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6 Compelling Ways to Refresh Your Writing Routine

ways-to-refresh-writing-routine

Writers can get very particular about their daily routines.

I write with a felt-tip pen, or sometimes a pencil, on yellow or white legal pads, that fetish of American writers.
–Susan Sontag

Steven King is as famous for writing every single day starting first thing in the morning as he is for his books (at least in word-nerd circles).

Here’s my writing routine, the one that fits in with my life as a working momma who likes to work out:

  • Every other day for an hour first thing in the morning
  • Most days I write on paper
  • Some days I write straight into the computer
  • I get clear on plot points and revise my outline every few weeks

I stick to my routine pretty closely because I know that if I’m not making regular progress on my novel, then I’m not being one hundred percent me.

But being one hundred percent me as writer doesn’t mean I can’t bend the rules sometimes. I find that occasionally altering my writing routine can lead to more creativity in critical scenes. Here are some of the ways I do it:

Medium

One of my all-time favorite authors Margaret Atwood routinely switches between paper and computer (like I do) but if you’re used to sticking with just one, you might be amazed at what a difference it makes to have both in your arsenal.

When I write on paper, I can more easily embrace the beauty of writing slow. I take more care with my dialogue and tend to write less of it. I wrap up scenes into entire more holistic pieces, so that each scene feels more complete.

On a laptop, I can blaze through a couple scenes. I can write summaries that keep the action moving along. I wrote more dialogue, more quickly and sometimes find myself being less descriptive (because I’m more focused on the action).

Sure, I can stop a medium from affecting me, but knowing its natural appeal helps me choose what I need in that moment for that scene.

Time

95% of the time, I write in the morning.

The fact is that most writers are most productive in the morning. If you treat writing like a job, then you’ll start in the early hours. At least, that’s the common advice.

But other writers find that trying to squeeze in words at 6am leads for rushed work and grumbling stomachs.

Writing should never be a race to the finish.

It should be a long immersion in a hot tub or a relaxing meditation.

Good writers write at night, because it’s devoid of distraction, there’s nothing else left to do in the day, there’s no one else to hurry to. — Jonathan Manor

The dark, quiet of night is a deep well of inspiration. A beautiful source of creativity. Night writing allows you to focus fully on your love for moving your pen or tapping your keyboard with no thought of coming tasks.

refresh-your-writing-routine

Place

I can write right anywhere. Can you?

Even though I can write anywhere, I write at home 90% of the time. Home is cozy, it’s where my tea and bed and books are! No matter how much time I spend writing at home, I’ll still love of the feeling of writing openly in public.

Yes, this world is crazy and the traffic is loud and that guy over there is shouting. But me? I’m sitting here on this hard bench with soft eyes and open soul and a pen. It’s a good feeling.

Music

No lyrics–that’s what most writers swear by. Thievery Corporation, STS9, and even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are some of my top pics for lyricless writing music. These Pandora Stations keep me from getting distracted by external stimuli, but none of them makes me feel terribly creative.

Anything from Tracy Chapman to Kevin Gates can have me writing more fluidly and with more feeling. When the lyrics get to be too much, I just switch back.

Scene entry

It’s easy to approach a scene the same way, over and over. You figure out what’s the most interesting thing that happened at the beginning of the scene and you start righting from there.

But if you don’t try writing in the middle or the end of the scene, then you won’t challenge yourself to turn what might be confusion into suspense. And if you don’t have some variety in where you enter your scenes, you’ll make your reader expect more of the same. A little dash of unpredictability is good no matter the genre.

POV

Point of View might not be a writing routine per se, but many writers have a default POV that they routinely rely on.

I love the idea of Point of View as an exercise. Experienced writers easily fall out of the habit of trying out prompts and exercises, but POV is one we should never let die.

I won’t stop talking about my Liane Moriarity fandom because (in addition to writing hilarious, suspenseful, and emotional novels) she does POV switch-ups so well.

Take her first novel, Three Wishes, for example. The vast majority of it is in limited 3rd person. But between chapters, there are funny little snippets of 1st person.

Only, these snippets aren’t in the 1st person (I) perspective of the main characters. Instead, they’re the accounts of random bystanders who have witnessed the triplet sisters’ shenanigans.

Whether or not you actually incorporate twists of POV into your novel or use a new POV to generate interesting insights to better develop a character’s backstory, it’s a great exercise that can bring some newness to your routine.

Those are the main ways I vary my writing routine for maximum creativity. What ways do you switch up yours?

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What it really feels like to be a freelance writer moving to Italy

movingtoitaly

If you’re looking for a post on travel writing, back away very, very slowly. Now run. I use the term freelance writer because it sounds cool, and most people don’t know what copywriting really is.

Here’s the deal:

I’m a freelance copywriter and content marketer, and my husband was just accepted into the joint engineering-architecture PhD program at the Polytechnic University of Milan. We fly to Milan on October 4.

So how does it feel to be 28 years old, self-employed doing what you’re truly good at, and less than two months away from a move to Milan?

It feels like a wild host of things. The giddy excitement is being sat upon by visa requirements. Because here’s the thing, no coddling is happening. Millennial entitlement syndrome stretches all the way to immigration, and I must say that it is incredibly shocking to me that the Italian Consulate doesn’t even answer the phone. It doesn’t even have a voice mail. No one responds to emails. You’re on own when it comes to getting a visa.

Everyone asks their questions in forums. But here’s the thing: there are family visas, student visas, and freelance visas. I can’t find a “student with a freelance family” visa. Needs contradict each other when it comes to immigration paperwork, and it all doesn’t make much sense.

The Italian Consulate website even assaults you with pop up boxes telling you to turn Google Translator off. I wholly intend to learn Italian, but just not right at the moment when I’m trying to figure out what Form T really is.

So it feels like that.

But mostly it feels like one big dream. Have you ever dreamed that you were flying, only it looked and felt like you were swimming? Imagine yourself jumping off the Grand Crayon only to doggie paddle across it smoothly and gently. The reason I feel like I’m swim-flying is because we are actively creating the next version of our lives.

duomo

Sometimes in life, you set up the next phase and then step right into it as simply as playing hopscotch–or rather other people set their life up like that, and I commend them for it. For my husband Gabriel and I (and our adventurous little girl), it is impossible to set this dream life up and then walk right into it.

You know those forums that help you figure out visa requirements? The only time I found one post that was close to our situation, the person was asking for references to a “relocation expert.” That’s just not happening.

Other times in life, you swim-fly and cliff-dive and actively create your new dream. This is about more than doing our own paperwork. It’s about being in the limbo between old and new us. We’re peeking into the next phase of our existence and have no idea what it will look like. Of course no one ever knows, but moving to Milan for 3 years makes that universal truth glaringly true.

What will it be like to hop on a train or plane to head to Paris or Zurich or Barcelona for the weekend? Will we have to pack our own lunches to afford the train fare to Florence? My freelance business has to keep paying the bills–better believe I don’t want to add “work visa” to my consulate demands.

I don’t know what will happen, and that’s how it feels. At times, we all feel called to stay present minded, and this is one of the places in my life where I have no choice but to stay completely in the moment, otherwise I’ll wake up and discover that I cannot, actually, swim-fly.

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4 mind shifts you have to make to finish a rough draft

 

4 mind shifts to help you complete a rough draft of a novel

For a writer, there are few things as exhilarating as when you first come up with a brilliant idea for a new book. Typically, in those initial stages, the words flow easily and fresh character details come to you like no big deal.

But once the shiny new object is a little less shiny, it can be a little bit challenging to finish writing the first draft.

Writer’s block doesn’t cover it. The sensation is more like…work. Your incredible new novel idea sometimes feels like work. Because it is.

Writing the first draft of a book can also bring up all of your insecurities, no matter how experienced you are as a writer.

If you’re part way through the rough draft stage of writing and aren’t sure how you’ll make it to the next round, here are four mind shifts to make that will see you through.

 

Don’t try to juggle all the balls

Have you ever had the sense while writing that you let something slip?

Just recently, I realized that a lot of the humor I began with in my current WIP is lacking from the last third of the rough draft. Now, that might be okay—shit is starting to go down, right?—but I also know that I might need to add some humor back in during later drafts, particularly where one goofy character is concerned.

If you notice yourself struggling to maintain all of your goals for a book in the rough draft, keep going. Maybe you’re so focused on plot that some of your settings are bare. Or you’re churning out heated dialogue but haven’t created any movement in the scene.

It’s okay.

Don’t think that you should be able to juggle every goal for your book at one time. Instead, keep a steady eye on the core of your book. This could be what your characters are learning, struggling against, or trying to achieve. And then juggle as many things as you can that serve that core, allowing other things to slip away (for now).

 

You probably do need to look where you’re going

Many first time novelists think they fall in the spontaneous category when it comes to the epic Pantser v. Plotter debate.

But YA author Maggie Stiefvater makes an excellent point in this post:

“There are a very tiny number of people in the world who are true pantsers — that can write by the seat of their pants, no outline, no synopsis, no plan. In my experience, there are far more people who think that they are pantsers.”

Even if you aren’t accustomed to outlining, you’ll still produce a better draft (and do it faster) if you turn your headlights on and see where you are going.

Try and at least keep a list of the next 3 to 5 scenes, either in your head or in your journal. You’ll be propelling yourself forward naturally by thinking about the next steps for your book.

If you do write outlines, then here’s the mindshift you need to make: Be adaptive! Recognize that things will come up during the rough draft phase that alter the course of your book.

Instead of thinking “follow the outline” when you rough draft, think “modify the outline.”

Keep your outline in a living document (a Google doc is a great way) so it’s easy to update as you go along. You can add notes to scenes you haven’t written yet and keep the descriptions of scenes you have written more accurate—which will come in handy when you do your first pass of substantive editing.

 

Know that it’s okay to skip a scene (if you must)

In the Master Class with James Patterson that I recently completed, he admits that he skips scenes all the time. Now, James Patterson writes extensive outlines, so he doesn’t skip unknown scenes or moments. He skips scenes that he is struggling with, and then moves through the rest of the draft—returning to them at the very end.

At the end, if a skipped scene is the only thing standing between you and a completed rough draft you will probably attack it like a beast.

But is this a risky strategy? Of course. Unless you’re pretty dang sure that the scene won’t change in a way that could affect the rest of the novel, don’t try this.

But if you’re banging our head about a scene you know won’t change, then skipping could allow you to flow through the rough draft with a lot more momentum. As with all things, momentum just builds and builds. Don’t let one scene kill your vibe.

 

Take notes on what you know needs revision and move on

Some writers believe that writing and editing should always be two distinct phases, while others tend to successfully blend the two. If you’re not sure which category who fall into but know exactly what needs to change about your first draft: then try the write-it-down method.

Make notes to yourself exactly like an editor would, with overarching comments and specific items to change. As you rough draft, you can keep a living document with these comments in addition to your malleable outline.

That way, when your rough draft is done, you’ll be a little more prepared for the first phase of editing.

If you’re writing down notes about a scene you just completed, you might be better off trying it again (unless it’s driving you crazy). For the most part, this trick is great for when you spot inconsistencies, think of a more exciting opening scene, change a character’s motivation mid-draft, etc.

Hopefully all of these tips help you push through the rough drafting grind a little more smoothly. Do you have any things you tell yourself while you rough draft or any mind shifts you have to make?

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Cramming my life goals into one hour a day

silly selfies

Coming out of a couple years of stay-at-home motherhood, I was ready to attack my new career as a freelance copywriter.

I didn’t feel like I’d been made lazy or soft by the process of mashing sweet potatoes and cleaning toilet bowls. Quite the opposite—I was hungrier for a rough day at the office than I ever had been before.

So I jumped right in, even climbing my way to a few sixty-hour work weeks after only a few months of freelancing.
But then I lost all my muscle tone.

The best part about being a stay at home mom was heading to the gym at 10 AM (and saying hi to all the other SAHMs and the retired people).

It was a bit sad, not having all that hard-earned muscle tone anymore. I felt like crop tops were out of reach for me this summer.

Worse still, I was losing sight of my in-progress novel. I couldn’t remember why it mattered to me anymore or what the story was really about. This happens easily to writers when they have to set a project down.

If you love reading and you’ve ever gotten so busy that you had to set a book down for a couple weeks only to pick it up and forget some of the main characters’ names, then you get the gist.

If you’re actually writing the book, that sensation will make you miserable.

I had this super cool idea. It was so immediate and natural and necessary—but then…poof! It was gone.

I’d wanted to buy the James Patterson MasterClass on writing since I first heard about it. The trailer for it showed up for me ALL THE TIME because the internet knows I’m a writer, and it was darn good trailer too.

His delivery style is excitable, authoritative…exactly what I needed.

Somewhere I read that people will pay more attention to content they’re forced to purchase, as opposed to receiving it for free.

Likely this is true, because I took those 22 James Patterson videos pretty seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the advice for writers to work on their books an hour an day. I’ve read the advice multiple places and been a subscriber multiple times in my life.

But sometimes, life happens—busy freelance writing life happens—and you need something to help you recommit.

In addition to teaching me how to outline, James Patterson helped me recommit.
• I’ve never read a James Patterson novel
• I don’t read mystery
• I don’t write mystery
• But I still got a lot out of that class

I think it comes back to a recent Marie Forleo tidbit that just because something’s been done before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

Just because 5,000 other authors have told writers to write a little bit every day, doesn’t mean James Patterson shouldn’t say it too.

Why?

Because sometime it just takes that one person to get the message across, as Forleo says. You could hear advice from everywhere, but you’ll only accept it from a couple specific sources. Hey, we’re all a little stubborn.

And guess what? This applies to my book idea. Because—barf—my book idea has been done before. It’s about 4 female friends living in the city. Ok, there is a twist (I promise) and the city is Boston (not New York), but let’s be honest, this concept has totally been done before.

Even James Patterson has done it. His 4 female friends happened to be solving murders.

So, I’m writing my been-done-before book an hour at a time. It feels great. That hour keeps me sane and happy. It has this spiritual, transcendent effect on the entirety of my day. 7 AM to 8 AM…that’s my golden hour.

But I don’t write every day.

Sad face, I know.

To get my muscle tone back, I also recommitted to weight lifting. I’m getting my iron-grind on in the front yard with kettle bells and dumb bells.

I write one day, work out the next. Switching back and forth every other.

Hopefully, someday I will be a little less busy and can figure out how to work out AND write every single day, but for now switching back and forth every day (even on weekends) is working fabulously. I don’t think being busy is cool—trust me.

It’s fun when my daughter hangs out with me. She’ll read books while I work on my book. She’ll do hilarious (and slightly inappropriate) yoga poses while I’m doing sumo squats. Even if she doesn’t remember all this when she grows up, I know I can tell her that I started a business, wrote a book, and managed to work out when she was still just a little thing, so she can do whatever she wants to too!

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Striking the balance between benefits and features

Stones pyramid on sand symbolizing zen, harmony, balance

One of the first things a new copywriter learns is “benefits.” By telling the audience (the lead) what they will get from a product or service, how it will affect and improve their lives, you better sell the item itself.

All fine and dandy. We’re all accustomed to hearing things like “Fall asleep faster.”

Features–the specifics of the product or service, like ingredients or accommodations–are taught to be avoided at all costs. Copywriters often think it necessary to translate every feature into a benefit.

There’s a big caveat to that mentality. You should never annoy, confuse, or try to dupe your reader.

Too heavy on the feature side

First, let’s get into why this strategy even exists. If you sell only features like “Our pool is 164 feet long,” you’re going to bore your audience. They won’t care, won’t understand what they get out of the deal, and won’t buy access to the pool. Swap with the term “Olympic-sized”, and suddenly there’s an allure of exclusivity and athleticism that, with further feature-driven language about luxury or training, will seal the deal.

Too heavy on the benefit side

The absolute worst is when companies sell benefits so heavily you have no idea what they are actually selling. If you were to subscribe to software that can plan your vacation for you, save you time and money, and coordinate all vacation-goers’ itineraries, what would you actually be buying?

The tactic of selling big wow-factor features has a cheesy, infomercial flavor. But well-respected beauty brands have been doing this too. Some make it very difficult to find out what’s in the ingredients online. Whether a customer has allergies or is very knowledgeable about harmful chemicals, she’s going to want to know what exactly is in that night cream. But when you click “ingredients” you get jojoba, grapefruit, and olive oil, each with a quaint little description denoting their healing properties. Not helpful.

Just right

Excellent fiction authors delve out information at the right times, so you’re not overwhelmed nor confused. Ultimately, this builds suspense. Perfect copy requires that same level of masterful attention.

Give your reader what they want–when they need it. Initially, benefit-minded copy is very effective to hook a lead. After a while, they need some nitty gritty details. Not only will those help establish if this product or service is truly something of interest, but it will also establish trust. Wool over the eye? Not here.

You can switch back and forth between benefits and features, or write copy that manages to do both. Like “Olympic-sized pool.”

Bullet points and lists for the win

To strike the right balance, know when to employ bullet points and lists to speed things along. Let’s say it’s time to delve out information. Do it rapidly with a list of basic features.

Or maybe you’ve written a few lines detailing the specifics of the product. Next you can write a bulleted list that quickly summarizes for the reader what that means for them.

 

And there you have it! Both benefits and features have their place in the world of copy.

 

 

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Three factors to help you choose a career that will support your writing life

Journals and pen

 

Elizabeth Gilbert mostly waited tables before her big break. Liane Moriarity ran her own copywriting business. Margaret Atwood tutored English.

Yup, famous writers have past lives. Where does that leave you?

Two things are clear:

  • Writing is your lifeblood (you bleed ink and dark gray pixels)
  • But you’ve still got bills

[Read more…]

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The freedom of simple living

“Since when did you turn into Carmen San Diego?” my cousin asked with an appreciative sparkle in his eye. He made me laugh and gave me my next Halloween costume idea. I had just told him my family’s plan at a recent family gathering. In March, my husband, two-year-old daughter and I are moving to Bristol, RI before we find out where he got into grad school. Then from there, we will move either to Boston, Milan, or Zurich for his PhD.

Part of the reason my husband and I think it’s a good idea to move before we move is because we’re crazy. The other part is we’re pretty fearless when it comes to life.  Plus we’ve got mad frugality skills.

Simplicity Lessons by Linda Breen Pierce

I picked up Simplicity Lessons from Linda Breen Pierce from the library to inspire me to keep on getting rid of stuff. In this photo, you see everything that constitutes my “garage”. Nevermind the fact that our “garage” is now piled in the back of our living room because we downsized from a house to an apartment to save for our big move.

Having a lighter load is essential for anyone who wants to travel, move around, explore nomadism for a while. Not being burdened by possessions is really the first step.

Like I said, I do this naturally. I thrift store shop for clothes, hit up Craigslist for furniture, cook many things from scratch, and have even been known to use an old yogurt container for a silversmithing tool kit. Yikes.

But even I took a lot away from this book. Pierce’s values are the pinnacle of the experiences-over-things philosophy: don’t let your things keep you from new experiences.

Here are three take-aways:

1/ You must slash+burn by category

Prime example: a woman’s closet. Classic get-rid-of-your-junk advice is to go through things item by item. But any woman can validate any item of clothing. If I had X vest, I could wear Y tank top. I wore Y dress two years ago, and if I go to a cocktail party and get a different pair of nude pumps, it could work again.

[Read more…]

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Participate in forums to grow your business and find your voice

Compared to social media, forums can get you started with a much quieter, but still very real, online visibility.

The first thing we’re told to do when we declare a desire to do basically anything (start a business, go freelance) is to jump on social media. But sometimes, we’re not ready. We might not know enough about the industry. What to say. How to present ourselves.

It’s sort of like being asked to introduce yourself to a group of people on the spot. If you can sum up important deets with an entertaining flair–hats off, for sure. But if you’re the type who stumbles from one anecdote to another without creating a central story–chances are your social media accounts reveal the same struggle.

I’m currently bridging my creative and editorial chops to the world of content marketing, and let’s face it, I have a lot to learn.

Enter the world of forums. To find the best forum for your industry, you’re going to have to do some searching. I’m getting started with the Small Business Ideas Forum. First, let’s talk benefits, then strategy–and then holy grail stuff.

Initial Benefits

Like many a novice web designer, I’ve had my tail saved by kindly folks who hang out in forums. Besides tail-saving, here are the benefits:

[Read more…]

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4 ways editing for others improves your own rough drafts

Editing doesn’t just come in to play AFTER you write. Editing experience can help you be a pickier, more discerning writer–one who avoids mistakes. Spend enough time “pruning brambles” (as Amy Einsohn says) and you won’t want to edit junk out of your own writing. No, this doesn’t mean you get out of the editing phase.

Sentence structure is everything.

You’re sick and tired of people subordinating important clauses or clipping apart notions that really ought to be strung together. The way you draft and craft your sentences—in the moment—will become masterful because you’re not only picking the choicest words, you’re utilizing the sentence pattern that will make your point clear.

If some concept drones on and on until infinity, your sentence will too (but in a charming way). If there’s a sudden disconnect or shift, the structure will let us know.

Writing and editing textbooks

Semi-colons can be kind of cool.

[Read more…]

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Totem Coffee Co.

Dayana’s note: Read my piece on this new Placerville coffee shop in the November issue of the Foothills edition of Style.

 

Coconut banana peanut butter toast with chia seeds

Totem Coffee Co., a new café located in Fountain Plaza on Main Street, was the perfect place to go for my family’s predesignated “Slow Saturday.” My husband, daughter and I walked in and greeted the owner—the very same who runs Cozmic—and took in the decidedly sparse and urban feel. Having read somewhere that toast is the next big thing, I had to order the Coconutty, a beautifully presented plate of two pieces of artisan bread topped with coconut peanut butter, bananas, honey, and chia and hemp seeds. Though the ingredient list is simple, it had that magical taste of something you can’t quite get at home. With healthy, filling food options, a separate kids’ menu, impressive craft beers on tap, and pour-over coffee made from beans they roast themselves, Totem will become a new regular spot for us. Taking a seat next to the record player and coffee aficionado magazines is enticing, but you’ll want to take advantage of their beautiful courtyard—and let coffee lingeringly turn into beer. Totem Coffee Co., 312 Main Street, Suite 104, Placerville.530-903-3280, facebook.com/totemcoffeeco.