Category Archives: Your Writing Environment

The Eternal Struggle

Writers (and creative people in general) face a unique set of challenges in a society that generally doesn’t value what we do.

A few months back, I was at a party with my wife, hanging out, busily meeting people, chatting, etc. We were about a month into our stay in New Zealand. I happened to meet a woman and soon established that she was from Colorado, married to a New Zealander.

She asked me, “What do you do for work?”

“I’m a writer,” I said, having already established with several people at the party that I have five books in print and have been freelance writing for about sixteen years.

“So you don’t, then,” she said flippantly.

I then excused myself in favor of more intelligent conversation.

This stranger’s attitude is bad enough, but it’s even worse if it comes from a writer’s family, and the closer the family member is, the more painful the attitude. You can put up with Uncle Earl at family reunions asking you when you’re going to get a job, but when it’s your mother asking you when you’re going to stop drawing “those funny books,” or your significant other whining about having so little time to spend with him/her and that you’d rather be alone doing that weird thing you do, that’s when it chafes your skin away and ultimately grinds all the way to the bone.

When there are so many out there for whom the above is a daily battle, I know I’m fortunate to have a significant other who loves the fact that I’m a writer. She loves that I can do what I do (and I used that ability shamelessly to woo her). She whole-heartedly believes it to be a worthy endeavor, deserving of the same monetary respect we routinely pay to plumbers, mechanics, lawyers, doctors, etc., even though she cannot fathom how I put up with the rejection, uncertainty, and angst associated with it.

But she has this strange, unfathomable quirk that she likes hanging out with me. And ditto my stepdaughter. It’s like they think I should have meals with them. Or go places with them. Or take them to school. It’s like they can’t tell when I’m in the depths of the Zone, that elusive, mythical place where the magic happens, that place that’s so fragile a simple knock on the door makes it evaporate like the barest morning dew, leaving the writer clenching his fists in frustration.

“What is it?”

“Um…”

“Is there blood?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Is there a fire?”

“No, but…”

“Then why for hast thou knocked upon this portal?”

“There’s a spider.”

Sigh.

This was a constant struggle when the girlfriend became the cohabitating partner a few years back. Writers are a special kind of introvert, in that their very profession demands that they spend great swaths of time alone. These swaths of time are in direct conflict with the time required to maintain the bonds of love. Tons of difficult conversations later, we have reached a détente, and the bottom line, despite endless whinging on my part, is that the problem is not intrusions or distractions or interruptions.

The problem is always me. More on that in a minute.

It’s too easy for that infinitely fragile creative butterfly that we imagine is within us to be crushed or driven away by a knock on the door, a text, a phone call, a clearing of the throat; so even when your significant other is amazing and supportive, wants your to feel fulfilled, wants you to reside forevermore in the afterglow of creation like you’ve just had cosmically awesome sex, you push for more room for our art. It’s art, dammit!

One of the worst feelings in the world is when you’re in the rush of creation, and you know it’s gold, and you can feel your fingers brushing through the river of the divine–and someone comes into your space and requests your attention. A knock. A text. A phone call. A clearing of the throat. Flow: destroyed. Muse: fled.

And they have no idea what they just did to you.

I was in a seminar a couple of years ago listening to a panel discussion on productivity for writers. At the time, the difficult discussions mentioned above were ongoing. One of the panelists was a successful, best-selling novelist who’s been writing fiction full-time for over twenty years. He mentioned that work interruptions were still a point of contention between him and his wife. “Well, surely you have time to run this errand for me. It’s not like you keep set hours or have a boss who’ll fire you.”

Hope that my own struggles would ever be resolved began to evaporate.

After such discussions with my family, there is one thing, however, that I keep coming back to in my own reflections.

Boundaries. Staking out a little patch of creative space, internally or externally. A room. An office. A table at your favorite coffee shop. When you’re in that space, you’re working, the same as if you were on the production line at the factory. And you must defend those boundaries with fire and swords because the biggest enemy who will assail those walls is you.

This can be a difficult thing to do. Who likes telling their children ‘no’? How do you tell your friends that you can’t go out because you’ve got a writing schedule? How do you tell your partner who’s had a rough day that they can’t just barge in and start venting?

Once you’ve established your boundaries, those who truly support you will honor them. Those who don’t honor those boundaries don’t truly support you, a circumstance that might require more drastic measures (but that’s a topic for another time).

But here’s the really hard part. (What, you mean this writing thing isn’t difficult enough?? Screw this! I’m gonna be a janitor! I need a raise!)

The problem, as I said above, is not them. It’s not outsiders horning in on your creative time. A writer’s worst enemy, worst time-destroyer, worst butterfly-slaughterer, is always himself.

Yeah, you can run that errand. Yeah, you can pick the kids up from the pool on that Saturday afternoon. Yeah, you can go to the recital. Yeah, we can see that movie because we haven’t had a night out in weeks. Yeah, you can come and kill that spider. Yeah, you can surf social media, or check email, or obsess about your sales numbers, or spend hours marketing to blogs who have all of twenty regular readers, or braid your beard, or weave pocket lint into a picture frame, or shave the cat, or…

Any of these things is easier that sitting down to write.

So what then is the answer?

There ain’t one, kids.

Except to sit down and write anyway. Find the reason. Find the space. Make your peace with the struggle.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind (co-authored with Jim Pinto), The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

You can find him on…

Twitter
Facebook
Wattpad
Goodreads
Blog
Website


My Long and Lonesome Road

Lonely RoadI drive fifty-five miles to work each day (Uphill both ways! In the snow! Get off my lawn!). In seriousness, I’ve always had long commutes. This commute is actually somewhere in the middle, and there are good reasons for why I chose it, but it does lead to a lot of lost time five days a week. When you trying to kick-start a writing career by night, that lost time adds up. You’ve got to find a way to make that time productive.

I started on audiobooks years ago. What was an interesting novelty the first time I tried it in college (hey, Leonard Nimoy is reading this Star Trek novel! Awesome!) became a matter of preserving my sanity after my long commutes began. It’s a lot easier to cope with a five-mile backup when you’ve got an engrossing story keeping your mind occupied.

At first, audiobooks were a nice supplement to my reading, a way to keep from going crazy on the road as well as to feel like all those hours weren’t going to waste. As my time spent writing increased and my free time correspondingly dipped, audiobooks have all but replaced reading physical books or ebooks for me. I would estimate that 95% of my reading is done via audiobooks now. I generally only read with my eyes if I can’t get a book I want on audio (or if I can’t stand the narrator) and even then, I have to REALLY want to read that book.

Sad as it is, after spending many hours a week listening to audiobooks (and the occasional podcast) and working on my own writing for still more hours, I rarely want to pick up a book or e-reader in the meantime. I’d rather do something that doesn’t have anything to do with words.

But audiobooks are not the only option for making use of time in the car. Some writers turn that time into productive writing time by dictating their stories into digital recorders. You can transcribe the words yourself later or use software like Dragon Naturally Speaking. There are even services where you pay people by the word for transcription of digital audio files. I’ve tried dictation, and have never been able to make it work for myself for any length of time. Any sense of accomplishment I get by putting words down in the car via dictation is lost when I have to spend an equal or greater amount of time transcribing the words later. I’ve heard great things about Dragon, but I’ve never had the patience to teach it to recognize my particular vocal patterns.

But that’s just my view. Many writers swear by dictation. Kevin J. Anderson writes all his books this way, dictating his first drafts on long hikes in Colorado. Now that’s multitasking! For myself, if I find that I’m in need of help to break up a writing logjam, I use a different method. I’ll forego my audiobooks for a commute or two, opting for music instead. The monotony of the road and the creativity-unlocking aspects of the music usually helps me figure out where my story is going wrong, and I’ll often have whole chapters outlined in my head by the time I arrive at my destination.

Whichever method works best for you, remember that a long commute doesn’t have to mean the death of productivity.

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. The sequel, Ungrateful God, will be released Summer 2016. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens and A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

 

The Writer’s Cave

A Guest Post by K.D. Julicher

I work from home, forty hours a week. I write – almost always at home – another twenty or more hours. I do chores around the house, tend my child around the house… and for the last seven months, it’s been a pretty small house. Most of my waking hours are spent at my big work desk, ten feet away from my kitchen and five feet from the couch where I spend a lot of the rest of my time.

One of my biggest challenges is switching out of job mode and into another area of my life. I can shut off the computer and walk away, but getting my brain to realize that we are done now and I can go work on my creative projects is something else. It’s probably the biggest hamper on my productivity right now. I find myself dawdling, or surfing the internet, instead of getting to my writing. Or there will be some chore that wasn’t important enough to interrupt my day-job for, but now absolutely must be done. Or my child is being dreadfully neglected, or there’s some exotic ingredient I must have for dinner…

So I have coping mechanisms. First, I try to do mental prep-work in the half hour leading up to quitting time. I assess whether I’ve got dinner under control, and if not, make a plan. I organize my thoughts and figure out what I’m going to do when I get done with work. Maybe I think about the scene I’m writing, or the plot problem I’ll be addressing.

Then I get done with work. I stand up from my desk, I stretch, I get a new drink, and I relocate. I have an awesome work desk with a super comfortable chair and a huge monitor and a keyboard I love. But if I try to write there, I’ll get nothing done. I need a change of setting after 9 hours in the same spot.

I walk back to the spare room, where in one corner, away from the massive quantities of Lego and the storage tubs that wouldn’t fit anywhere else, I have a wooden desk. Or half of one, depending on how much of the Lego array has migrated. I’ve got a keyboard and a pair of headphones, and I bring in my laptop, plug it in, crack my soda, sit down on the less comfortable office chair, and bring up my project file.

Human brains are amazingly strange things. Everyone’s experienced that moment where you get up to look for something in another room, and then you can’t remember what it was. Turns out that the act of leaving one location and entering another serves as a cue for your brain to dump whatever it was remembering. That’s annoying when you are trying to remember what you were looking for in the kitchen, but really useful when you’re trying to shift from one mode to another. By training my brain that the spare room is for writing, I can leave the day job behind relatively easily.

We’re going to buy a house soon, and I know that my writing space will have to be planned from the start. It’s very effective for me to have a place I can go to and draft. By the same token, that isn’t my editing spot. I edit curled up on a comfortable chair, usually while my husband reads the draft on his ipad so we can go scene-by-scene, line-by-line through the story. Trying to edit in my writing spot would make me crazy. The subconscious cues I have to tell me to “just sit down and write” would make trying to take time and actually edit impossible.

The writing spot is going to be different for everyone. An ergonomic setup is best for your body, but that can mean a fancy chair, a squat ball, even a walking desk. Maybe you write on a netbook. Maybe you have a 32-inch monitor. Have you spent time thinking about your surroundings? Take some time now. Try something new. A different computer, or a typewriter or a new notebook. A different chair. Maybe your chair is too comfortable, and you get all relaxed and can’t produce! Perhaps you need headphones to shut out the outside world, or a nice set of speakers so you can play music and still hear the doorbell, or you have to work in absolute silence. Maybe there’s a door that you can close, or a window that needs to be open.

If your writing process is stalling out at any stage, take a look at your physical environment. Is the rest of your life intruding on you? Are you trying to write next to a pile of unfolded laundry? Are you editing in a tiny closet with no way to look outside? Are you trying to brainstorm on the treadmill, even though you know your best inspirations come when you’re in the shower or hiking?

I’m not saying your surroundings have to be perfect. If writers could only produce when seated at 19th century desks in a New England garret, bookstore shelves would be empty. But for those of us who struggle to keep up our productivity around all the other demands of life can help ourselves by taking a few steps back and thinking about where we write instead of just what we write.


K.D. Julicher:

K. D. Julicher writes from the mountains of Nevada, where she and her husband collaborate on novels and raising a daughter. Her day job involves keeping trains from running into each other. She won the 2014 Baen Fantasy Award and will be published with this year’s winners of the Writers of the Future contest. Links to published works and infrequent news can be found at www.kdjulicher.com.

Have Counselor, Will Write

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

Just last month, I was lying in the same-day surgery wing of the hospital prepping for knee surgery when the pre-op nurse asked what kind of work I do. I smiled as I took the marker and dutifully wrote “Yes, please,” on my right knee, a protective measure against the surgeon working on the wrong leg, and answered, “I’m a mom and a writer.” Over the next hour we talked more about what I do for a living. Finally, she shook her head, and asked, “How do you do it?”

“I have a fantastic counselor,” I said.

She broke out laughing.

It is true though. Life is chaos. That is a given fact for pretty much everyone. It is a big mess of trials, failures, joy and heartache that all mesh into one big ball of fun.

Once upon a time, in a land known as Seattle, I quit my full time job as a business analyst to write. I’d wake up in the morning, kiss my husband send him off to work, and then sit down at my computer and……twiddle my thumbs. I had all the time to write, and struggled to write a single word. It honestly took my friend giving me a random writing prompt before I wrote my first short story Curse of the Light Switches. Believe me, it was totally and completely pathetic. But it was what I needed to kick my imagination gears into motion. Over the next two years, I wrote and edited seven drafts of my first ever epic fantasy novel. Thinking the project finished and a work of art, I started submitting to agents. The mail box remained empty for months. The few responses I did receive were form letters. The greatest rejection stated that while I was a talented storyteller, I was not a fit for their publishing firm.

Then, after seven years of fertility issues, we invented the child. Not just any child, but a little girl who rolled over in the hospital three days after birth and has never stopped moving. She was our little miracle, but the moment she came into existence my motivation and ability to write drastically dropped faster than an Olympic skier racing down a bunny hill. Two months after our daughter was born we moved from Seattle to Utah so that she could grow up near her half-brothers. A short twenty months later I had a son after four and a half months of bed rest. When he was ten months old, I informed the doctor that I wanted to have one more child, but that they had to be farther apart. Either I was a totally suck-tastic mother or my children were literally more than I could handle. The doctor informed me in return….Guess what? You are already pregnant.

Three kids in three and a half years. Try writing anything through that and I’ll personally bake you a cake.

I attempted to salvage my feeble writing career by attending a myriad of local writing conferences and by joining two different critique groups. Their feedback was invaluable. But as I read their stories and compared them to mine, I wanted to cry. However, I’m the type of person who is just too stubborn to give up. I hung in there, submitted crap, and took the feedback as my saving grace and ran with it.

Our chaotic life then spiraled out of control. I ruptured a disc in my back that required major surgery. What writing I did attempt felt like crap, and I felt like the grand prize winner of the Worst Mother of the Year award. On top of that, my husband had a bad reaction to medication, sending him into six months of suicidal tendencies.

That is when I met Bonnie (a.k.a. the most incredible counselor in the universe). She was exactly what I needed in a counselor—long almost black hair, bangles up the arms, at least four necklaces, ripped leather pants, camouflage shirt, combat boots, and a bike jacket. Bonnie became my counseling version of the fairy godmother. She helped me learn what I could control, what I couldn’t, and how to see the difference.

Then in 2014 my littlest son hit me in the head with a car seat, giving me a concussion and one of the greatest miracles of my life. Because of my concussion the doctors did several MRIs and identified “three white matter brain lesions in non-MS typical locations.” This simply means… I’m a writer in transition to superhero glory.

I wish.

At the same time all three of my kids were diagnosed with special needs—running from ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Moderate-functioning Autism, aggressive tendencies, and developmental delays. My kids are pretty much creative geniuses that learn uniquely and see the world in remarkable ways while not grasping social expectations. The truth behind the difficult paths I traveled hit me when I made Bonnie cry. (There’s no crying in therapy! Oh wait….yes, there is. Just not usually from your counselor.)

So how do I balance life and writing in this chaos? I don’t. Thanks to those tiny aliens in my noggin’, the three precious miracle children in my life, a very supportive husband, and my genius counselor, I’ve had to learn to let go. Instead I wing it. Personally, I can’t write at night. I cherish my sleep way too much. And I already get up at oh-dark-thirty thanks to my autistic son who doesn’t require anywhere near a decent amount of sleep. So instead, for four days a week in the precious two hours that all three kids are in special needs classes, I attempt to write. Just like in college, I still tend to work best under pressure, so I set deadlines and goals to keep me motivated (and yes, chocolate and caffeine are often involved). Then there’s my amazing husband who will stay home with the kids and send me off to the library to work when I require a much needed sanity break. (Back off ladies, he’s mine!)

Through it all I’ve written two novels, unpublished to date, but they will be published someday. I’ve had a piece published in a magazine about what it is like being a stepmom. Another piece won first place in an online writing contest and was included in an anthology on being a mommy writer. My third essay came out last year on the trials my husband and I experienced going through fertility issues. And my first ever short story was published this last Christmas to help raise money for Primary Children’s Hospital.

Yes, my life is still a ball of intense chaos, but I love it. It is not easy. But the fight is worth it. And thanks to a brilliant counselor, I’ve had to learn that if I want to survive, if I want to thrive, I must do something that takes care of me—and that something is writing. I’m worth it.

 

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.