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?

Interrupted Routines

Whether you are writing for publication or for yourself, for a traditional publisher or blazing your own trail, routines will help smooth your way. Babies and small children love routines because there is a sense of security in knowing what will happen and when. Our brains work well when they know what kind of brainwork needs to be done, and doing it at the expected time, in the expected way. That doesn’t mean we should always stick to our routines because we might get stuck in a rut. It doesn’t mean that the pantser isn’t as productive as the plotter, or that the plotter isn’t as creative as the pantser. It’s a simple statement:

Routines add value.

I haven’t had very many consistent routines over the last few years, and particularly not in the last few months. Today is no exception – we’re moving into our new apartment today! Woo-hooo!! I’m very excited! But just when I was sort of getting caught up and thinking about what kinds of routines were really working for me as I tried to write in my friend’s guest room, I’m back to moving again. Tomorrow, the moving company will deliver all the stuff they took away in Sydney. (I’m very excited to wear some different clothes than those I packed in my suitcases in November!) I have to be careful not to spend too much time creating the perfect work and home environment, though. My husband’s contract is only for nine months. So while I need to unpack, I also need to focus on getting some working writing routines up and running as soon as possible.

You don’t have to choose difficult or time intensive routines in order to add value to your writing time. Little things like writing 300 words before you allow yourself to check email in the morning will go a long way. In fact, for some people, the little things are what add up to great changes. That’s what I think is going to happen with me over the next year. I’ll start with a couple small changes, and let it grow naturally. Kaizen, the art of continuous improvement, is behind many of the largest, most competitive businesses in the world today. Why not let it work for us?

Happy Easter! I hope this spring is a new beginning for you in some way that brings you joy!

2011 Revisited

          Kitty and Shonna and I are taking a short break over the holidays to focus on our families. Instead of new blog posts, we’ll be sending you to a few from the past year that we think you will enjoy.

Reading Routine 3 – Nonfiction

People who love to read can get a little crazy-excited talking to each other about their to-be-read piles – TBRs, online. (Took me a while to figure out what TBR meant.) Most everyone seems to talk about all the fabulous fiction they’re trying to hurry and read. But it occurs to me that we rarely talk about the great time to be had in the midst of our nonfiction TBR pile.

Do you have one?

Most of my nonfiction books have to do with writing or research on something I’m writing. Sometimes it’s just something that looks interesting in general. Just for fun, I thought I’d tell you what is literally sitting next to my bed right now (much to my husband’s chagrin). Some I’ve read more than once, some I skim looking for something in particular, some I’m dying to sit down and read cover to cover some (nonexistent) free weekend. Here they are:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
The Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
Running with the Giants – John C. Maxwell
How to Write Crime – edited by Marele Day
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond
Be Your Own Literary Agent – Martin P. Levin
Writing Popular Fiction – Dean R. Koontz
How to Write Best Selling Fiction – Dean R. Koontz
The Action Hero’s Handbook – David and Joe Borgenicht
Making a Good Writer Great – Linda Seger
Story – Robert McKee
Living with Angels – Theolyn Cortens
On Writing – Stephen King
Get Known Before the Book Deal – Christina Katz

That’s my list. And I hope one day soon to have/take the time to read all of them. What about you? What’s in your nonfiction TBR pile?

 

Broken Routines

The great thing about setting up writing routines – or any kind of routine – is that you can set things on auto-pilot and they just keep going. Until something falls on the tracks and disrupts them.

Since May, my life has been full to bursting with routine busters. The last six weeks of my master’s degree program were a mad rush of homework. The morning after my last class, I flew to the U.S. for 3 1/2 weeks for three different writer’s events (culminating in New York City at the Romance Writers of America’s national conference!). On the way back to Sydney, I picked up my Mom and she visited us for four weeks. A few days into her visit, John and I decided that my career could wait one more month to get re-started after college. I was never going to have this time with my mom again and that was more important than hurrying back to work.

Mom left, I took a couple days to relax and re-focus, then I started back up again. The first few days were okay, but the massive amounts of undone household chores loomed in the background. Still, I plowed on. Then a letter came from the government about a form we needed to file with them. That took the better part of two days over a week to deal with. (Ah, good ole government paperwork!)

Then some food got spilled on the couch cushions. I’d been meaning to take the cover off the couch and wash it for months, but I kept putting it off because I was busy doing other important things. Well, if I’ve got to wash one cushion cover, I might as well wash all of them and be done with it. Alas! The IKEA covers can be washed – and in hot water, no less – but can’t be tumble dried. They can get hot in water but can’t get hot in air? Oka-ay. So they’re drying on a rack now. But wait for it – they have to be hot-ironed before going back on.

Sigh. This was not how my day was supposed to go. This was not how my writing career was supposed to go!

On the other hand, after a productive work morning yesterday, my friend called me and said, “What are you doing?!” She’d been sick and housebound and now she sounded GREAT. And she wanted to get out of the house. And we missed each other. And we were only going to go to the mall to pick up two or three things. But so long as we were there, we should look for a couple things she needed for her trip to France. (I know, right?! Paris!) And since I was with her, I could play with her toddler while she tried on clothes.

And hey, since it’s raining, why don’t we go pick up our husbands from work (they work together on Happy Feet 2) so they don’t have to walk in the rain. And since it was raining, the traffic was a bear, so we still didn’t get home till after 7pm. Then there was no couch to sit on because the cushion covers were still air-drying. So my romantic husband took all our other pillows from the house and piled them up on the floor and we had a little chocolate picnic while we watched TV. At that point, writing routines were totally not on my radar! (Hey, since I write a lot of romance, I consider this research time. 😉 I totally forgot about you guys and this blog! LOL!)

So where does that leave me?

At the beginning of a new day. I think God created days and nights so we could always take a break and start again. I really do. So today is a new day. I’m writing this at the very beginning of a new day in Sydney, even though it’s the middle of the day in the States. (It’s tomorrow here! Isn’t that cool?!) When I’m done writing this, I’m going to hit restart on my old daily routine I used to have, my First Five (exercise and shower, make the bed, put away last night’s cleaned dishes, load the washing machine, read my Bible).

Then I’m going to work for two hours so that I’ll continue my commitment to put my career first. But then I’m going to spend the rest of the day getting all that “stuff” done that is making me crazy and taking part of my attention away from my work. (You know what I mean, you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, but you’re thinking about everything else that needs to be done.) I’ll iron those couch cushion covers and remake the couch. I’ll vacuum up the feathers that came out of the cushions, and do the rest of the apartment since I’m at it. I’ll clean up and put away all the half-done, half-put away stuff that’s been hanging around from as far back as June.

And then I’m determined to sit down and create a First Five for writing. I’ve been talking about it for eight months. I just haven’t figured out what the first five parts of my writing routine are yet. Possibly because I haven’t been in a place where I can really have a career writing routine yet. But that day is TODAY! LOL!

So what about you? Do you have certain things you do to get into your writing headspace? Are you like me, trying to create a routine but not figuring it out yet?

Note: I keep forgetting to tell you about my Kitty Bucholtz web site and the things I’m discussing over there. But I wanted to let you know that tomorrow I’ll post my first review of an ebook on how to make and publish ebooks. I’m going to self-publish my novel Little Miss Lovesick next month  and I want to share what I’m learning with my friends. So if you’re interested in that subject, stop on by!

Routine of Rest – Guilty or Not Guilty?

I feel a little guilty even writing this post. We talk about how much rest we need to function most efficiently, but is it a habit we practice? Yes, I take a mid-day break to eat lunch while watching a recorded episode of my favorite TV show. But did I actually rest, or just change activities?

This question came to mind full-strength yesterday when I was on my way home from dropping my mom at the airport and realized that all I wanted to do was go home and lie down on the couch. But I didn’t really rest. I caught up on some taped TV, ate lunch, caught up on the last two weeks’ of newspapers, and then remembered I needed to write a post about writing routines.

I did all of these things from the couch. But I wouldn’t say I truly rested.

Am I guilty of not managing my time well? Yes. Could I be more efficient? Yes. Do I watch too much TV? Guilty, again. But do I routinely really and truly rest? I’m afraid the verdict would be not guilty. And I think I should find a way to change that.

What do you think? When was the last time you felt well rested for even an hour or two?

Taking a Breath

I am so tired that I still can’t believe it – I have a master’s degree! Wow! Friends have asked me, how does it feel? And I say, I’m not sure yet. Of course, that’s partially because I went from class to a 14-hour plane ride to running around trying to see every friend I have in all of Southern California! LOL!

The jet lag isn’t helping. I’ve gone to bed early, gone to bed late, and still I woke up between 1am and 3am, then wasn’t able to fall asleep till after 5am. I’ve been out in the sunshine for hours, keeping up a schedule based on this time zone, not napping, drinking lots of water. But I’m still exhausted. Last night I even tried staying up till 3am hoping that would get me past that middle of the night waking period. But it only made me more tired.

I was talking to my friend Marcy and she reminded me I was doubtless going to feel exhausted anyway after I finished that last sprint for my classes. Then I took a transoceanic flight and kept running around, trying to adjust but not giving myself much room to do so. In which case, it’s a double-whammy on my mind and body.

It occurred to me that just like I take clues from my regular life and apply them to writing, now I can take a clue from writing and apply it to regular life. Sometimes you just have to relax and take a breath.

So I’m going to try to relax a bit with my big to do list and my trying so hard to do everything, and I’m going to try to take a little time to relax. Since I’m still going to run around and see three more sets of friends today, I guess in some ways the relaxing is only going to be mental.  LOL! But sometimes it’s your mind that sets the direction for everything else, so I think it will help a lot.

I don’t have a plan for any routines right now. I have no idea what my summer schedule is. I don’t even know for sure what I’m going to do at my writer’s retreat this weekend (except to figure out what I need to do to be ready for the NY writer’s conference in two weeks). I’m going to try to chill. Then after I’ve had a mental and emotional deep breath, I’ll come up with the next part of the plan. Hopefully, I’ll have had some sleep by then.

What about you? Are you busy with plans? Or taking a little break?

Author Crush Month: Kathy Tyers

          Kathy Tyers is one of my all-time favorite authors! Maybe even my most favorite. (I can never choose just one favorite anything, but Kathy always makes the list.) She tells a compelling story, sets it firmly within a Christian worldview in a totally different universe. Finding science fiction and fantasy written from a worldview compatible with my faith is sometimes difficult. (Which is why I’m such a fan of Marcher Lord Press, too.) I loved, loved, loved the Firebird series. Watching the growth of faith in the characters was inspiring and seeing their struggles and confusions often illuminated my own. I’ve read it multiple times and am eagerly awaiting its re-release by Marcher Lord Press. (I’ll be buying the Kindle version so I can carry it with me whenever my husband drags me to different parts of the world.) I’m even more excited that she has resumed writing new stories. Here is Kathy Tyers, telling us about her writing process.

          I’ve never been afraid of big projects. When I learned to appliqué (back before I started writing, I had time for handicrafts) I started with a king-size quilt. So when I started writing my second book, I bought a calendar and scribbled down my goals. That way, I could see when each phase of the project should be finished.

          I learned to do it in pencil, though. Real life happens. Once, for two weeks I created a particularly detailed chart and blocked out each writing day in 15-minute increments. I drove myself to stay with those goals. I ended up with pneumonia (stress-induced, no doubt), and for a week the closest I could get to writing was wishing I could sit up. Lesson learned—never again. With my daily goals set in pencil, if I fall behind I can simply erase the whole business and set new goals. It’s called forgiveness.

          So for me, a reasonable calendar goal is to spend 3 days drafting each chapter and 3 days per chapter on the first edit. I don’t usually set Sunday goals – I need to breathe, emotionally and spiritually. I need that distance from writing itself, so on Monday I can get back to work gratefully.

          So those two early drafts look alike on the calendar, but there’s a huge difference in reality. Does anyone else find first-draft writing emotionally exhausting? That daily 1/3 chapter might take 45 minutes to 2 hours to draft, but then I’m drained for the day. On the other hand, I can edit and re-edit for ten hours if I’m not careful. I love watching my rough draft get better, better yet, and finally stand up and sing.

          I do grab short blocks of time—ten minutes or less. I prefer editing hardcopy; besides looking more like a “real page,” there’s always a backup if the computer crashes. So there’s nearly always a chapter that needs ten minutes’ worth of retyping. When I have long blocks of time, I really can get into the groove—but I have to be careful, or I end up with aches and pains and eyestrain. Stretching, walking, even refocusing my eyes on the near distance—since I’m in this for the long haul, I need to do them all.

          Oh … and since I’m a morning person, I try to save those precious pre-noon hours for writing. I can accomplish more in a morning hour than an afternoon hour—and if I take my lunch break with a sense of accomplishment, I’m less prone to melancholy and frustration later in the day.

          Sometimes, when things aren’t going as smoothly as I would like, I set a time goal instead of a chapter-fraction goal. I tell myself I can always sit and work for an hour, no matter how busy I am. I played the same mind game when I used to play my flute seriously. I could almost always convince myself to practice for fifteen minutes. Getting the flute out of the case was the hard part. After that, the pleasure of creating and improving something beautiful carried me forward. It works with writing, too. Getting started is the hardest part. Next hardest is stopping to stretch if it’s going well—because writing a novel really is a big project, and I want to finish…eventually!

          Kathy Tyers is the author of the Firebird trilogy, which will be reprinted in April 2011 by Marcher Lord Press with new maps and annotations, as well as several other CBA and ABA novels. She is best known for her two Star Wars spin-off novels, one for Bantam Spectra books and one for Ballantine/Del Rey. She recently completed a Master of Christian Studies degree at Regent College in Vancouver BC, lives in Montana and has one grown son.

Retro Blog – Free Spirited Routines

          Kitty, Shonna and I are taking a short holiday break . . . but we aren’t abandoning you! We decided to resurrect some of our favorite posts for these next two weeks. We hope you enjoy them. We’ll be back in January. And don’t forget our annual Author Crush Month is returning in February. We plan to have several of our favorite authors guest blogging that month.

Originally posted on May 3, 2010

          It took me years to discover, or at least admit, the value of routines. As you have surely picked up on if you read us regularly, I am pretty much a free spirit. I like being free to choose what, where and when to do what I want to do. I don’t like being a slave to a clock or to a schedule. Or maybe a people person is a better description. I rarely turn down an opportunity to spend time with others. Every one of my grown children know that I will stop what I’m doing to have a conversation with them. They need only skype or call and I’ll make the time to chat or talk. Only occasionally do I tell them I’m busy and need to talk later.

          The peace to do that, though, came only once I embraced the structure imposed on me (some self-imposed, most life/husband/others-imposed). I think I’m now a fairly disciplined and structured person. (As long as you don’t compare me to my husband . . . or ask him to verify what I just said. LOL) It is because I discovered routines actually make spontaneity easier, more fun and much more guilt-free. Once I realized that, I embraced structure with all the passion of my all-or-nothing personality, even as I’ve bent it to my people-first, spontaneity-loving personality.

          Structure helps me be productive even while feeding my penchant for spontaneity. Routines, the right routines, allow me a freedom not present in an I-can-do-anything-I-want kind of day. When I fashion my daily activities and responsibilities into routines, I can act without thinking, do without a lot of decision-making, create without any guilt. When I fashion those tasks I want to accomplish into steps or actions that are done every day, in the same way, in the same order (although not always at the same time-I’m not a clock watcher), I get more done, I have more fun experiences and I’m much more content. When I jettison my routines, decide to wing-it and take each moment as it comes, I miss so many opportunities and lose facets of enjoyment, even in the creative moments of the day.

          No, I do not like, nor do I do well, when every moment of my day is structured or when I have a lot of time-sensitive activities in a day. I need a balance, a free-flowing, amorphous structure that can change and adapt to my emotions, desires and what’s going on around me. I need a schedule that easily adapts, retains its form even as it flexes to accommodate changes.

          Over the years, I’ve had a lot of such routines. When the children were young and we first started homeschooling, our schoolday started with a bible story, a reading lesson, a math lesson, and story-time. Every day, once the first activity was started, it was easy to do the others. We did much more than those activities, but that was the routine that kept us on track. (That and the weekly routine of getting together with another family for school activities once a week.)

          My morning routine is actually my most established one. Some might even call it a rut. It serves me well, though. I’m not a morning person, not by any stretch or contortion of imagination. When I get out of bed, my mind is still sitting on the edge yawning and stretching. No matter how awake and refreshed I feel. The no-brain-needed routine of makeup, hair and clothes ensures I am ready for the day by the time I leave my bedroom. (I tacked feeding my cats to that routine so the poor things would be sure to get fed. 😉 )

          Routines establish a base, a foundation of structure, but they can be as unique as each personality. Just as two houses can have the same floor plan, but look totally different, so routines can be modified and supplemented . Your routines of life will not look like mine. In fact, my husband swears I have no routine. But I am up and dressed every day, the house stays reasonably clean, meals are prepared with regularity, we rarely run out of anything essential to daily life and we always (well almost always) have clean clothes to wear. I engage in multiple volunteer and social activities. I know with one glance at my calendar what new activity I can or cannot add. He is right, though, to look at my days would be to see a lot of activity, much of it unique to the day. That’s the way I like it. Just like the piles on my desk that look like clutter, but whose contents are solidly in my mind, so is the schedule of my daily activities solidly ensconced in productivity-producing routines.

          Most of the time. 🙂

          What routines keep you on track? Or maybe you need to create one that will get you making progress during this month of anti-procrastination.

Staying Focused

This week marks my last week of my master’s degree classes for the school year. In the next 48 hours I’ll be done with everything having to do with classes, and I’ll have submitted two pieces of work to the annual school anthology. Then it’s SUMMER BREAK!! Woo-hooo!!

On the one hand, I can’t wait to take a break, read a book that isn’t assigned, sit on the beach and listen to the waves crash. On the other hand, this is no time to lose my focus. One of the many things I’ve achieved in the last year is a renewed focus on my writing. Every week for nine months I’ve had writing-related homework. Starting Monday, I’m going to use those writing routines to get back to work on my novel.

It’s been a hard week. I feel exactly the way I felt during the last week of high school – it’s hard to care about the last few days when the end is so close. But then I take a deep breath and remember how important it is to me to take good care of my career. It can be hard being your own boss, in charge of your schedule with no one to report to. But like a friend said to me this week – are you working in such a way that you’d be happy to have you as an employee?

Food for thought.

Another bit of great life/writing advice came to my Inbox yesterday. I get the email feed from my friend Kathleen’s LiveStartled.com blog, and today’s post – 4 Life Lessons Learned in My BeamFit Class – really underscored how focus can help you work better. No matter what you’re doing, your brain and your body can work together to produce better results when you’re focused.

Sometimes I have to focus on small immediate things like not cutting myself with a knife while chopping vegetables. Other times, my focus needs to be more long-term. For instance, there’s a class being offered over at Savvy Authors in their Savvy University called Write a Novel with Mythic Impact. It’s a year-long online course taught by my friend Marcy Weydemuller. Even though I’ll be in the second year of my master’s degree, I really want to take her class! It looks like exactly what I’m trying to do with my books.

Again I have to take a deep breath and focus. What is the best thing I can do for my writing? It may be learning a lot more next year and then finally being able to apply it after I graduate in November and I can work full-time on my writing. Or it may be doing a bit less learning so I can try to write a little more. (I tried that this past year with mixed results.)

More importantly for you – what are you focusing on? How is it working for you? Do you need to take a step back and evaluate? (The answer to that question is “yes” a lot more than we think!) Are you working the way you’d want one of your employees or co-workers to work? Are you taking advantage of learning and networking opportunities – not too much, not too little?

Sometime this week, I believe Savvy Authors will be running a contest and the winner will get to take the Write a Novel with Mythic Impact class for free. I’ll add a note to the bottom of this blog when I find out more details. I’ll be teaching an online class in January about goal setting and time management. But the best time to think about making changes and improvements to your writing and your life is now.

Focus.

NOTE: Here is the promised update with the link to Marcy’s contest. Click here to find out more information and to enter! Good luck!