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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - Schedule Shuffle

Sometimes, the biggest hurdle in this writing game is making sure you get enough quality time to write. This has been my biggest challenge in the last year, since Viktor came into my life. I've always felt that first thing in the morning was my best creative time, but that's been a squirrelly time slot. My previous Doberman, my wonderful Riddick who I lost to heart failure last year, was a very composed, well-behaved, independent dog. Viktor, on the other hand, likes to sleep late and needs a nap about three o' clock every day or he's like a toddler having a tantrum. I've had to adjust my writing schedule, and at first, this bothered me: What if I wasn't as creative later in the day? What if I couldn't feel inspired when it was most convenient to sit at the computer. Throw in my neck problems, and suddenly, I was looking at haphazard little chunks of writing time not at all in keeping with my usual swing.

But I realized something - you can't write if you have an unhappy dog on your hands. And you can't write if there's stabbing pain in your neck.

I believe it's important to treat writing like a job - well, it IS my job. But I don't believe in staying in PJs and lounging about and waiting for inspiration to strike. I wake up and ready myself for the day, take care of the horses, the same as when I was rushing off to a more traditional job. I've learned some important things about writing schedules that have helped me to be productive in the last year, and on the off chance that they can help other writers out there, I thought I'd share them.

-- "Brain food" isn't just a saying. I'm not an eater. That sounds weird. I don't like to eat. Never have. But being hungry makes your brain fuzzy, so it's important to keep to a regular eating schedule. A solid, protein-filled breakfast gets your mind off on the right foot.

-- You're going to have writer's block, but you have to write anyway. If you take a day off because of it, it will turn into two days, then three. The important part is to write something every day, even if it's excruciating to get the words out, even if it feels like the worst crap you've ever written in your life. I've found that when I re-read passages I wrote on difficult days, they aren't the drivel I thought they were. In fact, I can't tell I was struggling. And if there are problems, I can go in and tweak them. It's better to revise than to start from scratch, so push through.

-- You have to make time to read. Even if it's only stolen moments, you have to work reading into your writing schedule. Reading keeps your mind active and dynamic - it's exercise for your writing muscles. You should read books that make you feel creative, books that make you want to write, books that make you long to be a better writer. I read the classics, poetry, literary fiction; I like dark and Gothic, and dramatic, and melancholy. Mysteries and horror and romance less often.

-- It's important to read your own writing as you go. It keeps you thinking in a linear fashion, and enables you to catch major problems as you go, saving you time on revision later. I like to copy/paste sections of my manuscript into an email that I send to myself. I then read them on my phone when it's convenient, and I find, that way, I can read them as a removed observer, and not feel so close to the work. All the better to hack and slash that way.

-- Your phone is your best friend in another way. I don't carry a physical notebook with me, but instead, when inspiration strikes, I fire off a quick email to myself with the line or idea that hit me.

-- Day planners are essential. I have one with calendar pages and note pages for each day, and I've been surprised how much I use it. Even if it feels like recreation sometimes, writing is WORK, and there's lots to keep track of. Keeping a planner helps you stick to a schedule and hold yourself accountable to goals.

-- There is no "best" time of day to write. You have to make use of the hours that you feel most productive.

-- Speaking of productivity...Pinterest is the La Brea Tar Pit of the Internet. It's helpful, but you have to limit your time there. I set a timer on my phone that screeches at me when I've been on the web too long. It forces me to get back to work, and shows me just how much time I can waste browsing through photos.

-- You do have to give yourself breaks. Take little holidays from writing. Once I meet a deadline, I take two or three days off, usually a long weekend, to recharge. Treat yourself with a book you've been wanting to read, a good cappuccino (or wine) and just wallow. Taking time off can actually be productive if you've been working hard; it freshens you for the next project, where as wasting time during writer's block drags you down and depresses you.

Nothing earth-shattering, I know, but sometimes it helps to thinking in an organized, workman-like way. Anyone who thinks writing books isn't hard work obviously hasn't ever tried it - don't be afraid to take the craft seriously :)

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