Writing In the Summertime
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.
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?