Writing Tips: 5 Ways to Fit 30 Minutes of Writing into a Day

One of the best ways to get into the habit of writing is to commit to a little bit every day. Ask yourself: what is 30 minutes? On its own, sure, you wouldn’t want to be tortured for 30 minutes, or sit alone at a date for 30 minutes, or even be in subway for 30 minutes. However, in the grand scheme of things? A half hour is doable.

Here are 5 ways to find it:

1. Get up a little earlier in the morning — even if you aren’t writing, 15-20 minutes out of the sack can mean freeing up 30 minutes somewhere else. You can get other pieces of your to-do list out of the way and, once you’re used to it, you’ll feel like writing.

2. Breaks/lunches at work — what are you doing right now during those, huh? Standing at the vending machine? Smoking? Pull out your phone or a pen/paper and write down some ideas. Write a poem. Make a list of topics to query about. You can get a lot done during those little periods of time.

3. Your morning and evening commute — obviously I’m not saying you should juggle a laptop on your steering wheel, but we live in a world of amazing technology. Apps like Evernote allow you to make audio memos to yourself when you’re on the go. Switch off driving with a friend or partner and get in some time freewriting.

4. Commercial breaks — they aren’t just for jumping jacks anymore. Keep your work in front of the television and when you get to a commercial break, hit mute and go to town until your show comes back on.

5. Baking breaks — I am a big believer in mis-en-place, which is the fancy way of saying, get everything together and prepared before you start cooking so you are literally just following the directions when you get to making the dish. Once you have that casserole in the oven or noodles boiling, jot down some plot points for your book.

Sure, none of this is perfect, but you would be amazed how inspired you’ll feel when you start even doing a couple more minutes a day. You’ll practically be stealing the moments you can spare!

What do you do to find time for your passions?

Writing Tip Wednesday: Think Less, Do More

As most of you may recall, I recently took part in Clarion West Write-a-thon, for which I committed to adding 500 words per day onto the rough draft of my next novel, “Working the Dead.” And I succeeded — above and beyond, in fact. At 70 pages/almost 40K words, I found myself chuffed to bits over it. Tickled pink. Overjoyed.

How did I do it?

I stopped thinking about it.

Before the Write-a-thon, I had been going through a horrible bout of blockage. If they had prune juice for writers, I would have probably taken out stock in it. Instead, I loaded up on self-help books, articles and every spiel I could find to make me feel better about myself. “Everybody gets blocks!” they said. “You should take up yoga! Or deep-sea welding!”

It was only when I finally stopped looking up TED talks and motivational conglomerations that I was able to open that Word document and get to work.

I started accepting certain truths I think most writers should consider:

– Rough drafts should be just that. You’re not going to show it to anyone (for fear of gelato-binging heartbreak).

– If you’re getting stopped by the fact that something isn’t perfect, you’ll never do anything new.

– The sooner you stop saying to yourself, “I can’t do this, I’m a failure, this is not going to go well,” the sooner you’ll get to work.

– You’re not the awful writer you think you are. You deserve the faith in yourself that you should always have at hand.

So the next time you find yourself dreading the intimidating horrors of the blank page, just throw yourself at it. Make the smallest commitment you absolutely know you will do and do that. You’ll be glad you did.

How to Bake a Poem

Photo: :: An awesome #cake for my awesome husband. A layered devil's food cake with chocolate buttercream and some chocolate sprinkles for the numbers. So decadent.

Standing over the breakfast nook in my kitchen, I considered blowing my nose but didn’t. I was afraid that if I did I would probably scream. Because what would have come out on the tissue would have probably been brown.

At that point, I had used the following ingredients: boiling water, sour cream, all-purpose flour, cake flour, eggs, egg yolks, cocoa (Dutch-processed and a small mountain of it — hence that fear of ol’ poo nose), oil, salt, dark brown sugar and probably a few other small ingredients I am leaving out now, the night after, as I sit clean in my room and away from the kitchen table. The slab.

Yesterday morning, before I took to the operating room, I drove through the city to a class I am taking at a community center. Every Saturday for six weeks, I meet with a group of women – all ages, all backgrounds, all types and shapes and sizes, all interesting – and we write. Poetry, mostly, intermingled with some brief essay prose. And we share.

I come back to writing poetry relatively frequently because it is nothing like writing prose. That sounds very simple, but when you write fiction more than anything else, poetry is like this refreshing palate-cleanser. Gourmet sorbet.

After class, back at the laboratory, as I started the process of combining three bowls of different ingredients in varied elemental states, I recalled how once upon a time I never thought much when someone asked me to bake a cake. I’d make sure I had eggs and oil, then I’d go to a store for a mix and some frosting. It didn’t even have to be a grocery store. You can get cake mix from the right gas station, if you know where to look. Everything went into a bundt pan – because that’s all I had – and then it got put in the oven, took a slathering of cream cheese/chocolate/sprinkle-laden sugar sauce and voila. Happy birthday.

As soon as I was halfway through the cake – the from-scratch, from-the-tiniest-little-nothing forward – I wished I was back at class. That I could have been “stuck” there, writing all day. My mind drifted to years and years before. I started writing poetry right before I began high school. It was my first publishing credit, and I found myself going, “Good poetry is, like, super easy. Why doesn’t everyone do this?” And I wrote some real stinkers.  If they weren’t horribly depressing, they were overloaded with wretched sentimentality (not the interesting emotional bits of living, but the cloyingly sweet stuff that coats the inside of your mouth and refuses to wash away).

It hit me today, after the cake was done, after I had frosted it (which is another production in and of itself) and tasted it (it was wonderful and decadent and moist and delicious), that writing poetry and baking cake are actually very similar. You can just do it and end up with something edible…or you can take the time to learn about the things that go into it and end up with something really remarkable in the end. And then even when it’s exhausting and you’re not sure what exactly you’re doing, and at some point during it you are pretty certain you’ve screwed up royally, it all comes together.

Or it doesn’t, and that’s okay, too.

What is Change? or, Fifteen Minute Fiction: Day 1

Yesterday, I went into the office for a team meeting. We have these once a month, and members of our team will present a general business topic. This month, the presentation centered around “change.”

Generally, I’m great when it comes to change. I love getting put into new situations, and I’ll try anything just about once. I really enjoy getting special projects, and I thrive under pressure when I get called to do something out of my norm. As they talked about the ways different people handle variations in their routine and schedule, I felt very comfortable. “I’m just fine with this,” I said to myself. “Throw anything at me. I can handle it. Nooooo problem.”

After the presentation, we were given an exercise to do as a group. We divided up into teams of 3-4 people. Each circle had a notebook and pen. The task was simple: write a story.

Ah, I said to myself. Finally, something I can really do.

So, working with my teammates, we started writing a narrative about two people who lived in a house with a cat. Just as we brought in the narrative hook – the fact that one of these people wanted (dun dun dun!) a dog – one of the facilitators took our notebook away. Then, they split up our team. Then, they gave us another notebook.

This was not what I signed up for.

While I knew it was all in good fun and that it was supposed to be a learning experience, I started getting very tense! When we were talking about change, the idea was supposed to be in relation to easy things — like work. Work is easy. It shouldn’t be about art. Especially my art.

By the second and third point the notebook got taken away, I was getting vocal.

“Loud” might even be a better word for it.

After the exercise was over, though, it really got me to thinking. Sure, it’s easy to look at the terms you hear at a job – time management, change, stress, communication – and feel like you can “master” how they apply in a cubicle, but what about when those things factor into things that are important to you? Like your writing or relationships or family? There may come a time when you can’t just yell about it…

One idea I had to challenge myself as a writer was to start doing 15 Minute Fiction writing. I made up the following rules:

1. I had to use a prompt from a book. I could only use one. No fair skipping around. For tonight, I used today’s date from “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves.

2. 15 minutes. No more, no less. I had to keep typing so long as the clock was ticking.

3. I then had to share it here, with all you lovelies. No matter how bad it might be.

This was a lot of fun, but it definitely embodied the challenge of change. Let me know what you think! If you try it, let me know!

The prompt was just, “Once, when no one was looking…” I went crazy with it.

Wednesday Off

Once, when no one was looking, Wednesday took a vacation.

Tuesday happened. It was very pleasant and breezy, a nice reprieve from the rainy gloom of Monday. Everyone was getting into the swing of the week, committing to their duties, feeling like they had recovered from the weekend. Seats were a bit warmer, more comfortable. It was the way every week should be.

But when the sun was setting, Wednesday decided that maybe the weekend would be nice to see for once. So as everyone went to sleep that night, Wednesday chased the sun around once and they laughed as Thursday blinked into existence.

It’s surprising, what can happen on a Wednesday. It’s the apex of the rollercoaster drop, it’s the main course of the week, it’s the bridge in the song you love. And when Wednesday skipped out on everyone, people felt it.

Wednesday was sitting with Saturday and Sunday, enjoying cocktails, when the complaints started coming in. People felt cheated, like someone had taken the filling out of their cake, the fortune out of their cookie.

“Why should I feel bad?” Wednesday mused. “Everyone’s always talk about how great the weekend is. Nobody says, ‘I can’t wait to make plans for Wednesday!’ Have you ever heard someone say, ‘I love to be out on the town Wednesday night’? Because I haven’t.”

“That’s because you’re reliable,” Saturday replied, checking the agenda book sitting on the table. Every weekend was booked solid. “Folks out there are desparate for the weekend because they feel like their time is going to be stolen from them.”

“Their precious free time,” Sunday added, taking a long pull of a martini.

“And everybody hates Monday. Tuesday and Thursday are just place markers,” Saturday went on. “Don’t tell them I said that.”

“It’s really sad. I wouldn’t want to be either of the T’s,” Sunday said, head shaking at the thought.

“But you, dear,” said Saturday, mojito in hand. “You’re Wednesday. Right in the middle. You fill the world with hope for something better coming, like the worst is behind them.”

Sunday patted Wednesday’s shoulder, nodding sagely in agreement.

“I suppose,” said Wednesday, finishing a Mai Tai. “Well, I guess that’s settled, then. No more vacations for me.”

“Or any of us. Not for a long, long time, I reckon,” Sunday agreed.

And as quickly as the ruckus over the loss of Wednesday had started, it was over. Thursday took its place in line and come the following week, Wednesday walked in, please and content.

For now.