One Writer’s Journey

April 9, 2019

What Do Your Writing Rituals Looks Like?

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My Rejection Jar

Some people have a number of tried and true writing rituals.  Some people have very few.  I have two.

One comes into play when I have a lot to do and I feel like I’m not making much progress.  I set a timer and write for 25 minutes.  Then I get up and either walk on the treadmill for 5 minutes or do some quick picking up in one room.  I might pick up the shoes in the entry way, hang up jackets that are piled on the coat rack or clean off the dining room table. The latter is especially helpful if I have to get writing done and get the house cleaned because people are coming over.

Write intensely.  Then do something else for 5 minutes.  Write intensely.  Then do something else for 5 minutes.  Then write again.  After that I take a break up to half an hour and then repeat the three cycles again.  I’m not sure why this works but my productivity always increases.

When I am working on a rewrite, I print off the manuscript and go sit in the dining room.  I have my cup of coffee and my licorice candle. Again, working in the dining rooms seems to send a signal to my brain.  I’m just happy it works!

I used to have a third ritual. Whenever I got a rejection, I would pull a slip out of the “rejection jar.”  Each slip listed a treat – listen to a book and knit, go to a movie, go buy the yarn for a new project.  This way I associated rejection with something good.  And in reality it is a good thing because you are getting your work out there.  I actually haven’t done this in quite a while but it was really helpful in the past.

What writing rituals do you have?

–SueBE

February 8, 2019

Freelance Essentials: Flexible Scheduling

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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On Wednesday, I took a series proposal to my critique group.  Got some really helpful feedback.

Thursday morning I spent some time noodling over what changes to make.  Glance over the lesson I need to update and convert to a PDF.  Remember I’m teaching Sunday and need to reread that lesson.

11:30 am E-mail from my editor.

1:00 pm Second e-mail from editor.  New two book contact.  Deadline dead ahead!

I have to be honest.  I don’t know how you would do this job, and make money at it, if you also had a day job or an otherwise inflexible schedule.  Yes, I have family responsibilities.  And I teach Sunday school and am otherwise busy at church.  But when a job comes along, I can generally massage my schedule and work things in which is vital on days like today.

2/13.  Chapter, outline and bibliography due

3/8.  Book due.

3/18.  Chapter, outline and bibliography due

4/12.  Book due.

And somewhere not long after all of that, I will be rewriting both books.

It isn’t that your schedule has to be wide open to do this job but you do have to be willing to rearrange things.  If that stresses you out or makes you panic, this may not be the best job for you.

Given my Type-A tendencies, this is why writing about a topic I love is essential.  I need that giddy excitement to distract me from the fact that plans are changing.

I’ve actually taken a few contracts that didn’t thrill me.  Those deadlines were harder to meet and I resented having to reorganize my days to fit the work in.

This contract?  I forced myself to get some other things done Thursday before I got to work on Book #1 Friday.  This is part of the lore and legend of my family.  I come from a long line of Southern story tellers and I am ready to go!

–SueBE

February 19, 2018

Do What You Can

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roosevelt

I thought that this year we’d celebrate President’s Day with a bit of advice from one of our Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt.  “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

When I give advice to my fellow writers, I hope that they realize that somehow they are going to have to make it their own.  The reality is that what works for me will probably not work for you unless you make some adjustments.  In fact, what works for me today, probably won’t work for me a year from now.

Don’t let that discourage you!   The reason is simple – we are constantly changing and growing as writers.  In addition to our writing changing, our lives in general are changing.  This means that the demands on us and the energy that we have is going to vary from week to week and year to year.

Up until today, these are the constants in my writing life –

  • I have a tendency to flub writing exercises at conferences because…
  • I do not write well in public.  I am very easily distracted.
  • When I know where I am going with a writing project, I can write 500 words in 15 or so minutes.  I can’t do that often in any given day but I can rough out a chapter (1700 words) in a day.

I prefer to write in the afternoon. But at various points in my life I have written in the morning and the evening.  I have rewritten a manuscript leaning against the wall in the emergency room while my father was asleep.

The key to any writing problem is to examine the problem as it exists now.  Today.  Where you are.  Don’t judge yourself.  Don’t bemoan what isn’t.  Look at what is and contemplate how you can work from that point to where you need or want to be.

I hope this is an encouraging thought to some of you.  You do not need to be where I am to write.  You don’t need to have a home office.  Writing does not need to be your only job.  That’s where I am right now.

Tomorrow?  Tomorrow I’ll be figuring out a new way to work because something, somehow will have changed.

–SueBE

April 24, 2017

Re-entering Your Story: Picture book version

Ideally, you start a story and you finish it.  You aren’t interrupted.  The words flow from beginning to end.  You don’t need a break.  Everything comes together flawlessly.

Nevermind that we all have lives, families, and friends. Forget about the fact that a paying deadline may force you to set aside your current manuscript so that you can keep the lights on.

I was making steady progress on my young adult novel when I got a message from my editor.  Did I want to write a book on the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Hmm.  Let me think.  That’s me in the Water is Life/NO Dakota Access Pipeline tee.  So obviously I said yes.  I may have actually been a bit more explicit than that.

But that meant putting aside my novel.  And two picture books that I’m working on.  Now that I’ve turned in the pipeline book, I’m trying to find my way back into the world of a my novel. To read about how I’m doing that, check out my post yesterday for the Muffin.

One picture book is easier because I wasn’t that far along.  I had roughed it out but that particular draft was no where near final.  I was beefing up each spread, doing more researching and adding necessary details.  So that one is just a matter of seeing what the next spread is and doing the research.  Yes, its a lot of work but I’m not trying to recapture a story world.

To get into the other picutre book, I’m reading up on scientists in Antarctica. Their world is the world of my story.  The problems that they face and the setting that they are immersed in gave rise to my story problem and setting.  I’m also watching videos of penguins.  This part is super important because the co-star of my book will be a penguin and I have to pick a species.  I don’t think that King will work.  I’m reading up on Emperor and Chinstrap.

If you’ve written a good chunk of the story, go back to a part that came together especially well.  Read it and see if it doesn’t pull you in.  You may need to read it and then go for a walk to free up your mind.

I’m not saying that re-entering your story is going to be easy but it is something that you need to learn to do.  What you learn may be that the way into each story is different, depending on the story and where you are in your life.  But you can re-enter.  You just need to find the right door.

–SueBE

November 25, 2016

Holiday Writing: Do You or Don’t You

pumpkin-pie-1041330_1280With Thanksgiving behind us we are heading hard and fast into the holiday season.  Decorating. Shopping. Events and more.  How does a writer find the time to write?

For some of us it isn’t entirely a choice.  This is how I keep the lights on.  I like electricity and water and all the other utilities and food is amazing too.  Since none of this is free, I have to work.  In the past three days I have agreed to write another series book for Red Line. It isn’t nearly as long as the majority of the books that I’ve written for them so I suspect that it will be due before Christmas.  I also just received a rewrite request from e-future in Korea for the early reader that I sent them.  I write to pay the bills and I also write because I have editors who want my work, but even if you are still trying to break in you should keep writing too.  Here are a few tips.

  1.  Decide to write.  I know it sounds goofy but step 1 really is making the decision to do it.  And thinking “I’ll write if I can find the time” is not what I mean.  Decide that you will write.  Set specific goals.
  2. Be realistic.  This is a busy time of year so be realistic about what you can get done.  You may not be able to draft a chapter but what about a page or two?
  3. Train your family.  It may not be easy but if someone interrupts you, send them on their merry way.  Seriously.  My son learned early on that he could come get me “if it is on fire, has stopped breathing or is bleeding.”  Of course that means he didn’t come get me when he knocked the mirror off the wall but no system is perfect.
  4. Do the holiday thing.  Don’t pass over the holiday fun.  After you’ve given yourself time to write, celebrate.  You need to recharge your creative batteries!

Now that I’ve met my writing goal, you’ll have to excuse me. There is Thanksgiving dessert with my name on it.

–SueBE

May 6, 2016

Deadlines Dead Ahead: Don’t Forget to take a break and recharge

air plants 2As you read this, I am most likely at the doctor’s office with my Dad.  That was the plan long before I had three deadlines on the calendar (picture book, nonfiction chapter, nonfiction outline).  To put it mildly, days like this are interesting.

Some people deal with these kinds of days by putting their butt in the desk chair and not getting up until they’re done.  Yeah, I’m not really one of those people.  The picture book and the chapter were largely done.  That just meant fine tuning them.  The outline was rough and by rough I mean frightening.  I’d work for a half hour or so but then I’d need a break because I had a problem that I had to consider.

 

As you may already know, I like to make things.  I like to work with my hands and have something at the end of it.  Earlier this week, I got a package with 18 air plants.  That’s more than they were supposed to send so I wasn’t really ready for them.  My solution was to hang the plants in wine glasses.

That means that my work day looks something like this —

8:30 – 9:00 rewrite 3 spreads.

9:00 – 9:10 cut the string for a holder

9:10 – 9:45 finish rewriting the picture book

9:45 – 10:00 start tying knots and stringing beads

10:00 – 10:30 outline two chapters and so on

This might not the best way for you to work.  Maybe your a butt in chair kind of person, but I’ve learned that butt in chair doesn’t work for me.  If I know I’m going to be there for 90 minutes, I can afford to goof off.  I know, I know.  Self-defeating.  But if I’m only in the chair for 20 or 30 minutes, I better get my butt in gear.

And those breaks?  I get to do something that helps me recharge my creative batteries.  In the long run, I’m much more productive when I take the time to creatively goof off.  What works best for you?

–SueBE

December 18, 2015

Stretching to Write

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I didn’t realize how much time I spend sitting at my desk until last spring when it started to bother me.  Not that I realized it.  It wasn’t until I had full-blown sciatica that I put two-and-two together.  The good news is that my sciattica isn’t bad and yoga has been a been a huge help.  In part, yoga has helped because it has made me more aware.

It has made me aware of the fact that when I have a deadline to meet, I sit at my desk.  A lot.  Duh.  That’s kind of obvious.  But take a moment to observe.  Sit as if you are sitting, working at your desk.  Your legs are pulled in close to your chair.  Your arms are angled to type.  You’re in a tight little ball with a tiny little range of motion.

I tend to realize this on Monday and Wednesday mornings when I go to yoga and I’m as flexible as a saltine.  Still, there are poses that help and, not surprisingly, they are the one that require a big stretch — triangle, warrior, pigeon (yes, pigeon), and, as much as I loathe it, downward dog. The above video shows the pigeon — the version we do in class is shown at 2:16.

 

I know yoga may not be your cup of tea but I hope that each of you has something that forces you to reach and stretch.  Don’t wait until there’s a problem to begin sorting it out.

To find out how the yoga focus on “honoring your body” has made me more aware of honoring my writing, pop over and read today’s post at the Muffin.

–SueBE

October 12, 2015

Developing a Writing Habit

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Are you one of those writers who has to be in just the right mood to write?  That has to commune with your Muse? numbers-time-watch-white

I’m not.  I can’t afford to be.  Absolutely nothing helps you develop a regular writing habit better than deadlines. At the moment, I have 5:

  • One Muffin blog post.
  • The final draft of Women in Science.
  • 7 Activities with photos.
  • Chapter 1 and an outline for Women in Sports.
  • The final draft of Women in Sports.

The first deadline is in just under two weeks.  The last is in about 2 months.  What it ultimately means is that I write Monday through Friday and often a bit here and there on the weekends.  I don’t wait until I’m in the mood.  I just do it.

If you are trying to develop a writing habit but don’t have paying deadlines, you may have to create or find deadlines.  Some writers do this by entering contests.  Others decide that they will write X minutes per day.  Those who can’t stick to this kind of schedule without a bit of a nudge arrange to check in with a writing buddy. Still other people attend a regular critique group.  Knowing that you need to have something to share can also be a great motivator.

Write regulary for about 6 weeks and you’ll develop a writing habit. Why 6 weeks?  That’s about how long it takes any new practice to become habit.

If you have troubles making progress because you work and rework each paragraph until you achieve perfection, give yourself permission to create dreadful drafts.  For more on how this can benefit you as a writer, check out my blog post for last Saturday  on the Muffin.

–SueBE

September 14, 2015

What I’m Working On: Flexibility

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yoga _ Flickr - Photo Sharing!.html

The Importance of Being Flexible.

Just when I think I have my time planned out, I relearn the importance of flexibility.  To make this even funnier, I just started taking yoga.  Get it? Yoga.  Flexbility?

In the past few weeks, I ‘ve had two jobs come my way.

A new-to-me Education.com editor contacted me.  I am writing 17 education activities with autumn and Halloween themes.  The first ten are due next Wednesday.  I’m going to get started on the next group ASAP because they are fun to do but I don’t have a deadline yet.

Last week, my contact at Redline dropped me a note.  I didn’t expect to hear from her for a few weeks but, of course, I said YES.  Then I read her e-mail.  Only joking!  But the reality is that with all of the Black Lives Matter mess, I was a little afraid they wouldn’t want me to write for them again.  No, I still don’t think it was my fault, but these are the kinds of things I worry about when the cat wakes me up.  I am working on two titles for their new Women in History series.  This is the first time I’ve ever gotten two books in one series.  I’m doing sports and science.  Science is due first so, of course, every tid bit I’m seeing as I read has to do with sports.

I’m still working with Duchess on the NASA book and I have three articles to finish for CBI.

Fingers crossed that I can still work in my agent search!  I know that’s an important long-term step for my career but a girl’s gotta eat.  Right now, my plate is full.

–SueBE

April 6, 2015

Spring Cleaning: Sprucing Up My Office

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spruceHere in the St. Louis area spring is in the air.  The forsythia is blooming right outside my office window.  Birds are chirping. I want to be outside trimming and pulling and raking but I have a deadline.  Black Lives Matter is due in early May,  Once I meet that, I have an early June deadline for a book on WWI. On the Muffin yesterday (Easter Sunday), I wrote about how to work both an outside life and writing into your day.

Too many of us think we have to choose one or the other when, truly, every published writer I know has both. That said, I want to be outside more than I have time to be outside.  Deadlines, after all, must be met.  Add to that the fact that I really don’t like gardening when it is really wet out and spring in St. Loius can be more than damp.

My solution is to do a bit of sprucing up in my office.

  • Update my wallpaper.  Not the wallpaper on my office walls.  I actually have a strong dislike for that kind of wallpaper.  I mean the wallpaper on my desktop.  Right now I have a panorama of yellow tulips.  Springy!
  • Open a window.  Yes, it can be that simple.  Everything has been all closed up for winter.  But once I figured out which locks my son had tripped (he is getting way too tall) and slid the window open, I have birds galore.
  • Spring clean.  I had been working on cleaning out of my office and I’ve done a good job.  The extra chair is once again a chair and not a towering stack of paperwork.  The space in front of my monitor is mostly clear.  I need to clean that spot off again.  But I also want to do a bit more.  I’m going to pull down the curtain and run it through the wash.  Bye-bye cat hair.  Then I’ll clean the window.  My grandmother was right about how lovely a sparkling window can be.
  • Add some artwork.  I have a gorgeous painting of an iris but it is too tall to fit between my desk top and my shelves.  That said, we found a painting of . . . guess who?  Me!  My sister found this in a closet so I’m going to frame it and hang it over my desk as a reminder of my connection to my young audience.

How do you plan to spruce up your writing space this spring?

–SueBE

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