Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Art of Being a Writer

The beautiful thing about life is that it slows for no man. Or woman. It's complex, chaotic, full of facets and detours, with a pearl of a lesson nestled in for anyone paying attention. And if you choose not to pay attention or take that lesson to heart? No worries: No hurt feelings, no pouting or stomping off angry. Life doesn't take it personally. It just keeps on striding forward.

My life the last two weeks has been no different than yours. Different minute details, perhaps, but essentially the same ol' story: hubby sick, exploded water heater, taxes, minor basement flood, car troubles, cat wounded, taxes, truck troubles, Easter celebrations, taxes, meetings, parent-teacher conferences, birthday plans... oh the list goes on and on.

So, I'm wondering: what do you do when you haven't got a spare moment? How do you keep the pace or stick to your writing pact? My own writing motto, scribbled on a sage green sticky note and stuck up above my computer reads, Nulla dies sine linea. Never a day without a line.

There are plenty of methods for writing and staying focused. For example:

1. Word Count: Lots of folks I know set word goals, including yours truly. It varies from person to person, but I've heard of any where from 300 - 1000 words per day.
2. Publicly Set Goals: Uppington often sets public goals and invites her readers to do so as well. She intertwines a perfect measure of accountability and encouragement.
1. The Kiser Method: Write a novel in a year, with specific goals for each month and word count goals for each day.

But what I'm really curious about are your tried & true methods for sneaking that bit of writing into your day -- even in the midst of the storm. How do you quiet your mind? How do you scrape together consecutive minutes? How do you hush the world around you and block out the myriad of urgent cries demanding your attention? How do you write?


  1. What gets me going:

    too much coffee
    loud music
    nothing to look at
    no internet

    If all else fails, I go to the library until my day's work is done.

    As for goals, I make schedules. When I'm trying to get a rough draft together, I have a daily word count goal (between 3,000 and 3,500/day). When I'm editing, I go by pages/week... except that for the past month, I've been going over (AND OVER) my first fifty manuscript pages (AARGH).

  2. Alex,

    I love the rhythm and pace of this post. Beautiful!

    What do I do to quiet my mind?

    Walk, by the woods or the water if I can; if not I walk through the city center in my little university town.

    What do I do to write when there isn't time?

    Well, I'm kinda like a train. I'm either going full speed ahead or I'm not going at all.

    Best thing lately has been getting feedback from people and then responding to their specific questions or comments. That feedback helps create inspiration, at least the best feedback does.

    Thanks so much for the post!

  3. Alex, it's easier for me. Kid out of the house, flexible hours at work, and a supportive partner.

    I find that I am only really productive certain times of the day though, so I have to concentrate my efforts at that time. It also happens that my time is early morning until late afternoon. So what I do is write during lunch.

    Since I write with pen and paper first, I can easily write anywhere. I have been known to write while waiting in the doctors office, waiting for a train, and on an airplane. With pen and paper it's easy because I'm very flexible.

    When I get into editing, then I have to have my laptop. I still edit pretty much anywhere, but it is harder.

  4. Great post and beautiful picture, Alex.

    To answer your question, my routine that allows me to quiet my mind changes with each novel. For example, the last three that I've written have all been different. The first one I sat in the exact same place, by a window, placing the exact same CD over and over again. The second one I wrote entirely while sitting in one of those comfortable Barnes and Noble chairs (the book reads lazy too. =)) And the third one I wrote in Japan while sitting in a Japanese Starbucks, by a blue light.

    But mostly, I write at night, and in spurts. Music mostly Neil Young, or, on the other side, Muse.

  5. i've learned to write THROUGH the distractions. with a one-year old, if i waited until things were quiet i'd never get anything done. so i hack away during breakfast, or in between play time with her...twenty minutes here before this doctor's appointment or staff meeting at work. it all counts!

  6. There is no sneaking for me. That went out as the true obsession settled in. I write, all the time everywhere, any which way I can, be it in my notebook where the main draft is, or on scraps of paper, or napkins, or the pants leg of my jeans. There is no quieting my mind either. I simply exist 'here' or 'there', wherever 'there' is being based on what story has currently gained the lion's share of my mind space at the moment. This doesn't make life easy. Which is why I work on a horse farm and live with my parents, both of which provide me with buffers against 'other' people who can't understand my lack of attention to the world they inhabit.
    I have always had this ability to just 'fuzz out' no matter where I am. I literally couldn't help myself when I was younger, which got me in trouble a lot. I didn't even get my driver's license until I was twenty-four because I was afraid I'd 'fuzz out' and hurt someone. Sounds like I'm crazy, but it's a great kind of crazy. And I can control it now, so there's no danger of me driving the tractor through the office or otherwise loosing control of a vehicle.
    When I lock down though, it still usually takes physical contact to pulled me back to 'here' which drives my family nuts. Good thing they love me. :)

  7. Good questions. I have literal cries for my attention from my toddler. And my husband always needs something. And I have lots of other things demanding me, but in the end it boils down to the fact that I love writing so much I can't NOT write and squeeze it in somewhere. I stay up late. I get up early. I have headphones and a great music list.

    No sleep. That's how I write.

  8. I use word counts to track my progress, but as time progresses, I am seriously considering The Kiser Method(TM).

    What Ken describes, in addition to daily/weekly/monthly goals, is figuring out dates for completion ahead of time. He asserts this is not rocket science, and I have to agree with him.

    I am also coming to believe it has no negative impact whatsoever on creativity.

    About the only thing I cannot sign up for is stopping when I get going. Some of my best writing is done when I write all day, even after thousands of words.

    I think my next book, after YOUR LITTLE SISTER, I'll just try it out. I will report my results back here in about a year.


  9. I've not had success with any method. Perhaps I've not been committed enough. What's not worked is trying to dive in without a good habit behind it. I'd love to start again but I've been afraid of failing to produce anything. :)


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