Writing in the Morning

I have found that mornings are the best time for me to write. I discovered that, while I’m not exactly a morning person, I am capable of getting out of bed an hour early every day to write. When I began participating in National Novel Writing Month, I had some of my most productive writing sessions before the sun came up. Evenings, for me, are full of distractions and temptations I can’t resist (read: prime time television) I learned that, if I want to make writing part of my day, mornings may be my answer. And coffee of course.

IMG_0900Though I have not yet read The Artist’s Way, I recently learned about Julia Cameron’s concept of morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing done first thing upon waking. I love the idea of making writing the first thing I do in my day and have begun to do my own morning pages.

The writing that comes from these morning pages is more about getting my thoughts onto the page than about producing quality writing. I can record my dreams or my observations about what’s happening outside my window. My hope is that Morning Pages will help me continue to work toward the habit of daily writing.

To learn more about morning pages, visit Julia Cameron Live

Here are some advantages I have found to writing in the morning:

Do it First Thing and it is Done
When you make writing the first thing you do in the morning, you have not yet been bombarded with the distractions the day will bring. Write before you turn on the news, before you check your email, your Facebook page, your Twitter feed. Once you have done some writing done, you can move on with your day knowing you have made this small (or not so small) achievement.

Capitalize on your Dreams
In her book “Writer with a Day Job” Aine Greaney says that creative writing draws on the same subconscious side of our brains as our night dreams – writing in the morning is a smart way to capitalize on these just-awake, or almost-asleep versions of yourself. That bit of advice has stayed with me and is what helped me to get up early to write every morning during NaNoWriMo.

Morning Solitude
Sometimes, it is best to get the writing done before the rest of the household is awake. When I set my alarm an hour early and sit down at my laptop, even the cats are too tired to disturb me. This can be a great solution for busy families who typically have chaotic morning schedules. Early in the morning is a peaceful time when the house is quiet.

What do you like or dislike about writing in the morning? If you do Morning Pages, I would love to hear from you – please tell me about your experiences in the comments below!

Books for Writers: Writer with a Day Job

As writers, many of us dream of the day we’ll be able to give up our day jobs to write full time. We struggle to find time to write between, work and/or school, family, and the other obligations that fill our time. We often find (or make) excuses. How do we find the time to write when writing isn’t our full-time job?

I first read Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney in preparation for NaNoWriMo. I was grabbed by the title and subtitle: “Inspiration & Exercises to Help You Craft a Writing Life Alongside Your Career.”

This book lists challenges (read: excuses) writers with day jobs face and ways to overcome them. It offers suggestions to find time to write during your day. For some writers, that might mean waking an up an hour early to write before the workday starts, during your lunch hour, or at the end of the day.

Aine believes the two attributes which distinguish real writers from the wannabe are desire and discipline. It’s not enough to want to write, we must have the discipline to sit down and write day after day. That means we must find the time in our daily lives to grab that writing time whenever we can. Write something, anything in the time you have. Jot notes about your characters, map our your next scene. Make observations about the people/places/things around you.

I love her suggestion to “visit your writing.” On the days we can’t write, she suggests mentally logging out of other tasks to simply think about our writing. The best time for me to do this is on my drive home from my day job. I can think about my next scene, about my characters or work out  a plot problem in those few moments of solitude.

The greatest takeaway from this book for me is that having the discipline to write regularly, doesn’t mean writing dozens of pages every day. It means making the most of our day to find time for creative expression, and to have a productive writing life no matter how busy we may be.

Many of us will never be able to quit our jobs and write full time. Let’s face it, with exception of a very luck few, publishing a book will not allow you to quit your day job. But changing your attitude and the way you approach those extra few minutes of your day can make all the difference to finding balance between work and writing.

Are you a writer with a day job? How do you make the time in your day to write?

Check out my For Writers page to find other great books for writers and resources I have found helpful .

Collecting Ideas

Ideas can come from anywhere. A piece of overheard conversation might make a perfect line of dialogue, or a story in the news can act as a springboard for a plot.

When an idea emerges it may only be a premise, an opening image, a starting point that may need more time before we begin working on it. And so we must remember these ideas to use them or build on them later. How does a writer keep track of them all?

I’ve always been a note-taker. I have notebooks upon notebooks filled with lists and notes. The trouble is keeping track of them all and remembering in which notebook I jotted a particular thought.

The modern version of the notebook is the app Evernote. Unlike my collection of notebooks, which I don’t have on me at all times, I always have my phone with me. I’ve started using this app and have created “Notes” for character names and story ideas.

There are more visual options for keeping ideas, like scrapbooks, collages, bulletin boards or virtual pinboards such as Pinterest. I have boards on Pinterest where I pin photos that inspire my characters and settings.

index-cardsAnne Lamott recommends index cards: “I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange or for any reason worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it.” I’ve used this method too, stashing index cards in my wallet or glove compartment.

I don’t have a singular, organized method for collecting and saving those moments of insight, but I’ll continue to use any method at my disposal to keep those potentially useful ideas from slipping away.

How do you collect your ideas?

Setting Reading Goals

Sometime last year, I became curious about how many books I read in a year. I have never kept track and only had a vague reference of how long ago I’d read a particular book – last year? two years ago?

So I began keeping a list of books I read in 2012 and was shocked at how short the list was. Twelve. Twelve months, twelve books. Was that all, really? Take a look at my 2012 list.

Admittedly, 2012 was a bad reading year and I blamed it on the fact that I spent the majority of that year planning my wedding. But I knew, wedding or not, I simply wasn’t making enough time to read.

Jennifer Kierecki Blog Reading GoalsSo I decided to make a reading goal this year. My goal for 2013 is to read 40 books. It’s not a terribly ambitious goal compared to some, but I chose 40 because that’s a little bit more than 3 books a month which seemed reasonable for me.

I’ll admit I was late to the Goodreads party, but it is a great way to make a keep track of reading goals. It will tell me if I’m behind or on track, and right now, at 18 books under my belt, I’m right on track!

If you like to set reading goals, I recently learned about a blog called A Novel Challenge which is a great place to find all the latest reading challenges. I love the idea of challenging myself to read books by a particular author whose work I am interested in, or books related to a certain topic or genre. Maybe it’s not too late to set a summer reading challenge (or maybe I should stick to one challenge at a time!)

With my reading challenge for 2013 well under way, this may not have been the best time to read Stephen King’s 800+ page  11/22/63. Considering I could read two or three books in the time it will take me to read this one, it may set me back, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

I recently wrote about how good readers make good writers. And now that I’m really making time to read as much as possible, I’m finding that it is making a huge impact in my writing. Not only am I writing more, I want to write every chance I get.

I’m a believer now that it isn’t enough for a writer to simply read a book or two here and there. Reading is part of the creative process.

How many books do you read in a year? Do you have a reading goal? Please share your goals in the comments below!

Finding Inspiration in Dreams

This morning I awoke from a night of unusual dreams – the kind of dreams that, upon waking, can’t really be described or explained.

These dreams were not chronological or rational. There weren’t realistic transitions – I was in one place doing one thing, then suddenly, magically I am in another place altogether and yet in my dream world it makes sense.

I awoke feeling inspired.

It’s like these dreams blossomed from the creative part of my brain and my writerly instincts are kicking in.

The first stories I ever wrote were similar to these kinds of dreams – they were adventure stories about new places that needed to be explored and getting lost at sea or deserted on a magical island. I was a kid when I wrote these stories.

I enjoy reading stories about made up worlds that are so in-depth you are able to believe they might actually exist. I admire J.K. Rowling for her ability to create such a detailed world in the Harry Potter series – maybe there really is magic among us but us “muggles” fail to see it. I love the concept that there are entire worlds that exist right under our noses, that the unusual phenomena that we find logical explanations for are really the doing of something bigger than ourselves.

In the back of my mind I’ve always thought about writing a children’s book or young adult novel with a premise like this, but I’d begun to think I’d lost that child-like imagination that was so vivid in my youth. I feared that I couldn’t write such a fantastical story as an adult.

underwater roomBut then, I dream about an underwater room hidden in a sprawling mansion that is filled creatures never seen in the real world, and I think maybe that child-like imagination is still there. It makes itself known in my subconscious, coming out in my dreams.

That dream inspired me to start writing a story, one that I probably would not have otherwise written.

Do your dreams inspire you to write?

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway

As a writer, sometimes ideas come easy. Inspiration can strike while I’m in the shower, on the drive home from work, or while I’m reading. Ideas can take form from something someone says in passing conversation, the lyrics in a song, the words printed on a sign. But sometimes, our creative outlets are tapped. When you’re in a writing rut, nothing seems worth writing about.

It’s times like those, I find that I must write anyway.

William Campbell Gault says, “If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.”

writingSometimes the best thing I can do is write just to see where it takes me. I have to write outside my comfort zone, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes all it takes is changing my physical writing spot, like moving out to the patio to take in the sights, sounds and smells. Or ditching my laptop and taking a notebook to write from a coffee shop or a park bench – these are great places to eavesdrop on conversations and take notes!  A change of scenery and a change in the regular writing routine can be a simple trick to inspire something new.

But what happens when you get to the fourth page, or the tenth, and you still don’t have any ideas? We all have days when it seems no matter how much we write, or how hard we try, the writing just isn’t there.

And that’s okay. Not everything we write is publishable, sometimes it’s just practice.

Looking back in old backup documents, I recently found dozens of short pieces I had written over the years. I couldn’t  believe how many of them there were and it was fun looking back on them. And it was then, I realized, even if I never get to quit my day job to write full time, I can still call myself a writer because, after all, a writer writes. And I will always write.

What do you do when you’re stuck for ideas?

An Ode to Shitty First Drafts

We’ve all heard the quote from Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

What an empowering thing for any writer. How liberating to be reminded that when we sit down to write, our first draft is probably going to be awful, but that’s okay. It’s part of the process.

When I sat down a few weeks ago to write an assignment for a local newspaper, I was reminded of this quote. The blank document stared at me and every time I started to write a sentence, I deleted it or worse – stopped myself before I even put any words on the page. I was too focused on wanting it to sound good.

Finally, I said to myself (out loud) “Okay, this is going to be shitty, but I’m just going to do it.” It got a lot easier after that.

Once I gave myself permission to write badly, I was able to get out of my own way and just write. I simply had to remind myself that what I was writing didn’t have to be perfect. I had to tell myself that no one was going to see this draft but me, and that I just had to get the words down and I could figure out the order of them later.

Fortunately, writers have a lot to say about first drafts. Natalie Goldberg says, “If every time you sat down to write, you expected something great, writing would always be a great disappointment. Plus, that expectation would also keep you from writing.”

I can’t talk about first drafts without talking about Anne Lamott. She wrote a very helpful, very reassuring chapter on Shitty First Drafts in her book, Bird by Bird, my favorite book on writing which I wrote about here.

She reminds us that all writers write bad first drafts. She says, “All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” No one sits down to write and gets it right effortlessly on the first try. She says the only way she can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. I find the same is true for me, too.

Lamott insists that the first draft is where you let it all pour out onto the page, no matter how childish or silly or terrible it may seem. She says to just get it all down on paper because, “There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”

The key is to not let that terribly written first draft stop you from going back to it and writing a second, and a third.

For me, the first draft is for figuring out what the story is really about, what story I’m really trying to tell. It’s about getting the ideas down, discovering who our characters are, their motives, and their flaws. Who are they and what do they have to say? Anne Lamott says, “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t – and, in fact, you’re not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”

I find that sometimes the story that comes out on paper is very different than the story I imagined I was sitting down to write. It’s easy to dream up an idea, to have a plot in mind, but it doesn’t always work out the way we imagine it would.

Jack Dann says, “For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I’m surprised where the journey.” So while first drafts can be a struggle, they can be surprising.

Check on my For Writers page to find other great books for writers and resources I have found helpful .

Books for Writers: Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

The first book on writing I ever owned is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I received it as a Christmas gift from my aunt when I was in high school and dreaming of becoming a bestselling novelist. I read the title and thought, “Why is she giving me a book about birds??” But when I read the full title I noticed it said: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

It’s a book I didn’t fully appreciate for a long time until I finally sat down and really read it. I have since re-read it many times and often pick it up to reference particularly helpful passages. I find that I discover something new each time I read it. Now, my copy of Bird by Bird is well worn. It has so many markings and underlined passages I couldn’t even begin to share them all.

Lamott starts by reminding us that, “Good writing is about telling the truth.” She says, “The good news is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it.”

Lamott offers this bit of advice about getting started:  write about your childhood. One of the first times I read this book, I took Lamott’s advice and I recently came across those writings I had written years ago, reflections about my turbulent years in junior high, a recounting of my awful first kiss. I was grateful to find these pieces, grateful that I had recorded these parts of my life that I’d much rather forget because let’s face it, it makes great material!

Lamott writes about the writing life, and issues like writer’s block, and perfectionism. She offers ways to silence your inner critic (see the chapter on Radio Station KFKD.) She writes frankly and honestly about getting published (and the myth of publication) about which she says, “…if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy. If you’re lucky, you will get a few reviews, some good, some bad, some indifferent.” She reminds us the real payoff is the writing itself.

She offers advice, like writing short assignments, carrying around index cards, and one of my favorite bits of writing advice, shitty first drafts (More on that in a future post!)

She writes about character, – it takes time for you to know them –  plot, – Plot grows out of character – and dialogue, – good dialogue gives us the sense that we are eavesdropping.

So much of that advice, so much of what I have learned about writing the hard way, is all written here in this book.

Anne Lamott is funny and honest, sharing her own triumphs, tribulations and humiliations. Reading about her experiences reminds me that I’m not alone in those moments when I sit at my computer staring at the cursor blinking back at me, feeling as though I should just give up on writing altogether. Her stories have stayed with me, and have offered solace and humor in my own writing tribulations.

If you are a writer this book is an absolute must-have.

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

There are only a few days left until National Novel Writing Month officially begins for 2012, leaving me with not much time to finish preparing and outlining!

I was reflecting on last year’s NaNo, and here are a few things I learned in the process:

1. I am capable of getting out of bed  early every day to write. I am not a morning person. But it’s what I need to do to make the time to write.

NaNoWriMoThough I am a night owl, I had some of my most productive writing sessions before the sun came up. Evenings, for me, are full of distractions and temptations I can’t resist (read: prime time television) If I want to make writing part of my day, mornings may be my answer. And coffee of course.

TIP: Find out what time of day you are most productive and make that your writing time.

2. A little brainstorming goes a long way. I never thought taking ten minutes to think about my writing could be all that beneficial. But several times during NaNo 2011, I picked up a pen and paper on my lunch break and just started writing my next scene. In just a few minutes time, I gave myself a jump start on what I could work on writing that night when I had more than ten minutes. It helped me overcome that glaze of starting at the cursor, trying to figure out where to begin.

TIP: If don’t already carry a notebook with you wherever you go, make sure you do in the month of November. Don’t be caught unprepared if you find yourself with sudden inspiration. Take a few moments of your day to jot notes about what you intend to work on that day, plan your next scene or your next chapter. A few moments of preparation is worth pages of writing.

3. Valuable writing time can be wasted in hitting the snooze button and the few moments it takes to make a cup of coffee, turn on the laptop and get settled in my writing spot. I needed to give myself a few extra moments so that these seemingly quick tasks didn’t cut into my writing time.

TIP: Do everything you can to prepare, so that once you sit down to write, you don’t need to get up for at least an hour. Have everything you need within reach including a beverage or snack, a pen or pencil and a notebook nearby to take notes –  if you suddenly decide what you want to happen in the next chapter, write it down to go back to later, then keep writing.

What have you learned from past NaNoWriMo’s? What tips do you find useful to help you make the most of your writing time?