Finding Time to Write vs. Making Time to Write

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Last week, I wrote about questions non-writers tend to ask writers. This week, I thought about what questions writers ask writers. The obvious questions came to my mind. “What genre do you write?” “What’s your current project about?” “Are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in the middle?” Even though there is no secret handshake for writers (at least, I don’t think there is!), certain terms and familiar head nods signal to writers you’ve found someone else who shares your love of imagining new plots and putting the stories in your head on paper (or a computer screen, whatever the case may be). At conferences, programs, and workshops alike, however, those questions are always followed up with the inevitable, “When do you find time to write?” Having four kids, a Basset hound, a husband whose work schedule is rather unpredictable, and being president of Georgia Romance Writers, I always listen with a keen ear to the answers I hear for the last question. There are the inevitable answers of “I wake up early” or “I go to sleep late.” However, I want to share the time I heard the best response to that question and I’d like to credit the wonderful writer Nicki Salcedo for sharing her answer with myself and everyone else lucky enough to be in her workshop that day.

When I attended my first Moonlight and Magnolias conference, I attended a workshop led by Nicki Salcedo and Jennifer McQuiston on the subject of making time to write. Notice right there the amazing part of this workshop. It didn’t involve squeezing time of a lemon. Two writers devoted to their craft made time for their writing in a deliberate manner. During the workshop, someone asked a question. I can’t remember the question, and I can’t even remember who asked the question. It was something about why Nicki stayed up late to write. Nicki looked the person in the eye and asked if that person liked spending time with her friends. The person looked perplexed and nodded. Nicki told her her characters were her friends and she loved spending time with her characters and why would she not want to spend time with her friends.

This month, I’ve thought about that response often. The joy of writing, the joy of making time to spend with your book characters is sometimes lost in the business of writing. Writers are self-promoters, students, writers, cheerleaders, marketers, and so much more. However, if we don’t love our characters, the villains and the heroes alike, that comes out in our stories. This month I’m making time to recapturing the joy in writing, the joy in my characters, the joy in making time for something that is an integral part of myself. Without that joy, without that determined focus on wanting my characters to become a part of someone else’s lives, I don’t know if making the time to write can translate into a great story. The joy of making friends with your characters and spending time with those friends can go a long way in answering “when do you find time to write” because that joy is the reason you make time to write.

 

 

If You Ask a Writer a Question…

Questions surround people. As a parent of nine-year-old twins, questions are a constant in my household.  “Why do we have homework anyway?” “What’s for dinner?” “Why can’t I stay up later than my bedtime?” As a writer, I have to constantly ask questions about my characters. “Why do you want that?” It would be so much easier if you didn’t want that but wanted something else instead. “But why do you need that so bad?” “What do you fear will happen if you don’t get that right away?” And as a writer, my job is to make sure the character doesn’t get what they want right away and make one huge obstacle to overcome. And if it’s the villain, then he or she absolutely can’t get what he or she wants.

But I noticed something when I started telling people I’m a writer. Unlike my husband, who is a pharmacist and either gets a polite nod before the conversation returns to normal or a quick question about pharmaceuticals, people feel obligated to comment on my status as an author. These comments and questions are almost invariably the same to the point where I thought they’d make an interesting blog post.

“Oh, wow, I know I have a book in me, too.”

And, some of the time, the follow-up line to this one is “but I have a life and I live it rather than writing about it.” But most of the time, the follow-up is “but I have no idea where to start.”

My husband still regrets the time someone said this to me at a party because I spent the next forty-five minutes explaining where to start before he pulled me aside and told me the person had just been making polite conversation.

Most of the time, people are saying this to be polite, but sometimes meeting another author gives a person a nudge into actually looking inward and deciding he or she wants to write that story after all.

“Where can I buy your book?”

When I tell people I’m trying to make that happen but my books aren’t available online or in bookstores (YET), I often get that wink and head nod that says they don’t believe I’ve actually written a book. It’s a huge commitment to sit down and write an entire book. Yes, I really am a writer even though I’m not published (YET). Indie publishing has revolutionized the writing industry, but each author has to dig deep and strive for the path he or she believes best serves him or her.

“You write romance novels. Okay, then.”

And the person scurries off. Fast. Yes, I write romance novels, and I’m proud of it. Romance novels deal with rich and multi-layered themes. Books with a “happy ever after” ending provide hope and often inspiration to so many. Romance is the number one best-selling genre of fiction, and for good reason.

“J. K. Rowling’s really rich. Do you want to be the next J. K. Rowling?”

I love Harry Potter novels. I’ve read the seven main books in the Harry Potter series. She deserves every accolade. And I love following her on Twitter. She is an amazing author. But writers don’t start writing for the money although I know several who are fortunate enough to earn a living through writing.

Most of the time, writers have to get the story on paper and hope others will read it and find themselves lost in that fictional world for a few hours. Each writer has a different reason for writing, and that personal motivation is what makes writers sacrifice time and energy into crafting a book they ultimately hope others will enjoy as much as they enjoyed writing it.

However, as much as I admire J. K. Rowling, I don’t want to be her. I like me, and I like the books I write.

And every author’s favorite line: “Writing’s so easy anyone can do it.”

I still haven’t come up with a better response than a genuine chuckle. The best part is my husband’s chuckle is always louder than my own. Supportive and understanding, he knows how hard it is to write and edit a novel.

As a writer, what are the questions people inevitably ask you?

 

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Writing in the Now

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My twins celebrate an October birthday while my oldest lights her birthday candles in January. In my family, these birthdays bookend the holidays. When Cupcake and Chunk open their presents, it’s almost as if it’s really time to open the holiday season, starting with Halloween with Thanksgiving on its heels and then Christmas followed by New Year’s Day before Kath blows out her candles and the holidays begin to wind down.

With those holidays come a rush of questions: “Are you dressing up for Halloween,” “Who’s house are we going to this year and who’s making the pie,” “Did you get what you wanted for Christmas,” “Are you going to make a New Year’s resolution,” and “Are you choosing one word for the upcoming year?” For the record, my answers are probably not; (insert groan) my house and if it’s edible, it better not be me; we’ll see; no; and no.

Don’t get me wrong. I love holidays. I love spending time with my husband and four kids, and there’s nothing like family togetherness to help me appreciate my writing that much more. However, I’m not into New Year’s resolutions. I think they focus on a date rather than the intent.

I just did a Google search of most common resolutions. Want to get exercise more? Why wait until January 1st when October 27th is a much better time to start. Want to make a more deliberate approach to becoming healthy? Make that doctor appointment now, not on January 1st. Want to write a book? If you can write during the holiday season with its parties, commitments, school concerts, family gatherings, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and more, you’re determined to write and the rest of the year should be a breeze.

My grandfather loved the expression, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Yes, it’s more of a cliché now than it was in the eighties when he said that all the time. But… There’s a truth in that statement. Today is the day to start writing a book if you want to write. Today is the day to call a local craft store if you’ve always wanted to knit or quilt. Today is the day to find out what exercise is the best for you.

Don’t wait until January 1 to make a resolution. If there’s a change you want to make in your life, make it today. If you can stick to that change over the holiday season, then you’ll thank yourself for it in 2019.

And please leave a comment. If you do make resolutions, let me know what you’re thinking about doing differently next year. And if you have a good pie recipe, feel free to share that, too!

Write, Write, and then Read a Book

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Forget how Gollum pronounced the one ring to rule them all “my precious.” In today’s world, something that is very precious to all of us is those minutes of free time, the ones where work obligations, family commitments, or other duties aren’t crying out to be fulfilled. What’s more is there are a thousand and one options for those few minutes: Netflix or other television programming, crafts like knitting or crocheting, puzzles for those who like piecing together a challenge. Yet reading opens worlds to people, fantasy worlds like Middle Earth and Hogwarts, worlds of life in the past like L.M. Montgomery’s Avonlea and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander’s Scotland, and contemporary places like the made-up Mitford or Stephanie Plum’s Trenton. And for writers, reading is one of the most important activities to improve your craft.

Read broadly and keep your ear out for new authors. Not only is there a genre for everyone, but there is a different genre for everyone to explore. Although I gravitate toward cozy mysteries and romance, I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Classics, biographies, and modern literary fiction occupy space on my to-be-read pile and my keeper bookshelf. I always keep my ear out for new authors that should be on that list. Everywhere I turn lately I’m hearing great things about Helen Huong’s The Kiss Quotient as well as Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. Those are two books I’ll definitely look for in the near future. Reading broadly can expose a writer to different outlooks and make you aware of the differences between different styles of writing.

Read often. I always have my Kindle with me. If I’m early for a doctor’s appointment, I whip out my Kindle and read. When I’m at the grocery store and I can’t use the self-checkout, I whip out my Kindle and read. I’m always reading one hard copy of a book (something in paper, whether a hardback or paperback) as well as something on my Kindle.

Read with a careful eye. Look carefully at the writing style and voice of authors you admire. Do they use verbs like took or got or walked? Since I have the paper copy of the book I’m reading right next to me, I opened Stirring Up Strife by Jennifer Stanley to the middle. Verbs like beamed and grabbed and loitered jumped out at me. As a writer, I look for emotional arcs in the protagonist’s journey. In the case of Stirring Up Strife, the main character’s attempt to kick the bad habit of smoking goes along with her attempt to kick out the bad memories of her broken relationship as she becomes involved in a murder investigation (this is a cozy mystery).

 

And I’m going to go one step further. Those books you want to put down, the ones that don’t grab your attention by page five (and let me add I’m on page 268 of Stirring Up Strife, which I’m enjoying), read them to figure out what you don’t like. If you don’t like the heroine, why? If a plot device doesn’t appeal to you, why?

 

In my opinion, reading often is one of the best gifts a writer can give herself. What are you reading? Let me know. I’m always on the lookout for a good book.

Books, Books, Everywhere

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I’m a sucker for book fairs. Last week, Cupcake and Chunk brought home the school flyers for their school’s annual book fair. They knew without even asking I’d agree to take them. It was just a matter of which day worked best. Why? Why of all the activities at their school did they know this was the one I support wholeheartedly, even giving them a set budget every year for books (not the gadgets and posters or toys) for something that supports the school library? Because I want each of my children to keep reading after they graduate and leave home. My WH (for those of you who don’t know, WH is my Wonderful Hubby) and I read to each of our children the day they were born. Before they were born, I selected books to read to them on their birthdays in the hospital. Before she became an older sister, I’d take Kath to the library and she’d spend an hour (literally an hour, if not longer) in my lap with a pile of books at my side and I’d read each of them to her before we checked them out and took them home for two weeks. Kath is now in college and there are times I wonder how my daughter could not like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier or anything by Jane Austen, but she’s found her own authors to love, read, and follow so I’m not complaining. MJ has read each of the Harry Potters multiple times, and now Cupcake and Chunk are picking out their own books, finding authors they think will interest them and seeing if they are right. Cupcake loves the “Who Is/Who Was” series of books while Chunk loves Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter. At night, they see WH and myself reading books. I’m usually reading one book on my Kindle and one hard copy of a book, usually a paperback. Books open up new worlds, introduce new friends, and carry messages of hope. Yes, I’m a sucker for book fairs. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

[Thanks to Lena Gregory, one of my favorite cozy mystery authors, and Jen Gilroy, one of my favorite contemporary romance authors, for the inspiration for this blog. Stay tuned for next week’s blog on why taking time to read is so important for authors.]

 

Writing Daily?!

What does Writing Daily even mean?

The short answer is it depends on you. However, the long answer might be more interesting and might provide more insight. When I started writing and realized I needed to learn about the craft of writing, I started attending workshops and reading craft books and articles. They all said the same thing about there not being one right way to write a book. That is very true. They also said a writer has to write daily. Hmm, that’s something that I’m questioning the longer I write. Does that mean I write on Christmas? Does that mean I write when I have a fever of 103 and have the flu? Does that mean I have to write fresh words or does that include editing? I love writing, and I want to write as often as I can. But what does the phrase “Writing Daily” mean and what if I can’t write every day? Here are five tips on ways to organize your writing time that might lead you to become more productive in your writing.

Organization. In my last blog, I briefly touched on ways to get organized. That is a huge part of figuring out what your approach to “Write Daily” means. If you know you are working four twelve-hour shifts, you might be able to carve huge chunks out of those other three days and find a way to be more productive than if you write for one hour every day. If you know you are attending a writer’s conference (yes, this means me who forgot to account for a writing conference I’m attending in October, the awesome Moonlight and Magnolias Conference sponsored by Georgia Romance Writers), you might want to try to conclude a project and meet your deadline right before the conference so you can enjoy the conference (or your family vacation or some other special occasion). Knowing when you can write over a month’s time will give you the peace of mind of looking forward to time with you and your manuscript. Whether this time comes twenty minutes a day while your child plays soccer or means you have to wake up an hour early to squeeze an extra hour out of your schedule (but not at the expense of your health!) or whether you give up watching your favorite Netflix show until your manuscript is finished, that’s up to you. But finding that time in your schedule and anticipating that time is worth the effort.

Writing. The first year I was writing, I was always working on a first draft because I thought writing meant new words. Here’s my helpful piece of advice: I was wrong. Writing can be brainstorming and research (but give yourself a deadline), a first draft, or revising. It’s sitting at a chair or standing at your desk with your manuscript and working toward completing it.

Set Your Own Goal. Some writers set a page goal; some set a word count goal; some set a specific number of minutes. All of that is okay. You are writing and that’s what’s important. You’ll learn over time what measure of a goal works for you. If you are working and not goofing off, you’re spending time that will help you accomplish your goal of writing and revising a book.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others. You are you. You know what you are capable of. If you track your progress over time, you’ll see what you’re capable of. Yes, there are authors who write thirty pages a day. Yes, there are writers who write eight thousand words a day. Yes, there are authors who write for eight hours a day. Unless that is you, don’t worry about that and don’t compare what you are able to do to that. Be proud of what you can get done and concentrate on making your manuscript shine.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up. If you aren’t goofing off and checking Facebook or doing whatever your favorite leisure activity is, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t write ten pages and you really wanted to write ten pages and you are used to writing ten pages a day. Did you really do your best? Did you concentrate and work hard? Then smile and be happy you spent time with your characters. The more excited you are about your manuscript and the time you do spend on it, the more that will show up on the page.

So those are five tips about how to approach writing daily that you might not have thought about before. Here’s the sixth: put writing first. Only once your writing goal for the day is met, then turn to marketing through social media or blogs, then pick up that craft book you need to read to improve your writing. Happy writing.

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What’s a Person to Do?

Computer calendars, paper agendas, whiteboards, bullet journals, organizers, and more. So many ways to get organized and so little time (yes, I see the irony in that). These days, more than ever, it seems as though everyone is rushing around, and yet it also seems as though people complain about getting very little done. Some people plan out every minute of their waking days, and some people go with the flow, the very thought of writing out a schedule a true anchor on their ankle. As a writer, planning out my day and week is a guide to what I’d like to accomplish (note: I wrote what I’d like to accomplish – my next blog will address writing goals and the individual; this blog is only about the different methods by which to get started). Internal accountability is a major part of writing, although I am thankful I also have an accountability partner to keep me on the straight and narrow. While everyone has a different way to organize their time for maximum efficiency, here are some tips about to-do list and daily organizers.

  1. To thine own self be true. If you work well with computers and hate killing trees, you should use your computer planners. Don’t fix what’s not broken! I’ve discovered that except for the big events, like doctor appointments and children’s events, I’m not good with planning my day or week or month with a computer. I need a pen and paper for itemizing what has to get done. But stick with what works well with you. If you’re going all in for a Google calendar or an app, make sure it’s downloaded to all your devices and synced. What’s more, make sure you update it regularly.
  2. Figure out what works for you. When my daughter started college, I grabbed a free agenda that her college was passing out. Talk about a changed person. I liked the format and the space it gave me to write down what needed to be done. Think about your needs as it suits your life. As a write-at-home mom, I need a wall calendar to keep my kids’ activities straight, but my agenda is for my personal writing goals and what I need to get done each day. My new planner is extra awesome because in the back, it also has space for monthly goals and notes to myself. In addition to writing, I can also include special cleaning tasks or special events ahead of time.
  3. Don’t be shy. If you’re just getting started with trying to organize your writing time (or knitting time or some other craft), then it’s okay to include some “gimmes” to cross off so you’ll feel better about what you’ve accomplished. If you need to write down “brush your teeth” in order to cross it off, that’s okay. Eventually, you won’t keep writing down extra stuff, and you’ll streamline it to what works best for you. But once again, be truthful. Don’t bite off more than you can chew so you won’t constantly disappoint yourself.
  4. One last tip. If your method is taking more time than why you’re organizing your time, it might be a sign you need a new organizational method. If you love making journals and that’s your craft and way to relax, that’s great. But if you’re a writer and you find you’re spending more time decorating and doodling in your planner, it might be time to put down the planner and write.

To-do lists are a way for me to see in black and white what I have to get done for the day. My agenda is a way for me to plan out what needs to be done in a realistic time frame. What are your favorite ways to make to-do lists and keep organized?

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