Writing In The Balance, Part 3: Systems and Routines for Writing Life Productivity with Nailah Harvey, Author of How To Write Your First Book
I found Nailah Harvey through the magic of Instagram. I have a habit of regularly searching hashtags to find other writers and bibliophiles to follow on all of the social media platforms that I’m on. Nailah’s profile caught me with her quick grammar tips and strategies for organizing as a writer. We also have the educator connection, so the fact that she balances writing books and maintaining a blog with teaching resonated with me. I think teaching is one of the hardest professions to balance with writing due to the demand that teaching makes on your time even outside of work hours, so anyone who takes on a writing career in addition to a career in education is impressive to me. I talked with Nailah about how her savvy use of apps, tools, and organizational systems keeps everything together in spite of all of her commitments as a teacher, graduate student, devoted church member, and of course, writer.
NN: Tell your story about how you became a writer.
NH: Sure. I've been writing since I was younger. I didn't know it as a kid, but it was therapeutic for me. It was a form of release. That and music, but I realized, I'm not really talented musically, so I guess I wrote more. I didn't expect to become a writer, per se, it was just always something I was fairly decent at. I think, if I'm honest, I want to say in 2012, when I lived overseas and taught overseas in South Korea, I had such a hard time just adjusting to things. I think it was more things going on behind the scenes because the job was lovely. The culture was lovely. There was nothing bad about South Korea, it was just what I was going through personally. For whatever reason, I resorted back to writing. I wrote in high school, I wrote in middle school, but I didn't take it seriously. But for this particular event, that was my go-to form of therapy. I just wrote everything.
My mom bought me a journal, actually a diary, and she would say, "Every night, I want you to write it in, so when you come back I want to read it." So, every night I'd write in it, and I just started to ... All of the thoughts, all of the structure that I remember from high school, it all came back to me. Lo and behold, I had a book, and I'm like, "Huh. This is interesting."
Never really thought about publishing it or anything until a friend was like, "Hey. A lot of people want to hear about what was going on, so you should probably think about writing a book." Then it clicked. I'm like, "Can I do this, can I not do this?" I just pushed past the fear, and I just did it. I wrote it, I published in, and from that moment I was like, "Okay, maybe this writing thing is cool."
I've been blogging for seven years, ever since 2010. But again, I didn't really take it seriously until I published my first book. That's sort of my writing journey. 2013 is when I actually published it. I wrote it in '12, I published in in 2013. Since then, I'm like, "Okay, Nailah, you may or may not be a writer." So that's a little bit about my journey.
NN: Okay. What are you balancing now with a writing career?
NH: (I’m a) full time grad student working on my second masters in sociology, and I’m trying to transition out of K through 12 right now. I'm a substitute teacher.
I’m a full-time employee, full-time student, and then I try not to neglect blogging and writing books, because they're sort of different lanes. That is challenging. I'm still active in my church, and active with friends. It is a bit challenging, but I guess I'm a firm believer of, you will make time for the things that you really, really enjoy, and I really enjoy writing. Therefore, I never seem to not have time for it.
NN: How do you avoid being overwhelmed by your to-do list? I know you probably have a to-do list for each part of your life, as a student, as a teacher, as a writer. How do you balance all of that and keep from being overwhelmed by it?
NH: Oh, my goodness. I have not mastered that. I get overwhelmed so easily, and I get overwhelmed all of the time. I don't think people are as transparent about that, or maybe I'm just dramatic, I'm not sure, but I literally get overwhelmed often. I guess I deal with it differently, or I guess I deal with it okay because most people can't tell I'm overwhelmed.
Prayer is absolutely number one. Then there’s scheduling. I have to be organized, so I have large Post It notes on my wall. I have a calendar right in front of my desk where I have dates, and I have things written down. I use Google Calendar, I use the calendar on my phone. My filter my email. I try to live an organized as possible life, because I have so much going on.
Then, after that, it's just a priority, numbers game. And I mess up. I have some things that are not really important, I do them before I do other things that are more important. Every day I try to learn, "What can I do, and how can I do them well, and how can I not burn myself out?" I got this from Mattie James (of MattieJames.com).
NN: I love her!
NH: Yes, yes. Her advice, I don't know where she got it from, but she was like, "Three things a day. Stick to three things a day." I've been really trying to hold to that. Of course, there are some days where I can do more, and there are some days where I do less. But I've tried to stick to three, and the most important things, a day. If I have to write a term paper, that's one of them. I may have to do an assignment for my pastor, that'll be the next thing, or I may want to schedule a blog post, and that would be the third thing.
I try not to do more than three things a day. If I do, I'll scratch out the list and the way that I reward myself is I'll do another thing. I'm like, "Okay." I love scratching things off the list. If it's not written down, nine times out of ten it probably won't get done.
NN: Do you have any other tips on establishing systems to stay organized and productive as a writer? I know you talked about your Post It notes. Could you go over the apps that you say you that you use again?
NH: Google Calendar, absolutely. Google Calendar and then Gmail. I don't know if people are familiar with this, I learned it maybe a year or so ago, but the email filters in Gmail, oh my gosh. I'm subscribed to a few blogs plus my school email comes through, so all of my emails are transferred to my one email account and they're filtered.
My professional email comes through one folder. Things for my personal email come through one folder. Things for church come through another folder or filter, so filtered emails, oh my gosh, for me it's a game-changer. I look at these filters before I even look at the email. Say it comes through church, typically I'll probably look at that first. School I'll probably look at second, business I look at that all the time.
So, email filters, definitely a game-changer. Google Calendar. Buffer is BAE. I love Buffer. I tried CoSchedule, I prefer Buffer, to schedule out Tweets and Facebook posts. I haven't utilized anything for Instagram yet. That's the only thing that I really do in real time. What else? Square Space, I utilize their scheduling too. My Facebook page, I utilize its scheduling tool.
What else do I use? Large size Post Its. There’s nothing like writing out a to-do list, and you don't know where you put it. If you put it on a large size Post It, stick it on your wall, you can't help but see what you have to do. These things are another life saver for me. I have a whiteboard calendar that I can erase every month and just write in the dates of the month, and then the side has a side for notes, and under it ... here's the most important part for me ... It has the push pin board. That’s where I put all the mail that I have to follow up on, and all of the post cards I get.
I have to see stuff, I guess is what I'm trying to say. As a writer, we have so many thoughts in our head, we have so many ideas in our head that the more you see, I feel, the more you can actually get on paper so someone else can understand. No one's going to get what's in your head, but if you see it, you can conceptualize it, and make it to where if someone were to help you, if you had help, or a team, you can put that in better words, I think. It's just good to see stuff because you'll get it done quicker, in my opinion.
NN: I'm a visual person, too. If I write something down and tuck it away, or if something is in a drawer, I forget all about it.
NH: Forget all about it. Yes.
NN: It's like it doesn't exist anymore.
NH: Right. I really believe that is true. I'm not a neat freak, per se, but I do like organization, so I put things away just so I can have a clean workspace. Then, I feel like I don't have anything to do, because I don't see anything. So, yes. I like to see things.
NN: Do you have any upcoming projects or books that you're doing? I think I saw you're doing one about how to write a book? A process for writing a book? Can you talk more about that?
NH: Yes. On May 5th, I released my latest book, Helping Aspiring Authors Overcome the Book Writing Hurdle. I wrote that book because I think in February of this year I randomly made a Facebook post of, like, "What's holding you back from writing your first book?" Something like that. That post had so many comments, and so much engagement. I'm like, "What should I do? Should I write a book about this?"
I had so much self-doubt about this, because I'm like, "How am I the authority? I'm not a best-selling author or anything like that. Who's going to listen to me?", but I just wrote down my steps. It's a five-step process of how I've written all seven of my books, including that book. I just put it out there. I re-released it because I made it into a workbook. I'm like, "Maybe just reading words will not help someone actually write their first book." People need to write down what their thoughts are.
Again, out of sight, out of mind. If it's in your mind, it's probably not going to come out. You have to see it, so I made it into a workbook, and it is now in paperback form as well as digital. I'm really excited about that because of the first few reviews that I've gotten. I feel like it's a good start for aspiring authors and just for those who need to learn how to get words out of their head and put them on paper.
NN: What's your ultimate goal? Do you want to be a full-time writer one day? What's your ultimate career goal?
NH: I go back and forth. There is a part of me that would love to be, a college professor. I’d love to transition from K through 12 to go to higher education. Then there's a part of me that would like to be a best-selling author. I'm at the point now where I'm like, "Why can't I do both?"
That is the current goal. I love teaching. I love writing. I love them probably equally. Why I want to write is because I want to use my own work in the classroom. I just want to merge to two worlds.
NEXT WEEK: Writing In The Balance, Part 4: Tips on Balancing Your Day Job, Your Writing Career, and Your Personal Life with Ashley Coleman, creator of WriteLaughDream.com and author of Love On Purpose