Posts Tagged ‘writing around life’

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?

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 (Part-time College)

Happy Thursday, squiders! Today we’re going to look at techniques for students attending college part-time.

As a caveat, most students attending part-time are doing so because they have some other responsibility (children, work, aiding aging parents, etc.) so one of the combination sections later on may be more applicable if that’s you. This section assumes college is your main or only responsibility.

If this is you, you might still have trouble finding time to write despite what looks like ample free time. This is due to a strange, but commonly true, factor of human nature.

The less you have to do, the less you get done.

We could argue the psychology of this all day (is it because there’s less pressure to be productive? is it because people with more to do are naturally better at time management?) but we won’t. Odds are you’ve already noticed that this is true. Have you ever found yourself with a free block of time and no plans?

What happens?

Well, a lot of times, nothing. I occasionally find myself with two or three free hours when I could literally do anything I want. I could write! I could go for a walk! I could read outside in the sun! I could conceivably do all three because I have three hours!

But I tend to play video games and eat too many cookies and fail at being productive at all.

There are ways to get around this tendency.

1. Add more structure to your schedule. 

If you find yourself “wasting” large amounts of time where you could conceivably be doing things you want to get done (like writing), it can help to schedule things out. Maybe you go to the gym as soon as you get up, or go for a walk to get your day off to a good start. Maybe you set a timer for 10 am every morning and write for an hour. Maybe every day at 1 pm you spend 15 minutes tidying your house.

By building in some structure, you get rid of that “the day is so full of possibilities I could do literally ANYTHING” thought pattern that may actually be hurting your goals. Also, setting specific times for specific activities can help build a habit that will eventually become second nature.

2. Make a To-Do List (and prioritize it).

It’s surprising how motivating a to-do list can be. The satisfaction of checking something off–especially something that’s needed to be done for a while, or that is more difficult than the stuff that normally gets done–can be excellent. And a list can help you focus your day.

Categorization and prioritization can also be helpful. If you’ve got 12 things on your list, it can look overwhelming, which might be counterproductive. It can help to rank everything by how important it is that it gets done (homework for tonight’s lecture could be number 1 on the list, for example, whereas laundry might be down at number 8 because if it gets pushed til tomorrow it’s not going to be the end of the world). You can also set a goal for the number of things to get done. Depending on your schedule and the things on the list, maybe a goal of 5 things would be good. If more get done, fantastic! But that way you don’t feel disappointed in yourself if the entire list doesn’t get done.

Categorization can also help. This is how I do my to-do lists–I split the list into three categories: work (which includes contract/freelance work, writing projects, things like this blog), house (chores and other maintenance activities, such if I got a contractor coming by to cut down a tree), and other (everything else). I have 2 to 6 activities in each category for the day, hopefully in order of importance. The categorization helps me break down the day so I can see what needs to be done and where.

(You can also prioritize categories; for example, the stuff in the “Other” category might be more important than the “House” category for the particular day.)

3. Look for good times to work.

When you’re scheduling your day, it might be helpful to make sure you’re doing different activities at different times. Some activities feel better in the morning vs. the afternoon, or might not get done if you don’t try to do them at particular times (such as working out–I find the longer the day goes on, the less motivated I am to exercise). There might also be times that naturally lend themselves to certain activities. If you always get coffee between class 1 and class 2, and there’s time, maybe that could be a good time to go some writing. If you walk past the market on the way home from class, maybe that’s a good time to do your shopping. Look at your goals, and see if there’s a logical place for those activities to go.

Anything to add, squiders? Tips for part-time college students that you’ve found helpful?

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 2)

Moving along!

(I finally finally finished my draft, squiders! I’m in the process of sending it out to betas. And then it’s on to something else, which in this case, shall be the return of the space dinosaur book. I’m excited. As well as other ongoing projects, of course.)

A couple more general writing tips today, squiders, and we’ll move into more specific tips next week.

Set realistic goals for yourself.

Be realistic with the amount of time you have. It’s all right to know you’ll probably only have 20 minutes a day or an hour a week to dedicate to writing. What’s not great is knowing you’ve got 20 minutes a day and vowing to write 2000 words in those 20 minutes. Can you write 2000 words in 20 minutes? Maybe. Can you consistently write 2000 words in 20 minutes? Probably not. But you can probably get 500 words. If you get more, great. But setting unrealistic goals can actually hurt you in the long run, because if you’re failing your goals on a regular basis, it can make you feel like a failure, which can make it harder to sit down and start writing in the first place.

Realize writing is more than just writing.

You don’t have to be actively getting words on the page to be writing. It sounds a little crazy, but it’s true. Planning out what you’re going to write or thinking through potential plot issues or ways to add more interest/conflict to a scene are all things that can be helpful when you do finally get to sit down with a notebook or laptop. Turns out that having a plan of action, even if it’s just in your head or for one scene, makes the actual writing go a bit easier. And it gives you something to do when stuck in a long line, or taking a shower, or waiting for a friend.

Set deadlines for yourself.

It can be helpful to set a deadline for yourself to get some aspect of a project done. For some of us, this can be the difference between choosing writing over a marathon of the latest television show. When choosing a deadline, make sure you’re giving yourself a reasonable amount of time to get things done. If you blow through too many deadlines, they lose their effectiveness. And if you’re someone who will just ignore a self-imposed deadline, it can be helpful to tell it to a friend, especially if said friend is the type who will check up on how you’re doing on it.

Eliminate distractions.

Have you ever sat down to do something, looked down at your phone, and suddenly it’s twenty minutes later and you’ve beat five levels of Candy Crush, but progress on what you’re supposed to be doing has stalled out? Some people can sit down, put their mind to a task, and focus effectively. But that’s not everybody. (I tend to focus for a while, say I’ll take a 5 or 10-minute break, and find that break tends to grow.) And while regular breaks can be good–medical science says sitting for too long is bad for you–there are things you can do to make sure they are effectively wrangled, such as setting a timer.

Some common distractions include:

  • The Internet
  • Smartphones
  • Television/movies
  • Other people

Different people are affected differently by various distractions. Some people have to disconnect from the Internet in order to get anything done. There are apps you can install on your phone to help you avoid looking at it (my favorite is called Forest and plants a tree in your virtual forest if you leave it alone for a preset amount of time) and plugins you can install on your web browsers to block the most distracting websites. Pay attention to what’s going on when it’s hard to focus, and, when possible, eliminate those things. Choose to write in the dining room instead of the living room. Choose to turn on music instead of the television.

Any thoughts, squiders? If not, have a lovely weekend and I shall see you on Tuesday. Remember to vote in the Readalong poll!

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.

Writing Around Life Organization

Hello, squiders!

We’re going to start in on the writing around life nonfiction series. This is going to be a bit different from previous nonfiction topics since there’s going to be some overlap between sections. We’re going to organize the subject based on the major life event that’s getting in the way (or some combination of major life events).

Right now this looks like:

  • School
  • Work
  • Kids
  • School/Work
  • School/Kids
  • Work/Kids
  • Kids/School/Work

I am also pondering a General Tips section that can be applied to any of the above, perhaps first, so people can look at the general tips, and then, if they feel like they need something more, go to the appropriate section for additional strategies to use.

(Reminder: If you’d like me to include some other major roadblock, please let me know so I can outline it in!)

As usual, I’ll probably also include a troubleshooting section, and I might also do a section on when it’s okay to let writing fall to the wayside. Not sure whether I’ll blog those or leave them for the book.

(Oh! And I finished the draft of my rewrite! It’s 116K, which sounds massive, but is fairly reasonable for high fantasy. Still got to read through it and hopefully catch crutch words–I’ve already identified “seemed” and “that” as problems–and other issues, but it’s essentially done and I can focus on other things. This week I’m working on two shorts–though the second may end up being a serial–and my monthly serial and I feel so very free.)

Let me know how the organization sounds and if you want/need something else included, and we’ll get into the meat of things next week!

Writing Around Life Introduction

Well, squiders, I think I’ve finally gone mad. Writing around life (work, school, kids, etc.) won the poll, and I was super excited, because I would have sworn that I already wrote, or at least started, this book.

Sworn in a court of law.

However, I can’t find said supposedly written (partially or fully) book anywhere.

I’ve checked my external hard drive of back-ups, which has the contents of at least three different computers on it. I’ve checked the cloud. I’ve even gone through a full year of email, just in case.

It’s vanished into thin air. If it ever existed.

I still feel like it does. I would have sworn that I had started it, run into issues, stopped, and then eventually turned to the idea of blogging the nonfiction books here, where we started with submission and publication.

(The first book in the series, about working on multiple projects at the same time, I wrote completely off the blog and already have had it beta-ed and whatnot.)

I found the outline for the book. All my outlines are numbered, and it’s number 2, so I should have started it after I finished book 1.

I thought I had.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it is undeniably missing. Or that I am crazy and never started it.

There was a laptop in there where the screen shattered, and I don’t know that I ever bothered to back it up (since I tend to double store everything important locally and on the cloud), and I suppose it’s possible that if I hook that laptop up to a monitor, that it might be on there. That seems like a real stretch however. I don’t remember when I was using said laptop, and if it lines up with the time line for when I started the nonfic series.

So, ANYWAY, we will be going over ways to fit writing in around the rest of life, specifically the big things, like work, school (high school and college specifically), and kids. If there is another section you think should be included, please let me know!

I’m still working on the organization of the information (a lot of things are applicable across the board). I’m not sure if it’s better to go through methods to work writing in over all, or focus on a specific area (kids, for example) and just reuse methods through the different sections.

I’m sort of leaning towards the latter, since that way people don’t have to read the whole book if they’re only looking for solutions for one thing. Any thoughts?

We’ve got a review on Tuesday, so we’ll dive into the meat of this subject next Thursday. Let me know your thoughts on organization/other things to include!