Posts Tagged ‘tips’

Writing Around Life: Work

Just as a head’s up, squiders, June is going to be a rough month for me, so there may be a few weeks where you only get one post a week. Those posts will go up on Wednesdays. And then once we’re free from my least favorite month of the year, the schedule will once again be normal and so forth.

Today we’re moving on to writing around work. Work is, of course, important, as it gives us money, and money is unfortunately necessary for things such as food, housing, clothes, coffee, books (excepting library books), and things along those lines. But there are ways to work and still have time for more enjoyable things, such as writing.

As with most things, if you want to get writing done, you must make it a priority. Take a look at your day. If you get home and collapse from exhaustion, then that’s not the time to try and add in an additional task. If you can barely get out of bed in the morning, then don’t think you’ll suddenly be able to get up an hour early and do it then. Be reasonable, be logical, and there are solutions to be had.

Let’s look at some times that could be converted for writing, depending on your personal circumstances.

WARNING: Please avoid using company resources to write unless you have previously checked out the regulations around such things. Some companies may not care if you write on your work computer, say, but in the worse case scenarios, you might be fired or even have your work considered company property.

Lunch breaks

Lunch breaks can be a good time to squeeze in some writing. Most states in the United States require some amount of time be set off for lunch, though if you are salaried, you might need to make the time up elsewhere, depending on company policy on time worked. As we discussed in the school section, small time periods can actually be beneficial for working, since a time limit can provide some added incentive for buckling down and getting to it.

It’s worth it to note that you don’t have to designate every lunch break for writing; if you’d like to go out with coworkers every now and then, or if you know you have a lunch meeting every Friday, you can designate a single lunch period each week to use. Remember that you will need to be reasonable about the amount of time that you can write. Even writing slowly will eventually result in a finished story.

Commute time

Commuting can be useful writing time, especially if you take public transportation such as a train or a bus. Depending on your work situation (such as whether or not you have a safe place to store valuables), you can take a notebook or laptop or other writing implement of choice along. Remember that not all of writing is actively writing–you can always outline, plot, worldbuild, freewrite, etc. and it’s all helpful toward reaching your goals.

Business travel

Not everyone travels for work, and depending on your situation, you may be run ragged when you do–building presentations on the plane, stuck with coworker obligations for dinner–but business travel can be a good time to get some writing done. This will vary, of course. I know people who have taken business trips to other countries, so of course one doesn’t want to be in a hotel room pounding away on a keyboard in that situation. But if you travel a lot, and often to the same place, those evenings in the hotel room can be quite boring. If you do go to the same place quite often, you can scout out places to write–cafes or coffee shops, for example–so that not only are you being productive, you’re not in the hotel all the time either.

Slow times at work

Please, PLEASE, do not do this without first checking if it’s okay. But if you have some slow parts of your day–if you’re a receptionist, but the majority of the patients only come in the afternoon, or if you test software and have time while your code is compiling–this could be good writing time as well instead of sitting around and twiddling your thumbs.

As a warning, though, please make sure you’ve made sure all your work is done and have made a reasonable effort to make sure nothing else is required of you before you do this.

Before/After Work

As discussed above, it might be easiest to just write outside of work, depending on whatever works best for you. If you’re constantly busy at work, this may be your best option instead of trying to squeeze it into your workday around everything else. Pick a time that works best for you, commit to at least one day a week, and give it a try.

Weekends

If you have kids or other obligations, it can be difficult to write during the week, no matter the best of your intentions. But the good news is that weekends exist, and even if you’re busy, they’re also usually long enough that you can get an hour or two of writing in there somewhere. Weekends tend to move in definite patterns with breaks in between activities. For example, you might have something Saturday morning, and another something Saturday afternoon or evening, but nothing scheduled in between. If you can’t plan a definite time every week, you can at least sit down Friday evening and identify a time that will work for this particular weekend.

Another trick is if you get up early on weekdays but tend to sleep in on the weekends, you can pick either Saturday or Sunday to get up at your normal weekday time and get a little writing done before getting on with the rest of your day.

Any other ideas for writing around your workday, squiders?

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Writing Around Life: School (Full-time College)

Good afternoon, squiders! Or at least we shall pretend.

Today we’re going to look at strategies for people attending college full-time. This assumes you are carrying a full course load of 12-16 credit hours a semester. College students are notoriously busy, and college schedules tend toward inconsistency for a ton of different reasons. (Classes may be scheduled for multiple days a week but only meet one, outside meetings with teammates may need to happen on a regular basis–or a non-regular one, certain projects may require extra time, etc.)

Between classes, sports, extracurriculars such as clubs or professional organizations, student government, what have you, it can seem like you don’t have any extra time to squeeze out. And in the case of complete transparency, some semesters you might not have a lot of free time. The important to remember is to set reasonable expectations for yourself.

But going to college full-time does have something going for it that actually makes it easier to build in writing time.

You’re on campus all day long.

Most college students’ schedules look something like this:

First class – 9-10:30 am (Physics Building)
Second class – 12:30-1:30 pm (English Building)
Third class – 2-4 pm (Math Building)
Evening Seminar – 6-9 pm (English Building again)

There’s a lot going on there (7.5 hours of class, yikes!), but there’s also a lot of sitting around and waiting. And, in this case, small breaks are your friends.

That 2-hour break between your first and second class? That’s a long break. That’s long enough that you can schedule a meeting with your project group, or head to office hours to get help on your homework. You can get lunch. You can go to the gym. You could go home, if you live on or close to campus. Long breaks are times to plan to specific things done in.

But that half an hour between your second and third class? Some of that will be travel time, depending on how close together the buildings are. (Or maybe your major has the majority of its classes in a single building, and you don’t have to worry about it.) But the other twenty minutes or so? A lot of time it gets wasted, because it’s not long enough to “do” something.

Which makes it perfect writing time.

10-30 minutes breaks are actually ideal for a number of reasons.

  • You’re unlikely to schedule something else in this time, unless it’s especially urgent.
  • The short time period can serve as incentive to buckle down and get to work, as you know you don’t have much time.
  • They add up over time.

Even if you only write 300 words a day, that’s 109,500 words in a year. That’s more than a novel for most genres. That’s a 2000-word short story every week.

As we discussed in the general tips section, it’s important to always have writing tools with you, especially if you’re not sure when exactly you’re going to writing. This is easier in college because you’ll tend to have notebooks/laptops/etc. with you for your schoolwork anyway.

Aside from short breaks, there may be other times that trend toward being good for writing, such as when no one else is around (if you’re on campus earlier or later than most people). Exceptionally long breaks (4+ hours) can also be good, because you can accomplish some school related stuff and still put aside some time for writing. I would argue that it’s good to occasionally break up school work and activities with activities like writing, because it helps you give your brain a break.

It can also be useful to identify one or a few places on campus that are always open to you to hang out in. The library, or a lounge or lobby, a coffee shop or cafeteria, club offices–something along those lines. Somewhere where you can duck in and work whenever the fancy hits you. Ideally somewhere close to a majority of your classes.

You can also write in your classrooms while waiting for class to start, if you get there early. For obvious reasons, I do not condone writing during class.

Any other tips you’d recommend for college students, squiders?

Writing Around Life: School (High School)

Good evening, squiders! We’re moving on to more specific tips this week.

We’re doing school first, because almost everyone goes to school (one would hope, anyway). I’ve got this section divided into three subsections: high school, part-time college, and full-time college. While some tips will be applicable across the board, the difference in scheduling (in high school one is typically at school for a solid block of time, whereas in college classes are spread out all over the place and generally in the least useful combination) makes it a logical break.

High school is an interesting time, when one can do a little of everything and see what sticks. As such, around schoolwork, clubs, sports, social activities, and other time commitments (at least in this state, high schoolers must complete some number of volunteer hours to graduate), it can be hard to find time to work on writing or other creative endeavors.

First things first: no matter what, you must make writing a priority. There will always be something else to do, whether it’s sharing videos with your friends during lunch or checking out the latest student council display. In some cases, you will have to choose to write over doing something else.

The first step is to examine your day. Do you find yourself with free time frequently in a certain class or activity? Is there a block of time open where you have options on what to do? Are you at school early or late?

Here are some places to look for times to write:

Lunch

Lunch can be a good time to write because it’s typically a large block of time with no set requirements (aside from hopefully consuming food). I know this is prime socialization time, but depending on how your school’s schedule is organized, you may find yourself on your own occasionally or on a regular basis, especially if your friends have lunch a different period or have some other commitment (club meetings, travel time if they’re taking college courses off campus, etc.) during that time. Some schools have long lunches, so part of the time can be spent socializing and the other part working.

Home Room

My school called this “Access,” but the basic idea is that you have a period some time during the day where you report to your home room/teacher. Some schools require you to stay in the classroom; others allow you to leave to get help from other teachers or attend club meetings. Not all schools have this time period built into their daily schedule, but if yours does, and you don’t need help/haven’t finished your fifth period homework, this can be a great time to squeeze some writing in, especially since teachers generally prefer the students to be relatively quiet.

During (Some) Classes

Let’s face it. In some classes you may routinely finish your work early. For me, it was biology and drafting. So you can sit there and twiddle your thumbs, talk to your neighbors (and probably get in trouble for disrupting the kids still working), or you can be productive. This does depend on the teacher, however, because some don’t care what you work on once you’re done, but others might throw a fit.

During (Some) Activities

Some school activities require you to be there for long periods of time but not necessarily participate the whole time. You might be in the band and another section might be a mess and need some dedicated work from the teacher. You might be in theater but only be onstage for half the time. You might have a long bus ride to a game. Again, beware of the situation. If you have obligations for the activity that aren’t completed (i.e., you don’t know your lines for the show), those come first.

Before School

Sometimes you get to school early. This seems to be especially true in some bus systems, where whomever made the schedule wanted to be absolutely certain that the kids riding the bus were never ever late. My bus used to drop me half an hour before school started, and even my friends on other buses didn’t show up for another fifteen minutes. It can be hard to get going in the morning, but hey, you’re already up and you’ve successfully made it to school, so it can’t hurt to try.

After Your Homework

So, all of the above time periods can also be used to get some homework done throughout the day. You know what’s great about this? It means you have less homework to do later, and this can be a glorious thing. It means maybe you can get your homework done at a reasonable time, and maybe you can have brain to work on your writing after dinner and before bed. Then you can end the day on something fun instead of, you know, math or English.

Weekends

Weekends can be pretty busy still, depending on your activities and schedule, but you still have three nights to do homework instead of one, so hopefully you will also have some free time to do what you would like. It might help to pick a specific time each weekend–Saturday afternoon, maybe–where you typically don’t have commitments and make that your writing time. That way it’s planned, and it’s more likely to happen.

Another thing the can help with writing around high school is to have friends who also write, or friends who are interested in what you’re writing. Having a support system in place can help your productivity a ton. You can share your work, plan write-ins, and talk about what you’re working on.

Any other tips for high schoolers you would include, squiders? Or, as a high schooler, things you’ve found that have worked for you?

Writing Around Life: General Tips (Part 1)

First of all, Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day! Go give your local indie bookstore some love! They’re all that’s standing between us and Amazon’s total domination of everything. <_<

That said, let’s jump into our writing around life tips! Today we’re going to look at some basic tips that should be applicable to most people in most situations. We’ll start with the most important first.

Look at your schedule for available time.

A lot of writing advice advocates getting up earlier or staying up later to make time for writing, but a lot of times that doesn’t work. I don’t know about you guys, but by the time the kids go to bed, I’m pooped. Sometimes I can squeeze out an outline or a few hundred words, but a lot of time I just want to sit and read. And that’s okay. I know that about myself. If you can’t drag yourself out of bed at 5:30, don’t force it.

That being said, we all have little bits of time scattered throughout the day that we’re not using efficiently. Maybe we’re playing on our phone on our break. Maybe we’re staring out the window on the bus. Maybe we’ve got twenty minutes between classes. Look at your day and take note of when you’re doing other things that absolutely have to be done. Then look at the spaces inbetween. What are you doing during those times? Is it something that you need to do, or something you enjoy doing? Or is it time that you can grab and use for writing? Even 15 minutes can be enough for decent progress.

There is a process out there where you break your day down into 15-minute blocks. Then, over a week or so, you fill in what you spent each fifteen minutes doing. This helps you identify open blocks of time, activities that could be combined and streamlined, and if you’re spending too much time on something simple that could perhaps be done by another person or in another way. It is also understandably intimidating, so if it sounds like something that’s untenable, every time you find yourself doing nothing or doing something that is not fun or necessary, take note. (It does help to write things down so you can see patterns.)

Go for consistency.

Once you find a time period that will work for writing, stick with it. Consistency is, unfortunately, the best way to build habits. If you decide you’re going to swing by the library on campus and write for twenty minutes before the bus comes, then you do that every time. Otherwise it’s too easy to get distracted by other things. If something comes up, that’s one thing (class runs late, you need to coordinate a group project with a partner, you’ve got to pick up your final project from another professor), but otherwise you should be using your chosen writing time for writing.

Pick a place that’s good for your flow.

If possible, pick a place to write where you can focus. It’s not always possible–you may have a limited radius before you get too far from where you need to be–but do the best you can. If you need quiet, look for secluded lobbies, empty classrooms, outside, libraries, etc. You can also adapt your surroundings somewhat, by bringing noise-cancelling headphones or music. Move around until you find someplace that works. It might not always be the first place you think.

Always have writing supplies with you.

It’s easier to write when you find yourself with some free time if you have something to write on. Most people have a preference for typing or handwriting, but bringing both or either should work for most writers. If you prefer a computer, you can carry a laptop around with you if appropriate. (For example, when I was in college, I often had my laptop with me for schoolwork, so it was easy to bring up a story and type on it when I had spare time.) However, it may not always be easy to carry one around with you. Notebooks are fairly portable and come in all shapes and sizes. I like the steno-pad size (somewhere between 5 and 6 inches wide and 8 and 9 inches tall) ones myself, since they can easily fit in most purses, but they do make literal pocket-sized ones. There is also the option to voice record, which can be done on your phone with the appropriate apps (and if you don’t mind looking like you’re talking to yourself).

The point is that you can make it happen if you’re prepared. Wait at the dentist taking forever? Lunch meeting canceled last minute? Child wants five more minutes in the restaurant playground? This is all time you can use if you have something to work with.

What do you think, squiders? Things to note about these tips? We’ll have more next week. I may also start up a readalong in the near future, if people have thoughts on standalones vs. series or recommendations on what to read.

Why You Need to Know Your Focus

Let’s face it, Squiders–everyone writes a little differently. What works for one person does not work for another, and how someone sets up their story may be completely different for the next person.

But I do feel like focus is important.

What’s focus? Focus is the point of your story. Which character is most important. What they want. What the end goal is, what commentary you want to include, what makes this story your story.

Without knowing your focus, you run the risk of your story meandering uselessly all over the place, never quite consolidating into anything useful or compelling.

Or you run into massive writer’s block, because you don’t have a clear feeling for the direction things need to go.

I had a friend, recently (::waves::) who wanted plot help because things weren’t going well, but when we sat down and talked about it, it turns out the majority of the problem was that she didn’t know what her focus was. And once we talked about it and she made some decisions, things started working better.

So, do you know what your focus is?

Who’s driving the plot? Who do you want driving the plot? Are they the same person?

How does your story change if you focus on different characters/aspects? Do you like one better?

Have any tips for finding your focus, Squiders? Personal examples? (Both good and bad?)

Mental Breaks and Why They’re Necessary

First of all, I realized yesterday that we should have discussed The House of Many Ways last Thursday, and I apologize for totally spacing it. I blame my deadline, but even so, I should have taken that into account when I made the reading schedule. So! Lesson learned. We’ll discuss the book next Thursday, so everyone who wants to has time to hunt down and read the book now that we all remember what we’re supposed to be doing.

Secondly, after House we’re done with our current readalong. Please feel free to let me know what you’d like to do for future readalongs–science fiction, fantasy, adult, young adult, specific series, etc. Also, let me know if you super hate the readalongs and would prefer to never do them again. Or if you love them. Feedback is lovely, Squiders.

Right, onto real content.

Part of why I didn’t remember til yesterday about our missing readalong is because I am vacation. And not just any vacation, but a lay-on-the-beach, no sightseeing, absolutely no responsibility sort of vacation. Occasionally we have to go into town for food. Also, we all have colds. But, in general, we are not doing much and not accomplishing much and it is glorious.

Especially after coming off of several months of tight deadlines. It feels fantastic.

Here’s the thing. In today’s society, we feel like we always have to be going somewhere and doing something. If we spend a day playing video games or reading a book, many of us feel like we’ve wasted our time, no matter how much enjoyment we got out of the activity at the time. And creative types tend to be worse about this. We feel like we always need to be cranking something out, whether it’s a short story, a sweater, some sketches, etc. It’s part of the reason NaNoWriMo is so successful. We feel like if we’re not constantly creating, and creating a lot, that we’re lacking.

It’s kind of a quantity over quality mentality.

But by giving ourselves a break, we get a number of benefits:

1) We allow our brains a break. Working and working and working and working is tiring, and after a while, it’s easy to start to feel burned out. A little while longer, and it becomes hard to remember why we’re bothering. Sometimes our muses are at their most productive in silence, because they can try different combinations with no expectations and no pressure.

2) It allows a recharge. Especially after you’ve just finished a major project, there’s a feeling of…listlessness. Like you’ve been so focused on something, devoting so much of your energy to it, and when it’s over you feel lost. And it can be really tempting to just jump into something new to try and fill that hole, but everything feels wrong, somehow, and nothing really helps. Taking a mental break allows you to put your old project to rest and clear out your cylinders before starting something new.

3) It helps you better pick out good projects from bad. Sometimes, when you’re so focused on productivity, you seize on a project–any project–just to feel accomplished. Later you wonder why you bothered, or wish you’d spent that energy on something else. If you allow yourself some downtime, you’ll be able to better see what appeals to you and why, so you’re happier when you are working.

Of course, sometimes there’s no time for a break, and sometimes breaks can extend so long that it seems like you’ll never get back to things. But in moderation, there’s nothing quite like a little mental free time.

How do you feel about breaks, Squiders? Taken one recently? Have any tips or, alternately, things to avoid?

As for me, I shall be on the beach, reading the random 60s gothic novel I found, and not worrying about anything.

Working Past the Beginning

So I’m finally getting to work on my chainsaw edit, but, like all my stories, I started in the wrong place and have to write a new beginning. (I know, I know, I’m so backwards. Most people start too early, I always start too late. Go figure.)

I was really excited about getting to work, so I sat down, got out my new outline, started to type, and…was unimpressed.

Beginnings suck. For some reason, they always feel bad. Either they don’t work the way you plan, or you feel like you’re writing crap, or, especially in a first draft, your characters just aren’t jelling.

And then you get frustrated. And you either give up, or you keep trying to rewrite it until it doesn’t suck, and either way, it is a huge time suck.

Here’s a secret…your beginning doesn’t have to be perfect.

So, how do you get the motivation to move on?

You tell yourself whatever you need to. Tell yourself that you’ll come back to it, that it’ll read better when you’ve got a little distance. Tell yourself that you can have a cookie. Tell yourself that your family will still love you.

Tell yourself that you can come back and fix it after you’ve written the rest of the story and know what the beginning should be.

Me, I’m not worrying too much right now. Yes, this is a second draft and I know what my beginning needs to be, but I’m still keeping my options open. Aside from the straight opening, I also have flashback and in media res openings if the straight one doesn’t work.

Don’t let your beginning get you down. There’s so much story awaiting you, if you let yourself get there.