Tweet chat 12th March 2021 Writing habits

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Participants: Anita Belli, Kathleen Marple Kalb, Gerald Hornsby, Maria Johnson, Sandy Stuckless, Rik Lonsdale, Elizabeth Holland, Jonathan Koven, Beth Hudson, Deborah Klée

Please introduce yourself and start by telling us where you write and any writing rituals.

Rik: I’m Rik, in Dorset and I write in the spare room. I used to write in a cafe once or twice a week, but… Rituals, nah! At home I have the benefit of a sit stand set up, which gives me little excuse for not writing.… a 2min read on my set up

Beth: Hi! I’m Beth Hudson, a fantasy author with three novels and a number of short stories under my belt. I write in my office/library, which is adorned with pictures and knickknacks that spark creativity. Often I will play music because I do everything better to music.

Sandy: I’m Sandy and I can pretty much write anywhere. Don’t really have any rituals, except that I write mostly longhand to start and just the act of opening the notebook/binder puts me in the zone (most of the time)

Mraia: Hi, I’m Maria (pen name), I’m based in NW England. I look to the week ahead and set myself goals for project deadlines, eg proofreading my 3rd historical fiction novel and writing 1st draft of my 4th. I also use the #nanowrimo goal graphs to keep track of my progress. I usually write at my desk, in the spare room I changed into a study/office. Looking forward to restrictions lifting as I also enjoy writing in a coffee shop sometimes for a change of scene

Deborah: That’s very organised. I was impressed by your achievement record at the end of the week.

Kathleen: That’s impressively organized — I’m not good with all of the “infrastructure,” keeping track of things like that!

Maria: I think it’s whatever works for you and your process! I had a real lack of motivation to do writing stuff last summer. I’m far more task oriented than I realised and tracking goals helped me. It might not work for everyone!

Deborah: I set goals for everyday but under estimate how long everything takes – marketing not writing. It’s probably because I am still learning to use different software.

Kathleen: I can relate! My blog posts always take longer than I think by the time I’ve gotten copyright free images and got the formatting how I want it etc

Anita: Hello All! I am Anita. My only writing ritual is that I start as soon as I have had tea in the morning. I sit at my desk with laptop and get on with whatever the day’s schedule is. At the moment I am writing a children’s book as part of a schools’ programme. We are fortunate and share a study / office which is a sole purpose space. But I also like writing at the dining table if I need to spread out.

Elizabeth: Hiya! I’m Elizabeth from England. I usually write at the dining room table (or on the sofa if I’m feeling lazy). When I’m really focused on writing a book then my ritual is to write something every day.

Kathleen: Hi! I’m Kathleen. I’m a weekday mom and weekend radio news anchor…and these days a virtual 5th grade teaching assistant. I write whenever I have a few minutes and a flat surface for the laptop!

There was much lamenting about the loss of coffee shops for writing. Some bought breakfast and then wrote – a croissant coffee and writing! Perfection. Picking the right time was suggested. And whether the noise and bustle helped or hindered.

Sandy: Coffee shops for me are tricky. I do enjoy sitting by the window for the natural light, but I have a hard time shutting out the noise so I usually have headphones in with music playing low. Helps me focus.

How do you make time to write? What are the challenges you experience in managing your time?

Kathleen: (Sheepish chuckle) I used to have five hours a day to write. Then came lockdown and virtual school. These days it’s jump in and write when I can. I suspect that’s why short stories have become my thing this year!

Rik: The mortgage is paid, so…

Sandy: I usually write in the ‘in between’. In between day job tasks, my lunch break, while dinner is cooking, between household chores, etc. I only get 10-15 min at a time, but it adds up. Saturday mornings before the rest of the house wakes up is my favorite time though.

Anita: This is a lot harder to do if you are juggling work and family commitments with writing. We are lucky in that we have done that and now, especially during lockdown, have all day every day to write and run a writing related business. It is now our full-time job!

Deborah: I have so much respect and admiration for writers who work full-time and manage to write.

Elizabeth: I try to do my freelance work in the morning and then focus on writing. My biggest challenge in managing my time is trying to balance it with working on my mental health. It’s all too easy to sit and write all day instead of going out.

Gerald: Writing (and writing-related endeavours) is my full-time job. It’s not the idyll some might think, since there needs to be an element of income-earning from it, which tends to drive the writing. Writing tends to occur in 20-minute Pomodoro sprints. I tend to be more creative in the mornings, so that’s when I make new stories. Afternoons tend to be business-related, or mindlessly scrolling through Twitter. I sometimes have trouble ‘getting into’ a body of work, so encouraging myself to only do 20 minutes starts me off. Sometimes, I’ll ignore the timer end, and carry on for 40-50 minutes.

Maria: I’m very thankful to be able to write during the day. I tend to have 2 blocks during the day 10am- lunch (usually 12:30 or 1pm) then another slot 2- whenever I finish, usually 4:30-5pm sometimes longer. I split it up with different projects eg writing and proofreading.

Rik: I tend to write… slowly. And edit even slower. We do not have TV so I often carry on in the evenings.

Jonathan: I guess I just make time to write. I feel like, if you love it, if it’s important to you, then you’ll make time—no matter how busy you are. If I REALLY don’t have time during the day, I’ll write after midnight.

Beth: I work part time, which does cut into my writing time, but I’d have enough if I hadn’t started an editing gig on Fiverr last year when I was furloughed. I’m in the process of trying to shut it down, because it’s eating all my time and energy.

Has there ever been a period when you felt unable to write? How did you cope with this and return to writing?

Gerald: Sometimes, particular pieces of writing are difficult – or were, before I began planning more thoroughly. I would switch to a different novel, or a short story, or a piece of flash fiction. Sometimes, the longer work needs time to ‘settle’.

Elizabeth: Thankfully, I’ve never felt like this. For me, writing is not just my books but also my blog. If I’m feeling a bit meh and don’t want to write fiction then I’ll focus on my blog and pour my heart out on there. It’s incredibly therapeutic!

Maria: I really struggled with a motivation to write around May and June last year, probably lockdown related. I also had editor’s block which didn’t help. Ended up having a break from it and then started setting myself lots of mini goals and tracking progress which worked.

Sandy: Pretty much all of last year, which I think is true for a lot of people. So far this year, I had a good surge in Jan and Feb, but it’s slowed a bit in Mar. More editing and brainstorming happening ATM.

Deborah: You are right Sandy. The first lockdown stifled lots of people’s creativity.

Maria: I really struggled with a motivation to write around May and June last year, probably lockdown related. I also had editor’s block which didn’t help. Ended up having a break from it and then started setting myself lots of mini goals and tracking progress which worked

Elizabeth: sometimes the best thing you can do is have a break!

Rik: I have a daily walk. I Think you are absolutely right. Breaks are a must.

Deborah: When my mum died 8 years ago, I couldn’t write for several months. Then Morning pages got me back into it.

Rik: No. Only times when I’ve felt I could only write rubbish.

Deborah: And it probably wasn’t rubbish.

Kathleen: I’ve been lucky enough not to have that problem. I write — or do something writing-related — every day, like it or not. If I’m too tired (on weekends I work early mornings and barely sleep), I’ll check pages. Sometimes I quit early, but I always work.

Jonathan: When I can’t write fiction, I work on poetry. When that’s not working, I edit. When neither editing or writing, I read! Currently, Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel. A great lil novella! I always feel refreshed and ready to get creative after a good book.

Deborah: Reading is as important as writing to hone our craft.

Beth: Post-college, for about a decade, I had a horrible time writing. I got very little done at that point. I finally decided I didn’t want to be a writer who doesn’t write, so I started forcing myself to set down at least 500 words daily

How do you celebrate your successes, reward yourself and motivate?

Rik: Highland Park, Laphroaig, Jura, take your pick. Whisky from the Islands.

Maria: For me I really like seeing the progress I’ve made eg with the graphs on the #nanowrimo site is really motivating to keep on going. I often celebrate with a nice drink and a takeaway and a couple of days off to have a break.

Deborah: I would love to have a day off but can’t manage it. Must be doing something wrong

Maria: Fridays are usually my day off when I don’t do any writing/work. Funny that my hubs has taken this week off but I haven’t because I wanted to stay on top of my goals lol

Sandy: I’m not one for days off either, unless I can really start to feel the burnout (and it has happened). When that hits, I’ll take a couple days to catch up on reading, maybe do some work in the yard, go for a nice drive with my Lovely

Maria: To be fair by ‘not working’ I mainly mean not writing, editing etc. I see it as a day when I can just chill with writer people on social media without feeling guilty lol. Esp when something like #FriSalon is happening!

Deborah: It sounds like none of us really take any time off from the world of writing. Just find the things that we enjoy when we need a break.

Maria: It’s also been quite tricky having time off during lockdown, when you’re not writing but there’s not much else to do instead other than walking the dog 

Elizabeth: Food and coffee It’s usually a ‘write 100 more words then you can have a coffee and a snack’ situation! I don’t really celebrate as such because the success is it’s own celebration (that makes sense in my head.

Maria: Yeah absolutely! Success is it’s own reward, esp when I have a graph showing me how I got there lol. I may partake in something alcoholic to celebrate – but not gin lol. Wine or prosecco for me! Or excellent whiskey as @LonsdaleRik so wisely suggested.

Sandy: The first couple short stories I published, my wife and I went out for a nice dinner. Now, I just look at my project matrix and pick the next thing. I have a long list so it’s easy to find something to work on. 

Deborah: I think it’s important to keep that habit of celebrating those achievements. Even finishing a story.

Gerald: We have a bottle of bubbles when either of us publishes a book. But I’m not big on celebrating. There’s always another hill to climb!

Anita: For my first novel, I had an actual, physical book launch which I really enjoyed! Now I take a weekend off, crack open the Prosecco and start the next one!

Kathleen: Usually with pizza from our local! That way husband and son get to share in the joy. I do wear a silver ID bracelet with the title of my debut, but I probably won’t do that again. Probably…

Elizabeth: Oh you should definitely do the bracelet again! What a lovely momento.

What gets in the way of achieving your writing goals – short and long term? What are your strategies for dealing with these obstacles?

Elizabeth: Probably myself and my confidence (or lack of). When I feel a bit unsure of myself, or my writing, I remind myself how varied everyone’s tastes are and someone out there will enjoy my writing.

Deborah: I cut and paste all the lovely comments from reviewers and book bloggers on a page that I can read when I need a confidence boost.

Kathleen: So do I — it’s a wonderful idea for encouragement!

Rik: I can only blame myself if I don’t achieve what I set out to. It’s easy for me to try and blame circumstance, but inside I know it’s just me and application deficiency.

Deborah: We are all incredibly hard on ourselves and driven! Deborah: I set myself up to achieve too much and so when my energy levels are low, I beat myself up for not getting everything done.

Gerald: In a way, nothing. I have very clear goals, and a very clear route to achieving them. Imposter syndrome is an issue, and energy. But I’ve never been a quitter, and if the road is rocky, I put my boots on and keep climbing!

Beth: Lack of energy, too much to do (this editing gig is exhausting), too many good books to read (and that’s tough, because I can count it as research). Also, intimidation when I try doing something I haven’t done before, which I constantly do anyway.

Rik: And we must, mustn’t we, do things we haven’t done before? It’s the nature of creative endeavour and always has an element of risk about it.

Deborah: I have had to learn so many new skills this past year. I enjoy learning but it is exhausting and everything takes so long – and that is when you don’t get tech problems!

Maria: Totally agree Deborah! Last year I set up a new website from scratch and started a newsletter, without any kind of background in web design or marketing. Such a learning curve! All these things I didn’t realise I’d be doing as a writer lol 

Sandy: Pefectionism, professional jealousy, lack of self-confidence, a brain that wants to go seven different directions at once. I just put my head down and focus on what’s right in front of me and what I can control.

Kathleen: Time is always an issue, especially now with Virtual School. But I try to just focus and keep going — and cherish encouragement when I get it!

How do you cope with rejection as a writer and what advice would you give other writers feeling the pain of rejection?

Elizabeth: I’m learning to embrace it. I remember when I queried my first book and I got upset when I only received rejections. However, now I look at it as it makes me a writer. Unfortunately, we’re all going to experience rejection because everyone’s taste is different.

Kathleen: A rejection means “No, today” on one piece of work. That is all. It is not a judgment on your writing career and certainly not on YOU. (And I’ve got 200+ of them before my trad pub debut, so I know a little about this.)

Deborah: I always say it takes 200 rejections so with each one tick it off as a step closer.

Beth: I cope with rejection by sending out more stories if I am looking at traditional publishing, and by pushing myself into more writing for either traditional or self-published works. I only scan rejections, because I find the comments don’t help me personally.

Rik: Is it as bad as being rejected by your first teenage crush? It can’t ever compete, surely. So a little perspective does for me.

Gerald: When I started writing ‘properly’ (2003) I began by trying to write short literary fiction. The group I was with were very forthright in their opinions, but always said “critique the writing, don’t criticise the writer”.

I don’t care if people don’t like my writing. The first time someone said “I like your writing” was a watershed for me. Even if people give me bad reviews, I shrug it off. I’ve done my best, I’ll keep working at it, and someone (somewhere!) likes my writing!

Beth: Yes! Critiquing the writer is, unfortunately, something that bad writing groups sometimes do, which definitely saps motivation. But being firm with the writing critique makes one a better writer.

Gerald: Definitely! This was what I forgot to say (to link my two Tweets) – learning that their critique of the words isn’t a criticism of the writer means that you can disassociate yourself from criticism. Words are just words, and some of them are good and some aren’t.

Rik: And this is why peer group feedback is so useful. I get as much out of feedback I provide to others as I do from them. Learning from other peoples’ mistakes (not the right word).

Beth: I’ve learned so much from critiquing the works of others. I got my first experience of workshopping at 14, and I’ve been a big fan of it ever since. The group I’m in right now is small but mighty.

Rik: Four or five seems a good number to me. Six is doable, but beyond that there’s too much to take in to give meaningful feedback, and not enough time. Personal view only, of course.

Sandy: Very simply. You can let it define you or motivate you. I choose the latter. Rejection is just a part of the ballgame we all have to play. I look it not as a reflection on me, but the taste of the person rejecting. Then, I put my ass in gear and get back to work. Another way I like to put it. ‘Sure, they can say no if you submit, but they can’t say yes if you don’t’. Try to rise about your fear and take a chance. You’ll be surprised by the results.

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