Tag Archives: writing

When Do You Write?

Waiting... Thinking.... Am I inspired yet? Photo credit: Pixabay PPPSDavid

Waiting… Thinking…. Am I inspired yet? Photo credit: Pixabay PPPSDavid

I work with writers, and I also write creatively myself. So the questions come up frequently:

  • When do you write?
  • What circumstances need to be in place?
  • Do you make yourself write even when you don’t feel like it?
  • How do you set aside time to write?

You know those questions.

Then the other day, one of the writers in my writer group, BACCA, asked us these questions:

  • Do you have a regular writing schedule?
  • A writing ritual or rituals?
  • Conditions that you know help or hinder your writing?

On that very day, I had blown off a writing deadline of my own. The day before, I discovered that an author client had made an unannounced change in plan, leaving the entire book production team delayed by a week or more. So perhaps the pump was already primed. Anyway, at that moment, I realized what I wanted to write about for my blog. I’ll speak for myself, not my clients, friends, colleagues, or famous writers in history.

Iter-iter-iter-ations

I believe that I can write something more or less okay, most of the time. Even when the stars aren’t aligned, I can probably crank out some sentences. I also believe that, for those sentences to have a chance at singing — and I love sentences that sing — they’ll need more love, later. For me, writing is an iterative process. So is editing. People who can slam out an adroitly worded, deftly built essay in one burst — well, I don’t know anyone who can, so maybe I needn’t complete that thought. Students of literary history can share stories about the derring-do of famous writers in years past who knocked out perfect work with one quill pen tied behind their back.

Motivation is for amateurs.

–Chuck Close, quoted in Seth Godin’s What to Do When It’s Your Turn (2015).

Like the painter Chuck Close, quoted above, I don’t wait for inspiration. That’s a passive stance that doesn’t serve me. Inspiration is wonderful, of course. I take advantage of it at every opportunity. That’s why we have things like notebooks, Evernote, and smartphones that record our voices. Dropping off to sleep recently, I received some amazing lines, and ideas, for my writing. Half-awake, I knew enough to scrawl them onto the paper I keep at the bedside, for later transcription. Those notes informed my latest draft of a fiction piece I’m nursing along.

Although I’m not one of the butt-in-chair-at-five-in-the-morning types, I believe in writing something, anything, in order to have a draft. The draft is my friend. Once I have a draft, I have possibilities.

Is it better yet? Can I hear it sing? Photo credit: StockSnap

I can mark it up, massage it, stare at it, laugh ruefully at it, stomp away from it, reconsider it, ridicule it, sigh at it, cross it out, write in “stet” next to the cross-out, walk away and prepare a beverage / snack / meal / dessert, return and reconsider it (again), remember an important errand that must be run at once, and eventually, I can make it better. It may take a few more iterations, some more streamlined than that last one, and I’ll probably wind up with a piece of work that’s at least presentable.

I exaggerate for effect. Mostly.

Important, not Urgent

For me the biggest hurdle to clear involves setting aside time for writing, when other demands on my time feel compelling. Years ago, a friend told me he was striving to honor those to-do items that were important, not urgent. Ever since, that has been a goal of mine as well. I have yet to meet it on a regular basis. It’s too easy to respond to the urgencies of everyday work and life. Someone needs attention, a project has a deadline, a team effort may not happen if you don’t step up, the phone keeps ringing…. I imagine being sufficiently evolved as a creative, centered person to honor, without a struggle, the important and not urgent items.

Until that time, I’ll muddle through. I’ll rely on drafts, and the bits of time I carve out for the iterative process.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA Literary. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and manuscript development services to authors. Anne’s nonfiction book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. Her new companion publication, FLOAT Cards for Writers, launches on Saturday, 18 November at the Charlottesville Book Fair in downtown Charlottesville. #becomingunstuck 

 

Becoming Unstuck and Writing about Becoming Unstuck

Here’s my recent post from BACCALiterary – the website of my writer group.

It’s a mixture of a little writing, a little publishing, a little politics. Stir and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

OK maybe not that last part.

Enjoy!

I recently published my first book. Well, the first book that I actually wrote. For work, I help authors get their books published on the regular. This was my own book though, which made the experience slightly different. Noting the differences between my experience of other people’s books and my own was meta enough, thank you, and yet there was a further complication.

The book I wrote is called FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers. Which presumes that I know a few things on the topic. That’s true. I’m glad to report that I still feel competent to have written it. The difficulties came when the process of launching this book encountered, well, stuckness. You know, the stuff I’m supposed to know about extricating from.

Things Happen

I want to paint an accurate picture. And to be sure, wonderful things happened. Some great opportunities arose, surprising me with bounties of time (a client needed to postpone our work, due to a personal emergency) and space (a last-minute chance to hide out at a writer’s retreat one long weekend enabled me to put the finishing touches on the manuscript before sending it to the copyeditor). Beta readers were generous and attentive and incredibly helpful. I rejoiced. This was going to work out fine! Even with a full-time job, I was going to be able to stick to my production schedule and get this puppy out in October, as planned.

Then the copyeditor also had an emergency. It was a critically serious one, and needed to be honored. As long as it took for things to get back on an even keel, that’s how long the delay would be.

Politics

Then the US political environment took an unexpected turn and I found myself grappling with past trauma I had not expected to need to look at any more in this lifetime. Time, effort, and therapy were required to deal with the reawakened monsters in the shadows. As long as it was going to take, I realized, that’s how long the delay would be. No negotiation was possible with myself on this stuff. I needed to feel safe walking down the street again before becoming capable of glad-handing strangers about the merits of my new book.

Releasing the book in October simply wasn’t going to happen. OK. I readjusted my sights, and planned for early- to mid-November.

More Politics

Speaking of the US political scene, during that timeframe, the news reported that a candidate had won the national election. Suddenly, releasing a book about becoming unstuck felt ridiculously insufficient. And besides, who was going to want to buy such a thing? As if a craft book for writers was going to make a difference to anyone. More reflection, more therapy, more conversations with trusted friends. A growing sense emerged that we each need to focus on doing what we do well, as the best form of resistance, to become forces for positive change. I wrapped my brain around that notion and decided to publish as soon as possible.

Indie Publication and Amazon

Independent publishers like my company often rely on the combined forces of CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing – both parts of the Amazon empire – to take the completed book files and turn them into paperbacks (CreateSpace) and Kindle-compatible ebooks (KDP). So when CreateSpace delayed my publication date, and KDP refused to accept my formatted ebook file, a great welling of frustration, a sense of stuckness, you might call it, once again invaded my happy plans for book launch. In neither case was it a serious problem. Eventually, the paperback did become available (there had been a backlog of orders at CreateSpace), and the ebook file was accepted (KDP had changed its web form, so I needed to re-start the ebook setup process).

Launch!

signing-at-wh-161204-p1040023

Four local authors: A M Carley (left) signs her book for Zack Bonnie (right) while Mary Buford Hitz and Bethany Carlson talk about publishing.

The book was available from Amazon by the last day of November, and I had plenty of copies on hand in time for my first book event, a soft-launch celebration as part of the twelve-author local writers holiday reception and signing at WriterHouse in Charlottesville, VA. And people bought copies of my book!

Instead of being bummed out that I missed my October launch date, I decided to focus on the New Year, and appeal to writers who need a boost so they start off January with energy and focus. I’m offering a free course for writers who buy the book. That way, they can create their own accomplishments and a-ha moments during the first month of 2017.

Lessons Learned

What have I learned from these periods of stuckness?

  • Stuckness happens.
  • “Circumstances beyond our control” can be affected by our behavior and attitude, anyway.
  • Sometimes the schedule must change. Accepting that reality can create new opportunities.
  • Putting one foot in front of the other, being doggedly purposeful, will often see you through to completion of the next step.
  • There’s always a next step.

#becomingunstuck

This post is reproduced from BACCALiterary.com where it originally appeared.

 

Jane Austen’s Desk

This is Jane Austen’s desk

small wooden octagonal desk and caned-seat chair by window

Jane Austen’s Desk

From 1809 to 1817, while working here, Jane Austen revised her first three novels — Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) — and wrote three more — Emma (1815),  Northanger Abbey (1818), and Persuasion (1818). A seventh, Sanditon, was unfinished at her death in 1817. She was 41. Her mother and sister stayed in the house until Cassandra’s death in 1845.

Jane Austen’s Desk Haunts Me

Let me count the ways:

  • It’s tiny.
  • It’s shiny.
  • It has twelve sides.
  • A quill pen is involved.
  • As if a quill pen isn’t enough to trip you up, in those days you probably weren’t even allowed to write with your left hand. With that quill pen.
  • There’s no drawer. And yet, paradoxically, the area is tidy.
  • I’d last ten minutes – fifteen max – in that chair.

Ideal Writing Conditions

When I advise my book-coaching clients how to approach their writing tasks with more ease and comfort, I have never once suggested they write at a tiny, shiny, twelve-sided desk with a quill pen.

And when I sit down to work on an article or a piece of fiction, I greatly prefer an upholstered seating device. Also, it’s nice to put my feet up and to use my laptop, you know, on my lap. That way, my left hand doesn’t smear the ink all over the page. (And hey, thanks, Fifth-Grade Teacher Who Shall Remain Nameless, for that permanent trauma.)

Actually, it’s the photo of Jane Austen’s desk that haunts me. I’ve never visited the museum in the Hampshire countryside Southwest of London.

Map showing Chawton, England.

Jane Austen’s House is between Southampton and London

Something tells me that if and when I do stop in for a visit (ideally on her birthday, 16 December, when the museum offers free admission, tea, coffee, and mince pies) I’ll want to stand as close to this desk as the plexiglass partition permits, to soak up the vibe. I’ll want to look out that window, imagining what the author saw as she sat there at her tiny, shiny, twelve-sided desk.

Extra: For Young Writers in the UK

By the way, entries for the Jane Austen’s House Museum Young Writers’ Competition are now open. The contest is for young people living in the UK aged 11-17. You can enter short poems or short stories, on the topic “An Interesting Remembrance.” The rules do not specify where you should sit, or what writing implements you must use. Deadline: 31 December 2014.

Naming Your College-Age Characters

I like to keep lists of names handy, for when inspiration takes a holiday and a character needs to be named – NOW. If you are giving your character a name – whether in fiction or creative nonfiction (with appropriate disclosure in the front matter) – here’s a way to look at some choices, especially if your person is in their late teens or early 20s.

Yale Admissions

Photo of historic buildings at Yale

Yale University

Ivy League colossus Yale University admitted students with first names that only overlap somewhat with the most popular ones in the US for the birth year 1994.

An article with Venn diagrams for Yale student admissions compared to most popular names appears at this link.

Yale Says Yes

Girls named Elizabeth, Sarah, and Victoria, and boys named Charles, Peter, and Samuel are hanging out in New Haven, even though their names were not very popular in general US baby-naming circles in 1994.

Popular but Not at Yale

On the other hand, you could be super popular as Alexis, Amber, or Ashley; Brandon, Cody, or Kyle, and still be lining up for Pepe’s Pizza if you happened to be in New Haven.

pizza parlor storefront

Pepe’s Pizza, New Haven, CT