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

 

O-M-G It’s Almost NaNoWriMo! What do I do now?

I’ve been here before. In fact, I’ve been here many, many, times. Sea-Witch was one of the first NaNoWriMo novels I ever wrote. Scratch that, Under Jupiter was the first NaNo novel I wrote! I’ve written a lot of words during NaNo, yet every year it creeps up on me so that I feel that I am once again looking at doing NaNo for the first time ever.

I have one week left, how the heck am I supposed to prepare for this crazy marathon that is NaNoWriMo.

Well, the short answer is: buy a notebook.

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A good notebook, a great notebook, the kind of notebook you don’t want to leave your side ever. Take this notebook with you everywhere you go, in your car, on the bus, to the washroom, to work, to school, to your kid’s gymnastics class, to the zoo to watch the bears, to your Nana’s to watch a knitting marathon, to the bar, to your favorite cafe.

Find a notebook and never let it leave your side.

And, while you’re carrying it around, you might as well find a pen. Or a pencil. Or any kind of writing utensil that looks awesome tucked into your pocket or purse or behind your ear. The kind of pen that you never want to leave your person. The kind of pen that makes you feel awesome. And carry that pen around everywhere with you.

Now, with a notebook and pen in hand, you have no excuse. You’re ready. It’s time to start thinking about your story.

Think about your story while your cooking, exercising, walking, or watching TV. Or one of my favorites thinks of your story when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. Fall asleep dreaming of your story. And every now and then, write down the plot points that fall into your lap.

Collect the locations that your main character has to visit. Write down your MC’s favorite food and whether or not they enjoyed that song you just heard on the radio. Write down the name of your MC’s first-grade teacher, mother, siblings, and friends. Write down all the little tidbits about your story and the world it encompasses. Don’t aim for sentences, just little bullets.

  • like fries hates burgers
  • wants a pet rabbit
  • thinks that smell down the hallway is awful
  • wishes for magic
  • finds magic and ruins their life

Bullets are wonderful.

Bullets are magic.

If you’re getting ready for NaNo, start bulleting. And good luck!

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