Writing Every Day

This spring I’ve been working steadily on my novel and also on eradicating the weeds in my garden, but I don’t feel that I’ve made enough progress on either task. The weeds are green, so if I look from a distance, they’re barely noticeable. The lack of words on the page is harder to ignore.  I have a lot of control over my schedule, so why can’t I find more time to write?

One of the biggest reasons I get stalled is the fear that my work isn’t good enough. When I’m feeling that way, I’d rather do almost anything than work on my current project. (Even scrubbing the shower or cleaning the oven seems appealing.) There are plenty of writing tasks that don’t involve actual writing, so it’s easy to accomplish something during my writing sessions without adding to my page count, but at the end of the day, I can’t deny that I’ve wasted precious time.

I’ve heard the same thought echoed by so many writers and it helps to know that I’m not alone. I still need to fix the problem, though, so I went looking for advice from one of my favorite writing teachers.

I bought a copy of Midge Raymond’s new book, Everyday Writing: Tips and prompts to fit your regularly scheduled life, and I signed up for her class at San Diego Writers, Ink. Both were filled with practical advice.

This small but mighty book fits perfectly in the pocket of my netbook sleeve, so no matter where I write, I’ll be able to take it along for inspiration and a variety of helpful writing suggestions.

The first half of the book is a series of short chapters centered on making the most of your writing time, like How to write when you’re not really writing and How to meet your writing goals.

The second half is packed with prompts for every occasion. Most involve writing, but some simply provoke thought so that the time you spend waiting (like standing in the security line at the airport or sitting in the dentist’s chair) can enrich your future writing sessions.

The class was just as beneficial as the book with advice tailored to each student’s situation and exercises that encouraged us to reflect on our own writing time. Two of the exercises we did were particularly enlightening for me.

We wrote out detailed descriptions of our daily schedules and I discovered that I don’t have as much control over my time as I thought. Many of my responsibilities are scheduled during the morning, my most productive time of day, and unfortunately, I can’t move those activities. So although I have the time I need to write, my free hours are often in the afternoon when I’m less alert.

Midge suggested that I make those afternoon writing sessions more stimulating by creating rituals around that time, like brewing a favorite flavor of tea to drink while I write. She also suggested rewarding myself with a treat and I love having an excuse to eat a piece of chocolate at the end of my work time.

Another useful exercise was to write descriptions of a good writing session, a mediocre one and a bad one. By comparing the elements of each, I could see clearly what works for me and what doesn’t. I know that I absolutely must start with a pen in my hand and do a quick warm-up prompt to get my brain in gear. I also realized that my internal editor is still sabotaging me. I’m going to try tuning her out by shutting off the monitor while I draft a scene. I’ll find more typos when I go back in to edit, but those are much easier to fix than a blank page.

I’ve taken great classes from Midge Raymond on topics ranging from setting the scene to editing a manuscript. This latest class was equally invaluable. If you have the opportunity to work with her, don’t hesitate. And if you’re not lucky enough to be able to learn from her in person, Everyday Writing is a great substitute. Treat yourself today.

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34 Comments

Filed under Books, Writing

34 responses to “Writing Every Day

  1. This sounds like good advice. By the way, I love your background – wisteria is one of my favourite flowers.

    • Unfortunately, my wisteria didn’t bloom this year… I’m glad I have that picture from last spring.

      I visited your blog and I’m so interested in your “reading the world” project. I’ll look forward to updates on your progress and suggestions of books to read for my own literary travels.

  2. Anita Carol Smith

    A dancer not dancing…
    A writer not writing…
    Dreams dehiscent,
    The edges starting to curl and scorch.
    Maybe it’s easier to do that thing
    That opens our heart
    And feeds our soul.

  3. That book sounds very interesting. May need to check it out. Happy writing!

  4. Mornings are good times for me as well. I’m just not that fresh later in the afternoon. I also found that, when I was in a critique group that is, I wrote quite a bit after meetings, which inspired me. I tend to need daily doses of inspiration to write and as your instructor suggests, writing prompts are good for that. I may buy her book for my Nook since I don’t have any writing books to nudge me over here in this desert. Thank you.

    • We do need inspiration, don’t we, especially during our “low” times of day. Classes and prompts stir my brain and get my thoughts going. Art, music and dance do that for me, too. I hope you find some inspiration in Midge’s book or maybe even in the unfamiliarity of the place where you are. I’ve been very interested in following your blog posts about your current daily life, so alien from how things are at home.

  5. I haven’t heard of this book — so I’m very glad you wrote about it; I will definitely check it out. Mornings are my best time, too, but if I can get into the zone, afternoons will work (as long as I don’t hit my lull time at about 3:30-4). Great suggestions to help me get my brain in gear — Thanks!

  6. I’m currently working on my first book and it has proven to be more work than I first imagined it would be. I’ve thrown two previous manuscripts away because I felt like they were complete rubbish. I really enjoyed your post!

    • Writing is hard work, but so rewarding. My last novel project went through lots of revisions and 4 major overhauls and it’s now under the bed. (I never throw anything away.) I’m hoping for better with my current project.

  7. writing a book seems much harder than one would think. I have never tried, but maybe one day 🙂

  8. Shary, what aspiring writer hasn’t felt the same way you have at one point or another in his or her writing journey? I dare say it’s normal to feel this way. Early morning is when I’m most productive as well. I find myself becoming sluggish in the late afternoon. Yet there are times when I have creative surges in the evening. I guess it depends on what stimulates, inspires, or calls out to my muse. Would you believe I rarely use writing prompts? I think I should try those sometime! Thank you for the book recommendation, lady. I will hop over to Amazon and have a look! 🙂

    • It does seem that we all go through the same ups and downs even though our writing paths are different. I think if we can figure out what helps us write (pace, time of day, inspiration, organization) we can find our way more easily. We use what works, right?

  9. Shary, thanks so much for sharing the book on your blog — and thanks mostly for all YOUR inspiring words! Even if we’ve been published already, we are all still aspiring writers because that next project still needs to be done, and the process doesn’t really change: You still have to just get it done, somehow! But we do it because, as you say, it is ultimately so rewarding. Wishing everyone happy writing!

  10. Great post and I’m glad you liked the class and book. I want to check it out now too. I think I really need to establish a routine or ritual as you suggest for my own personal writing time. I think that will help me write more of my personal work with ease.

  11. Perhaps we need to all have a writing session on the beach in the morning. I have a project or two that needs my attention and Viv needs to keep her hand in too. Can’t wait to see you next week!

  12. This sounds wonderful, Shary! Your writing with the monitor turned off reminds me of another writer (Natalia Sylvester) who wrote blindfolded for the same reasons. So much of it is figuring out what works for us personally, isn’t it? For me, I’m realizing that reading over my day’s writing progress (or even research notes or character sketches) right before bed is a good way for me to wake up motivated and with all of the WIP details still top-of-mind. And the other thing that has helped me make my writing a priority/stick to a schedule: deadlines with my crit partner. In fact, I finished my draft on May 24! I needed your chocolate celebration candy, didn’t I?

    I hope your new rituals are working wonderfully for you!

    • Congratulations on finishing your draft! You definitely must celebrate.

      I love your idea of reviewing your progress before bed so your brain can work while you’re sleeping. I’ll have to try that.

  13. Hi Shary, I hopped over to your blog from Julia Munroe Martin’s 🙂 What an interesting way of looking at the writing process! I love how scientific comparing a good writing session to a bad writing session is—it makes sense that there would be patterns and elements we might not have noticed. I’m going to have to pay more attention to what does and doesn’t work for me. Thanks!

    • Thanks for visiting from Julia’s great blog. I never thought of my comparison as being scientific, but I guess it was. Now I just have to continue the experiment and keep fine tuning.

  14. Hey, were you talking to me, Shary? I know you were, and I’m convicted. I have absolutely no excuse not to work on my novel. What else am I going to do since I CAN’T LEAVE THE HOUSE? okay, I’ll get my but in gear. And I may take a look to see if that book is available for my Nook. Thanks for the tip.

    • It’s rotten to be sidelined, but there is that little side benefit. You can still read and write. When I had foot surgery, I tried knitting and that was a dismal failure. Writing was much better. 🙂 I hope you’re able to entertain yourself while you recover.

  15. Shary, I can’t thank you enough for this post! I’ve been dancing around the edges of writing for a couple of years (“wanting to” but working outside of the home/feeling too depleted by day’s end to get anything substantial done.) Now that I’ve committed to writing full time, these tips were exactly what I needed to read before I dive in.

    Establishing a “writing ritual” and savoring a “reward” — immensely appealing! I also liked the idea of turning the monitor off. I’m a “visual” person and easily distracted. (Sometimes I’ve even changed fonts and set up ridiculously small margins so I don’t know how a page will “look” until I reformat it at the end.) Whatever works!

    Thanks for sharing these gems and also your heart. Next time that ol’ “not good enough” thought urges you to clean your oven, re-read this post and the comments your writing prompted. You’re more than good enough!

    • I’m glad this post appeared at a good time for you. I use every trick I can think of to keep moving forward with my writing and I hope some of them might work for you. Thanks for the encouragement, too. There’s nothing like a boost from a writing buddy to inspire me. Looking forward to hearing how your work is progressing. Happy Writing!

      • Shary, I sat out on our deck today with a clip-board full of paper as I thought about “when I write best” and what makes it conducive. I ended up writing six pages! 🙂 It’ll be a gradual transition over the next couple of weeks, what with playing “catch up” at home and a trip to visit family in the near future. (Not putting it off, just getting my ducks in a row!) Then… can you see me smiling?!

        P.S. Your article was so inspiring, I actually developed a character for my novel today, too! It was FUN!!

  16. Sounds like quite a class; thank you for sharing. Do you know if SDW Ink is offering it again soon?