How to Write Full Time & Stay Sane: Make Writer Friends

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.

I have been feeling very *this* lately:

And I *know* I’ve put that video clip in a post or two before, but it’s so appropriate for the life of a writer (when frustrated) that I can’t promise I won’t link to it again.  (It’s pretty much genius—so get over it.)

Basically, it all stemmed from a very complicated situation I was facing that was driving me insane.  Writing wise.  That’s all I’m going to say about it—sorry to be so vague, but I’ve been thinking and talking about it so much over the last few weeks, I want to put it all behind me.

This poster still hangs in my bedroom at my parents' house. Hahaha.

But, I had been trying to figure out how to move forward for a while, and just when I thought I had a decent plan in place, I realized it wasn’t going to work. *oh noes!*

And then I got sick at the start of last week was unable to do . . . well, anything that required more effort than watching back episodes of Tosh.0 or Melissa and Joey or Desperate Housewives or . . . you get the picture.

With all the plans I’ve made and ideas I have, being unable to work or figure out how to proceed made me feel not only guilty/stressed/freaked . . . but also down. 

Like Alice in Chains “Down in a Hole” down. And if you don’t know how depressing that is, here:

So I talked to my husband—and he just happens to be awesome and actually know what I’m talking about when I talk about writing and the industry and blah blah blah.  Talking about it (ad nauseum) with him did help, but I still didn’t have the answer I needed.

I just wished someone would say, “This is the answer,” but I knew my problem didn’t really *have* a definitive answer and that was why I was going so nuts.

So I talked to my writing BFF earlier today. She listened, sympathized, empathized, and—guess what?  She gave me *the answer*! (I know I just said my problem didn’t *have* a definitive answer, but her solution was just the kind of thing I needed.)

Aww--kitty friends. 🙂

This, my friends, is why I can’t stress enough the importance of having writer friends. Even though you might have fantawesome family members who will listen and offer advice, they aren’t always going to be able to figure out what to do.

It’s not that they don’t want to. It’s just: They aren’t as nuts as you are.

So, there you have it.  Make writer friends. Seriously.  Like right now.

Comment here and leave a link to your blog or Web site so *we* can be writer friends—and do it at other blogs you read.  Start conversations with other writers on Twitter and LinkedIn.  Go to conferences and workshops.  Take writing classes.  Check out writers’ groups that meet regularly.  Join online communities like mine, The Write-Brained Network, that are dedicated to the intermingling of writerly peeps.

Yes, it takes work to cultivate and maintain these relationships; no, not every person you meet is going to mesh with you as well as your be-fri—but get out there.  Somehow.  It’s from these friendships that come so many wonderful things—like stretches of sanity, even for writers.

And if nothing else, you'll have found another drinking buddy. 😉

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: What Do I Do When I’m Stuck in Query Hell?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  Hi Ricki,

I have written a book that has received the highest praise from readers all over the world. It even came first in the UKAuthors contest in the Historical category.

In the last 10 years, I have had two agents, both of whom were extremely impressed with my work but could not find a publisher for it. Now even agents shy away from it. I am not giving up hope nor will I stop plugging it. I am writing to ask if you can figure out why a work that garners so much praise should face constant rejection.


A: Thank you for your e-mail!

The (somewhat frustrating) answer is that it could simply be the subjective nature of this business.

We have heard it time and time again: not everything we write is publishable.  Particularly if it’s a first book.  As unsettling as that is to think or hear about one’s “baby,” it’s true.

However, you have a lot going in your favor on this one.  While I am not familiar with most of the reviewers you listed in your e-mail, you certainly do have a lot of them.  And they don’t seem to be your mom/your brother/your best friend since high school praising your book.  It seems you have a wide array of people who see the merit in it.

Another thing you have going for you is that you have had two agents.  Of course, I don’t know the circumstances of why you no longer have them or how long ago that was, but that in itself says you are a good writer—and certainly capable of getting an agent.  In an industry where it’s a painful process to even get one, you’ve had two.  So, you’re that much farther ahead of the game.

As I’m sure you know, getting an agent interested in your book and then getting a publishing house interested in it can be an arduous task because these people need to fall in love with your work—and love it as much as you do.  It could be that you just haven’t found that “right person” yet who “gets” your writing yet.

All that said, there are a couple of things you can do; however, unfortunately, none of them will offer immediate results (but as a writer, I’m sure you know that already).


1.  Self-publish it. This isn’t the best option for everyone; however, depending on what you want to do with your career or how well you think you’d be able to sell your book on your own (for instance, if you do a lot of speaking engagements, you could peddle it at those, etc.), you might want to go that route.  If you sell a lot of books and build up your platform a bit, you might even have publishing companies approaching you to re-pub at one of their houses.  This is rare, but it does happen.

Just keep swimming . . .

2.  Keep doing what you’re doing: query, query, query. Look at where in the query process your book seems to be falling short.  Is it the query itself?  Is it after you send in a partial or a full?  Research the heck out of agents, and keep looking for that special (agent) someone who will connect with your manuscript.

3.  Appeal to others. Send the manuscript through a round of critiques with your critique group or a few of your trusted writer friends.  Have each person give you an overall critique, and perhaps give them a few things to be on the lookout for specifically (i.e., characterization, setting, etc.).  Take the feedback you’ve gotten in agent rejections as well as the criticism your crit partners offer and consider having another go at the editing before you query again.  Perhaps the manuscript wasn’t as “ready” as you thought.

4.  Put this manuscript away and write something else. This one makes a lot of sense, but it’s also one that no one wants to hear.  You’ve obviously proven you can write, so write something else and hook an agent with that manuscript instead.  Once you’ve shown you can deliver a marketable product, agents and editors are much more likely to be interested in something they might have shied away from at first.  I’m not saying to sell out or write to trends, but get your juices a-flowing with something else.  Getting your mind off the first one is most likely going to be a welcome distraction when you’re stuck in the depths of query hell.

Thank you very much for the question, and I wish you luck—however you decide to move forward.

Dante forgot to add writers to his ninth circle of hell in his INFERNO.

How to Write Full Time & Stay Sane: Mac Freedom

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.

Understatement: Staying on task when writing is difficult.

Without a boss cracking the whip, it’s easy to get distracted by the gazillions of things the Internet offers.  I tell myself I’m only going to do a quick Internet sweep (which, for me, includes checking my e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, my blog, my writing social network on Ning, and occasionally MySpace), but then I look at the clock, and an hour has passed.  Yikes!

Since embarking on this full-time-writing journey, I discovered Mac Freedom, a program that allows you to block yourself from the Internet for as long as you want—up to eight hours at a time.

I first heard about this free program, able to be downloaded right from the Internet, when I interviewed the über talented middle-grade and young adult author Lauren Myracle back in October.  I had asked her how she stays so productive (she’s written 15 books in about six years, and—just today—she announced that she turned in the first draft of a Luy Ya Bunches sequel; the woman’s a machine!), and she gave me the scoop on one of her little secrets.

Although it’s free, the creator asks if you’ll donate $10 to keep it going—but the donation is not required.  However, I dare you to try the program and not feel compelled to cough up the cash.

It’s been an extremely useful tool for me, and I recommend it to anyone who is prone to Internet procrastination—and has a Mac (and no one’s paying me to say that).

I still need to be able to check my e-mail throughout the day, so I generally set it for an hour or two at a time, but it really helps me block out the rest of the world and just write—which is, after all, the most important thing one needs to do when writing full time!

Here's the picture Myracle & I took together after the interview. Such an exciting day for me! I learned so much!

Writing Tips: How to Write Full Time & Stay Sane–Installment III

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…

Pierce and Dean Pelton of Greendale Community College with GCC mascot "The Human Being."

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.

Here’s a link showing more of these hashtag parties for writers.

  • 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

And if your family can't help you, maybe they can strangle you. (Pic courtesy of

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.

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: Rewriting & Editing – What’s the Difference?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q: What is the difference between rewriting and editing?  To me, rewriting sounds like starting with a new, blank page.  Editing is going through and proofreading, making sure that plot sequencing and continuity work, and making sure that everything makes sense and remains engaging throughout the work.  Clarification there would be helpful.                                               -E.B.

A: When agents and others in the writing and publishing industries mention rewriting, they aren’t necessarily talking about starting with a clean slate.  I mean, sometimes they are, but not always.

These two terms are used somewhat interchangeably because they tend to be intertwined.  In fact, I would say rewriting is actually the umbrella under which editing falls because you almost can’t have one without the other.  However, I suppose it depends what kind of editing you mean.

The rewriting umbrella can save you from a downpour of rejection.  Yes, I'm a dork. :)

The rewriting umbrella can save you from a downpour of rejection. 🙂

Line editing is more like proofreading. When line editing, you go through, line by line, and check for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors—and generally, that’s it.

Copy editing takes the aforementioned into account (what good editor doesn’t notice those things?), but this is where you look at everything as a whole and focus more on character, plot, cohesiveness, sequencing, etc. Chances are, if you are wired to do either of these things well, you probably cannot completely shut off your grammar/spelling/formatting switch when you’re trying to focus on the piece as whole, and that is how these two become intertwined.

Rewriting is something that happens whenever the writing transforms.

You almost can’t have one of these without another (unless you scrap the whole thing and begin again at page one) because if you find that you need to alter something with plot sequencing or character, it’s usually not just a matter of changing one word.  You fix those things by weaving in new details in various places of your novel, and you omit what doesn’t work. Any time you tighten a paragraph or clean up a sentence, your original manuscript becomes something else—transforms into something better.  Translation: You are rewriting.

One example of something that toes the line between editing and rewriting is replacing passive verbs with active verbs.  Say you notice that you’ve used mostly passive verbs throughout your manuscript.  If that’s the case, you must rewrite because those are countless opportunities for revision.

Let’s take a look at a very basic example.

She is drinking the tea.

This is a passive sentence in that we’ve used a passive verb form here (present progressive form, for my grammar nerds out there).  We can do a number of things with this sentence, but even using an active verb can transform the writing.

She drinks the tea.

OK, so here, we’ve kept it in present tense, and we’ve cut down a whole word.  If you’ve got a manuscript chockfull of is/are/was/were, cutting down on just that one word per sentence will add up big time.  Paring down word count is definitely a transformation.  Depending on how much you cut, it can mean the difference between an agent asking for pages or rejecting your query.

But this sentence is kind of boring.  Not as much of a transformation as I’d like to see, as it doesn’t give the reader much of an indication about the character.  We could certainly use a better verb to convey something more—even if that’s all we change.

She slurps the tea;  She sips the tea;  She downs the tea;  She gulps the tea;  She ingests the tea;  She swigs the tea;  She guzzles the tea.

And so on, and so forth.  But you get the idea: One verb can mean the difference between proper and boorish.

Each of these verbs does something more than the original sentence, and—though it may be painstaking to some—it’s these kinds of decisions that make the writing clearer and cleaner.

To me, if you’re putting that kind of time and care into your editing (as we all should be), that goes beyond just editing and fits more into the category of rewriting.

I hope that answers the question!


This book changed the way I write and edit.

This book changed the way I write and edit.

My favorite editing book—in fact, it changed the way I write and edit—is Bobbie Christmas’s Write in Style.

Christmas’s patented “Find and Refine Method” provides lists of words and phrases to put into Microsoft Word’s “Find” function to make for speedy editing.  If you follow her suggestions throughout your entire manuscript, adding, omitting, and revising where necessary, your writing improves 100%. 

Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but you can still get it here.

Getting Your Work Read & Represented—Part II: Give Yourself a Fighting Chance; Follow the Rules

Some say that rules are meant to be broken; I'm not one of those people.

Some say that rules are made to be broken; I don't happen to be one of those people.

Anyone who knows me or has read some of my other blog posts knows I used to teach English—and that I am totally psycho nerdy about grammar.  Ergo, once you’ve disregarded grammar, you’ve made an enemy of me.  This comes from one part of me just being wired that way and one part from my time in the classroom.

In my five years as a teacher, I taught every grade (from 5th through 12th), which means I had to read hundreds of essays, research papers, and news articles written by my lovely students.

The most painful thing about all that grading was—hands down—grammar and formatting errors—a.k.a. “the rules.”

“But, Mrs. Schultz, I didn’t realize we had to use quotes.”

“Um, Nick, it’s a research paper.”  Are my ears bleeding?

Not surprisingly, it was much easier for me to read assignments that followed the rules.  Even if the actual quality of the assignment wasn’t all that mesmerizing, I breathed a sigh of relief to find that one, proofread, properly-formatted, grammatically-correct diamond in the rough whenever I graded.

Generally, if a student took the time to follow the rules, the assignment was better by nature than the crumpled pages his classmate dug out of the bottom of a book bag and handed in to me without so much as utilizing Spell Check.

In this way, I can understand—on a tiny scale (YES, I am qualifying here)—what it’s like to be a literary agent.

As well, I’d venture to guess that, just as correctly formatted papers earned better grades in my classes, queries/manuscripts that follow the rules probably make it further in the slush pile than the ones that don’t.  Even the ones with weaker plots.

Think about it.  Conference after conference, blog after blog, agents and editors  beg people to follow the rules.  It both amazes and disgusts me.

You mean, people aren’t doing this? Naïve Ricki gapes.

Once, I actually heard an attendee say he didn’t “bother” with “all that grammar and stuff” because “that is what an editor is for.”

Um, yes, I suppose that is true to a degree, but do you really think you’re going to get to that point if you’re not bothering with “all that grammar and stuff”?  Editors aren’t really there to do your work for you.

In terms of agents and “the rules,” each agency has its own submission guidelines, which is another way of saying, “These are the rules.”  Presumably, these rules have evolved from a mix of industry standards and the agents’/editors’ preferences.  They have become annoyed with X, Y, and Z and rejected X, Y, and Z so many times, it was necessary to put the rules in place.  This is another way they can weed out the serious from the not-so-serious—the professional from the amateur.

Furthermore, what is so difficult about following the rules?  If an agent says no snail-mail and you send a SASE anyway, should you really be that surprised when you get rejected?

What I’m NOT saying:

**I’m not saying to come up with a lousy idea but punctuate properly and, magically, you’ll be  represented. But, theoretically speaking, if you take that much care with “the rules,” you’ll probably take that much care in making the rest of your manuscript top-notch as well—and agents will notice and appreciate this.

**I’m not saying I’m perfect when it comes to “the rules.” No one is.  However, I turn up my nose to writers who disregard these hallowed rules.  After all, how can one really claim to be a writer and not have respect for the craft?

**I’m not saying there won’t be typos. Of course there will be typos—that’s just an annoying fact.  However, the more you proofread, the cleaner your copy will be. And, good news alert: According to one agent I talked to recently, the occasional typo doesn’t bother agents—as long as that’s what it is (and not a horrible grammar issue masquerading as a typo)

Where to go for help:

**Reference Books

If you don’t know all the rules (again, no one does), then bow down to the sacred grammar gods and treat Chicago Manual of Style; Write in Style; One Word, Two Words, Hyphen-ated?; and Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript (four of my favs) and the millions of other great resources out there as the sacred texts they are.

**Freelance Editors

After you and your spouse and your cousin’s husband who majored in English have all proofread your work, if you still aren’t sure you have done the rules justice, hire a freelance editor.  It can be expensive, yes, but there are some who will work with you in terms of pricing, based on what you want them to do.  (Shameless self-promotion alert: like me!)

Lastly, a Desperate Plea:

Agents look at a lot of bad writing because everyone thinks they have an idea for the great American novel and that publishers are going to fall in love with it, regardless of “all that grammar and stuff.”  But please.  Once you’ve gotten over your own ego (please see Part I of this series), give these agents a break.  Respect the rules, and give your work a fighting chance.

Teachers have to read everything. Lit agents don’t.  And, in that way, literary agents are kind of like rock stars to English teachers.

Teachers have to read everything. Lit agents don’t. And, in that way, literary agents are kind of like rock stars to English teachers.

Getting Your Work Read & Represented–Part I: You Are Not a Pioneer; Deal with It

Guess what. You aren't any of these people.

Guess what. You aren't any of these people.

Over the weekend, I read two blog posts that fired up my synapses: “This Has Never Been Done Before!” on literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog and “Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post” on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.

While not on the same subject, these two posts got me thinking about what works and what sells (“the norm”), grammar/formatting/submission guidelines (“the rules”), and how closely one should follow these things.

This summer, some individuals critiqued my YA manuscript.  Two critiquers echoed a concern I’d had about the time span I used in the story.  (It originally took place from a girl’s sophomore year of high school through her college graduation.)

Prior to these critiques, a friend of mine read my book for fun and liked the fact that it spanned this amount of time.  She said, quite rightly, that one doesn’t generally see many books out there of similar subject matter for girls in the 18-24-year-old age range unless they fall under chick lit.  She, therefore, concluded that my book would stand out because mine did.

This tugged at my gut a bit.  She was right.  Young adult literature is geared toward 12 and up, but the “up” doesn’t typically reach college age—my manuscript would stand out.  But did I want it to stand out for that reason?  If there’s no market for that age group or if that age group doesn’t really fit into that genre, shouldn’t I change it?

Of course, as any writer who has worked on a manuscript for a few years and who thought she was ready to query, I thought, Ugh.  I want to query now!

So this brought me to a dilemma: Do I overhaul it *one more time* (groan) and get it to conform more to the conventions of what’s already out there in YA lit in terms of time span, or do I forge ahead with what I already have and become a pioneer for an under-represented age group?

This was part of the reason I sought critiques.  I figured, if no one noticed the things the voices in my head said agents might red flag, then I’d give it a go and query right away.  But when two reviewers mentioned it, that tugging in my gut became more of a yanking.  If two people I respect as writers brought it up, literary agents would undoubtedly as well.

So that is where I am right now.  Overhauling one more time.  I believe in my writing ability, but I am not about to declare myself a pioneer and use that as an excuse to do whatever I want.  That’s just stupid.

Although you don’t want to write a cookie-cutter story, if you want to sell what you write, then stick to what works.  Stick to what sells.  If there isn’t a market for what you’re writing, there’s probably a reason.  Once you’ve been published and have sold tens of thousands of copies of your book, then maybe you can try to write that fantasy-romance hybrid geared toward men over 70, but keep it in your drawer for now.

I have quite a lot more to say about “the rules” and “the norm.”  Stay tuned for Part II.

Sugar Ray only did well when they released more conventional music.  Not that you want your books to be the equivalent of Sugar Ray songs...but I'm pretty sure they made a decent amount of money in their heyday, so who are we to judge?

Sugar Ray only started doing well when they released more conventional music. Not that you want to be the literary equivalent of Sugar Ray...but they made some cash in their heyday, so who are we to judge?

Writing Tips: How to Write Full Time & Stay Sane—Installment II

How to Write Full Time and Stay Sane is a three-part series that offers advice to full-time writers about how to stay productive and in good spirits.


As promised, this second installment will continue the discussion on scheduling.

First, determine how many days a week you will be working.  I tend to be a little biased in this area and want to say that, as a writer, you’re always working—even at that Saturday tailgate, you’re observing what drunk people do or sound like (or what it feels like to be drunk—ha!).

If being as anal as I am about scheduling isn’t up your alley, another thing I like to do that might seem less insane less daunting than scheduling every minute of your day is to designate certain days for certain things.  (If you are especially Type A, however, you can actually do this in conjunction with the scheduling outlined in the previous post.  I find it works best for me to do it that way.)

As you get more assignments, develop more ideas, and take on more projects, you will need to come up with a strategy for your labors, which goes beyond the hour-by-hour schedule.  That said, even if you aren’t freelancing and, therefore, only have one manuscript on the fire, there are a few different kinds of things you can be doing in order to keep from wanting to set your manuscript ablaze.

How many types of days are there?


As I said, this kind of depends on you.  If you’ve got several projects in the works, you might have more “types of days” than someone who is only working on one novel manuscript; however, here are the basics.

The most obvious (and essential) is the writing day, and you’ll most likely want to schedule the most time for that.  I like to schedule three consecutive writing days so that I can ride a creativity wave if I’m on a roll.

But, Ricki, I’ve heard that you’re not really a writer if you’re not writing every single day.

Ugh!  I could argue for and against this.  The freelancer probably needs to write every single day—just varying the type of writing or type of project.  However, the lone novel writer might go a little mad if he doesn’t break away from his manuscript at least one or two days a week.  Wherever you fall, just make sure to give yourself breaks from the actual writing so you don’t get into a funk.

Where was I?  Ah, yes.  In addition to the actual writing, it is also important that you brainstorm, read books in your genre, make time to research, and do writing exercises.  For example, you might schedule Wednesdays and Fridays as reading days, where you go to the library or set up camp at your local Barnes & Noble and thumb through the latest John Green or Lauren Myracle novel (guilty!).  If you’re a serious writer, you will also want to work on enhancing your platform by doing things like blogging, etc.

Not only are all these activities essential to being a good writer, but making time to do these things will help break up your work week and keep your mind fresh for those days that—oh yeah—you hammer out 1500 words.

Crap—I’m forgetting something.

Every week?  Curses!

Every week? Curses!

Some of you may be saying, this all works out fine and dandy if you don’t have kids or if you are well enough off that you have hired a cleaning lady, but I don’t have either of those luxuries!

Duh.  I don’t either.

While a three-year-old beagle isn’t the same as a three-year-old child, I am not without responsibilities throughout my day.  And yeah, no cleaning staff.  Even though writing is my passion and the cogs are pretty much cranking 24/7, I have to schedule in things like grocery shopping, laundry, walking/feeding the dog, working out, and eating—otherwise, none of those very important things would ever get done.  On those housework days, take care of the laundry/dishes/groceries/cleaning/pay bills/etc., and don’t worry that you aren’t working on that book proposal.  You’re sticking to your schedule and making progress.  Check and check.

For my workaholics who feel guilty if not dedicating all their waking hours to writing, take some solace in this: It turns out, a lot of these non-writing-related activities are great times to brainstorm, work out those plot details, or figure out characterization.  As well, there’s always the chance that you’ll finish your chores early and discover you now have extra time to run to your keyboard.

All that being said, remember to be flexible.

Just make sure you don't snap!

Just make sure you don't snap!

Ha—that sounds like an oxymoron after discussing how important it is to structure your time (and after looking at the ways I’ve suggested one can do this!), but even I give myself options because what if I don’t feel like writing that day? It happens.

Flexibility is important because something will always come up; that’s just how life works.  You might get a mega-important e-mail you have to answer right now or an editor wants you to overhaul a chapter, and you’re forced to write on—gasp—housework day!

My current schedule looks like this:


Housework – OR – Research/Reading Day



Housework (if not Sun) – Blog – In to Write

Walk Molly

Work out



Out to Write

Work out



Out to Write – Blog

Walk Molly

Work out



In to Write – OR – Research/Reading Day

Work out



Blog – Research/Reading Day

Walk Molly



Research/Reading Day

The beauty of all this is, it’s up to you.  The more you have on your plate, the more likely you’ll need to combine kinds of days and create a more stringent schedule that sets time limits for each of your endeavors.  Just get something down on paper and try some things.  Find out what works and what doesn’t, and then tailor your schedule to fit your life.

Writing Tips: How to Write Full Time & Stay Sane

How to Write Full Time and Stay Sane is a three-part series that offers advice to full-time writers about how to stay productive and in good spirits.


Since I tossed in the teaching towel in lieu of a full-time writing career, folks have asked me, “How do you not stay in your pajamas all day?”  Well, sometimes I do, but that doesn’t help me get my work done.

Working from home isn’t easy, but here are some things I’ve learned that help me be both productive and stay sane(ish).


You must have self-discipline in order to work from home.  Just because you don’t have a dress code in your apartment doesn’t give you an excuse to look like a bum.  What you’re doing is still a job–still building a career–so dress the part, even if your beagle is your only “coworker.”  When all you want to do is crawl back under the marshmallowy goodness of your down comforter, a shower will wake you up.

Wash off the stink of a bad writing session.  Scrub away the grime of writer’s block—of a bad review or a rejection letter.  Lather up that loofah, and start anew.  You will be cleansed, feel refreshed, and be ready to go about your day.

As far as getting dressed, I’m not saying you should wear a suit in your house, but at least change out of your pjs.  While it might feel good once in a while, if you fall prey to that bad habit, you will begin to wallow in self-pity.  “Why am I so laaaazy?  Why can’t I get anything done?”  Because you’re in your frickin’ pajamas all day.

Wearing actual clothes will put you in the mood to be productive.  You’ve already made the effort to clean up and get dressed; now, what? The more you act like you are going off to work, the more ready you will feel to actually do work.  You will be less comfortable (translation: sleepy) in regular clothes than in flannel pants and an oversized tee-shirt.  I promise.

Molly judges you if you're in your jammies all day.

Molly judges you if you're in your jammies all day.

Structure your time.

This tip sort of depends on how nuts you are; and as you will learn, I happen to be very nuts.

It’s probably better if you’re a bit anal retentive here, because you will better be able to structure your time and stick a schedule if you are.  For my ADD peeps out there, you’ll have to work doubly hard to discipline yourselves in this way, but if you can develop at least some Type-A personality traits, you’ll be good to go.

When I make a schedule, I not only like to write out bulleted lists of things I need to do, but I also specify times to accomplish these things.  The more items on your to-do list, even if they seem arbitrary, the busier you will feel.  You can cross things off your list like mad, and that will help foster a feeling of productiveness.

For example (yes, I am really this OCD when it comes to scheduling):

8:00-8:15—Awaken/Take out Molly/Feed Molly

8:15-8:30—Start coffee/Make Kyle’s lunch/Eat breakfast



9:30-11:00—Agent interview stuff

11:00-11:30—Break/Take out Molly/Call Mom/E-mail/FB/Eat

12:00-3:00—Edit manuscript

3:00-3:15—Break (if needed)/Walk Molly to mailbox

3:15-5:00—Edit manuscript or read/research for article

Geez, Ricki, it sounds like all you’re doing is fooling yourself into believing you’re getting things done.

True.  Sort of.  But bear with me.

If a little BS trickery puts you in a good mood and makes you feel productive, you’re going to be more apt to get into “the zone” when it’s time for the more substantial work on your to-do list.

Though it might seem a little crazy to designate specific times to catch up on e-mails or to check Facebook, if you can stick to the schedule, it will actually cut down on your distractions.  Also, keep in mind that, if you are fairly accurate when allotting time to do things and if you only round to quarters of hours, you will most likely have some time in between tasks when you can do quick e-mail checks here and there…

…and when that happens, it will make you feel more productive as well.  “Gee, I sent off the agent interview ahead of schedule.  Now, I have ten minutes to do X, Y, or Z.  I’m so productive.” (Pat on the back)

It’s all a mind game—yes, a mind game with yourself—but if you play it, you will stay positive and stay active.

More on structuring your time next post.

Setting time limits for your tasks will help keep you focused as well.

Setting time limits for your tasks will help keep you focused as well.