While I find this book directed primarily to business executives (not that there's anything wrong with that), there are some ways that we can apply some of what McKeown writes about to the writing life. One of them is to connect essentialism to the concept of Situational Time Management.
No one time management process is ever going to work for us throughout our lives. Life is chaos. We can't expect to come up with what is essential to our lives or work and expect it to hold true forever. What is essential to us right out of school is going to be different from what is essential to us ten or fifteen years later or essential to us another decade on. Or maybe even next year. Or a few months from now. We have to keep evolving with the situations we find ourselves in. Accepting that and working with it is what I refer to as situational time management.
For writers, there's another whole level of situation that's going to keep changing, though in a pretty predictable way.
Finding What Is Essential At Different Points In A Writing Life
One of the important points McKeown makes early in his book is that essentialists accept that we can't do everything. Thus, it's important that we prioritize what is essential to us so we can let other things go. Writers can do that in very situational ways.
- The Acquiring Craft Skills Situation--Actually learning to write is a first step that many writers undervalue. If you read on Medium, check out the many--many, many--articles on writing for Medium that focus on creating lots of content to become successful. There's not a lot on holding back and studying, practicing, or working with critique groups. There aren't a lot of professions where you can hang out a shingle or throw work out before the public with no training or experience. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that early in their careers, it's essential for writers to learn to write, whether we do it in traditional college courses, or in workshops or by reading or some other way. While in this situation, we really don't need to be spending valuable, limited time on reading about and attending workshops on how to submit to agents or promoting and marketing books, because we don't have anything to submit or promote and market. The one essential is to learn how to do what we want to do.
- The Writing Situation--Again, until the project we're interested in is done, writing is our priority. Years ago I attended a writers group with a writer who had barely started a fantasy novel. She clearly was struggling with basics. But she was spending time and energy on promotional ideas. Much more recently I heard about a flash fiction writer who was also a college professor. She wrote in the summer. Writing was what was essential for her during that particular situation, when she had more time to give it. She made submitting essential the rest of the year, because submitting doesn't take the same level of time and involvement. It most definitely takes time, but not the kind of time that writing does. We're talking two different situations.
- The Submission Situation--The book/short story/essay is finished. Now we're in the submission situation when the search for agents and publications that might be interested in our work takes place. This is way more time consuming than it sounds. In addition to finding people who might be interested in what we have to offer, there is the issue of how to submit--How many pages or chapters does each agent want? Who requires a synopsis? Do all the publications we think might be interested in our short form work accept submissions by email or do some of them use Submittable? Trying to prioritize both submitting and writing at the same time can drain time and energy from both.
- The Marketing and Promotion Situation--It turns out every damn piece of published writing needs to be at least promoted (seeking attention for it, usually without money being involved) if not actually marketed (more traditional advertising that involves money). This becomes essential once something has been published. But not before. Again, prioritizing marketing and promotion at the same time that we're prioritizing submission or writing can mean that we're not doing any one of those things well.
Overlap among these situations may occur, particularly for writers who are publishing regularly. Those of us who do that may still be in the Promoting Situation for Book B while we're in the Writing Situation for Book C. And writers who work primarily in short form writing may spend a lot of our reading time when we are in the Writing Situation with journals and other kinds of publications, which will give us a background knowledge in who is publishing the kind of work we do. That would give us a leg up when we get to the Submission Situation.
But overall determining the essential task for any particular situation can mean getting more done.
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