- 50 Tension Techniques
- About Kristi Holl
- De-Stressing the Writing Life
- More Writer’s First Aid
- Time Management for Writers book list
- Writing Mysteries for Young People
- I’ve Moved! Come Join Me!
- How to Take Charge of Your Writing Life
- Three Reasons Your Writing Life Isn’t Working–and What To Do
- What’s Hindering You?
- Putting Your Writing First by Using Accountability
- Internet-Based ADD: Do You Have It?
- Habits: Anchors for the Writer’s Life
- What Fear is Holding You Back?
- Advanced Fiction Writing Blog
- Books and Writing
- Chip MacGregor.com
- Christian Writer’s Den
- CRITIQUES by Kristi
- Editorial Anonymous
- Institute of Children’s Literature
- Kristi’s Website
- Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
- Sharing with Writers and Readers
- So You Want to Be Published
- The Working Writer’s Coach
- The Writing Life
- Writing Fiction Right
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- Artist's Way
- book marketing
- book releases
- career planning
- Christian writing
- critique groups
- Editors and Predators
- emotional balance
- figures of speech
- finding time
- finish line
- getting started
- Julia Cameron
- learning disability
- making money
- More Writer's First Aid
- New Year's resolutions
- novel writing
- picture books
- psychology of writing
- rough draft
- social networking
- time management
- toxic behavior
- Walking on Alligators
- word count
- work in progress
- Writer Beware
- writer homes
- Writer Magazine
- Writer's Digest
- Writer's First Aid
- writers block
- writers magazines
- writing advice
- writing anxiety
- writing books
- writing challenges
- writing classes
- writing coach
- writing conferences
- writing contests
- writing course
- writing habits
- writing information
- writing inspiration
- writing life
- writing more
- writing mysteries
- Writing Mysteries for Young People
- writing output
- writing phases
- writing process
- writing schedule
- writing space
January 25, 2012
Do you imagine writing for hours at a sidewalk cafe in Paris? Maybe your ideal is scribbling in a journal beside Walden Pond…
A couple of years ago, when I visited the homes of C. S. Lewis [his writing room is below] and Jane Austen [her writing desk is above], I think I left with a MISperception. Homes turned into museums are clean, uncluttered, and very quiet. People move about slowly, and they almost whisper, as if they’re at a shrine.
I think that I left their homes believing that Lewis and Austen had it easier than we writers have it today. Just think of the interruptions alone that hadn’t been invented! In Oxford (Lewis) and at Chawton (Austen), neither writer had Facebook, the Web, Twitter, YouTube videos, email to answer, or newsletters and spam to wade through.
They also had peace and quiet. Jane Austen was living in a small village, and Lewis’ home was, at the time, situated in the middle of eight acres (which included a pond and woods). Bliss!
And they weren’t hurried in their writing. Neither author typed, but wrote everything by hand. Think of the satisfying scritch-scratch of pen on paper, sitting alone in a quiet office, with no demands on their time at home except to write.
As I mentioned last time, I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children. I was reading a rather apologetic letter he wrote to one girl in late December, 1956.
“…I’ve really been snowed under. All domestic help was away for its holidays. I have a very sick wife to visit daily in hospital. [Joy Lewis had cancer, and he went by train.] At home I had to look after a sick brother, 2 schoolboy stepsons, one dog, one cat, four geese, umpteen hens, two stoves, three pipes in danger of freezing; so I was pretty busy and pretty tired.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had to deal with distractions like daily train rides to the hospital, hens and geese, literally keeping the home fires burning in a house with no central heat, frightened stepchildren… Not exactly the life I had been imagining for C. S. Lewis.
And Jane? She never had a room of her own in which to write. She shared a bedroom, as she had her whole life, with her sister. The frugal manner that she, her sister, and her mother were forced to live meant that servants were at a minimum. The physical tasks of running a home in the early 1800′s was back-breaking labor compared to what we do today to cook, clean, and launder. The Austen ladies also raised much of their own food and kept huge vegetable gardens, a big orchard, and chickens.
Finding time to write was NEVER easy.
Like all writers, past and present, C. S. Lewis and Jane Austen had to find the time to write in the midst of difficult, busy lives. Yes, it was different back then. But it’s never been easy.
“The sober truth is that any of us can find the time to write a book, no matter the schedule of unstoppable events in our life,” says David Whyte, author of The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationships. “The greatest, most prized excuse for a writer is the lament over our lack of time in which to write. It is a false and paper-thin defense against another more difficult, underlying dynamic: the inability to have the will to find the time. It is quite sobering to find with experience that if we write only a hundred words a day–a normal paragraph–we will have a book of ninety thousand words in three years.”
On the busy days when I’m grabbing fleeting moments to write, I need to give up my “it shouldn’t BE this way!” moaning and groaning. We can set boundaries on our time and make schedules–both excellent ideas–but real life happens. And when it does, remember Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis. We’re in good company. Thankfully, they wrote anyway.
January 18, 2012
I want to share a gem I read the other day in this book: C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children. It is reported that C. S. Lewis answered all his mail (stacks of it daily), and he did most of it by hand. Occasionally his brother, Warnie, typed the answers he dictated. (Lewis didn’t type.)
Once Lewis’ Narnia books were published, much of his fan mail was from children. He answered it all, their questions about Narnia and their questions about becoming writers. Some of the letters were collected for this book. I love how he talked to even the younger children rather “man to man.”
Advice for Writers
This piece of advice, given to a young fan, is advice we would all do well to adhere to. Lewis wrote:
“I have one other piece of advice. Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do.
(1) Things we ought to do
(2) Things we’ve got to do
(3) Things we like doing.
I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one’s school work or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. Things one likes doing–but of course I don’t what you like. Perhaps you’ll write and tell me one day.”
What wonderful advice! In every life–including the writing life–there are things one ought to do, things we have to do, and things we like to do. And, as Lewis obviously knew, you won’t have time to do the things you like to do (including writing about the things you want to write about), if you’re being swayed by what others think you should be doing with your time.
What About You? Are You Free?
Most of us have areas where we don’t feel free, where we ”bend” our true selves into a shape that we hope is pleasing to others. It might be in how we dress, or how we talk, which opinions we voice, what topics we write about, what movies we watch, how we decorate our homes–you name it. While I don’t waste time reading books I don’t like (as Lewis advised), I know that my writing time is often eaten up by things that don’t fit Lewis’ 1-2-3 criteria.
If you’re having trouble finding time to write, time to study, and time to read good books–all those necessary “writerly” activities–assess your activities. Hold each one up to the light of Lewis’ recommendations. He fulfilled his true responsibilities to others (#1 and #2), but he also read what he liked and wrote what he liked. (And he did it despite criticism, including having his friend, J. R. R. Tolkein suggest that he give up on those Narnia tales.)
While I don’t expect to write like C. S. Lewis, I do like his rules! If those guidelines were good enough for Lewis, they’re good enough for us!
January 11, 2012
If you want a writing mentor, you need look no further than Cec Murphey’s Unleash the Writer Within. The subtitle calls it ”the essential writers’ companion.”
I would have to agree.
What’s Different About This Book?
It’s honest, it’s transparent, and it comes from the heart. It also made me laugh on more than one occasion because the author had the guts to say some things that need to be said about the writing life, how we market, and so many other topics dear to a writer’s heart.
Before you get stressed out and caught up in all the things “they say” you have to do and be and write about to be successful, I urge you to get a copy of this book. It will help you discover your own personal voice and style so you sound authentic. It will show you how to actually make friends with your inner critic and writer’s block–and eliminate them. And the author deals so honestly with a writer’s fears–and how to use them and learn from them to grow as a writer.
Who Is This Man?
So who is Cecil Murphey? Why should you listen to his advice? Well, he’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who’s written or co-written more than 120 fiction and nonfiction books, including the runaway bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. His books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into more than 40 languages.
- “Too many want-to-be-successful authors get the idea that you must write in a certain way to succeed.”
- “Your most honest writing becomes your best writing.”
- “I don’t advocate rigid self-discipline. I tried that. For years, I held to tight schedules, refused to allow deviations, and castigated myself when I failed. I’ve since learned that true self-discipline flows out of gentleness and self-respect.”
- “How would it affect your writing if you weren’t constantly looking at your faults but focusing on what you can do?”
- “You write best what you know best. The better you know yourself, the higher the quality of your work.”
- What if you follow everyone else’s advice about your writing? “If you heed their words, you may end up trying to be somebody you’re not. To follow that advice not only weakens the power of your words, but the writing doesn’t ring true because it no longer comes from deep within.”
- “If it’s easy or simple to write, it probably isn’t what I’d call poignant or powerful.”
- “You don’t have to be productive every day….for compulsives (like me), it takes a major decision not to be productive and not to feel guilty. I remind myself that the best part of my writing takes place inside my head.”
- “Start within your comfort zone and write from who you are.”
- “I feel afraid when I bare my soul. I run the risk that others will despise me, ridicule me, or ignore me. That’s who I am. That’s all I have to offer.”
When Cec Murphey explained to his agent why he didn’t want to write a book for writers–that he actually dreaded it–this was her response: “Too many writers won’t acknowledge their fear, and when they eventually come to the place where they realize they’re afraid, they freeze. You need to write it for those still behind you on the pathway.” I’m glad he took her advice.
I hope Cec Murphey decides to teach a workshop or lead a writer’s retreat based on his book for writers. I would love to attend! Until then, I’m starting the book over–from the beginning.
January 4, 2012
In addition to the “me, too!” comments, I received quite a bit of email asking both “why?” and “how did you know what to cut?”
Let me take the “why?” question first.
Re-Visioning Your Life
Like many of you, life had been lived in the fast lane for so long that I only dimly remembered any other life. Sometimes there’s no choice, as I well remember: combining working with raising children with running a home with doing volunteer work with being a mom/nana/sister/daughter/friend/mentor/teacher to various people.
I always got a lot of work done–my generation was raised on the Puritan work ethic. But there was no time to do things like walk, have lunch with a friend, or even read a good book, much less go to bed early to get enough rest. And I couldn’t “write in flow”because there simply wasn’t much relaxed writing time.
Also, like many of you, I wondered when the craziness was going to end. I’m afraid I didn’t seriously do anything about it until I hit a few potentially serious health problems. That will get your attention! I thought about it and made plans all year so that when I hit the big 6-0 last month, I would be ready. Quality of life, here I come!
Nuts and Bolts of Cutting Back
Something had to give–that was clear. Several somethings actually. I didn’t need one more time management idea. And we can’t “manage time” really. We can only manage ourselves. When life is this full, the only way to make more time is to cut things out. But what things? And how?
Tough questions, and I’ve been reading books and journaling like mad all year on those topics. I didn’t want to make any knee-jerk decisions based on exhaustion or fear for my health.
For those of you who asked, briefly these are the steps I took–and ones you can certainly take–to reclaim your life and health and (my biggest dream) time to write!
First, I figured out where all my time was going. I was the proverbial hamster on a wheel, but sometimes my “to do” list was longer when I went to bed than when I started work in the morning! But truthfully, I had no idea where many of my hours were going.
I kept track of my hours for about six weeks, writing down not just how I spent my time in general, but specifically. (I used to just mark off “work hours.” This time I printed out time grids broken into half hours around the clock, and marked off everything. I also broke down “work” into things like writing fiction, work-for-hire writing, blogging, social networking, critiquing, studying, answering email, etc.)
It was time-consuming, but those time grids yielded a wealth of information. I could see easily which work segments contributed the most money per hour. I was shocked how much time got wasted on unnecessary email and web surfing, usually when I was tired and didn’t want to start the next project on my list.
I did the same time grid idea for volunteer work, babysitting grandkids, and all the other ways I was spending my time. I knew I wasn’t going to sacrifice weekly time with my grandkids, but frankly, my energy was running out before the week ended.
What Are Your Priorities?
After adding up the hours in various categories (work, sleep, eating, grandkids, healthy activities like walking, etc.), I then listed my activities in order of priority based on the amount of time used per week. It was a shocker. The things I knew in my heart were my priorities were closer to the bottom of my list than the top. I was surprised how little time I spent weekly on the people and work projects that were the loves of my life.
One book I read said that how you spend your time reveals your true priorities, no matter what you claim they are. So I decided to journal the answers to several questions over the course of last summer. Here are some of the questions I prayerfully asked myself:
- Am I living a balanced life?
- What’s missing from my list of activities?
- If I died tomorrow, would I be happy with how I spent my last week on earth? [Not such a far-fetched question as my dad died at 61.]
- Are my priorities what I thought they would be at this time of my life?
- How much of my time is spent doing for others things they could (and should be) doing for themselves?
- Which of my activities bring me joy?
- Am I involved in too many activities? [I tend to join things and run groups, but I forget to drop out of one thing before taking on another. Last summer I still had leadership positions in three volunteer organizations that involved a lot of time.]
I took my time journaling those questions and answers. I was ruthlessly honest since I knew no one but me would see it.
Take Action–Create New Priorities
You’re not cutting anything out yet, but evaluate your time-grid list based on things revealed by your journaling. (I know this looks like a lot of work, but I took most of last year to do it and think about it.) Consciously choose new priorities based on what’s really important and necessary for you.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What’s most important to you at this time in your life?
- Where would you like to spend more of your time?
- Are there areas that need your attention (your health, a relationship, career, finances, kids/grandkids?)
- Is there a secret dream or desire that keeps getting put on the back burner that you’d like to spend time on? What is it?
Give yourself permission to be totally honest about your desires. Most of our lives seem to be run on “shoulds.” Forget about them for the moment and focus on the true desires of your heart. What feels vitally important to your well-being?
Now Comes the Hard Part
While I have gotten better over the years at saying “no” to obvious cases of abuse or unfair business practices or demands, it is still the hardest thing for me to do. But we can’t make time for the things that are truly our priorities (including our own health) if we can’t say “no” to what is dragging us under.
If you’re like most people, you probably find yourself saying yes to things that are not a priority for you. I know I’ve blogged about this topic a lot. We tend to say “yes” too quickly, and then we’re stuck with our commitment.
What stops us from saying “no” or “I want to get out of this party/lunch/volunteer position/etc.”? Many reasons. We’re afraid we’ll disappoint others. We’re afraid we’ll make someone mad, and we don’t want to deal with it. People might not like us. There could be serious consequences (losing a job or relationship). We’re afraid to say “no.”
A Fear Guideline
Here is a terrific question you can use to help you determine whether fear is stopping you from saying “no” to something in your life. It’s the $64,000 question that finally helped me weed out and/or cut back on some activities and “get a life.” Here’s the question:
If you could say no to someone or something, knowing that there would be absolutely no hard feelings or negative consequences, who or what would you say no to?
Once I was honest with myself, using that question as a guideline, the decisions came quickly. I started taking action, small step at a time, to carve out a writing life that I wanted. Cutting down on blogging time was just one of many decisions I made in the last part of 2011 so that 2012 would reflect my priorities better.
How about you? Do you need to take some time to reflect and make course corrections? I’m behind you all the way!
January 2, 2012
I have been burning the midnight oil for far too many years, and this year I’ve taken steps to cut back and reclaim some quality time. One such change will be with this blog.
Instead of blogging on my M-W-F schedule, I will only be blogging on Wednesdays. I will try to make each blog post really count. I will probably only do a book review or give links to other blog posts once a month.
Achieving Our Writing Dreams Together
I appreciate so much all your comments (here, through my email, and through Facebook accounts). I enjoy that there are so many of us doing this writing thing together…and that I’m not alone with my struggles and continual adjustments and learning.
So…starting this week on January 4, I will blog here once per week. I plan to spend the freed-up time writing!