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?

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Winter Writing Festival Coming Up!

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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!

A Couple Grants and Contests for Writers

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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.

Stalled Writing Mind Needs a Jump Start

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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.)

Searching for Equilibrium as a Woman, Writer and Mom

JoyDietMarthaBeck

 

I’ve been feeling a little off kilter lately.  Life is hectic.  I leave for work in the morning, drive an hour each way, spend 9 hours there, pick up my daughter and arrive home nearly 12 hours later.  The rest of my evening is consumed with cooking dinner, cleaning up and caring for my toddler child who goes to sleep late because my husband works second shift and needs some sleep too.

Most of you probably have your own schedule challenges.

I feel like I’m constantly behind and running from one task to another, forgetting things and not sure what I’m really supposed to be doing.  I’m pretty good at organization but I lose track of my purpose sometimes, and therefore lose my balance in life.  The good thing is that I think I know what can help me.  That hard part is fitting it into my schedule.

Several years ago I picked up the book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life by Martha Beck. It’s a tiny little book but it holds so much humor and wisdom.  I incorporated it into my life at that time and it truly helped me put what was most important to me center stage in my life, define goals and take towards making it a reality.  Sadly, I’ve gotten away from it.  Oh, I still do a few things she recommends on an irregular basis but I think working more consciously with these steps could be just what I need.

One of the hardest steps, though it sounds easy, is the first – to do fifteen minutes of NOTHING every day. We are so inundated with things to do that it may be more difficult than you think to find fifteen minutes all to yourself to quiet your mind. Of course, you can never really completely quiet your mind. The point is to watch your thoughts go by without getting drawn into the emotions they usually create. My boss is being a real jerk today! Mmm-hmm, that’s nice dear. Just watch your thoughts float by like a leaf floating down a stream. The point is to detach from them so you can relax.  I found doing this on paper, ala Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” was a great way to go for a writer.

The second step is to create or find a moment of TRUTH every day. We tend to assume that the things we are telling ourselves are true. The truth may be vastly different and yet those thoughts are creating our feelings! We dig a little deeper to find the truth so that we can be more productive. I have felt my mood elevate just by acknowledging what I am saying to myself and recognizing how I have made something seem worse than it really is.

The third step is to figure out what we DESIRE. So many times we divorce ourselves from what we really want in our lives because we think it just isn’t realistic, that we’re never going to get it. “I’ll never find someone to love so I should just stop wanting it.” But that doesn’t make the desire go away, it just submerges it so that it becomes a deep-seated source of discontent. Might as well acknowledge what we want, figure out if it’s something we really want, then start figuring out how to get it. Which brings us to our next step.

CREATIVITY. Most of the time we’re not going to get what we really want by doing the same old things we’ve always done. It’s time to get creative and come up with some ideas. Martha has a phrase for it that I really like, “force innovation.” You create lists of ways to get what you want, from reasonable to illegal. The point is to brainstorm ideas, not necessarily to do them.

Next comes RISK. It’s often going to take a risk to get what you really want. If you break it down into the smallest step you can possibly take every day, you can overcome the fear and actually take the step. Put up the profile on the dating site, send the manuscript to the editor, send your resume off to the company.

Then you can get to the TREATS. Just like training any lab animal, you’re going to have to reward yourself into taking action if you’re going to keep it up. Martha teaches you how to figure out what a treat is for you and to give yourself permission to have them. (Yes, some people need permission to treat themselves well.) Some of mine include listening to music, petting my cat and good coffee. It’s anything that sparks a smile for you. The real trick is to recognize them as treats and take full pleasure in them.

The ability to PLAY is something most of us figure we have to give up at some point. What Martha is suggesting is a change in perspective about what you do every day. Once you realize what your purpose is in life, you can see that everything else you do is simply a game you are playing to make your real purpose in life possible. It’s not such a big deal. Martha has a shortcut to figuring out what your purpose is. Think about September 11, 2001. What did you do that night? It’s probably related in some way to your life purpose. I wrote a fictional story about a woman who lost her husband in the towers, but then I’ve always known my purpose is to write. Yours may not be quite so literal.

Ever since Norman Vincent Peale, we’ve all known that LAUGHTER is a powerful form of medicine. Really, is there anything better for lifting your mood? Sometimes I trip over it and sometimes I have to go looking. I take myself over to Pinterest and look at the Geek board at least every other day. I adore funny movies and books. I recently found the Sweet Potato Queen books and I have not laughed so hard at a book in ages. It relieves stress and lowers your blood pressure. I’m learning to laugh instead of getting angry when something goes wrong. Martha suggests you should be getting at least 30 LPDs (Laughs Per Day.) I’d say it’s a fun thing to strive for.

CONNECTION is perhaps the most important of the Joy Diet steps. It requires that you use the first five steps in dealing with at least one other person every day. We all know that solitary confinement is a punishment. There’s a vast difference between being alone with yourself and being lonely. We need other people in our lives, but more than that, we need to feel connected to other people. A lot of people don’t know how to truly connect with others, or they’re afraid of the pain that doing so will inevitably bring them. Yes, being connected to other people will bring you pain. They will do things that hurt you or you might be left behind at some point. The point is that by being connected to other people, you’ll be better able to endure the pain life throws your way. Martha says that, “even as your heart breaks, you’ll find that it always breaks open.” You’ll have a network of connections to call on in your time of need.

The last step simply sounds joyful, FEASTING. I close my eyes and picture large groups of people talking and laughing, sitting around and enjoying each other’s company, with music and food and drink. But feasting doesn’t require other people. It doesn’t even require food. Feasting is about the attention you give to whatever activity you are engaging in so that it is set apart from other daily activities. One of the most important aspects of feasting is ritual. Most people think of a church service or a family saying grace before dinner, but it can also mean getting into comfy clothes, making popcorn, and getting cozy on the sofa with a blanket before starting a movie. The actions set what you are about to do apart from the rest of the day.

You can feast on sights, sounds, touch, movement or even sleep. It’s something that feeds you physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. Some of my favorite feasts involve watching a movie that inspires or makes me think, listening to peepers in the warm spring air late at night or washing my hands in warm water with honey scented soap. Then you give thanks. Feel your gratitude for this feast, whomever you direct it to, God, the universe or yourself. Being grateful for the good things gives us something to hold onto when things aren’t going so well.

Of course, there’s a lot more to all of this than I’ve been able to say in just this post but I hope it gives you the idea. This book is packed with humor and information. I’ve only been able to give you a taste here. I highly recommend you get the book for yourself and give it a try. Check it out at the library if you’re not sure you want to spend the money on it. I did, and ended up buying it for myself. I’m so glad to have it on my bookshelf. I hope it enriches your life too.

Only So Many Hours – is re-writing, revising and editing really “working” on my art?

ClockTimeManagement

Over the past weekend I went to a Business of Art workshop and one of the attendees on the first day was also a presenter, a musician named Jogo. One of his parting thoughts was that you should take at least one action every day that works on your art and one action to promote yourself.

I like this idea because as a full-time working mother there are not that many hours in the day for me. I can probably write a little something and do one thing that promotes it. The question is, is re-writing, revising and editing really working on my art? In one respect, of course it is, but I feel like I should be writing something new every day.

There was a time when I was able to do the morning pages every day that Julia Cameron recommends, three pages of long hand writing.  Even though they were most often venting or journal pages, I liked that three pages in the morning for my creative writing as well.

I know that James Lee Burke, who writes the Dave Robicheaux novels, writes at least 750 words every single day. I’ve heard other writers say that they set themselves a limit and they produce that much of new material every day.  Then the editing and the business aspects of being a writer can come later in the day. Of course, they’re working as a writer all day long while I’m spending my day driving to work, working, driving home and then taking care of a small child who demands my attention until very late at night.

So, I’d like to be creating, really creating new material every day. Even if it were just a line or two, but preferably somewhere around three pages. After three pages a day, the creativity in my writing dissipates.

Right now, asking myself to get up early enough to write before I go to work just does not seem to be feasible, but first thing in the morning is my best, most creative and energetic time for writing.  So, what do I do? My best idea so far is to write in my head on the drive in and either use a digital recorder or scribble it down when I get to work.  I don’t get a lot of really good lines that way though.

So, if I have limited time and I don’t create something new, is re-writing or editing “working on my art?” It doesn’t feel like it but I think I may have to accept that it is.

The one action for promotion is not so difficult. I do recognize that there is a very good cumulative effect. After the workshop, I ended up with a long list of actions to take. For instance, yesterday I pulled my short artist’s statement out of what I had written to get into that workshop. I edited it down to a paragraph and put it in my Facebook page. If I fill out one element on that Facebook page every day, within a week it will be done. Some of those same elements are going to go into my website. I’m already signed up with Weebly and bought my domain name so I can do that very soon.

In fact, I started to work on the Weebly page but I realized I need to get a visual image in my head and pick out the visual elements before I really create it. I know what I want for content on each page but I would like at least some of the images to be my own creation, photographs or drawings. Also, do I want the images to be different on each page or the same throughout the site?  I think that will be my task over the weekend or next week.

Is revising and editing working on my art? Yes, I think it is. Is it creating something new every day? It can be, but it doesn’t really feel like it.  I would really like to be creating something new, whether it’s a couple lines of poetry or a paragraph on a story. Today I will just keep my eyes open and see if anything occurs to me that I can scribble down.

I think this is probably a personal question with a personal answer.  How do you handle it?

(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.)

Writing Under Fire

Firing

Have you ever had so many thoughts firing off in your brain that you thought it might explode if you didn’t put some of them down on paper?  Then, when you finally get them all out, all you want is a good nap?  Yeah, that’s how I feel today.

There is much going on in the writerly world here this week.  The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes put out a call for applicants to take part in a Business of Art workshop to be held in March.  I think this is a great idea for any writer and something we talk about frequently in my writer’s group.

They will be covering –

  • Portfolio Basics and Presentation Packages
  • Branding, Marketing and Promotion
  • Legal, Insurance and Financial issues
  • Money and Time: Grants, Fellowships, Apprenticeships and Residencies

There will also be time for performances, readings and exhibition.  Application to attend is competitive in the sense that they are only taking ten people in each of three tracks – performing, visual and literary.  I, of course, would like to attend the literary one.

I would really like to be writing for a living in a couple years but I need to grow my audience in order for that to happen.  I’ve already started making a little money from my writing and I need to know how to handle the financial side of things when that grows, both tax wise and other.  I intend to finish Biomalware this year and whether I go the traditional publishing route or e-publish, I will need to work on marketing.

Of course, this all threw me into application mode with re-working my artist’s statement, my writing resume and my statement of intention to attend the workshops.  There’s also choosing which pieces to include in my writing sample.

Then, last night, a few members of my writer’s group got together to work at the local coffee house.  A couple people read some pieces for critique and the poem got me thinking about whether I could write something to read on Saturday.   Of course, just putting that intention out there got my brain going on the idea of writing a poem and, before I knew it, the ideas were hitting me on the head.  I’ve been going all day on a poem that kind of rants about partisan politics.  (It’s something I’m a little fed up with.)  So I think I’ll have something to read on Saturday.

However, there are half a dozen things for work that are really demanding my attention as the deadline is fast approaching.  It’s all a little overwhelming and the idea of a nap is sounding better and better.

I had thought of writing about voice today but that seems like a little more than I can handle so I’ll leave you with this thought.  I just finished an excellent YA novel called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  The voice was very strong and immediate, told in the first person and spot on.  It’s told from the perspective of a young woman who has been imprisoned by the Nazis and is writing her confession in exchange for less torture.  (I highly recommend it.)

You can either just write and write and let your voice develop, or you can find out what elements affect voice and then deliberately pick the ones you want to create a particular voice.  The first sounds easier but the latter is probably a sign of learning about your craft so that’s something I’ll be working on in the near future.

Sometimes I think the real problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know.

Sometimes I feel like a pretender.  Am I a writer or am I just playing at it?  I know Maya Angelou once wrote much the same.  I feel like putting myself in a class with other writers is somehow being vain.

At the same time, I know what I want.  I want to write for a living.  I want to be a writer.  I am a writer.  I never feel so alive as when I am.

Okay, off to work on my book presentation for Wednesday so I can write late tonight.

May the muse grant you thoughts that fire your neurons in new patterns.

Time and Space

Do you ever feel like you’re not accomplishing much, sort of spinning your wheels, even though you’ve been writing?  That was me last week.  I finished writing a Villanelle titled Regrets, no small feat for me, and edited a chunk of a larger story into a short story, Devolution: The Beginning.  I turned both in to Yahoo Voices!  and they’ve been published.  But I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything lately.  I even wrote a new poem that I rather like.  Still, not getting that feeling of accomplishment.

I wonder if, perhaps, it’s because I’m not working on what I feel I should be working on write now… a novel.  I’ve put Writing the Breakout Novel in my bag to take to work with me and I’ll start reading.  I don’t have anything else on the schedule that I have committed to so I’m free to read that and start working on the novel.  A novel in six months?  Why not?  We write short, choppy ones in one month during November every year.  If I take one I’ve started, surely I can finish drafting it by the end of the year and have something far superior to what I’ve turned out in any November in the past six years.

Or perhaps it’s because I’m not writing daily?  There’s no consistency to my efforts.  I’m pretty much on a deadline approach to my writing most of the time which isn’t very conducive to creativity.  I need some creative space.

Or perhaps my well of creativity is simply running low.  I need a little inspirational rain.

All good things worth a try.  Read, write and take in something inspirational.  Hmmm, when?  Well, there’s the drive to work to think about my writing.  Sometimes that helps with the creativity and I come up with a few lines that I can jot down when I get there.  Lunch time is a little easier to read than write.  The evening is pretty well given over to taking care of the munchkin.  Sometimes I can read or write a little after I get her in bed, if I’m not too tired to be creative.

That doesn’t leave much time for creativity.  It won’t be easy, but I know it can be done because others have.  Time to make the most of every minute we can.  We can do this.  We can give ourselves over to the creative process and the novel will come forth.  Believe in the magic.  Heck, it built a baseball diamond.  Or was that a book?

Elmore Leonard and a writer’s leap of faith

Our writer’s group met last night, only five of us but we had a really good session.  It’s always fascinating to see what twists and turns everyone’s mind takes with a prompt.  I shared a poem that I needed help with editing and another member shared the first two chapters of a novel for feedback.

I also brought an interview that I had read recently on CNN, Grit on Wry: A Dinner with Elmore and Peter Leonard.  I used to be a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, partly because I love a good mystery but mostly because of the humor, I suspect.  My favorite books and movies tend to have a strong element of humor, whatever source it comes from.  It could be jokes with punchlines or simply the gentle humor that comes out of everyday life.  In the article, the author says of Elmore, “He thinks that crooks are dumb, and that dumb is funny.”  I also love the “snappy dialogue,”  what you might call snarky.

A couple other thoughts really stood out in the article for me.  The first was the idea that there are great ideas, strange things, happening every day in real life, just waiting to be worked into a story.  I’ve definitely found that to be true but my strange things don’t tend to run toward the criminal, the way they do for Elmore Leonard. 

The other interesting thought was that at some point, you’ve got to take a chance and make a leap of faith if you’re going to write for a living.  The problem, the way I see it, is that it’s a long leap.  It takes time to write that great American novel.  Then you’ve got to edit it and keep submitting it until someone agrees.  You’ve also got to keep writing in the meantime.  It take a focus and a singularity of purpose that is hard to pull off when you’ve got a family and work demanding your attention, plus needing to build your name for marketing online.  I feel like I need to carve a tiny bit of time out every day just for a novel.  We’ll see if I can do that this week.

In the meantime, I’m still writing for Yahoo! Voices.  Here’s a humorous poem I wrote for Easter based on an incident I’ve heard about many times over the years in our family, The Day the Chocolate Bunnies Died.

 

A Novel Idea

Lots of thinking going on about my writing in the past week.  I’m enjoying watching the views add up on my Yahoo! Voices page as people read things I’ve written.  I had two items due on Wednesday that proved more difficult than I expected.  I wrote a four hundred word entry on Easter memories that took a little time to get started but then the angle became clear as I thought about how my memories center around going to my Grandmother’s for vacation the week after Easter and weeding her flower beds.  That became Easter Vacations in the Country.  It was my favorite place to be and where I’ve returned to live and raise my own daughter.

The second piece was a bit more difficult.  I decided to write a Western.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  It’s never been my favorite genre but images of Little House on the Prairie flashed through my head and I thought I could do it.  Actually, I had a halfway decent idea, about a strong woman who leads the family, but not in time to really write it properly.  It turned into something pretty hokey.  I’m still trying to decide whether to invest the time to save it or leave it as the hokey western romance it turned into and move on.

Thursday night was our writer’s group meeting and I decided to share a science fiction short story for feedback that I wrote for a contest, (which it didn’t win.)  I was surprised at the strong reactions it drew.  They generally thought it deserved to be a novel.  I’m really considering working on that.  If I could write one page a day even, that would be 365 pages in a year’s time.  But where to start?  I don’t have a big vision for this.  It’s going to take some thinking.

 

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