My Routines

          Routines. Routines for Writers. That’s who we are. That’s what we talk about. All the topics, all the discussions, everything we say comes back to routines. It is fitting, then, this September, our anniversary month, that we focus on routines, specifically those routines that help us succeed.

          Whether it pertains to creating, rewriting, editing or publishing, routines can hinder or help. Since I’m a hands-on learner and it helps me to have examples of how to apply theoretical knowledge, I’m going to share some of my own examples in the hope of helping those of you who are hands-on, too. I suspected, many years ago, that routines might make my life more manageable (theory). I had a lot of trial and error, though, before I found good routines that aided me in accomplishing my goals (practice). I’m still learning. 

          Life never stays the same. That change so often turns good routines into not-so-good routines. Example: When we started this blog, my posts went up on Mondays. I created routines that allowed me to have it finished and posted by Sunday night. When I moved to China, Sunday night became too difficult, but that didn’t matter. China is 12 hours ahead of the USA so even though I finished and posted, this blog on Monday mornings, from most of our readers’ perspectives, it was still Sunday night. Then I moved back to the US. And struggled to get the posts up on time. So we made the change to me posting on Wednesdays and Kitty on Mondays. Now my routines help me post on time (usually).

          Other routines in my life now are related to my school schedule. I am taking seven different classes for the semester. As you might imagine, I get overloaded sometimes. I’ve learned to not panic when those feelings of being overwhelmed descend on me every Tuesday and progressively get worse throughout Thursday. That feeling is deceptive. Yes, if I did not work on my projects and assignments or study for tests, I would certainly become overwhelmed and fail. However, the routines of my life at present usually allow me a few large blocks of study time. I have a work-study job at the college library. I am allowed, even encouraged, to study while I sit at the desk or do other library things. That means I often have a good portion of my four-hour shifts on Thursday and Friday to work on many of my assignments. Even though I often have Saturday completely free, many times I don’t need to use it for studying.

          There is a negative, though. If the library is busy, like it was last week, I don’t get that study time. I have to find other times to study. If I count on those times too much, I can get into trouble. Like last weekend when I had multiple assignments, projects and labs. (I got everything finished, but just barely.)

          I have found that I need to periodically review my routines. Sometimes all that is needed is to put them back into practice. I’m naturally a seat-of-the-pants type person. I tend to flex my routines a lot. Sometimes my problems are not that the routines don’t fit my current circumstances, but that I’m not utilizing them. Routines have to work for you. Or to paraphrase a great man, “Routines were created for you; You were not created for routines.”

          Are your routines helping or hindering? What do you need to do about it?

Time For A New Routine!

          I’m frustrated! What happened to all those ideas brewing in my head? Why can’t I pull them through my fingers onto the page? Where did all my motivation go?

          Maybe it has something to do with these life changes happening around me. (Ya think?) Every aspect of living, working, thinking is being analyzed, evaluated and reworked. It might have a small effect on my writing. (No way!) I’m revisiting personal history and discovering deception and misunderstanding in the most unexpected places. The resulting emotional turmoil is sure to hinder the flow of words. (How’s that for understated?)

          All those things are true. It is understandable why I’m having difficulty writing. But I don’t want any more excuses! Even if they are valid reasons. I want to write! I want to stop being derailed by my thoughts when I sit down at the computer. I don’t like the unthinking stupors that blindside me before my document even loads. I especially want to curtail the treks down Memory Lane Gone Rancid.

          I felt more productive the week I spent helping my dad sort and get rid of several storage bays of accumulated junk. I spent hours each day hauling things out of the bays, filling a truck with stuff and carting it to various places. I came back to my brother’s house exhausted, ate some dinner and collapsed in my bed. Before I collapsed, though, I would force myself to write a minimum . . . a tiny minimum . . . of 230 words.

          Learning from that insight, I realize I need to re-establish my routines . . . one small goal at a time.

          I know that, but still I struggle. ( 😮 Lightbulb moment here.) It occurs to me that that struggle is actually my success, not my failure. Stubborn cuss that I am, I don’t know when to give up. (Evidenced by how long it took me to realize a LOT of things.)

          Ok. I need to keep struggling. But something has to change.

          In trying to analyze what needs to change, I realize that my failures happen because of familiarity. I’m sitting down at the same desk, in the same room, doing the some things as before my life erupted. No wonder my mind wanders through Swamp Memory Park when I sit down to write. I need change!

          What kind of change? Do I get rid of this desk? This desk I fought for, with all the little cubbyholes for all my stuff, the pull out shelves that extend my desk space, the roll top that brings an old-time feel that I love. Do I really have to get rid of it? Do I really want to keep it? How long can I live this conflicted? (Ok. I’ll shelve the desk decision until it is less emotional.)

          In my mindless (or not so mindless?) Internet wanderings, I came across “Top 10 Productivity Pitfalls For Writers to Avoid.” Sheesh! No wonder I’m floundering. Every one of those pitfalls is present in varying degrees.

          Ok. There’s work to be done. I need to combat negativity, make a productive workspace, drag myself out of isolation, rediscover my writing rhythms . . . How do I do I do this?!?

          Routines! Of course! If I can reclaim some structure into my schedule for my writing, writing should happen. (Right?) I need new routines. Routines that get me focused both on the big picture vision and the short term goals. Routines that work with my writing and living rhythms. Routines that blaze new pathways away from Rancid Memory Lane and out of Swamp Memory Park.

          New plan: I will write at least 15 minutes twice a day. It doesn’t matter what I write, just that I write. For the next few weeks, I will experiment with writing at different times, in different places on different projects. I will rediscover my writing rhythms, find my writing vision and unearth my short-term goals. Fifteen minutes at a time.

          Join me, won’t you?

Celebrations Give Your Writing Energy

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US!

<balloons> <cheering> <confetti>


Today marks the 2-year anniversary of Routines for Writers! Yay! Sometimes it seems like we’ve been doing this forever, while other times it seems we’ve barely begun to figure out who we are and what we’re really about.

That’s how it is with writing and lots of other creative pursuits. You play around a lot. You make goals and try to make them happen. You run into obstacles and you ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” Then you renew your commitment to your goals or you tweak them to work better. You encounter more obstacles, get ahead, fall behind, start again.

I just described Goal-Motivation-Conflict (see Debra Dixon’s web site and her GMC book). We create our pretend people and give them goals; we figure out how and why they would be motivated to pursue those goals; we throw all kinds of obstacles in their way. At the end of the story, they are supposed to come out better people.

It’s the same for us real people. If obstacles to writing come your way, don’t despair. Fighting through the conflicts – all kinds of conflicts in your life – is a constant opportunity to become a better person. And in our case, better writers. Every day is a new beginning, a new chance to start over, try again. Rejoice in the gift of a new day!

Summer is pretty much over in the U.S. Kids are going back to school, parents are getting back into “normal” routines, even the childless are getting out of the vacation mindset. It’s time to get back to our writing routines as well.

Here in Sydney, today is the first day of spring! Another analogy for renewal, restarting, new life. What can you do today to breathe new life into your writing? Is there a tried and true routine you got out of during the last few months? Do you need to look at trying something different? Every day brings you closer to achieving your goals – so celebrate! Celebrating your achievements – even if the achievement is that you haven’t given up – will give new life to your writing. Remember the joy you have in creating.

I’ve noticed that with every year that goes by, if I spent time thinking about why I write, I get better at expressing the stories I’m telling. I heard Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy and Firefly) speak last weekend at the Sydney Opera House. He told us that when he sat down and tried to vocalize why he writes what he does, the whole picture made more sense to him. I decided to sit down with my journal and vocalize why I choose the stories I do. That way, I’ll be better able to focus on telling the stories only I can tell in the way only I can tell them. I’m excited to see what I find out about myself!

On the flip side, I spent two years slaving after an unchanging goal. I never considered changing it. I didn’t think about why I wasn’t achieving it. I never tried to analyze why I wanted it. And the pursuit didn’t bring me joy anymore. Since entering my master’s program in creative writing, I’ve found myself getting closer to voicing the deepest why in my writing. Perhaps that is how breakout novels are written.

Am I making any sense or am I rambling? Is this line of thinking the by-product of too much cold medicine in my system?  😉  I think – for me, at least – I’ve found another rung in the ladder, something to get me a little closer to my goal of publishing novel-length fiction. John and I make our new year resolutions on our anniversary instead of in January. The date is more significant for us. I feel that way about our Routines for Writers web site. Today is a good day to think about why I’m here. Am I really helping you? Am I becoming a better person and a better writer? Does a web presence really have any effect on your career before you’re published? Is wanting to share the journey with others enough?

I think it is.  🙂

So go write something! Sit down with your journal and ask yourself why you’re writing specifically what you’re writing. Does it represent the real you? Is it something that could entertain, encourage, uplift other people? Today is a new day! Rejoice and be glad in it! And bring that joy into your writing!

Notes: Here is another great post on getting back into your routines at Write It Sideways. Also, I’ll be teaching an online class on goal setting and time management for the writer in January. I’ll let you know when and where you can sign up. Remember we’ll have guests every Tuesday this month – librarians and booksellers encouraging you to keep writing because there are people out there waiting to read your book! And check out Shonna’s blog on Friday telling you about our first ever contest – the winner will receive a critique from each of us on a piece of their work!

Get Ready . . . . Get Set . . . Go!

          Last week I said it was time to get busy, but after hearing from some of you and reassessing my situation, I realized I was misunderstanding my angst. Rather than my lack of writing being a symptom of procrastination, it was actually an indication that my schedule was too full. My original plan had been to jump back into a routine as soon as I was back in town from my road trip. I knew there was something that would take a big portion of my time the first couple of weeks home, but I still expected to be able to carve out at least 30 minutes a day or even more.

          Within days of my return, though, there was a death in my extended family. While I was not responsible for the bulk of arrangements, my time was still required enough to push writing down a notch or two in priority. This past week a few more related responsibilities intruded. (And remember that task I knew would take my time? It’s still not completely done either.)

          Even so, I wanted to write! So write I did. Not as much as I would have liked and not keeping even a semblance of a routine, but a little every chance I grabbed. The last of the visitors leave on Wednesday. Until then I will be grabbing time as and where it arrives. After that, though, it will be back to the routine. (At least that is the current plan.)

          Kitty and Shonna’s posts and all the comments from last week are my inspiration. I will carve out some me time, keep working toward my dream (and bugging God about it) and I’ll use Shonna’s ideas to keep me from dawdling away precious writing time. I have music selected and at least one day’s goals planned and I’ll stay off the ‘Net. (Sorry, Shonna, checking to see who is writing at the same time as me would be way too distracting and dawdle-intense. 🙂 )

          Go me! . . . . and . . . Go you, too!

Back to Routines Mini-Challenge 3

The Back to Routines Mini-Challenge is almost over. Today we are going to talk about working the plan. Let’s review: your goal sheet is done, your desk is organized and filled with motivational writer stuff; you know what you need to get accomplished and have written it down on a calendar or chart.

 

Now, writer friend, is the time to work the plan.

 

How do you stay motivated? How do you make yourself sit down and write? Routines and will power. Lots of Zig Ziglar motivation tapes.

 

Until writing is such a habit that you don’t even think about it, you’ll have to force yourself to write. Until you have a contract telling you the finish line, you have to make your own. This is what separates published writers from hobbyists. Published writers (before they had a contract) pushed through even when no one was waiting for the manuscript. There is no other way (at least for most people.)

 

When the writing gets hard, turn off the emotions and keep going. It will get better. If you quit writing, your book will die.

 

Hmm, okay. On that positive note, off you go! Your characters depend on you.

 

Back to Routines Mini-Challenge 2

Today is the second post in the Back to Routines Mini-Challenge. We are transitioning from summer holidays to the working world. So, how well did the first to-do list go? Goal sheet out and revised? Work space organized and primed for writing?

 

This next week we are going to work on our writing plans. This involves a calendar or a spreadsheet or a writer’s chore chart, etc.

 

Here is where you have to figure out what it will take on a monthly/weekly/daily basis to complete your goals. You have to look at the amount of work (estimate how much time it will take, then, if you are like me, you’ll have to double it).

 

Then, you have to figure out the daily WHAT and WHEN.

 

For example, this summer I’ve been working on the second draft of my NaNoWriMo novel that I wrote last November. My goal is to have the third draft finished by the end of Oct so I’m ready for NaNo again.

 

My WHAT: I’ve allotted 2 days per chapter for the second draft (filling out the plot). Then 1 day per chapter for the third draft (working on word choices and emotions). Each chapter is recorded on my calendar so I know when I’ve fallen behind.

 

I also have my plot inventory printed out so I can highlight the chapters as I finish them. (With a nice bold purple highlighter so it looks like I’m making progress. Purple highlighter makes me happy.)

 

My WHEN: At night. No one interrupts after dark so my brain doesn’t get derailed.

 

That is my plan. Have you got yours? Well, off you go and figure out your plan. How are you going to get the book written? For Real?

Meet Their Needs with Excellence and Generosity

Note to readers: Thank you for your patience as I moved from Los Angeles to Sydney. I’ve safely arrived! The distress has decreased dramatically and the eustress has increased. Along with that, my thoughts on writing have been rather more on the spiritual side. I hope they still give you food for thought.

Life has been a whirlwind of activity the last ten days as John started his new job and I spend my days looking for a new home for us. As I wait at bus stops, I’ve been listening to John C. Maxwell‘s book Failing Forward on my iPod. He talks about how attitude affects everything, and how there is truth to the philosophy that what you believe will happen, will happen. He also says, “Once you know what matters to people, do your best to meet their needs with excellence and generosity. Offer your best with no thought toward what you might receive in return.”

When I was talking to God yesterday about whether I should apply for part-time work to help pay my master’s degree tuition, I suddenly realized that in our conversations God has made it clear over the years that writing is an act of obedience for me. He has never made any promises to me about money in that regard. (It may happen, but it wasn’t promised.)

Reading my Bible this morning, Jesus asks two blind men in the book of Matthew if they believe he can heal them. When they respond affirmatively, Jesus says, “Become what you believe” (The Message translation), or “According to your faith be it unto you” (King James version).

And when I sat down for a moment of quiet contemplation to think about what I can say on the Routines for Writers blog today, it hit me how connected all those ideas are. (It’s amazing how quickly my brain can make connections – when I’m quiet. Routine to remember – be quiet for at least five minutes a day!)

It seems to me that I am supposed to write. The money is not the motivator – it isn’t what is going to tell me if I succeeded in the task God gave me on earth – knowing whether I gave people what they needed, that is how I’ll know if I succeeded. So much of what we learn about how to have “a successful writing career” has to do with money. But even though people think about money and talk about money a lot, that doesn’t make it an accurate marker in our writing lives.

If my attitude is an important part of my writing routines, and if that attitude and belief system will help me “become what I believe,” then I may want to try a new routine for a while. I promise here in public that I will not look at my writing as a money-making venture for the rest of the year. I want to see if my writing changes (improves?) when I ask myself what I can give to others. What do they need, and how can I offer it to them with excellence and generosity?

I’m not sure how I’ll go about this change of attitude. Everything I’ve been thinking about as I prepare to apply for a master in creative writing degree has doubtless inspired some of my heart-change. If you have any great slogans or affirmations or other advice, please share them. They may help others as well – and that means I’ve encouraged YOU to meet others’ needs with excellence and generosity. Hmm, this could be a trend.

Take-away:

New Routine 1: Be quiet for at least 5 minutes a day.

New Routine 2: Think about how to write with excellence and generosity about what people need and without thought to monetary gain.

Back to Routines Mini-Challenge

 

Today starts a three-part Friday series to shake off the summer siesta and get back into your writing routine.

 

I know it is still sunny and hot, but the cool days are coming and it’s time to get ready to write. Seriously write. For Real. No procrastinating. (Yes, Stephanie, I’m thinking of you.)

 

Here’s your first to-do list:

1.      Dust off your goal sheet from January. What? No goal sheet. Then it’s time to make one. What do you want to do by Dec 31st this year? 2009 is over halfway behind you. Time to buckle down and work on those goals. Revise them if you need to: they must be measurable and have an end date. Look up goals/goal setting on our blog for more ideas.

2.      Organize your work space. This means clean and declutter so you don’t get distracted when you sit down to work. This also means decorating (the fun part): tack up plot charts, photos of potential scenes, motivational quotes, whatever puts you in the mood to write. If you like the comic posted above there are a bunch more over at www.inkygirl.com.

 

Okay, that’s it for this week. You have one week to accomplish these two tasks. Not very demanding, eh? Let me know if you are up for the three-week mini challenge. We’ll help hold you accountable.