Ad Astra Day 2: The writing life

Panel: Julie Czerneda; Suzanne Church; Stephanie Bedwell Grimes; Karina Sumner-Smith; Ada Hoffman

JC: We’re starting out with our typical days. For me, that’s get up, exercise, write until breakfast, eat, write until lunch, eat, write until supper, take the evening off, sleep, repeat.

SC: Because of where I am in the publishing process, it’s social media and promotion until after dinner.

SBG: Things change depending on where you are in the process. I used to write in the evening. Now, I write in the mornings.

KSS: I had a day job. Then, we moved into a cottage. Now, I have a lot of time. I can work around other tasks. I’m trying different things to see what works. I write at least one hour per day. I’m a night person, but writing in the mornings works. My internal editor hasn’t woken up yet.

AH: I’m in grad school and I live alone. For 8 hours, I’m at my ‘day job’ and then I go home and write. I’m trying different things, too.

JC: Eventually, we all find that ‘sweet spot.’ I have a friend who is a New York Times Bestselling Author (NYTBSA) who used to have a day job. She didn’t adjuster her schedule when she stopped working, she just filled up the hours of her former day job with writing and burned out. I once wrote for 16 hours straight and I ended up in the hospital. Lesson learned. You have to take care of yourself.

SC: I’m a little obsessive-compulsive (OCD). I need a schedule to start my day. The only exception is Hockey. Everything stops for hockey.

SBG: I had a day job. Actually two at one point. You have to keep the well full.

JC: We renovate.

SC: I make time for cultural stuff. Galleries, theatre.

SBG: I’m guilt-driven.

AH: I like reading books by other authors, listening to music. I find poetry begets poetry.

JC: Even 15 minutes of something else is enough of a break: dishes, plants, whatever.

KSS: I like to put on some loud and stupid song and have a five minute dance break. (Mel’s note: Grey’s Anatomy!)

JC: I have dancing songs built into my play list.

SC: I have several play lists: one for NaNoWriMo, one for editing, one for those ‘dark and stormy’ days.

Q: Several of you are working on multiple projects. How do you stay organized?

AH: I work on one thing at a time. I’ll focus on short stories and novels for a while, and then take a poetry break.

KSS: I’m working on a sequel, so a lot of the world building and character development are done. If I work on a stand-alone, it requires that I keep my current project in my head all the time. It takes me a week to pull myself out of one project and get into another. If I have to work on multiple projects at once, I find setting up separate writing times works.

SBG: I tried working in the mornings on one project and in the evenings on another. Sometimes when I’m working on one book, another sells and I have to stop working on the first to address the editing. I usually stop everything else to work on an emergent issue, like edit notes.

SC: Once again, the OCD rears its head. I use spreadsheets. I have one for chapters, another for characters, a third for settings, and so forth.

KSS: No offence, but you’re crazy.

SC: I have a degree in mathematics. Analysis appeals to me.

JC: For the first ten years, I wrote while I was the editor of a science magazine. Currently, I might have as many as seven novels in various stages at once. An outline is indispensable. Your editor will wait as long as you’re up front with your delays. My first book took 17 years to get from inception to publication. My second took nine months.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

SC: Smart phones. Take a picture, or write a note on the go.

JC: Take a nap.

Q: How do you prioritize your work?

JC: Length. A longer project takes more time and so might have to take priority.

SC: I work by deadline. I write one page every morning. I call it my 100 words.

JC: Neil Gaiman wrote Coraline that way.

Q: How much writing stops when you get a deal? How much time do you have to devote to promotion?

JC: It’s a myth that you have to promote your book, unless you self-publish. The way I look at it, if I don’t write, I don’t eat. I spend one morning on promotion per week.

SC: The first time out, it’s a learning curve. You have to learn what you can do and what you can’t.

KSS: Some people are not suited to promotion. Promotion can take over your life. Do the research. The number one thing is that you have a good book.

JC: Talk to your readers. That’s the most important thing, but it can be consuming. I don’t blog because it takes too much away from my writing.

Q: How do you balance relationships and writing?

JC: Writing isn’t selfish, but it’s hard for others to relate to. Communicate what you’re doing to your partner.

SC: My second spouse relates, but my first didn’t get it. I’d have to leave the house and go to Starbucks to write. My current spouse is very supportive. I travel with him on his commute into the city. While he works, I go to Starbucks to write. On the way home every day, I read to him what I’ve written. When I was working on a horrific SF book, I warned him that it would be dark. After the read, he turned to me and asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

JC: Before I was a professional writer, my writing was secret. My husband found my stories and read them. He bought me a typewriter, then a desk. If I was happy, then he was happy.

KSS: Share the joy. Let them know how a good writing day makes you feel, what the payoff is.

JC: And if they don’t get it, don’t make them feel guilty. They can also feel like you’re putting your writing first. You have to if you’re serious, but a solution could be to put them first. Go on a date, ask about their day, be present. Then, go write.

Q: How do you write when you’re exhausted?

SBG: Just do it. Give yourself permission to suck.

AH: I find writing gives me energy.

KSS: There are two kinds of tired: resistance and true exhaustion. Resistance is what most people call writer’s block. In that case just give yourself space, but stay on task. The words will come. If you’re truly exhausted, the only solution is sleep.

JC: Set up something fun to work on for the next day, a fight scene, or a sex scene. Write hot. Have a good breakfast and get to it.

Q: How do you stay motivated?

SC: Read. Aversion therapy. Set yourself a really nasty task as an alternative.

JC: Then you end up doing everything else.

AH: Treats. I’m not above bribery.

SBG: Will write for cookies.

Work-Life-Creative balance … and resources!

I was inspired to write a little about work-life balance because of something my manager sent out to the team last week.

It was his newsletter from David Irvine, titled Quantity or quality of life, what really matters?

In the article, David recommends the following:

  • Relax, stop entering data in the computer, and take a deep breath;
  • S-l-o-w d-o-w-n long enough to actually look into the eyes of a person you care about and experience the love between you;
  • Smile at a stranger;
  • Stop and let the beauty and magnificence of a plant in your office be a part of your awareness;
  • Offer a word of acknowledgement and encouragement to a colleague;
  • Do something that leaves you nourished: have a hot bath; go for a walk in a part of nature that you enjoy; spend time with a good friend;
  • Let a child make you laugh;
  • Stop and watch the sun go down behind the hill and experience, with awe and gratitude, the beauty and wonder that surrounds you.

Today, Julie Czerneda sent this wonderful video my way:

It got me thinking …

When I lived in Windsor, the starlings that lived in the Ambassador Bridge were, quite frankly, a nuisance.  When I saw how they flew in murmurations though, I was touched and inspired to write a poem about it.

Sometimes all you need is a moment of beauty to give you pause, and help reprioritize your life.

Last week, Phil and I lost our internet service.  No email, blogging, or other social media for an entire week.  My initial reaction was panic, but then I recognized the crisis for the gift it was and took an unplanned, but very welcome SoMe fast.

Years ago, I just worked, and worked part time at that.  I fit my writing in when I could (which wasn’t often, because I wasn’t a writer then, I just thought I was).  Then the day came when I had the epiphany, and I worked the day job, then came home and wrote.  Where did I find the time?  I realized what was important to me and found the time for it.  I reprioritized.

When I became a trainer, not much changed, until another epiphany, this time at work, led me to the world of informal learning and social learning.  It was another kind of reordering in my life.  I found the time at work not only to do my job, but to feed my ravenous appetite for knowledge.  It’s paid great dividends for me: Service Excellence Award and an acting position as a Training Coordinator among other, less formal forms of recognition for my hard work.

Last fall, when I first started blogging and building my platform, then joined Author Salon and started critiquing my butt off, I started to falter.  I was doing too much again.  The three to four hours a night I used to devote purely to my writing was suddenly spent curating content, blogging, critiquing, and doing anything but working on my novel.

In the month of May, I hardly spent any time writing at all.  Broke my heart in all kinds of ways.

Last week, when we lost service, I wrote.  I reconnected with my work in a way that I hadn’t been able to for months.  I realized where my priorities should be.

So now I’m back working seven and a half hour days, building the platform at night, and yes, writing.  It’s not perfect yet.  Two hours of tonight’s allotment has already disappeared, but now I see where the fulcrum is.  Now I can learn how to find my balance again.

All I needed was a good “claque western” as the Northern Ontario French say 🙂

How do you keep your work-life balance?  Do you?  What challenges have you faced and have you found a workaround or kluge?

Now for the resources:

I’m a big fan of Cammy Bean of Kineo too, and gleaned a handful of wonderful resources courtesy of her blog (which I subscribe to):

Until next week, the Learning Mutt is signing off 🙂