Articles tagged "writing routine"

How to stay fresh when writing becomes work

When you do something professionally, whether it’s a full time gig that pays the bills or part-time work to get that walking-around money, it can become monotonous. To be honest, the odds are that it will.

In some cases, that monotony could be a welcome development. I’ve worked some pretty unfulfilling jobs where routine has provided a welcome refuge. But if you are lucky enough to be financially compensated for doing something you love, the tedium that comes from repetition is something you really have to watch out for and guard against.

I find writing to be fulfilling work, personally and professionally, and I manage a good balance of writing for myself and writing for others (now largely readers on the internet) — writing I’m compensated for and writing I’m not — but there have certainly been times when that balance has felt askew and, as a result, writing becomes not much more than work.

What to do in a situation like this? How can a writer keep their work fresh and prevent burnout? Here are three practices I’ve found that help me keep my writing personally relevant and moving in new directions.

Keeping a journal: I know it sounds like an assignment from your high school English teacher, but keeping a journal (the pen and paper kind) has allowed me an entirely reflective space for my writing. Although I write on the web and enjoy writing to be read, the opposite arrangement helps me stay sane.

Using Twitter: I thought Twitter was a pretty vapid platform initially. I mean 140 characters? Micro-blogging? My attention span is short enough as is! But the more time I spend on Twitter, the more interesting I think it is. It’s basically a super social constraint-based writing club that demands clarity and brevity and encourages experimentation.

Taking time off(line): This one is sort of the crux, but also a bit a catch-all: I write better for the internet when I take time away from it. It’s easy to get comfortable in an echo chamber, but echoes don’t make for fresh ideas. Whether it’s reading or cooking or traveling when I can, I tend to bring something back to my work when I give myself a break from the net (whatever form that takes).

Some of these things might work for you, some might not. You’ve probably got similar suggestions so let me know in the comments!

Writing and work ethic

A dear friend of mine told me the other day that she couldn’t understand how I was able to write. “I just sit down at my computer and, well, eventually I start writing,” I told her.

“No,” she said. “I mean, I don’t understand how you can make yourself do something that is so incredibly frustrating to me. I hate writing — I can’t believe you do it for fun.”

I replied, “Well, it’s not always fun.”

Because as we writers know, it isn’t always fun. Sitting down to write, there are always those “no good, very bad” days where writing isn’t something that relaxes us or even something we take pleasure in. It drives us insane. We want to do anything but write. (The Internet seems like a great place to hide from writing. Talk to any writer and they can tell you all about the most mind-numbing waste-of-time websites on the Internet and how they have spent considerable time there.)

So why do we stay writing, even as day has turned to night, a long frustrating night into another bleary-eyed morning? Why do we keep writing something that might never find a huge audience, or something we know is just going to get cut in edits?

I believe that’s where work ethic comes in, and even though only a few lucky people on this Earth get to call writing a job, there is some aspect of being a writer that demands you take it as seriously as your job. You are producing art, but you are also doing “work.”

That’s the separation between people who write opportunistically and without much labor and writers who have to sit and struggle through a piece, and toss and turn all night because wow-does-that-scene-stink. Sometimes you have to force yourself to write, just because you told yourself you would. Even if nothing good comes of it, at least you put more hours into your craft, your strange and beautiful desire to translate and work through ideas on a page.

A writer’s work-ethic comes from the knowledge that it’s not that first hour where you write your best, but that third or fourth. That moment when the words (after losing all sense from endless re-reading), begin to coalesce into something extraordinary and true. A writer’s work-ethic is knowledge that the payoff isn’t always in the moment of writing itself, or even publication, but the fact that you participated in part of a long history of a phenomenon of inward-thinking and art. It’s beautiful to be a part of, even if it’s not always fun or prosperous.

So the next time someone asks you why you write, why you can’t make an event or go out that night because you have to do it, and why you can’t just write another time,  maybe it’s best just to say, “Because I need to. Because I want to.”

How To: Serialize with Lulu

There was such great response from Lulu authors at our blog post about a resurgence of interest in novel serialization, that we thought it would be helpful to talk about…

What’s the best way to make a serial novel with Lulu?

EBooks are really the way to go with serialized material, and the most important reason is length. Sizing options for print books require 32-page minimums for the best results. Don’t get us wrong, Lulu print books are a great way to compile and release your whole, finished novel at the end of the serial novel process, but most of us can’t write 32-page chapters on a regular basis. The short length of a single chapter of a novel is much more suited to a Lulu eBook. In order to harken back to the golden age of serialization, when a reader could sit down with the newspaper and read the latest installment of a Dickens epic after current events, you’re going to need a Lulu eBook. Don’t forget that Lulu will turn your .doc, .docx, .rtf, and .odt files into an EPUB eBook file for free, and provides retail distribution.

EBooks are also less of an initial investment for the author, of both time and money, and that matches the low initial investment that comes with serialized novels. Think of eBooks as a chance to test the waters with whatever project or concept you just haven’t been able to get out of your head but you’re not sure will work on a large scale. You can write one chapter, and see if readers are engaged and excited about it. If you release Chapter One and decide, based on reader feedback, that your hero needs a sidekick, guess who you’ll be able to introduce in Chapter Two? You guessed it, the pun-hurling partner in crime of your terse heroine.

Whether you decide to go with print or electronic publication (hey, if you crank out chapters Dickensian in length, more power to you!), there are some things you’ll want to consider for your personal writing process, and some of the decisions you make after you finish an installment.

The Importance of a Writing Routine

When it comes to when and where to write, everyone is different. Maya Angelou starts early and works in hotel rooms with bare walls, Truman Capote claimed he could only write when in bed, horizontal, and Vladimir Nabokov scribbled on index cards for entire nights. Some authors hold themselves to 10 pages per day no matter what (Stephen King), while others force out 500 words a day (Ernest Hemingway). Despite these differences in approach many writers share one commonality: a routine. Like competitive athletes, writers don’t show up for practice when they feel like it. They commit to a schedule and stick with it. Yes, some days will be good, and some days will be bad, but in order to improve one has to keep going.

To be clear there’s no “right” routine, only what works best for you. So what is that? Well, first off, what do you want to achieve? Are you hoping to finish a 100,000 word novel in 12 months? Or complete a short story in 60 days? Once you know, write your objective down and put it in a place where you’re sure to see it every day. A constant reminder will hopefully spur you forward.

Now that you know what you want to achieve what’s next?

  • Friends, family, and work will get in the way, if you let ‘em. Don’t. Review your schedule and find a few times a week where you can allot at least an hour of writing time. Put it in your calendar (even set up a reminder 1 hour in advance) or tack up a note in a prominent place on the fridge or by your desk. Make sure everyone knows they cannot bother you unless there is an emergency.
  • You have your big objective in place, but what do you want to accomplish in each session? Whether it’s word count or page(s), commit to a measurable goal during your writing time.
  • Test out the best place to work. Maybe it’s not at home at your desk, but instead at a coffee shop, your friend’s living room table, or in Maya Angelou’s case, a hotel room. Wherever it is, make note of where you feel most inspired.
  • Turn off your Internet connection and while you’re at it, leave your phone in another room. This is your time not to be distracted and trust me, Twitter, Facebook, and People.com will try to lure you in. The worst thing you can do is Google a writer you know or admire who is about to publish his or her first, third, or eighth book. This time is about you, not you versus someone else.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. As I mentioned earlier, everyone has bad days. Anne Lamott wrote an entire book about the moments of despair, and the fleeting glimmers of good, in Bird By Bird (if you haven’t read yet, you should) that are part of being a writer. If you just can’t eke out even a sentence about your current project, describe your surroundings, write a scene from a work not yet started, or re-write the ending of your favorite TV show. Just WORK and reward yourself (ice cream!) afterwards.
  • Keep a log of your writing. Perhaps this is “business-y” but once you see your victories add up, sitting down to write will feel a whole lot more plausible. So jot down the date and your word count or number of pages and reflect on what you’ve accomplished once a week or month.

Like anything routine (ie. general hygiene, washing the dishes, etc.) it becomes somewhat second nature after a while. Explains author Kristiana Gregory, “Since it’s now a long-time habit, a day without writing makes me feel naked.”

So, Lulu authors, now it’s your turn to tell us what your routine looks like in the comments section below.