Finding Your Best Time To Write

ManageYourDayToDay

 

I’ve been pondering how to find time to write, and my best time to write. I guess we all struggle with that. For me, the demands of being a mom with a full-time job and a long commute make it hard to get any time in, let alone my best time.

For me, part of it is just staying in that creative part of my brain. I frequently refer to this as story brain, keeping the story I’m working uppermost in my brain as I go throughout the day, focused on the story even though I’m doing other things.

Sometimes I worry that doing that makes me less present in my life but I can clearly remembering sitting in my camp chair outside this summer while my daughter played on her swing set and I wrote in my journal, both recording the moment and coming up with a piece of the short story I was writing. So maybe it isn’t staying in story brain but just creative mode. It definitely feels different from normal, going about the routine of the day, brain.

Another part is scheduling. My husband gave me a book for Christmas that he heard about on the Chiot’s Run organic blog, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind. It’s a collection of essays on the topic, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. I’ve started reading a bit of it every day. Just the simple admonishment to do the thing that is most important first in your day instead of trying to get all the other little things out of the way first, is so obvious and yet counter to my typical thinking.

I can definitely say that I’m actually a morning person. Oh, not that I want to get up in the morning, but when I do get up early, in the neighborhood of six o’clock, I find myself feeling better and being so much more productive. When my daughter was going to sleep at midnight and getting up at 9 am with her father, I couldn’t do that. I was lucky to get myself to work on time. I love having my husband on first shift because it means I can get to bed earlier and get up at 6 am. I know it won’t last but I’m loving it and plan to make the most of it.

My challenge then is to make time for the morning pages (doing The Artist’s Way with a workshop group) and then write creatively. I can get up and do the morning pages then write in my head on the way to work and just use the voice recorder to catch anything I’ve worked through enough in my head to bother recording. That’s my best plan so far. Otherwise, I’m just going to have to write at night, which is fine but it’s definitely not my best time to write or my most creative. I’ll just have to edit more.

What are your challenges? How do you get your writing in? What’s your best time to write?

Advertisements

Winter Writing Festival Coming Up!

writing-fest-2014-template-copy

Just a quick post because tomorrow is Christmas at my in-laws and I have one day to clean, decorate, do my Christmas baking and wrap presents.  I already have the groceries home and put away, and bread staling to make the Pumpkin Praline Bread Pudding but I wanted to blog real quick about a great winter writing festival coming up. (Thankfully, the store had the Hodgson Mills Gingerbread mix prominently displayed so gingerbread cookie making with my munchkin just got easier.)

Anyway, I just read last night about the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s Winter Writing Festival. The great thing about this writing challenge is that you create your own goals. I’m thinking to simply make writing my fiction daily a priority by putting a time requirement, say at least an hour a day. I was thinking a half hour but that doesn’t seem sufficient. Can I manage an hour? I’ll give it some thought.

I have a novel and several short stories that I want to finish but who knows how long that will take? I’d rather say I’ll work on them daily and see how far that gets me.

The festival starts on January 10th and goes through the end of February. There’s even drawings for prizes! Check it out using the link above. Happy Writing!

Building a Better, Smarter, Faster NaNoWriMo

Biohazard_orange

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a number of times over the years, under a few different names.  For the past few I’ve done it under MeloraJohnson. (Feel free to add me as a friend!) My novel is Biomalware.

“In the near future a new line of disease and pest resistant genetically modified crops is being aggressively marketed, claiming to bring an end to world hunger.  As biodiversity dwindles, menacing secrets lurk beneath the perfectly red tomatoes and ultra-sweet corn. But for many, these crops aren’t food at all.  They are… Biomalware.

As I mentally prepared for this November, I started thinking about the past few attempts.  What have I learned from the numerous runs at NaNoWriMo?  A few things.

Four years ago I started writing a novel about a girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and NaNo got interrupted when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant around the seventh or so of the month.  (Yeah, one of these days I’m going to write a novel about a woman who wins a giant lottery jackpot.)

That time I learned that life can get in the way, if you let it.  There was really no reason for me to stop writing other than the fact that I was tired.  I could have kept writing, maybe not with a view to winning, but to get the most out of it that I could.  As Garrison Keillor says, “Nothing bad happens to a writer, it’s all material.” I let life get in the way. Now, I really wish I’d at least kept a journal of that time.

Last year I tried picking a different prompt every single day to see how far I could get on any particular day and if I could generate some solid short stories or story ideas.  I found myself focusing on one particular idea for about a quarter of the time.  What have I done with that idea since? Forgot about it, until this very paragraph. (It was actually a decent idea about time travel that I may have to dig out.  Strangely enough, our writer’s group prompt for this coming week is time travel.  Maybe I can turn it into a short story. Now, where did I put it?) I may do this again in the future, but with a plan, the prompts chosen and a filing system so I don’t just lose track of what I did.

Just over a year ago I wrote my first draft of Biomalware for Camp Nanowrimo in August of 2012.  I tried to edit it but I just felt like it wasn’t up to my usual strong vision of a story. It seemed more like a giant outline. I’ve resolved to plan ahead this time so I can really bring every scrap of talent and skill I have to bear on this project. I want this to be a book people will buy, enjoy and think about. (Not to mention talk about.)

Right now I’m trying to tie up a few loose ends before NaNoWriMo starts.  I have three short stories that I want to finish. The first is for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest and is on it’s very final edit before I send it off. The second is a rough draft for a Christmas competition that will benefit from being set aside for a while.  The third is a short story that I wrote as part of my writer’s group weekly challenge, which I’m editing to post here on Halloween.  This will all happen this weekend because, come Monday, I plan to delve into preparing for NaNoWriMo. 

I have job applications to fill out for all of my characters and the story arch to fill out for the overall plot. I want to spend the next couple weeks watching movies that tell their stories the way I want to tell this story and reading everything I can get my hands on, pro and con, for genetically modified organisms.  I’ve been doing this right along but now I’m going for an intensive preparation.  (Wish I’d started at the beginning of the month.)

It’s true, there’s no telling how real life may get in the way but, to my mind, the idea is to prepare and plan so that you can dive in and immerse yourself in the pure creative process for November.  Really have fun and enjoy it.  I think that’s what keeps me coming back to NaNoWriMo time after time.  It’s not really because I think I’m going to suddenly write the Great American Novel.  It’s because there’s nothing like being given a license to immerse yourself in the creative process. I love to write, not just to have written. 

If anyone gives you a hard time you can tell them that, well, it’s only for a month.

A Couple Grants and Contests for Writers

WilliamAdolpheBouguereau

Well, I’ve actually been getting a fair bit of writing done and I’m planning to enter a grant competition at the end of the month.

I’m working on a short story for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest, 1,500 words maximum, getting one bit each night.  I’m really pleased at how it’s coming along.  It may be utter garbage but just the fact that I’m producing and having ideas is the best feeling.  (The British term “chuffed to bits” comes to mind.  I wonder if that would be a proper application of it?)  Anyway, the deadline for that is in November so I’ve got some time.

As I said, I’m working on a grant application at the same time.  It’s for the Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award.  You must have a child under the age of 18 and they do give preference to people who live in the San Francisco area but there’s no entry fee so I’m going for it!

Besides the application, they want 4 writing samples and they prefer you’ve written them since you had your child.  Well, I’ve got quite a few things on my Yahoo! Contributor Network board so I’m trying to choose four from that.  I’d LOVE to have anyone’s input who cares to take a look and comment.

I am thinking to choose between –

Memories and Choices  http://voices.yahoo.com/memories-choices-12079419.html

Devolution: The Beginning  http://voices.yahoo.com/devolution-beginning-11335874.html?cat=44

Regrets: A Confessional Villanelle  http://voices.yahoo.com/regrets-confessional-villanelle-11335696.html?cat=47

27 Minutes  http://voices.yahoo.com/27-minutes-11439900.html?cat=43

Faith Hope and Love  http://voices.yahoo.com/faith-hope-love-10777773.html?cat=43

Biomalware  http://voices.yahoo.com/biomalware-11149566.html?cat=44

I’d like to include the two that were featured on Yahoo!, Regrets and Devolution, because they got really good feedback.  However, Memories and Choices, Faith Hope and Love, 27 Minutes and Biomalware all have more to do with being a parent than those two.

To further complicate manners, novelization of Biomalware is my current project and novelization of Devolution is my next project so those might be good choices to show them where I’m headed.

What do you really NEED to write?

What do you really need to write? This question occurred to me as I was driving home last night. Unfortunately, I hadn’t set up my digital recorder so I pulled off at an exit and got it recording before I drove on.  (It helps me to remember.   Before I had it, I had to just, well…  remember.  It’s a great tool.)

This month is Camp NaNoWriMo again and though I am not participating this month it reminded me about reading Chris Baty’s  No Plot, No Problem.  It’s a really funny and enjoyable book.  He suggests a bunch of things you might want to have handy before you start to write.  There were some physical things like setting up your computer file, treats to reward yourself for keeping going, your favorite drinks, your favorite pens, pencils and notebooks, reference books you might want to refer to our use to jog your mind.  It was mostly things to make you more comfortable and help ease the task.  Some people write character sheets and plot everything out ahead of time.

Then there are intangible things like time, sufficient sleep to be coherent, quiet and space.  But people have done without those time and again.  (Though I do suspect that when people say they got up an hour early before going to work every day to write, they are largely getting sufficient sleep to suit them.)

I personally like a notebook or a bound journal and a really good pen.  I use my laptop a lot.  I have the Scrivener software but I haven’t actually used it, I use OpenOffice.  I have recorded things on my little digital recorder and used Dragon NaturallySpeaking to transcribe the dictation.  I use the Internet for research.  I always liked Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference for checking grammar and usage but more often I turn to Internet sources these days when I’m concerned.  All of these are great tools to make writing easier.

I like a sufficient amount of sleep but I find myself creating things at three in the morning while I’m rocking my daughter.  I like a quiet room and time to myself but most of the time I’m writing surrounded with people or at least while taking care of my daughter and being interrupted constantly for attention.

What really got me thinking about this topic was a blog post by a fellow writer.  He said that he had lost most of his vision and would continue writing as long as he could see to do so.

My brain screamed, “Nooooo!”

Thankfully, another writer responded with what I felt – you don’t need your eyesight to write.

It might make it a bit easier but all you really need is your mind.  Everything else is a tool to record what you’ve written and communicate it.  Think about it.  There is a great oral tradition that backs writing – storytelling.  People made up their stories, practiced them and shared them.  If that is all you can ever do then you are WRITING!

The point is we all have obstacles to our writing.  Sometimes they are external and sometimes they are internal, but there is nothing that can keep us from writing if we really want to.

Randy Pausch, in Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, said that “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

So, what do you really need to write?

A Writing Parent – or how in the world did J.K. Rowling do this?

SleepingChild

The munchkin has been up coughing a lot with one cold following shortly after the last this past month and I‘m too tired these days to read a well written and thought-provoking book, let alone write one.  The way I write is to imagine a scene fully then put it down on paper.  Right now?  If I stopped long enough to do that, I’d fall asleep.   Things that would normally inspire me just aren’t.  It takes a major shock, or some serious immersion, to get my brain into gear and make sense of anything.

Here’s the odd thing, a little sleep deprivation can actually help turn off that pesky internal editor.  Yesterday I picked up a simile worksheet and my brain actually started firing some semi-original thoughts.

As dark as midnight in a country room with the shades drawn down.

As dead as the remains of a carcass on the highway that has been run over five hundred times.

As high as a meth addict shooting up with his two year old daughter in the back seat of the car.  (Actually saw that one in the news the other day.)

As tall as the shadow of Abraham Lincoln’s reputation.

As mad as my mother when she found the metal handle of a fly swatter I broke by bending it back and forth, back and forth, even though she’d told me not to do so, and hid under her dresser.  (I should have known she’d clean there.  She cleaned everywhere, relentlessly.)

As blue as the notes of the last jazz song on the closing night of a club.

As nervous as a starving feral cat stealing food from the bowl on the back porch.

Growing like a zucchini when the gardener’s away for the weekend.

Along with the worksheet on simile which, unfortunately, I have no idea where I got, I found a number of other interesting items I saved over the past couple of years.

There were several inspirational pieces.  One was Neil Gaiman’s pep talk from National Novel Writing Month a couple years ago.  He talks about having waded into the writing of a novel and having gone from imagining that “glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read” to seeing what you’re working on as something “you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy.”  He talks about simply moving forward, putting one word after another.

Which leads right into a wonderful interview with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, in the July/August 2013 Writer’s Digest where he gives the most useful metaphor for revision that I’ve ever heard.  He likens it to moving into a new house, dragging all the furniture in.  Once it’s all in, you have to spend the time deciding where everything should go, rearranging it until you find the perfect spot for each item.

Those two things together really create a pretty good framework for the writing process.  You get a great idea and it sounds perfect.  You start writing and the fire burns low, turning into embers that are covered in ash, but you keep writing as your fingers get cold.  Then, you’ve finished a draft and you can put it aside for a bit or start rearranging the bits into something recognizable.  I like it.

There are other wonderful things in the interview – Hosseini talks about how his writing has grown to include more multidimensional characters and he also addresses the crises of confidence and episodes of self-doubt inherent in writing a novel.  It may be one of the most useful things I’ve found in Writer’s Digest recently but I will admit I love memoirs by writers.  I find them often inspirational and instructive.

Another funny item I came across was the editor’s note at the beginning of the Winter 2013 issue of ForeWard Reviews.  Julie Eakin shares a book of historical writer criticisms, Rotten Reviews Redux: A Literary Companion in which Rudyard Kipling is lambasted for not knowing “how to use the English language” by the San Francisco Chronicle and The New Yorker calls Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, “the final blowup of what was once a remarkable, if minor, talent.”  I’m sure there are people today who feel that way about Kipling and Faulkner but the vast majority of readers consider them major talents of the past.  It really helps to drive home the point for a writer that not everyone is going to like your writing, no matter how good you are.  It’s reassuring, in a backward way.

So, where does all that leave me?  I’ve been reading a lot of light stories the past couple weeks to refill the creative well, mainly Jennifer Crusie and Dorothea Benton Frank.  I’m still working on story one of my four short stories.  I’ve gotten little bits on it this past week but it’s been slow going.  I’ve been thinking more and more of how I’m going to attack the research and re-write on the novelization of Biomalware.  It’s still out there but I swear it’s getting closer.  It will be re-written this year.  (Heck, it hasn’t even been a year since I wrote the first draft.)

I just need to maintain my focus and write a little every day.  I’m getting there.  I don’t care how long it takes, and I really can’t foresee how I’ll get there, other than plugging away.  I never imagined a tornado would kick start the renovations on the family farm house that I always wanted to do.  (Seriously, I’ve been planning them since I was about 12 years old.)  Who knows what wild and wonderful, though potentially painful, ways the Universe will move me forward if I just do my part?  Only time will tell.

Well Begun is NOT Half Done, But It’s a Start

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Well begun is not half done.  Not even close.  But it’s a start.

So, there’s been a little writing this week.  A couple small poems started, waiting to see if they lead anywhere. One is a spoken word poem about intrinsic self worth.   Yesterday morning I saw a couple Turkey Vultures on the peak of the barn roof and it made me think about a haiku  –

Two Turkey Vultures

Sitting on the old barn roof

Scan for cat’s dead moles

Yeah, that last line might need a little work, but at least I’m writing something.

I’ve been listening to Ted Talks about storytelling and writing while I work on things that don’t require my full attention this week.  I get all inspired and then when I can actually write, I’m too tired.  It sucks.

Today my goal is a list of everything I want to be doing, in writing, outside and inside the house.  I think it will help me focus on chipping away at my goals.

I’ve also been thinking about how the root of great writing is storytelling.  I grew up with a father who told really great stories about his childhood.  I think that’s part of what got me interested in writing.  I’ve heard of a writing method called the Snowflake method.  Someone told me about it once and the way they explained it, you start by writing down your story as if you were telling it to a friend or a small group at a party, to entertain, then you flesh it out, adding character traits, setting, details, etc.

There’s an ehow on how to write using that method here, but that isn’t the way it was initially explained to me.  I think I prefer the way it was explained to me.  This results in more of a synopsis that you can fill with details.

Overall, I prefer more of an organic method for writing, just starting with an idea and seeing where it leads me.

We looked at a writing method last night in writer’s group that suggested breaking the parts of writing out so that you research at the beginning, then write, then edit, doing things in an exact order.

I personally prefer to research until I reach a sort of escape velocity/ maximum threshold where I have to put pen to paper and start pouring the synthesized ideas out into something new.

One writer pointed out that he prefers to write then see what he needs to know and do the research then.  I suspect it’s a recursive process for most of us and while it’s wise to try not to edit while you’re doing the bulk of your writing, the writing and the research will circle around each other.

So, the light is peaking over the horizon and the writing has begun again.  I don’t feel quite as blocked but it’s building slowly instead of galloping along.  Time for a list and some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Stalled Writing Mind Needs a Jump Start

carabandoned

Writer’s write.  Right?

Except, sometimes we don’t.

My mind has stalled.  That doesn’t mean it’s ready for the junkyard.

I had the bright idea to take a vacation day today.  I was going to go hide somewhere and finish editing those next fifty pages of Biomalware and write one of the short stories I have started.

Then I remembered that I have an appointment with a budding author today to talk about how to publish an ebook and the desk shifts at work got rearranged so I am scheduled on the desk today after all.

*sigh*

The truth is that I just can’t clear my schedule of life to write.  Writing is going to have to happen around my schedule.

And I’m not like those authors who are capable of staying up late writing into the wee hours of the morning and going to work on coffee and a couple hours sleep, or getting up a couple hours early to write before work after going to bed at midnight, once the munchkin is taken care of.  I need more sleep than I get now.

I’m going to have to grab my time to write and edit when I can, whenever I see a few minutes to do so, on a daily basis.

There may be times when I have a chunk of time to devote to it, but that isn’t my daily life.

Sometimes exhaustion or sadness over events of the world keeps me from feeling creative, my body gets overwhelmed or, like last night, I worry about the coming weather and find myself restlessly flipping back and forth between weather.com and Facebook.

These things serve to distract me.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m trying to turn a car that’s lost its power steering back on course.  You can do it but it takes some real muscle.

So, I’m curious, my question is – how do you fit writing into your life?  Is it daily, weekly or just whenever you can?  And what do you do when you feel like you’ve gotten off track to get yourself back on?

(Please join me on my Facebook page, where I will be posting a daily note on something interesting or inspiring about writing or life in general. Just click here -> Melora Johnson’s Facebook page.)

Creativity, Deadlines and NYFA Source for Artists

450px-Old_Faithful_Geyser,_Calistoga,_California

I was at home yesterday with my daughter and managed to write… one whole sentence.  So much for the font of creativity.

It was a really good sentence though.  Actually, it was even dialogue.  It seemed to fit in with one of the five stories I am working on so I opened the document and typed it in.

That’s how it’s been going lately, drips and drabs.  I think my font may have frozen over.  One of these days something will capture my imagination and I’ll get something done.  I think I may need a deadline though.  Deadlines just help me focus and accomplish.  That brings me to what I wanted to share today, NYFA Source, because it’s a place to look for fellowships, scholarships, grants and other competitions which can provide the needed deadline.

Now, this is through the New York Foundation for the Arts BUT it does cover resources across the country.

The New York Foundation for the Arts (nyfa.org)

“The New York Foundation for the Arts’ mission is to empower artists at critical stages in their creative lives.”

NYFA Source is the nation’s most extensive database of awards, services and publications for artists of all disciplines including dance, folk, traditional, media, performance, interdisciplinary, visual, music, literature, theater, and arts management.

What do they mean by “awards, services and publications?”  Awards include the usual – grants, fellowships, scholarships, emergency funds, and even space to work in.  Services may include legal, education, financial, insurance and more.  Publications are geared towards your specific discipline, including newsletters, online publications, magazines and even books.

Go to www.nyfa.org then hover your mouse cursor over “for artists” and select the third item down, “NYFA Source the resource for artists.”

Now you have 8 different tabs and you can fill out criteria in one or more of them to search.

  1. Awards
  2. Discipline
  3. Location
  4. Deadline
  5. Services
  6. Organization
  7. Keyword
  8. Other Criteria

Give it a look sometime.  Oh, and don’t forget to stop by Facebook and like my page for a daily message of inspiration or information, depending on how I’m feeling.

Happy writing!

Making a Start on my Writing, Over and Over Again

Mountains_in_Azerbaijan

 

The other day I was telling one of my co-worker’s, who is also a writer, about my intention to edit the next fifty pages of Biomalware (just in case the fellowship contest wants to see them) then go back and do a complete re-write and re-imagining of the book, to really get the tone I want.

She looked at me with something akin to admiration, “You’re really doing it.”

“Well, not really,” I replied, shamefaced. I’d been procrastinating terribly, as far as I was concerned. “I haven’t done anything with it in a couple weeks.”

“But you are,” she insisted. “You’re thinking about it and that’s an important part of it.”

 She’s right. I am doing it. Stating my intention and thinking about it is a step in the process.

I also have a huge tendency to discount what I’ve accomplished because I’m not accomplishing it as fast as I’d like. (I suspect I’m not the only one, huh?) I intended to do a complete edit on those fifty pages today. Instead I did about seven pages. I made a start though, and that’s important.

So, maybe it’ll take me a week to get that edit done, but I will get it done. Then I’ll start the re-write, hopefully by the beginning of April and complete it within the next three months. Maybe it will take longer. I’ll take as long as I have to. I simply won’t stop until I accomplish it.

Perseverance. It’s the difference between the published and unpublished.

I’ll keep writing, no matter what, because I love to write. I’ll keep growing in my writing because I love to learn. I’ll keep submitting because I love to share my stories. I’ve already found people that enjoyed my stories and I’ll find more. Hopefully some day I’ll be writing for a living.

I always recall Joseph Campbells advice to follow your bliss. If you do, the money will come. If it doesn’t, you’ve still had a damned good time in the process and life is about the journey, not the destination.

« Older entries