Sunday, January 30, 2011

Writers Do It Wherever They Can

I'm teaching a new writing class and one of the homework assignments I give each week is to "Look at your week ahead, plan your writing schedule, then keep it sacred." At the beginning of the next week's class, we all "check in" with each other about how we did, as if we were in a Weight Watchers or a Twelve-Step meeting. I find that this "assignment" is a tough one for most students. Without meaning to be snarky, I contend that if you can't carve out any time to write, then perhaps you're not a writer? It doesn't have to be every day, or for hours at a time, but to be a writer, you must be so in love with writing that you will make the time to do it, you will find time where no time seemed possible.

In the hopes of offering up some inspiration for these cold, gray days of winter, I asked several talented writer friends I'm honored to know: WHERE DO YOU WRITE? WHAT'S YOUR WRITING ROUTINE? HOW OFTEN DO YOU WRITE PER DAY OR PER WEEK? They all graciously gave up some of their precious writing time to answer. I hope their answers will help all writers—beginning and seasoned—see that we all must find the routine that works for us...but we must write. No fancy office, no completely commitment-free day is necessary (or even possible) sometimes. But we write anyway.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
"I get up with the birds every morning. Shrug on my furry white lucky writing jacket and head downstairs. After feeding the dogs, I grab a huge cup of tea and head straight to my computer that sits atop a long desk in front of a window that overlooks my backyard. I try to stay dreamy so I have better access to my subconscious where it all happens in the creative part of the process. I rarely budge from my chair, except for more caffeine and the occasionally stretch. When I feel tapped out, I head up to the shower, which helps me make a transition back into the real word. This is my routine every morning, every day of the week. No exceptions. I think it's enormously important to have a routine when it comes to writing. To have a groove that you sink into."
Midway, KY
"I have written at many places but my latest is at the kitchen table. It seems I have to grow comfortable in a place and sort of nest there before I'm happy. I try to write at least three times a week though this doesn't always happen. My latest routine is to choose one day a week when I write for 8 to 12 hours."
Newport, KY
"I live in a circa 1902 Queen Anne in a quaint historic district that’s loaded with old world charm. On the second floor of my home I have what I call a writing library. Though the room isn’t very large, it has lots of bookshelves and three soaring windows in an ashlar-cut stone bay that opens to a view of the front gardens. Morning light floods into the room, and it has a fireplace that I keep burning throughout the winter. My kitties spend the majority of their time lounging on a windowsill or curled up at my feet. I’m a disciplined writer and usually spend at least six hours a day either writing, researching, or thinking. Sometimes when the muse is with me, I’ll write late into the night."
Los Angeles, CA
"I’m funky about where I write. My first movie was written almost entirely in a Starbucks on Hollywood Boulevard. I’ve also worked in libraries, but I find them to be a bit too stifling. I have an office in my home, and over time I’ve discovered that that is where I must sit to actually write a draft. When it comes to brainstorming, outlining, and problem solving, I prefer the kitchen table, the patio or the pool. For some reason, I don’t want to be tied to my desk for the truly creative-intense work. If not a notepad, then a laptop is my favorite development tool—anywhere but in the office!

I try to write everyday, and am often juggling multiple projects. In fact, right after the strike ended, I was working on three scripts at once—and for that, I bought myself an espresso machine (that Katrina absolutely adores!). Back in film school I discovered I write best in the morning. Back then, I’d work before school at 6:00. Now, with two teaching gigs and two kids, morning means 3:30 A.M. It ain’t great, but it’s what I got right now and I’m making it happen."
"I write on my laptop sitting on my couch in my pajamas seven mornings a week for four or five hours (okay, maybe a bit less on weekends)."
Outside Boston
"Right now, we’re buried in 20 inches of snow so I write wherever it’s warm in the house, or where I can plug in my electric blanket. I’m a night owl, and I love to create a nest that’s comfortable and warm. My favorite spot is on my big comfy living room couch, after my children have gone to bed or to school. I like to have space enough to spread out my manuscript, and have my favorite books within an arm’s reach. When I'm in a heavy writing or editing phase, I work up to 10 hours a day, mostly at night after putting the kids to bed, so from 8pm to 3am. Then I’ll catch a few hours in the afternoon before they get home from school."
Grand Rapids, MI
"My designated writing time is four mornings a week while my son is at school and my daughter is at day care. I'll write other times though if I have to. At various times I've written after my kids are in bed or before the crack of dawn when I didn't have much child care in my schedule. I finished my debut novel in spurts of writing with my infant daughter snoozing in her baby swing and my son at preschool."
Chicago, IL
"I write in a little office off our bedroom. My desk is an old table I bought at a resale shop. I think it is from a high school because there is still gum on the bottom I haven't been able to pry off. My routine is to write first thing every morning. I write every weekday and either Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes things come up and a few days go by without work. But the goal is to be at it consistently. A week off and I am toast. But I do take time off between projects."
Chicago, IL
"I write in what Virginia Woolf more grandly called 'a room of one’s own' but in my case would be more accurately called “a closet of own’s one.” Our apartment’s good-sized front hall closet would be prized by most Chicagoans—who doesn’t need more storage for all those winter coats and snow boots?—but is especially so by me. I claimed it right away for an office; my desk and bulletin board and even a bookcase fit in here perfectly, if a bit snugly. It’s not for the claustrophobic, but I love having this space all to myself. But the truth is all I really need is my laptop—in the past I’ve worked in many other writing spaces, including a spare bathroom, a corner of my kids’ playroom, and too many coffee shops to remember. (As for where we store all those coats and boots . . . well, let’s just say our place isn’t going to win a shelter-mag organizing award any time soon.)

I try to write regularly, first thing in the morning (once the kids are at school), and I shoot for six days a week. In all honesty, most days this means no more than an hour or two of solid writing time. That's supplemented with the rare visit to an artists’ colony or retreat where I can put in long hours and really push forward in a manuscript."
Boston and Minnesota
"When I'm not actively writing a book, I spend several hours a day writing correspondence to readers, working on blogs, etc. I also tend to spend a couple of years before I start writing a book writing *about* the book, figuring out what it's going to be, so I fill notebooks (longhand) with ideas about the book's architecture, playing the 'Who ARE these people?' game about the characters, determining theme, etc. So even when I'm not writing, I'm writing.

When I am writing a book, I'm in the Writer's Protection Program, writing all day, every day. Evenings are for walking my black Lab and rehearsing the writing I'll do the next day. When I'm at my house in Boston, I write at the glass-topped dining room table. When I'm in my house in Minnesota--well, I haven't figured that out yet, since I haven't had the house that long! But I think I'll be writing again at the dining room table, which is wood."
Dayton, OH
"I write whenever I can find snippets of time, which isn't often enough in my hectic household with two kids under five. I am lucky that both children nap well, so I can usually count on two hours per afternoon, and if I'm on a deadline, I'll set the alarm an hour or two before I get them up for the day. I work daily, sometimes drafting new chapters, sometimes revising what I spent the last few days writing, and sometimes journaling to work through something that's still too tangled in my mind to work into the story."
Huge thanks to these wonderful writers! I hope you'll check out some of their amazing work. Later this week, these same writers answer the question: Do you have any "tricks," "bribes," or methods you use to keep yourself on track with writing goals?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Reverse of Resolutions

I’ve been a very bad blogger, but I resolve to do better. Speaking of resolutions...

Here we are, 19 days into January. How are your New Year’s Resolutions going? At this point, some people are already feeling defeated and discouraged because they’ve set themselves up with unrealistic goals. Now, don’t get me wrong! I’m a firm believer in resolutions and setting goals (see last January’s blog called “Manifestation Has Major Mojo”). I I look forward to listing new goals, breaking them into steps, charting my progress, marking off the accomplishments on the list (yes, I'm a geek).

BUT, I also recommend something else, something I call the Reverse of Resolutions. While it is important to challenge ourselves, it’s just as important to acknowledge the things we already accomplished.

I know, I know, we are taught not to “toot our own horn,” but really, it’s good to take a look at all you’ve done in the course of a year—good for the soul, good for the ego, just plain good any way you look at it.

Because my birthday is close to the beginning of January, my New Year's resolutions are closely tied to this birthday-take-stock-of-my-life exercise. Before I make an unreasonable list of punishing goals, I take an indulgent, congratulatory look at all the cool stuff I did between this year and last. It makes me feel proud, it makes me feel kinder towards myself, it’s a nice affirmation, and if we can’t brag a little to ourselves, who else is going to do it?

I start a clean page in a notebook and just start numbering a list. I take my time and try to list every single cool thing I can remember.

Obviously, your list should include the “biggies.” For me, 2010 included:
1. Published my fourth novel.
2. Sold my first young adult novel
3. Got my first live TV spot promoting Blessings


10. Attended class taught by the Dalai Lama
11. Taught my first college level writing course

But I also include accomplishments no one else might recognize or know about, such as:
17. Never got lost a single time while renting a car on book tour


26. Made real peace with and found forgiveness for X (no one has to see your list...but sometimes those very personal accomplishments change our lives the most.)

Once you get on a roll, allow yourself to list anything and everything that you recall about the year past, recognizing moments that gave you peace and beauty, moments that required you to be brave or generous, moments that forced you out of your comfort zone, or introduced you to new passions.

30. Spent a lovely morning alone on Venice Beach in Los Angeles
32. Nurtured new friendships with X, Y, and Z...
42. Stopped investing in relationship with X because it was toxic and not giving me anything.
50. Grew a perfect watermelon
52. Hosted Thanksgiving
60. Learned to ice skate
61. Learned to hang a door on hinges
70. Told the truth that time to X when it really scared me

In the past, my lists have included things like:
learned to make tiramisu,
finished a draft of a new novel,
discovered a great new friend in X,
finally bought myself a Forever Summer hydrangea because I’ve always thought they were beautiful and I deserve to have beauty around me,
went to NYC to see Jude Law play Hamlet because...I wanted to.

You get the idea.

You’ll get going. You’ll get on a roll. Nothing that comes to mind is too small to include.
We deserve to pat ourselves on the back and bask a little bit for the time it takes to make your list. Sometimes, on discouraging days, it helps to go back and read your list—especially on days you feel you aren’t living up to your resolutions. You’ll go over your list and think, “Look at me. Look at all I did. Okay, tomorrow is another day. I’m inspired to do better.”

Start making your list. Look at you! Look at how strong, kickass and interesting you are!

Don’t you feel better already?