To everything there is a reason. A time to write, a time to…not

I just got back from a retreat with a group of great writers in a creepy old hotel. There were times when I would have sworn I was the only one there, despite there being at least twelve other people in a twelve-room hotel. It was that quiet, because I couldn’t hear all the other keyboards clicking from where I was.

Why do you care? Okay, you might not, but you should. Because what I’m going to tell you is important. At least it is to me. Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean…yeah, maybe I have been listening to Sirius too much.

Four and a half days just writing. 35,000 words on the page for my newest Bad Carma book. Three meals a day in the companionship of great writers. Reading to/listening with - a bunch of fabulous writers. That’s what I got to enjoy at the retreat.

Not everyone can take four days off, even with a Monday holiday. It doesn’t have to be four days. But for me, it can’t be fifteen spare minutes. I know the butt in chair thing says you should write every spare moment every day. But I can’t. I’m a binge writer. I need to stay focused and when I do, I can write like crazy (35,000 words!). I have to be able to re-read my last couple of chapters, decide or know where I’m going from there and have no interruptions while I blast may way through the story.

If you’re like me, the guilt of not using all those tiny fifteen minute moments to write keeps worming itself way into your subconscious, and they shouldn’t. We don’t all write alike. Find the way that works best for you. For me, it’s at least four hours of clear time. No laundry, no cleaning, no food prep, no weeds calling my name. I can’t write when someone keeps asking me questions (sorry, dear, but I need you to shut the heck up!).

I know other people can pick up and write in short time frames. I read about them all the time. But I need to write like I need to write, and so do you. It’s important that you decide what that way is so you aren’t making excuses for not writing. If you need long blocks of time, how can you get them? Do you enjoy writing in coffee shops? Go there on a weekend. Do you need quiet? Can you reserve a space at the library? Do you have a friend with a nice sunroom they’d let you borrow when they’re out of town?

I have a friend with a VRBO house (she rents it out by the day, like AirBnB, only the whole house). I hope to talk a few writer friends into renting the 5 bedroom house for some long weekends to write. No chores. No husband. Hopefully no phones. But lots of comfy space with peace and quiet, snacks, writers to talk with during meals. And words on the paper. Lots and lots of words. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t get the most words – that was Cindi Myers. So it’s not just me. There are more of us out there than you hear about.

So find your method. If it’s fifteen minutes waiting to pick your kids up, great. If it’s twelve hours straight on a Saturday sitting in a corner of a quiet coffee shop or senior center, peachy. Just make the effort. Make those words happen. Seriously, just Write On!

 

I’m Guilty – Throw the Book At Me (I really need to catch one!)

JudgeYep. I’m guilty. I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened. I stopped writing and started doing yard work. With a shovel. I became enamored with a battery-operated sprayer for my weeds. I couldn’t resist the siren call of the annual plant displays at every store in town, including the pharmacy. I found a cute little raised bed garden kit and made it my own. And I didn’t write.

In my defense, I did manage to submit two already-written stories to Colorado Gold, but I don’t think that will be considered justification for letting me off. My self-imposed sentence is to put my butt in chair and shackle myself to my computer and get some words on the page.

I know that if we, as writers, were truly judged on how easily we are led astray, the docket would be filled with regretful authors being handed long sentences (hah! I didn’t even notice this the first time around!). Whether it’s catching up on all your recorded Game of Thrones or Walking Dead shows with a box of pizza, summer vacation planning, gardening, or another fun in the sun summer activity, it’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ll write later. But then you’re tired, or it’s time to fix dinner, or pick up the kids at the pool or summer league.

Hold up your right hand (if you’re writing, you can skip this part), and repeat after me: “I solemnly swear to set up a schedule to get at least 5,000 words on the page per week.” Ok, maybe 2,000 words. I am swearing, I guarantee (but then I do that all the time). Are you with me? Can we make a pact to close the curtain to block out the beautiful sunshine, turn on some music to drown out the birds singing, and turn up the A/C so we have to wear sweaters and pretend it’s deep, dark winter and there’s nothing to do but write? Or, I guess I could just put on some sunglasses, take the laptop out to the patio with a nice cold drink and hang out with the nice birdies and butterflies while I write. gardening graphic

Yeah, like that stupid weed that had the gall to grow over there will let me. Or the lawn that grew two inches overnight….

Sigh. It’s going to be a long hard row to hoe to keep on the straight and narrow this summer. But I’m going to try, because I want to be good and ready for Colorado Gold. How about you? Let’s Write On!

 

Life Work Balance

closeup view of golden scales on whiteYeah, I know, it’s backwards. Everyone always says Work/Life balance, right? Well, after Colorado Gold this month, I can see how we’ve had it wrong all this time.

I mean, really, which is more important: Life or Work? (Hint: this is not a hard question to answer) Yes, most of us need to work to make money to pay the bills, put food on the table, and keep a roof over our heads. But we can do lots of things that accomplish that. Some might not be all that fun, but it’s not called funning, it’s called working.

What does this have to do with Colorado Gold? We’ve heard from a lot of people, including the incredible writer of the year Susan Spann, about how great Colorado Gold was. And it’s all true. But what I really took away from it, besides the (OMG/Yea/Holy Cow) requests for pages/full reads, was that writing fits into the “life” part of the equation above, not the work part. I am not one of the stupendously lucky people like Jeffrey Deaver who get to combine the life and work parts and write for a living. But I can still write. And I make a little money doing it. Enough that I can almost say it pays for itself (OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but who the heck cares!).

Being surrounded by other writers, agents, editors, drinks, food, drinks (hey, it helped counteract the smoke in the air from the California fires), was like what I imagine a Prius feels like when it gets plugged in. My life, love, and pursuit of happiness batteries were recharged. All the way home (and it took 5 hours!) I was thinking of new and improved scenes, a kick-ass ending, and having a bunch of other writing-related epiphanies (and let me tell you, those epiphanies make it damn hard to keep from getting a speeding ticket!).

Those of you can’t see a good reason to fork over the money, or take time off from your job (see above equation!), or are afraid to admit that writing is more than a hobby for you, are missing out on something that can make your whole life a better place to live in. I know a bunch of you out there are saying, yeah, yeah, it’s just a bunch of people sitting in rooms listening to a bunch of other people talk blah-blah. But until you are there, soaking up inspiration, motivation, craft and just having the opportunity to talk to other writers who have been there/done that JUST LIKE YOU, you have no idea what you’re missing. It’s not “What happens at Gold stays at Gold.” It’s “What happens at Gold sticks with you for the next twelve months.” Really.

So start saving your milk money, hang on to a couple days of vacation, and make plans to attend in 2016. While you’re at it, check out the submission guidelines for the RMFW Anthology. Maybe you have “THE” short story inside you that gets you published along with some other really great writers. Go for it…and Write On!

Six Ways to Make More Writing Time

By Lori DeBoer

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I once met a successful mystery author at a conference in Tucson who told me she wrote all of her books in 15-minute snatches of time because, as a mom, that’s all she had. Her pronouncement horrified me. I was childless and working full-time at home as a freelance magazine writer.  I could not imagine writing anything “artful” or “serious” without having hours of unrushed time to noodle over it.

Flash forward at least 15 years and my beleaguered mommy brain can’t remember the name of the author, but I remember her advice.  In between running the Boulder Writers’ Workshop, working as a writing coach, homeschooling our son and attempting to keep the house in order, I only have small snippets of time in which to write. And I make the most of the minutes I have, poking away at my writing in short bursts. Last year, one of my short stories was shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize and appeared in the April issue of The Bellevue Literary Review. I also landed a spot in Gloom Cupboard.  I started 2014 with a piece in Pithead Chapel and was recently asked to be a contributing editor for Short Story Writer. which is available in the Apple Store.

Not only do I not feel deprived because I don't have whole days to write, I’ve found that working in short bursts really works. There is something satisfying about coming back to a piece of writing time and again and watching it unfold. Consistent effort, applied in short snippets of time, yields a pretty decent word count.

When you are looking for more writing time, consider piggybacking your efforts onto some activity you already regularly allow time for.  Also, look for pockets of time that that would otherwise go to waste.

Here’s some strategies to get you started:

Arrive Early—Use the pocket of time before an appointment—whether it’s a doctor’s visit or a business meeting—to work on your writing.  Instead of twiddling your thumbs, reading trashy magazines or catching up on Facebook, you could spend a few moments fleshing out a plot point or writing a scene.  To maximize that space, plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early.  As a bonus, you’ll gain a reputation for being well-organized and considerate; just don’t let on what you are actually up to.

Join the Gym—If exercise is already a regular habit, expand your discipline by writing for 20 minutes before or after your workout.  Some gyms have a café you can write in, or you can hit a nearby coffee shop.  When I was a single mom working on my collection of short stories for my MFA, I did most of my writing at the Lifetime Fitness Café.  The monthly fee came with childcare and was more affordable than hiring a babysitter. As an added bonus, my son had some fun and I eventually started exercising after my writing sessions.

Write On the Go—Many great ideas and solutions to writing challenges come on the go.  There’s no surprise there, getting out and about stimulates creativity and sends blood to the brain. Whether you are on a hike or standing in line at the bank, be prepared to capture your thoughts.  Bob Early, my former editor at Arizona Highways, is a big proponent of carrying a writing notebook wherever he goes.  Christina Antus, Colorado humorist, mom and BWW member, recommends a more high-tech approach of using the Evernote app on her smartphone. “ I can jot down ideas as they come to me. I do this through the day and can write from anywhere,” she says. “Evernote syncs to your online account so everything is on your computer when you are ready to tweak and finish up.” Colorado poet Rachel Abeyta Newlon uses a voice-recording app to record her writing on the run.

Make a (Secret) Lunch Date—Whether you spend your days at home or at the office, that regular lunch slot can offer another opportunity to make writing in snatches an ongoing habit.  If you schedule a regular lunch date with your writing, as though it were a valued friend, you’ll be that much further along. Your office peeps may wonder who you are trysting with on your lunch hour, but they don’t need to know until your book comes out.  Or ever.

Snuggle Up—With the advent of noise-cancelling headphones, laptops and tablets, there’s no reason you can’t snuggle up with your sweetie while working on your writing.  Think of it as the adult version of parallel play. At our house, my husband watches football while I curl up on the couch next to him with my computer.  He’s happy I’m nearby, doing what I love.  As an added bonus, merely sitting through a game has given me wife points.

Sleep On It (Or Not)—Instead of counting sheep or worrying about the day’s events, use that time between wide-awake and drifting off to solidify your writing plan.  “Before you drift off, think through what's coming up next in your novel,” suggests Judith Robbins Rose, Colorado author of the forthcoming middle grade novel MISS and BWW member. “Don't spend a ton of time, but consider the many different ways you can write that next scene.”  Be sure to capture your ideas before you do drift off.  As a bonus, putting your subconscious to work is likely to yield some creative ideas the next morning.  Can’t sleep?  No problem. “When you're wide awake at 3:30 a.m. get up and write,” advises Mandy Walker, Colorado author of Untangling from Your Spouse: How to Prepare for Divorce. Plus, there’s no better fix for insomnia than writing a few hundred words.

Please weigh in. What are your best tips for sneaking in a little writing time? The writer whose tip gains the most likes will win a free hour of coaching, in person or over the phone. Use the little "Vote Up" arrow under each comment.

Entries will be accepted through Saturday, 1/11/2014. The winner will be announced on this blog on Sunday.

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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer, a Boulder-based author, journalist and writing coach, is the contributing editor for Short Story Writer and director of the Boulder Writers' Workshop. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman, Pithead Chapel and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award.  She has volunteered to help edit the RMFW anthology and will be sharing information about writing short stories at the educational workshop in January 2014. For more information, visit her website and blog at www.lorideboer.net.