How do you make time for writing in the summer?

I know, I know… summertime is supposed to be that exquisite breath of freedom we waited for all winter. Through grey days of rain, sleet and snow we bemoaned SAD syndrome and blamed work, school, community, church and family commitments for our lack of writing time.

“When summer arrives, I’ll have more time and energy for writing.”

Well, guess what? summer is here, and a graphic from the Environment Canada Weather Office says we can count on sunshine and heat for at least the next week. So how did I spend my first hot day? Not writing. I sat out on the deck with my daughter-in-law, read a bit, talked lots, and watched the little one playing in her paddle pool. But I didn’t write.

That’s the trouble with summertime. In many cases schedules become non-existent and the things we normally would be disciplined about, slip through the inverted time cracks.

In the comments on my Monday post I discovered my fellow Wipsters have some wonderfully ambitious #wipmadness writing goals in mind for July. As the month progresses it will be interesting to see how many of us are able to reach those goals — and how many become victims of summer’s non-schedules.

How will you combat the distractions and/or inertia that often accompany hot weather holiday time , excursions to the beach, bored out-of-school children, and visiting relatives? Do you have a plan for carving out essential time for your writing? Have you tried any of these ideas?

  • Beg an hour’s time from your supportive spouse, letting him take over the children (or garden chores, meal prep, or whatever happens to be demanding your attention) while you sequester yourself in the office and write.
  • Schedule a family afternoon at the beach or pool, but take an extra blanket or lawn chair and sit apart from the rest of the family, putting hubby or a teenager in charge of supervising the younger members while you write.
  • Get away to the library to write by trading an afternoon’s babysitting from a neighbour, family member or friend, in exchange for baking or a home-cooked meal that you can prepare in double quantities another day while you’re making your own.
  • Prepare a ‘Writing on the Run’ kit to grab with your purse and take with you on the way out the door to soccer games, swim club or doctor’s waiting rooms. It can be a zippered case, small tote bag or even a Zip-loc plastic bag… as simple or as fancy as you like… as long as it holds a hard-covered pad of paper, pens and sticky notes. If you’re working on revisions or edits, print out an extra copy for the kit, and include a coloured pen.
  • If you use an eReader, Netbook, or iPad that will allow you to edit a document, convert your manuscript to the appropriate format and have a copy loaded and ready so you can make use of time away from your home computer.

What other ways have you found that allow you to make time for writing when, as my mother used to say, your schedule “gets all shot to pot?”

~  ~  ~

Adapting, or letting our writing dreams die

I’ve always called it ‘heather’ but apparently the sixty-or-so kinds of Ericacece grown here in BC aren’t true heathers or heath at all. I think this one is ‘Erica’, since it blooms in spring, unlike the closely related genus ‘Calluna’ which blooms in summer or fall. Around here, because it resembles heath, it’s called ‘native heather’, and it does well as long as we provide the ideal conditions.

Don’t we all? I mean, don’t we tend to flourish when everything in our lives is the way we like it? It’s easier to smile when children behave, there are no unpleasant interruptions in our schedules, the mail brings a royalty cheque instead of another rejection, and somebody remembered to take out the garbage Tuesday morning before the truck rumbled past the house.

Unfortunately, as my heather shrubs have discovered, life doesn’t always give us what we’d prefer. In their present location, while the soil is suitably acidic, these plants aren’t getting enough sunlight, and there’s way too much moisture. After struggling for the past decade in this location they’re getting leggy, and have only a few blossoms. I’d relocate them, but there isn’t a better spot anywhere else on the property.

The alternative is to amend the soil so it will drain faster, and hope they eventually adapt to the inadequate light. It’s that, or let them die and replace them with something more suited to the conditions.

What does that suggest for us when we’re struggling to cope with our perhaps less-than-desirable situations? As writers, if we aren’t content with the status quo, I suspect we either need to move in a different direction to achieve the desired goal, or change our expectations. In other words, adapt. Or we can give up altogether and look elsewhere for fulfillment.

I can procrastinate when it comes to the future of my heather plants, but I love my writing too much to jeopardize my publication dreams. However, I just might have to approach them with a different attitude. If they are to survive, they’re going to require more TLC than I’ve provided so far!

Has your writing journey progressed as you expected? What might you have to do (or what did you do) differently to reach your goals?

~  ~  ~

Starting Again

.

Here we go again! It’s a brand new year and everyone we know seems to be wishing us a Happy New Year and talking about New Year’s Resolutions. How do you feel about them? Personally, I hate them with a passion!

Setting myself up for inevitable failure by promising to adhere to a list of distant goals never seems in my best interest. There’s enough failure in a writer’s world. I don’t need to look for more. A solemn hand-over-the-heart, I-promise-to-do-this resolution feels like a rock around my neck – a very big one – weighing me down. I’m doomed before January 2nd arrives. Far be it from me to dissuade you, of course, if New Year’s Day motivates you.  But I’ll have no solutions to offer if, at the end of January, you’re frustrated by defeat.

I stopped in at K.M. Weiland’s blog recently and found her thinking along the same line:

“How many times have you made a list of resolutions in January,” she says, “only to have misplaced them, forgotten about them, or just plain given up on them before the month was out? This year, instead of making a complete list of writing resolutions for the whole year, try implementing one new resolution every month.”

If you’re determined to have resolutions, that sounds like a fine compromise – a way to be realistic about the desire to have achievable goals and actually reach them. – and she includes a set of twelve writing-related resolutions to help. Do click on over there to read them when you’re done here.

One of the few good things coming out of all the talk about resolutions is the sharing of goals. Once we’ve told someone about ours, there seems to be more of a personal obligation to stick with them. That’s one reason why I don’t usually share mine.

I do have goals, of course, but I’m flexible about them. I intend to do my best to reach them, although it will take more than promises at the beginning of January to get me there.  Recognizing that I’m not in complete control of my destination is important. That’s in God’s hands. Only making a start on the journey is in mine.

I’m not sure why we think a new year is the best time for major re-evaluation and rededication. Any new day works for me. I may change directions or renew my journey often. If I falter today, I’ll start again tomorrow.

So, yes, for now I think I’ll stick to my plan of keeping current goals to myself, but I will share the two verses that I’m adopting for reinforcement as I pursue them:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11]

“Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” [Psalm 62:2]

Blessings to all of you as you step into this new year of promise and potential. May it be a year filled with enriching experiences, achievement and rewards.

~

What does the New Year mean for you?

What’s your approach to making resolutions or setting goals?

~  ~  ~

NOTE: The promised update regarding Jimmy Rankin’s guitar contest has been added to the bottom of the original post, here.

Making the most of your December writing time

.

I sympathize with anyone who has a January editorial deadline, because there are so many December distractions. These last two weeks of December are probably the busiest time on our calendars. No matter how we celebrate Christmas (or don’t), there is so much to do as another year draws to a close.

And even when we’re caught up and the schedule is clear, we’re often too tired to do anything more than pour a glass of wine, collapse on the couch and maybe reminisce a bit in front of the fireplace. It’s not a good time to expect creativeness to emerge from our depleted minds.

If we’re staring at a deadline, however, something has to make its way from brain to page. At that point a glass of wine is more likely to put us to sleep rather than stimulate thought. So what to do?

My recommendation is to first commit to the task, kick procrastination in its derriere, and carve out a block of time, preferably a minimum of an hour, to work on your manuscript. Set a specific starting time, write it large on a sticky note and plunk that somewhere obvious, like on the fridge, your bathroom mirror or the television screen … or on the cover of the book you’re tempted to pick up in isolated moments. (Trust me, that book will become the worst procrastination or escapist mechanism around, if you let it.)

When the allotted time arrives, spend the first five or ten minutes in preparation:

  • Open a window, stand in front of it (or stand outside the patio door) and do three or four minutes of exercise in the cold air – jumping jacks, jogging on the spot, knee bends, or just deep breathing and stretching if fitness isn’t your thing. You may be breathless and shivering when you’re done, but you’ll have increased the flow of oxygen to your brain.
  • Hit the kitchen and collect something that will provide more stimulation. For me it would be coffee or chai tea, but a few sugar candies to suck on (or c.h.o.c.o.l.a.t.e) would work, too. As much as wine seems to be a popular choice for some writers, this is not the time for alcohol. While acting as a temporary stimulant, it’s actually known to be a depressant.
  • In your writing place of choice, set a timer for fifteen minutes and settle down to write. Even if you’re not feeling inspired, write anyway. Keep writing until the timer sounds.

If you’re anything like me, at that point you’ll look at what you’ve written and toss it into the virtual garbage can! But persevere.

  • Set the timer for the remaining thirty minutes and carry on writing. You may be starting from scratch again, but I’m willing to bet my second chai latte that the quality of writing will be respectable and you’ll finish your session feeling encouraged. In fact, if time permits, you might just decide to carry on writing. Go for it! Remember, there’s a deadline looming.

What other methods do you use to psych yourself up for a necessary stint of writing when you’re not in the mood or circumstances are helping you procrastinate?

 

~  ~  ~

* Calendar photo by Renjith Krishnan
 

Resolutions and the Journey of Life and Writing

When I’m driving you can be sure I’m focused on the road ahead. I see the twists and turns, the potholes in the pavement, the mileage or street signs. I watch for pedestrians, traffic signals, and other vehicles. I don’t do a lot of sightseeing. That’s why, on a longer journey, I enjoy being the passenger, not the driver. I like to check out the scenery.

Of course, if I were the driver I could stop and get out whenever I wanted to take a photograph instead of having to snap through the windshield as scenes whiz past, which is the case when my husband is driving. He’s very focused on reaching our destination in the shortest possible time.

There are many quotations that compare both life and writing to a journey. One comes from Steven Tyler who said, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” I agree with him, to a point. Life and writing are progressive activities. They are pursuits that should bring us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Unfortunately, without some kind of goal in mind they are purposeless. I can’t imagine getting into a car and driving for days to nowhere in particular even if I might enjoy the view along the way.

At the start of a new year many people make resolutions that include admirable goals. (I hasten to add that I don’t make resolutions; I don’t like setting myself up for failure and too often lofty goals are unattainable. As I mentioned in a blog post last year, I prefer to have intentions. “Intentions involve more commitment than a wish or desire, but don’t involve a self-inflicted promise. So if I don’t manage to achieve everything I intend, the disappointment won’t be too demoralizing.”)

Setting realistic goals may be more conducive to success, but how do I differentiate between realistic and unrealistic?

Unrealistic goals are usually the ‘someday’ kind… the dreams you have that require an unlikely coincidence or someone else’s intervention before they can possibly come true.  Realistic goals are ones you can make happen without any help. For instance, I might say that some day I’d like to own a racehorse that will win the Triple Crown; or I’d like to write a novel that will be on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Both are possible accomplishments but not from my current position. Both would require a lot of preparatory work but even then would depend on circumstances over which I have no control. On the other hand, owning a top quality, well-conditioned racehorse, or writing a well-crafted novel might be within my sight with the right amount of commitment.

Whatever the task ahead of me, even if it’s something I could do, I may be so overwhelmed at the immensity of it that I’m unable to make a start. To quote Michael Ehret, Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, Small successes build confidence.” Whether it’s major weight loss, finding money for a racehorse, writing a novel or just cleaning the basement, if I break a job down into reasonable components and tackle just one feasible portion at a time, I’m pretty sure I can eventually accomplish the whole project without anyone’s help. I just have to make a start.

It’s ironic that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know,” yet his writings are the source of much-quoted bits of wisdom. One that I like is: “As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.”

Another of my favourites is by Mike DeWine: One of the most important things that I have learned in my fifty-seven years is that life is all about choices. On every journey you take, you face choices. At every fork in the road, you make a choice. And it is those decisions that shape our lives.”

And then there is the famous one from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I could wrap up these mental meanderings in a nice neat summary, but I suspect you get the point.

Do you have a realistic goal in mind for 2011? What steps will you take to achieve it?

Not Yet… Noooooo!!!

We wandered the gardens this morning, the dog and I. He caught up on wildlife scents while I checked out how things had survived the weeks of our vacation abandonment.

There weren’t a lot of blooms on the potentilla and I was surprised to find the dogwood leaves fading and the ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum heads already blushing early hints of what later will become a rich rusty red. That’s when it happened.

My next step caused a crunch and I discovered the leaves. The sheltered half of the recently mown lawn, spread green in the shade of hemlock and alder, was sprinkled with fallen leaves. My heart rejected what my eyes couldn’t deny. It seems we’re going to have an early autumn this year and I’m so not ready, even though it’s my favourite season.

There are good things about changing seasons but I never manage to accomplish everything intended before it’s time to move on.  I had goals for this summer – to polish a final draft of one novel and seek agent representation for it, get a contest entry ready for submission and resume working on a suspended w.i.p. I made it only half way through the list. Drat!

I’m happy to have the novel ready for submission, but the agent I planned to approach is currently not accepting queries so I’ll have to decide whether to sit on it for a while or look elsewhere. Maybe I’ll drag it along with me and pitch it at the conference I’m attending next month. I did meet the contest deadline with not one but two entries, but the other unfinished novel is still waiting for attention. Did you have goals for this summer? Did you reach them? If not, what got in the way?

Officially summer isn’t over until the Fall Equinox, which arrives this year on September 23rd. That means I have two weeks yet. I’m taking part in Shari Green’s ‘Back to the Books’ challenge with a declared goal of BIC (Butt in Chair) for two hours a day, five days a week. There’s no telling how much I could get written on that w.i.p. in twenty hours if I start right now, is there? I’m off to find the file.

Oh, but I can’t go quite yet. I promised more info about next week’s interview with Keli Gwyn on her Romance Writers on the Journey website. Keli interviews both debut and aspiring authors and she was kind enough to invite me into her realm for a chat. I’ll have a link to the interview on Monday along with a picture of what I’m donating for a draw. It’s a “Take It With You” writing kit for writing on the run. It’s everything you need  for those creative times away from your computer… a zippered case containing a writing journal, notebook, pens, pencil and highlighter, index cards, sticky notes – even a bar of organic dark chocolate to tempt the muse.

Some lucky person who stops in at Keli’s blog and comments on the interview will win the kit, and I hope it will be you. (You’d love it; I know you would!) Hope to see you there on Monday.