How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part II — Some Solutions

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The problem: How to not be distracted when others are around, distracting you from writing.

The solution: I’m really not that vain to say there are solutions, but just hints of what might help you be less distracted. That being said, here are a few things which come to mind or which I’ve heard at writers conferences or in books or networking in general. But first a few general good writing habits:

1) Have the priority-attitude of actual writing time be important to you.

2) Take up the Book-in-a-Week phrases: BIC, HOK, TAM. (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly)

3) If you have difficulty writing a whole novel in one sitting, do as Anne Lamott suggested in her book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD — break the task into smaller units. You don’t need to (nor can you) write a novel in a day, but you can write a page a day.

4) Have a writing space which you only use for writing — no reading, no emails, just plain ole writing.

5) Take breaks. Do mini exercises for your neck, arms, fingers, legs, backside, etc.

On to suggestions to limit or deal with external distractions of other people:

a. If you have young children, tell them when you have your writing cap on (get an actually cap specifically for this purpose), that you can’t be interrupted except in cases of emergency. I used to define “emergency” to my students as fire, blood or vomit, but you may quote your own definitions.

That lovely first suggesting being said, I need to add here that I have always felt that family ALWAYS comes first. The kids are young only once. In my family book, I mostly only wrote when they napped or watched “Sesame Street” or were at school. But by the time they started school, I went back to a paying career with energy sucking emotions which drained any writing enthusiasm. Still, family comes first.

b. Turn off the phone ringer, and refuse to answer your doorbell. Yep: hide and ignore.

c. One writer friend hired a baby sitter twice a week so she could write undistracted by her children.

d. Set a timer for your writing time — even just 15 minutes! This is for both for you and for your family members. Explain you MAY NOT be disturbed until the bell dings. And it’s probably a good idea to keep the timer near you just in case little hands like to play with time.

e. I want to say “shoot the ice cream man,” but I realize that sounds terribly wicked. You see, we have an ice cream truck which is driven S-L-O-W-L-Y through our neighborhood twice a day. Only a couple measures of a familiar child’s tune is played over and over and over again. Also in this category are the industrial strength leaf blowers and professional lawn care people next door. I think for this grouping, a good pair of headphones or ear plugs are in order. I know some people listen to tapes of white noise to filter out the outside distracting noise, but I could just type next to our air conditioner if I wanted that type of noise.

f. Family comes first. When your spouse wanders in and out, and in and out again, remember, family ALWAYS comes first.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part I — The Problem

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I am not your sit-in-a-cafe-and-write type of person. If I do, I start eavesdropping on conversations, or watch kids wrap their parents around their desires, or figure out why this one lady is sitting all alone at a table with a drink and a laptop but not even looking at her screen. However, I know for some writers, the more noise and people, the better for writing. Not me. I crave quiet.

But besides being distracted in public, what about those distractions at home? Take my on-line critique group… One has five children and spent a month visiting relatives on the way to their new home several states away. One practically runs her boys’ Cub Scout Troop, and is active in school events — even all summer long. One owns her own very active (pun?) drama school — need I say more? One has a daughter who just left for boot camp and a son who is an autistic adult. One has four children she homeschools and a whole bunch of farm animals. My husband works out of our house, on the computer, for half of his work time.

When just six of us writers start listing the distractions caused by home and work life, the pile of excuses start adding up. Okay. Let’s just admit it… every writer has excuses. That’s the problem.

Next post: what are some solutions?

“Easy” March Writing Challenge

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There’s still plenty of snow in our yard, but with temps getting up to 50 later this week, I bet it won’t be too long before a lot of it will magically disappear. Because it still looks wintery outside, I’m not distracted by dreaming of gardening quite yet. (“Gardening” — a nasty little good-weather habit which sucks up chunks of my energy and writing time.) I did, however, find three snowdrops on the southern side of our house today where the snow, warmed by our toasty abode, had melted. There is hope for spring. Oh. No! Write quickly.

So here’s the “Easy” March Writing Challenge:

Write at least 3 complete chapters of your WIP, or 5,000 words, by the end of March.

Ready? Get set? GO!

Family v.s. Writing Time

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One of my critique partners made several suggestions for writing during the holiday times. She asked on her 2009/12/27 blog (http://dramaquill.wordpress.com/) How do the holidays affect your writing habits? Besides being a friend, she’s a mind-reader, for I was thinking of blogging about the same thing. So… hey, what do you know? Here I go and do it, anyway, post-holiday.

I have always made family a priority. To me, nothing else (except my faith) could rate higher. If I were to spend so much time writing that I ignore my family, could I live with that decision? Family time these days is precious and wide-spaced in the year. I will never regret giving up “my writing time” to eat and laugh and play games and eat and tell family stories and eat some more, whenever they are present. It is not a hard decision for me. Besides, even in the best of times, with all my other commitments, I tend not to put in a 40-hour writing week. It is all about priorities.

So, in answer to my friend’s question, during the holidays, I take the time off writing to be with family. Then, when it’s all over (i.e., they leave), I go back to feeling guilty about postponing my writing for so long, take one last look at my company-clean house, and then plunge back into my normal, haphazard, unstructured (but productive) writing schedule.

(And now there’s a question for curious minds: Can a schedule be haphazard and unstructured?)

Day 20 of NaNoWriMo — The Tortoise and the Hare

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I pretty much have been writing on the novel every day this month, certainly thinking about it on the couple or three days when I didn’t write. I am not normally the slow and steady writer. I love research probably more than I love story-telling. I love the adventures which research leads me on. I love learning new facts, hearing new stories of people, and visiting new places. But I like to do it in my own, unstructured time, not in this 30-day race “to be a NaNoWriMo Winner!”

I feel like I’ve been cramming the night before for a test. My trouble with cramming for tests is that I tended to let those facts become lost somewhere in my brain, or else leak out in my sleep. I blame the non-retention on short-term memory, or perhaps it’s rather a lack of concern of retaining facts only needed for a couple days of a semester. I crammed so I could produce the appropriate test grade so I could move on to my goal of graduation with a career. My goal of NaNoWriMo is to cram, to seriously spend time on a story. I realize I will later go back and either delete or seriously rewrite everything I’ve written this month for NaNoWriMo, for I want to retain this stuff. My goal is not just 50,000 words in one month. My goal is a well-researched, well-plotted,  well-written book, with good-characters and a contract. This is just a forced writing chunk of time, with thousands others worldwide participating.

There are two times when I encourage writers not to write, or rather to postpone their writing: 1) when money is needed to survive; and 2) when family needs are crying out. Money, I can do with little of, but family always tops writing. It’s my steadfast rule.

Today is day 20 of NaNoWriMo. If I were the tortoise, writing a steady 1,667 words each day, I should be on word-count 33,340. I am on 28,839. Although there are some people who have made their 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal already, I can’t imagine they’ve done anything else but write. I also say, good for them for making their goal. What I figure is that if someone wrote 1,000 words this month, that is 1,000 more words than they had before.

Lots of normal non-writing commitments have gone one this month, and lots of minor incidents. There are also the major incidents. Earlier this month my father had a heart attack. I went to visit him for three days, a four-hour drive each way, worrying and wondering and calling every day since. Now, next week, there are four days of Thanksgiving with a son and his wife coming in.  That was expected, and I still have much preparation to do before their arrival. We see them so rarely, and I love them so dearly. Every moment, every second we have the chance to be together (and this goes equally for our other son), I cherish far more than anything else which could be offered to me. I am fairly certain I will not be writing Thanksgiving weekend, and I am very okay with that.

I don’t want to sound defeatist, nor sound like I’m using family as an excuse for not being a winner. After all, I could have been spending this past hour writing on the WIP. In fact, there have been hours and hours this week in which I could have been writing when I was doing other things, like doing quick re-readings and re-writes on this blog. The “race” is not over until midnight on November 30. Back to some serious write-time on my NaNoWriMo novel.

Day 13 — Writing in All Circumstances(?)

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I remember reading how Ann Landers (or was it her sister Abby?) commented how she wrote through all sorts of trials and problems, including the death of a parent. Granted, she (whichever one) had a contract/job, and had to keep writing in order to maintain her job.

Ten days ago, my father had a mild heart attack and was sent to the hospital, a four hour’s drive from me. He was transported to two nursing homes after his hospital stay. I transported him in our van from one home to another. He rode by ambulance to the first one. I was down there for three days and two nights. I had my laptop with me, of course, but only opened it for a few minutes on my last morning there. My emotions were pretty raw. I couldn’t get “into” my NaNo story. I thought about giving it all up. Then, as my father’s health stabilized, I left home for Michigan (yesterday). On the drive on nearly completely interstate highway, I spent an hour safely following a semi-truck through fog without passing anyone else, nor anyone passing us. The fog was mysterious, enticing, causing me much wonder. I thought about stopping, but knew I had two more hours of driving due west and just might slip past the cover if I continued on. During the white drive, I finally got back “into” my NaNo story — giving it a chapter which takes place in the fog. My two hours following the semi’s pale red back lights simply flew past.

The interesting thing about all this is that now — with a three-day break from writing and getting back to it — I have a much clearer sense of what is going on with the story and with the characters.

The NaNoWriMo challenge is good. A break from it is even better, at least it was for me. Now, to get back on that NaNo horse and gallop to the end of the race. Will I come out a “winner,” making the 50,000 word count by November 30? I seriously can’t answer that. But this I know — driving through the fog and seeing only bits and pieces of objects and not knowing what they were until I was upon them, paralleled my writing of this story. Certain things were foggy. Now they are clear.

 The time I spent with my father, I could concentrate on nothing else but him, as it should have been. I couldn’t think about my writing, nor did I care to. But as he got better, so I was freed to pursue my writing. So, although I’m quite far behind in my word count, I’m back to the writing of this particular story I have chosen for my NaNoWriMo challenge.

I wonder how other writers deal with crisis in their writing lives.

Day 4 of my First NaNo — My NaNo Buddies

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I have 9 NaNoWriMo Buddies on my NaNo page, people I can keep track of, and see where I fall in with. I’m very proud of my son taking up the challenge this year, along with the bazillion other things he has going on in his every day life. Makes a mommy proud. But as far as my own pacing, I like to check up on my on-line critique group. 4 of the 6 of us in the Blue Quills critique group decided to take November off of our submitting-critiquing schedule to participate in NaNoWriMo. Two had done it before. The two non-NaNo-participants are spending November in novel revisions.

So here I am today, typing happily away (or at least thinking about doing so), when I decide to procrastinate a little more of working on my NaNo novel and check how my NaNo writing buddies are doing . Natisha, Jaqueline and I are plugging away about the same-ish word count, and then there is Lap-Boy-Holding-Rose, so far ahead of us that the dust has already settled. I’d like to know, Rose, may I please borrow Colin for a few days? Sure, she says her writing is a lot of stream of consciousness, but once you have the words down, THEN you can go back and add, delete, or rearrange.

Congratulations, Rose. Really. Congratulations all who have written anything during NaNoWriMo, officially participating or not. Any words down, are some words down which weren’t down before. (And you may quote me on that.)

So now… I guess I’ve procrastinated long enough — although I really am curious about the machine noise clanking and banging down a few houses; maybe that will be my reward for writing my first 500 words today. BUT, will they be gone by that time? Oh, what is it? What is making that strange-to-the-neighborhood noise? No, wait! We are almost out of milk. Must go buy milk. I’m getting thirsty for it already. I could check out the noise as I drive past. Must go… Must go to work now on my NaNo novel, a MG historical fiction, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED.  (Ooooo!)

NaNo Novel Decision

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October is supposed to be planning month for NaNoWriMo. Part One of my plan is to decide which novel (story-line/plot) I’m going to be writing out.

When I first decided to take the NaNoWriMo plunge, I was going to rewrite one of my MG fantasy novels (North Wind) during the month. I’ve been struggling with it off and on for a couple months now and thought this would be the nice push to get it completed. 

I also considered rewriting my horrid self-published (PublishAmerica) adult thriller (The Spin Murders). Not that the plot or characters are horrid, but my word by word writing corrections was never put into the draft. My “editor” sent the original ms to be published. Yeesh. So I thought I’d use November to ready that novel for when my 7-year contract runs out.

Decades ago, I wanted to write a novel about my perfect school — what it would be like. (no working title) Years ago, I started the idea for a Native American school, incorporating many of the ideas from my other alternative school idea. (Golden Paints the Sky)

I considered expanding my 3 Tristan fantasy chapters I’d written for my son’s Carlson Photo Writing Challenge into an actual plot and story during NaNo, but all I had were three incidents/scenes, no plot.

Then I thought I ought to just start fresh, like the No Plot, No Problem philosophy of NaNo. I thought of a cool story of a town which disappeared. (based around Silver Lake, MI)

THEN I thought of writing a MG historical novel about dunes taking over a town and a mystery which is buried forever with the town. (East of East, working title) So the past two days I’ve been doing lots of research of different things I’ll need to know. I suppose I can also research it AFTER NaNoWriMo is over, when I do the revisions. Now, with 2.5 weeks to go, I think I’ve settled on this last novel idea. But what great fun it’s been to allow my creative juices to flow in just coming up with ideas and doing research. Writing is awesome.

Raw Writing (i.e., first drafts)

I am an unstructured person. Circle-me cannot fit into the square holes of daily disciplined people. I can read 8 books in one week, then wait a couple or more months before I pick up another. It’s not quite the same with my writing, although I have been known to bing write — like for the many years I was in BIW (Book-in-a-Week). Long ago I heard the question, “So, do you write every day?” I used to answer no, but after giving that answer, wasn’t taken seriously as a writer. So… today if you ask me, do you write every day? I’d have to answer an honest yes.Is that writing always raw writing (i.e., first drafts) or rewrites or revisions? No. This summer I’ve spent more time learning about websiting and the art of blogging than I have in any of those three. In my defence, I am following my summer goals. I finished the revision of one novel and then dove into a study of on-line presence. Having no traditionally published book (YET), I want to be able to have all this awkward learning behind me so I will be able to center in on my real writing.

Today I am craving Raw Writing — getting those ideas, characters, and scenes down for the very first time, allowing my fingers to simply fly over the keyboard, trying to get my thoughts into letters before they fly from me. Vacation time and family visits quench that, this week. I DO NOT REGRET GIVING UP MY WRITING FOR FAMILY — EVER. (Yes, that was me yelling.) Family is always top priority to me. But today I crave sitting down in one spot for 2-3 hours and doing some uninterrupted raw writing. It won’t happen. Not today. But I can wait.