Finding Time to Write When You’re Busy

For those of you who know me, you probably know just how busy I am.  Between work and grad school, not to mention volunteering, interning, exercising, and way too many other -ings, my days are swamped.

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But I like it this way!

Of course, I still need to find time to write, and that’s something we’ve all struggled with.  Nothing’s worse than realizing you’ve wasted the whole day on Twitter or baking cookies instead of writing.

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Here are my tips.

  • Study what your brain needs, for each part of the process
    • For me, I need chunks of silent time for drafting, but editing can be done at any time
    • My brain also needs music, but not background noise. Some people swear by writing with a TV in the background. Me? Even a coffeeshop’s chatter is distracting.
    • Coffee. My brain needs coffee the way a zombie needs brains.
  • If you try a new routine, stick with it for at least a week
  • Reward yourself! Set milestones, then treat yourself! (note, do not treat yourself before the milestones. That undoes the whole process)

Now that i’ve give you some of my best pointers, I’ll let you know what works for me!

I am not a morning person. At all. If you meet me before 8am, I will glare blankly at you, before shuffling away, like the aforementioned zombie in search of brains. That being said, I’ve found I draft much better in the mornings. My brain feels more empty. I have less concerns about the rest of the day, and I’m not as stressed about my to-do list.

So when I’m drafting, I wake up by 6am, do a bit of yoga, have my coffee, and settle down for a nice hour of writing.

On the other hand, editing in the morning is a bit like eating a live toad first thing. Although some have suggested this is a great way to make the rest of the day seem easy in comparison, I simply cannot stomach it. I do my editing in spurts. Twenty minutes on the subway, an hour at lunch, and an hour before bed.

Proofreading/fine-tuning, for me, is an utterly different beast. This is the only time I print out the pages, and leave the glowing computer screen behind. There’s something really vivid about seeing the words on an actual page.

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So there you have it! My writing habits, defined. What are yous?

How to Jump from One Story to Another

This is one of those times I’m going to blog about something I’m admittedly struggling with in the hopes it inspires me, (and maybe you too!)

Namely: changing from one creative project to another.

You may have encountered this before. Perhaps you’re trying to draft one story while you wait on edits for another. Or you’ve sent your first manuscirpt out to the query trenches, and now you need to write something new.

Maybe, like me, you’re a debut author who is also trying to write a new book.

It’s not easy, to split your thoughts, your hopes, your creative enegry between two projects. I’ve come up with a few ideas, but I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

  1. Image board!
    I admittedly do this the old-fashioned way, where I print out random things that give me story-related feels, then tape them to a posterboard I hang by my writing nook. It’s a great way to get some visual inspiration. However, most people I know use pinterest… which is the exact same thing, without the whole “attempting not to glue yourself to bits of paper.”
    Here’s a mini version of mine for my new project.Untitled design (1)
  2. Playlist!
    One of my all-time favorite things to do! Simply hop on spotify, or 8tracks, and start adding songs to a list that will give you all the feelings of your main characters.
    Here’s one for my next story: link to spotify
  3. Pretend to be your main character
    Okay. Maybe don’t do this if your main character is a brain-eating zombie or something, but I find a little method acting can be a lot of fun. Maybe it’s eating a food (not brains!) that your character likes, or perusing a store they might frequent. Have fun with it!
  4. Art!
    If you can, draw your characters! Or commission an artist (I’ve found amazing ones on Tumblr!) to draw them for you.
    Here’s a sketch the amazing Linnea did of my new MCs. I love how she captured their personalities too!Untitled

    Okay! So I’ve shared my favorite ways to start a new project. Now, tell me, what are yours?

Little Things To Keep You Going

Taking a break from all the fun and squeeing over my book that sold, I wanted to talk about something a little less fun.

How to keep yourself moving forward creatively when the state of the world (or your personal life) make you want to curl up in a ball and never leave your bed?

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I wish I had an easy answer. I certainly do not.

First of all, whatever’s got you feeling this low, your feelings are valid. Secondly, please don’t be afraid to seek help, or at least reach out to a friend or family.

But maybe it’s not depression. Maybe it’s just the mean reds, as made famous in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

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Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

Sound about right? Somehow, for me as a writer, I run into these mean reds often. I read an amazing book, and it throws me into a deep sulk that I’ll never be as good of a writer as that one is. Or I’ll get feedback that I don’t know how to handle, and I’ll feel like a fake writer.

Or, you know, there will be an election, and the whole world will catch on fire. That too.

Regardless of what’s got you feeling like crap, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite small things to cheer up:

  • Look at old photos of good times.(also BACK UP YOUR PHOTOS. ahem.)
  • Have a cup of tea. I’m not sure what it is about tea that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, but it works every time.
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  • Go for a walk. I was amazed to realize my saddest days are also my lowest step count days.
  • Write something fun. Like fanfic.
  • Treat yourself to a fancy pastry. If it’s got a French name, I bet it’s super fancy and very yummy.
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  • Watch a movie. I just watched LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP and found it absolutely adorable.
  • Call a friend/family member/someone you’d like to be friends with.

Binge a series. May I suggest YURI ON ICE? Cutest show EVER.c596942844b963666866f1c4c3d216a7

So, tell me, what helps you get out of a creative bout of the mean reds?

The Bright Side of Subjectivity

For as long as I’ve been a writer, there’s a term I’ve struggled to grasp: subjectivity.

It always seems to be used negatively, paired with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry that person didn’t like your work. It’s just subjective, you know?”

But I didn’t know. I came from a educational and professional background where (besides, like, Bernie Madoff ) there was a right, and a wrong. A clear cut answer. A way to plug numbers into a formula and receive the correct answer. Subjectivity was a strange, dark cloud, hanging over everything I attempted. Why couldn’t I write something everyone would love? What was I doing wrong?

I thought, hmm. Maybe I should just become better! Then, I shall be able to vanquish subjectivity! But, even after spending a year studying craft books, working with freelance editors, and pushing myself, I still got negative feedback that was… subjective.

Someone suggested that I read one-star reviews of my favorite books. This technique, they suggested, would make me realize even this amazing authors got subjective, negative reviews of their books. Instead, because I am made of fiery passion and undying loyalty, I wanted to fight every deluded fool who couldn’t see the obvious talent of my favorites.

Meanwhile, I was also getting positive feedback. People liked my work, adored certain characters, laughed at my jokes. It didn’t matter to me. I was more concerned with fighting the big-bad subjectivity monster. Surely, there had to be some formula I could apply to make it go away, and have everyone equally love my work.

Spoiler: there’s no way to ever do that. I’m going to skip over the months I spent bashing my head against a wall, and instead tell you about what finally made me realize what subjectivity truly is.

What happened was… I read a book.

Of course, I’d read plenty of books during my battles with the smoggy subjectivity monster, but this book I LOVED. It was one of those books that turned me into a book evangelist, pushing the book at everyone I knew. Shockingly, some of my friends didn’t like the book. Or they did, but they didn’t like the same things I did. I had no real reason for why I loved the book, aside from a fuzzy feeling of it hitting me in just the right brain spots, like the way a cold glass of water quenches more on a hot day. I couldn’t point to any narrative craft, any technique the author used to specifically make me adore the book. I just knew that my world was a better place with the book in it.

I loved the book, subjectively.

That’s the bright side of the mysterious subjectivity-monster we forget sometimes. The same inexplicable force that causes some people to dislike our works (or not love it enough to accept it) also allows people to adore  our work. Subjectivity fuels book deals, creates fanart, causes readers to squee in 5 star reviews. So the next time you get mad at that subjective rejection, remember there’s someone out there who will subjectively love your work.

Don’t give up, darlings!

When the Magic Goes Away

Scene: First day of second grade. Kids running around, showing off new backpacks, new shoes, same uniforms though. 

The teacher clears her throat and announces, “Let’s write a journal entry about what we did over summer vacation.”

Tiny-Carrie, with pigtails and an already messy desk, glances around at her classmates. They’re talking as they write. Disneyworld, Disneyworld, Disneyland, France, a cruise in the Caribbean (with Disney Characters.)

Tiny-Carrie’s summer had been fun, but, not like her classmates. She’d hung out with her Grandmas, learned to make cookies, played  make-believe in her backyard and loved every minute of it. Until her classmates started talking about the Disney princesses they’d met. A bit of fear crept into her brain, whispering that her summer had been stupid, that she was lame and a loser.

But, Carrie never liked being told what to do. Not by a teacher, and definitely not by some dumb, negative voice.

So, Carrie put pencil to paper, and began to write. She might not have traveled, but she had read. A book called THE BOGGART by Susan Cooper had launched an all-summer quest to learn everything about Loch Ness, its mythical monster and the magical-seeming land of Scotland. She’d even worked her way through “grownup” books explaining just how a monster might exist in the loch, and cookbooks about how to make “oatcakes.”

She wrote a story about going to Scotland, and all the things she’d experienced there. And as she wrote, it felt real to her. It felt just as fun, as exciting as her classmates “true” stories about Disneyland. Tiny-Carrie may not have traveled, but she had read. Now, in writing what she read, it was like real magic, making something out of thin air.

That’s what writing has always been to me. Over the years, I wrote my way out of countless bad feelings, out of fear about a surgery, or heartbreak over a person who didn’t like me back. My stories, although they were fictional and full of fantastic events, were woven with real truths, and real emotions.  Re-reading them is re-reading a diary, even if it’s set in a magical land, and the main character is a red-headed warrior-princess sneaking into royal balls, instead of an awkward fourteen-year-old Carrie dreaming about attending prom.

Nothing I write is autobiographical, but it’s all true to my heart. Be cause of that, perhaps, I’d been reluctant to share my words with others. These stories were part of my very DNA. I couldn’t let random people examine them for flaws any more then I could appear naked on a subway stop and shout “JUDGE MY BODY!”

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Falling Back in Love With a Draft

Writing a novel is a long, slow process. Although the story might start out as a brilliant spark, one that you’re willing to dedicate hours upon hours to, the magic may not last.

If it withers quickly, say, after twenty pages, or half an outline, perhaps that story wasn’t ready to be written yet. Let it go. It may come back stronger later.  However, at least for me, the “I’m in love with this story” feeling lasts for months. Then, one day, BAM. It’ s gone. Perhaps it was a plothole I couldn’t fix, or a bit of a feedback that hit too raw a place for me. Perhaps I just get sick of revising and start dreaming about the good old days of first drafting. No matter what caused it, I’m suddenly in a pit of despair where I can no longer find words or energy to edit.

I’ve committed to the story, I don’t want to give up. So, what do I do?

I don’t recommend whining to your friends, although I’m certainly guilty of this. If they’re not creative, they won’t get the need burning inside you to finish the story. If they are creative they may not be sympathetic to your own struggles, because they’re fighting their own doubt-monsters of writing.

 

A healthy thing to do is to get fresh air. Go for a run. A walk. Dance all night at a concert. Lose yourself in the real world, not the fictional one for a little bit. Or. Just be a cat. Cats know where it’s at.

 

Some people recommend reading published books, but when I’m in my pit of despair, that usually makes me roll around like a dying fish full of self-loathing. “I will never write such wonderful words as these” etc.

Likewise, be cautious around social media. All it might take is is one tweet about another writer’s success for you to feel more like a failure. Likewise, openly proclaiming aaaall your struggles with your draft might make you sort of annoying.

My favorite tip for falling back in love with your work is to return to your creative works. Maybe you don’t want to write in your manuscript, but you want to write short side stories (oh hey! mine are here. Exclusive Short Stories) or create pretty photo sets of your characters on Tumblr (like these! Gif post! With kissing! Non-gif but all the adorable )

If you’re artistic, try drawing scenes from your book. Or if you’re not, maybe consider commissioning an artist (easily found on Tumblr or Deviantart) for a drawing of your characters! This one is a huge one for me. Having an actual picture of the characters that previously were only words on a page re-energized me to tell the story.  My sketches are by the brillant Giles, found here.)


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But if nothing else works, and it’s been weeks, and the feeling still isn’t going away, it is okay to shelve the story for a little bit. Let it rest. Begin a new story. You’ll come back to the old one with fresh eyes soon, and re-write it into a beautiful masterpiece.

 

Either way, soon, you’ll emerge on the other side of the pit of despair. You’ll go back to writing, the words flying fast and furious. Plus, you’ll be a stronger writer for having preserved through this hard time. Now, the next time the doubt-monsters kick in, you’ll know you’ve vanquished them once before. Have you ever felt like giving up on a story? How did you work through it?

Health and the Creative Life

Creative people aren’t known for being paragons of wellness. There will never be an article called, “Workouts to get a writer’s body.” We tend to seek comfort as we create, so that all our energy goes towards the art we’re intent on making. We scarf down comfort food, guzzle caffeine, and hunch our shoulders low as we curl around the glowing screen of our computers until the wee hours.

But, that kind of life isn’t sustainable. The junk food may lead to stomachaches, the caffeine to headaches. We writers need to take care of our bodies.

Actual photo of a writer after a revising marathon.

 

Here are some of my favorite healthy things.

Green Smoothies.

You can make these as intense as you want. Kale has a peppery taste, but spinach is surprisingly sweet.  Add a handful of frozen berries, a handful of greens, a cup of yogurt, ice cubes, and milk (almond, soy, or regular) into the blender, and give it a whirl.

Running/walking/hiking

When I’m really stuck on a plot point, I know it’s time for fresh air.

Homemade granola bars

Recipe here– so easy to make, healthy, and a great snack when you’re in the middle of writing!

Yoga

Nothing uncoils the knots in my back like a good time on the yoga mat. I recommend Yoga with Adriene on youtube. Her workouts are free, and the ones for the back (both upper and lower) are lifesavers for a writer who hunches over the keyboard. Here’s the link

Herbal tea

Yes. This is me. Yes, you know me as queen of coffee. But I also enjoy peppermint tea for unblocking my brain, and sleepytime tea for relaxing. Rooibos are great for when my heart wants coffee but my head says no more caffeine. It has a similar, nutty taste.

Now, get up, stretch, go for a walk! Then come back and tell me your favorite healthy routine.

Recharging Days

Writers write everyday is a common adage among the author crowd. I’m not so sure it’s true for the rest of the creative world. Surely, an actor is no less an actor if he doesn’t act in a movie every day of his life. Nature photographers can’t photograph beautiful flowers on days the weather is all thunderstorms and hail.

I think the true statement is this: when on deadlines, a writer writes every day.

Deadlines aside, it’s important, I think, to take a break from the project you’re working on sometimes. Even more important if you’ve been working on it for a long time, and you’re hitting a huge stumbling block.

Maybe you’ve sent out 280 queries and haven’t heard from a single agent.

Maybe you’ve been trying to fix a plot hole for six months and your betas are still getting lost in your story’s confusing narrative.

Maybe you’ve totally lost the idea of the story and every word seems like gobbleygook.

This need for space and time away from your art isn’t just a creative person problem. Many professionals tout the benefits of a mental heath day, like in this article from INC.com and this one, from the Huffington Post, provides clear examples of signs you need a break.

So, take a day to clean the house, or go for a run, or knit. At least, that’s how I spend my days off. You might have different hobbies. Clear your mind, and tackle some non-creative pesky tasks on your to-do list. I keep a tab of “worn-out day activities” on my to-do list app, (the incredible 2Do app if you’re curious) so that on mentally rainy days, I can still feel productive by completing little tasks.

But.

Here’s my warning. It’s very easy to let one recharging day become a recharging week. Or a month. And then, suddenly, you’ve lost your flow on your project, and you have no interest in ever putting your butt back in a chair. So, the minute you decide it’s a recharging day, grab your phone or computer, and add a couple timers scheduled for tomorrow and the next day. If you have the functionality, add little reminders about how much you love your creative endeavors. You can even add reminders of what you need to work on next.

Here’s a screenshot of my phone for tomorrow, since I took a break today.

Motivation!

Motivation!

So, that’s my plan to give my brain a break, without losing my place in my writing. What about you? When do you know it’s time for a break? How do you get back to work?

We are stronger than our insecurities.

A long, long time ago, I promised a post on self-doubt, and how to overcome it. I asked you lovely readers to open up about your fears and worries in the creative world.

And you did. I learned so much from all you, everyone from writes who have never let another person read their story, to published authors working on multi-book deals. Everyone faced very similar fears. Don’t believe me? Check out the word cloud below. Those words showed up in the majority of fears, regardless of “success level.”

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No matter the specifics of the fears, (will anyone like it? will anyone buy it? will I ever make money from it? will I ever find friends?) all the fears came, like many do, from a place of…well, insecurity.

I say that, not out of spite at all. I’m one of you. I’m a ball of insecurity and fears, never sure if I’m enough, if my words are good enough, my jokes are funny enough, my friends like me enough. Every fear you’ve felt, so have I, and so has the rest of the community. Maybe that’s why we’re driven to be creative. We’re looking for “enough.” We’re trying to create something we’re lacking. Maybe that’s why we play gossip games on Twitter, or start cliques. Not because we’re mean, but we’re scared and alone, lashing out like a cornered cat. We’re so sure we will never be enough that we turn our fear on our own creative works, bashing them and calling them stupid.

Here’s the thing. You are enough.

Say it with me.

You are enough.

In your worse moments, when it seems like everyone’s doing better than you, or that you’ll never catch up, that you’ll never have a good day again, or learn the skill to take the work to the next level, say that little phrase. You are enough.

Our business can be a cruel one. It’s full of critiques and rejections.  Some can be helpful. Some can be hurtful. We’re surrounded by our creative idols, whose books fill our shelves, and successes our dreams, and some days it seems like we’ll never be half as talented as them.

Here’s the thing. Your art may always be incomplete, but you are not.

You are complete. You are enough. and WE (notice that word was missing from the word chart) are all in this together. WE can help each other. WE can drive away fears and insecurities together.

We are all enough. Our art is good art. We’ve got this.

Idea searching

Creating art is such an impossible thing to describe. How does one explain the genesis of the fantastic world she’s painting, or the witty characters she’s chronicling the adventures of?  Where do our ideas come from?

And, perhaps more importantly, where do we go to find them again when they’ve fluttered away?

For me, the first priority is always music. Although I’m distracted by coffee shop chatter, I’m never annoyed by music. In fact, sometimes a song hints at a new story for me and I’ll listen to it on repeat for an hour as the idea bubbles to the surface. I have playlists for all my characters.

But, some days, even music can’t shake my creativity awake. In that case, I’ll go for a run, exercising my physical muscles in the hopes that my mental muscles will soon respond.

If that fails, then I curl up with a mug of tea and some knitting, totally admitting defeat in the quest for words for the day. But that doesn’t happen too often. Plus, within an hour of some caffeine and some mindless knitting, my brain is almost always ready to go with new ideas.

Other writers I know have certain teas they always drink when they’re writing, or a candle they light before they sit down to type. Some swear by browsing Pinterest for a while, letting ideas percolate. The ancient Greeks used to summon a muse with words, incantations and rituals. A famous author I follow on Twitter once admitted to trying to tell the story to his dog, verbalizing the plot points as they happened.

I don’t think there’s a wrong way to find new ideas. Every new way might promote new ideas!