Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

How to Increase Your Writing Productivity — May 14, 2014

How to Increase Your Writing Productivity

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

In a perfect world, our days would be filled with limitless hours of writing time. However, ours is not a perfect world. At least mine isn’t.

Despite living in retirement, my days are still filled with what seem to be unending household chores, yard and gardening chores, errands, maintaining a small business other than my writing, and more.

I am not an expert on increasing writing productivity. Perhaps like you, I struggle every day trying to find the time to write.

If you look around–in books, on the Internet, magazine articles, there is a plethora of advice on how to increase your writing productivity.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found:

1. Eliminate Distractions.

Via Facebook
Via Facebook

As difficult as it may seem, sitting down to write means limiting distractions and interruptions. One easy tip is to close all open tabs on your computer and have only your manuscript or working document open. If you are still tempted to hop over to Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, perhaps an app like StayFocusd to limit the time you allow yourself to visit social media sites would help. StayFocusd is free to Google Chrome users. Other such apps include: Freedom, Anti-Social, RescueTime (my choice), and ColdTurkey. A search for “social media blocking apps” will offer a longer list.

2. What is Your Process?

Do you have a process for writing? Or do you sit down and just start writing? Are you enjoying the process of writing? Or have you started something that doesn’t please you or feel right?

Remember, you don’t have to be what everyone else is–historical novelist, memoirist, chick lit writer, biographer. You don’t have to write the same way every other writer does. You can be whomever you want to be as a writer.

Look around your space. What books do you see that you’ve kept after reading them? What fills your shelves? If those are the books you’ve enjoyed as a reader, maybe they fall into the genre you will enjoy writing. Take a good look at the process these writers chose. Discover the writer you want to be. Know yourself, and try to forget the critics.

3. Set a Daily Goal

Via LifeHacker
Via LifeHacker

Determine a daily goal, either by number of words or pages or choose a time increment, such as an hour or maybe two. If you choose to follow a time increment system for daily writing, set a timer for the amount of time. Then write until the timer goes off. A handy app for accomplishing this is Pomodairo, a Pomodoro time-based timer and task management app.

4. Give Yourself Breaks

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

After you’ve accomplished what you sat down to do, give yourself a break. Take a 10-15 minute walk or stretch, have a cup of tea or coffee, do something to move out of your chair and breathe fresh air. Perhaps you have a note or personal card to mail–write it and get it ready to go in the mail. If that load of laundry is ready to be folded, that will only take a few minutes. Do that. Just do something to refresh your mind and body.

5. Devise a Method to Follow Productivity

I did not realize how important this could be until I signed on to Jeff Goins’ Facebook group, My 500 Words. The goal in this group is to write 500 words each day on something you’re working on or using the provided prompt. It provides accountability, support and encouragement. The accountability is what I was searching for when I signed up. In the process of organizing the group, Jeff mentioned the importance of accountability, including following your own productivity. Not long after, I came across a link to a writing progress tracker developed by author Jamie Raintree. Simple to use and handy in an Excel document on my computer, I can easily log in the number of words I’ve written each day and on which blog or project. Jamie has entered all the formulas to calculate the daily, weekly and monthly word count. Thanks, Jamie!

6. Read Less, Write More

This is an area I need to improve on. I lose writing time each day because I think I should ready everything I find on becoming a better writer, how to write memoir, and more. I can’t resist the idea that someone has a better idea about how to write. Slowly I’m learning that I must stop reading what others think and get on with the writing. As I look around my writing space, there are dozens of books and articles on writing that I have yet to read and in that state they aren’t supporting my writing efforts. I’m finding I tend to learn more by doing than reading about how to do it. If I encounter a problem in my writing, then I’ll go look it up and see what I’ve missed in the doing.

7. Read Your Genre

There is one area you’ll want to read, and that is books in the genre you’ve chosen to write. From these writers, you will learn more about your chosen craft. Watch how they open and close chapters. See how they have developed their characters. How do they use dialogue? Then see if you can apply them to your work. This is not plagiarism as you’re not copying what they wrote–you are modeling the principles of writing they used.

8. Set Goals

Some of us are goal setters, and some are not. If you are so inclined, set large goals first. Then work backward from the deadline established for that goal and set smaller goals along the way to help in accomplishing the larger goal on time. For instance, if you want to publish your book after the first of the year, you will need to have it edited and revised in October or November to leave time for edits and rewrites. What this means is that the book needs to be finished in late summer. This is an example of how you need to set your goals in order to timely complete your project.

Accountability needs to be worked into goal setting. Perhaps there is someone you can tell about your goal(s). A critiquing partner, a writing group member, or a close friend or family member. You’ll note on the right sidebar I have a countdown set. Believe me, I see that more often than is comfortable these days. You can also set the dates on your calendar and set up pop-up reminders for each one.

9. Work When No One Else Is and/or When You Feel “On”

How do we know the best time of our 24 hours each day to write? Some writers wake early in the morning before their family members wake up, and they get in an hour or more of quiet writing. Young mothers who are writers wait eagerly for nap time. I read a post recently by Ellis Shurman on how he found an extra hour in his daily schedule of commuting, working fulltime, parenting and more. Others establish blocks of time on a calendar and then tell their family members they are off to write and are not to be bothered. (Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t!). Actually, for you it might be looking at what you have to carry out and doing that during the part of the day when feel your best, really “on.” Suit yourself. You are the writer.

10. Write Now, Edit Later

You have all heard it. Write until the first draft is completed. No stopping for edits, errors, corrections, rewrites–just write. The temptation for some of us who are Type A personalities to make that first draft perfect is overwhelming. I have finally taught myself to write, write, write–don’t stop. It hasn’t been easy but it does go faster when you’re not continuously stopping to make corrections. Once you’re finished with the draft, then you can sit down with a copy, or maybe you like to do your editing on the screen, and make the necessary corrections, perhaps a little rewriting here and there. I think we may all be familiar with Anne Lamott’s quote on this subject.

11. Bottom Line–Write Your Story and No Harpies Allowed

In your writing, be yourself. Be honest. Tell your story. It is after all your story. Yours to tell, and only you know it and can tell it. If you don’t write it down, how will anyone remember it after you’re gone? How will anyone ever read it and gain any perspective from your life experiences?

We mustn’t let the harpies get in our way. When one settles on your shoulder, close your ears to what you hear: “You can’t write.” “Who is going to read this garbage?” “What makes you think anyone wants to now what you think or feel?” “Get over yourself–you’re not a writer.” remember you are the writer, you own the story, and you can write it without any outside help.

This is not an exhaustive list. If you search the Internet, there are so many ideas about what we writers should do or not do in order to be productively producing our books and essays, our poetry and rhyme. Yet it all boils down to how it works best for each of us individually, doesn’t it?

Do you have a process that works for you? Are you willing to share ideas with the rest of us? Leave comments, ideas, questions, criticisms, etc. in the comments below. Let’s discuss!

11 Writing Tips from Henry Miller — April 22, 2014

11 Writing Tips from Henry Miller

Often I find myself pondering what has affected my ability to allocate specific time periods for my writing. After all, as much as I’d like to dedicate 24/7 to my writing, life has its other demands. Once I reach the point of sensing the tsunami-like after effects in my day, frustrations and emotions overwhelm any sense of remaining order in any so-called schedule.
Recently I’ve been reading about writing habits of some of our writing greats — Hemingway, Fitzgerald, King, Oates, and others.

Henry Miller, Author
Henry Miller, Author

Today I’m sharing the “Work Schedule, 1932-1933, –Henry Miller Miscellanea” I have strategically pinned above my computer.

His own writings in Henry Miller on Writing show Miller’s stringent writing schedule during the writing of the first of his many novels, Tropic of Cancer. Hoping to give momentum to his writing, Miller developed a writing schedule that included the following tenets:

(Image via Goodreads)

When I first came across this list of Miller’s “commandments,” I placed it in a prominent place near my computer hoping it would give similar forward progress for my writing. Most days, I glance at it more than once. Not all of Miller’s “commandments” are easily applied to my writing life, but some have made an impact on thoughts about my writing habits.

  • No. 1 — Write on one thing at a time until finished. I am notorious for beginning projects. If I grow bored, I’ll start another and another and another until I have several unfinished projects. This isn’t limited to writing. This proclivity for beginning multiple projects extends to quilting and knitting, and perhaps is the reason behind a habit of reading multiple books simultaneously. Note to self: Need to work on this!
  • No. 3 — Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. Another of Mr. Miller’s commandments I need to heed. Often I sit down to write and it is not so much nervousness as fear that comes and sits on my shoulder. Like a harpie, fear sits there and taunts me with images of failure, mistakes, less than perfect work product and more. Another note to self: Stop it!
  • No. 9 — Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.I’ve pondered what Mr. Miller means in this “commandment,” and I’ve come to the conclusion that “Discard the Program” doesn’t necessarily mean to walk away from your work, but to allow yourself the freedom to write, write, write and then the next day return to the plan initially drawn out for your book. Self, remember this!
  • No. 11 – Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards. Mr. Miller did not have email and social media calling his name first thing each day, so perhaps this was easier for him. However, I find myself drawn to checking our personal emails, then our business emails, and lastly Sherrey’s emails. Then I move to doing a little sharing of what my good writing friends have posted and shared. All of this before I’ve written a single word. One more note to self: I need discipline in this area.

Bottom line: No one writer has all the answers. No matter how famous, how prolific, how stringent his or her work method was.

Your work style and scheduling method is yours and yours alone, as is mine. However, some gems can be found in Mr. Miller’s “commandments.” It isn’t lost on me how my eyes fall to the same ones on his list each day. Somehow, however, those daily glances and self-admonitions don’t seem to be changing how I write or who I am.

How about you? Do you have set ways in which your day must play out? A daily writing schedule? Are you easily distracted by interruptions or can you allow yourself to float in and out of your writing?

Share your own thoughts on Miller’s “commandments” and share your own work style with us below.

Empathizing with Trayvon Martin’s Parents — July 19, 2013

Empathizing with Trayvon Martin’s Parents

Everyone has probably heard everything they want to hear about the George Zimmerman trial — the jury’s verdict, the devastation of Trayvon Martin’s parents, the protests.

Who among us will ever know the truth of what really happened?

Only two people know the truth, and one of them is dead.

So many unknowns.  Here is where I empathize with Trayvon’s parents on a very personal level.

In September 1994, my firstborn nephew was 42 years old. He was a husband, father, son, brother, nurse, farmer and all-around good person. He was going about his day doing chores at the farm he shared with my brother, his father. His folks were out-of-town on vacation, and he had gone to feed the livestock and check the barn and house. Ordinarily, he would have taken his 11-year-old son with him but it was the first day of school and well, we do have our priorities.

There had been hints to his brother that someone was stalking him. He even indicated that his brother should not be surprised if the police called one day to say he’d been murdered.

That Labor Day weekend all he had suspected came true. It is still hard to think about. A mob-style murder with too many bullet wounds to count. Hopefully, instantaneous death. Gone from us forever — all the roles he filled now void of his contributions.

It took months to extradite the suspected murderer back to Tennessee from Louisiana where he had been in hiding, and then ensuing months of trial preparation. Finally, a trial date was scheduled. A jury was selected. Opening statements, testimony of witnesses, rebuttals, closing arguments. Finished.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict.

This even after the defendant shared with his wife and two teen-aged sons his plans to kill my nephew. The law said his wife could not testify against him. His wife did not want their sons involved in the trial. Likely, any testimony by these three persons would be refuted as hearsay anyway.

Much like Martin and Zimmerman, there were only two people who knew the truth. And one of them was dead. No evidence at the scene pointed directly to the defendant — no evidence of tire tracks other than my nephew’s, no fingerprints, no footprints, no gun was ever found, without a gun the ballistics at the scene were worthless.

I still find it difficult to put into words how it feels to lose a family member in this way, and then live with the knowledge no one is paying the price for that life evaporated by violence.

Yes, my heart goes out to Trayvon’s parents. I know something of how they must feel. However, our judicial system was designed to work the way it does. When the jury has spoken, the trial is over. But the pain of loss never stops. It lives on in our hearts and memories for a very long time.

These are our stories, our memories.

Q4U: Do you have a story to share today? Feel free to share it in the comments. I love hearing your stories.

Monday Morning Musings — July 15, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

© Oregon Bach Festival © Oregon Bach Festival

Last Friday evening we had the privilege of witnessing extraordinary gifts and talents as we attended a performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. The concert was mutually hosted by our own Oregon Symphony with the Oregon Bach Festival, an annual event held in Eugene, OR.

As we sat in our seats with a perfect view of the stage and each participant, time halted and nothing going on around me penetrated the stop that had occurred in my world. A young tenor, Nicholas Phan, sang Dona nobis pacem. This incredible voice in this talented and gifted young person was perfection.

How, I asked myself, can he be so perfect in his execution of this music? How can each musician accompanying his performance be so error-free? The conductor, 80-year old Helmuth Rilling, who has served as artistic director of the Bach festival for 43 years, directs in a minimalist fashion as these participants are so well-trained and practiced.

Aha, I thought. That last word going through my mind — what was it?

Practiced! That’s it — they practice.

Yes, these are creatives who practice daily for hours on end. Then they attend rehearsals and their offerings are critiqued by a conductor.

What are we writers if not creatives?

The truth then is:

As creatives who want to produce a good work, we must practice.

Daily, sometimes hours, to produce an extraordinary work.

Attribution: Hakan Dahlstrom via Fotomedia Attribution: Hakan Dahlstrom via Fotomedia

People, it takes work and even though we enjoy and have fun with our writing sometimes and maybe all the time, we must practice our craft daily.

Starting today, I’m incorporating a new beginning in my writing life. I’ve followed Shirley Showalter’s 100 Day Challenge. Each day of 100 days you chart a new beginning, if possible. Some days you may not have a new beginning, and I admit that I have not added one each day. But today I do.

My new beginning will be to spend at least the next two months of summer starting today and ending September 15th giving the majority of my writing time to my memoir. I have hit my stride of late and don’t want to lose my pace.

Therefore, you’ll see a decline in educational, resource-related blog posts. Those take a lot of time and sometimes research as well as educating myself on something new. And yes, where I have committed to guest posts I will honor that commitment.

My posts here will now be about “practice.” Yes, writing practice. Perhaps free writes, morning papers, a new word I found to use as a prompt. I don’t know what all I’ll write about — you’ll just have to wait and see.

I guess you’d say I’ve decided to make my blog my practice site. A place to hone my skills and work on technique and all those things we need to practice. If there’s no post here, you’ll know I’m working on my memoir!

Won’t you try practicing a part of each day with me?

Attribution: Brainy Quotes Attribution: Brainy Quotes

An April Reflection — May 1, 2013

An April Reflection

Sue Mitchell, The Memoir Muse at An Untold Story
Sue Mitchell, The Memoir Muse at An Untold Story

During the month of April, I challenged myself to carry out two major constructive changes in my writing.  First, I signed up for the A to Z Blog Challenge , a challenge which requires 26 posts during the month of April (every day but Sunday) on any topic you choose.  I chose to write about the development of a character’s emotions and feelings.

The second challenge I took on was to write at least ten minutes each day before looking at emails or social media.  My hope was to break a habit. Research has shown that it takes 30 days to break a habit, and that same 30 days can train a new habit.  This challenge had its genesis with Sue Mitchell, writing coach at An Untold Story.

The last letter of the alphabet, Z, is written and posted, and the 30th day of April has come and (almost) gone.  I survived both challenges and I’m a better writer for it.

Writing blog posts for 26 out of 30 days kept me on my toes and my fingers tapping.  Of course, some of my posts were written ahead and scheduled to post, but some days I wrote more than one post, or about 1,000 words.  Just think if those cumulative words had been for my memoir.  A few more days and I could complete my first draft!

With each letter and post, I could feel my writing skills improving daily.  I suppose you could say I felt I was finding my groove!  And I met some incredible writers and bloggers widening my writing community.  A win/win.

The real high comes from the fact that after 30 days (OK, almost 30 here in the Pacific NW) I no longer sit down at the computer and head first for emails, Facebook, Twitter or anything other than to WRITE FIRST. Priorities have shifted.  Oh, yes, they have!  I feel more in control now.  And if I don’t make it to Facebook or Twitter until later in the day or at all on a single day, I’m comfortable with that.

So, I challenge each of you to think about what I’ve accomplished in 30 days.  I know many of you don’t struggle with these issues of managing time for writing, but some of us do.  And when you get a handle on it, you just can’t help but brag a bit.

Q4U: What are you doing to make the most of your writing time?  I’d love to hear how you manage your time and challenge yourself to stay above the fray of everyday life.

Click on images for attributions.

Wanted: Writing Garret — March 18, 2013

Wanted: Writing Garret

Coming home from a recent writing conference, I pondered our discussions of quiet writing spaces.  Something set apart from the rest of the living space and the noises of living with others.
As I drove up Hwy. 101 in Oregon, my thoughts began to wander to dreams of having such a space and how I could make it work in our already crowded 1640 sq. ft. home.  Granted only two humans and one cat live in that space but we can get in each other’s ways.

Images began to dance in my head like sugar-plum fairies at Christmas.  First, I saw a garret in an old Victorian home. This space could work well, but we don’t live in an old Victorian nor do we have an attic.

Moving along in my thoughts, I couldn’t help but think of all the conversions I saw when looking for space for a sewing room — closets converted into sewing areas!

But which closet was I going to give up to make a writing space!

Thinking about these closet conversions to sewing spaces ignited the proverbial light bulb.

I have a marvelous sewing room! Yes, an entire room dedicated to sewing and quilting.  This room is large and not used on a regular basis except for occasional quilting. However, it is full of antique sewing machines and Victorian sewing items, but that can be managed by reorganizing a bit.  My dream grew as I drove home.

Now I’m in the process of shifting things in the sewing room dedicating one corner, already equipped with a corner sewing table, to my writing space.  Already a comfortable office chair is in place.  And there is adequate space for reference books nearby and items to show my love of writing.  Essential will be a candle and soft classical music, both necessary to set the mood.

Another discussion at the writing conference was on how to make the quiet time needed for writing.  I have struggled with this thing called “time to write.”  I don’t know where my mind has been all these years and months, but time was sitting right under my nose.

My dear and darling husband is a musician, both instrumental and vocal.  His rehearsals are many each week as he plays with two bands, one orchestra and sings in our church choir.  I have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to myself as well as Thursday afternoons.

I see the elements I’ve been missing for my writing space and time coming together. Likely, my new space won’t look like this but it’s a rough idea.  Putting the space and time in tandem makes my writing life feel as if it’s been renewed!

Once the conversion is complete, and all real property divided equally between sewing and writing, I’ll share a photo with you of my new writing “garret.”

Image attributions can be seen by clicking on images.