In which Deb Kristina’s Muse wears a fedora

coverOne reason I love the writing life is that I can bend it around my family, instead of the other way around. This means that when something goes awry in my family schedule, my writing routine goes out the window.

Last week, my youngest was sick for three days. I was supposed to be up to my eyes in revisions for my second novel. This was a time for digging deep and pushing harder to make the next book even better. I’d cleared my decks of freelance work and busywork and was ready to go. Those were my best-laid plans and we all know what happens to those. I ended up with a feverish baby clinging to me while I clicked through my few channels on my ultra-basic-cable TV. It had been a long time since I’d watched “The Price is Right.” (Drew Carey is no Bob Barker, but he holds his own.)

Frustrating? Of course. But it’s OK. As a newspaper reporter, I got used to writing in less-than-ideal circumstances. Reporters work in huge open newsrooms, without offices, or even cubicles so much as desks clumped together. With all those people working and typing and talking, the din can get ridiculous. Heaven help you if you work next to the copier or coffee machine. And you have to write on deadline, no matter if you don’t feel like it, no matter if your boss interrupts you three times and your phone won’t stop ringing. No such thing as a Journalist Muse, unless maybe he’s wearing a fedora with a press card in the brim and he’s on duty 24/7.

Even non-kid related stuff steals my writing time. I had to drag my own sinus-infected self to the doctor a couple of weeks ago. I took my printed manuscript and my colored pencils and I edited my novel in the waiting room, and in the exam room while I waited even more. Sometimes my freelance or Literary Mama editing duties creep in, too, though I try to save that for evenings, or when my youngest naps in the afternoon.

When everything’s clicking along though, this is how it works on four mornings a week: Get the kids to the babysitter/school. Check e-mail and The Debutante Ball but restrain myself from writing long responses to anything. Then, to writing (or right now, revising.) I’m a sprinter when it comes to writing. I can pound out a thousand words in no time, then my novelist brain is exhausted, and I’m doubled over, holding my knees and panting, and it’s times like that when I respond to e-mails or, let’s say, write a blog post. By then I’ve caught my breath, limbered up, and then I’m off and typing again.

Then I break off, go get the kids, and eat lunch. The stopping point is an important part of the routine. I wish I could remember who gave me this idea, but it was someone in the writing community at Backspace. I’m told Hemingway used to do this. I leave off writing in mid-sentence. That way, the next time I pick up the manuscript, I don’t waste any time going, “Duhhhhh, now what?” I remember exactly where I was and what I was thinking when I stopped.

It takes discipline to work at home and I can’t afford to waste any “Duhhhhh” time. Another child’s illness could be just around the corner, especially as we head into flu season. Or I could get sick myself, or something could fall apart at home that requires contractors or repairmen to be greeted at the door.

My writing routine doesn’t always hold up as planned. But when it does, it’s time to get cracking.

What are your best productivity tips? In the writing life or for anything else?

Deb Kristina

12 Replies to “In which Deb Kristina’s Muse wears a fedora”

  1. Well, I suppose my most productive habit is to exercise first thing in the morning. I don’t eat or write anything until afterward. Okay, so I check emails. Can’t resist! My hat’s off to you as you balance the impossible and still do all the writing, editing, publishing, mommying stuff you do.

  2. Hey Kris –

    I applaud your discipline and ability to juggle it all – even when your best-laid plans go awry.

    Me? Not so disciplined. More on that on Friday, though.

  3. Kris, sounds like your journalism background is serving you well. I know how crazy it is on the mommy/writer merry-go-round. Go, Kris, go!

  4. Hi ladies! I was working feverishly this morning. I’ve given myself a goal to get done with this draft before Thanksgiving, and although nobody can yell at me if I don’t make it, I’m sticking with my plan. I cracked my husband up once by saying: “I may work for myself, but that doesn’t mean my boss isn’t a bitch.”

    Marsha, I used to exercise in the morning before anyone woke up, but I don’t have the stamina to get up before I absolutely have to. Now I squeeze in some yoga in the afternoon with the kids crawling all over me, which lends some new excitement to plank pose, I tell you.

    Eve, looking forward to reading about your work habits!

    Danielle, good luck with keeping a healthy kid, for the sake of work AND sanity.

    Tiffany, yes, sometimes my journalism background can be a curse because I’m TOO concise. (Am I the only one whose second drafts are longer than their first drafts?) But as you say, times like this it’s a great help.

  5. Oh, and Becky, that’s good (free!) advice. So many other pressing matters can invade that I have to make a concerted effort to give my writing priority. After all, it’s my job! (And I treated it as such even before it was a “job” of any sort.)

  6. I’m with Marsha–exercise has to take priority for me, or I’ll just balloon up. I tried letting that go once, and it failed on so many levels–the guilt, the lower energy, etc.

    I do love the flexible hours of the writing life, but I have to have hard and fast rules or I can’t get anything done at all.

  7. I gave up the idea of “routine” a few years ago. I do best by setting weekly goals and figuring out how to best meet those on a week to week basis. I love the image of you in the doc office with your colored pencils!

  8. Katie: Yep, need those rules and deadlines! Even if they’re imaginary and not literally enforceable.

    Eileen: I know what you mean about weekly goals. My goals are moving targets sometimes depending what my day/week/life brings. The nurse at my doctor’s office asked me if I was working on a paper for school and I said briskly, “Just doing some writing” and then started blathering about my sinuses because I just didn’t feel like being the charming authoress at that moment…

  9. I don’t really have any good productivity tips, but as a computer programmer I’ve had many a work day when I became stumped for a solution to a program I was writing, only to lie in bed at night sleeplessly, and sometimes subconsciously, thinking about the problem, and suddenly the answer appears in my head. So I jump out of bed and write down my thoughts or surely I’ll forget them by morning. The mind does crazy things sometimes. 🙂

  10. You mean after I become a published writer time will not suddenly flow like a faucet for me? I’ll still have to contend with a non-napping toddler,the ever barking dog, sick kids, floating soccer schedules, last minute school projects on my computer, and all the other interruptions to my best laid plans? 😉

    My best productivity tip is to run away when I can- library, coffee shop and even the bathroom (thank goodness for laptops). I do try and make certain that I’m writing every day, even if it’s only a paragraph. Right now I’m doing NANO and that really increases my productivity. If only I could get regular pep-talk emails from Chris Baty outside of November I might be closer to a finished manuscript.

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