How to Write Full Time and Stay Sane is a series that offers advice to full-time writers about how to stay productive and in good spirits.
Much later than promised, here is the third installment of this series. In writing it, however, I have decided that, instead of this being just a three-part series (as originally planned), it will be an ongoing series. As I learn to write full time and stay sane (or attempt to do so, anyway), I so shall share my tricks with you.
Corner of the Sky
First of all, I’m using the title of a Pippin song that’s now stuck in my head (here’s a rendition of it as performed by the Jackson 5 = awesome!) to say: you need to set aside a place where you can work.
Little brat that I am, I recently got a brand new office in my new house 😛 , but if you’re not as spoiled as I, your “corner of the sky” could be a favorite chair, a side of the bed, or place at the kitchen table. (Although, I recommend an upright seated position; otherwise, you’ve got procrastination written all over you.)
True, that was one of the tips we gave to fifth and sixth graders needing help with study skills the year I taught middle school, but it applies. I’m much less productive if I’m all over my house or lounging on the couch with my laptop than if I’m at my desk.
Find your own place—one safe from your parents/spouse/kids/pets—and you’ll be much more apt to focus.
**Ooh! I just got another great song in my head with lyrics that apply to this section—The Secret Garden’s “The Girl I Mean to Be.” (Musical theatre references? No? Okay…moving on…)
Don’t Let It Get Stale
At the 2008 Southeastern Writers Association conference, one of my favorite presenters, Bobbie Christmas, taught (I believe) a three-day workshop. Each class, she made us sit in a different seat, on a different side of the room, next to different people.
The method behind her madness, she said, was that breaking out of your comfort zone gives you a different perspective, and our writing needs new perspectives in order to stay fresh.
The Type-A in me tends to cringe at breaking out of a routine when we’ve worked so hard to establish one, but Christmas had a point. Although it’s important to establish a place of work so that you can get into “work mode,” writing is a creative process, and sometimes you need to modify your regimen in order to get the creativity flowing.
So, in all your planning, schedule an “off campus” writing day at least once a week. Go to Starbucks—Barnes & Noble—your local library. Indulge in a latte and let your fresh surroundings inspire you. Even if 99% of what you write that day is drivel, 1% of it might be the kernel you were looking for to start a new manuscript or spin your existing one on its end.
As well, getting out of the house does wonders for your psyche. Just when you forgot other living, breathing humans exist, there they are, interrupting your writing by yelling at the barista, hitting on the college girls next to you, talking about cheating on the SATs…giving you all kinds of material.
Speaking of Other Humans…
Talk to other people—preferably those who understand you and your field. As writers, we need to share our experiences with others who can best understand them—so we know we’re not nuts. (Or, if we are, at least we can find solace in the fact that others are nuts, too.)
This is the aspect I have felt to be lacking most since I started writing full time because, without coworkers, writing can be a lonely existence. I need to be able to bitch to someone who understands, to bounce ideas off a buddy, to ask questions about the industry, etc.
There are a whole host of things you can do to remedy this:
- Writing groups. I’ve been pushing this a lot lately. People serious enough to commit to a writing group certainly understand you. There is a level of professionalism there—camaraderie. They want feedback, you want feedback. They have the same fears/grievances/joys as you. Embrace that.
If there aren’t any writing groups in your area and you’re too lazy busy to start one of your own, the Internet has some great options:
- E-mail. If you’ve met people at a writing conference and exchanged cards or e-mails—doink!—chat them up! This isn’t rocket science. Writers are some of the nicest, most approachable, most willing-to-talk-to-you (no matter what your stage of writing) people I’ve ever met.
If you’ve made a connection, follow through with it. Don’t be afraid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone at such a venue, followed up with an e-mail, and the person responds: “I’m so glad you decided to write!”
I’m not trying to sound corny here (it’s just happening!), but why are we surprised when people follow through? In the words of Andy Samburg’s character in I Love You, Man, “He gave you his card. It’s an open invitation.” We have to stop being so afraid to take chances and just make stuff happen. Nine times out of ten when I’ve done that, it’s worked out more positively than I could have imagined.
- Blog comments. If you find yourself without business cards from writers, check around the blogosphere. Comment on blog posts you find interesting. The more you put your name out there—particularly if you have something worthwhile to say—the more Web friends you will develop. (I’m always thrilled when I get comments on my posts or e-mails as a result of reading my blog or Web site. Others are as well!)
- Facebook. Plenty of writing groups/authors’ fan pages are just a search away on FB. These are breeding grounds for other write-minded folks.
- Twitter. This one is, perhaps, the most valuable of all. I was previously a “skeptwic,” (is that a thing?) but I have been converted in the last month.
TONS of writers, literary agents, editors, and other publishing industry peeps hang out on Twitter—day and night. Not only do they have hilarious things to say on a regular basis, they also offer free writing tips, answer questions, and more.
Whether or not you want to jump on the Twitter train, it’s a great way to stay on top of the writing world as well as network with professionals.
For example, one of my favorite things right now is #YALITCHAT, a weekly writing discussion hosted by YA author Georgia McBride. This, along with other “Twitter parties” similar to it, happens weekly, and in it, several of the industry’s top agents and authors answer as many questions as they can, within usually an hour.
- Online writing groups or forums. I currently belong to two such groups on Yahoo! (TeenLitAuthors and YARWA), one stemming from #YALITCHAT on Twitter, and I’ve started my own (which is associated with my writing group here in Harrisonburg, Shenandoah Writers).
These are great places to get advice, vent, network, and most are password-encrypted as well as membership-required, so you know it’s a secure forum and you’re not just posting everything out there in cyberspace. (I will be posting more info about Shenandoah Writers Online soon, so stay tuned—and I hope you’ll consider joining!)
Lastly, Talk to Humans Who Love You
As I said, writing can be a lonely business. Even if you make a ton of cyber friends, you “meet” with writers on iChat or Skype, and you have 500 followers on Twitter, that can’t always replace people IRL, so don’t forget to hit up your family and friends.
Although these people might not know what you’re talking about when you discuss “platform” or “urban fantasy,” they still love you and most will still listen to you vent about things when the need arises. As well, they will support your decisions, whether they fully understand them or not.
Even if you’re writing schedule has you keeping vampire hours, take some time out of your week to tell Mom and Dad what you’re up to. In most cases, it will make you feel better just to hear their voices, and when they catch you up on what’s been happening in their lives, it might be just the downtime your brain needs to stay on top of your writing game.