Writing Routines in Strange Times

A few weeks back I posted about writing during COVID-19. How does one write during quarantine? It should be easy, right? At first, it was difficult, but I’m happy to say that I’m getting into a bit more of a routine.

As I’ve adjusted to using my dedicated creative space for both my day job and my creative pursuits, things have become a little bit smoother. I find the mornings to be a boon—now that I no longer have to commute and do the school run. This adds up to extra time in the morning when I can write (or in the case of this morning—read), and morning writing for me is fantastic because my creative juices are so much fresher!

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For years I’ve heard of writers who wake up early and get their work done before the day really kicks up. But not being a morning person, I just couldn’t do this. I tried once or twice but always ended up back in my same routine of hitting the snooze button five times. Now that all I have to do is get dressed and sneak downstairs for both hot coffee and notebooks, it’s easy. Maybe it also helps that that are no late nights out…

But yet I still felt I needed a bit of an extra boost, so this month I also signed on to do Camp NaNo. I don’t usually do Camp NaNo, though I’m a regular participant of regular NaNoWriMo. What I like about Camp NaNo is my ability to set my own goal, and this year I set it at 15,000 words since I’m also sticking to my plan from my last writing post of writing by hand.

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Writing by hand is so much slower but much more rewarding. It’s a nice break and it a good hand-mind connection. So far I’m only one day behind (and I’m hoping to catch up today). I’ve written 2,500 words since April 1st, which is nothing to sneeze at, in my opinion.

I’ve also found more time for blogging—something I haven’t had in a long time!

I’m going to post regular updates through April about my Camp NaNo progress, and I’ll also be putting out a few more writing prompts and book reviews (I’m rather behind on those too!). I look forward to connecting with you all again, and I hope you’re finding your own routines in these strange times! Below is a song from The Moody Blues, which was one of my dad’s favorite’s bands. Enjoy!

Writing During COVID-19

I’m sure you’ve heard about COVID-19, unless you were on a 12-Day silent retreat like Jared Leto, you can’t miss it. It is everywhere, and it is all the time, and it is time-consuming. Where I live, we’ve recently been asked to all work and stay at home. Try not to leave, use social distancing, oh, and kids have no school so watch them too.

It sounds like a writer’s dream, but I’m struggling. My writing has been on major pause for at least a full week now. There is so much information coming at me, so many changes day after day, but I think the biggest change is the complete alteration of my routine.

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Currently, I’m a writer with a day job, but for the past seven months or so I’ve found pleasure in taking a morning coffee break from my day job at a cute little café across the street. A half-hour might not be a lot of time, but it was enough to get a page or two of writing done. And at a page a day, that’s a novel a year. I felt like I was making good progress. Now, I haven’t even been writing that one page a day.

So this afternoon I had to sit down and have a talk with myself. I needed to plan, to work out what I will work on during this lockdown so that I use this time at home to the best of my ability.

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Part of what I find hard about writing when stuck at home is that I’m a people watcher. I love watching people, observing them (not in a creepy way), but in order to see what makes us human, what makes us tick. I like to try to understand people and the choices we make. And I can’t do that anymore.

Sure, there’s social media. I’ve been on Twitter more than I have in a long time, but that is a black hole that’s easy to not come back from, and some of the news I read on there sets me so off-kilter that writing is even more difficult afterward. Social media just isn’t where I need my head to be at these days. So my first decision was easy: less social media, less news (I was checking at least once an hour), and more time with PAPER that won’t tempt me to check for the latest update or fake news headline. This is why paper is great, another reason why I will always love paper books, and writing in paper journals because when you’re focused on them, you aren’t sidetracked by a blinking light or a ping or low-power warning.

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My second decision was more difficult. I need a project that will consume my attention, that I am so tempted to be with that it is easy to write. I have many projects. I’m always working on more than one thing. And while I want to finish absolutely everything I start (I’m that kind of person I guess), some things take a lot more effort to get through than others. So, for a while, I’m going to switch focus. I’m going to continuing finishing my first edit of BY SAPPHIRE LIGHT, my young-adult fantasy steampunk novel that I love, but I’m going to press pause on the second edit because editing is WORK. In order to keep myself happy and writing while this whole COVID-19 thing is going on, I’m going to let myself go back to drafting, and I’m going to draft by hand a fantasy novel that I started a few years back and haven’t spent much time on, mostly because I promised myself I would write the entire thing by hand, and I haven’t had that kind of time. But now I do, so this project is perfect these times.

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And lastly, I’m going to continue journalling because journalling makes me feel good, it helps lighten my anxieties and sorts out my thoughts and my plans and my head in general.

So starting today, that’s my plan. Did you make a writing plan for COVID-19 and lockdown/voluntary isolation? What are you doing to keep working?

JEH

 

The Five Benefits of a Writing Retreat

Being a writer these days isn’t easy. The majority of writers have day jobs, especially those writers  just starting out, but even those who have been writing for many years often have day jobs to cover their bills. So with the stress of the day-to-day pressing in on you, it can be difficult to find time—or even the desire—to write.

Most days when I get home, all I want to do is cook supper and spend time with my loved ones. Maybe read a book. The last thing I want to do is often sit down and look at a computer yet again (my day job consists of looking at a screen almost 8 hours a day). Some days I push through, but other days it’s impossible. Sometimes, the best way to get writing done is to do it all in one large chunk of time.

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Which is why I love writing retreats. A couple weekends back, I had the opportunity to go on a quick two-and-a-half day retreat with my writing group. We’re lucky enough here in Saskatchewan that there are a few places built for retreats. Which means simple rooms with no distractions (just a bed and a desk), and three cooked meals a day (very time saving), all at an affordable price. Below are my top 5 benefits of a writing retreat, whether it be for two days or twenty.

1    Uninterrupted Time to Get Work Done

I’ve tried before to lock myself up in my house to get work done, but the fact remains that home has many distractions, from family members, to cute cats who demand attention, to the TV, the floor that needs sweeping and the bathroom that needs cleaning, and those distractions all seem pretty fun when compared to spending twelve hours a day rewriting that one pesky chapter. Going on a retreat removes all those temptations, especially if you pick a retreat out in the country, far away from the interesting hustle and bustle of the city.

2    New Sights, New Thoughts

This point slightly contradicts point 1 above, but sometimes what us writers need to inspire new work is a change of surrounding. A new place, new visual cues around you (or a lack of them), can spark the imagination in a different way.

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3   New People, New Conversations

While I went on my writing retreat with my writing group, there were other writers at the establishment as well that we shared meal time with. While conversations were saved for the dining table or the evening when most of us were wore out from working, there was still plenty of time for talking and sharing. We spoke about ourselves, our work, what inspires us, and even read a bit of what we were working on to get some feedback. All of this is much needed writer-therapy that I could probably use more of.

4   A Change in Habit

There are many tricks to try if you’re suffering writer’s block, however mild. Like changing the font set of your document, or writing with paper and pen instead of on the computer, changing your place of writing can also help you look at your work with new eyes. I often find that taking a piece I’m working on to a cafe will illuminate the manuscript in a unique way, and show me a new angle to take that will improve the work or help me just get on with it if I’m stuck. The change to regular habit that a writing retreat provides is a great kick in the pants.

5   A Lack of Connectivity

While there was internet at my writing retreat, it was slow. And if I didn’t put in the password when I arrived, it was non-existent. Even though I did end up connecting, the speed wasn’t the same as it was at home, which meant streaming endless cute cat vids on You Tube wasn’t the draw it sometimes is. Not only that, but being away meant if I wanted to use my cell phone, I would be chewing up data and paying more in the long run. Not to mention that since I’d announced I was going away and on a retreat that friends and family didn’t text me as much as they usually did. The decrease in interruptions meant and increase in productivity, and I got a lot of work completed during my time away.

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If you’ve never done a writing retreat, but have been thinking about it, I definitely recommend the experience.

Have you ever done a writing retreat?

JEH

How to Be a Writer with a Day Job: A year’s roundup.

At the start of the year I was planning to write a post a month about how to be a writer with a day job, in other words, how to find time for writing when you’re working 40 (or more!) hours a week! I managed to get out two posts! Which may tell you a lot about where my priorities lay when I’m a writer with a day job.

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It was much easier to fit in blogging when I was a full-time writer. But being a full-time writer isn’t always the most economical decision (though it is the most heart-lightening one). I switched my day job in June of 2019, and that day job currently takes up a lot more of my time than my old job did, but all for a greater purpose. I changed jobs (well aware that I would lose writing time) to make more money, to save more, to then get back to being a full-time writer sooner (once my cushion is adequately plumped).

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And taking that job has also taught me a lot more about being a writer with a day job. Here are some tips I picked up over the past six months:

  1. Make social media your last priority. Yes, that’s right. If you want to get writing done, or even worse, the dreaded rewriting, don’t go on social media. This may result in your on-line presence lagging, but hey, I didn’t get into writing fiction so I could write for social media 24/7. That said, I’m still trying to make time for some blogging, but I do this by trying time to pre-post once a week—or month! But even that doesn’t always happen.
  2. Keep your goals tight. When you have a day job, you don’t have as much time, which means you can’t pursue as many projects. While I love to have multiple things on the go: short stories, novels, novellas, fantasy, general fiction, I can’t work on them all when I’m already spending 40 hours a week at my day job desk. So pick one and work on it until it’s finished. Then pick something else.
  3. Find a community. I still get the majority of my writing done at my Wednesday night meet-ups. My like-minded community of writers knows we have to set aside time to get work done, so that’s what we do. But beyond writing together, we also have regular goals meetings to hold each other accountable to the goals we set at the beginning of the year.
  4. When you burn out, take a break. Having a day job might mean that you burn out sooner, more often, and harder. Make sure to give yourself a break, a night off, a night out, a morning to sleep in. You can always pick up the pen tomorrow. Just make sure you do.
  5. Drink a lot of coffee. I’m pretty sure that one explains itself.

Hopefully at least one of those tips resonates with you. It’s been a long haul this year being a writer with a day job, but I made it, and next year is going to be even better yet!

JEH

My Writing Life Update June 2019

It has been a very busy month! Primarily because I got a new day job, and that has been all kinds of insanity, BUT, the new job serves my eventual goal of writing more (even though in June I wrote less… much, much less). I was also trying to get my garden in, and then I was trying to get the weeds out, I was coaching soccer, and I was trying to catch up on my annual GoodReads Goal—I set this at 60 books and am only at 21, and in four days I’m supposed to be at 30! Yikes!

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But, in other good news, I head off on a week of vacation on Friday. Time at the lake will hopefully equate to both books read and stories written, but I’m also hoping just to stare off into the wilderness and relax, so if I don’t get much done, I can’t get too angry with myself.

Project-wise, I’m working toward getting The Chain ready for publication, and it’s close. I’m hoping to push through on the holidays and then send it off for final edits, which means likely another 1-2 months before the last Artifacts of Avalum book is on the e-shelves.

After Avalum, I want to finish my standalone book, Society of Ink, which I love and is about half finished currently. After that, it’s going to be another young adult series, which I’m planning to outline over the next couple of months when I’m busy with my day job, but not to busy to plot!

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The blog has been quiet, I know, but as always, I’m hoping to spend a bit more time on it going forward, but it is definitely near the bottom of the list, as most days if I only have 30 minutes to write, that time is going to be spent on stories, not discussions. Though other times, like tonight, blogging suits me just fine!

What have you been up to?

JEH

How to Be a Writer with a Day Job: Part 3 – Making Progress

The one thing I have been struggling with most lately, as a writer with a rather demanding day job, is progress. What do I mean by progress? To me, progress means writing a page of new words, rewriting a book scene by scene, or sending something out on submission. It means moving further along on the path toward finishing something. But lately, I’ve been standing in a deep puddle of stagnated water, the finish line far, far away.

I’ve been here before, I know how to get out of it. But when I come home from work exhausted and tired of computers (already having stared at one for 8 hours), sometimes I just want to curl up and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy (after not watching for a couple years, I’m three seasons behind and have a lot of episodes left to go! Tempting!)

As a writer with a day job, exhaustion can be your worst enemy. There are many ways to try to combat this, ways you can trick yourself into sitting down in your desk chair with your writing computer and start. Not all of the following suggestions will work for everyone—they certainly don’t all work for me. But if you try them all, hopefully, you’ll find one that works. Because one of the most important things about being a writer with a day job is consistency. Here are some small things you can do to continue making progress on your Work-In-Progress.

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  1. Wake up Really Early – I’m going t be honest, I do not do this. I am not a morning person and this would not work for me. But I know a lot of writers who do follow this practice and it works for them. This is about setting aside to write before heading to your day job and spending your best time writing before you feel wiped out. If you’re a morning person, this might be for you.
  2. Write Really Late at Night – This is my chosen method. I find that when I first come home from work, I’m exhausted. I need a break, so I give myself one. I open up my computer after I’ve had three or four hours to compress from the day job, maybe done some exercise and had supper. Then I take about a half an hour to get some work done. The key thing here is to not do this immediately before going to bed since staring at a computer screen might mess with your circadian rhythm. Instead, work up until 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep, and then switch to reading or some other calming activity. IMG_5388
  3. Write on a couple specified days a week (most likely the weekend) – Almost everyone out there says to be a writer you have to ‘write every day’. If you have a day job, this is likely not your reality and I don’t believe it has to be. Writing can mean more than sitting down and getting out words every day, it can just be thinking over your plot lines or character development or doodling in a notebook. But it is important not to let too many days go by or you might forget where you were at (on this note, make sure to leave yourself a good note about what you need to do next). Lately, I’ve been squeezing in writing time on Wednesday nights and on Saturday or Sunday, and I find this is often enough that I don’t forget what I’m writing about.
  4. Find a Writing Group – As mentioned about, I have a writing group. We meet weekly just to sit in a quiet space and write. This group is all about productivity which is what I need right now. A writing group that spends hours talking and providing feedback might not fill the same purpose, so consider what your needs are when looking for a writing group of your own.
  5. Set Goals and Track Them – This can be important, especially for those that are motivated by seeing numbers on paper. The other year, when I wrote 365,000 words in a year (only 1,000 words a day), my productivity shot sky high. I tracked my daily writing goal in an Excel spreadsheet, and seeing the running total was a big motivator for sitting down and getting stuff done. (I’m no longer doing this and my productivity has dropped, surprise surprise).

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No matter where you are in your writing journey, it is important to a writer’s happiness to see progress being made. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be large progress – you don’t have to write a book in a week, or even a book in a month, but you do need to move forward if you want to reach the finish line!

JEH

 

How to be a Writer With a Day Job Part 2: Don’t Let Those New Ideas Run Away With You

One of the most difficult parts of being a writer with a day job that I didn’t realize until I was no longer a full-time writer, is how difficult it is to keep your head on your current Work-In-Progress. (Aside: This month marks one year since I started my grant time, that wonderful four months where I got to be a full-time writer with no worries). When I was writing full-time, the majority of my day consisted of thinking of my characters, of writing about my characters, opening up one story and closing it off. Now my days consist of scrambling to get little ones to day care, struggling through morning rush-hour traffic, checking office emails, making clients happy—and above all, spending most of my brain power on my day job. My escapes tend to be daydreams that mostly involve new, great ideas. Because—for whatever great-cosmically-inspired reason—new ideas require less brain power than old ideas.

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New ideas “just come to me”, they “fall in my lap”, “appear out of nowhere”, “must be really good if I can already see it”, and all of these little reasons I tell myself lead to the New Idea Trap.

The New Idea Trap is the reasoning that the new idea, the one you haven’t spent any time on, is the good idea. It is the one that someone will love enough to publish and give you a large advance for. The reality is that it is only good because you haven’t done any actual work on it yet. Just like the new job you got at Burgers R Us feels like it will be an amazing career where you make lots of money until you actually have to wake up at 6 in the morning to get to work on time. Work feels easy until you are actually working. Ideas are just ideas, they aren’t a book, story, or completed series yet.

So, how do you put aside those new ideas and focus on your current work in progress?

 

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Possibly by drinking coffee and writing really fast? Maybe…

 

What I do is track my new ideas. I give myself a bit of time with them. I write a few pages of background, maybe a character sketch or two, I might draw a map or write the first scene. Then, often, the fire dies down. I begin to see how much work the New Idea is actually going to be. How much of my time the New Idea is going to eat up. And I see that I’ve already put so much time into my WIP that it is better to stay that road, and move onto the New Idea once I’ve finished my WIP, once I’ve felt that sweet, sugary bite of accomplishing my goal.

But I don’t lose track of my ideas. I keep them all tidied up a few journals, tabbed with sticky notes. I keep lists of these works. And one of my favorite parts of writing is when I finish one projects, and get to pick the next one from the list. I spend time reviewing each of my potential creations, and see which one captures my attention at that moment.

And then I get to work, again. Idea book by my side, to capture whatever stray ideas cross my path while I’m sitting at my (day job) desk.

JEH

How to Be a Writer With a Day Job Part 1: Making Time

At the beginning of January I announced that I would be doing a series this year on being a Writer with a Day job. I planned my first post for January 2019, but here it is, February 1, blizzardy and cold, and I’m just getting round to it now. Ah, the realities of being a writer with a day job.

Last year, I had the amazing privileged of being awarded a literary grant, which gave me a full four months to work as a writer with no other distractions. Then, when July came, I returned to my demanding day job and this gave me an entirely new perspective on what it is be creative and to work at a regular 9-5 where you have a boss, and assignments, and things to do that must get done, none of which have anything to do with crafting fantastical universes. When I returned to my job, I was struck with one particular wallowing grief: how will I make time for my art now???

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If you’re like me, wanting to create day after day, wanting to figure out how you will ever find time to finish your novel, your short story, your poems—or heck, even start those projects in the first place—then I’m glad you’re here. Because today that’s what I’m going to talk about, albeit rather briefly, because I have a day job to return to (Ssssh, don’t tell my boss).

#1 Search

The first thing you need to do, if you are a writer or artist working a day job, is take a long-distance look at the time you have every day for everything: regular work, home life, friends, television, the gym, sulking. Lay it all out and then move in really close and find those places you can block off just for writing. It might be that every Saturday morning you nothing for the first three hours. Why not book off one or three for writing. What about your lunch breaks? Are you really using them productively? Maybe instead of using the time to browse Facebook posts that you’ve likely already seen five times before, use ten minutes to squeeze out one hundred word on your work in progress. Take a look at your time and figure out where writing can naturally fit in. It might not be a lot of time, but a little bit adds up over a year or two.

#2 Cut

The next thing you can do is cut. Cut ruthlessly. Cut out mind-trash, and instead create a little of mind-building. In other words, stop watching so much television. Stop binging on NETFLIX. Stop watching stuff you aren’t paying attention to anyway because the characters are all immature and whiny and terrible. When people ask me how I fit in time for writing, my first answer is “I don’t watch television anymore”. You know what everyone tells me, “Oh, neither do I. Except for Black Mirror, Riverdale, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Grey’s Anatomy. I mean, I down to like only six or seven shows.” That’s six or seven hours a week you could be writing! In fact, if you even just picked your two favorite shows, that four hours a week you could be writing. Four hours that you could be working on the world you really want to be in instead of numbing your mind with someone else’s creation. Honestly, I maybe watch half and hour to two hours in a regular week. And yes, I do binge on occasion, or watch a new release movie I’m really interested in, but I’m ruthless with my time, I want it all for my writing. All of it. But I know I should find balance, too.

#3 Marathons

A few years back I found this amazing writing group. It’s amazing because it’s a writing productivity group. We get together regularly on Wednesday and writing straight for three hours (it’s come and go so you can really just be there for as long as you choose). We don’t talk much. We just write. I get a lot of creative work done on Wednesday nights. But another thing we do a few times a year is marathons. We find a Saturday or Sunday and book off a day, a whole day, for sitting together in silence and writing. It may sound strange, but there is something about being surrounded by other writer’s writing that keeps you honest. You can’t slack off and watch Netflix, you can’t start cleaning your house, you can’t lie on the floor and wallow in writer’s block. People are watching (well, not really, but they are noticing), so you have to work. You have to spend the whole day working. And it’s amazing where one long day dedicated to a single project can get you.

JEH

 

 

 

Post NaNoWriMo Plans

Wow. I must have been really busy last month as I did little to no blogging! Obviously I was busy creating, writing away on my NaNoWriMo Novel which is the best novel ever! I’ve already got my cover artist working on the cover, and I’m excited to one day share this project with you, but it will be a bit of time yet!

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First things, I need to finish The Circlet: Artifacts of Avalum Book 3 and get that out. I’m pretty close to being done the draft, which is awesome. If only I didn’t have this day job taking up all my time!

But, the good thing about December other than Christmas and all the good food and parties, is the time I get off work! I’m planning to use this time to balance out my writing life with my day job, sometimes it’s a challenge working a creative job alongside a real job, but most of the time it is a refreshing challenge that gets me moving!

Do you have plans for this December?

JEH

This Writer’s Life In October 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update, so I figure it’s about time. I’ve been busy lately. I just finished a new book, a beautiful ghostly story about two sisters. I’m not planning to self-publish this one, but am hoping to find an agent or a press that will pick it up, which is a bit different for me.

Since I’ve now finished two literary projects, I’m taking a break by moving back into the comfortable world of Avalum. Artifacts of Avalum Book 3, The Chain, is moving along nicely and I plan to have a good draft done before NaNoWriMo begins in November, when I hope to write something new. Here’s a picture of the cover art for the The Chain, I just love it. As always, it was done by Leah Keeler.

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Other than writing, I’ve been working on being more environmentally responsible. I’m trying to switch to using only reusable coffee cups. While to-go cups are convenient, they create a lot of waste. I imagine there will be the occasion where I need to use a disposable cup, but I’m definitely trying to reuse where I can. Here are a couple pictures of some of my favorite travel cups.

I’ve been using these mugs to enjoy way too many pumpkin spice lattes, but it’s good to enjoy fall while it’s here,  because in Saskatchewan, it’s just way too short.

JEH