Should You Write Every Day?

HappywritingI was at a gathering of writers last night (Portlanders, we meet every last Monday of the month for Literary Libations, join us) and Angela Sanders, an accomplished mystery writer who is doing very well with her books (can you say number one on all Kindle sales?) was talking about her career.

Angela talked about how she does very little social media, sends one newsletter out a month (subscribe here, its definitely worth it), and beyond that, "I write every day."

Because–that's the most important thing.


As often as humanly possible.

And yes, while writing in a journal, or writing a blog post, or ad copy for your next class, or whatever, is all terribly important, when we talk about writing every day, we're talking about writing on that project of yours.  You know the one–the novel that keeps you awake at night.  The one where the characters keep doing things that delight you.  The one you have in your head.  Or hopefully in a collection of notes carefully stored somewhere.

So, how important is it to write every day?

Well, I think its every thing.  Every damn thing.  I do.  I believe that writing every day is what we should all strive for.

But people scowl at me when I say this.  They throw things, like rotten apples, at me.  They yell and scream.  Okay, maybe they don't really, but I can see by the look in their eyes that they are wishing they could.  Because they really don't want to write every freaking day.

And that is what it really boils down to.  Whether or not you actually want to write.

I'm sorry, but that's the plain, hard truth of the matter.  (And for the record, I'm lecturing myself here as much as anybody.)  Once, years ago, I read something that bears on this.  I believe it was in a Julia Cameron book.  She said something to the effect that if a man is in love with you, no matter if he's the busiest executive in the world, he'll find time to call you.

So, ahem.  If you're in love with your writing (and you should be) you will freaking find time to do it, even a little, even if you're just thinking about it, every day.

And here's a little tip to help you do it every day:

At the above-mentioned Happy Hour wherein we discussed every aspect of writing, one of my most favorite writers (and human beings) in the whole world piped up and said she'd been writing every day.  

Gasp.  This required a huge gulp of wine to process.  Because Jenni, (who is likely reading this and rolling her eyes) has not written for months.  This has been the cause of much consternation and hand-wringing between my biz partner Debbie and I, because Jenni is a damn good writer, writing a really fun mystery.

So to hear her announce that she was now writing regularly again was amazing.  And we found out her secret, which is…..

Write for ten minutes a day.

C'mon, everyone can find ten minutes.  And the bigger trick to this is that once you start writing, you often look up and realize that an hour, not ten minutes has gone by and you've really not felt like stopping.

So, the moral of the story is that, yes, I do think every one should write every day if at all possible and that really, everything will fall into place for us all if we just write as often as possible.  

Please share what you think in the comments!

Image by Jem.

5 (Different-ish) Ways to Create Time for Writing

Time_clock_face_236623_lA couple weeks ago, I met another writer friend for lunch.  She rushed in, late, and apologized. "I'm just so busy these days, you know?  There's just never enough time for everything."

I nodded, agreeing.  But later I realized that the sentiments we exchanged about writing didn't ring true.  Instead, it felt like we were doing what was expected of us, acting out the parts of busy, overworked professionals.

Because if one of us admitted to not being busy, what would that imply?  That we didn't have enough work to fill our days?  Enough ideas to write about?  Or maybe, just maybe, that we weren't buying into the dominant cultural norm that there isn't enough of anything–be it time, money or love?

Ever since then (and with the recent switch to Daylight Savings Time), I've been thinking about time. We writers in particular seem to always want more of it.  We're always trying to scavenge an hour here or there to work on our novels, or poetry, or memoir.   

Time is one of my favorite subjects and I read a lot about it (probably when I should be using my time to write).   Today, I've collected some of my favorite non-traditional pieces of advice about time and I present them here for your consideration.

1.  Use the time you do have better.  As in, no multi-tasking (shut down those email inboxes and open social media tabs).  As in, focusing fully and completely on your writing.  Don't obsess about the cheetos you're going to eat when you're done (the future) or the retort you should have come up with for that jerk at the grocery store (the past).  It's the present and you're writing.  Pay attention to the moment.  You'd be surprised at how much time this creates.  One of my favorite writers on this topic is Steve Chandler.  You can get a download of his book, Time Warrior, which discusses this point at length, at his website.

2.  Get good at transitions.  I used to tell people to take advantage of little chunks of time to write–like 15 minutes while you wait for your kid at the orthodontist, or 20 minutes while the rice cooks. But then I realized that this doesn't work for a lot of people.  Why?  Because they are not good at transistions.  Going from one activity to another, most of us need down time.  It is difficult to get your brain engaged in your writing on cue, when you've been wrangling a toddler all morning, or solving problems at work.  But you can train yourself to be able to do this better.  One tip: seed your mind. Review your WIP often so it is active in your brain throughout the day.  Then when you do have a few minutes, it will be uppermost in your mind and the words will come when you need them.

3.  Choose intentional relaxation.  I first learned this concept from the incomparable Jen Louden, and it blew my mind because it made so much sense.  Often our brain needs a break, or we need a bit of relaxation.  But instead of choosing an intentional activity that you know will be restful and soothing to you (such as reading, walking, knitting, gardening) we do something mindless, like checking for email again, or surfing the internet, or leafing through a stupid celebrity gossip magazine.  None of which rejuvenates us like an intentional activity would.  Taking a couple of minutes to do an activity of choice will refresh you and send you back to work ready to riot (in a good way).

4.  Train your brain.  I'm just now taking a real interest in this, so as I learn more I'll share.  But the idea is that our brain produces electrical frequencies at varying rate and manipulating those rates creates optimal states for various activities.   Most commonly we exist in an active state, which is great for operating in the world but is also an ego-driven state that can produce anxiety.  Not the best for writing.   You can learn to moderate your brain waves to frequencies for learning, relaxation and creativity.  These frequencies are slower than the one we're used to for action, and that's one reason meditation is so often recommended.  As a starting point, try closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.

5.  Do whatever in the hell you want.  Well, I know, you gotta drive the kids to school and show up at work, but beyond those routine musts, you've got plenty of choices in how you spend your time. And I'm not advocating always choosing writing.  Take a nap if you're tired, or pick up your knitting when you're blocked.  Throw paint on canvas or sit and stare at the sky.  By making choices that please you and not others, you free yourself to spend time on what really matters in a clear and focused way.  And I'll bet money that if you're reading this at least part of that time will be spent writing.

And, a bonus point:

6. Quit with the negative self-talk already.  Yeah, you.  Stop comparing yourself to others, telling yourself you're a failure, noting what a lousy writer you are–or remarking upon how stupid and ugly you are.  These thoughts are time suckers because they stop you from doing your creative work and make you doubt your desire for it in the first place.  So be vigilant and nip those babies in the bud.

What are your best ideas for creating time for writers?  Plese share in the comments.

P.S.  I have a wee workbook on time that is just about ready to publish.  It's not about time per se, but the book touches on aspects of time as it applies to your ability to get words on the page.  The book is called Set the Words Free, and it will be published first on Amazon, then here on the blog as well.  I'll keep you posted!

Photo by dlee.

How Are You Doing on 2013 Goals?

Marquette_Sugarloaf_beautiful_249786_lI'm working on a post for Thursday that will appear here and go out in my newsletter as well.  It's about the advent of autumn and ways to jumpstart your creativity and writing for the remaining months of the year.

As I wrote, I realized something:  we've got a little more than three months until 2014.  101 days (I asked the Google).

So let me ask you this: how are your writing
goals for 2013 coming along?  What would you like to accomplish the rest
of this year?

I'm a gentle, supportive, type of writing coach and teacher (just ask the participants at our French retreat, who referred to my biz partner Debbie as the "bad cop" and me as the "good cop") so I don't usually rag people about goals.  But counting down the days to a new year seems like a good excuse to look at what you wanted to accomplish this year.

Taking a look at my own year, I've had two huge highlights: the publication of my novel, and the success of the retreat in France.  I've also had two fantastic ghostwriting jobs and enjoyed working with a ton of writers and their manuscripts. But, and this is a big but, I'm not as far along on writing my next novel as I'd like to be.

So, here's my goal for the rest of this year:

To finish a draft of the novel, which just yesterday I titled Lost Causes

Now that I've announced it publicly, I expect y'all to hold me to it.

And, perhaps you would like to share what exciting things have happened to you so far as well as what you want to finish in the time you have left this year?  I'd love to hear about it–leave a comment.

(And come back on Thursday for the blog post on 10 Ways to Welcome Autumn and Awaken Your Creativity.)

Photo by Marquette 3.

All Things in Good Time

To everything, there is a season.  (Can't write that without hearing Turn! Turn! Turn! in my head.  See below.)

It's important not to rush.  And yet, sometimes, things (like writing) happen really fast.

I'm just full of fun paradoxes today.

Don't Rush

This post's impetus grew from an email conversation I was having with a friend.  We were talking about the timing of a forthcoming introduction, whether we should do it now or wait.  And I found myself typing, "If there's one thing I've learned, it's not good to rush."

The art of timing–which sometimes means being patient–is something I've had to learn over my years as a writer.  Too often, I've rushed submitting a project because I was excited about it–but because I rushed I got rejected.  The work wasn't ready.

How many times have I dashed off an email, and in my haste to get it done, left off things I wanted to say?  Too many to count.  Way too often I end up sending a "PS."  When, if I'd just waited and given myself time without rushing I would have remembered in the first place.

I see this with other writers, too.  Sometimes I see it in the work that is submitted to me–when a manuscript is full of typos and misspellings I know the author has rushed.  Or when a new writer, who has barely completed one project yet, starts asking me about agents, I know he or she is rushing things.

It's easy to understand why–we want success and we want it now!  We want people to read our novels because having readers is the end point of the communication loop that comprises writing.  We want to finish the dumb email so we can get to the important things, like writing.  And yet, rushing things through has never resulted in a successful result, as far as I can tell.

Let Things Happen Fast

On the other hand, things can and do happen fast upon occasion, and even fairly often.   All of a sudden, inspiration strikes, and before you know it, you've written a chapter and it's not half bad. You dash off the perfect email, write the meaningful blog post in the 20 minutes you have before an appointment.

The trick here, clearly, is to be able to tell when something that happened fast is good and when you were just rushing.

One Word: Discernment. 

I think discernment is something that writers develop over their writing lives.  When you pay attention, you start to get an innate sense of whether something is working or not (I try to stay away from labeling work "good" or "bad.")  The key concept of discernment is paying attention.  And when you're paying attention, you're not rushing, even if the work came out fast.

So, all things in good time.  To everything there is a season.  That can be comforting to remember when you are in the middle of a long slog of a project.

Have you had an experience of rushing, or writing something good really fast?  Please share.

And, as inspiration today, here you go, The Byrds, singing Turn, Turn, Turn:

It’s Not Finding Time, It’s Finding Space…Mental Space

20090829082327!The_ScreamAt the moment, I'm balancing a number of projects: two big assignments for two separate clients; reading and commenting on student work, and attempting to find time to work on my novel.  And then there's that idea for the other novel I'm researching.  Oh, and let's not forget the blog and newsletter.

It's a lot, more than I've ever had going on before, but it seems to be working for the most part.  Yeah, I do work at least part of most weekends–but I've also been known to take a couple of days off during the week.

I know some writers disagree with the idea of having multiple projects going at once, but it turns out I like it.  (And anyone who makes their living at writing must, by necessity, figure out how to do this.)  You may not be balancing multiple writing projects at once but rather have a day job that takes an inordinate amount of your time.  Or perhaps you have a passel of kidlets at home (even one child takes an enormous amount of energy).  Over and over again I hear the complaint–finding time is the biggest bugaboo for writers.

And yet–its not so much time we need as mental space.

Because, let's face it, we can find the time.  You might well have thirty minutes of down time after you've eaten lunch that you usually spend reading People magazine.  But does your brain have room to think about your WIP when it's been processing work-related information all morning?  You probably have time to write in the evenings after you've put your twenty children to bed.  But does your mind have room for one more thought?  It can be difficult–sometimes impossible–to switch gears to a creative mindset.

I'll confess that for years I was not a TV watcher, and I was a bit smug about it.  And then I realized that after a day of throwing words at the page (or reading the words of others) there's nothing better for zoning out than sitting in front of the TV.   Yeah, I should be reading a book or doing something creative, but sometimes all I have room for in my brain is to sit in front of the television.

But, we all want to get our writing done, so what's the solution?

First, become aware that it's really mental space and not time that's the issue.  This awareness allows you to start paying attention to what overloads your brain and when it happens.  It also creates room for some much needed self-compassion.  Next time you've got time to write and you just can't do it, look at why your brain is simply too filled up to think one more thing.

Meditation helps a lot, because it clears your brain and creates space in it, exactly what we need.  I'm working diligently on creating a consistent meditation practice that is longer than I'm used to each day, but even short bits of it helps.  Get in the habit of closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to clear your mind for a minute or so throughout the day.  The inner spaciousness this fosters will translate into more mental energy for writing.

Play with process visualization, which is actually visualizing yourself hard at work.  Those pesky old scientists have proven this form of visualization to work (I think all kinds of it work, but that's just me).  Imagine yourself happily at work on your novel when you get a spare minute throughout the day.  This seems to pave the way for your brain to be able to switch itself on when the time for writing is nigh.

Write in your journal or do morning pages.  Taking time to write about other stuff besides your WIP is counter intuitive, because, you know, it takes time.  And time is what we're seeking.  But writing about all the other crap you gotta deal with pulls it out of your mind and puts it on the page.  Thus creating the space you need for your real writing.

Try writing by hand if you're use to composing on the computer, or vice versa. Doing something new interests the brain and perks it up, thus creating room for more work.

Get down to it.  Sometimes you think you just don't have it in you.  You're exhausted, you've worked all day, you can't think another thought.  And then you write one word.  And it leads to another.  And another.  And pretty soon you're in the midst of a writing session.

Utilize momentum.  One reason to write every day, even if its for five minutes, is that it keeps your WIP front and center in your brain.  It gives your brain something to chew on in those off moments while you're watching TV.  It keeps the synapses firing on the subject.  It's like you've created a file folder that's open and ready to receive data rather than having to start a new one each time you work on your project again.

Those are some of the things I've found helpful in creating mental space for writing.  What works for you?

Time and the Writer

Metal_mechanics_type_221267_lLast week, in at least most of the United States, we set our clocks back one hour in order to return from Daylight Savings time to standard time, which means that it gets darker earlier (I personally love this) in the evening and lighter earlier in the morning (sort of).  It also means, on the day of the switch, that we get to sleep in an extra hour.  Which in my case meant I got to write an extra hour because my body didn't get the message about the time change so I woke up early.

And all this time changing got me thinking about time as it applies to us writers.   Seems like for most of us, time is the enemy, because we never quite have enough of it to do our writing.  Our chosen profession–our passion–takes time, and lots of it, because you can't rush genius.  Right? 

Well, maybe not.

Maybe it's time to rethink time in a more positive way.  Here are some things I've learned about time the hard way:

1.  Good things can happen fast.  Not always, but sometimes.  This is the theory behind Nanowrimo, which so many of us are participating in.  When you're writing 50,000 words in a month, you're not pausing a lot to worry about which word to use next.  You're just writing.  And really great things happen in the writing.  Always.  It's getting to it that is so hard.

2.  There really is enough time.  We just convince ourselves there's not, because it's a matter of how we're choosing to use our time.  I know if you added up all the time I'd spent surfing the internet over the last few years, I could have written at least one novel in the time I wasted.

3.  When you do get time to write, maintain a laser focus.  I've shared this tip a gazillion times and every time I do people write me and thank me, so I'll say it again:  set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but write for that time.  When the timer goes off, get up, take a break, then come back and do it again.  This is the most efficient way to use time that I've found.

4.  Take time to stand for yourself.  If I'd had the confidence in myself and my writing that I have now when I was younger, I'd be a world-famous writer by now.  When we don't have confidence in our worth and the worth of our writing, we don't take time to write.  Procrastination is a fear issue, always.

5. Take time to make time.  I have a list a mile long this week, and I'm not certain how I'm going to get it all done.  And yet, this morning I took time to meditate.  It's counter-intutitive, but taking time to meditate, or pray, or walk, or swim, or dance will create more time later because you'll be rested, open and alert.

6.  Quit telling yourself you don't have enough time.  I know, I know.  I just did this in #5.  There's an epidemic in this country of people rushing around telling each other that we don't have enough time.  The more we say it, the more it comes true–if only because we waste so much time saying it.  Turn it around.  Tell yourself you have plenty of time, because you do.

7.  Get up early.  You night owls hate me for this one, I know.  Sorry.  But for me it is absolutely the best way to get to my writing done.  Once I've gotten my quota in, I'm happy all day long because I know I've already accomplished that which is most important to me.

What are your best time tips for writers?

***Struggling to find time no matter how you try?  Perhaps you need some coaching.  Check out my services page for all the options I offer writers.

Photo by clix.