Writing Habits Writing Practice
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Writing In the Summertime


My outdoor writing space

It is hot here in Portland, mid to upper 90s all last week and more of the same this week, with temps predicted to reach into the 100s by the weekend.  We usually get some hot hot weather during the summer, but this is very early for a heat wave and it is lasting a long time.

My office is upstairs (I'm in process of moving it downstairs, but that project is taking forever) and that automatically makes it hot.  (We, like many Portlanders who live in older homes, don't have air conditioning.) But it also gets stuffy, the air stagnant, and because it is full of boxes (the afore mentioned moving project), its not a very inspiring space at the moment.

In self defense, I moved my computer and all my notes downstairs last weekend and then one early morning around 6 AM I got the idea to move my operation out back.  I set up on the outdoor table on the deck and listened to the birds sing and wrote my heart out.  I started out a few weeks ago setting my Iphone timer for 15 minutes and telling myself I was just going to write, simply as a way to get to the page.  But now, I think it is safe to say that these daily outside writing sessions are turning into my next novel–and that my daily writing practice has transformed my writing life.


The tree above me

I now set up outside every morning and it has quickly become my favorite time of day.  It is peaceful and cool and quiet aside from the occasional dog barking and I am getting a lot of writing done every morning.  It is amazing to me what a change of venue can do for your writing.  Some people love to go work in coffee shops, but me? Not so much.  I'm far too distracted by people and noise and activity.  Besides, I do my best work early in the day, in my pajamas, and that doesn't work so well anywhere but home.

By 7:30 the sun hits my back and lights the screen and I can't see so well and I'm starting to flag anyway.  But the point of all this, besides encouraging you to look at where you write and how well it is working for you, is to share a few tips I've learned (relearned?) as I start writing a long project (i.e., a novel), again.  

1.  Call it Daily Writing Practice.   Some times the daily writings  are just random scenes, sometimes they actually turn into a scene for my WIP, and sometimes they become me obsessing about where I am in the WIP.  But gradually, the daily practices have turned into real, consistent work on my next novel, and the sessions have lengthened out considerably.  But at the beginning, I just called it daily practice and all I had to do was write something, anything for 15 minutes. Whether or not your writing sessions pertain to your WIP is up to you—but if it doesn't, that's okay.

2.  Keep a Writing Log. I've started a daily writing log, wherein I write about my feelings and thoughts on what I'm writing.   I wish I'd done this during the writing of my most recent novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  Now that it is finished, that novel exists in a sort of magical haze for me, and I've convinced myself that writing it went smoothly from the idea to the end.  But a few days ago, I opened, by chance, one of my daily writings from last summer–and read a whole long rant about how stuck and frustrated I was on the progress I was making.  Because, the thing is, when a novel is done, you forget the day to day grind that went into it.  Because the Bonne Chance was somewhat magical in origin, with the entire story essentially downloaded to me in the shower, it has been easy to forget the hard parts. Instead, I labor under the delusion that the writing of it was easy and sure in every letter and word.  While parts of it were, much of it wasn't.  And it is reassuring to remember that as I struggle to start anew.

For a look at how a major literary figure used a diary, check out this great Brain Pickings piece about the journals John Steinbeck kept while writing the Grapes of Wrath.

3.  Set Word Count Goals.  Once you get beyond the random daily writing practice (and its okay if you never do, truly), it is fun to set yourself some goals.  I was hitting 1K words a morning with ease, so today I notched it up to 1,500.  It helps to give me some kind of framework for what I'm doing.

4.  Give Yourself a Place to Go the Next Day.  If you are working on a long project, write a sentence or two about what happens next, so that you know where to start the next day.  If you are doing random writing, choose a prompt so that you don't go in search of one on the internet and get distracted.

 5.  Stay Organized.  For some dumb reason that I will probably regret, I like to save each days' writing in a separate file, labeled with the date.  I think I like to see the files pile up in the folder I've created for them.  What I will likely soon do is put all these pieces together into a file labeled "full manuscript."  But I am notoriously terrible at organization, so you can probably figure out your own system that works well for you.

Okay, that's it!  I hope you are making progress on your WIP or enjoying writing something.  Do you have any tips for sustaining a regular writing practice?

0 thoughts on “Writing In the Summertime

  1. J.D.

    I don’t think I can move, not upstairs or into another room. There’s so much crap all over the desk and the floor. When they haul me away there will be a shadow burned in the carpet here where I sit. I have three inspirations that keep me–well not on the track but near it. (1) I come here. All of us who come here aspire to write. In one sense, this is a competition. We are like the “horse race” at the county fair. The muse is squirting water, a little here . . . there, and we, the horses, inch up the track. (2) I read. Mostly in my genre. Just finished the 2nd Lincoln Lawyer for the 2nd time. Anyone who is holding on to the value of movies should compare this book to the film. For Michael Connelly’s sake, I hope he didn’t go to the premier. Now I’m reading Jonathan King. The prologue is not promising. Elmore Leonard said stay away from prologues. Jonathan didn’t listen. Who am I to judge; neither did I. (3) I have loved ones and friends who think I can do this.
    I do like suggestions 3 and 4, but 5? If I were organized, I could move upstairs.

  2. Charlotte Dixon

    Yeah, well, if you could see my desk and my office, you’d feel better. My office has boxes all over it and I’m embarrassed to admit they’ve been there a couple months. I get some steam towards packing things up and do it in a frenzy and then I get busy with other things and lose momentum. (This is a good metaphor for what happens to many of us with our writing projects, no?) And now its too hot to do anything up there. Anyway….I’m one of those friends of yours who not only think, but know, you can do this.

  3. Dyoung

    For the first time, I am reading more than one book at a time. I know, pace myself- right? Lol well- I’ve picked up reading “the life changing magic of tidying up”. It’s on the New York bestseller list and so far it’s making sense. I don’t have much place to move. I wish I had an all season sunroom. When my daughter leaves for good- I always thought I’d paint or draw in her room. It’s north west facing. But I am pretty sure I’ll be writing in there. It’s a double edged sword. I don’t want her gone for good, but that room…..lol
    I consider myself tidy. But not completely so. I tidy and it fades away. I have to constantly work at it. I’m always hoping to de clutter more. Thus the read.
    With all posts- I love this one as well. I am getting braver at telling people I’m writing. I have people around me that will give disbelieving blank stares. I also have my tribe that will cheer me on- full mode. There is value in both.

  4. J.D.

    Brave is good. Charlotte will tell you, we’ve all waded through crap. Those episodes strengthen you, so that you’re ready to roll up your sleeves–well, maybe your pants–and go to work. D, you have a gift. That is evident from the posts you leave here. So go for it.

  5. Charlotte Dixon

    I've been wanting to read that book, as I'm in a full-on declutter mode (which, with the amount of stuff we have, might last awhile).  When my daughter left for college, she was adamant that we not touch one thing in her room–but gradually she relented and I now use her old room as my office.  Glad the post was helpful.

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