where the writers are
The Writer's Life (Part 1)

Since we're crashing into a new year, I've decided to make some serious, major changes to my writing life.

I am always looking for better, more efficient ways to work. It stems from both my obsessive-compulsive need to be organized and my overwhelming love of office products. Getting gift cards to supply stores (Staples, The Daily Planner, etc.) run a close second to bookstores gift cards.

I love trying new systems, new notebooks, new anything. I've only been doing this for three years, and I'm still looking for my perfect method, my artistic channel, that glorious thing called "process." The method that in twenty years will be the HOW behind my books.

Right now, I'm finding that the process of finding a process means more than a small tweak to my system. I want real change. I don't know about you, but I have, on occasion, caught myself thinking "Why am I here, instead of in my manuscript?" This goes for everything non-manuscript related - email, blogs, news sites, social networks, to do lists, research. All of the things that seem to eat up time that could otherwise be spent productively, writing.

The problem is all of these things need to happen, to some extent. I can't skip email for three weeks without some feelings of guilt. I won't even begin to pretend that I don't like the occasional breaks to play on Facebook. I love to read the news sites during the day, to check in on my favorite blogs. But I truly believe there's a more productive way to incorporate the fun and the obligatory into my workday.

I've been looking for the best way to do this, and I've found this wonderful system called GTD, brainchild of David Allen. Getting Things Done. (Yes, all you Mac people already know about this. Us PC folks are usually a few steps behind. Quit your snickering.) My God, who wouldn't want to invest in this? I've always called my approach to work AiC - ass in chair, but GTD takes AiC and puts it on steroids.

GTD is going to help me revamp my writing life.

Note I didn't use the words "writing routine." I've always thought of what I do as a routine, a series of goals that I've set for myself, publicly and privately, that allow me to meet my deadlines with a modicum of hair intact. In the days before major book contracts, the days before deadlines, before Murderati even, I stuck to a pretty steady routine, driven partially from my desire to write and partially from the embarrassment I'd feel if I couldn't bring pages to my writing group twice a month. No pages at group meant I wasn't producing, the biggest sin I as a "writer" could commit.

And it worked, quite well. For a while. Nowadays, when I'm working on three books at once (one being written, one being edited and one being promoted) I find that sometimes, the work that needs to get done is taking a backseat to other priorities. Which is utterly insane, because as writers, our only priority should be to write.

One of my favorite authors, Jeff Abbott, has been writing a series of blogs about productivity. In them he not only gives excellent, sage advice, he's linking to other sites that give excellent, sage advice. My new favorite is 43 Folders. Great advice. Great, practical, knock this crap off and get back to work kind of advice. I love it.

Because somewhere along the way, my laptop, sacred beast that it is, internal automatic wireless being, has become my lifeline "out" of my house. This is a VERY BAD THING.

I ask myself what the problem is. Am I so caught up in the excitement of having a network of friends who GET what I do that I'm shirking my writing time to be with them? Well, maybe a little. There is something quite heady about being online with like-minded individuals. Are they helping my writing? Well, to the extent that I learn something new about the publishing industry weekly, then yes. Otherwise?

I didn't know a soul when I wrote my first book. No one. I was in an utter vacuum. And I was blissfully happy. Working at my own pace on my own story, no distraction, no worries. For several years here at Murderati I've been encouraging new writers to get out of said vacuum and connect. Connect, connect, connect. Network, network, network.

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

Now I understand the emails I was getting before my first book came out. Those encouraging notes that said enjoy this time, because once the book drops it all changes.

I'm rapidly realizing that I long to have the vacuum back. Don't get me wrong, I love you guys. I love my writing friends here in town. I enjoy emails from fans, requests for media interviews. Who wouldn't? I think it's part of the excitement of becoming a debut author. And in the course of only 13 months, I have three books on the shelves. I've written the fourth and started the fifth. Talk about your zero to sixty, do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars. Any normal human being would be having this kind of time management issue, right?

The way I've been managing to get all that work done is writing every day, from 12-4, 1,000 words a day. THAT was my old routine. But it's not working anymore. I'm having days where I look at the clock, it's 3 pm and I haven't opened the manuscript. Or days where I've been so busy handling myriad other chores - also known as life - that I haven't written a word of fiction. But I've gotten my blog done and I've cleared out my email and chatted with my parents and touched base with a friend or two, and probably knocked out a load of laundry or made a run to the grocery.

And those are good things, because they have to be done too. Writers can't live by manuscript alone, unfortunately, and I've always been adamant that I want to have a full, rich life, one that includes being a writer, not resting solely on that identity for survival. I want to have a life outside of my books - if I don't, my writing WILL suffer.

I've realized I'm not the only writer who has these issues, and that in and of itself is heartening. I've been feeling a bit like an outcast, looking at some of my literary heroes who don't have a blog to weekly caress their inner woes and the magnificent work product they are responsible for. It's humbling, and inspiring, and I WANT IT.

If anything, this week's journey through the internet searching out better processes proved to me that I am a part of something bigger, a social construct of intellectualism, entertainment and ultimately, creation. That what I'm doing, writing these books, matters, even if that's only to me. That as much as I want to think that writing is just a facet of who I am, I'm realizing that I must simply surrender to the reality that I am a writer, that writing is my life, and as such, I need to have a rich and healthy writing life in order to be happy and fulfilled.

Next week, I'll tell you how I plan to do this.

So, share. What's your process? And do you have any devilishly good sites on productivity and creativity you enjoy reading?

Wine of the Week: Shared over a delicious meal with my secret houseguests - Barossa Valley Estate E Minor Shiraz (Australia)

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Did I Mention To Write Long Hand?

I have found that most how-to-write rules are just ways to shift furniture from place to place.

But, two which work all the time.

1. When in doubt, take it out.

2. Write regularly, at least four or five days every week, preferably at the same time.

If you find that the ways you are writing no longer work, change your ways. 

And, a trick which works 80% of the time. At the end of your writing day don't finish your sentence, paragraph, line, stanza, but know how it is going to end. The next day begin by finishing the previous day's work and you will generally get right back to what you were doing.

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Great Advice

Dale, thanks for the tips. Thankfully, I do write regularly, but I've been writing in the afternoon and doing business in the morning, and I'm going to flipflop my day so I'm writing first.  I've written five books doing 1,000 a day, 12-4, five days a week. Obviously it works, but the business side is becoming more distracting than I'd like. 

I have such a hard time leaving a scene unfinished. It's just the way my mind works, in these computer bit-like packets that give me a whole scene. I can do it, but I always feel a sense of unease if I don't. But if I can't, I make myself a note so I know where I'm going.

Your new piece looks fascinating. I'm Italian, and still have family there, so it will be interesting to read. 

 Be well!

 

 

J.T. Ellison