Make Time for Writing

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

As writers, we all struggle with finding enough time to write. There are a number of ways we can “make time” to write. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Redefine Writing Time

I used to think I needed a whole day to get some good writing done, but over the years, my time window has shrunk. For example, I started the first draft of this post while waiting for my son in the car pool line at school. I had 10 minutes and I used them!

  1. Make Routines for Everything You Can

I’m the cook in my family and, last fall, I started creating weekly meal plans, usually on Sunday. It takes me half an hour to plan my meals for the week, and it turns out to be a huge time-saver. The hard part about cooking, for me, is figuring out what we’re going to eat. Once that’s done, its just math—and one trip to the grocery store.

Today, for example, is Taco Tuesday, so I have to start cooking at 4:30 PM. If my son and I get home from school at 3:30 PM and he happens to get involved in playing with his LEGO minifigs, that’s an hour of writing time I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been staring in the fridge at 3:30, wondering what the heck we’re going to have for dinner. Not to mention the last-minute trip to the grocery store once I decided and realized we didn’t have any of the ingredients I needed.

  1. Keep Internet/Facebook/Email/Apps/Games/Etc OFF

If you plan to write on your computer tomorrow, make sure you shut it down completely tonight. Then, when you sit down to write tomorrow morning, only open Windows, or Scrivener, or whatever program you write with. Do not check email or Facebook first.

If you work from your computer and feel this isn’t possible, try this: schedule a block of writing time—after lunch, at 5 PM when you are done with your day job, or after you go to the gym. Before lunch, at 5 PM, or before you go to the gym, shut your computer down. When you come back to write, only open your writing program. Once your writing time is up, you can open up your email or Facebook or Slack, whatever you need to do.

  1. Move Your Body

Exercise is the magic pill. It makes everything better. Our bodies are meant to move and if we walk, even for 10 minutes, we will have more energy than if we sit in a chair all day.

So stretch every hour, take a walk at lunchtime, and/or go to the gym before or after work. Even if you hate exercise, figure out something you can do to get more movement into your day. You will have increased focus and energy as a result, allowing you to be more productive as a writer.

How do you make time in your life to write?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Force Quit

Martin, Bernie & Norman

These three men have been friends for over 80 years. My dad’s the youngest (in the middle); he turns 90 next month.

While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published on June 23, 2015.

Sometimes, when you have too many programs open on your desktop, the computer freezes, and the only remedy is to perform a Force Quit and shut the machine down. Well, last weekend, I learned that this works for writers, as well. My gift to my dad this last Father’s Day was to drive him from Vermont to New Jersey, so he could attend a friend’s ninetieth birthday. Even though it was a quick trip – if you can call ten hours in the car quick – it necessitated an overnight.

I brought enough work for a week - at least.

I brought enough work for a week – at least.

I packed my computer, research materials for one project, and writing assignments for another. I also brought along a novel for pleasure reading, and the issue of The New Yorker that just arrived in the mail. Realistically, I figured the least I could do was catch up on Revise With Confidence: Self-editing for the Serious Writer, the free on-line course I’m taking with Joan Dempsey.

With an old friend. We talked hard and laughed harder. Great visit.

With an old friend. We talked hard and laughed harder. Great visit.

While Dad and his friends partied, I met an old friend for dinner. We talked hard and laughed harder for a three-hour visit. Then Dad and I checked in to our swank hotel. It was late; I was tired; we had to make an early start the next day. I figured I could at least log on to the self-editing course, so I fired up my computer and ran into a ten-dollar firewall the hotel wanted for twenty-four hours of wifi. I was outraged. As far as I’m concerned, connectivity in a hotel is as important as hot water and a bed. And this was no chain-by-the-side-of-the-road affair, but an historic hotel smack in the middle of downtown with a price tag to match. In fact, if they’d buried the internet fee in the price of the room, I would have paid it. I just didn’t want to be nickeled and dimed.   I looked at my bag. There was plenty I could do without the internet, though I frozen computercouldn’t decide which project to tackle. In fact, I was stuck with my brain wheeling around without traction, just like the swirling rainbow when my computer gets stuck.hotelbed I looked from the desk to the bed, remembered I had a mini bottle of cognac in my toiletries bag and a novel to read. I showered and crawled between the starched sheets. In the end, I’m grateful for the ten-dollar internet fee. It was just what I needed to initiate a Force Quit. Instead of working, I slept like the proverbial log. I even slept in, till a little past six. But when I awoke, I felt rested and ready for the drive back. But first, I sat down at the desk with paper and pen, and I drafted this blog. nip

Even though Deborah Lee Luskin is currently attempting a through-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail, you can still receive An Essay Every Wednesday emailed directly to your inbox by subscribing on her website, www.deborahleeluskin.com  It’s easy, it’s entertaining, it’s educational, and it’s free.

How Long Does It Take To Write A Book?

www.deborahleeluskin.com

These papers have been in a box under my desk for most of a year.

“How long it take to write a book?” my dad asks.

“It depends,” I answer.

“How long does it have to be?”

“As long as it needs,” I reply.

“How long is the book you’re writing?”

“It was four hundred pages.” I say.

“Four hundred pages!” he says. “Wow!”

“But now it’s just two hundred,” I add.

“How long have you been writing it?” he asks.

It’s been in a box under my desk for almost a year.

This makes it sound as if I haven’t been working on this novel since last August, which is not entirely true.

* * *

I think about the book all the time, as if it were some best friend I keep in my prayers while it convalesces from a serious illness. In this time, I have imagined a solution to a major structural issue. I won’t know if it’s the elegant solution I want until I unbox the typescript and bend to the story, and that’s just not on the current schedule right now, because I’m currently obsessed with a piece of non-fiction that I’m hoping to shape into a book.

This new project is about being outdoors and civil discourse and belonging to the land – but I don’t quite know the story yet, so I’m writing around it. I’ve not just been thinking about these ideas for the past year, I’ve also been learning to fish, to shoot, and to read the landscape. And writing about it. As part of my research, I will be hiking the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance footpath in the country, at the end of the summer.

The Long Trail follows the spine of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. Two-hundred and seventy-two miles in twenty-five days. Plenty of time to think about a story. Meanwhile, I hope to be able to send preliminary chapters to my agent before I leave.

* * *

“My book is just ten pages, and it’s still not done!” Dad says. “I keep starting over!”

“That’s sometimes the way it is,” I say.

www.deborahleeluskin.com

Dad at 90

Dad’s referring to the eighth or ninth installment of a collection he started over twenty years ago titled, Reflections of an Old Man. He’s now ninety-one.

The books include a family history, complete with photocopies of photographs of relatives who never came to America; important documents, like my father’s army induction, honorable discharge, and all the citations he received for his infantry service in World War II.

He also wrote A Love Story, which includes transcriptions of all his letters to his then sweetheart, my mother, whom he addressed as “Dear Blondie.” Her letters to him were lost when he was wounded. They wed after the war and were married for sixty-six years before my mom died.

The more recent installments of Reflections of an Old Man are more philosophical. The one that’s giving him trouble now is about religion.

“Writing is hard,” Dad says.

I agree, pleased by his validation.

“So how long does it take you to write a book?” he asks again.

“Each book takes a lifetime,” I tell him, “No matter how quickly you write down the words.”

Tell me, what are you working on? And for how long?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story, set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs Wednesdays at www.deborahleeluskin.com

I’m Going to Camp!

My son is going to camp this summer, and so am I! Camp NaNoWriMo, that is!

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.03.00 AMCamp NaNoWriMo is a spin-off from National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, or even NaNo.

The best part about Camp NaNo, from my perspective, is the ability to choose my own word count. In order to “win” NaNo, you have to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In order to “win” camp NaNo, all you have to do is complete the word count you’ve set for yourself.

And you can change the word count even after July 1st. (At some point you have to let it stand, but I’m not exactly sure what that date is.)

Since I have always found 1,667 words a day to be daunting, no matter how fast I get my fingers to type, I’ve decided to take the attitude that it’s summer, and the living is easy, so why not cut that 50,000 word count in half?

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.29.15 AMI can do 25,000 words in July, right? There’s even one more day in the month of July than in the month of November, so my daily word count goal is only 807.

If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you know that I love to set goals. And I love the outside accountability of the (Camp) NaNo community. I’ve signed up, committed to the word count, made a small cash donation to keep it real, and now I’m just waiting for July 1st when I can start watching my word count go up, up, up!

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.30.00 AMAs an added measure of accountability, I’ve asked to be assigned to a “cabin” with up to 11 other writers who are also writing nonfiction and who have a similar word count. I’ll find out my cabin assignment tomorrow. Can’t wait!

The biggest reason I’ve signed up for Camp NaNo is to put my goal of writing at the forefront of my brain. If I don’t, life will intervene, I’ll do a million other things in July, and I’ll be bummed out at the end of the month when I haven’t done the thing that is most important to me.

Writing is so personal; it’s only for me. It doesn’t benefit my family in any way, so it often gets pushed down the To-Do List until it falls off. Somehow, signing up for something like Camp NaNo helps me keep it at the top of my To Do List, even though it’s still really just for me.

Anyone else out there want to go to camp with me? Camp NaNo, here we come!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and grandmother. I’m excited to be coming to a time when I’ll have a little more time to write and I appreciate all the support this community has given me. Happy writing, everyone!

Going with the (ebb and) flow (of the freelance writing life)

Having your own writing business involves dealing with work that ebbs and flows.

You may have a client hire you, but then delay the start of the project, delay payment, change the scope after you start, give you more than you expect a lot sooner than you expect… it’s seldom as straight forward as it should be.

It can be scary thinking about the ‘ebbs’ of a writing business. It can also intimidate if there’s worry about “too much” work flowing in.

How do you handle the ups and downs?

Writing life ebbs and flows are like the tides.

Writing life ebbs and flows are like the tides.

Here are some overall tips:

  • If you’re determined to start your own business, start it (it feels so good to take that step)
  • If at all possible, have enough money available to cover at least 2 months of expenses (to avoid worrying about bills)
  • Know where you want to go as a writer and accept any opportunity that is a step toward that goal (get your first byline, write that first feature, submit that first query, tell people you’re a writer, and so on)
  • Focus on one thing at a time: work in 30-minute or 1-hour blocks (set that timer and don’t let anything disturb you until the bell sounds)
  • Make sure you exercise

Tips for when you hit an ‘ebb’ (slow) period with your business:

  • Study up on social media and get more proficient
  • Update your website and any business listings
  • Seek out assistance for the busy times – a transcriptionist, virtual assistant, chef, cleaning service, whatever you might need when you’re flooded with work
  • Find ways to become more productive – read up on time management, learn to schedule emails, and so on
  • Get out and network
  • Find someone to collaborate with on projects – another writer, a graphic designer, whoever you need
  • Seek out new business; send out queries; answer job postings for writing jobs you find interesting
  • Review past clients; evaluate the projects you’ve done; identify changes you want to make and make them
  • Make sure you exercise

Tips for when you hit a ‘flow’ (busy) period with your business:

  • Call on that transcriptionist to transcribe your interviews or notes
  • Use that virtual assistant to help with your calendar
  • Have your house cleaned, your meals prepared, your errands run for you
  • Delegate social media posting (you’ve developed the content, but someone else can schedule it and post it)
  • Shut off email and close the Web browser while you’re working (if at all possible) to avoid distractions
  • Always make time for exercise, even if it’s in 10-minute increments; it’s so important to stay healthy
  • Focus and prioritize the work

Are you able (and willing) to go with the ebbs and flows of owning your own business?

LisaJJackson_2014

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. In 8 years of business, she hasn’t found a pattern to the ebbs and flows of assignments. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Planning A Blog

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog of my own for some time. Now that the current draft of Ellen is on my agent’s desk for review, I’m finally ready to turn my attention to this task.

I have two goals for a blog.

The first is to write about place, a concept that has been fundamental to my life, a tug that pulled me to Vermont thirty years ago, and continues to inform my daily activities (chickens, garden, town politics) and most of my writing. My commentaries for Vermont Public Radio are all about life in Vermont, as are my editorials for the local papers. And all of my novels are set in Vermont. Into the Wilderness, published in 2010, earned a Gold Medal for Regional Fiction as well as recognition from the Vermont Library Association for its sense of place.

The second goal is to stay connected to my audience in the long stretches between novels. Readers are curious about the writers they read, a curiosity that often takes me by surprise. I hope that I can satisfy my readers’ curiosity without compromising my own need for privacy. In fact, I love connecting with readers across the page. I’m still a letter writer, and I’m thinking of the blog posts as letters to my readers.

One of the reasons I’ve been putting off starting this blog is that it requires a long-overdue revision of my website. I’m not exactly a technophobe, but neither am I particularly confident in my design or on-line skills. I do know I learn well one-on-one, so I’m looking for someone who will teach me what I need to know in order to migrate my current site to Word Press, set swimming hole picup a blog, and even expand to other social media. (Gulp!)

I also want to be sure that I can keep up with my blog by setting a realistic schedule, probably posting only every other week – an admittedly slow pace for the blogosphere, where many bloggers post daily. That’s not for me. And frankly, I don’t think it’s right for my audience, either.

I will write at least a half dozen posts to have in reserve before I launch, so I can keep to my schedule, and I will have a marketing plan for the launch, so that I can reach my current readers and introduce myself to new ones.

In order to be successful, I also need to start taking more pictures. This probably means relearning how to use the digital camera we bought three years ago for a trip out west and have barely used since. Hmm.

Finally, by posting my intentions to my audience here, where I’ve been contributing for over three years, I will be held accountable to follow through with my plans.

How have you succeeded – or not – launching your own blog? What advice do you have for becoming a successful solo blogger? Please share your blogging stories in the comments below.

dll2013 Deborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont.

Take the Lead in the Scheduling Dance

Have you ever had this type of conversation when trying to schedule a meeting or date?

“We need to get together soon to discuss the project.”

“I agree. When? My schedule is quite open.”

“How about next week?”

“Sounds good.”

“How about Tuesday for lunch?”

“Oh, oops, no, I already have plans then. How about Wednesday afternoon?

“Yes, I can do that. Two o’clock?”

“I was thinking more like 4:30.”

“Oh. No, that’s too late in the day. Let’s try for the following week.”

This type of conversation is common and seldom results in a date getting scheduled. It starts off with a vague notion and meanders down a path; always taking a while to narrow in on a date and time. It’s a time consuming way to set a meeting.

Lisa_lunch_meeting

Lunch meeting

To take the lead in the scheduling dance, it’s important to be specific. The conversation can go like this:

“Want to get together on Wednesday at 1 to start discussing the project?”

“I’m booked at 1, but could do 2:30.”

“2:30 works for me. Let’s meet in the middle at Brook’s Cafe.”

“See you then!”

Isn’t that a great way to save time with scheduling?

It’s a great start at valuing your own time and a way to be productive. This can work with business and personal meetings via personal conversation or email.

Agreeing on a location can take time (depending on the circumstances), but at least that part of the conversation happens much sooner once a date has been set.

The method can ease the pain when scheduling something with several people, too. Instead of the open-ended what dates and times work for you? stating one or two dates and times more often than not can do the trick.

How do you go about scheduling meetings in an efficient way? I’d love to know!

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She’s found that more often than not, when she proposes a time for a meeting, scheduling takes less than a minute. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook,  Google+, and LinkedIn.