Blogger: Mary Keeley
After several conversations with clients this week I’ve been musing about the different approaches authors take to their writing. They are as varied as the writers themselves. But several habits stand out.
Write every day. This week a client told me she needs to take a break from writing her next book because her family requires her full-time attention in the next months. She might not be working on a manuscript or contributing to a blog, but she won’t be able to turn off her wonderfully creative brain.
I advised her to continue putting pen to paper in free moments every day. Perhaps you, too, have experienced periods of time when other responsibilities consumed your attention. Or perhaps that time will occur this year. Life happens. But keep writing something daily. It could be journal entries, recording an observation of a situation that attracted your attention, writing down a sudden insight to developing characterization or a quick plot idea you can use in your manuscript later. It’s possible to continue to grow in your craft during sabbaticals. It’s also possible to lose ground if you don’t keep at it.
Research. As much as it is financially and humanly possible, get out there and spend time in your book’s setting, even if you think you already know it well. Don’t limit your research primarily to online sources. Absorb the smells, the way the sun filters through the trees, people’s faces and storefronts—the “feel of the area.” Those of you writing historical will have to trust local historians’ recollections. Interview several to get a reliable consensus.
If you are writing nonfiction, spend as much time as possible in the real-life context of your topic. Take time to notice little details you may have missed previously. Record specific elements that impact you most. Seek out experts or eyewitnesses for in-person interviews. There is much to be learned and intuited through body language, facial expressions, and spoken words. You may decide you want to adjust your focus or re-prioritize your material.
Your personal experience with these details and nuances will help you to bring your book to life and make it the best it can be.
Set specific writing hours. Here is a creative scheduling arrangement I heard about recently. One author makes herself fully available for her children after school, prepares dinner for her family at the normal time, and spends the evening helping her children with homework and getting them to bed. She spends the rest of the evening enjoying time with her husband before they retire for the night. A normal family schedule, right? But then she gets up about 1:00 AM and writes for three or four hours. Her husband gets the children off to school in the morning so she can sleep later. This schedule works for her family. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but where there is a will, there is a way. Tailor a plan that is best for your situation and then maintain it consistently. Pretty soon your perhaps unconventional routine will become your new normal.
Was there a time your life when responsibilities necessitated time away from writing? How did you keep practicing and growing during that time? What percentage of your research is done in person and online? What kind of consistent writing schedule works for you and your family?