I was so jazzed this spring from attending the Left Coast Crime conference in Reno and having my first short story publication. I felt inspired to complete a draft of my novel and to start finding opportunities for feedback. I felt so inspired I made a personal goal to complete this by the end of September.
Spoiler alert: didn’t happen. Work got busier. The full circuit of three camp drop-offs and pickups ended up taking two hours a day. This is not a complaint, they had a great summer and did some really fun camps. And they got some free time at home, which is also important. But this blog is about me, not the kids, and my summer was almost all work and no writing.
Today is September 9, it’s a Sunday, and I’m in a cafe, alone, writing for the first time in months. My husband is taking all three kids to the grocery store. I feel bad about this. I know I don’t have to. I know he doesn’t feel bad. He can handle it. I also know it’s not exactly easy to take three kids to the grocery store, and that I could be helping but I’m not because I’m here writing.
I guess I better get to it. This novel’s not going to write itself in the next two hours and if I’m going to feel bad about taking the time, I’d better have something to show for it 🙂
UPDATE: I wrote for two hours and it was awesome!
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a coffee date with Mysti Berry. Mysti is a screenwriter–novelist–short story writer and all around awesome human being. We talked writing for an hour and she gave me permission to share some details of our conversation.
I told Mysti about my quest to be Jessica Fletcher, ie, a successful mystery writer who also does other things (such as work, raise three small children, etc, etc). I know that Mysti has a full-time job that is not writing fiction, so I asked her about her personal writing routine and her writing goals.
Mysti’s routine includes early morning writing and writing with friends which she says helps her stick with the program. She also takes writing retreats where she disappears into a dark lair (or just a hotel room) for a weekend to power through some writing or editing goals. The idea of writing for a weekend kid-free sounds like heaven to me. I hope my husband is reading this post.
I asked Mysti what she does when she gets stuck. She said she first yells at herself, which she does not recommend as a strategy. Some strategies she does recommend are:
- Look for where the plot went wrong earlier in the story. Sometimes you can eliminate a later problem that way.
- Ask certain questions about the problem: Is it structural? Is it character? Am I taking the story in the wrong direction?
- Talk about the problem with others
- Make a list of ten things to try to fix the problem
I then asked Mysti about her writing goals. She has both aspirational goals, like getting her novel published, and more concrete goals, such as:
- Finish dialogue edits by x date
- Send to agent by x date
- Word count goals (if working on a first draft)
- Hourly goals (spend x amount of time writing)
She also has a writing strategy. Mysti has had her short stories published, so she intends to keep writing and submitting those. She is working on an anthology of short stories as a way to dip her toes into the self-publishing world. And she continues to work on her novel and submit it to agents.
My talk with Mysti inspired me to come up with my own list of strategies to try when I feel stuck in my writing and to work on a long-term strategic plan for my writing goals. In the meantime, I hope I get to drink more coffee with Mysti soon.
I am a multi-tasker. Since I work from home, you’re likely to find me working on the computer while a load of laundry spins in the machine and dinner simmers away on the stove. I admit to writing emails while participating in Skype meetings (the non-video ones). I draw the line at texting and driving.
My quest to be Jessica Fletcher demands multi-tasking. I’m not a full-time writer. So I have to seize my moments to be creative, even if I’m technically involved in something else. If National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has taught me anything (it’s taught me a lot: see here and here), it’s that it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to make and meet a writing goal. As long as it’s a reasonable goal.
Here’s an example: Recently, I decided to enter a writing contest. I needed to produce a short story of 2000-3000 words. I calculated if I took a week to write the story, I’d have to write 480 words a day. That felt doable. (For reference, this post is 272 words.) I took my lunch break and started writing. I ended up with 2400 words, a complete story. It took about an hour and was during the time I was technically at work and/or eating lunch. (Shh, this is secret, remember?)
The lessons here?
- Set a low, achievable bar.
- Grab writing moments when you can.
- It’s better to write something than nothing.
For the next week, my goal is to write fifteen minutes per weekday on either a novel or short story in progress, or a blog post. Tune in next week to find out how I did!