Why Building a Writing Habit is Essential

WARRIOR OF THE WORLD, which comes out January 8 2019, is being featured in a Goodreads giveaway until November 27! Great opportunity to win one of a hundred free copies! Kensington has also started a reader Facebook group called Between the Chapters. Lots of great giveaways on there – along with author chats. I’ll be doing one in January, so join up and enjoy the party!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is one I suggested, on the idea that “Even When You’re Not Writing, You’re Writing.” Come on over to find out what I mean – and get some NaNoWriMo tips!

 

The Luxury of Small Aggravations

This is an eight-foot tall glass Christmas tree made by Dale Chihuly for the Clintons when they were in the White House. It’s on display in the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I was there for a day job conference and the final night’s banquet was at the library – a place I would never have thought to go on my own, for any president. Now I’m considering seeing as many as I can, when I’m in the right area. Just fascinating. I confess the replica of the Oval Office gave me a surprising emotional tingle. They replicated exactly what Clinton had on his desk and now I’m rethinking my tchotchkes.

Of course, Jackson just jumped up on my desk, nabbed one, and took off with it, so it could be a self-resolving situation. If I had a bust of Nelson Mandela, he wouldn’t be pulling that shit.

I flew back yesterday, landing in Albuquerque in the late afternoon. Regular readers know I’m often cranky coming back from work trips, because they throw my writing schedule all to hell and gone. It’s just how it goes. As I drove up the interstate, I immediately hit a major traffic slow-down and groaned, thinking I’d hit rush hour and it was going to be a bad one. I ran the calculations in my head, if I should take an alternate route that’s normally longer, but would save me going through the whole city at that speed.

If you’ve never driven in Albuquerque, you should know that the traffic can be terrifying. There’s no good reason for it, but people drive *really* fast and change lanes rapidly, weaving in an out of traffic. This is in addition to the decrepit vehicles from Mexico, with Chihuahua or Sonora license plates, pottering along easily 30 mph below the speed limit. Even people accustomed to driving in the free-for-all of Boston rush hour can be taken aback.

You have to look sharp.

After a couple of miles of stop and go, a truck pulled into traffic with the elevated lighted signs that point traffic to change lanes. It was an accident then. Sure, enough, as we all merged over to the rightmost lanes, I passed the wreck. Three or four vehicles were jumbled up in the left lane – one pickup truck spun around so it faced traffic. No cops or EMTs had arrived yet, but people were gathered around the cars in little clusters. It looked – miraculously – like mostly the vehicles had gotten banged up, not the people. One man, though, older, probably in his 70s, leaned against the concrete barrier by himself. He looked stunned and bewildered in a way that grabbed at me. I wanted to pull over and tell him it was okay, that at least he wasn’t hurt.

His face stuck with me for the rest of the drive and I wondered about him – if he’d had someone to call. If his wife had been angry or understanding or if she was maybe so far gone into dementia that she’d never understand what happened to him that afternoon.

It’s an easy thing to take for granted – all those days that aren’t ruined by sudden disasters. Instead we focus on the irritating minutiae. The minor aggravations of all the little things that don’t go exactly the way you want them to.

What a luxury that is.

Climbing Back into Routine

I took this photo back on July 3. Apparently. I don’t remember taking it and was surprised to find it in my cache of photos to use.

But that seems about right – July was when everything seriously picked up speed. Although I note that I talked about my decimated writing schedule on June 19, alas. I was also in a heavy meme of Cute Kitten Pics for a while. There will be more of those to come!

Still, between work travel, conventions, graduation with family visits, I’ve been totally off my rhythm and ritual.

You all know how I am about my rituals.

~weeps for shattered rituals~

So, today, I’m climbing back on the wagon. Like a party girl after a six-week bender, I’m going clean and sober again. This means full rules of observing word count and writing time. Turning off the interwebs. Code One Writing Rules.

See, the rituals are there to create that sacred space to write. I’ve talked about this many times, such as here. For me, there’s a sense of building a wall around that sacred space. We all build those walls in different ways. For me it’s about a certain time on the clock, using Freedom to keep me from looking at the internet, playing particular music and enforcing word count goals. Once I’m in my rhythm, I can bend some of those rules, because I’m in the space. I don’t need to work so hard to create it.

But now, with my sacred writing space in rubble at my feet, I have to reimpose maximum measures. It’s like placing myself in solitary confinement until I can demonstrate better behavior. I know it will be painful at first and after that, the writing will flow again and I can take a few hours in the exercise yard.

On that note… see you on the flip side!

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.)

Identifying Writer’s Block – and Resolving It

One of the fun things about where we stayed on St. Thomas was watching the cruise ships glide by in the mornings and evenings. Extraordinary how these small sailing cites come and go.

Little shameless plug: you can now sign up for my newsletter!! I know – you all are gasping in giddy surprise. I’ve been told (in no uncertain terms and by readers, amazingly enough) that I *need* to have one. If you want to subscribe (and I totally do not blame you if you don’t), there’s a place to do it in the right-hand column of the home page. One of my readers, the lovely Susan Doerr, even volunteered to compose one for me and it’s really just great. (I suspect she worried about what travesty I’d come up with on my own, given my hatred of all things newslettery.) This is very simple, comes to your email In-Box and we’ll only do it quarterly or so. I’m told I’ll have special treats and giveaways, too. Whee!

Okay: Writer’s Block.

So, those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time might be surprised by today’s topic. I’ll be up front: I have never believed that Writer’s Block is a real thing. In fact, I had to create the label for it just now. I’m a big believer that habit and ritual will get words down. I’ve always thought that Writer’s Block was more about angsting over the process – and maybe a bit of resistance towards just doing the work – than anything real.

And then I hit it.

I didn’t even know what it was.

See, what happened was, last Friday I got my developmental edits on Platinum. They’re not bad – Editor Deb Nemeth is excellent at her job: specific, clear, good insights. I even wrote a post last week about how she pushes me to write difficult scenes. She also asked me to layer in more detail about the setting in Charleston, SC, and my heroine’s daily life owning an art gallery.

Several of my friends joked that I clearly needed to take a tax-deductible research trip to Charleston. I laughed.

Now, I’ve been to Charleston a few times, but not since, um, maybe ten years ago? And I’ve shopped in art galleries there. I have friends who own small businesses that sell to the public, but they’re more coffee shops and bookstores. But hey, I’m the queen of networking, right? So I set to finding someone to talk to.

I hit wall after wall after wall. Nobody answered their phones or responded to the messages I left. The one gallery owner I talked to, from Santa Fe, was very weird to me. The Charleston Chamber of Commerce interactive marketing director advised me on how to look up galleries on their website.

It was all very weird.

I tried to work on the edits and got nowhere. The layering thing bothered me. I kept Googling, placing calls, asking my email loops.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

So, at lunch on Wednesday, I was whining expressing my frustration to David and he said something was clearly in my way. That I was blocked for some reason. “Normally,” he said, “you just do stuff like it’s no problem. You’re doing something wrong here.”

As soon as he said it, it all made sense. It described precisely how I felt: Blocked. Nothing was flowing as it should. Nothing was going my way on this.

“I think you should just go to Charleston,” he said.

And I laughed, like I’d laughed before. I started to tell him how I didn’t have the time or the money for such an extravagant move. Then it occurred to me that I’d just been told I needed to fly to Providence, RI on June 3, for the day job. That’s at least the correct side of the country. I checked into the plane tickets and I could fly to Charleston on Friday, spend the weekend and be in Providence by Monday morning.

So, that’s what I’m doing.

I’ll tell you what – as soon as I bought that ticket, everything started flowing again. People returned my messages, I started revising happily and easily. Bluebirds perched on my desk and sang sweet songs of joy.

I don’t know why I have to go to Charleston, but it’s clear I do.

I don’t recommend this method for resolving all Writer’s Blocks, but I think the lesson here is to listen to yourself. When you feel blocked at every turn, there’s a message in that. Sometimes the answer is to do that thing you think can’t be done.

It might open all the doors.

Dread, Procrastination and Bad Hair Days

You, my faithful blog-gobblers, know I’m all about the “write every day” thing.

I know. I’m militant. I stand by this.

But.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the days when this doesn’t work out so well. Jami Gold wrote an interesting post today about giving yourself permission as a writer, on a number of levels. One of the things she touched on was the off-day and letting that go.

Everyone has off days.

You know what I mean. The Bad Hair Day. Those days that, for whatever reason, things just don’t flow right. If we weren’t committed to dealing with careers and families and things like keeping fed, we’d likely just crawl back into bed on those days and hide under the covers.

Few of us have that luxury though. We are committed to things that must get done every day, so we forge ahead, painful and unproductive as it may be.

That’s my point with the write every day thing.

For some reason, writing – maybe any creative endeavor, I don’t know – brings with it Dread and Procrastination. These evil twins perch on a writers shoulders and whisper of other things that need doing. Dread worries that the the plot line is muddied, that everyone will hate the book anyway, that maybe this is all a Terrible Mistake. Procrastination wonders what people are saying on Twitter, if any email has arrived and, oh, there are dishes in the sink! The twins have a common goal: to keep you from writing. I don’t know where they come from, but every writer seems to have some form of these nasty buggers.

The reason you sit down to write every day is to shake Dread and Procrastination from your shoulders.

Wherever they draw their power, it’s thwarted by habit. By ritual and sacred space. They fade away in the face of it until their little voices can’t be heard. That gives you the space to write. Whether that goes well is something else entirely.

Sorry.

But, I offer this. Those days when the words don’t flow and you stare at the screen? They totally count.

That’s writing, too.

If writing was only tippy-tapping words onto the page, then monkeys *could* do it. What we do is story-telling. We fit words to the story, yes, but that’s only one piece of an enormous subterranean process.

Hence the staring at the screen.

And the gazing off blindly into the distance.

The dreamthink.

So, I totally agree, Jami. Sit down to write every day, if only to shut up Dread and Procrastination, but I like your idea of Permission. What happens once you engage is all good.

No matter how your hair looks.