When Your Writing Schedule Gets Decimated

There’s lots of stuff out there about how writers and cats go together.

It’s true – the two creatures have similar natures and habits. A lot of that has to do with quiet and contemplation.

You might also notice that this is always about cats and never kittens.

This is our New Kitten, officially named Jackson.

I finally managed to get this photo, when he ran out of energy and got a little sleepy. I have requests for video. So far, this is the best I’ve managed:

Jackson 2

It gives you an idea of the eternally moving target I’m dealing with here. Is he a good desk companion? Oh yes! Every inch of my desk, all the time. Keyboards are for walking on. My face is right there for loving on. He goes for my tea. I move it to the other side. He follows. I move it back. He follows. Persistence, thy name is Kitten.

So, yeah – my even, pleasant rituals are shot all to hell. If I’m not trying to see through a tail, I’m mediating conflicts with Isabel, who is decidedly cranky about the whole thing. Here was her statement from last night.

Hint: look at the end of the near canale. Yes, we got her down. She’s been up on the roof before, but we had to get out the extension ladder last night. Just so I would know that she is DISPLEASED.

So, now I’m trying to get my schedule back into place – knowing full well I’ll lose it again, because I’m headed to Rom Con on Thursday. (Hey, if you’re coming, or are in the Denver area, stop and say hi!) I’m trying to be Zen about it all. My life is overall pretty even and peaceful – like I said yesterday, I don’t know how you people with little kids do it – and this kind of disruption doesn’t happen often.

I think that’s part of the staying the course with writing: knowing that sometimes different parts of life get in the way. And that’s it’s all good. All part of being a connected human being.

Just like getting back to my exercise routine after the holidays, to extend my recent analogy. Starting off slow and easy.

Working my way back up to full intensity.

(With only a little whining.)

How to Break Old Habits and Learn New Tricks

We visited the progeny this weekend, which was very fun. Tobiah is turning four this week, so this fishing pole was a birthday present. It had a little plastic fish to practice with. Otherwise, their swimming pool isn’t stocked with many fish.

I also brought these fun, sparkly flip-flops for Aerro. She loved putting them on. Then taking them off. Then putting them on. Then taking them off. Then dipping them in the pool. And endlessly fascinating discovery.

Recently I learned I tie my shoes wrong.

While I’m thrilled to discover a better way to tie my shoes – Runner’s World has a video that teaches the better knot – I confess I still feel a little bad about the shoe-tying thing to begin with. See, when I was in first grade, they pulled me out of class for special tutoring in tying my shoes. Also in telling time on an analog clock. I suspect now that I was slightly dyslexic – though no one ever tutored me in running toward the correct goal. At any rate, I was young for my grade, but otherwise fairly intelligent.

The shoe-tying thing was embarrassing.

But this reef knot concept? So super cool! And it totally works better. So, I’m kind of amused to be learning, at 45, how to tie my shoes all over again.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s always a new thing to learn, even in the mundane. The stuff we’ve been doing our whole lives. I don’t know how many times Aerro took off her shoes and brought them to me to put on her again. What had become a mundane thing to me, that I did out of force of habit, fascinated her.

This morning, back at home, we headed to the gym. As I was running on the treadmill, I realized I’d tied my shoes wrong. I’d gone back to my old method, out of habit, and the laces were loosening. I had to stop and retie them, concentrating on the new method.

Probably I should just do this over and over. And maybe dip them in the pool, too.

More fun is always better.

Training to Incrementally Increase Wordcount

These cholla cactus are terrible to touch and so lovely to see. Right now the desert is all pink and yellow with their blooms and fruit.

So, now that we all have the guilt out of our systems and we’re not worrying about trying to get 10K words a day, I want to talk a little about how I’ve worked myself up from 1K/Day to about 1750 words/day. That’s the schedule I mentioned yesterday. It lets you draft a 100K novel in two months, with a month to revise. Or to write and revise a 30-40K novella in a month.

This is just a general goal for me, because all of these then require layers of edits, which also take time. And usually have to be done right away.

So, working with this idea of being healthy and creating sustainable habits, I approached increasing my word count like I do my exercise program: incrementally.

For example, with weightlifting, I keep a record of how much weight I do on each machine each day. (Amusingly, I use my notebook from the 2010 RWA conference in Orlando, with the Harlequin “Honeymoon Mountain” cover. Heavens only know what the gym rats think – I’m such a girl.) After I finish on a machine, I note whether that weight was easy, good or if I need to repeat. Once it’s good or easy, I increase the weight next time, to build my muscle mass and strength.

Likewise, on the treadmill, I increase my speed by 0.1 mph at a time. Don’t snicker – I’m a weenie. I have to build the cardiovascular stuff really slowly. But I have. Over time I’ve increased speed so I’m running half a mile farther in the same amount of time as I could when I started.

I tried the same approach with writing – gradually increasing my word count goal over time. My morning blog writing is the warm-up and, for the last week or so, I’ve been hitting at least 1750 words/day. And I’m very happy with that.

Now – this last week was relatively perfect conditions. No work travel. Work is not frenzied. Not that much other stuff going on. We’re headed up to Denver this weekend to see the grandbabies and get our New Kitten. It will be a good test of whether I can get my wordcount all three days.

I’m really determined.

Wish me luck!

Creating a Sustainable Writing Schedule

I love little enticing pathways into interior courtyards.

So, there’s this gal who did a workshop at a conference recently and then did a blog post – about how she’s developed a way to write ten-thousand words a day. A 10K Day. I don’t know her at all – I just glanced at her blog post because several of my writer friends were (understandably) really excited about her ideas.

I mean, who doesn’t want to write ten-thousand words a day?

I also saw a magazine cover at the gym proclaiming that Kim Kardashian (I have no idea how to spell that) lost ten pounds in one week, and I could do it, too!

I admit, that sounded pretty damn wonderful, also.

This is where I’m at right now, in the weeks leading up to the RWA National Conference at the end of July. I did some assessing on Saturday and figured out I needed to lose 10 pounds, so my cute outfits fit right, and write 80K words, so I can have a draft of RP2 finished. This works out to 1 pound every 8K words. So clearly I just need to not eat while writing.

Thus the temptation of the Big Leaps is ever-present.

Write 10K in one day? Yes, please! Lose 10 pounds in one week? Sign me up!

And yet, I also know that this leads to the Dark Side. The best weight loss is slow and steady – or the fat just comes right back and is harder to lose. I think we all know this. Which makes me wonder if similar isn’t true about the promise of the 10K Day.

So, here are my caveats. I don’t know this gal. I have absolutely nothing against her. I have nothing against writing fast. I know that there are writers who can and have turned out this much in a day.

What I think is this is not sustainable.

It’s binge writing.

I noticed, in her description of this method that she said she hired a babysitter so she could write 4 to 5 days a week (I forget which) and figured out a way to write that much. She also said this enabled her to write a novel in 3 months instead of 7. So,  a little math tells me that, at 10K per day, it would take 10 days to write a 100K novel (most novels are 85-120K, so that’s a reasonable round average.) If she’s writing 4 days/week, then she’d have the novel written in 2 1/2 weeks. Where did the other 8 weeks come from?

I’m presuming that’s revision time. (And maybe she covered this – I confess, that I skimmed.)

Some people like to work this way. Candy Havens does a Fast Draft class, where you draft a novel in two weeks and then do Revision Hell for two weeks. This works for her and for some others, which is great. I’m not sure if she feels the novel is ready to go after that, or if it takes more polishing after that.

But here’s another model.

If you take two months to draft a novel, that’s 60 days to write 100K, or about 1667 words/day. Most writers can do about 1,000 words/hour. (Your mileage may vary.) So, in two hours a day, you can draft a novel, spend a month revising it and still have a novel in three months.

Sure, it takes discipline and adherence to schedules, like we talked about yesterday, but so does healthy weight loss. And, to me, this is a healthy approach to a sustainable schedule.

Change your eating habits, work out every day, get plenty of sleep and water, and the weight will come off.

Develop good writing habits, write every day, get plenty of sleep and water, and you’ll have a novel.

It’s not great on a magazine cover, but it works.


Why the Last Thing You Need Is More Time to Write

Very early on in my writing career–dare I say, before I’d written or published much of anything–I took a seminar with Ron Carlson.

Look, he has a Wikipedia page, but no website. What’s up with that, Ron?

Anyway, Ron is a very talented short-story writer, and a terrific speaker and teacher. There we were, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager wanna be writers with stars in our eyes over becoming full-time writers someday. He told us a story about his own life.

He’d started writing when he was teaching, so he grabbed writing time when he could. At lunchtime, in the 15 minutes between classes, waiting for students during office hours. We’ve all been there, where even a few minutes of writing time is precious and you snap up each opportunity. But you long for the paradise of unbroken writing time. It beckoned to him, too. How much more he could write, if he only had the time.

So, he and his wife reviewed their finances and decided they could afford for him to quit teaching and write full-time.

It was the worst thing that ever happened to him.

Also? The house had never been so clean.

He did dishes. He vacuumed. He dusted things that had never been dusted. He did not write. One day, a friend dropped by and found him washing the spiral cord on the wall telephone. (That’s a dated reference, huh?) She took one look at him and said, “Man, you are lost.”

One of the questions I get most often from new or wannabe writers is about finding the time to write. And my answer is always that they never will. You have to make the time, or it won’t happen. I also tell them that they don’t have to find much. 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there – it all adds up. And that bright and shining hope for unbroken writing time?

It’s a lie.

It’s very difficult to use time wisely when you have big chunks of it. Ask any retiree. They dally the days away. People who have to cram a great deal into their days, get a lot more done. Because they need to.

The more you do, the more you can do.

So, what was Ron Carlson’s solution? He got a part-time job. A couple of them. And when he was back to having a finite time to write in, he started producing again.

It’s a valuable lesson.


A Pat on the Back for All Writers

One of my favorite restaurants anywhere  – the courtyard at 82 Queen.

So, I wound up my travels last week with a visit Friday morning to my day job corporate headquarters in Boston. I only make it back to the mothership every couple of years, but it’s always fun when I do. I forget sometimes, working from home in New Mexico and interacting with my colleagues virtually, how great the people I work with are. They were excited to see me. They hug me, my big bosses kiss me on the cheek. They complained that I should have let them know I stayed at a nearby hotel the night before, so they could have taken me out to dinner.

I work with wonderful people.

Along with socializing, I had a few agenda items – just some people I wanted to touch base with on projects we’re working on. It’s fun to get to talk in person for a change. One gal is someone I’ve never worked with directly before. She’s a title-level above me, but she’s handling a task on one of my projects. I stopped by her office, but she was on the phone and waved that she’d catch up with me. I ended up in the office of another gal I’ve worked with for many years and we ended up gossiping – about her stepdaughter and my writing. I showed her the cover for Rogue’s Pawn on my phone and she was appropriately oohing and ahhing when the other gal found me. She wanted to see what we were looking at, so I showed her.

She looked at it, asked some questions and gave me an astounded look. She said, “Wait – you write NOVELS? Don’t you work full time like I do?”

It was a funny moment for me and a good reminder. What we do as writers is not an easy thing. Immersed in the community, we forget how many people out there are *not* writing books. Whether we’re sandwiching writing time around our day jobs or structuring our days around family obligations and other distractions, this is not a common thing to do. It’s not easy.

In truth, it can be pretty damn hard sometimes. As we all know.

That’s something to be proud of.

Ghost Romance Anyone?

My lovely friend and one of my favorite writers, Carolyn Crane, has a story out in this anthology tomorrow!

Her story, “Old Salt,” is about a snarky woman tour guide at a seaside tourist trap in North Carolina (‘the haunted pier’) who wishes that a certain strapping young sea captain who died in 1870 had a less pathetic haunting technique.

Sounds just fun and fab to me!

Rogue’s Pawn Available for Review!

Charleston is famous for its pineapples, symbol of hospitality.

Now, I’m in Providence and, while it’s a pretty city, too, right now it’s cold (50 degrees F!) and rainy. No sunny pineapples for me right now.

The big news is that Rogue’s Pawn is available on Net Galley now! So, if you’d like a review copy, hie yourself on over there and make with the clicky clicky. I’d be ever so pleased if you did.

Now I need to start composing my ranty post on how many stars reviewers have to give… 😉

The In-person Interview: Priceless

Dashing off a post today, as I’m in Providence this morning and headed to day job meetings soon.

My weekend in Charleston was just perfect – and I got exactly what I needed. As regular readers might recall, I was feeling very blocked on revisions for Platinum and getting nowhere with phone calls to people. Networking that usually falls into place for me kept going absolutely nowhere. Finally David pointed out that there must be a reason I had to go in person and to trust that.

He’s a prince of a man.

So, I went over the weekend. And it all fell into place, from the first gallery I walked into, to the people that owner connected me to. Time after time, people offered me little jewels, exactly what I needed for this story.

I’d felt like I shouldn’t spend the money and it turned out to be the best money spent ever.

The take-home message? I guess there’s a couple:

1. Despite our very connected virtual world, nothing beats in-person conversation. People will show and give you in person what they never will on the phone.

2. Writing is an art and that means it comes from a place beyond us. Trusting what it’s trying to tell you is paramount.

3. I just love Charleston.

Shipping off my revisions tonight!