The Writers Circle: Getting Started Again

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Many members of our community have not been writing consistently in recent weeks and months.  For those in this situation it can seem difficult to get started again. If you are a writer who is trying to restart your writing regimen, what is your plan to get back into a writing routine? For writers who have been writing consistently, do you have ideas you can share for how to get the writing momentum going again?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

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What did I write today?

Since I work out of my house, I like to break my day into three parts:

morning

afternoon

evening

I consign writing jobs to each portion of the day, stopping for lunch and dinner. Often, those three portions will be 1) freelance writing, 2) WIP, and 3) research.

Every once in a while, I like to look at what I accomplish on a daily basis with my writing. I don’t count words like some writing efriends. I count what I get done. My writing To Do list includes:

That’s the goal. Here’s what I actually accomplished this week:

  • edited and researched Lucy: Story of Man. That has grabbed my passion at the moment, as well as most of my daily morning and afternoon writing time. I’ve learned that when I can’t let go of a book, don’t. Everything else will wait.

early man

  • wrote 3-5 posts on each of my three blogs, WordDreams, Ask a Tech Teacher, and USNA or Bust

blogging

contact-me

  • thought about the upcoming AtoZ Challenge. Yeah, I know that’s not until April, but if I’m going to do it, I’ll need all 30 posts ready by then. So, this week, I trundled through what a good topic would be. Let’s call this ‘research’ for future writing.

quirks

  • visited efriends on social media to support them, check in, and learn something new. I use this as breaks in my writing activities. It rejuvenates me to see what the rest of the world is doing.

 

social media

  • attended a webinar in my area of interest, in an effort to keep up to date. This week: Hack the Classroom by Microsoft.

social media

  • prepared for my online class

It doesn’t seem like that much when I list it out. Where DOES all my time go? What do you do with your day?

If you’re curious what other writers do all day, here’s Kate Harrison’s wonderful video on the Life of a Writer and Amy’s Day in the Life of a Writer.

More on writers:

What’s My Writing Space Look Like?

14 Things Writers Do Before 8am

How to Talk to a Writer

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy and To Hunt a Sub, her debut fiction. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member forJournal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her nonfiction books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Writing when Busy

mundane to do listLife is busy for most (dare I say ALL) of us. And now, as November 1 and the beginning of NaNoWriMo loom in front of me,  I find myself fretting about whether I should even consider participating in it (even though I know I’m ultimately going to do so).  So, as I’ve done now every late October since 2006, I feel it’s time to think about how to squeeze just a little more time out of my day so that I can write.

There are days, weeks and months where I can’t even stand the thought of trying to find an hour or two to put pen to paper.  Between the day job and it’s attempts to steal my soul, the kids and their busy social, sports and school schedules, the yard work, the housework and the occasional need to eat and/or sleep, there’s hardly any time left to stop and drink the coffee, let alone do anything else.  Every day is a delicate balancing act—a minute-by-minute attempt to do all the things I have to do while also saving some time for the things I want to do.

As a writer, I’ve struggled to find that balance for years now.  Partly it is because of the sheer volume of things I’m required to do; partly it’s because of the large number of things I want to do.  What this has netted out to for me is a severe lack of writing time because I cannot find ways to prioritize writing over other demands.  Yet, I see other authors I admire putting pen to paper and churning out fantastic stories each week, including some terrific works in response to our Write Now prompts. I often wonder how other people have managed to balance their time and put a priority on writing when they have at least as much going on as I do.  I’ve tried forcing myself to write when I’m too tired or too stressed to do it willingly, but all this has done is make the writing unenjoyable – just another chore I am angry for having to do – and ultimately it is just as stressful as anything else I might have on my to-do list.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I resent the time I spend writing, the bitterness and anger shows through in the words that get onto the page. While I might use this negativity to my advantage when I am writing performance reviews at work, it is not usually something I want coming through in my fiction.

Thinking about this as I often do, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. There is not enough time in the day.
  2. I do not know exactly where all the hours go.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering these two seemingly-simple items and I’ve determined that there is nothing I can do to resolve the there-is-not-enough-time-in-the-day conundrum – thus far, I have found no practical, sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to increase the available pool of hours per day beyond the current arbitrary limit of 24.  So I’ve set my mind to working on the second item.

To approach this issue, I have started keeping a chart of how I spend my time.  As anyone who knows me might expect, I am using Microsoft Excel to keep track of this data because that’s the kind of geek I am. Basically, I’ve been attempting to put together a general list of what I do each day, from the mundane “go to the gym” or “drive The Boy to baseball practice” to the more broad-based “hours spent on the day job”.  My goal, of course, is to find a few hours per week to dedicate to writing without taking away even more time from tasks I hate but must do anyway (sleep, for example).

I’ve only been working on this for a few days but what I’ve found already via my pretty charts and graphs is interesting:

  1. I spend less than 5.5 hours per day sleeping
  2. I spend at least an hour per day (on average) driving the kids to and from events.
  3. I spend 9 to 12 hours per day on the day job.
  4. On average, 1 to 2 hours per day is spent on household chores such as laundry, dishes, pet care, etc.
  5. I spend 1 to 2 hours per day watching television
  6. I spend, on average, less than 1 hour per week dedicated to writing.
  7. There are, on average, 2 hours per day that I can’t reasonably account for.

Looking at the above items, it is clear why I’m not getting enough writing done – less than one hour per week is not enough time! It would be easy to say “well, just cut the television time and write instead.”  But the problem is that I am a daylight-hours kind of person. Once the sun goes down, I am essentially a useless excuse for a human being and it takes an exorbitant amount of effort to do anything that takes thought.  I only watch television at night because it takes little-to-no mental activity to do so.  The bit that bothers me, though, is the 2 hours I can’t account for – just like when you’re tracking money, anything you can’t account for is bad.

Clearly, this analysis is nothing more than a tiny, first step toward conquering this problem by starting to understand what is going on in my day.  My plan of attack is to find those two missing hours and beat them into submission.  My second step will be to re-arrange the tasks and order them such that mindless activities, such as dishes and laundry, can be put into the evening hours. Ultimately, I hope to end up with a block of time each day which falls during hours when the sun is still up. That block, I hope, can be devoted to writing.

I am very interested in how other writers find ways to balance their need for sleep, food and family with their need or desire to write. Do you schedule time to write?  Do you budget your time like I’m describing?  Do you have other tricks or tips?

Why do we write?

youshouldwriteabookThe picture above is a real picture of a real fortune I received in a fortune cookie a few days ago.  As with most fortune cookie messages, I just kind of tossed it aside with the other papers on my little table by the couch and didn’t think about it.  Except, I’ve been thinking about it for days now.

“You…should write a book.”

I’ve been told that I should write a book for years. Many times over the years, in fact.  And while I’ve written stories, novels, plays, poems, songs and any number of other things, I’ve not yet produced “a book”. For a while it looked like I was spiraling in on doing just that.  I had several stories published, I was writing regularly (completing stories almost weekly)…I was in the zone as it were.

But then it stopped.

Interestingly, as I’ve thought about my charming way with words” over the past few days, I’ve realized that nearly just as often as I’ve been told I should write a book, I’ve been asked that inevitable question asked of aspiring authors:

Why do you write?

In the past, I always had an answer for this question.  It was simple, really:

I write because I can’t NOT write.

To a large extent, this answer was one of those infallible Truths of my being.  I simply had to write or else I was not me. It was unhealthy to not write.  It was the only way I could clear my head before going to sleep at night and the only way I could get myself going in the mornings.  It was simply what I did when I was not doing anything else and it was what I chose to do whenever I had options.

But now, as I sit here and look at my woeful creative output in recent months, I realize that my answer for “why I write” is no longer so easy.  In fact, it is now very easy for me to NOT write.  The hectic life of being self-employed —  with two busy and active teenagers who still allow me to be part of their lives — means that the decision matrix of what priorities bubble to the top is more complex than it has ever been and unfortunately for my creative side, the time involved with sitting down to put pen to paper causes writing to slide down the priorities scale.  I still do write.  It’s a paragraph here or there, it’s notes on a random napkin or junk mail envelope, it’s stories I recite to myself while I’m mowing the lawn.  The passion for writing isn’t gone, it’s simply sitting there burning quietly like a pilot light in a furnace, waiting for the call to burn brightly.

But this still leaves me with thoughts of whether or not I need for a new answer to the question of “why do I write?”.  I mean, wouldn’t it just be easier to hang up the notebooks and pens and just be a dad or a worker bee or a homeowner with a ton of yard work to do, and not have the added burden of “being a writer“? Sure, maybe it would be easier.  One less thing on the never-ending, never-empty, always-expanding to-do list each day.  But as I’ve thought about it these past few days since a wise slip of paper informed me that I have a charming way with words and should write a book, I realize once again that I have a story to tell — many stories to tell, in fact– and the only way these stories will be told is if *I* write them.  So even though today I may be putting most of my writing on scraps of paper or on the backs of envelopes, even though most of those slips of paper are being stuffed into a “for the future” folder and left on the corner of a desk in the basement, I’m still writing.  And the reason is still the same as it was when I wrote my first stories at 6 years old:  I write because I really can’t NOT write.

How about you? What is your answer to this question and how is that answer being manifested differently (or the same) now as compared to whenever you started writing?  Discuss in the comments here or over on the forums.

Preparing a Novel for Publication – Preparation, Pre-orders, and Promotions, oh my!

Professional publication isn’t easy. Whether you’re traditionally published or self-publishing, you need to present yourself professionally. How your book looks, on the inside and out matters. How you promote your book also matters. Today, I’m going to walk you through how I, a self-publishing author, navigate the murky waters of publication while attempting to be as professional as I possibly can be.

I’m going to draw your attention to one important thing: If you act like a professional, treat yourself and others in a professional fashion, and treat your work like it is a professionally produced product, at the end of the day, you are a professional. It doesn’t matter if you spend $1,500 to produce a novel (like I do) or if you spend $0.00. Professionalism isn’t about budget. It’s about behavior, planning, and executing your publishing plans.

Having a budget helps, though.

I’m going to walk you through how I’ve been working on my upcoming novel, Winter Wolf, from start to finish, including tidbits and tips for a smooth release.

My Process:

  1. Outlining
  2. Drafting
  3. Editing
  4. Cover Art and back-of-cover copy
  5. Pre-Orders
  6. Promotions
  7. Formatting
  8. Publication

1: Outlining, 2: Drafting, 3: Editing

This is pretty self explanatory, so I’m not going to waste a lot of words on it and will instead jump straight to my unasked-for advice: Write your book, and make it as professional as you can. I hired two editors to help me whip Winter Wolf into shape. I’m working like some professional publishing houses do: the publication date is set when the book isn’t completed yet. Unless you are an experienced professional, do not do this. Deadlines like this are serious, and cannot be missed.

  • For most people, the pre-order and promotions phases will not begin until after the editing phase is completed. Your mileage may vary.
  • In this phase, professionalism is really important. Listen to your editors. Let them be picky. They’re improving your novel. Leave your ego at the front door, and always be polite.
  • If you aren’t using editors (not recommended!) then you should take extreme care and caution with your work. Use your word processor’s grammar checker, and confirm each and every rule. If you’re breaking a rule, you need to know the rule and why it’s acceptable to break it.
  • Use a synonym checker and master list of commonly misused words. Their and there are two different words! So are where, were, and ware.

Fun Fact: My outline for Winter Wolf was so detailed it was pretty much a first draft, which in turn makes the drafting and editing process much smoother. It took well over a week to completely detail the novel, make corrections, and do my developmental editing chores. As a result, the drafting and editing phase is well ahead of schedule.

4: Cover Art and Back-of-Cover Copy

Winter Wolf by RJ Blain This is the finished cover for my upcoming novel, Winter Wolf. Due to the importance of the cover art, I actually ordered the cover art from my artist, Chris Howard, in the very early stages of production. Once Chris started working on the cover, it took approximately a month to finish. The texting, commonly referred to as typography, was done independently with a different graphic designer.

A professional cover artist can help you create an attractive, compelling cover. But also remember that not all cover artists are graphic designers, and you want a graphic designer handling your typography.

Since the cover should tie to the novel, I did the back-of-cover blurb shortly after the cover art was completed. It took me about five hours to come up with my blurb, and I didn’t finalize it until I gauged the interest from some fans and readers.

Here’s the blurb I’m using:

The Hunted Wizard

When Nicole dabbled in the occult, she lost it all: Her voice, her family, and her name. Now on the run from the Inquisition, she must prove to herself—and the world—that not all wizards are too dangerous to let live.

The savage murder of a bookstore employee throws Nicole into the middle of Inquisition business, like it or not. Driven by her inability to save the young man’s life, she decides to hunt the killer on her own. Using forbidden magic to investigate the past, she learns that the murderer is in fact a disease that could kill the entire werewolf race.

Forced to choose between saving lives and preserving her own, Nicole embraces the magic that sent her into exile. Without werewolves, the power of the Inquisition would dwindle, and she could live without being hunted.

Nicole’s only hope for success lies in the hands of the werewolves she hates and the Inquisition she fears, but finding someone to trust is only the beginning of her problems. There are those who want to ensure that the werewolves go extinct and that the Inquisition falls.

But, if she fails to find a cure, her family—including her twin sister—will perish…

Why did I choose this blurb? I feel it has the important elements of a good blurb: It has a character who has a problem to solve. It tells a bit of what the story is about–but not too much. Finally, it hints at the consequences of the character’s failure, and what she gains should she succeed.

These are the types of blurbs that appeal to me, which is why I asked friends and fans for their opinions. I settled on this blurb because it resonates with me, and it’s also appealing to others who like the type of stories I write. That’s important–you want to write a blurb which attracts readers who enjoy the types of stories you write.

These were all marketing decisions, as the blurb is one of many weapons in my publication arsenal.

Tip: Professionals don’t insult the tastes of readers in their blurbs. The blurb is about the book, not you, your opinions, and whether or not you think books of whatever sub genre are boring. Exceptions may apply, especially in parody works.

5: Pre-order

Amazon recently opened pre-order functionality to self-publishing authors. Winter Wolf is my initial experience into the pre-ordering system. Here’s a very brief walkthrough of how it works from a writer’s perspective, and how to set it up:

1: Fill in the book data as normal.

However, this time, you have the option of marking a ‘finalized file’ or a ‘draft manuscript.’ For Winter Wolf, I am using a dummy manuscript of the approximate length of the actual book. The manuscript isn’t ready to be finalized, nor will it be ready until mid October. Most authors should not do this. I’m good at meeting my deadlines, and I’m experienced with doing so. If you are not the same way, absolutely do not start a pre-order unless you are 100% certain you can have the finalized manuscript ready on time. Amazon will ban those who fail to have their manuscripts ready from the pre-order system for one full year.

You do not want this.

Tip: Professionals meet their deadlines.

2: Select a date

Amazon and other pre-order services require the finalized manuscript two complete weeks prior to the novel’s official release date. Most services will ban you from pre-ordering if you fail to have the manuscript prepared on time. Yes, I’m repeating myself, but it’s really that important.

Buyers will be able to see your pre-order approximately 24 hours after submission, where they can click “pre-order” to buy the book. They’ll be charged for the book on the day of the novel’s release.

6: Promotions

Armed with your pre-order links, you can arrange any promotions you want without having the stress of doing a soft launch or needing to get links to your bloggers at the last minute. This is a huge relief, as someone who had to do this. My previous novel’s release was beyond hectic, as I didn’t have buy links until the last minute.

  • Research your promotion companies–there are great ones, and there are scams. Research, and don’t accept the first site you find as the final say. The hours you spend researching may save you a lot of grief and heartache later.
  • Many promotion firms require at least six to eight weeks to prepare for a tour or single-day blast promotion.
  • I’m using six different groups for promotion of Winter Wolf. I’m really proud of this novel, and I feel it is worth the investment.

Tips on Professionalism: When working with promotion groups, stay polite, if you’re asked for something, deal with it as soon as possible, and have patience. A single advertising campaign may take you hours to properly prepare.

7: Formatting

Sometime between the editing phase and the publication date, formatting the novel is necessary. You’ll need to format twice; once for the ARC, and once for the production copy. You may need to format three times, if you’re doing a print manuscript. From past experience, it takes me several hours to format a novel for publication, and I’m experienced enough to have streamlined the process.

  • The interior of your novel matters. Do it right. If you can’t, hire someone to do it right for you. If you don’t know how to do it right, learn–do not publish until you’ve mastered your formatting. Always check for errors if you’re converting files.
  • As with many things, plans included, ‘Keep it simple, stupid!’ applies–the simpler your formatting is, the less likely there will be problems over different devices.
  • My first formatting run is done a month prior to the novel’s release so I can send the book to reviewers. The second formatting run is for the finalized version, which will be done several days before my deadline for submission.

8: Publication

Two weeks prior to the official publication date, the finalized manuscript goes into all systems. At this stage, I’ll be completely done. On publication day, all I’ll have to do is sit back and watch.

That’s how my novel is being dealt with this time–a very drastic difference compared to how my other books were produced. This method won’t work for everyone. However, the basic principles of professionalism still apply, no matter how you approach completing your novel.

In short, these are the things I’d suggest to you if you want to carry yourself as a professional:

  1. Swallow your ego and correct your mistakes.
  2. Don’t argue with people helping you. Either use their advice or don’t, but listen and keep quiet unless you have a question.
  3. Always be polite–even if it means gaining a reputation of being old fashioned from saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ so much.
  4. If you can’t be kind to a reviewer of your book, don’t say a word.
  5. If you say you’ll do something, do it.
  6. Don’t miss your deadlines. (Excuses won’t get Amazon to overturn the 1 year ban from pre-ordering.)
  7. Edit your novel.
  8. Proofread your novel.
  9. Proofread your novel again. People are paying you for your book. You don’t want basic mistakes! (All books have them, just fix them when someone finds one.)
  10. Yet again, proofread your novel.

Good luck.

14 Things Writers Do Before 8am

todays authorThis is inspired by Jennifer Cohen over at Forbes who wrote a wonderful article on “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8am” (few of which I did, though I can claim #5). She includes chores like exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, map out the day–all great ideas, but not pithy enough for the average writer I know.

Here’s my list, gathered from chatting with friends (and a few efriends) about their daily ToDo list:

  1. Solve the problems of the world
  2. Wash Superman (or woman) cape
  3. Figure out the equivalent of sticking twenty people in a phone booth–i.e., get kids ready and off to school with packed lunches and completed homework, arrange household repairs, get the dog sorted, talk significant other down from an emotional cliff, figure out how to make coffee by pouring hot water through yesterday’s grounds (forgot to buy coffee), and find your child’s lost iPad which must be brought to school every day now that class has a 1:1 initiative
  4. Consult with muse on the next Great American Novel
  5. Invent clever phrases like “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” (though Winston Churchill has already come up with that one. Bollocks)
  6. Invent clever humor like,“If b******* were oil, you’d be OPEC”.
  7. Invent clever similes, like “like a violin in a marching band”.
  8. Move everything that wasn’t accomplished yesterday to today’s To Do list, which is most everything because there were a few emergencies that blew up what should have been a highly-productive yesterday
  9. Reread the books about how anyone can write a best-seller.
  10. Find the overlap between ‘common’ and ‘sense’
  11. Figure out how many writers it takes to screw in a lightbulb
  12. Find life’s undo key
  13. Answer all Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus queries with friendly, pithy responses
  14. Take a nap

What do you do before 8am?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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To Hell With Pragmatism

Pragmatism, that sleazy little fellow, tells me to get the word lists done, get the dishes done, create a shopping list – otherwise I’ll be scrapping together a dinner that only makes a nod toward healthy during a time I can actually make something from scratch.  Pragmatism says I’ll regret it if I’m not getting ready for what will be a very hectic, stressful semester. To which I say–.  Okay, that might be a little too rude.

But when is a writer supposed to write if not now?  Now.  Before the kids come home; while the coffee is brewing; while pulling over the side of the road enroute to work; while making dinner (or instead of it)…  Now.   Because otherwise, when?

Pragmatism is making snippy remarks about the late nights and stress headaches I’ll have in a few weeks because I didn’t put in a few hours right now.  But I’ll have those anyway.  It’s winter break, when I don’t have a running conversation with my other alter-ego about which students to push, which to check in on, which assignments need to be discussed and which can be ignored.  There’s no room for writing—not even the passing nod to the pragmatic kind like this post—during all that internal nattering.

Don’t you find it strange that when we’re in school we are expected to get creative about time and make sure our homework gets done, but when we are out of school we don’t keep the same expectations about our writing.?  Something – I’ll lay money on it—we all feel is much more rewarding and worthwhile than the class for which we blew off laundry for a week so we could work on a paper.

What will you do to write?

Writing on a Schedule

When it comes to writing and being a writer, I’ve heard many pieces of advice. Some of this advice, though, is conflicting.

Write every day, no matter what, even if it is only a few hundred words or just for a few minutes.

Or:

Write when you feel the inspiration to do so; you should never force yourself to write.

I’ve tried it both ways. When I was working in an office, I would get to work an hour early and that hour was my writing time. I’d sit there and just write for an hour. Some days it was thousands of words in that hour; other days, if I scrawled out 13 words, it was a miracle.  But either way, I dedicated the hour to writing.

When it comes to writing every day, the pros and cons of this are many, but boiling it down, I see (for me) a few key items:

  • Pros
    • It forms a good habit of being creative and focusing on something enjoyable as a regular, important part of the day. It becomes something you just do, like brushing your teeth or combing your hair.
    • The more you write, the better you get at it – practice makes perfect?
    • The act of writing something—anything – can help bust through writer’s block
    • It encourages experimentation in style and form
  • Cons
    • If ideas don’t come easily or quickly, it can be very frustrating to sit there for an hour accomplishing “nothing”
    • It is easy to start questioning the value and quality of what you are writing
    • It is easy to burn out and become bored with writing
    • Unlike brushing your teeth, which takes 2 or 3 minutes, writing takes a large chunk of time out of the day

When considering writing only when inspiration strikes, there are similar pros and cons:

  • Pros
    • When inspiration strikes, the story and the writing can be exciting and energizing, often leading to more inspiration
    • There is less “wasted time” sitting there writing nonsense words and phrases just so that you can say you are writing.
    • There is usually a tangible output at the end of the writing session, because there was a clear goal
  • Cons
    • It is extremely easy – almost automatic – to make excuses not to write at all (“I’ll write tomorrow…”)
    • What if inspiration doesn’t strike for a long, long time?
    • What if inspiration only strikes when you cannot write due to time, commitments, location (inspiration strikes in the shower or while driving a lot of the time, making it difficult to actually write at that point)?

Events such as NaNoWriMo rely on your drive to write every day. NaNoWriMo, of course, takes this to an extreme, requiring not only that you write every day, but that you average 1667 words every day. This, for many people, is too much of a burden or commitment and even for people who win NaNoWriMo, December 1 arrives and many just stop writing to take a break or relax a little. I’d venture that many of those who simply stop on December 1 do not start up again for quite some time.  The writing habit that was formed in November is quickly lost if you take a week or two (or three) off in December.

As I said, I’ve tried to subscribe to both schools of thought on this and I’ve had varied successes with both.  From the standpoint of building good habits, clearly it is better to plan to write every day.  Given the stage in life I find myself in now with active kids and a stressful job, though, it is not really realistic for me to plan on having an hour or two every day which I can dedicate to writing. But the alternative – to write only when inspiration strikes – is proving to be untenable as well because the power of inertia is too strong (read: a writer who is not writing tends to continue not writing unless it’s November and he’s doing NaNoWriMo).

It is clear to me that what I am doing with my writing life right now is not working.  One of my goals for 2014 is to try to find some balance for my writing schedule. I know for myself that when I think about a dedicated writing time, I usually think in terms of “hours”.  I should write every day for an hour or two, I think to myself.  But that’s when I start looking at my to-do list and my work calendar and my kids’ calendars and I feel the anxiety well up as I try to figure out how to squeeze in a two hour writing session.  What I need to acknowledge and accept is that I am at a place in life where I cannot dedicate an hour or two every day to write. But if I take some of the pressure off and look for an hour every other day or every three days… perhaps 15 to 30 minutes each day… that might work.

If inspiration strikes, maybe that 30 minute session will turn into two hours. But if inspiration doesn’t show up, then in half an hour I’ll refill my coffee cup and move on to the next task in my day.

What do you do? Do you write every day no matter what? Do you set a specific time of the day to write? Or do you write whenever and wherever inspiration strikes?

Birds of a feather

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m suddenly awakened by the deliberate plunking of a piano blues riff: Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam. 

“Cut it out, N’awlins,” I yell out in a raspy voice.  “Yuh hear”?

The rhythm continues to crescendo from across the room.  Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam.  I yell out again, “That you, Money Fatts”?

My wife is not amused at my early-morning attempt at humor.

In one swift motion I swing my body off the bed, pulling half the entwined sheet and comforter combination with me until it’s tugged back into place like a rubber band.  I take a few clumsy steps in the dark, feeling for the top of my tall mahogany-stained dresser with outstretched arms, and retrieve my phone from the charger to silence the troublesome “blues riff” alarm tone.

The air in the room is brisk and cool.  About sixty-six degrees, I suspect.  I hate January; we really should move to Florida one of these days.

It’s nearly five o’clock on a Tuesday and I have just one hour to devote to writing and related research for the day before showering, dressing, and leaving for work.  I need to make this hour count!

I throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, feed the cat a small portion of his morning breakfast to keep him quiet, and bump up the thermostat.  Click, click, click, ker-plunk, ker-plunk, whooooosh.  The burners fire and warm air begins to flow throughout the house.

I finally head into the family room where I sit down at my laptop to start writing.  The room is dark, as I’ve deliberately kept off the lights sans for the glow of the laptop LCD at the head of the table.  The daily self-interrogation begins.  Do I dive right into writing, or do I check my Twitter feed first to see what new insights were posted by my writing friends?  Maybe I’ll tweet the word count of my current WIP?  Or maybe I’ll comprise a romanticized tweet to impress others with my dedication to the craft at five o’clock in the morning? 

I log into Twitter and take a moment to skim my feed.

That woman is a machine…was she really awake two hours ago to comprise a tweet about her WIP? 

There’s this guy again…why did he re-post that same article he posted just yesterday afternoon?

I swear this woman…best-selling author of nineteen novels I’ve never heard of…must have six identical Twitter accounts!

I put my hand on the crown of my head, feeling to see if the thin spot has gotten any worse from the day earlier.  I slump back into my chair.

Coffee.  I need coffee!  I walk into the kitchen and brew myself a cup of Keurig.  The aroma of sweetened espresso shifts throughout the room when the forced-air blower kicks on for a second time.  This will surely wake her up.

Returning to my chair at the table, I see fourteen new tweets are available to me.  Three are duplicates, two are advertisements.

It’s now ten minutes to six, and I realize I’ve squandered yet another potentially-productive writing morning with no substantial benefit.

With the push of the mouse, a small arrow glides to the upper-right corner of my screen.  Account… Settings… Deactivate My Account.  Complete.

If I want to be a writer, I need to actually write, I think to myself as I snap shut the lid to my laptop.  Tomorrow’s another day.

A Stolen Hour

I’ve got to go, I tell him.

He looks at me with compassion.  He’s on the bed, leaning against the wall with his computer balanced on his lap, just as he was an hour ago.

Go where, Mommy? Our son asks from behind me.

Just an hour, I say.  Should I come back with pizza?

An hour alone, truly alone, where my thoughts belong to me in one winding, unbroken, uninterrupted strand, is a luxury these days.  Earlier, I’d hoped for 30 minutes, ½ hour of uninterrupted time, accepting it still required company.  I turned on the tv for my son; I turned my own show on my computer, with my head phones on.  We’ve done this before, my son and I, when I needed to not be cleaning or playing or grading or planning, when I needed to just be.  Thirty minutes is too short to watch most shows that I’m willing to watch in those just be moments, but it’s what I seem to need to recharge.  So we sit next to each other – my son’s requirement, fulfilling the need of constant, affectionate companionship–and watch our separate shows—my requirement, fulfilling my need for something I don’t have to share.

I got 17 minutes.  Then began the barrage:  Why is that man blue?  What’s an alien? What’s an alien? What’s an alien?  Where did the blue man go?

I cursed myself for opting for a sci-fi show.

17 minutes is 12 longer than the last chunk of time that was all my own.  But it’s still not enough to recall The Very Important Thing I’d needed to do 7 hours of interruptions ago.  (In fact, while setting up the document to write this, I discovered an email I wrote at 6am this morning but had not yet sent.  I’m fairly sure it isn’t The Very Important Thing.)  12 minutes isn’t even enough to entertain the idea of writing.  While I’ve written on breaks before, those 10 minutes of pen on paper were preceded by time in which at least part of my mind could drift along thinking about the characters.

I find it fascinating how life can shift so dramatically, and what a person took for granted in themselves is suddenly superseded by a sort of creative practicality.  This will look different in different people.  For me, it was consistency of mind.  A good memory, a creative spirit.  For me, it takes the form of a small child.  Trying to explain the morality of superheroes to a 3-year-old who is still learning that “bad behavior” and “bad person” are not synonymous leaves me mentally limp when an uninterrupted break suddenly comes.  I find myself drinking more coffee because the 5 minutes it takes to make tea is the 5 minutes I have to myself.  It will be another 15 minutes before I remember I poured tea, and then it’s cold, so what’s the point?  It took me nearly 10 minutes, after declaring I was running away from home for an hour, to realize I could write.

We are so busy.  We fill our lives with too much work, and struggle to meet not just the needs of our family but also the societal expectations of us as family; we strive to be interesting, knowledgeable, insightful as writers.  It strikes me sometimes, though, that the people we respect for their knowledge or their insight or their skill at words and productivity in writing, have something we also struggle for: time.   The stories I know about heralded writers share one aspect – they were left alone for great periods of time.  For the rest of us, we try to find the time or try to make time for our writing.  In my life, this doesn’t work.  Finding time would be great, but the time I find gets spent on practical life stuff:  prepping for my class, grading papers, making dinner.  Time to write…sometimes I just have to steal it.

May you all have a stolen hour.