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.”


  1. Great post, Marie. It's so hard to find that perfect balance, isn't it? Sometimes dialogue pops into my head during a conversation with my hubby, and I'll spout it off instead of the answer he's expecting. He gives me a blank look for a second, then rolls his eyes. lol

    Thanks, Angie, Dawn, Annette, and Ocieanna, for the great articles and information here at Seriously Write. I've awarded you the Liebster Blog award. Check out the cool badge, at http://dorahiers.blogspot.com/2011/08/liebster-blog-award.html. I LOVE your blog! Thanks!

  2. Dora, thank YOU for your kind words and wonderful support of Seriously Write. You are appreciated!

  3. Marie, thanks for the great tips. It's hard for me to turn off that inner editor, but I've also found that if I'm going to make any headway, I have to keep going and not take time to rewrite every paragraph 10 times!

    Setting time aside to JUST write is another good tip. Ocieanna and I were just talking last night about how our spouses are supportive and want to give us that time, but they still seem to wander into the room, sit down, and try to engage in conversation. LOL

  4. Oh, Dora! Thanks, sweetie! You're such a sweetheart! Thank you for following our blog and your timely comments, too!

  5. Thank you, Dora! That's so kind of you!

  6. These are very practical and great tips! I just learned this year to write and edit later. I used to do both at the same time. One time when I was stuck and couldn't get moving in my writing, my art coach sister explained about the right and left brain and the importance of doing art in the right brain and urged me to just writing without editing. It really freed me.

    I think the suggestion to write to clear your mind is a good one too. I've done that when I am stuck. It helps me get going.

    Also, there are times when I don't think I have the time to write and I'll set the timer for 15 minutes. I've been amazed at how much I can say in 15 minutes and especially if I simply let the words flow and edit later.

    Lots of great suggestions to get us writing and to keep writing which is what we need to do to keep moving forward. :-) Thanks again.

    Sharon Gibson

  7. Oh, no! I've committed the cardinal sin of guest bloggers--I haven't responded to all your wonderful comments. I meant to, really I did, but you know--life got in the way!
    Dawn, you are so right about spouses thinking they're giving us time to write but then interrupting...I would have mentioned that but mine often reads what I write, so I decided to leave it out. LOL.
    I'm glad I could provide some ideas, and thanks to all of you for your additional tips. Most of all, keep writing!


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