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February 1, 2013
Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time is short, but it contains solid advice for three of a writer’s biggest problems:
1. following through on our goals
2. organization of our writing space
3. lack of good writing habits
While the e-book is only thirteen pages long, I can guarantee you more success in your writing life if you follow the advice.
Why give away a free e-book now? Because I want to ask you a favor!
The Writer’s First Aid blog has a new home. When you come to visit, you’ll see a familiar face (mine). You’ll find some new pages, plus blog posts from the last two years. [I'm still in the process of moving posts.]
I’ll now be hosting the blog on my own website, so the URL will change. I don’t want to lose any of you in the transition!
After You Download the E-Book…
Here’s the favor. After you download your free e-book, please update the URL (address http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/) in any location you have the current blog address.
- your RSS feed (wherever you read blogs…I read mine through my Gmail Reader)
- your Favorites folder
- your blog (if you have Writer’s First Aid listed in your links)
- any other places you may have linked to my blog
I still plan to post on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Jan Fields will still give you the “What’s New at Kristi’s” in the Institute newsletter.
Getting Your E-Book
When you go to the new blog site, you’ll find the form to get your e-book on the right-hand side. After you sign up, it will send a confirmation email to your Inbox.
After you confirm, you’ll be taken to where you’ll get Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time.
NOTE: I’m not starting a newsletter at this time, nor do I send out sales letters. I won’t abuse your email addresses. Very occasionally, when I post a new report in my Resource area, I will let you know that. And, of course, you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.
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.
November 9, 2011
The writing life is something I discuss often with my good friend, Sherryl Clark, a terrific writer from Australia. We discuss ways that we can give writing a bigger share of our lives and “head space” without short-changing other important areas.
She once heard a horse trainer in an interview talk about racing. He said: “If you treat it as a job, you won’t do very well. If you treat it as your life, you’ve got a good chance of succeeding.” That could easily be applied to writing.
If You’re Writing, What’s the Difference?
According to Sherryl, “As long as something is a job, it conveys a number of things – validation, expectation of (regular) income, that showing up every day is enough, that meeting deadlines and working hard is enough.
But when you make something your life, that means a whole different situation. You put everything on the line. Regular income, security, respect from others (you’re trying to make it as a writer?), probably sleep, sometimes family, self-worth, self-confidence.”
Sherryl’s post poses some very thought-provoking questions as she challenges writers to make writing their life–and she’s very honest about what it entails. I hope you will take time to read this article. I found it inspiring again–and just what the doctor ordered today. I bet you will agree.
October 28, 2011
Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.
“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.
“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.
“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.
“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.
“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.
“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.
October 12, 2011
“Life is difficult,” wrote M. Scott Peck in his famous book The Road Less Traveled. “This … is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it… Once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I’d like to amend Peck’s quote to say that “the writing life is difficult.” And once that truth is accepted, “the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
I imagine we all start out on the writing journey with a fantasy of what the writing life will be like. I know I did thirty years ago–and it’s been a fantasy that I clung to tenaciously for far too many years.
My own fantasy involved uninterrupted hours every day to write (after first journaling and then doing some creative writing exercises to ensure the writing would simply “flow”.) My fantasy included the books selling themselves without my help. I expected to reach a time when I’d never have to write anything without having a (lucrative) contract in hand. I also dreamed of writing by longhand in the fragrant garden of a thatched-roof English cottage. Sad to say, the cottage part was the only thing I recognized as pure fantasy. I figured everything else was just a matter of time.
Fast forward thirty years and forty published books later…
I love my office in Texas, but it’s a far cry from a thatched-roof cottage. And unless you write from Walden’s Pond, I don’t see how anyone manages to have uninterrupted hours every day to write. Juggling my roles as wife, mother, Nana, daughter, sister, friend, writer and ministry leader means fighting for writing time daily. Each role, at one time or another, has meant dealing with loss, conflict, disappointment, and/or illness-big time and energy eaters. And because of the changes within the publishing industry–in large part due to the economy and online social marketing demands–there’s no such thing anymore as an author who doesn’t help market their work.
It No Longer Matters
So where’s the silver lining around this black cloud? Simply this. Clinging to my fantasy life of a writer meant that every time reality intruded, I was disappointed or shocked or disillusioned–and tempted to quit. Lots of angst and wasted energy. As long as I was convinced that the writing life could be simple and require little work, I was irritated with reality. I made silent demands that this imperfect writing life go away!
- Truth #1: The writing life will always be difficult.
- Truth #2: It doesn’t really matter.
- Truth #3: All things worth having (family, good health, writing life) are difficult sometimes.
- Truth #4: We can do difficult things!
Don’t miss the key point of the blog today. This is not a “downer” message. It’s a truth message–which will set you free. For me, it’s like having kids. Raising a family was the most difficult, time-consuming, challenging thing I’ve done in the last thirty-five years. It has also been the most rewarding, most fun, most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. It’s the same with the writing life. It’s been difficult, but I can’t imagine a career more rewarding than this. After many years, it does get easier--but I would never say it’s easy.
It’s okay to give up the fantasy that someday your writing life will be easy and smooth and not require you to grow or struggle anymore. You really don’t need the fantasy to keep you moving forward. “The fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
That being the case, what fantasy about the writing life do you suspect you need to let go of?
July 29, 2011
The last two posts, I talked about overload, how it happened, and the effect on writers’ lives. Although certain Type A personalities seem to thrive on overloaded lives, most writers don’t.
Our best ideas – and energy to write about them – require some peace and quiet, some “down” time. To get that, we must rebuild margin into our lives.
What exactly is margin? According to Richard Swenson M.D. author of Margin, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is something held in reserve for unanticipated situations. It is the space between breathing freely and suffocating. Margin is the opposite of overload.”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
You might wonder at what point you became overloaded. It’s not always easy to see when it happens. We don’t have a shut off valve that clicks like when we put gasoline into our cars. Stop! Overload! Usually we don’t know that we are overextended until we feel the pain and frustration.
We would be smart to only commit 80% of our time and energy. Instead, we underestimate the demands on our life. We make promises and commit way more than 100% of our time and energy. Consequently, we have no margin left.
A Simple Formula
What exactly is margin? The formula for margin is straightforward: power – load = margin.
Your power is made up of things like your energy, your skills, how much time you have, your training, your finances, and social support.
Your load is what you carry and is made up of things like your job, problems you have, your commitments and obligations, expectations of others, expectations of yourself, your debt, your deadlines, and personal conflicts.
If your load is greater than your power, you have overload. This is not healthy, but it is where most people in our country live. If you stay in this overloaded state for a good length of time, you get burnout. (And burned out writers don’t write. I know–I’ve been there.)
So how do we increase margin? You can do it in one of two ways. You can increase your power – or you can decrease your load. If you’re smart, you’ll do both.
Many of us feel nostalgic for the charm of a slower life. Few of us miss things like outhouses or milking cows or having no running water. Usually what we long for is margin. When there was no electricity, people played table games and went to bed early, and few suffered sleep deprivation. Few people used daily planners or had watches with alarms, let alone computers that beeped with e-mail messages and tweets. People had time to read–and to think–and to write. It happened in the margins of their lives.
Progress devoured the margin. We want it back. And I firmly believe that writers must have it back. Next week we will talk about ways to do just that.
PLEASE SHARE: What do you think so far about this week’s discussion of margin and overload? Do you identify? What does that mean to you as a writer?
July 27, 2011
As I mentioned last time in “Overloaded Lives,” writers need margin in their lives in order to write. However, margin has disappeared for many people.
Frazzled mothers, office workers, retired grandparents, and other writers struggle to find both time and energy to write. Make no mistake: it is harder today than at any other time in history. It’s not your imagination.
It’s also not hopeless. It comes down to adding margin back into your lifestyle.
Before we talk about how to do that, let’s talk about how the overload happens and what it looks like.
Tipping the Scale
Overload in any area of your life happens slowly. It is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is having one more expectation of you at work or home, one more change, making one more commitment, making one more purchase that you must pay for, facing one more decision.
You can comfortably handle many details in your life. But when you exceed that level, it’s called overload.
Reaching My Limits
All people have limits, and overloading your system leads to breakdown. Some overloading is easy to spot. A physical limit can easily be recognized. For example, I know I can’t lift my car, so I never try.
Performance limits can be more difficult to recognize. If my will is strong enough, I will try to do things I can’t do for very long. I might try to work 80 hours per week every week or lift my refrigerator. The overload can result in sickness or stress fractures.
Reaching your emotional and mental limits can be the hardest to spot. Each person is unique. My overload might result in symptoms like migraines and ulcers; your overload might result in a heart attack or road rage.
Has overload always been with us? No.
Changes are happening faster and faster, and overload can appear almost overnight. Here are some ways you can become overloaded:
- Activity overload: We are busy people, we try to do three things at one time, and we are booked up in advance.
- Change overload: Change used to be slow, and now it comes at warp speed.
- Choice overload: In 1980 there were 12,000 items in the average supermarket; 10 years ago there were 30,000 items. Now there are many more.
- Commitment overload: We have trouble saying no. We take on too many responsibilities and too many relationships. We hold down too many jobs, volunteer for too many tasks, and serve on too many committees.
- Debt overload: Nearly every sector of society is in debt. Most are weighed down by consumer debt.
- Decision overload: Every year we have more decisions to make and less time to make them. They range from the minor decisions at the grocery store to major decisions about aging parents.
- Expectation overload: We believe that if we can think it, we can have it. We think we should have no boundaries placed on us.
- Fatigue overload: We are tired. Our batteries are drained. Most people are even more tired at the end of their vacation than they were at the beginning.
- Hurry overload: We walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, and feel rushed all the time. Being in a constant hurry is a modern ailment.
- Information overload: We are buried by information on a daily basis-newspapers, magazines, online blogs and articles, TV and Internet news shows, and books.
- Media overload: Almost 100% of the American homes now have television, and shows are on 24/7. Images are flashing at us on screen many hours per day.
- Noise overload: True quiet is extremely rare. Noise pollution is the norm. It interferes with talking, thinking and sleeping.
- People overload: Each of us is exposed to a greater number of people than ever before. We need people, but not the crowding.
- Possession overload: We have more things per person than any other nation in history. Closets are full, storage space is used up, and cars can’t fit into garages anymore.
- Technology overload: It has been estimated that the average person must learn to operate at least 20,000 pieces of equipment.
- Traffic overload: Road rage is one byproduct of clogged roadways. Rush-hour is not a rush nor does it last an hour anymore.
- Work overload: Millions of exhausted workers are worn out by schedules demanding more than they can do without breaking down. The earlier predictions of shorter work weeks, long vacations, and higher incomes have backfired. [From Margin by Richard Swenson, M.D.]
Isn’t reading that list simply exhausting? No wonder we feel overloaded. No wonder we have a difficult time writing!
It’s not your imagination! We Americans are overloaded – but we don’t have to stay that way! [Stay tuned for Friday.]
May 27, 2011
Some terrific reading is waiting for you this weekend! The articles below from around the Web will give you writing and marketing help, help you see through the current publishing confusion, and even show you ways to get your kids to read through the summer.
“Is Publishing Turning into the Wild West?” The publishing world has changed radically in the last couple of years, thanks to those pesky e-books. Do the old rules still apply? Does chaos rule? Or are there ways to survive and thrive in the new environment? [Terrific article here by Randy Ingermanson, plus interesting comments.]
“A Dozen Ways to Get Your Child to Read Over the Summer and Have Fun Doing It!” Every year student assessments show that when kids take a break from school over the summer and they don’t read or have any reading instruction during that time, their reading skills are adversely affected. But this doesn’t HAVE to happen. Encouraging children to read during the summer will not only sustain their current reading achievement, it will also contribute to their success in reading proficiency. [Here you'll find suggestions for early primary grades, middle grades, and teens.]
“6 Query Tips from a Publishing Insider” To help you write a query letter (or submission letter) so that an agent will give your manuscript the time of day here are the top 3 Do’s and Don’ts from our head Acquisitions Editor. [The first tip was even a surprise to me, although just last week I sent a proposal to a publisher and got an email suggesting that I add more marketing stuff-even though this publisher has published nine of my previous books! She said there was also talk of adding a marketing clause in new author contracts.]
“Twitter-patted” Twittering gave the world a fast way to communicate and also a new tool for marketing. Marketing with only a few words takes planning and focus. [Read this article for a brilliant way to plan and write your Tweets while you are working on your book/story/article/ebook to be released later.]
“Ways to Improve Your Writing Style” Newer authors struggle with writing technique, and long time writers still find elements in writing that are their nemesis. Being aware of problem areas in your writing can help you move ahead as a writer when you focus on them and find ways to improve those techniques. Here are a few tips on become a better writer. [Gail Gaymer Martin's blog posts are meaty and almost a mini-workshop. Don't stop with this post, but go through her whole Writing Fiction Right blog site.]
“Tidbits” from Writer Beware! This article is FULL of information and links to longer articles, discussing topics like the new trend of agents-turned-publishers and how to interpret the numbers when you read that print-on-demand epublishing is out-stripping sales of paper books.
April 25, 2011
After returning from a writers’ conference a couple years ago, I had so many notes and hand-outs and worksheets dealing with marketing that I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start. My brain froze.
Oh no! Marketing block!
Too Much of a Good Thing
Has this ever happened to you? I had collected terrific ideas on branding, making book trailers, blogging, writing a newsletter, collecting addresses, multiple ways to reach your publisher’s sales force with material that would actually help them sell your books, tips on upping sales on Amazon.com, making e-books, and much more.
As I sorted through the material when I got home, I could feel my blood pressure rising. Where to begin? How to prioritize? How to do it all on a shoestring budget (and a short shoestring at that)? And where would I find the time?
I developed marketing ADHD. When I was setting up my second website for an upcoming series, I remembered that I needed to register another domain name, so I did that. I decided then to submit an article to a writer’s website, which reminded me to convert a manuscript into an e-book to sell.
Flipping through notebooks and scribbled pages for the information, I wanted to burn it all instead. I didn’t sign up for this! All I ever wanted to do was sit in a quiet room and make up stories and write them down. That’s all.
Instead, to add to writer’s block, I had marketing block.
I think I found an answer. It’s a two-pronged approach using scheduling and organization.
I bought a three-ring binder and dividers with eight colored tabs, and labeled the tabs according to the types of marketing I needed to do. I have tabs for “website work” and “blog work” and “Amazon.com” and “sales and marketing” and “social networking” and “selling online.” In the front of each section is a “to do” list for that topic, followed by the “how-to” information I need to do it.
The other prong–scheduling–comes into play on my daily/weekly calendar. I have a couple hours at the end of the day when my brain is tired. I blocked off that time for marketing. At the beginning of the week, I read each “to do” list in the marketing binder and decide what is most pressing, then prioritize it and write it on my daily calendar.
As I organized and scheduled various short tasks, I could feel the marketing block melting away. I would work on each project a bit at a time, in a regular manner.
To be honest, I’d rather not have to market. I’d rather be writing all day long. But expectations of authors have changed, and in the end, it may be a good change. Writers have griped for decades about having no control over how much time and energy is being spent marketing their books. Through personal marketing in a variety of venues, we can now make a difference.
And–using my “inch-by-inch-it’s-a-cinch” method–we can do it without driving ourselves nuts.
March 25, 2011
“Just as you carve out time in your day for writing, you need to carve out space in your environment to nurture that writing,” says Kelly Stone in Thinking Write.
Why It’s Important
If you have a special place to write–a place where all you DO is write–it will go a long way to helping you establish the writing habit. You will automatically get into “writing mode” when you enter your special space.
Your special writing space can be anything you want it to be. Some writers write in spare rooms or attic rooms. Some writers put plywood across a clawfoot tub and write on their “instant desk.” [Guess what they use for a chair! I'm not kidding either.]
Other writers use closets. The photo above is me thirty years ago, still an ICL student, in my first “office.” It was a tiny walk-in closet I painted orange. No window, and definitely no air conditioning. But I have to admit, over all the years of different offices, that was my favorite. It was special. It was mine. And all I did in that “office” was write.
Famous Writers’ Sacred Spaces
Whenever I read about famous writers or if I’m lucky enough to tour their homes, I always want to see where they wrote their books. A couple of years ago I was able to see the tiny table where Jane Austen wrote her timeless classics. (It was just a corner of the dining room by a window overlooking the lane in front of the house.)
C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, had an office with book shelves and a fireplace–not surprising for an Oxford scholar and professor. But something fancy isn’t at all necessary. With some creativity and innovation, any space at all can be converted into a writing space all your own.
When you have a writing space of your own, no matter how small or cramped, you will automatically jump-start your creative juices just by entering! You won’t have to move the kids’ homework or your husband’s snacks or the dog’s chew toys. You can simply sit down and get to work.
Do you have a writing space? Take a minute and tell us about your current or favorite writing space.Newer Posts »