Archive for October, 2018

Scary Day

Happy Halloween! I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I scheduled a dentist appointment this morning. Actually, I know what I was thinking — it’s a Wednesday, and the odds were pretty good that I’d be around on a Wednesday since I have choir.

The “what was I thinking?” isn’t to do with this day being associated with candy. Most of the candy eating will come after I see the dentist. It’s more to do with the fact that it always seems to rain on Halloween, which means I have to go out in the rain. Every other day this week is supposed to be nice, but the weekday I have to leave the house, it’s raining.

Then again, Halloween or not, the same thing probably would have ended up happening. I can make bad weather appear by having a dental checkup. Before I managed to adjust the schedule for my regular appointments, I used to have a checkup in February or March, and we tended to get sleet on that day. Rain is relatively easy.

However, I also have good things happen when I’m at the dentist. That’s usually when my agent gets in touch with me with good news. In fact, I was at the dentist when my agent first called to say she wanted to represent Enchanted, Inc.

So, will I get caught in the deluge today? Will I get good news while I’m having the tea stains scraped off my teeth? We shall see!

The other issue with today is that I’d just started establishing different morning habits and this will throw off my routine before it becomes habit, but I still started the day with writing and have done a thousand words, so maybe it won’t derail me entirely.

writing life

Morning Writing

I’ve always rolled my eyes at those “I get up at four and get all my words done before the day starts” writers. I’ve also rolled my eyes at the advice to get started on writing first thing in the morning, before you do anything else. I’ve never been much of a morning person. Even when my body clock started to shift last year, I wasn’t what real morning people would consider a morning person, and getting up earlier didn’t mean I started thinking earlier. I felt like I needed time to ease into the morning. I like to read the newspaper over breakfast and tea. Reading e-mail and various social media feeds was a way to warm up my brain and get going.

But I’ve been reading a number of things lately about getting started first thing in the morning with the most important thing you need to do, and I’ve seen testimonials from other writers about the difference it made to write first before doing anything else. I’ve been doing that somewhat over the last week, but I really dove in yesterday.

I still eased my way into the day somewhat, since I read the newspaper and ate breakfast, then took a walk. During the walk, I brainstormed a bit about the book I’m working on, imagining scenes and thinking about my characters. When I got home, I wrote down the things I’d thought about. Then I started writing. I managed to get half my target word count done before lunch, and I still managed to read my social media feeds and post a few things. I had time before lunch to practice some of my choir music. After lunch, I shut off the wi-fi again for another good writing session, and instead of the reflexive check e-mail, check the feeds break, I did a little tidying around the house. By the end of the day, I’d written more than 6,000 words, and I still had a little free time before the end of the work day.

The funny thing was, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. I did more of what I wanted to do when I wasn’t wasting time doing mindless stuff. I don’t know how much of that has to do with writing early, but I think that helps with getting started. Starting is always the hardest part, breaking out of what I call the “doom loop” of reading the feeds, posting something, then going back to see if anyone’s responded or posted anything new. Once I’ve started, keeping going is easier, and starting before doing anything else does seem to help.

So, I’m sold. I guess I have a new work schedule.

writing life

Patio Office

It’s deadline week, So I’ll be digging in and focusing on my work. Not that it’s a do-or-die deadline. The final book is due in January. But I want to have time to revise it and also enjoy the holidays, so I’d like to finish this draft by the end of this week. I’m off to a good start. I got up early this morning and have already walked a couple of miles and written a couple of thousand words, along with planning out what I want to write today.

It’s a really nice day, so I’ve been enjoying Patio Office. That started when I thought I’d have a cup of tea on the patio after my walk while I did some brainstorming, then I decided to just haul the laptop outside and work. That way, I can enjoy fall and still get my words done.

Patio OfficeWhile I enjoy optimizing things, I also know that it’s good to shake things up every so often. Ruts are bad for creativity. I also like to take advantage of my flexible working conditions. I don’t have to sit in an office all day. Moving around keeps things fresh. I haven’t tried writing in public, though, since I’m easily distracted. I don’t think I’d get much done in a coffee shop, though I have gone to the coffee shop by the library to brainstorm and plot. I’ve gone to parks for brainstorming and plotting, too, especially when I need to be near water. Fortunately, I live near a lot of water, so it’s easy to find a place to sit by the water and think. Patio Office, taking my laptop desk onto my patio, is my way of getting away from the house to write. The wi-fi extends outside, but I don’t really think about going online when I’m outside, so I’m less likely to have the impulse. I can’t see any books I want to read or housework I need to do, so my only distractions come from nature, like watching the lizards sunning themselves, the snails creeping their way up the trellis, or the flowers blooming. And sometimes the mosquitoes that need swatting. My morning glory didn’t make it this year—between caterpillars and whiteflies, it got stripped of all its leaves—but my mum is blooming for the third year in a row.

It sure beats a desk in an office.


Word Count Motivation

I’ve had a busy day so far. I’ve written a thousand words, I’ve taken a walk, I’ve gone to the library, and I’ve voted. Normally, I vote on election day since my precinct is usually pretty quiet during the day, but the early voting place is at the library, and I needed books anyway, so I figured I’d get it taken care of now in case election day is rainy or I get sick. Now I don’t have to worry about it.

I tried writing before getting online this morning, and that worked pretty well. I’m not normally a morning writer, but I thought I’d give it a try. I could probably have gone on, but I needed to look up info for some of the down-ballot candidates, and I wanted to get to the polling place before people started taking lunch breaks to go vote. Next week I’ll really see how far I can get before I check in online.

I’ve discovered the feature in Scrivener that takes your due date and your word count and calculates the number of words you need to write each day, then recalculates after each day’s writing session. I’m using an arbitrary date for this draft to make sure I have enough time to tinker with it before I need to turn it in, and although the daily total I need to make that deadline is a bit higher than I usually write, it’s not higher by much, and going over my needed count for the day will drop the daily goal on subsequent days. It’s amazing how motivational that is.

Because of my early start, just hitting the usual number of words I do in an afternoon will let me go above the current target. I’m more than halfway through with this draft, and I think I have a good idea of what will happen in the rest of the story, though a new idea that will alter things somewhat struck me on my walk this morning, so I need to play with that.


Organizing Urges

I’ve been getting things organized lately and have been on an optimization kick, trying to find the way to do things that works best for me. So far, I’ve got my kitchen mostly organized (there’s a bit of fine tuning to do, but I can live with the way it is now) and have established routines and procedures that have kept things in order and clean to the point that it’s only taking a few minutes a day to maintain it. I have my closet and dresser drawers mostly in order (though I could stand to do another big wardrobe purge and then do some fine tuning). I can find things easily, and I have a place to put everything, so I can do that “a place for everything, and everything in its place” thing.

What I discovered yesterday when I was searching for supplies for a children’s choir project is that I’ve become so accustomed to these parts of daily life being easy that the parts of my life that aren’t organized at all are even more frustrating. There’s no order to my office, where I store things like that. I do have a designated choir supplies bin, so it’s partially organized, but there are other things that I needed that are scattered all over the place or buried under things I got out when I was looking for something else. At the moment, I can’t even bear to be in my office because it’s such a mess.

Which means that needs to be my next project. I’d like to be able to go back to working in my office. Unfortunately, it’s become a sort of dumping ground for things from the rest of the house so that I can keep the living space in order. Getting the office together is going to be a rather massive project. I think I’m going to start by getting the desk straightened and cleaned, then move out from there. If I start working in there, I’ll be more driven to deal with the rest of that space, and that can become something I do during short work breaks — take a few minutes to go through that box and file things.

I’ve always had a bit of an organized streak — I used to alphabetize my band music in my folder. That made things easy during football season when I could flip through my folder to immediately get to any piece the band director called up. During concert season my freshman year, the one year I had to share a folder (after that, I played oboe and was the only one), fortunately my folder mate was as obsessive as I am (if you watch that reality show about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, my folder mate was Kelli, the director).

But I’m also easily distracted and a perfectionist, which results in a lot of slobbishness. Instead of just tidying, it has to become a project, and then I’ll get distracted midway through, with the result being a bigger mess. I think I’ve reached a stage in life when the mess gets to me, and I’ve learned that making it a little neater is better than demanding perfecting and doing nothing. When I have things in order, then I can maintain them easily with less effort.

Also, I’m in the middle of a book, when suddenly I need to organize and clean all the things. Meanwhile, those new ideas are flying furiously. This is why finishing a book is such an achievement. It’s not so much about coming up with ideas and putting words together as it is having the discipline to power through when you keep getting new ideas and you desperately want to alphabetize the contents of your freezer.

writing life

Flying Ideas

I totally forgot to post yesterday. I was so excited to get started writing and pleased with myself for being ahead of schedule — and then last night I realized that I was ahead of schedule because I skipped something. Oops.

But it was a really productive day. I wrote 5,000 words, planned today’s writing, and did some research reading for a future project.

Unfortunately, as tends to happen in this phase of a book, that research reading collided with an idea fragment to come up with a whole new story. It’s not ready to write, but it could be fun.

And then a conversation with my agent brought a very old (like, 20 years ago) story back to life in my head.

Yep, I’m in the middle of a book. That’s when I seem to be at my most creative. Ideas are flying around, demanding attention. The trick is to write down what I know when they hit me, then I realize they’re nowhere ready to write, and I can get back to what I was doing. Until the next idea hits.

I need brain blinders.

I’m finding it does help to turn off my wi-fi on my computer when I’m writing to stay focused, except the main character in the book I’m working on tends to go into research mode as a way of dealing with things, and when she looks something up, I need to run that same search to see what she might find. It’s not always what you’d think. Then it takes discipline to not go “oh, I’ll just check my e-mail while I’m online,” when turns into “and then I’ll pop by Facebook and Twitter.”

I probably won’t hit 5,000 words today because I have choir tonight and need to get a lesson plan together, but it would be cool if I could manage it.

Time to Focus

I made it through another busy weekend, with a book festival all day Saturday and singing in two services Sunday, so it’s taking me a while to gear up for today. While the brain was still only semi-functional, I did an errand run, hitting both Target and the grocery store. Now maybe I can settle down and focus on writing.

Next Saturday is unscheduled. There’s a party that night, but I don’t really plan on going because I also have a Friday-night party, and that’s enough socializing for one weekend. I already have grand plans to spend next Saturday morning catching up on housework, then Saturday afternoon catching up on writing, and then Saturday night on the sofa in my pajamas, having a movie night.

In the meantime, I’m way behind on the book I’m working on, so it’s head down and forging ahead for the rest of the week. I don’t have to cook because I have leftovers and stocked up on frozen entrees. I have a couple more errands this week, but they’re of the sort I can walk to, so they double up as exercise. Otherwise, I’ll be writing. I hope.


Using Structure

I’ve got a library book festival this weekend, and in addition to being on a panel, I’m doing a workshop on story structure. I spent much of yesterday working on my workshop, and doing that made me realize where I’m going wrong in the book I’m working on. It’s not a massive course correction, just some subtle things, but I’m glad I caught it now rather than after a draft when those little things had become major.

Some people seem to think of structure as a restriction or a constraint. I find it a useful tool. In a novel, you don’t really have to force it into a particular structure. I find that looking for the various stages is a good way to find the story and to stay on track instead of wandering all over the place. Just filling in the very basic elements of structure is a good way to test an idea. I think, to some extent, the difference between an idea and a story is putting some kind of structure to it — what does the hero want, what’s stopping him from getting it, what will he have to do to get it, what big decisions will he have to make along the way?

This is why I like doing workshops, even when I’m busy. I learn as much from preparing as any of the attendees do. It forces me to take a step back and evaluate what I’m doing instead of falling into bad habits or going on autopilot.

If you’re in the North Texas area and want to know more, I’ll be doing this workshop at the Mid-Cities Teen Book Festival on Oct. 20. Come see how story structure can work for you.


Crazy Kids

I had a rather challenging children’s choir session yesterday, as the preschool director was sick, so we combined the two groups — and then just about everyone showed up. I didn’t get a good head count, but based on the rosters, we had at least 14 kids. And they’ve been stuck indoors for ages because of all the rain, so they were really hyper. Combining the groups also meant we had some siblings together, and that can get even crazier because they act they way they act at home with each other — or the way they would act at home with each other if they could get away with it.

So, 14 kids in a relatively small room, with lots of pent-up energy. None of the things that usually work worked. We tried getting them to burn off some energy with activity, but that made them more hyper. We tried doing a more quiet activity, but they were so hyper it took forever to do it because they wouldn’t listen enough to hear what was going on.

Fortunately, the adult helping with preschool plays the piano for Sunday school, so we hauled the piano to the room (it’s on wheels) and did a singalong of our favorite Sunday school songs, and that seemed to engage them a bit, though there was still some running around and screaming.

I was still twitching when I got home last night, and the quiet at home was glorious.

It stopped raining today long enough for me to get a real walk outdoors, and I think that will help my energy levels today. I like rainy days, but we’d passed the point of what even I enjoy.

Today I also need to work on my presentation for the book festival where I’m speaking this weekend. So I guess I’d better get busy.


Finding Flow

After some regrouping in previous days to fix some elements of the book before I moved forward, I made good progress yesterday.

Some of it may have been thanks to one of the sessions I went to at the event this weekend. It was about creativity and got into discussion of the “flow state.” I’d read the book on the subject when it first came out. Well, started to read. Then I had to return it to the library because it was due and there was a waiting list so I couldn’t renew it. I may have to pick it up again and make another stab at it.

Anyway, a flow state is when you just start doing something almost automatically. The critical part of your brain gets turned off and you lose track of time. It’s like you blink and an hour has gone by and you’ve written a couple of thousand words. I’ve experienced this, and it’s wonderful. I haven’t been doing a lot of it lately because I’ve been so busy analyzing what I’m writing.

One of the ways to help get into a flow state is to listen to classical or jazz music. Apparently, there’s something about that kind of music that distracts the part of the brain that normally trips you up, and it frees you to just create. Normally, I write in total silence, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I did get a fair amount done when I put on a Chopin CD, but I found that I focused a bit too much on the music because the music was so familiar to me. Next, I opened my Amazon Prime Music app and played my new choir director’s album. When she’s not directing our choir, she’s a concert pianist and has a lovely album of reinterpretations of classical Russian pieces for piano and cello. The new arrangements mean the pieces aren’t so familiar that they’re distracting. That worked well enough that I was startled when the album ended. Then I found a playlist of classical music for focus, and that also worked, except when a familiar piece popped up and I had to see what it was (in one case, it was a track from a CD I have).

So, it seems that playing unfamiliar classical music is the trick. I have written to movie soundtracks in the past, and that can work. Then the music becomes so familiar I can tune it out. It doesn’t work for John Williams because I just want to listen. One of the best CDs for tuning out the world and writing for me is the fifth Harry Potter soundtrack (Order of the Phoenix). But it just doesn’t work for me for this book. It’s the wrong mood/tone.

Now we’ll see if it works again today or if it’s just a fluke.