Writing Tips

August Knows Best

We’ve all heard “Write What You Know.” What do you think? Truth or fallacy?
Is there an option for both? Because I’m going with both. #OwnVoices is a genre for a reason. And right now? When the world seems like it’s quickly going up in flames and headed off the side of a cliff simultaneously, while the only possible course to fix it is by understanding each other and showing compassion? Yeah, writing what you know is more important than ever. But, that in and of itself is a double-edged sword. What if you end up outing yourself / someone? What if feelings are hurt when the truth is put down on paper? Relationships can crumble under the pressure, the reality you know falling apart around you.
And, maybe an even harsher reality: what happens if all the agents you submit to reject you and no one wants to hear your side of the story after all?
Writing books is painful. Especially when you’re writing what you know. But that’s also part of what makes it so great.
Of course, that’s also assuming you have a story to tell. Maybe you’re just an average person with an average life doing average things. Should you create a novel / character based around your life if you’re just sitting around your house watching TV and going to your 9-5 job? Probably not. There’s enough of that in the real world that I can’t imagine a book really being able to find and fill a need in that niche. So, for those people, I encourage them to get a hobby, go out and see the world, and pull pieces from those experiences into the novel you’re wanting to write.
Do you have to live in a city to set a novel there? No, of course not. Does it help to build authenticity? Absolutely. Do you need to get a job as an accountant to write a novel with a protagonist who is one? No. That’s what research is for. With information being easier than ever to obtain online, you don’t have to go out and experience those things to be able to write about them effectively. It will always help, of course, but as long as you’re good at your job researching and finding editors / betas to help nitpick the small stuff?  There’s not a desperate need to do it.

Do you write what you know?
A little bit yes, a little bit no. With locations, I tend to write about places I’ve either lived or spent enough time visiting that I felt like a local in the time I was there. I want to know where the weird bumps in the sidewalk are from tree roots pushing them up or about the way a certain traffic light always knocks up against a branch if the wind blows hard enough. But I don’t have to live there to experience those things. A visit is enough for me. Sometimes, Google Maps / Streetview also works — or serves as a decent reminder if I’ve forgotten.
I listen to people’s conversations or watch them in the streets and make up background stories for them in my head. Both of those things get adopted into my novels. But that person up above who just sits in their apartment and goes to work? That’s me. I’m boring and okay with it. But my life as it is right now? Wouldn’t make the best novel (unless I wrote about my day job. That would be heartbreaking, honestly) for anyone other than me. So, sure. There are bits and pieces from my every day life mixed in, but I don’t rely on just the things I know. Research is great.
Writing Tips

Bouncing Back from Disaster

This summer, I’m running a challenge on WriYe that I’ve mentioned a few times here called Write Like a Pro, where we adopt a different professional author’s ideal writing routine for a week at a time. While discussing the way the challenge is progressing, K. A. Wyles spurred us to wonder what some of these authors did if they missed a day. Everyone has days where they wake up sick or sleep through their alarms or the world crashes down around them. Part of becoming a professional author (unfortunately) doesn’t make one immune to disaster and everyone has a bad day from time to time. So… what do the pros do to recover from that? Well, we don’t know (and probably never will) because people don’t talk about that — maybe because that would also mean talking about the negative / bad things — which led us to deciding that we needed to talk about how we recover from bad days.

This is a very appropriately timed post for me because not only did I realize my Day Job picked back up this week instead of next week like I thought, but I also got some bad / stressful news over the weekend, and then… I woke up sick on Sunday morning. Triple whammy all in one weekend! I decided not to let that hold me back or put a damper on my progress, however. These are the some of the ways I typically push myself through to get back on my feet again.

1. Take time off to just be upset: This isn’t to say you should throw yourself a pity party or write a vague post on Twitter / Facebook trying to get people to feel sorry for you or celebrate how badly you suck or anything like that. Simply take a step back and admit that things aren’t going your way. Just let yourself feel whatever the bad feeling is and experience it in whatever way it’s manifesting. If you’re sad, cry it out. If you’re sick, take a nap on the couch for a little while. If you’re angry, rant / yell about things to someone who won’t judge you (like your dog or your pillow). And then — if it’s a problem that can be fixed… Fix it. And you’ll be able to do so without your mind being clouded with the initial emotion.

2. Pamper Yourself: This one is pretty simple: just spend some time treating yourself well. Take a long walk or toss a bath bomb in the bath and take a steamy bubble bath. Put on a silly face mask and order some junk food. I know part of my personal routine for this is to completely disconnect also. I close my email and social media, turn off the chat services and put my cell phone on “Do Not Disturb” so I can really focus on me, rather than the buzz happening around me all the time. I also will take days like this to spend hours playing video games (or if you’re a movie / TV show watcher — binging a show on Netflix would also fit in well here).

3. Be Rational / Make Plans: I’m the kind of person that has had a bucket list since I was about 10-years-old; I’ve had a running 1,001 Things to do in 101 Days list since 2005 or so. Ask me at any point in time where I want to be in 3, 5, or 10 years and I’ll give you a full outline, down to a disgusting amount of detail (if you’ll let me). I constantly am revisiting these plans and revising them to best fit whatever changes happen in my life, of course, and I find a set back happening is usually the best time to do so. Obviously, if you’ve just caught a cold or whatever, don’t rethink your whole life, but if whatever’s setting you back is large / catastrophic, it’s a great time to sit down and figure out how to get back on track. For me, sitting down and just thinking about things in a logical manner helps me feel more in control and like things aren’t as bad as my brain was probably originally thinking it was. Sometimes this just means sitting down and going, “okay, I was supposed to do two hours of editing today and did none. There’s 4 days left in the week, so +30 minutes to each of those days.” Sometimes it means looking at the to-do lists for the weekend and going, “well, I guess I can binge watch that TV show next week instead.” Sometimes it means skipping gaming for the week or catching up on sports game highlight reels to better utilize your leisure time for work… Whatever it is that helps your brain click those pieces back in place logically is what helps maintain routines (which is, ideally, what this post is about).

4. Pick up and Keep Going: Be it in life or in writing, you have to keep moving forward. So yes, definitely take the time needed to rest and repair… But then just start working on your goals again. With writing especially, if you take too much time off, it’s so easy to just sit back and never touch it again. And then you have half-finished novels that no one will ever get to experience. So, take your day off and then the next morning, sit down and put pen to paper once again.

What did this look like for me personally? Taking a few days off of social media / the internet and enjoying a few hours of being lazy… And then setting some pretty intense goals for this week — 8 hours of Day Job, 5k fiction, 2 hours editing, and 2-3 hours in my publishing course daily. It’s going to be a busy week, but that’s what I’ve signed up for, since I enjoy my quality of life, my job, and being an independent adult! Plus, there’s something to be said for getting back to a routine after having one of these fail days. It feels fresh and new, but also strangely comfortable and like going home.

Writing Tips

“Finding” Time

I know it’s still June and I just did one of these, but I’ve missed several. So, I want to catch up. Plus, they’re good topics! So I’m going to work my way backwards through them for the next few weeks.
May: Life is busy, sometimes often insane. How do you find the time to write within your life?
Here’s the thing — life is always going to be insanely busy, especially as we get older and we start to build our own professional careers / families. And if we, as writers, don’t figure out ways to manipulate our schedules in order to “find” the time to write? The book we keep saying we’re going to write, will never be written. And we’ll have no one to blame at that point but ourselves.
And that, my friends, is why I keep saying “find” time in quotes. Because the time is there; we all have the same 24 hours in every single day. You can’t magically think more minutes into your day or more days into your week. Thus, you need to prioritize the time you do have and make time for the things that are important to you. Which, hopefully, will be writing.
I’m sure there are articles and videos and books written about how to maximize your time and be your most productive you (in fact, I know there are because I have one on my shelf called The 4-hour Work Week). But, that’s not necessarily what I’m looking to do. I’m just trying to make myself find time for writing. So, with that in mind, the first thing I would recommend would be to sit down every evening just before bed for a full week and map out your time that day. Hour-by-hour. Honestly. If you sat on your couch staring at the wall for two hours? Chart it. If you took a six-hour nap on Saturday, two hours after waking? Put it on the graph. The more honest you are, the better your information and new schedule will be in the end. Then after those seven days, analyze what you’ve found. My schedule is weird right now since it’s summer vacation. But, I did this the first week that I was not at school (with students), but had 4 days of training to attend on campus. There are several reasons why this was not the best choice for me, since I don’t have a consistent day-job to attend, and I was exhausted from the last two / three months of school and was sleeping much more than normal to make up for it. But, I took what I saw from my schedule that week and set my rough idea of an “ideal week” up with the knowledge that I do not currently have a consistent day-job to attend. It’s just a vague outline that would get me more on the right track towards writing more and maybe not spending so much time on YouTube without doing something else at the same time.
I honestly learned a lot by looking at my schedule critically like this. Like the fact that I work every day. Even over the summer. That isn’t healthy. And that was JUST time working on things for school. I figured in anything for my Etsy shop into the “planning” category. Also, that I spent a lot of time that week sleeping. But, as mentioned above, it was me just enjoying my first week of summer and not really typical of my normal sleeping habits (which are usually 10pm – 5am over the summer and no sporadic naps throughout the day (so 12 hours less normally than I slept the week I was tracking). I wasn’t really surprised to see how much time I spent on YouTube / Gaming without multitasking… The green category, however? That was surprising to me. I consider that time my “essentials” time. That’s when I would shower, cook, eat, clean, tend my garden, and take care of my dogs. The fact that I’m spending almost as much time on that during the week — and most of it is nonnegotiable! — as a second full time job was astounding. And… it made sense why my apartment is always messiest during the school year. But, unless I get rid of my dogs, my garden, or become independently wealthy enough to hire a cook / cleaner, that isn’t time I can change.
You can see my rough “outline” of an ideal week for me in the black there. I tried to be realistic. It’s summer. I don’t want to “chain” myself to work (be it school, Etsy, or writing) during every waking moment. I want to be able to lay on the couch and read a book if I want to. I want to be able to get lost in a video game for 4-6 hours if I feel like it. I’d like to be able to sleep until 6a… Because those are things I don’t have the opportunity to do when I’m back to working 10-12 hour days again. But, at the same time… Summer is my main time to write. So, I do want to make sure I get some quality time in my universe during June and July. I’ve included a few places there where I might be able to fit it in, but I also did something else this summer in order to make sure I am actually writing, and that is to create a challenge on WriYe relating to this exact topic. Every week this summer (and even my first week back at work in August), I am encouraging myself and all the other WriYe people to follow a different professional author’s established writing routine. Yes, this was a very selfish challenge, as I struggle to figure out how I want to incorporate writing into my own life. But, it has definitely been an enlightening one for me… And hopefully others as well.
At the end of the summer, I should have an idea of a few things — first, what my “ideal week” would look like as a full time writer, and second, how to make time in my life to continue being a “full time” writer alongside my day job. And, even if what that boils down to is waking up at 4am daily to get an hour’s worth of words in before work every morning and spending a few hours every weekend to get “the rest” in on my days off (and stop working 7 days a week!) in order to make time for my writing.