Friday, August 4, 2017

Making Time for Your Writing in the Dog Days of Summer

I've always loved August in New England, where I live.   The heat and sun and sultry air just make me want to go slower, take in more of the beauty of summer's final days.  We get winter all too soon here.  New Englanders know how to make the most of summer.

When I first moved here, I thought the slower pace in summer would be perfect for writing.  But laziness settles over me.  And the allure of a thousand fun summer activities.  I'm a passionate gardener and there's always plenty to do.  Who wants to spend daylight hours indoors?



Other writers also let their books languish in summer.  One colleague has three school-age kids.  Camp gives her small pockets of writing time during the day, but it's hard to keep momentum going on her book. 

Another complains about visiting family, trips to the beach or lake, parties that go on into the wee hours keeping her from writing.

We agree:  it's fine to enjoy summer, to wait for snowbound days.  After all, who really cares in the long run?  There's no rush to finish unless we have a contract--which most don't, in today's publishing world that demands complete manuscripts on submission. 

No deadlines mean we control our own writing time.  We self-propel.  That's good, and not. 

Ever notice the proliferation of summer writing conferences?  It's not just because people have more free time.  It's because we need reasons to write in summer.  We go to a conference, we get juiced.  We may exchange emails and promise to help each other's accountability.  I saw my students do this at a writing retreat I taught last week.  So many of them were re-inspired.  Many set goals.  How many will keep them?

It's an important question, I've found.  After a few days or weeks without writing, it's harder to locate the trail of your story.  Much harder to find a way back into it.
Motivation comes from two sources:  internal and external.  As you get to know yourself creatively, you learn which is your gold mine.  I have internal motivation for a while--quite a while, because I've been doing this writing gig for decades.  But eventually, even I wear out my discipline.  That's when I bring in the external motivation.  I set myself artificial deadlines:  a writers' group who expect pages, a writing partner with whom I exchange a chapter a week, an editor I pay to read my manuscript.

If you know this about yourself, you make it happen.  For me, the paid editor is absolutely the most motivating--because my hard-earned money is behind it.  But I have also found excellent writing partners and value them for accountability, especially if we both are producing regularly.

Some tricks I've learned to keep writing in the summer:

1.  Sign up for a fall class that offers workshopping of pages or chapters.  You'll need to be ready to submit in week 1.  So you take time now to choose a piece and work on it.  Potential embarrassment is also a good motivator, as well as the money you pay for the class.

2.  Don't slack on deadlines with your writing partner or group.  Know the summer excuses--travel, kids home, parties, family visiting--and decide to write anyway.  Find those who feel as serious about it as you do.

3.  Get an app that nags you about word count (google word count for writers and you'll see many), or use a goal setting feature on Scrivener or other writing software.  It may annoy you enough to keep writing.

4.  If you're motivated by closure, read this great article about Jerry Seinfeld's calendar technique.  Writers in my online classes have used it and loved it.

5.   Pay someone to keep you writing--and to help you along the way.  Set up a delivery date three weeks or three months from now, with just enough pressure to force you to work now to get ready.  (That's my method.  It works.)

This week I got an email from a writer I've worked with before.  He is a CEO and super busy, but he's trying to finish his book.  "I'll need you to kick-start me come September," he said.  So we arranged that he'd get back to his book in August, after travel eased.  He'll be working all month, preparing the manuscript to send me for feedback.  He's excited to have the deadline. 
When I scan a summer day's many options, when a friend calls and wants to go to the ocean, when the family is having a cookout, when the garden is a jungle and needs my immediate attention, I can easily put aside my writing.  But then, there's my desire to finish this novel. Backed by a deadline of mid-August to get revised chapters to my paid editor. 

Your weekly writing exercise is to assess your motivation for your writing.  Is internal (self-discipline) motivation enough for you to keep working on your book these next weeks?  Do you need an external motivator?  Scan the options above and see what might click for you.