This is how I get writing done these days. With this fellow passed out in my lap.
Teething is hard.
That is all.
Ramblings of an Obsessive Bookworm
THE WORLD IS MADE OF WORDS. THE TRICK IS TO FIND THE RIGHT ONES.
This is how I get writing done these days. With this fellow passed out in my lap.
Teething is hard.
That is all.
I love being a writer. I love being a full-time writer, and I’m looking forward even more to being a full-time writer who is also a stay-at-home mum.
That’s still a weird concept for me, by the way. Me, being a mum.
Probably will have to get used to that at some point.
Existential crisis aside, I love being a writer. But there are things about this life that I wish I had known before I started.
Three things, in particular.
1) Writing Is… Different
I started out in my writing career because I loved it. I loved stories and I loved words, and I wanted to make my living with them.
But writing as a career is . . . different. I still write to enjoy myself. I still enjoy what I write. But the time I spend writing for pleasure is significantly decreased, and I’m more often motivated by impending deadlines and a paycheck that I need than I am by an urgent desire to write. I still love writing, and I’m certain that I always will, but it is a job, not a hobby, and a job means writing when you don’t necessarily feel like it.
2) Stability Who?
I am the sort of person who thrives on stability. I like a paycheck that comes in promptly every other Friday at the same time with no exceptions.
Writing is . . . not that way. Freelancing is not that way. The paychecks come in when I finish a project, and if I don’t have the energy to be creative, I don’t get paid. Money comes in, but it’s not regular or very predictable, and I have to trust that God is my provider and that the checks will continue to come in, even when I can’t see it.
3) Writing Isn’t The Whole Story
Yes, I’m a writer.
I’m also a business owner, an accountant, a publicist, a social media manager, a director, a public speaker, and my own personal life coach, because apparently someone has to keep me motivated and moving forward in my career.
Basically, every part of my career is my responsibility. Taxes, publicity, social media. All the hats are mine, and I have to be far more savvy in things that I never would have dreamed of when I was still writing the first drafts of my books ten years ago, dreaming of getting to where I am now.
To be honest, I didn’t know almost anything when I first started writing. I didn’t know how long it would take to start earning money, I didn’t know how much I still had to learn, I didn’t know how much of my job would consist of me constantly being out of my comfort zone and forcing myself to do things that were difficult and felt too big for me.
If I had known, would I still have chosen to pursue it? It’s definitely different than I expected it to be . . . definitely harder, and definitely less glamorous. Would I choose it again?
I’d like to think so. Personally.
I’d hope so, anyway. I’d hope I’d have the courage. I’ve faced a lot of challenges in the last ten years, and a lot of moments that felt like more like an end than a beginning.
But I hope I’d have the courage to face them again.
Really, though. Maybe that’s the reason we can’t see everything that’s coming, and everything that will be required of us.
Have you ever had a stunningly brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime, on-fire idea that you were pretty sure was going to win you the Nobel prize or an Academy Award or something else of equal significance.
And then you just . . . never acted on it.
You meant to. You had it all planned out in your head, did hours of research, maybe even told your friends and family about it and acquired some much-needed support and enthusiasm. After all, it was a brilliant idea. Of course everyone you told loved it.
But after that . . . it just . . . petered out. Got put on a shelf somewhere. Gathered dust. Stuck waiting for that perfect moment. You know the one. When planets align and the stars begin to sing and the universe decides that it’s your turn for that one spark of success that has been passed around through humanity since the beginning.
When you’re ready, in other words. When it’s time.
I have never, in all my life, experienced that moment.
I’m going to guess that you haven’t either. Nor, realistically, are you expecting to—not really. But taking that first step on a new project or idea—especially if that first step could result in criticism—is tough. It’s easier to let the idea remain just that—an idea, with nothing concrete to dislike or criticize.
Unfortunately, ideas only go so far. The book has to be written to be worth anything. So, here are my three favorite tips for taking action when it feels impossible.
1) Let Go of the Vision
I know, this one seems counterintuitive, but bear with me. You had this great idea. It’s been building up in your head for weeks or months or even years. You know exactly what you want it to look like, down to the last detail.
Only it’s not going to match your vision once you start. First drafts—of anything—never do. They’re awkward and stilted and ugly and they very rarely, if ever, match the vision in your head of what you wanted to produce. But, they’re a step beyond an idea, and however the project shifts and changes with the execution, it will be better for it.
2) Know Your Why
Why did you latch onto this particular idea? Why does it matter to you? Where do you want it to lead you down the road? Big projects—writing or otherwise—take a lot of time and energy to bring to realization, and getting started isn’t the only place people get stuck. Some of the projects that I’ve worked on seem to get stuck every other chapter, and the effort it takes to get unstuck feels exhausting.
But, I know why it’s important. I know why I don’t give up, and haven’t in the last ten years of being a writer. That ‘why’ pulls me through the bad days, and helps me take action when it’s hard.
3) Map it Out
Sometimes, failure to take action is connected to a lack of clarity. You don’t know where to start, so you never do. After all, ‘Write a book’ is a pretty tall order, especially if you’ve never done it. Instead, give yourself some steps that don’t feel like climbing the entire mountain in one leap.
Write one chapter.
Flesh out an outline.
Read a book on story structure.
Write for ten minutes before bed every night.
Whatever your list of small steps is, take the first one. And the second. Commit to yourself, your idea, and the vision of the future that this idea spurred. No matter how hard taking action is, I can guarantee it won’t be more difficult than watching that awesome idea you had wither to ash because your ‘moment’ never came.
I am a full-time writer. I’ve mentioned that about a million times on this blog, along with noting that I run my own business as a freelancer. But today, I’d like to dive a little deeper into what that looks like on a daily basis.I’ll give you a hint.
I don’t actually spend my entire day writing.
Nor, strangely enough, do I spend my whole day in my pajamas, although I work from home and generally spend the majority of my time with my kitty and my newly acquired puppy. No boss checking that I’m meeting dress code here! Except for me, and I have my own policies about that. But, we’ll get into that. In short, this is what a typically day as a freelance scriptwriter looks like.
5:30 – 7 AM: My alarm goes off stupidly early. My husband sets it for me every night, usually because I’m already buried in my blankets and stick my head out to ask if he will. He’s a good sport. I like to get up before the sunrise to get a start on my day before the rest of the world is awake and jostling for my attention. It gives me some space. Now that we have a puppy in the house, I take her out on her leash to use the bathroom, then walk over to my parents’ house to jump on their rebound mini trampoline.
People always laugh at me for the jumping thing. They can’t seem to figure out why I do it, and it weirds them out. Simply put, this is my time. I stick my headphones in, and I work on my books. Stories don’t just show up, you know. You have to plan them. You have to make space for dreaming and talking with characters and imagination, and this is my space. If I don’t have this time, I don’t have books. Period. You might say this is one of the most important parts of my day as a writer.
7 – 8 AM: When I get home, I clean. Obsessively. I find it very hard to be creative if the dishes aren’t done or the floor isn’t swept, so before my day really gets started, I make sure that all the little chores are well and truly finished. This is also when I get dressed—no pajamas here. I’ve learned through a bit of trial and error that I feel 100% better if I’m dressed for work and have done my hair and makeup. It’s the little things.
8 – 9 AM: I study Spanish with Duolingo. This is one of my weirder habits—it has nothing to do with my career, probably won’t be relevant to my daily life anytime soon, and as much as I enjoy it, I probably will never become a fluent—or even competent—Spanish speaker. But it’s something new and different for my brain to do, and it keeps me sharp.
9 – 12 AM: This is my first big ‘chunk of work’ for the day. I generally have meetings during this time to discuss scripts, casting, story problems, or just provide updates for deadlines and revisions that need to happen. When I’m not in meetings, I’m writing. Depending on the day, I might be throwing together an outline for the team to approve for a script, or drafting a chapter for one of my two books in progress, or writing dialogue for a script. This is all usually accompanied by a cup of tea, trips outside with the puppy, and my kitty attempting to crawl into my lap to get the love and attention she deserves.
12 – 2 PM: Lunch, another trip outside with the puppy, and maybe if I have time, I’ll walk over to my parents house to see actual human people and jump. Another brainstorm session helps get me back in the game for an afternoon of writing.
2 – 4 PM: More writing. Afternoons are hard, y’all. This is when I start falling asleep. Music generally helps, and sprints with my writers’ group over text. When we’re all working, it always encourages me to get more words in. If I’m working on books that particular day, this is also where I will switch projects. 1000 words in the morning for one book, 1000 words in the afternoon for another. We don’t always hit that, but we try.
4 – 6 PM: I’m prepping dinner, listening to crime podcasts or an audio book, and taking the puppy out for a good romp before the husband gets home and we eat together.
6 – 9 PM: This is supposed to be free time. It really, really is. But if I’ve got a tight deadline on a script that I’m trying to meet, or if I happen to be feeling particularly inspired, I’ll curl up on my couch with my computer and get in a few hundred extra words. My cat usually sits on top of me, and my husband plays video games next to me, so it’s all very cozy. Or, if my writers’ group is up for it, we’ll toss out a few prompts through text and free write for a while—which is always good for creativity and opens up dozens of interesting doors.
There you have it! This is what a typical day as a freelance writer looks like—at least in my neck of the woods. This was an enormously long post, but if you’ve ever wondered what a writer actually does in a day, now you know!
My writing habits are changing.
I like to think that they always are, actually. As a writer, I like to go with what works and change things up when something begins to feel stale. If I don’t, things get stuck.
Actually, I get stuck.
Being stuck is my least favorite state of being. I stare at the computer. My will to move drains away. The words refuse to come. I consider chucking this whole author thing and becoming a goat farmer.
I could be a goat farmer, you know. I would be a really good goat farmer. I know a lot about goats.
Probably more than I should, actually.
Goat slobber is a thing, y’all. And it is way stickier than you think.
Since I’m not quite ready to go back to being a goat farmer and enduring the bruises and slobber that accompany that job, I’ve learned to change my writing habits when necessary. And now that I’m freelancing instead of working for a company and punching a clock, writing free has become a lot easier. I still like to keep to my routines when I can, so I have a certain time every morning when I sit down to write and a certain time—most days— that I finish up and close things down.
Routines are great. For normal writing days.
Some days, sitting down to write at the normal time just is not going to work for me.
My brain says no. So does my creativity. I stare at the blank page for a long, long time. I distract myself. I write terrible sentences in the hopes that some useful ones will get dragged out behind them.
It doesn’t work.
When you’re punching a clock, you gotta be in the chair. It’s kind of a rule. But when you’re writing free, like I am learning to, it’s okay to shut the computer and walk away. Go outside. Take a walk. Hang out with people and play a board game. Make homemade tortillas.
For me, all of those things wind up being miles more productive than staring at a blank screen. And when I come back, I don’t have to open the computer. I can snag a notebook and curl up on my bed to handwrite a few pages until the block has disappeared.
I may not get us much done as I would on a normal day, but I’ll get pages more than I would have if I hadn’t been up for changing my habits a bit.
How do you free yourself up when you’re stuck on a project? Tell me about it in the comments!
I’ve officially been working from home for a year now.
Since I am now a freelancer, working from home should be a pretty permanent thing now. (Fingers crossed.) And, since I’m no longer logging hours or focusing solely on one project, my schedule has changed significantly in the last few weeks.
Which means that my rituals have had to change too.
I am, at the very core of my being, a creature of habit. I function best when most of my tasks are on autopilot. Cleaning the bathroom on Tuesday mornings, working out before breakfast, listening to podcasts while I clean my house before work. You get the idea. My mundane tasks are scheduled to the degree that they have become instinctive. I get up in the morning and never have to decide what to do first, because I already know and can start when I’m half asleep and groggy.
You would not believe how much I can get done before I am fully aware of my life. Usually I’m halfway out the door, already dressed in my workout gear before I really know what’s happening.
No going back after that.
Rituals, especially in the morning, free up so much of my brain for the creative work that I spend most of my day on. Writing—especially writing creatively—is one of those things that you can’t do on autopilot. My brain has to be fully engaged, otherwise what comes out won’t be any good.
That gets exhausting.
So when my mundane, kind of boring tasks get done without having to think or plan out what needs to happen ahead of time—it makes things easier.
A lot easier.
Unfortunately, since I switched over from full-time to freelancing, some of my rituals have gone straight out the window.
Things change. Life changes. And setting up new rituals to make into autopilot habits is hard.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to preserve a few things. The important bits that will make my day a success whether I’m freelancing or working on the clock. Things like my morning workout, or the way I plan out my day before I sit down at my computer. I still clean my bathroom on Tuesdays, and my favorite podcasts are still saved on my phone. But I’ve been doing some editing. Timed breaks have gone out the window, and my day is tracked more through progress on a project instead of hours worked. I’ve taken some time to step back and decide which of my rituals are helpful and which have run their course. Some are getting cut. A few are getting added here and there.
Making habits out of a ritual takes time, and I’m definitely looking forward to when my brain can put a few tasks on autopilot again.
I could use the brain space.
What rituals do you have in your life? Tell me about them in the comments!
Does anyone else ever get a weird urge to completely reinvent themselves and focus all their time and energy on a new hobby until you’ve perfected it?
Yeah, me too.
This week, it was drawing.
I can’t actually draw, of course. But I would like to someday. I would like to be able to draw and dance and sing and paint. I want to be a photographer and a fashion designer and a yoga master and a private chef and a master gardener. If I indulged every interest of mine with concentrated practice the way I wanted to, I would use every second of every day. I would have a new obsession every week, and I would never reach even basic proficiency within my obsessions.
So, I don’t indulge the impulse. I’m not an artist or a chef. I paint occasionally—and produce terrible work that I enjoyed doing—I cook for myself and my husband and sometimes a few friends, and I practice yoga in the mornings to keep myself in shape.
But I invest in my writing.
I take classes. I analyze scripts and books and stories that others have written to understand how they were created and what makes them powerful. I study humor and prose and story structure until I can’t sit down to a favorite show or movie without dissecting the plot, the jokes, and the motivation of each of the characters within the story. I practice daily, and focus my energy on becoming the best storyteller I can be.
Writing has always been my obsession. But obsessions, especially for me, are a dime a dozen. I can pick up anything and make it an obsession of mine. Obsession is easy.
It never lasts.
So I invest when I don’t feel like it. When a shiny new obsession is beckoning, I’ve learned to ignore it. When I would rather draw or paint or cook or garden or learn to dance, I come back to what I know I’m good at. What I know is important in my life. My stories pay the bills, yes, but I write when I’m not being paid, because it’s important. Because it’s more than a job or an obsession or an impulse.
It’s a calling.
One I can invest in and know that, at the end of the day, my time was worth something.
Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself when my grasshopper brain is trying to convince me that I could drop everything I’ve been working on for the last nine years and learn to draw something better than stick figures so I can be an animator.
Because that’s a totally plausible outcome.
What kind of obsessions do you have? Tell me about them in the comments!
Here’s an article I wrote on how to deal with criticism and feedback like a writing pro. Enjoy!
I got interviewed for a podcast for my job last month.
It was very exciting. I’ve been working as an apprentice scriptwriter for sixteen months now, and they figured it was probably time to ask me some questions. You know, get the scoop about what it’s really like to be a writer for an international radio show. We talked about the hard stuff. The tough topics. What it takes to be a writer in a fast-paced, highly competitive industry.
Not to spoil the interview, but I got asked what kind of magical creature I would be if I was a magical creature.
I was shook. They didn’t even warn me that was coming. I had to think on my feet.
Or, you know, in my closet, since I was sitting with a microphone, two computers, and my phone in my closet during the interview. With a sheet draped over my head.
Because sound quality is essential, y’all.
Frankly, I thought it was a brilliant question, but since I was caught off-guard and trying to keep my phone from disconnecting from the internet and the sheet from smothering me all at the same time, I answered really fast. Way too fast, as it turned out, to actually think about why I picked what I did.
I said a phoenix, by the way. In case you were wondering. Because when asked, who wouldn’t choose to be a mythical bird who bursts into flames at the end of its lifecycle and rises again from the ashes of its own destruction like a glorious representation of new life and continuing hope?
Plus, you get to fly and stuff. And have orange and red and yellow feathers, which are all the colors that I passionately love and cannot wear because of my skin tone. They wash me out. It’s bad.
Know your skin tones, people. Pick the right colors.
But after the interview was over and I crawled out from under my sheet like some kind of tiny gremlin emerging from its fabric lair, I took a little time to think about my choice. Because let’s be real, sometimes your quickest, tip-of-the-tongue, no-time-to-think answers are the most honest. And this one was definitely honest. A kind of deep, soul-touching honest that really struck me way too late for it to be an interesting and intellectual part of my interview.
So I’m sharing it here instead. Because I am a phoenix. Every writer is. It’s our bread and butter, our rite of passage. Only a phoenix could survive as a writer. Because writing is all about burning to the ground. I’ve seen so many ideas go up in flames in the last year. Ideas, outlines, even scripts. The amount of criticism I take on a weekly—or even a daily—basis would have paralyzed me when I was a teenager. I would have dropped everything and given up.
But I am a phoenix. I watch my stories—and my ego—go up in smoke again and again . . . and again.
And like the phoenix, I rise from the ashes and begin again.
Every writer goes through the flames. You might say it’s an occupational hazard. The first time, the fifth time, even the hundredth time, it’s scary and painful and not what we wanted to do that particular day.
But it won’t stop us. We’ve done this before. We’ll do it again.
Out of the ashes will always come our best work yet.
I got engaged last week.
Is that crazy or what? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Sometimes it amazes me how quickly life can change. All the sudden, my weekends are booked with wedding planning, engagement photo sessions, and attempting to figure out all the things one is supposed to do to prepare for a wedding.
Apparently there are a lot of them.
I need to make a list.
Two lists. I need two lists.
Okay, I need to make a list of all the lists I need to make.
Thankfully, my fiancé’s brother and sister in-law rescued us from wedding planning on Sunday and took us up to a reservoir about an hour away. We took their boat out on the lake, and my fiancé and his brother tried wakeboarding.
They offered to let me try.
I’m happy to watch people get sprayed and dunked and yanked along behind a speeding boat while attempting to stand upright. Not so happy to do it myself.
Thankfully, they didn’t insist.
I’ll try next time. When we have a tube instead of a wakeboard. Tubes need less balance. And strength. And skill.
And basically all the things that I have in short supply.
However, watching is great fun, and so was sitting on the back of the boat when we stopped for lunch and fed the geese.
I got toasted in the sun.
Okay, I got toasted on one side. My arms are unevenly burned now. Red on one side, white on the other. Hopefully that doesn’t last long. I don’t want to add ‘uneven tanning’ to one of my to-do lists.
Any wedding planning tips for me? Tell me about them in the comments!