The Writers Circle: When Do You Write?

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:

Each of us has a routine when it comes to writing.  We’ve talked about where we like to write, but how about when?  Do you prefer a specific time of day to write?  What is it about that time that makes it preferable to you or more productive for you?

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


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?

What Are You Reading Today?

I always found it interesting that people would say it was important for writers to be readers.  But now that I’m old(er) and wiser, I can see that over the years my writing output went down as my To Be Read pile got higher and dustier. Somewhat this is just because of that nasty, four letter word:  Time.  I don’t have any more time to read than I have to write.

I have done a few beta reads for writers I know, so I haven’t completely stopped reading, but I simply haven’t read enough books solely for pleasure in recent years.  Last year I listened to some books on CD:  “Wherever I Wind Up” by R.A. Dickey, “I Am America (And So Can You!)” by Stephen Colbert and “Heat Wave” by Richard Castle (because, why not?).  I also read the comics page in the newspaper every day, but I don’t think that really counts, does it? But in all seriousness, that’s not enough reading for me to be doing in a year.

Time is an excuse. So I am going to blow the dust off of my To Be Read pile and get started on it.  I have one more book on CD which I’ll start this week:  “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” by David Sedaris.  I know nothing about this book, but I received it as a gift some time ago so I should give it a go.  After that, I’ll have to tackle a real book.  I don’t know if I will go with an old standby like Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, or start with a book in my To Be Read pile that I have never read, such as Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book”.  I’ll let you know what I decide.

In the meantime, I’d like to know what you are reading and whether you think reading is an important part of writing.  Let me know in the comments.

What Did I Write Today?

YA author Medeia Sharif, with a bazillion (or maybe it’s six) books to her credit, does a fun summary of her weekly writing activities on her blog. I love reading it. It’s a peek inside the daily workings of a published author. In a nutshell:

  • she’s always working on multiple books
  • she’s always thinking of how to market one or the other–or all of them
  • she’s always involved in some sort of marketing (by this I mean, past the planning)
  • AND–she constantly reads and reviews books to share with her blog readers

Amazing, innit? Medeia inspired me to keep track of what it is I do on a daily/weekly basis. Here’s one day:

  • read and review books in my genre. I track completed tomes using Goodreads’ 2014 Reading Challenge. I’d add the interactive widget here, but WordPress doesn’t support it. Click the image below–it’ll take you to the Goodreads page:

reading challenge

  • research for my much-delayed techno-thriller WIP.
  • draft between nine-twelve posts for my three primary blogs (Ask a Tech Teacher, WordDreams, USNA or Bust!). I do this when inspiration strikes. If I don’t memorialize them in draft form, I won’t have sufficient material for my commitments.
  • work on my non-fiction Technology-in-Education series. There’s a deadline here so I have to keep this project moving forward. Here are some examples:
  • draft/edit/format articles I contribute to several online ezines (like TeachHUB). These, too, have deadlines. I like to wait for inspiration to strike because I write more quickly then, but my muse doesn’t always accommodate me. Then, it’s research-write-edit: Get ‘er done!

Where Do I Start Concept

  • visit my 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

  • spend ‘some’ time every week marketing, be it an email campaign, a brochure, or images for my books. There’s more than I can keep on top of, so I chip away at it. When I reach a deadline, I put everything else down to complete the project. I end up with a lot of posters like these:
  • about once a week, read and write a review for my Amazon Vine gig. Since I pick these books from an offer list, I am usually inspired and they go quickly.
  • at least once a week, I attend webinars and/or Tweetups in my areas of interest. This keeps me up to date on topics I write about.

social mediaIt 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 Lynne Hackles post. And here’s Lucy Santos from the Crime Readers’ Association.


More on a writer’s day:

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can

15 Traits Critical to a Successful Writer

A Writer’s (Holi)day

Jacqui Murray is the author of dozens of books (on technology in education) as well as 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 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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The Lingering Romance of Time and Distance

When I was 17, my family and I moved from California to Wisconsin, where I would be starting college. Though part of me felt at the time that my mom, step-dad, and siblings were following me across the country for the obnoxious reason of keeping tabs on me, I begrudgingly acknowledged another, more reasonable, purpose for their move. My mom had grown up in Milwaukee, and just as I was beginning a new chapter in my life (college, dorm living, new friends), she was returning to her roots for the support and the closeness of her family.

We drove cross-country with two cars and two babies: my sister was nearing three years old, and my brother was not yet one. It was not a quick cross-country drive. Our pace was set, in part, by the needs of the babies, and the interior mood of the car was determined by their crying, sleeping, eating, and fidgeting.

For me, at 17, all of it was torture. Since my mom was driving, I had to be navigator and babysitter. I kept an eye on the map, and I fed, played with, and tended to my siblings. What I wanted was to be left alone to read (The Mists of Avalon) and to journal. That summer, before leaving California, I had met a boy who I was desperately in love with. I was sure, against all sense and logic, that I had found the person I would be with for the rest of my life. And this move, though I wanted it, though I looked forward to college, was tearing us, literally and figuratively, apart. My heart was breaking with each additional mile. And this is what I wrote about.

Time and distance were my themes. The distance became a character; it had substance—it was malicious.  Being pulled and stretched were common images that appeared in my journals of that time. I wrote poetry, I wrote prose, I wrote creative nonfiction (and yes, it was creative, since I re-imagined the relationship I had just had—all two weeks of it—and turned the both of us mythical, iconic.) Everything that took place within the space of that car, during that drive, served as backdrop for my own sadness. I really got into metaphors and similes. The features of the landscape filtered into my writing. Desert and greenery meant more alongside my moods. When the babies cried, it was because they sensed my own suffering; when they laughed, they mocked it. When my mom and I fought, I felt determined in my love. The splintered relationship, as I saw it, between my mom and me only served to clarify how deep and strong this other relationship was. I could handle the bickering, the crying babies, the interminable miles cast against the hyperbolic idea of my great love.

After we reached Milwaukee, and I started my first semester, I would sit in my classes, watch the clock tick sluggishly, and will the hours to pass. Time was heavy. I felt mired in it. It was like breathing, walking, talking through molasses. I was sluggish. I remember in one of my communication classes, I was writing a poem about time—something about rope and knots and pulling—and my tablemate reached out and grabbed my notebook, demanding to know what I was writing. She began to read, and I pulled the page out of her eyesight. I made some comment about it being a poem, and not ready to be seen by others. That was partly true. The other part was, at that moment, I believed myself to be the only one who could understand this heartache and the way time was working for me. I remember distinctly her mannish hands as she tugged the notebook, and her tightly cinched ponytail—both somehow further indicating that she could not possibly understand my mood. Or, for that matter, the depth of what I was writing.

Now, at 34, I find that time and distance are still things I write about. I think because of that big move at 17, and because of other moves from childhood onward, distance is something I think about a lot. The way time changes with distance and new sights is also something I think about. Self-imposed distance, in particular, is interesting to me. I chose to move to Milwaukee at 17. I chose that distance. I chose to wait a full year before visiting California again, that boy I loved having moved on by then. And since then I have made other choices that have inserted a physical distance between myself and familiar things. I moved to South Korea for a year, for example. There is a certain tension that comes from this, a certain challenge. Life just can’t be boring inside that challenge. That’s something I learned at 17. My emotions were taut, exposed, hyper-charged, and within that there was so much to write about. So, maybe that’s why I move so much—not just for the challenge and the thrill, but for the material. I imagine that when I’m 68, double my age now, I’ll still write about time and distance. Those themes will be just as fresh, most likely because I’ll have moved again and have a new distance to contemplate and pine over.

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.