Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Doing Life and Writing, Too by Marie Wells Coutu

Does life get in the way of your writing? Marie Wells Coutu shares with us today some practical ways to get in our writing time. Be sure to check out Marie's new website, Mended Vessels for more encouragement. ~ Angie

Doing Life and Writing, Too
 by Marie Wells Coutu

If you’re like me, you become so engrossed in the stories you want to tell that you could spend all your so-called “spare time” writing. That means the dishes, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the kids, and, oh, yes, the spouse could get ignored.

But, of course, those other activities are important. You don’t want to become the crazy hermit on the block who lives in a “garbage” house. And you do need clean clothes to wear to work.

More importantly, your family and friends really do mean more to you than the characters that come to life on your computer screen. So you take time to nourish those relationships and try not to show that you’re making up scenes in your head even as you spend time with your significant other.

We have one hundred sixty-eight hours each week. After work, commuting, eating and sleeping, church and Bible study, time with my husband, working on my social media efforts, learning how to improve my writing, and various household responsibilities, I may have fifteen hours left in a week for writing. If I’m lucky and get to write on the weekend. Many weeks it’s far less.

Here are a few thoughts that have helped me to maximize my writing efforts:

1.    Make writing a priority. I have had to designate certain times as my “writing time.” My husband encouraged me at the beginning by saying, “Take Tuesday night and make that your writing night.” Now, I try to work on my book at least three nights a week and on Saturday if we don’t have something else going on.

2.   Set goals. If you can’t write every day, set a minimum number of days or hours each week for writing. For me, this works better than setting a word-count goal, since I don’t have the luxury of extending my writing time until I reach that goal.

3.   Write fast, edit later. My first full manuscript took five years, partly because I kept revising and rewriting before I had worked all the way to the end, changing the plot along the way. I discovered that I am am not a “seat-of-the-pantser,” that I am more efficient if I plot first. So now I plot and develop character sketches upfront, using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method. Then I write a really bad first draft without worrying about perfection. When I write a passage that I know is really, really bad, I mark it with an asterisk. Since I’m going to revise and rewrite after I finish the full story, I am free to put down the first words that come to mind. And to keep writing.

4.   Use your “writing time” for writing. If you’re travelling, or dealing with serious issues that block your creativity, and can’t work on your novel, write something else during your reserved writing time. Perhaps you’ll blog or journal about what you’re going through. Use details of setting, people, and emotions so that you are exercising your fiction-writing skills at the same time. Ann Lamott says, “You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive….It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.”

Because I came to fiction writing later in life than many people, I look forward to increasing my writing time after I retire in a few years. In the meantime, these tips have helped me to increase my output. And instead of saying, “I want to write a book,” I can honestly say, “I am working on my second novel.”