We’ve talked about a lot of routines at Routines for Writers in the last few years. Things to routinely do, things to routinely avoid, things that break up your routines. But I don’t know that we’ve talked much about a routine many writers say they have no time for – reading!
|Available for your reading pleasure end of September.|
I am amazed by the number of times I hear writers say they don’t have time to read. But I also understand the dilemma. There are only so many hours in a day, a week, a year. Many of us complain that we don’t have enough time. Many of us worry we aren’t using our time wisely. How does the value of one hour of reading compare with one hour of writing, or sleeping, or time with family?
When taken out of context, it’s difficult to compare these things. But I think most things in life fall into cycles. For me, that cycle is most notably one day. I do certain things at certain times of the day and, when it comes to reading, I can almost always count on having 15-60 minutes at night.
I find I sleep better if my mind relaxes around a story, something I don’t have to think about but can just float on. When I read non-fiction at night, I usually dream about the topic – not great for a good night’s sleep, but I used to solve math problems this way in college!
Like my own target audience, I am a reader who sometimes craves an escape from my everyday life. When I’m really stressed out, I need to read romances. In fact, high stress situations are almost the only thing that make me return to a book more than once. When I’m calm and relaxed and nothing interesting is happening in my life, I crave excitement and danger in my reading life.
But I’m finding those reading cycles incredibly helpful to my writing. Because I read at least a little of so many genres, and because it might take me a year or more (or as little as a month) to cycle through romance, YA, suspense, fantasy, and more, my story brain is constantly being fed new and different ideas. Those all combine like eggs and flour and cocoa make brownies – to help me create some sweet treats of my own!
I love reading and my guess is you do, too. I encourage you to make – and keep – reading one of your writing routines. When you need a break from life, from work, from writer’s block, or you just have a few minutes to relax, reading is the perfect routine.
Kitty Bucholtz is a writer and speaker, and a member of Romance Writers of America and Romance Writers of Australia. She co-founded Routines for Writers, a web site dedicated to helping writers write more, and she recently completed her M.A. in Creative Writing. You can follow Kitty on her web site or on Twitter at @KittyBucholtz.
by Kitty Bucholtz
By the time you read this, I’ll be done with all of my homework and on my way to my final class. I’ll have my master’s degree! Yay!!
But right at this moment, it feels miles away. Not millions of miles away, but not just a few steps either. I’ve gone to the last session of one class and turned in my last assignment there. I have everything done for my Thursday class, literally the last session of school I’ll have before I’m gone for good. But in less than eight hours I have to turn in my last – as yet unfinished – homework assignment. The important one. My “professional project.”
It’s been a hard class for me and I’ve complained way too much about it. But it would be the same problem for anyone who went to a writer’s group or got a critique from a friend who just doesn’t read your kind of writing. They don’t know they’re not helping you, even maybe making you want to give up. They’re being really nice and sometimes they have something very insightful to say that actually makes sense to you.
But in the end, you have to find a new group, people who understand your genre enough to know how to critique it in terms of what publishers are buying. You may have to go through a few more hard times until you find the right bunch.
The morning after my last class I fly to LA and then New York. I’ll go to my old Romance Writers of America chapter and I’ll love on all my old friends, but I’ll have to keep in mind that few of them write the kind of non-sex non-romance somewhat humorous urban fantasy I’m writing right now. Then I’ll go to my favorite writer’s retreat, a whole bunch of Christian writers who are my family. They’re sooo supportive but don’t really write much or read much like what I’m writing.
Then I’ll fly to New York for the big Romance Writers of America National Conference. Though the title implies all things romance, there are a lot of writers in that 10,000+ member organization who write other things, including work similar to mine. That’s the super awesome part! The flip side is that I don’t know very many of them, so I have to seek them out. Luckily, I just joined the Young Adult RWA group. I think those people will “get me” in a way many of my academic friends don’t. (Though I’ve had some really encouraging feedback from some of my school friends!)
So when it comes down to it, it’s all a matter of degree. When I need to talk to friends about why I write what I write and how I can be encouraged and work harder and find joy, I seek out my Christian writer friends. When I want to discuss the publishing industry and talk shop about how to write better characters or add suspense, my RWA friends are the bomb. For networking and improving my professional presence, the RWA National Conference gets the job done every time.
When it comes to my academic colleagues – teachers and students – they are passionate about their work, just as I am. We haven’t always understood each other’s work, but we all knew we were on the same page when it comes to wanting to stretch and grow as writers. It’ll take more time to figure out and understand what exactly I learned over the last sixteen months. Time and distance will help me to see more clearly.
And that’s what I have to remember today. For the next few hours, I have to do the best I can as fast as I can. But once school is over, I’ll be able to take a breath, refocus my work on the market instead of the academic requirements, and get back into it with joy and energy. I expect that day to be Monday! LOL! I’m as curious as you are as to what I’ll write here next week. Where will I be in my headspace then? Surely less stressed out than I am right now. 🙂 See you then!
Kitty Bucholtz is a writer and speaker, and a member of Romance Writers of America and Romance Writers of Australia. She co-founded Routines for Writers (http://www.routinesforwriters.com/) a web site dedicated to helping writers write more. In 2011, Kitty will receive her Master of Arts in Creative Writing degree from University of Technology, Sydney.
It’s the beginning of the end. (Thank you, God!)
Last night was the first of my final classes in semester one of my master in creative writing degree. I turned in my final paper for my Professional Editing class, wrote a sample back cover blurb for the manuscript we’d done a structural edit on, and then most of us went to the pub to celebrate with a drink and some potato wedges. Woo-hoo!
Now I need to do it again tonight. And tomorrow night. I finished tomorrow’s final paper only this morning. Talk about cutting it close! Last Sunday I woke up and did the math – I had four projects to complete in eight days. (They’d all been started.) That’s two days per project. Eek! I finished the first two projects in four days – totally on time according to my self-inflicted schedule. Then the third project took the next four days. Yikes! So I had only a few hours over the next two mornings to finish the last project – thankfully, the one for the last class.
By last week, I was already questioning my expectations about what I wanted to do – finish four A-quality projects in the time I had – versus what I thought I might have to do – finish as best I can. I even asked a few friends what they thought because I was seriously stressing out – tight shoulders, headache, sleeplessness. One friend told me I needed to lower my expectations to what I could really do at this point. Another friend said I shouldn’t try for anything less than an A, no matter what it took. (After all, it was only one week.) Well, kind of them to try to help but… I still had to try to decide what *I* was going to do.
In the end, it’s no surprise that I decided to put everything I had into it to get the closest I could to an A on every project. It’ll be a month or more before I know my grades, but at this point I’ll have no regrets. My expectations of myself were fairly high throughout the semester, and I’m pretty content with my work. But last night, I started asking my friends and fellow students if my expectations of the graduate program were off.
I’ve been more than a little irritated some days when I’m in class listening to an instructor cover an incredibly basic point – like properly formatting a manuscript. I’ve been writing and publishing since 1997 and started grad school to bring my skills to the next level, the novel-publishing level. But some of my fellow students have said in class that this is the first time they have ever written any fiction of any kind! It makes me want to scream!
Hence my question after class last night – are my expectations off?
I am so glad I asked. Turns out there are three writing programs – the master of arts that I’m in, a diploma program, and a certificate program. And many of us are taking the same classes. That’s why there is such a wide range of writers in each class – a few people like me who have had books get to the “almost” stage at a publisher, a few people at the other end who have never written anything, and everyone else in the middle.
Now I know my expectations were off. I need to think of my classes as more like high-level critique groups filled with all levels of writers. Then I can be willing to be helpful to others without feeling like some people are holding me back. Because I’ve chosen to change my expectations, I’m finding myself already calming down, de-stressing, and thinking about how I can just focus on improving my writing. Period.
Stress comes from expectations not meeting reality. When reality is less than what you expected, you experience distress and dissatisfaction. When reality is better than you expected, you experience eustress and satisfaction. It’s not always about raising or lowering your standards, but changing them as needed to accommodate changes in the situation or the available information. (Remember last week when I was trying to decide if my expectations of my work habits were off?) I’m not going to lower my expectations of myself, but I am going to modify my expectations of my classmates and my future classes. I’ll keep the pressure on myself to do what *I* need to do while allowing my teachers and fellow students to do what they need to do.
In the end, I think it will be more satisfying for all of us.
Kitty Bucholtz is the co-founder of Routines for Writers, a web site dedicated to helping writers write more. She writes romance novels, light urban fantasy novels for adults and young adults, and magazine articles. She is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing program at University of Technology, Sydney.
At Routines for Writers, we have declared May to be Anti-Procrastination Month! We all have a pile (mental or physical) of work we’ve been meaning to do, projects we’ve been trying to finish, etc. But when will it ever get done?
To give you some ideas on what kinds of things you might want to catch up on during Mayâ€™s Anti-Procrastination Month, I thought Iâ€™d share with you my list (in no particular order).
Work on the category romance that I want to finish and send out by August 1. Yeah, the one Iâ€™ve barely even looked at since grad school started in March.
Choose which magazine to send the article to that was rejected last week by Writerâ€™s Digest, then get it out in the mail.
Submit a piece to the Christmas anthology that Iâ€™ve been meaning to submit to for weeks. (Oh, and actually write the piece!)
Catch up on all the readings that have been assigned this semester for all of my classes.
Read the Margie Lawson â€œDefeating Self-Defeating Behaviorsâ€ lecture packet that I started and didnâ€™t finish in January.
Read the other great Margie Lawson lectures I’ve bought and not finished reading yet!
Take the time (what time?!) to work on promotional items for Routines for Writers.
Continue to research for the superheroes book, and the new angels/demons story that Iâ€™m writing for class.
Read some more YA books as research for the story I’m writing for class.
Thatâ€™s the short list â€“ for now! LOL! And it doesnâ€™t include all the â€œregularâ€ or â€œhouseholdâ€ items that need to be done â€“ like choose and buy an anniversary present for my husband for our 20th anniversary this week! Eek! LOL!
The big question when I make a list is â€“ how in the world am I going to get this all done? Well, I was praying for wisdom this week and what do you know â€“ God really does use email! I subscribe to a daily email from Motivation in a Minute and a recent email had this quote from Amy Jones:
To do twice as much in half the time, you canâ€™t approach your goals haphazardly. A well-thought plan will keep you clearly on track towards your goal; and the methods of planning are as varied as our personalities.
I have a tendency to think that there is plenty of time to get everything done. But experience has taught me that optimism alone is not my friend. I need a plan. One that is too structured will make me crazy and Iâ€™ll quit sooner than later. A plan that is nothing more than a To Do list wonâ€™t help me stay organized and disciplined enough to get the most important items done first. (And since Iâ€™m now convinced I will die with a long To Do list with many items not crossed off, getting the most important ones done is crucial to my emotional well-being!)
Last year at Routines for Writers, I talked about my new routine â€“ My First Five. Itâ€™s been working! There are only so many things I can remember to do at once. And when Iâ€™m feeling overwhelmed, I need to know what the next thing is that I should do. Just one. So the First Five helps me prioritize. What I need to do now is create a Next Five, and a Next Five after that. I got my First Five done yesterday morning without any problem, then I watched a taped TV program later while I ate lunch and somehow the day just fell apart after that. Today, I did my First Five then looked at my list and put a bullet next to all the things that had to be done today. That didnâ€™t work as well as Iâ€™d hoped either. Because I also did several things that didnâ€™t have to be done today. So starting tomorrow, Iâ€™m going to organize my To Do List into groups of five items. Iâ€™ll let you know if I get more work done.
One last thing â€“ I recently heard about a software program called Freedom. Itâ€™s sort of a time-lock for your Internet connection. You can set it for any amount of time up to eight hours and during that time you wonâ€™t be able to access the Internet or send and receive email. Itâ€™s $10 and is available for both Windows and Mac. I think itâ€™s hysterical that Iâ€™m actually going to spend money on a program that will force me to focus! (Why canâ€™t I do that by myself??) Iâ€™ll let you know how itâ€™s working.
If you do better with a little accountability, stop by Routines for Writers and tell us what you want to get done this month! Weâ€™ll encourage you to keep going and find a routine that works for you. Happy Writing!
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