don't know. I once read an authors website that made me sad. She was stepping back from writing because she'd been doing it and working a full-time job for years and she was just really tired. She was multipubbed and everything.
    I think we do what we can. I hope I won't use leftover time when I'm pubbed. I'm hoping hubby will watch kids when he's home so I can write for some mula. *wink*

  2. Great post Jody!

    I'm definitely in the beginning stages. Why. Am. I. So. Slow. No, really this is a tedious process. Learning and writing take a vast amount of time. And if I'm honest with myself I don't spend enough of it writing as I do social networking.

    Reading comes naturally for me, so I can devour craft books like chocolate.

    This year I devoted to revising my first manuscript, and I look forward to what lies ahead.

  3. I absolutely love this post... esp the point of writing a novel or two before you start to query! It takes alot of pressure off...

    I've written 98000 words- that probably noone else will see.. I'm playing again with another "novel" It's nice to feel I am on the right track by playing while learning- rather than feeling pressure to produce.

    It seems that when one is working full time, has a family etc etc and is just beginning to write- you must keep a playful attitude- otherwise it becomes another burden

    Blogging at least gets me in my chair with fingers on keyboard, and keeps me coming back


  4. I am new and looking to learn as much as I can. Thank you for the suggestions!

  5. I'm on track to start querying after the first of the year, probably in February. I need one last word elimination editing phase, and then it's off to the salt mines to toil away.

    I'm pretty good about setting limits - no blogging after a certain time of day, and none at all on the weekends. I also limit Facebook in the evenings and weekends so I have time to devote to writing. There's only so much I can do in a day, and knowing when to say 'no' is a big help.

    Great post.


  6. I almost wrote the exact two sentences Jessica started with. :D

    My journey is a little bumpy, in that I studied writing for four years in college. Then I wrote in marketing jobs and things that drained the life out of my creativity. I read tons of books on craft...still do.

    Then I breastfed.

    And once all the milk was gone I began writing my novels. I've written three and am hoping to pitch #3 late summer/fall. While pitching, I'll be working on 4.

    Meanwhile, I'm loving communicating and connecting through blogging. I think I took your lists and melded them into my journey.
    ~ Wendy

  7. Jody: You are a Cheeleader, mentor and mama all rolled into one lovely lady. Thanks for the help.

    Although I am agented, I work as hard on social networking as writing, dividing my time around 50/50. I learn as much from reading stellar writing and others' blogs as I do from craft books.

  8. Jeanette,

    I think for non-fiction writers, the percentage of time spent on social networking probably does need to be higher in every category, because platform is SO much more important for non-fiction. Thanks for pointing that out. I wrote my lists with the mind-set of fiction writers.

  9. I love your break down of stages. I think I'm inbetween Beginner and Query level. I really need to gain balance with blogger and writing, though. I don't much twitter or facebook, so I've got that under control at least.

  10. Just a beginner...a baby in the wide world of EVERYTHING!

  11. I think I'm with Eileen between the beginning and query stages. Learning and relearning. It's so much easier now than when I first entered this world with a typewriter and carbon paper and whiteout.

    Being able to actually connect with and befriend other writers 24/7 versus a conference is amazing! Social networking rocks.

    I started my blog with the intention of forcing myself to write and have been thrilled at some of the feedback. Validation, I guess, that I'm on the right track.

    This next year I need to make a focused plan for reading blogs and books, networking, Bible study and teaching, and actual writing. Oh yes--and actually submitting some articles. I need $$ if I'm also going to spend time on the great American novel, justify a conference, etc. Besides, hubby wants to deduct my office in the home. :)

    Love ya, Jody!

  12. hellomy friends... smiles for all his.. :)
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  13. Jody, I think someone with a three-book contract is definitely a full-time writer, not a left-over time writer. The dilemma is how to make that shift with children, hubby, and household responsibilities. Truly, I don't know how you manage everything. You're an inspiration.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I think I'm on the right track. Baby writer, all the way! You have been a humongous help, Jody. Wonderful post! I'll keep it very handy.

  15. Jody, I am in the querying agents stage. I have had my novel critiqued and I have revised and edited. So I feel I am ready. I feel it's ready. My query is shaping up FINALLY and now at the end of this month it begins.

    The time thing comes up constantly with us writers, doesn't it? I am trying to carve out time to work on my new novel and my query. Plus, I am researching agents. I DO have my dream agent, but I know I need more than just one. And time. It always goes back to that. And we CAN'T have successful writing careers with leftover time. I don't think that is possible. It'll be interesting to read the other comments on this, won't it? Thanks for such a super post. I'm glad I'm not the only one wondering about time. :-)

  16. Hey, Jody! I'm in the "Query Level" stage. Looks like I'm right on track! Woohhooo! Can't wait to move on to the next stage. :0)

    I'm interested in what you have to say on Friday because the time thing can be an issue even at this level.

    Have a great day!

  17. Jody, This is such a valuable post. I sent it to a new found friend who is writing and having babies and raising kids and dreaming. I said never stop writing, no matter how many babies you're having (twins). Your dream will always be there.

    It's time for me to claim the name of writer and go to work every day. Thank you!

  18. This is really helpful! I'm still in the very early stages and I appreciate the advice!

  19. Great post and you always have the best advice. I love reading your blog. I'm definitely in the querying stage. It's a good reminder to keep learning.

  20. I think it is individual. For some people, quality time is an hour in the evening. For others it might be four hours in the middle of the day. And for another it might be every other Saturday.

    For me, it is several hours every afternoon. Mornings are devoted to schooling kids, company bookkeeping, and blog reading/emails. I'm not sure that, if I didn't have these other responsibilities, that I would devote more time to writing. 3-4 hrs of intense concentration a day are about all my brain can take. :)

  21. I'm at the beginner stage and I do read a lot of fiction. What I don't read a lot of is "how to" books. I also don't have a good writing schedule and I need to work on that.

    Thanks for a great post!

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. I'm at the beginning stages. I read a lot of fiction, about a book a week. I’m spending a lot of time reading blogs lately. I find it a great source of inspiration to get back to work.

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  25. As I contemplate my chances of going from "agented" to "contracted" this week, I'm considering these time management issues very carefully! Thanks again for all your insight on the life of a newly-contracted author.

  26. I like how you broke down these different stages on the writing journey. I definitely agree beginning writers should focus most on their writing and improving their skills.

    I feel like I went about this whole writing thing a little backward. I am just now getting my head on straight and realizing where I want to go and the best way to get there. But I've learned a lot in the meantime and blogging has been a valuable way for me to learn more. Without it, I wouldn't be where I am now--hopefully getting ready to query by the beginning of next year.

  27. I find when I only write during leftover time, my writing is not as good. I've carved out time every day of the week to write. In fact, it's the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to bed. If I have time throughout the rest of the day, great. As far as social networking goes, I'm sticking to just blogging for now, but come the new year, I'll be adding twitter and facebook. I will limit my time on those though.

  28. I agree with Cindy and Jessica, the breakdown of the different stages is helpful. What is leftover time? :)

  29. Thanks Jody. Where am I? I'm an agented writer with a book on submission.

    Before I signed with my agent I didn't have an online presence. I wrote and wrote, and studied, and did agent research.

    Now, I'm finding my blog to be more fun than I'd imagined. I'm meeting great people, like you!
    I am continually trying to balance the writing time w/all the new stuff, i.e. blog, facebook, twitter. It's a challenge. The writing is the key and I need to keep putting my energy into it. I love it, too, and get a little anxious when I see my time going other places. I like your idea of spending a specified amount of time, or a certain time of day doing social networking. Thanks.

  30. If only there was leftover time!

    I think there's stage between Beginning Writer and Querying Writer. I can't think of a catchy name right at the moment so we can call that group the In Between Writers or Not Quite There Writers or Progressing Writers. :)

    These are writers who have studied some craft, finished some manuscripts, may have joined a critique group and are getting feedback. They continue to study craft, by way of writing courses and attending conferences. They may be entering contests for additional feedback. They may or may not have a blog, but their name is beginning to be known around writing circles and they are familiar with the names of publishers, agents, editors and writers in their chosen genre. Although not quite ready to query, they are actively moving toward the Querying stage.

    A host of writers fall into this group, and may spend years here, so I think this group is the most at danger to fall into the traps of social networking.

  31. I'm definitey in step two and paving the way for step 3.


  32. I didn't start to blog until I left my teaching position to write full-time. I was agentless but serious about getting serious.

    That was in September. In October, I got the agent (which still is so humbling and amazing).

    I'll admit, I'm struggling to find my place in this. I don't Twitter. I love following blogs, but know I also need to make sure my writing time isn't affected (it can easily be when I have no other outward demands placed on me).

    Always love what you say here, as you're in the mothering/writing trenches and living it all a few steps ahead of me. Thanks for always being so transparent and helpful.

  33. Jody,
    Excellent advice as always. I appreciate your follow up answer on non-fiction writing.

    Sending you Christmas prayers and blessings...and a bit of East Coast chill, too.

  34. I plan to focus more on my writing in the new year. I'm going to start scheduling it. I have to or it just won't get done.

    I don't plan to reduce the time I currently spend blogging, but there are other time wasters I can minimize in order to make completing my novel more of a priority.

  35. I'm just getting ready to query - with any luck, next month. I'm amazed at how much time you spend reading books on the writing craft (high on all your lists). I bought one of the highly recommended ones months ago, and have been too busy reading in my genre and writing to actually get to it. One of these weekends I'll have to make some time, but I'm more likely to use writing craft books as "references" - ie, look up something when I need it, than to read them straight through.

    I don't write in "leftover" time. I have set writing hours - even though I'm at my day job during the day. My writing hours are late at night, but I do my best work then, so really, it's my day job getting shafted in the mornings. ;-)

    As for having a successful writing career while working full-time, I think ultimately there comes a point when one or the other will have to give. The trick for me will be balancing everything out until then, and making sure there's enough financial security to be able to choose writing when that time comes. Scary stuff, since it's all so subjective.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post. :-)

  36. Girl, you will go far with that file cabinet mind. And I mean color coded tags and all!!

    As a published author, I have been blown over by how much time we have to spend with publicity issues. Scheduling library and bookstore signings, chatting with readers, both on and off line, sending out complimentary books and bookmarks and pub packages.

    Whew. Add that to the mandatory writing Jody mentioned and the blog time.

    A girl's gotta eat, cook, clean, socialize...

    Ain't enough hours in the day!!!!

    Great post, Jody. Keep up the great work!


  37. I'm at the second stage. This was a good blog, thanks.

  38. It is VERY hard for me to juggle writing books and blog posts AND keeping up with Twitter and Facebook AND visit other blogs, especially now. But you're right, it's all a matter of prioritizing things. I'm not sure if being a writer means being agented or published. I think it means giving yourself more than just leftover time to write.

    Great post, Jody!

  39. I'm revamping my goals for the new year. I've always said if the Lord used my YA or my woman's fiction to get an agent I'd pursue that genre first. It's looks like the murky waters are clearing up a bit and I'm feeling a definite direction. We shall see.

  40. Hi Jody -

    I enjoyed your analysis. Given I have two manuscripts and queried editors and agents, I'd say I'm on level 2.

    Susan :)

  41. You've itemized the levels very well, Jody. The problem some of us likely had is that "we didn't know what we didn't know" when we first started. Enthusiasm may have let us jump in with both feet before we realized just how deep the water is.

    I'm at the querying stage with my fiction but haven't put much effort into it yet. Soon. Maybe after I finish the next one, or the next.... :)

    I don't see how quality work can be accomplished in "leftover" moments but I guess there are authors who have been dedicated enough to do it. That may be the secret: being passionate enough to write regardless of the obstacles. If you want something badly enough you'll make time for it at the expense of other things. Balancing priorities wisely can be tricky but we all have to do it.

  42. This is a great post! I'm new to blogging (and reading/participating in blogs), so right now that is almost the sum total of my writing time. This is my last week of my "real" job though, which I left to dedicate my "work" time to my writing. For me, I found that it was impossible to get anywhere with my writing by using "leftover" time. It was a scary decision, but an exciting one!

  43. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. Every time I come to read one of your posts I already know that I will leave you blog with a new light in my eyes.


  44. This is just such a great post, Jody! So organized and clarifying. I'm in between beginner and query stage, also. I'm working on a strategy for my writing that I hope to implement in the new year. The primary goal is to stay on task with the smaller ones. I'm coming along.

  45. Boy, I could have used that post! It's a juggling act isn't it? Especially with kids and a husband and a do, an no way are we getting a hamster because they'll only need a ride to have their teeth cleaned, too. As for my plan, it's amorphous until it's not, but then it is again. I only try to do what I can when I can for as long as I can. Then stop. Breathe. Start over.

  46. I'm in the pulling-my-hair-out phase. :)

    I've got some ideas on handling my time better and plan on trying them out at the start of the new year.


  47. I am in the "query" section.

    *sigh* I REALLY want to get to the 3rd stage soon... but God knows that too:-)

    Am I on track? I think so. I'm trying to be. That isn't a good answer... I know. LOL.

    Oh, wow, the leftover time thing. That's a hard one. I guess my answer is, yes, sometimes I think all you have to give is the leftovers... but even those, I've squeezed other things to make sure there IS leftovers:-)

    I think the key you said is, "Career." At the moment, my career is my day job, and writing is MUCH more than a hobby, but isn't yet my career. But right now I'm trying to build it to where someday it CAN be my career.

  48. We have to write, and write, and write. Which sucks up time, if a writer don't spend time I don't see how they could ever make the grade.

    I love to read about how many author's penned great works while holding down full time jobs and/or mothering children. Sleepless nights factor in. Writing on the sly, in the bathroom, in the car. Passion is a HUGE component.

    Jody, you're so analytical, I'm sure that mindset has served you well in your work. Your blog is so professional, thoughtful and informative, and always a delight to visit.

  49. I cannot write with leftover time. That's why I have carved out an hour of uninterrupted writing time each morning before I go to work.

    You already know, but I'm a full time working mama, wife, and writer. I HAVE to prioritize my time. Often, I feel stretched incredibly thin. Find myself wishing I had more time for everything.

    So when do I check blogs and network? I have to sneak it in and extend grace to myself (like you said in a prior post) and realize I can't do it all. And I'll never reach perfect. *sigh*

    Great stuff, Jody. See, I said you were wise. More proof to the pudding.

  50. You're awesome at writing great posts! Everything you write is done so well and so helpful! I feel like a student and you the teacher!

  51. Jody,

    I read the post this morning, but it's taken all day to find time to comment. And that's a lot like my writing. I'll see something interesting at one time in the day and it will take all day before I can get to it.

    I like your stages. I'm currently in the query stage and getting good feedback. (One agent even called me a "fantastic writer," though still not a fit for her, and referred me to another agent.) Hopefully, I'll move on soon.

  52. I love the organized way you've put the stages of the writing journey - and how freeing it is to realize some tasks come further down the road. It's like a map for the future.

    In my fiction journey, I'm between stages one and two. But I also do non-fiction at stage two (and am building the platform to go with it).

    Looking longterm, I'd love to make a career of this so I can justify using priority time instead of "leftover" time. Sigh. But for now, my part-time job eats up the mornings while chronic health concerns require daily naps in order to function. My writing gets squeezed in around other stuff. For now.

  53. I look forward to your ideas for time saving in your next post. I could sure use some. :)

  54. Great post, Jody. I love that continuing to learn is priority #1 regardless of the stage. I'm presently at the unmentioned hiatus level, but intend to re-enter the query stage after the holidays. I'm convinced there is no leftover time only made time.

  55. I like these last two posts. I like them a lot. I agree with your assessments. I especially like the part about grace, toward ourselves and others.

    I'm learning a new lesson in all of this: that it may be about energy and focus more than it is about time. Being still with God for a few minutes lifts me about the demands of time and brings a new perspective. Sometimes STILLNESS is the portal through which NEW LIFE flows into me and from that I am able to do so much more and do it differently. As a result, I write differently. The words flow, not just from me, but from the God who loves me and in with me. (His name "Emmanuel" says it well)

    Every moment can be a moment full of him and full of the life he brings. But I must stop, I must pause, I must take it in. This, then, is the key for me. Not WHAT am I doing with my time, but WITH WHOM am I doing it?

    Blessings to you in your journey as a writer. I'm with you all the way. I like our discussion here so much, I may continue it on my blog soon!

  56. When you get a moment, stop by today. I have a little something for you...

  57. I started blogging when I got an agent, so before that I focused mostly on writing and query research. I still haven't reached a point where I'm completely comfortable with my blogging time vs. writing time. I am working on it though.

    I gave you a little award today :)

  58. This is such a useful post, thanks. I fall into the first point you make. You have made me realise I am trying to do it all, and I don't need to. Thanks.

  59. I ask myself this question all the time. So many times I've come close to throwing in the towell. Not because I don't want to write, but because I'm spread way too thin and can't possibly devote enough time to writing. Then, I sit down and look at my current WIP and realize just how much in love with my story I am. I love, love, love it and will see it through to polished quality. I will continue to devote the time that I can to writing, and when the time comes to make a choice to spend more time writing I'll make other decisions then. Am I on track? I'm doing my best to follow God's will for me at this time.

    This is an excellent post, Jody. I love how you include studying the craft in each stage. We can never stop learning no matter where we are.

  60. Great comments on this hot topic.

    I love it when God answers my prayers with someone else's words. I have been struggling to know where blogging fits in with my writing and your list made it clear and simple. I know my direction now. Thank you.

  61. I'm a beginning writer, working towards finishing my first manuscript.

    I have 3 short term goals for the coming year:
    1) Get an essay published
    2) Get a poem published
    3) Finish my manuscript

    I also am quite devoted to my blog. Many days I realize what I write is a short essay or piece for my blog, it is not my manuscript. That pains me. I'm trying to shift to blogging less and writing more, as my ultimate goal is not to become a rockstar blogger as much as it is to become a published author.

    About the time issue: Leftover time is not good time. But sometimes, for some seasons of life, it's all we have so we have to work with it.

    As a mother of 4 young children, I write mostly late at night. I sneak in some writing during the day but it is often interrupted and this destroys any creative spark whatsoever.

    Still, I write and will keep on writing, studying, learning the craft.

  62. I don't spend enough of it writing as I do social networking.

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  63. I love this summary. You really have a gift for distilling everything down to the essentials. Thanks for reassuring me I'm on the right track.

    - Liz

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