Writing Faster Can Take Longer

It’s a thin line between trying different things to find a method that works for you and, well, just going crazy. You’ll have to ask Stephanie and Shonna if I’ve lost my mind yet. But the way I see it is – it doesn’t hurt to order something new on the menu and see if you like it.

Last November during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), Stephanie suggested I let go of my analytical plotter’s tendencies and just write whatever came to mind. She reminded me that a mere four weeks was nothing in the grand scheme of things: NaNoWriMo was to be an experiment in speed writing. It turned out to be speedier writing than I anticipated due to the fact that I wrote 75% of the 50,000 words in the last 12 days! (We’ll be talking more about NaNo in the next few weeks.)

I was excited because I made the goal. But from a professional point of view, I’m not sure that what I did and the way I did it worked very well for me. I ended up with a beginning, middle and end, a lot of good usable scenes, but a lot of scenes that later needed to be trashed. Worse, I was writing in rabbit trails without clear direction.

So do I think that writing as fast as you can is a waste of time? No. It ignited my joy to just gush out the words. That sparked some great ideas and created more emotional scenes. I thought about my story constantly – eating, sleeping, driving, listening to sermons at church (shh, don’t tell!). But it took me months to plot and revise the book afterward, moving scenes, trying to figure out what worked, what didn’t, where I really wanted to go.

Am I saying writing slower and making a big plotting chart works better? Nope. I spent months on another book plotting and planning and writing out a short description of every scene. I had about 100 pages of notes and 75 manuscript pages when I just stopped. I opened the file on my computer one day and said to myself, why am I working on this? I wrote out the entire story already; I know what happens. I’d lost my joy.

I’m finding that for me what works best is to have a basic plot before I start writing. Then as I think of ideas or write scenes, I post them on my plotting board. The first draft is mine to do with as I wish – experiment, have fun, try a couple different options for “what happens next” – within the confines of the plot. That way, when I’m done and ready to start the revision, I have a pretty clear map to tell me where I’m going, but I also had a lot of fun making the map!

With this method, I end up with a complete manuscript faster than if I write as fast as I can without much of a plan (as I did last November). But I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t accepted Stephanie’s challenge. What about you? What methods have you tried, and what works best?

Try, Try Again

I used to wake up in the morning and think, oh glorious day, I have the whole day to write, research, go to lunch with my husband, pick up a book at the library, go grocery shopping, and make a batch of brownies. That would be a “light” day in my overly optimistic normal work week. At the end of the day, I was exhausted, had gotten a lot done, but had often managed little to no writing. Even though it was the first thing on my list.

I’ve tried a lot of different routines over the last ten years. I’ve tried to be a clock-watcher going from one task to the next as if I were back in college going from one class to another. I’ve tried using a To Do List that had everything written down that needed to be done that day. I’ve tried organizing that list in priority order and in easy-to-difficult order. I’ve tried the free spirit approach. I’ve tried doing what other writers do – whomever I happened to have heard at a conference or read about in a magazine.

Most of those methods either didn’t work at all, or worked for a limited amount of time. So I started doing a lot of experimenting on when I am most productive, what gives me energy and what drains it, and what I don’t do well when I’m tired. A few weeks ago, I created a new routine that allowed me to do anything I wanted before 9am, but only writing (with the email program turned off!) from 9am to noon. It has worked wonders! But past experience tells me it will only work for a while, and then I’ll need to switch things up again.

What I’ve found works best for me is to reevaluate my writing life every few months to see if I’m accomplishing what I feel I need to. I consider whether there is a different or better way I could get more done. And most importantly I don’t look at it as “failed yet again” if something doesn’t seem to be working. That is, I no longer look at it that way. Now I see it as changing my routine to meet the changing needs of life.

Plus I’m learning that my creative brain needs to do things a little differently every now and then, shake things up to keep it interesting. I’m keeping a list of things I could do differently, or in a different order, or in a different place so that I have a new routine to turn to when the current one sours. The next thing I’m going to try? Adding analytical tasks to my day every day to see if it acts as a pressure valve for my internal editor. I am constantly told I over-analyze things, so if I do something like balancing my checkbook or planning for our upcoming transcontinental move every day I’m hoping it might tone down my internal editor. We’ll see!

If you have time, listen to this lecture by Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, on time management. It might give you a new perspective. And let us know what is working for you, what isn’t, and what you’re going to try next. We’d love to hear!

Time Wasters and How to Avoid Them

I might be one of the only writers I know who does not waste time playing computer games like solitaire. However, I have a boatload of other time wasters! Here are some of them:

  • Shopping in the morning to avoid the crowds and traffic
  • Checking email during my writing time
  • Working on writing that isn’t part of my focus
  • Running errands every day instead of grouping them together once or twice a week
  • Too much TV and movie watching
  • Staring at my to do list, moving stacks of papers and books on my desk, and in a variety of other ways trying to get more organized without actually accomplishing that or anything else!
  • Planning for the future too far in advance
  • Driving to a store to buy something I might not even need because I have a coupon that’s going to expire today

The question for me soon became – how do I know when I should feel guilty for doing one of these things instead of writing? None of them are bad, per se. But when I can find a way to narrow down what needs to be done and when, that will help me know when to push myself and when to back off without wallowing in unnecessary guilt.

Three changes have helped immensely – 1) creating routines, 2) figuring out what my time wasters are (and where possible, finding ways to avoid them), and 3) figuring out what I really want to write and making sure I stay within those bounds.

So 1) my new routine is to write from 9am to noon, five days a week. 2) I can’t do anything else during that time, especially any of my time wasters. As you can see, I actually made a list of them so I can be forewarned and forearmed before I lose too much time. 3) I made a list of about a half dozen topics I want to stay focused on, whether for fiction or nonfiction.

When a writing opportunity came up last week, I compared the topic to my interest list. It wasn’t on there, and couldn’t easily be angled in one of those ways. I immediately declined the opportunity. Boom! Done! No wasted time trying to figure out how I could make it work. And no guilt! When I got a coupon for my favorite store, I figured out how much the savings would be. I’d created a strategy to avoid wasting time by not making a special trip if the savings was less than $10. Boom! Done! I didn’t leave my writing early that day.

Which brings me back to the connection between guilt and wasting time. The above lists and strategies have helped me to recognize when I am wasting time out of laziness, when I need to stop and take a breath and ask myself what’s wrong, and when I just need to relax and realize life interrupts our schedules sometimes. For me, I only need to allow guilt to exist in the first scenario because that’s what guilt is for – to get us to change what we’re doing. In the last two scenarios, there is nothing to feel guilty about. And with set routines, you can hit “restart” immediately!

What about you? What are your time wasters, and how do you – or can you – avoid them?

Back in the Saddle

Every September loads of people try to get their head out of their vacations, to stop thinking about the beach or the woods or the water, and get back into their “usual” routines. For many people, this includes school for someone in the family, and the strange dread/excitement of having to get back into your work knowing that you’ve got at least one holiday a month for the next few months.

As a full-time writer without children, I would think I’d be immune to this issue. But because I spent almost my whole life using this schedule – 17 years in school plus a lot of years in the work force before quitting my day job – it’s ingrained into my DNA!

So here I am in September thinking about the homework I need to do for my two Bible studies that start up again this week, planning for my husband’s birthday next month and our trip to Phoenix to see old friends over a long weekend, worrying about a project I have to finish for a favorite charity, wanting to drive 100 miles to see a new baby in the family, needing to visit some friends who had health issues or family deaths lately, figuring out what needs to be done for our move to Australia next summer, and – oh yeah, I’m out of dish soap and spoons, so I need to buy one or the other today.

Welcome to my brain in September! Looking back, I know this is what happens every September, whether I was juggling band practice and track practice in high school or planning after marriage which family and friends we would visit on which holiday for the fall and winter. Once you see a pattern, you can learn to use it, to work it. Or you can choose to change it.

For me, I need to use this September pattern I’ve developed. This month is a natural time for me to do a bit of long-term planning, in life and in writing. So for this fall, I’m planning on finishing the final draft of my current book in September, plot out the second book in October, write the first draft in November and be done with it by mid-December, then actually enjoy the Christmas season without stress this year. (I say that every year, and some years I even make it!) During the next ten months I need to be very careful with my planning because I need to work, but I also need to spend quality time with friends and family before we move out of the country. Knowing my priorities will help me keep my routines in place.

I’m reading a book called WRITE IS A VERB by Bill O’Hanlon. The subtitle is “Sit Down. Start Writing. No Excuses.” He gives lots of tips on how to get started, how to keep going, how to work in small increments of time. He’s very encouraging and upbeat – check it out.

So what is your September like? How can you either change it or make it work for you? What do you need help with? Let us know, we’d love to help you brainstorm some better routines!

Kitty’s Routines

If there is one consistent through-line in my writing routines, it is that they change to fit my life at the moment. I used to look at this as a weakness, as proof that I couldn’t keep to a schedule. Now I see that allowing myself to be flexible to life’s needs helps me to be more productive rather than less so.

For instance, right now my daily routine goes something like this: wake up and run (my husband and I are training to run a half marathon), shower and eat breakfast, then I have 20-30 minutes of flex time to do whatever I want or need to before the writing day begins at 9am. (Thank you, God, that I no longer have to commute! ☺ ) I write from 9am to 1pm – write, not research or any other almost-writing activity. Then I break for lunch and check email, and in the afternoon I do my almost-writing activities like research, reading, writing non-fiction articles and blog entries, more email, etc. The last few hours of the late afternoon I try to get household chores done, pay bills, run errands, whatever else is on my to do list for the day.

That’s the routine I shoot for and often accomplish. That is not the average day!  LOL! I have a tendency to think and work in a project-oriented way. Once I get writing, I find it difficult to stop while I still have something to say. That would explain why my husband asked me yesterday why we had no groceries. I kept meaning to go to the store, but I’ve been in the flow for the last two weeks and haven’t wanted to stop!

In the same way, once I get started on email, I find it very hard to stop while there are still emails that need to be answered. In fact, I’ve found that if I don’t literally close my email program, I’ll keep checking it every time it dings at me – not good for getting writing and other work done. Same with my to do list. If I start working through it first thing in the morning, I’ll get tons of stuff done – except for writing.

And that’s why I write in the morning now. Apparently, whatever I get started on first thing is what my energy is going to be focused on, not just for the hours I’m working on it, but on and off for the whole day. I used to try to “get everything else done so my afternoon is free for writing.” But all that meant is that somehow I didn’t get much/any writing done!

I don’t look at these frequent changes to routine as signs that I “failed yet again.” That is, I no longer look at it that way. Now I see it as changing my routine to meet the changing needs of life. Plus I suspect that my creative brain needs to do things a little differently every now and then, shake things up to keep it interesting.

What routines have you tried? What worked? What surprised you? Jump in and share your experiences!

Why Are We Here?

Why are we here? Well, in the beginning, God created… Oops, sorry! We’re talking about the reason for filling up cyberspace with yet more chatter, not the reason we exist as human beings. Right.

Well, actually, for me the two topics are not totally separate. I have the occasionally far-fetched idea that my writing will change the world. I try to remind myself that it’s not that far-fetched when I think of all the things I’ve read that have changed me. That’s what keeps me writing.

And that’s why Stephanie, Shonna and I started this web site. We want to share the synergy we’ve experienced when the three of us talk about our writing, how to get more done, how to improve our work, how to balance writing with the other aspects of our lives in a healthy and mutually beneficial way. Yes, I believe that the act of writing improves other areas of my life, and of course the rest of my life impacts my writing. (I haven’t figured out how to write to lose weight yet, but I did buy Julia Cameron’s The Writing Diet! I think I have to read it first to find out how it works, but I’ll let you know in a later post!)

Synergy works best for me in conversation. I literally can call up a friend, tell them I have a problem, tell them all about it, figure out the solution, then thank them for their help and hang up. (Hmm, actually, I think I just described monologuing!) Over the last year or two, the three of us have used this conversational synergy to discover together new ideas for how to track our accomplishments, create a reward system, spend more quality time writing, and so much more! Every time we talked, we helped each other become a better writer and a better person.

So when we started talking about the next step in our career plan – blogs and web sites – we tried once again to find synergy in working together. We thought up and tossed out several ideas, but the one we liked most had to do with teaching others, sharing information, encouraging other writers in their writing, and encouraging others to help each other.

That’s where you come in.

We’d like to build a community here. If we have to spend time on promotion, time that takes away from our writing, then we might as well try to make it as fun as possible and make some friends along the way. Jump in and share your thoughts. Ask us questions – and get at least three different answers! Tell us what’s working for you. And please feel free to answer each other’s questions! That’s the kind of community we’d love to be a part of. We’re all on this journey together, whether we write or read or live our favorite stories. We want to help you find routines that give you more joy in the process.

So introduce yourself to us – and Welcome!