Good Fences Make Good Writers

Welcome to Author Next Door!

My husband and I bowled on a league team this morning. Since both of us retired early from our day jobs, we enjoy choosing activities we can do together. The problem is, today isn’t our normal bowling day—our team bowls tomorrow. And we’re subbing this morning for someone I just met last week! What’s wrong with this picture?

APRIL KIHLSTROM spoke yesterday to our writers’ group on her Book In A Week, or “how to make your writing life easier and more fun.” If you’ve never heard April speak or taken her BIAW course online, I highly recommend her. Of all April shared, the one thing which particularly resonated with me was her reminder to protect our writing time both by enlisting help from supporters and by not telling saboteurs.

Driving home last night after our meeting, I vowed to commence a wonderful week writing on my new WIP…until I remembered I had committed to bowling three hours today and three more tomorrow! No one had done this to me: I had done it to myself. Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy in that I have difficulty setting boundaries to protect my writing time.

Others I know have confessed that setting boundaries is an issue they’ve struggled with also. When asked, several writers in our RWA group graciously volunteered to share ways they’ve found to protect their unique writing time. (As a disclaimer, any errors in spelling or grammar made in transcribing their comments are mine alone.)

JAX GARREN writes paranormal romance. Her upcoming series Austin Immortals mixes snark, love, vampires, and an apocalypse. Book 1, Stripped with the Vampire will be out March 9, 2015 (and get a sneak peak of her holiday novella, The Elf and the Ice Princess, when it re-releases in early December). Jax says:

“A year ago, my husband and I fostered two girls, 4 and 7 years old, which was a WONDERFUL experience. But our children, like many children with abandonment issues, had a really hard time with us being out of their sight. In order to accommodate their fears but still give me writing time, I kept art supplies by my desk and a strict rule that they could be in the room as long as we all worked quietly together.  It took some time—and a few tearful episodes where they were sent from the room for not following the quiet rule—but after a while it got to the point where they were creating their own artwork (and occasionally books) in the same room with me with surprisingly few interruptions.”

ALEXA BOURNE writes romantic suspense, contemporary romance, and paranormal romance. Her latest book is Hidden Destiny Series Book 1: Wake Me (paranoramal romance), and her next book is Chasing Gold, an action/adventure romance, part of the Beyond Fairytales series (no release date yet). Alexa tells us:

“Last spring I was working on promoting 3 books and trying to write something new. But it always seemed I had more promo work than time to write. Add in my day job as a teacher and you’ll understand how busy I was. I started getting snippy with people, kept getting behind in my writing because there always seemed to be something else more important to do. I seriously considered stopping my professional writing life. Luckily, I had a friend who talked me off that ledge! She told me I had to choose my “writing time” and I had to promise myself I would not/could not change that no matter what. I couldn’t allow anyone or anything to interfere during my writing time. So, I decided I would try getting up an hour earlier to spend at least 1 hour each day, Monday through Friday, writing. If I spent no other time writing at least I knew I could still make progress with those hours. I wouldn’t get online or do any promo work. I would just write, revise or edit my manuscripts to get them ready to submit. At first, getting up at 4 was a huge struggle (and sometimes still is!), but I found I loved it. I could see my steady progress and plus, working that early puts me in a good mood for the day job! I’m still getting up early and I’m so glad I made the change!

ANN MAJOR writes short, sexy, contemporary romance. She is a bestselling romance author of over 70 books (65 with Harlequin) whose Christmas novella Love With an Imperfect Cowboy will be published in December. Ann says:

“So—how do I protect my writing time? Lately I’ve been getting up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. EVERY day and writing. And WRITING. When nobody’s up but me. I work ‘til about 6 and come home. I cook. I exercise. I crash. And I’m having the time of my life. I have an office a mile from the house. I go there around ten. I turn my cell phone on mute. And I write. There are afternoons I leave my phone on so I can talk to my kids. But at least 4 days a week, I hole up and have no phone access. The phone is my biggest saboteur, you see. Being a writer, I love interruptions. But I have learned that to focus, I simply have to TURN OFF THE CELL PHONE. A few years ago I was BLOCKED. I didn’t know why. I went to Lebh Shomea, a silent prayer retreat, and immediately got UN-BLOCKED. Because it was so quiet. Because there was such bad cell phone service. A spiritual answer bubbled up from my subconscious. The message was: TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE. This was THE ANSWER. Doing this, painful as it was, because I’m SO addicted to my cell phone, did more for my production than I can say. Writing is about focus; about totally going down inside yourself and digging deep. You can’t do that if you stay up on the surface gabbing with your buddies, planning lunch, shopping…hanging out with your phone, all the fun things.” Ann also suggests that if certain people in your life block you because they don’t respect your writing or your genre, don’t take their calls when you’re writing.

A big THANK YOU again to Jax Garren, Alexa Bourne, and Ann Major for sharing how they recognized personal pitfalls, planned proactively, and persisted in the face of family demands, busy professional schedules, and other outside interruptions!

Sometimes I do use a Bose noise-reduction headset when my husband has the TV on, since the TV set’s in the living room just outside my office. Other times he helps me out by wearing his wireless headset so the TV sound is muted for me.

Seeing how other writers deal with the challenges of protecting their writing time helps me reevaluate my own effectiveness.

Learning to say ‘NO’ instead of adding an activity to my calendar is step one; step two is making sure I get into the chair, because once I sit down I can write for hours. To feel that urgency to take my seat rather than putter around the house, I’ve started using a notebook to log hours written per day. And, since the computer screen word count is too abstract for me, I need to be accountable in a more tangible way for what I’ve accomplished on a daily or monthly basis. One manuscript I finished largely due to my participation in NANO: that year our local RWA chapter had us posting daily word counts on a spreadsheet in our group files. You only can post numbers if you’ve set aside the time to write. I think I see a daily spreadsheet in my future…

And one more way to put pressure on myself and reinforce my daily writing time? At monthly meetings our chapter draws one name from all those writers who have achieved their monthly goal (a goal written down and put in an envelope the previous month along with a dollar bill) and that person wins the “pot” of the goals dollars. Use the force, Luke! Harness that passion, protect what’s important.

Here I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” with his last line paraphrased to read “Good fences make good writers.” Yet more so, I believe, is the converse true: “Good writers make good fences.” If we don’t, no one else is going to do it for us.

Let’s mend some walls, and may all of us have a very productive writing week!

Karen Taylor Saunders