Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14 Answers

Lots of writers have habits and rituals when they're writing. What are some of yours? Some writers get up at the crack of dawn to edit what they wrote the night before? Do you have to have a specific food or beverage near by to get them through a writing brain freeze. Still others write best in a coffee shop or in complete silence. 

This month's question:
What are your writing habits?

Joshua David Bellin: Lots of people use soundtracks to inspire them while they write. Others like to curl up with their pets. Some can even manage six different social media platforms while writing and revising. Me, I require only one thing: AN ABSOLUTELY DISTRACTION-FREE ENVIRONMENT. I'm not kidding; my brain can't be creative when there's the slightest competition for its attention.

The only problem with this is that my "office," such as it is, is also my bedroom--which is just across the hall from my children's rooms, the hall also doubling as my 10-year-old son's indoor mini-basketball court. Plus I've got a very loud and mischievous cat (named, appropriately enough, Loki) and a very busy street just outside the bedroom window. So....

You might wonder how I get any writing done under these circumstances. The answer is simple: I teach at a college, so I have Fridays off, a month-long winter break, and four months over the summer. During those free times, I close the door (thus shutting out Loki the cat), pull the blinds (thus minimizing traffic noise), turn off my computer's volume, close my browser, and get down to business!

Ahhhh.... Peace, quiet, and creativity!

Joy N. Hensley: When I'm writing a first draft, I need music that fits the mood. For RITES OF PASSAGE I listened to lots of Metallica and Rammstein (hope I didn't scare any readers away with that little tidbit!). For my second book, I'm listening to a lot of heavy rap and metal. There's a youtube playlist of MMA entrance songs that really help me get into the mood. When I'm revising, though, I can't have any words at all. Classical, thunderstorm sounds, waves crashing, something like that is definitely what I need to focus on the intricate pieces of the story. For me, revision is where the magic happens. The drafting process is usually done in little bursts of speed, so the music helps me a ton with that.

My biggest crutch, I think, is having word wars with my writing friends. I find if I'm competing against someone else, the story flows much better and I can do a thousand words in thirty minutes. If I'm just writing against myself with no one there to motivate me, it can take me hours to get five hundred words

I usually bribe myself with television shows when I'm close to the end of a draft. Usually, I try to stay away from all television while drafting, though that hasn't worked so well with this book. When I finish a draft, though, I'll give myself a week off of anything writing-related and binge watch television shows. When I finish book two (IF I EVER FINISH) I'll be watching Fringe. I sit it next to my computer to look at as motivation.

My other quirky thing are the collages I like to make that are book related. Right now I have a HUGE collage on my wall of bloody MMA fighters. My boys don't even like coming into my writing room right now (which is a bonus, I think! I don't get disturbed as much) because they don't like to see the "bloody football players" on the wall. I don't know why they think they're football players, but if it keeps them from playing football and keeps them out of my room, I'd say that's a double win! :-)

Kristine Carlson Asselin: I wish I had a regular writing routine--I'm envious of those who do. With a full plate of parenting, "day job", and volunteering for various organizations, I have to write when I find time. I try to plan time -- Tuesday and Thursday nights my spouse is on kid duty -- but I'm not always good about putting aside time dedicated for just writing. I wrote ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT during a month of fast drafting at 5:30 a.m., and that worked really well. I would definitely encourage others who haven't tried that method to give it a shot. Turn off the internal editor and write!!

Kate Boorman: Now that I’m under contract and have deadlines, I’ve been reading about effective creative process quite a bit: what helps your brain prepare for being creative, what kinds of things impede creativity. I also recently heard about a study that showed that making your bed in the morning nets out in a more productive day. The logic is that starting the day with this small accomplishment inspires you to accomplish other things. So, yes, I make my bed in the morning, but I’ve also taken that logic and applied it to my creative process. A ritual I’ve adopted to start my day is a brief writing sprint, before anything else. This means writing, by hand, in my journal—usually a small scene I’m either currently working on in my WIP or know I will need to write eventually. If I open my laptop, I’m too tempted to check email or twitter first. If I start the day with words— even half a page—I’m more likely to feel inspired to continue during my writing window.

Also, for years my “writing space” was my lap. It occurred to me a couple of years ago that an actual space—one that didn’t coexist with the unfolded laundry and primetime TV and sticky finger-smeared walls—might be slightly more conducive to productivity? I recently acquired a writing space OUTSIDE of my home and it is total bliss. No clutter, no other things that need doing— just my writing things, a cozy thinking chair, mint tea and an emergency chocolate stash.

Lisa Maxwell: I don’t know if I have any rituals, exactly, but I’ve discovered that I write better in the morning than in the evening. I hate getting up early, but there’s something about being in the dark, quiet house with just the glow of my computer screen that helps me focus, even when I’m not completely awake. I always make myself a half pot of coffee (half-cat so I can drink more!) and settle in on my office couch (I don’t use a desk) and start. I’m lucky enough to have a Tuesday/Thursday teaching schedule this semester, so Wednesdays and Fridays have been all-day writing days. I don’t stop for anything much until it’s time to pick up my kiddos from school.

In general, I’m not one for noise when I’m writing. My favorite Christmas gift this year was a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones. It makeseverything disappear, which is awesome. Occasionally, my book has a soundtrack. The one I wrote recently had Chris Cornell and Audioslave in the background, because his voice reminded me of how the hero sounded and acted, but often, I just like it quiet. Sometimes I just turn on the headphones and play nothing.

I usually write in long bursts, because it’s hard for me to piece things together or to write if I don’t know where something is going. It’s not unusual for me to put in 3-5k word days—but I mostly write on my days I work from home, so that’s not as much as it might sound.

Kat Ross:I wrote Some Fine Day in dribs and drabs, literally scribbling in a notebook for fifteen minutes while I waited for my kid to come out of math tutoring or on my train commute into the city--any free moment I could find. So about half was written in long-hand and half sitting at my laptop. I still find that the scenes often flow better and faster when I write on paper with a pen, probably because I'm not under pressure to edit or polish as I go so I don't lose my momentum reading and (obsessively) re-reading what I've just written, which is almost impossible for me when I'm typing the words on a screen. This works especially well for action scenes, and it has the added bonus of getting my juices flowing again later when I have to sit down at the computer. I know I don't have to stare at that blank screen (ugh); typing up my notes brings me back into the flow of the story and then I can just pick it up again and keep writing. I still love writing on trains. And I love writing at my local library, surrounded by thousands of wonderful books. But I'm glad I have some variety to the routine, it makes me more versatile and less prone to procrastination because everything isn't just so....

Austin Aslan: No rituals, here. There is certainly no one right way to write a book, and there’s no one way for each of us to write. I have written seven novels, now. I can honestly say that I haven’t written any two of them the same way. I’ve used colored note cards, no cards, written fast, and written slow. I’ve thought ahead, blazed ahead, written endings first, endings last. I’ve slogged forward when I didn’t want to write, and held back when I did want to write. I’ve rewritten in the middle of a draft, I’ve moved forward without ever looking back. I’ve shared first lines (for God’s sake) with anyone who will listen, and withheld entire completed manuscripts from my wife. I’ve outlined, I’ve kept a dream journal, I’ve forced daily quotas, I’ve rewarded myself for meeting milestones, or not. I’ve stuffed books in drawers for months, I’ve glued myself to a chair for weeks. I’ve used paper and pen, typewriters, computers. I’ve drank coffee, tea, beer, wine, whiskey while writing. I’ve written standing up, I’ve written in bed. I’ve killed my babies, I’ve carried golden calves to the hilltops. Passive voice has been used by me.

Once, I even handily used an adverb!

I’ve honestly used every strategy for writing that I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve broken every ‘rule’, and each method was correct at the time.

Kendal Kulper: I am a Spotify junkie. I have to have music on while I work. I’m not sure if it’s the music that’s inspiring to me or if it’s just the Pavlovian response I have to certain songs (“Best git writin’!”), but I always find that I work best with music on in the background.

For SALT & STORM I pretty much lived and breathed music by the Decemberists—they are the closest thing to a musical cousin to the tone and feeling I wanted the book to have—and the band Sea Wolf got me through countless rewrites and edits.

Right now I’m on a rotating playlist of what I like to call “pretty music with a folksy feel and a dark edge,” but I’m always on the lookout for the perfect song that will make me cry on my bedspread, teenager-style, and inspire my next torch-carrying, burning-love YA romance.

Shallee McArthur: I have a funny little obsession with owning jewelry that connects me to whatever story I'm working on at the moment. My husband teases me about it, but I troll Etsy until I find something that reminds me of some symbol, theme, or character in the book. Then I have to wear it every time I write! It doesn't HAVE to be jewelry-- currently I just have a rock (I KNOW, a rock! But it's a special, pretty rock.) on my desk that represents my two viewpoint characters. It's silly, but it gives me something to play with or look at and feel inspired while I write.

Also, I have an R2D2 bucket that is always filled with snacks. Because writing without chocolate is not happening.

Kristen Lippert-Martin: I have no perfect writing environment. No conditions that must be met in order for me to work. *Sigh* I wish! I mean, "ideally" I'd prefer to write in isolated silence, deep below the earth's crust, but with four kids, that's not possible. I've been forced by circumstances to learn to write in nearly any condition, at any time of day, for any length of time. I think I could probably write while hanging upside down if I had to. Fortunately it hasn't come to that yet but I can't rule it out for the future.

Jaye Robin Brown: I'm lucky because I have a designated office for my writer world. My desk is an antique mahogany number that belonged to my grandmother and the room is filled with not only my books but my childhood artifacts, like Breyer horses, the stuffed animals that made it through, an antique Remington typewriter, my grandparents' menorah, and lots of framed childhood photographs.

I write on a Macbook Pro with a stack of index cards and scratch paper handy for jotting notes and plotting plot points. During the school year, I write between 5-6:30 am, pretty much every day. Evenings I'm too tired to do much more than feed horses and cook dinner. On weekends, I write till noon or one if nothing's going on. But holidays, I've discovered I can write all through the day. Summers, I pretty much live and breath my writer office and the barn and back again. I love summers.

As for ritual, no music while I write, unfortunately. And I like a cup of hot beverage nearby, coffee with half-n-half if before noon. Herbal or green tea in the afternoon. No special snacks though I have a wicked sweet tooth!

Sarah J. Schmitt: I absolutely, 100% must have noise when I right. My first choice is a coffeeshop, but in lieu of that, or if I'm just to chicken to head out into the cold (Florida girl living in Indiana, you figure it out), I actually have an app on my phone called Coffitivity. (There's also a website you can use on your computer.) This app actually plays the sounds of a cafe. It totally tricks my brain into thinking that I'm surrounded by tons of people. (The one drawback is you can't make out many words so there's no line "borrowing" to be done. Still, for my wandering mind, it's helps me focus.

Then there's the drink. I must have a "cafe" style beverage at my side in order to complete that coffeeshop feel. I actually have several of the Starbucks syrups and have learned to replicate several of their drinks. (See reference to disdain for cold above.) That's about it. Of course, if I'm in for a marathon writing session, such as #writeclub (can't talk about it, though), then I need a bag of Twizzlers. It's like fuel for the creativity muses!

Amy Finnegan: I love revising while I’m on vacation—looking out over the ocean really relaxes me, and helps me feel like I’m reading a book someone else actually wrote, which I get to tweak to my heart’s content. But when it comes to a first draft of a scene . . . I don’t want a single distraction. I don’t even want a window in the room if I can help it. I need it to be just me and my laptop, and once in a while a little mood music to help me get a particular emotion running through me. But that’s all. And I always say my dialogue out loud, over and over again, to make sure it sounds like a real live person would say it the way I’ve written it. You would think I was a raving lunatic if you happened upon me in writing mode. But, hey, I like my imaginary friends. They do whatever I tell them to!

I wish I did have some habits. That would mean I'm able to find the time to write with some consistency. For the most part, I spend my day busy with the real world, looking for a minute to steal in between other tasks, where I can jot down a few pages. Sometimes, I’ll wake up early – like around 4 AM– and get a nice block of writing in. I can do this for a few weeks before the deficit of sleep kicks my butt. I guess if I have a habit it is that I don’t have a habit at all. Changing up the places and the hours I write makes it feel fresh for me, which helps me maintain the energy to do it, when most days I’d rather have a beer and melt in front of good, mindless soccer game.

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