When Time is Not on Your Side

There are days when the world simply conspires against this writing habit, when I get zero keyboard time alone at my desk. That’s when a pen and some paper (or a laptop) and some really efficient time management come into play. If I can’t set time aside for writing, I can usually steal it in small increments throughout the day. Now, I’m not fussy about location. Years in the news business trained me to write anywhere, with almost anything going on in the background. Here are some hidden writing opportunities I’ve exploited:

  • When the baby or toddler is napping. A no-brainer
  • Lunch hour at work
  • The weekly grocery store run, whip out the pad and pen for 15-20 minutes in the car, alone, before heading into the store.
  • Traveling — trains and planes work, as do their respective waiting terminals. Buses could, too, if you’re not prone to motion sickness when reading
  • Waiting rooms — doctors, dentists, auto mechanics all offer valuable “down time” that can be put to good use

And then there’s always this to remember, and to take some consolation in: Time spent thinking about your project, mulling over the plot points that just aren’t jelling or the minor character who isn’t living up to his potential, is time spent on your writing. No sincere effort is ever wasted.

What little tips and tricks help you squeeze writing into the day? Share and inspire, or at least make us laugh.

— Karen

Two Weeks In

Two weeks, 30 pages.

We’re in this for real now, people.

Just to clarify, I have not cheated. I have not skimped. I have not even cried real tears yet. Although there was that one day I got really cranky, but I think that was when the toilet broke. Or was it when our town was well into Day 3 of the fog that has enveloped us like a big…giant…fog-like thing? Seriously, hanging in this part of Virginia lately feels a little like living in Forks, Washington. (Twilight, ok? Yes, I’m referencing Twilight, even though I’m more of a True Blood fan.) You drive around in your big old minivan at night and I swear you expect a vampire to jump out in front of you at any second. It’s been that gloomy, and cold, and just plain creepy.

Anyway, like I say, I’ve been faithful to this challenge. Even though it’s kicking my ass. But I do have 30 pages. Did I mention that? And I do feel like I’m doing something, even if it’s all convoluted and crazy and going in many very strange directions.

My problem with this one is structure. I have five different characters speaking in this book, and I’ve never done that before. I’ve always been too lazy to try to imagine different points of view, and now I see why. It’s like writing a whole bunch of different short stories. And it is HARD.

So the other day I just sat back and thought, what could help? What could guide me? What could give me some basic tips here?

And then it hit me. A BOOK.

Yeah, a real, live, published piece of fiction that actually works.

So I found one on my trusty bookshelf—one that uses multiple voices to tell a story. And I started reading. Not to steal ideas, of course, but to learn something, to absorb the nuances and the rhythm of each character and how the author made them each completely distinctive, and how the events in their lives overlapped and wound apart, and came together again.

It helped. So I guess that’s my message this week. Dust off the books if you feel the need, go back to the basics. Unclog the toilet. Find your way through the fog.

Just do the work. It should, with any luck, all come together in the end, right?

So how goes it for you guys? How far in are you? What’s been hard? How’s the weather your way?

Write well, my friends. Only 50 weeks (or however many YOU have left) to go.

–Cathy

Soul, Sister

So, I’m thinking a lot about “voice” these days. With the first draft of the two opening chapters of my new tome almost finished, I’m paying a lot of attention to what the writing sounds like, to what kind of world I’m inviting a reader to enter.

For me, voice—that sustainable tone and mood set by the subtle interplay of language and observation—is what makes a story. I’m a pretty charitable reader of other people’s work. I forgive the occasional narrative line bumbles and rough spots, if I feel like I’m reading something that is compelling and authentic, and it’s showing me something new about the world.

Errors and bumbles can always be fixed, and, hey, nothing’s perfect. But voice is different. I think of voice as the “soul” of a story. And without a soul, what have you got? Just a lot of noise.

Let me give a shout-out here to novelist and super-blogger Amy Sue Nathan whose forthcoming debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martin’s Griffin in May 2013. Amy kindly allowed us to post as guest bloggers on her terrific site, Women’s Fiction Writers. We’ve connected with a whole new bunch of cool writers as a result.

So please check out Women’s Fiction Writers and pick up The Glass Wives this spring. Keep the good vibes going round.

— Karen

Glass-Wives_final-cover_high-res

Feeling the love–or not

If you’re a writer, you’ve been there. You’ve got a story to tell. You’re full of ideas on how to tell it. Interesting characters and scenes have been unfolding–just not today. I once read an interview with a highly regarded novelist who admitted that she, in fact, did not write every day. The reason being she didn’t have something to say every day. Yeah.
There are days when what I write is bad, forced and uninspired, and you can almost hear my teeth gritting as I try to engage my brain. It happens. Other days the process is almost effortless. Those are the magic days. Most of the time my efforts fall somewhere in between. And that’s okay. I’ve come to learn that even on crappy days, time logged on my writing is valuable. Thinking about the story, thinking about the characters, even if I can’t string a sentence together, is valuable. I hit on things, realize things on those slow days that help feed what I write the next day and the day after. Sound familiar to anyone?
So take it easy on yourself on the crappy days. Just keep showing up. Writing is a job. We’re not all at our best every day on the job. But we keep showing up. We keep trying. And in the end we get paid.
–Karen

Musings

Yesterday I nearly blew it. After a day of tearing down my pitiful decorations and packing them up in my moldy old boxes, I completely forgot about my 20 minutes. Just as hubby and I were settling in at 11 pm for our nightly Lost episode (Carla, too funny that you’re watching it too!), I suddenly yelled out an expletive and slapped my forehead.

Hubby sighed, hit pause. “Go write,” he grumbled. So I did. And I got in the 20, but it was unimaginative and rushed.

(BTW, I loathe the word “hubby” but have not yet come up with a clever pseudonym for my spouse. Drawing on his stoic tendencies, his superfluous intelligence, his disregard of all that is “illogical,” I think I will now refer to him as Mr. Spock.)

What happened with the writing the day before, though, was noteworthy. I had an idea for a character and a situation, but not much more than that. I plunged in anyway, and after a few lines, this person emerged, fully formed. I heard her voice, I saw her kitchen and the food she was making, I watched as she moved around and related to others and faltered and struggled and told her story.

I LOVE it when that happens. It’s rare for me, but it usually ends up being my best stuff. Once it occurred with a short story I wrote in a mere two hours (for me that’s like lightning fast), and it ended up being one of the few pieces I’ve published. Call it inspiration, muse, whatever. When it happens, I go with it—let it completely take over the writing. Because I know I can always change it up later, although that hasn’t happened yet. When characters come to life on the page and dictate their own scenes, I figure it’s because they know best.

What do you think? Has this ever happened to you?
–Cathy

Quieting the Mind

Carving out time–actual minutes and hours–to write is really only half the battle when it comes to establishing a regular writing routine. At least for me. Tuning into the writing means checking my “lifely” concerns at the door. The stuff of my real life buzzed all around my brain today: the two big pieces I’m writing at work; my son’s first day back at preschool after the break (I forgot his backpack); the new kitchen counters we’re installing; the cat’s vet appointment; the outrageous price of gas at the pump this morning.

When I sat down to write, I took three deep breaths and pushed all the noise out of my mind. I switched frequencies to the page before me and all that it had to teach. After I hit “save,” I returned to the world, calmer and more centered. Not a bad habit to get into.

–Karen

Not So Lost?

So today I got my best gift ever—an extra day off from work! And of course I used it to write like my hair was on fire and completed 25 full pages of my new book. And I already have an agent. And…uh…it’s soon to be published…by Knopf.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

In reality, I wrote for 45 minutes and completed two whole pages. But I did feel excitement instead of the dread I was feeling yesterday when I had this awful sensation that this book is garbage but this writing challenge we’ve created here is now going to force me to stick it out anyway. I calmed myself by watching an episode of Lost (this is how behind my husband and I are in our TV viewing) and then reminding myself that this challenge is about the work itself, not so much the final project. And while next January 1, 2014 I’d love to say, “Look how much of this book I wrote!” I may only get to say, “Hey, look at this half a book I wrote and then these two short stories I wrote, and this essay I finally finished and…”

You get the idea. We stick with what works, and if it doesn’t work, no harm no foul. Just keep plugging away, people! We’ll get something out of it.

By the way, I found the iPod around midnight last night. It was balanced precariously on top of my exercise ball in the basement.

I have no idea.

–Cathy

Day One…

Happy 2013 everyone! A new year, a fresh start, a blank piece of paper–it’s all exhilarating and terrifying. And, oh, the possibilities.

Day One of Write Despite opened for me with sad goodbyes to relatives we don’t get to see nearly enough. And then a sluggish, sleepwalking day that required much caffeine, TV staring, leftover cookies and cake, and finally a nap (yes, I did do New Year’s Eve up right last night). Then it was dinner out using those Christmas gift cards my lovely MIL gave us, a last-minute dash to help my daughter complete a Lakota teepee project (because of course we’ve only had two weeks off to do it), and a still ongoing search of the house to find her lost iPod. Finally, at 9:35, I sat down to write. I stopped exactly 20 minutes later. Because I not only have to find that damned iPod, but I also have to get my head on straight with this new book. Who are these characters, what dramas are happening with them right now, and is that really the best place to begin their stories? Am I really doing first person? Alternating voices? Should I choose past tense or present?

It can all be worked out. Tomorrow awaits. And another 20 minutes, at least. This should be a piece of cake, right? (Mmmm. Cake.)

Thanks for visiting. Write well, everyone!

–Cathy

Beginnings

A stomach bug that left me feeling wrung out and listless (Happy New Year!) did NOT prevent me from rising to Day One of the Write Despite Challenge. I put in forty minutes on the brand new novel, the one I’m just starting. You know how the beginning is—the characters emerging, their faces and voices coming to you through the mist, the urgent longings of their hearts knocking on yours. Right now, it’s more like listening than writing. It helps that my son drifted off to nap land, just as I was preparing to write.
Back to work tomorrow, to my “real” job, the one I get paid for. All the realities of life are gathering around after the floating ease of the holidays. Twelve days off. I’m not complaining. And going back to work this year feels kind of right, kind of good even. It’s time to get back to business across the board. So keep writing.
Karen