Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stay Seated

"Sticking to it" is not one of the easiest tasks for writers. We are definitely a breed of procrastinators, errand-doers and volunteers, aren't we? Anything to avoid sitting down and
writing. Most of the writers I know—even the very successful ones—struggle to allocate writing time. Writers on tour, when not reading at a bookstore, are ensconced in hotel rooms, writing under pressure from publishers (I want their problems).

I did my best writing when I was passionately attached to a project, and when I had scheduled time to work on it. Midnight to 2 or 3 a.m., and no, I'm not kidding. I would prefer to work mornings—undisturbed. Unfortunately, the world does not respect working time for writers and we allow that to happen. So first comes self-respect, in the sense of protecting our writing time from the world's advances. Saying no isn't easy, but it has to become part of our vocabulary. No, I can't babysit. No, I can't stay home all afternoon waiting for the repairman. No, I can't bake for your sale. No, I can't walk your dog three times today. No, his diapers can wait. (Just kidding!) No, just no. Pick your battles—some things are just impossible to turn down (like the diapers)—but do pick them. Some hours have to be your own. Mystery writer Kate Flora started out as a stay-at-home mom, stealing time during their naps. The kids are grown now, but she's still writing.

I'm retired, and frankly, I found more writing time while I was working; I would come home late at night from a copy desk shift and start writing to unwind, while others slept. Before I knew it, it was 3:30 and I was getting tired. Unfortunately, the parade starts early the next day. The house comes alive with telemarketing calls, lawn mowers, barking dogs, renovators, septic tank drillers, screaming kids, new Facebook posts.

Quite often, these are the ways I find to keep at it:

1. Leave the house. Just pack up what you need and head for a coffee house, library nook or a friend's empty house (if offered) to remove yourself from both interruption and temptation. If you have kids, arrange for play dates, sitters, long naps (you can hope, at least), more don't-disturb-mommy time. 

2. Feeling brain dead? Thumb through any of the better books on writing; this often stimulates creative energy and new ideas.Some of my favorites: N.M. Kelby's "The Constant Art of Being a Writer;" Brown & King's "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers;" Noah Lukeman's "The Plot Thickens;" Josip Novakovich, "Writing Fiction Step by Step;" Jeff Gerke's "The First 50 Pages" and "Plot versus Character;" Sara Maitland's "The Writer's Way;" Elizabeth George on "Write Away." There are dozens of wonderful books by writers, books by editors, books to inspire or teach technique. The main value of all these is to stir the creative area of your brain. I find an almost immediate urge to write.

3. Read short stories. Collect a few volumes of short stories—best to look for authors who interest you—and study them. Really study them. Look at their story set-up, character intros and dialogue, resolution. Learn how it's done, then give it a whirl. Yes, you can try this at home. Short recommendation list: Jhumpa Lahiri, George Saunders, Hemingway and Faulkner, Annie Proulx, T.C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Ray Carver, Edwidge Danticat, Flannery O'Connor. There are far too many to do a serious list. Browse the library or bookstore shelves, or use Google to find titles. Find out how "they" do it. I recently advised a writer to copy some paragraphs from a favorite writer. She looked at me as if I'd just advised her to lift her shirt up. Yes, it's OK. Doing this helps instruct the brain in new ways of writing. You're not stealing for publication; you're doing exercises.

4. Take a notebook and go to a quiet, beautiful place. Or a busy street corner. Note down what comes to mind—it doesn't have to be related to what you're working on. The idea here is to boost powers of observation and give birth to ideas. Even venting has its role in quieting a writer's restless mind and returning it to some better place.

5. Take breaks when energy flags. Just don't let them take control. I find that relocating to a different room (if there are not other interruptions around) helps me to engage in what I'm writing about.

I'm in my office now, surrounded by writing books and supplies, photographs and their inherent memories, a fan—which keeps me from fleeing to air-conditioned stores. I have all that I need (including free food in the kitchen), but any number of interruptions is possible: just now, my husband kicked my chair as he passed behind me—to grab the water bottle he forgot when he came in to open the window I hadn't asked to have opened, after he came in to find the checkbook I'd been trying, impossibly, to balance that morning, and after he asked twice for some tidbit of information ... you get it.

Then there's the other stuff on today's list. The gym. Packing for vacation. Gift to buy. They're on your list too. Just try to corral them into an appropriate time, rather than letting them dig into your writing space. It can be done with conscious effort.
Good luck! And stay seated.

Ann Connery Frantz began writing fiction after a career in journalism. She is a cofounder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative, a free-lance writer/editor, and writes about books, authors, book clubs and restaurants for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

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