Category Archives: Writing Life

Wordsmith Studio Blog Hop: Writing Challenges, Successes & Strategies – Part 1

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I’m joining in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop, today — responding to a great Q & A about my (recent) writing challenges or successes, and the tools, strategies or resources that help me succeed.10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_n

Being a little funny, there, calling it a “great” prompt, as I was actually the one to write it. This is the third week I’ve hosted the WSS blog hop for writers, for our anniversary month.

I encourage you to go over and check out the hop. You don’t have to be a member of the writing group to join in. Do jump around and read the various posts. Particularly this week — it would be great if you shared a post with your own writing challenges and your tools or strategies for success. I’ll post links to the hop down below.

But not yet. First, here’s the interview.

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Q & A: My Writing Challenges (or Successes) and the Tools, Strategies or Resources That Help Me Succeed – Part 1

1) What are you currently working on?

My work is split between my business (freelance nonfiction, writing & editing), my Masters (writing and research related to curriculum & learning) and fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, or what is referred to as crossover or book club fiction — literary fiction with commercial appeal.

I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

As tools go: I use Outlook to block out time for business, masters and fiction, and to keep to do lists with weekly steps that help keep me moving forward in all 3 goals. I share goals with friends and with a life coach, to organize my goals and keep me accountable.

2) In recent past, what was your greatest joy or greatest challenge?

I have been impatient to complete this novel — but it was challenging, as it was the first one I attempted where the idea wasn’t that clear when I started writing. I knew the main characters and understood an essential tension, but had to go deep into research to understand the international context, and then deeper into character to develop the motivation and parallel stories that drive each.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

It’s easy to get impatient when you feel like you should be able to have finished by now (twice, I thought I was revising a final draft), but as I work on this 8th draft, it is obvious that I had to work this long to understand the story that I had only sensed in the earlier versions. A fast version would have “worked,” but wasn’t compelling. Being willing to pull up and start over let me find the real story. And, of course, hard work teaches valuable lessons.

The greatest joy is that I love the newer material.

As resources go: 2 books on writing offered some good tools for targeting and addressing weak areas in my narrative or characters: Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions, and Donald Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling

3) What challenge are you working through now?

Time is always an issue — especially right now, as I restarted my business and am busy with my kids — so any time delays are aggravating. I had a tree fall across my windshield 2 weeks ago, so groaned over the time spent getting it fixed. Same goes for lags in technology, or time spent marketing for work.

It’s not just about having time to write every day, but wanting those writing hours to be end-zone-level productive.

Transitioning between drafts means that I am pulling successful scenes from several documents in Word to build the new draft. Last summer, on the last draft, I did this simultaneously in Word and Scrivener; Scrivener has won me over, so I may be assembling this draft just in Scrivener. Although it sometimes slows me down to have to set up all the preferences, I like the ability to see each scene as a discreet piece in Scriv. Much of my writing in recent months involved re-envisioning existing scenes — the ‘notecard’ view helps me locate, compare or replace previous versions, and to readily sort scenes that will be re-ordered in the final draft. The challenge, though, when working from multiple drafts is staying organized.

As tools go: I believe in Scrivener enough that I’ve include a link to their site in my sidebar. If you don’t know much about the software, click the picture here to check it out (if it takes you to a “buy” page, click the banner for the homepage for more about…). They are generous in offering a 30 nonconsecutive-day free trial, which allows you a lot of time to play with it before having to pay.

Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

4) For work you are just planning or starting, what challenges or growth are you expecting or hoping to encounter?

I’ve drafted novels and met with agents face-to-face before, but this will be my first foray into blind querying. I’ve practiced pitching and spitballing at conferences and workshops in the last year, and gotten an agent’s feedback on a query draft.

As for strategies: It’s worth noting that attempting to draft a query or plan pitches and log lines during different face-to-face activities with peers and agents is part of what helped me know when I didn’t have a clear sense of the story. Writing pitches and queries ended up being a great strategy for understanding my narrative structure.

5) What have successes or challenges in your work (recently) taught you?

Well, the thing I just mentioned. Having come from a literary background where these things aren’t brooded on as much as word choice and such, I was surprised how important plot structure, narrative arc, suspense and other elements more typically suited to screenwriting have been, as tools in my revisions.

As resources go: the sign at the top of this post was from a workshop I participated in last January (Blue Flower Writers Workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts), where Ben Percy was the clearest I’ve heard in talking about structure and suspense, even in literary writing.

6) What obstacles or challenges have you not been able to overcome, or still frustrate you? Is there a “magic wand” you would invent to solve this problem?

Yes, I want Hermione’s time turner — to be able to use the same hour to address multiple priorities. It’s not that I don’t have the time. Keeping time to write (fiction) every week is a nonnegotiable for me — I am stubborn in crafting the rest of my life around it, even while running a business or when I teach full time. But I still get frustrated to not be done yet.

As tools go: A magic wand that pulls the story straight out of my head would be great. As strategies go: here are other posts I’ve written on time management strategies for writers.

To Be Continued…

There are 2 more questions to the Q & A, asking how I would define a great writing week and what specific tools and strategies help me succeed. Those answers are long enough that I’m going to let them be a second post.

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How About You? Join in the Blog Hop!

What successes or challenges are you working through, and what tools, resources or strategies help you succeed?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments.  Better yet, if you are reading this 4/29-5/4, join in the blog hop by using the linky tool below.  Visit the initial prompt, with all 8 questions and more explanation of “how to hop,” on Wordsmith Studio’s site: Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop – Week 3.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

If you like the idea of more blog hops, let me know, as I may host them in the future on this site.

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If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or subscribe via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with readers and writers.

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Writers’ Homecoming: Participating in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

If you’re a regular reader here, you may know how much I value my writing community. I am way overdue sharing some of the great interactions I’ve had with new writing friends at writers’ conferences and workshops over the winter, but today is all about jumping in to participate in a Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop to celebrate the 3 year anniversary of my fabulous group of writing friends, Wordsmith Studio.

What is Wordsmith Studio?

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nWordsmith Studio came together 3 years ago on the heels of one of the best challenges I’ve ever seen online: poet Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Building Challenge. Every day for 30 days, each of us learned about how to make the most out of a different social media tool in building platform (that is, readership and genuine connection). We learned not just how to blog, but how to create authentic interaction with readers and other writers. How to participate in comments on others’ posts and encourage comments on your own, to create authentic dialogue. Likewise, how to understand the formats of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and more to, again, create authentic connection through each of those venues.

Since then, the group has created a formal affiliation. We have a website with weekly posts and member bios. We have a Facebook page with numerous smaller offshoots (there’s an events page for this month’s anniversary activities, and subgroups — my favorite is the Goals group, where we trade our monthly goals and cheerlead each other through successes and pitfalls). Wordsmith Studio is on Twitter, hosting 2 weekly chat sessions (#wschat), as well as other periodic activities, like wordsprints or live events. These are where I participate most, but we have members who are more active in other venues, like Google+ or Pinterest.

The group is formal enough to have a process for joining, and is administered by a 6-member Advisory Group (I am one of the 6 members; we each serve for 2 years).

We have been glad to add in new members over the years, whose writing interests have broadened us well beyond our initial platform building challenge. Our group has seen several book releases, through traditional and self-publishing routes. Our writers share expertise on drafting, revision, conferences, querying, signing contracts, readings, publication, promotion… and blogging, photography, graphic arts, crafts, fine arts, music and much more.

That said, we are above all supportive of each other. We have diehard founding members who have been active the whole 3 years, and many more who we have seen come and go as other life’s priorities take them away and bring them back to us again. Someone is always apologizing for having been absent, but we’re just glad to see them again and to catch up on what they’ve been working on.

Which is what our “homecoming” theme is about, this month.

What is Homecoming? And What is the Blog Hop?

We celebrate each anniversary with events that help us rekindle any skills we want to work on and renew any connections that have drifted apart over the past year. We get to know each other’s work and current goals again… And we get to know new members, who may wonder how to get involved (it’s easy — just jump in).

As part of our Homecoming events, I agreed to lead the kickoff of our group’s first official blog hop. To participate, read the instructions here at the Wordsmith Studio site.  Or use the Linky Tool at the bottom of the post.

Worry you missed it? The Homecoming Blog Hop takes place every Wednesday this month. Look for a kickoff post each Wednesday, then you can participate anytime through that Sunday.

My Homecoming Interview

Running manHere are my answers to this week’s optional interview questions:

1) Are you a WSSer (a member of Wordsmith)? I already answered this one above: yes, I’m a founding member of Wordsmith Studio. I really value some great friends I’ve made through the group… and really miss a few members who are no longer active!

2) What medium/genre do you work in? I make a living writing nonfiction (freelance writer/editor, and a teacher), but my focus is fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, and am also inspired by the intensity of young adult and the intrigue of mysteries, and that kind of energy seeps into my work.

3) What’s the name of your current project (ok multitaskers, give us your main one)?  I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

4) What is your favorite detail, sentence or other bit you’ve written lately? My main character was grabbed from behind as she dashed away down a street in a scene I wrote this week. At the time, her mind was unraveling, it was late at night, and the street was full of carousers, so you assume she’s being attacked. There is this awesome, immediate tension when she realizes it is actually the taciturn, armed man protecting her lover, who she does not realize followed her out into the night. I didn’t mean to write it that way, but the physicality of the scene managed to increase suspense and bridge an emotional storyline. All this year, writing has been like that. If you’ve read any of my prior posts on revising this novel, you know that there have been at least 2 drafts where I thought I was almost done… but each time, I am so grateful that I pushed myself further, knowing I did not yet fully understand the story. I feel the texture and layers in scenes now, in ways I did not in those earlier drafts. One of the biggest a-ha moments that steered me in the right direction was when I started to distance myself from the main character and let her get down and gritty, as I wrote about in Writing Character: Say the Things We Never Say.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

5) Any obstacles or I-hate-this-chapter moments? I would roar like a T-rex to say this adequately: I hate that I work so slowly. I met with Ben Percy in January at Blue Flower Arts Conference and finally spilled out my frustration: I’ve had a novel almost done before, with agents who had asked to read a full… and never made it that last 10% to cross the finish line. His advice was to just set a 30 day deadline, break it into words/day and threaten that I’d have to eat a dirty sock if I don’t make it. I have legit excuses (just finished 3 classes for my masters, plus client work & am a single parent), but that’s not it. I write 10-40 hrs a week, even with that workload. And I write fast. So I don’t know if I am too much of a perfectionist, or just slow in fitting the whole thing together, but I am routinely irritable about wanting it done, now.

6) What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned lately from your writing?  Interestingly, as a ‘literary’ reader and writer, the biggest things I’ve learned lately have to do with plot structure, screenplays and suspense.

7) In what ways do you hope to grow in the next 6 months/year?  I’m moving on to stages of how to market. I’ve been drafting queries and gotten feedback from an agent. I want to have a full draft done soon, and then on to beta readers or I may find a private coach or mentor to work one-on-one. Then time to query.

8) In what ways do writing friends and communities help you do that? I am as much of an introvert as any writer, but I have learned more and grown more by interacting with other writers than I would have alone. It can be lonely work, so it’s powerful to be able to shout out, “I hit my word count goal for the day,” and have someone cheer you on. Time is always limited, but it’s worth stoking those friendships and building these communities, because you can’t wait for the day you wish you had a writing group or friend to share work with — it takes time to find people and build connections. While I talk about Wordsmith here, some of the writers in my network are people I first met in Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum 10 or more years ago. It’s worth the time it takes.

How About You?

Please do click through to the Wordsmith Studio 3rd Anniversary Homecoming Blog Hop. Jump in and connect — write your own answers to the questions above or otherwise let us know what you are working on. You do not have to be a Wordsmith member to participate. Here are some options:

  • From 4/8-4/12, you can join this week’s Blog Hop using the linky tool.
  • If you are reading this later, just share the link to your post in the comments beneath the kickoff post.
  • There will be new blog hops each Wednesday this month. Follow Wordsmith Studio or me to see links when those posts go live.
  • To find out about more Wordsmith Studio activities, follow the group website, Twitter or Facebook using any of the links above (you can ask to join the group via the Facebook site – mention you heard about it here).

Linky Tool for the Blog Hop

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If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or subscribe via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with readers and writers.

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Relentless Wake, Social Media, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Writing Process: How to Write on the Beach

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

One of the best parts of being a writer is supposed to be our ability to do our job from anywhere.

It’s true: I remember getting an assignment while on vacation with my family at a resort in Mexico. I wrote and submitted the piece while lounging in the most gorgeous cabana beneath bougainvillea overlooking the infinity pool with a swim-up bar.

My beach writing this summer: 2 novel manuscripts in print, laptop and a pair of flamingos guarding editing supplies.

My beach writing this summer: 2 novel manuscripts in print, laptop and a pair of flamingos guarding editing supplies.

Likewise, as a mom with sons home from school for the summer, I don’t want to spend all of my novel revision hours holed up beneath my laptop while the boys are stuck watching TV complaining about just what a drag their mom is.

(What unfair irony: I’m researching motorcycle racing in Northern Ireland or writing about a furtive flight into Havana or a photojournalist lost on assignment in Syria… while my boys see just me staring at a laptop. You get my quandary.)

So it is that I spent much of June writing with my boys at the beach.

Today’s post is a pictorial “how-to”, as it turns out there are some tricks to being successful at writing on the beach.

Enjoy your day, wherever you write!

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The Basics

tree topsThe best advice for getting any writing done on the beach is similar to advice I’ve shared in Motivation to Write: Keep Writing While on Vacation.

It’s a twist on staying focused to write at home: you’re still removing obstacles and distractions, setting goals, and working in a format that keeps you productive.

1) Bring your work in a format that is conducive to actually getting something done.

Just like writing on the subway or anywhere else on the go, you have to think through your current writing goal and the format that makes that goal most portable.

Beach writing is great for generating new work — whether longhand in a journal or on a tablet or laptop. The clarifying environment loosens up many writers’ creativity, as might a run on the beach.

Since my goal this summer is novel revision, I use beach time for read-through revisions. For this, I bring a full, printed, bound copy of the manuscript.  Of course I have a pen for writing edits, but have found a highlighter most useful — I highlight just the words that are working and focus on those when typing revisions. I don’t bring my whole editing kit of colored pens, post-it notes, etc., though. I keep it simple.

My novel, Never Said, was mistaken to think this would be a vacation. c Elissa Field

My novel, Never Said, was mistaken to think this would be a vacation. c Elissa Field

But, whoa — that binder is bulky and messing with my tan lines.

If I weren’t working on a full read-through, I might take a short printed section (or a short story). Or, I’ll address working on a laptop, below.

2) It’s not Survivorman…Take only what you need

You can tell the locals on our beach because they carry the least gear. I know: you’re heading to this exotic workspace and all the “seasonal” aisles at the store suggest you need floaties and an umbrella and special blankets and a cooler and…

Get past the marketing frenzy. It’s the same drill as if you were getting writing done at home: you have to limit obstacles and distractions. The more you schlep to the beach, the longer it takes to just get going.

Option 1:  The calmest form of beach writing is if you’re staying at a resort, in which case: casually walk to the pool or neatly raked private beach with your writing materials. Use the towel they give you, the chair adjusted for you, and drink they bring you. Write your work, then leave everything there; they will clean up after you. Return to your room for a massage and nap, dine in the nice restaurant. Repeat. One added obstacle: time needed to brag and Instagram pictures of the waiter bringing you snacks

Option 2:  Sometimes you’re on vacation or staking space at the beach for an entire day. Fine, then recruit your little minions (aka family) to carry a cooler with drinks, lunch, an umbrella and all you need to be comfortable all day.

office equip bonus shells 2Option 3:  For every other beach trip: take just the basics to be comfortable for 2 hours. Even your beer won’t get hot without a cooler for two hours. Stop complaining, just sip faster.  You need: you, sunscreen already applied, a chair (yes, it keeps you off the sand), a towel, your work, a drink. If you can’t carry it all in one trip, you’re carrying too much.

Okay, fine… Here are a tropical writer’s tricks to take a drink that does not require a cooler. (Some of these assume it’s ok to have adult drinks at your beach. I will not come to bail you out.)

  • That’s what frozen drinks were invented for. Margarita, daiquiri. Mix, then refreeze so they melt more slowly. (Don’t get loopy while writing: frozen margarita mix by itself makes a great beach drink.)
  • Freeze your nonalcoholic beverages (water, lemonade, juices) but make sure to do it in BPA-free bottles.
  • Make a great beach “sangria”: Near fill a water bottle with frozen berries or frozen sliced peaches, mango or papaya. Top with half juice (or even lemonade) and half chardonnay.
  • My favorite beach drink is a 50-50 shandy of Peroni and Pellegrino sparkling limonata. Semi-freeze the limonata to keep it cold, or float with frozen berries or a chill-cube.
  • Freeze grapes to use as ice cubes in nearly any drink. They don’t dilute the drink as they melt. Or, freeze cubes of margarita mix, lemonade, juice or whatever you will be drinking, and use those to cool your drink.

Dealing with glare.

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

No matter what the ads say, it is harder to read a laptop screen in bright sunlight. But it is manageable. The glare in this selfie of me was cured with a simple tilt of the monitor.

  • Turn up the brightness on your monitor. Most laptops are set to dim brightness when unplugged in order to conserve battery power, so you need to turn this up manually (on my Dell, that’s a combination of Fn+F5). This does reduce your battery life, so close unneeded apps. Save battery power for the manuscript by reading email or Twitter on your phone.
  • Wear sunglasses. Well, duh. Polarizing colors will serve you best. A hat won’t do it.
  • Target what you work on. Glare will be hardest on fine-tune editing work, like commas and spacing.  The least effect will be on typing in new material. Do your fine-tuning at home and use beach time for new writing or read-through’s.
  • Edit in print. Easiest adaptation is to go old school and use beach time for handwritten edits on a printed draft. My best beach work has included rewriting a scene in longhand or highlighting the best text to keep in a novel in process.

Dealing with sand

Despite best efforts, I was typing with sandy hands.

Despite best efforts, I was typing with sandy hands.

Heh. Good luck with that. I distinctly remember the day, my first year in Florida, when I gave up ever having no sand in the carpet in my car. It’s just a reality of the beach.

Some tips for managing sand intrusion into your work:

  • Nothing precious. My print copy of my novel has a bit of permanent sand in its binder. Another draft has a wet splash from a  morning by the pool. They’re working drafts. Honestly: a little water or sand is nothing compared to the red ink, post-it notes and highlighter scarring their pages. I can live with that. Just another badge of courage.
  • Swim last. I don’t swim until after I’m done working, which helps with sand management as my towel and I are dry, attracting less sand.
  • Oops. Flipped my laptop and binder into the sand. No damage though - it dusted off.

    Oops. Flipped my laptop and binder into the sand. No damage though – it dusted off.

    Have a safe seat for your laptop. I carry a separate bag where my laptop stays unless I’m working on it, and an extra towel to rest it on, in a safe place out of direct sun. I don’t leave it unattended while out swimming for hours; I don’t bring a laptop on days I’ll be distracted for long stretches with that kind of activity. (I also don’t leave it in the car as police say beach parking lots can be targeted by thieves who figure beachgoers left purses and wallets in the car.)

  • Only out when you need it. Don’t let sand or water be an obstacle (or you’ll get no work done), but have alternatives so you only need the laptop out for certain work. I leave the laptop in a covered bag while working on a print draft, and use my cell phone rather than the laptop for tasks like checking email, my website or Twitter.
  • Select your seating. While I used to sit picnic-style or lay out on a blanket or towel, a beach chair raises you off the sand. I use a lightweight, adjustable one that folds to carry backpack-style. My boys keep their splashing and gear away from my work area and we don’t settle in right next to someone’s digging dog.
  • Avoid wind. It doesn’t just blow the sand – it makes you squint and wrestle with your work. Enough said.
  • Go resort-style. No one said the beach has to be off-roading. Even if you are not staying at a hotel, resorts often let you rent a cabana or lounge chair for the day, which certainly civilizes the experience. Some of my local friends have paid for a beach/pool membership at local resorts. Sitting poolside gets you off the sand altogether.

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How About You?

What strategies do you use to write in unusual locations? I wrote about the beach, but I’ve heard friends with awesome solutions to writing successfully in traffic, in the grocery store, or… How about you?

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Filed under Motivation to Write, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Process & Routine

Finishing the Novel: Daily Task of “Getting it Done”

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field


Ah, blissful! After a demanding spring of teaching, summer has arrived — and with it, long days of novel revision. As often as I post about Novel Revision Strategies, one of the biggest strategies is how to manage time to get the most out of time to write.

Today, this had me reflecting on the strategies that help writers work long days on novel writing or revision to successfully reach writing milestones but not burn out or kill energy for the work.

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1)  Purge all those distractions.

If I were only going to write for 30 minutes before going to a day job, this step would be considered a distraction. But, on days when you plan to write or revise all day, there’s only so far you can ignore other tasks (trust me, I’ve pushed it). Here’s a quick cycle I let myself run through to remove distractions before writing:

  • Get refreshed. For me, it’s coffee. For some writers this might be push-ups, a quick run or walking the dog.
  • Keep it clean. Allow a quick 5-15 minutes to make a pass at household tasks. Picking up after the boys, dishes, laundry — whatever handful of things keeps the house going. Generally, this fits in while coffee is brewing. Sometimes I use “count to 10” for this: pick a random number like 10, 20 or 25 — and quickly knock out that many of something. As a parent, this step usually involves cleaning; another writer might need this time to schedule an oil change or other kind of maintenance. Or be so lucky as to be able to skip this one altogether. Jealous.
  • Follow up for 10. We all hear warnings to stay away from email, social media and other distractions. But look, we take time to build important connections – so while I agree it’s important to write first, I give myself 10 minutes to tend the fires I stoked the day before. I don’t tend client projects here; those I schedule other times in the day.
  • Know your plan. Whether you have a written to-do list or a general idea in your head, have a sense of your writing goals for the day, with all materials on hand.

Everyone good? Kids busy with an activity? Somebody fed the cat? Nothing is on fire? Then hunker down.

2)  Write. One hour (or two). Uninterrupted.

For the work I’m doing today, 1 hour works. You might rather 2 hours. Whatever your number, it’s pure writing time.

Somewhere in the fidgeting above, I will already have in my head what the morning’s work should be. This week, the goal is to get as far through a complete read through (and revision) as possible. I’m working from a printed draft, so I will have shot that print job to the printer in 100-page chunks while checking email or some other menial task prior to writing. Yeah: no “I couldn’t write because I spent my hour fixing a printer jam or replacing print cartridges.”

No chat. No email. No phone or text or social media. No pausing for drinks or bathroom. If you’re a clock-watcher, use the timer on your cell phone to remove that distraction. Fall purely into writing for one straight hour.


3)  Time for a break.

When I’m draft-writing, I write for hours on end, as long as the ideas are flowing. For revision: blocks of time. In the breaks in between, I might be revisiting some of those same tasks from morning’s distraction purge. Check the kids. Switch the laundry. Walk the dog. Get a snack. Another coffee. A phone call. Short tasks from other areas of my to-do list.

Again, I’m not a proponent of staying away from social media, so I would check Twitter, Facebook or my blog. I might share an accomplishment from the morning — connecting with other writers working on their goals at the same time is a great way to keep yourself going.

But I aim for a break to be 30 minutes, not longer. Sometimes it’s just a stretch, refill coffee and…

4)  Back to it.

Lots of successful writers will say their complete writing goal for a day might be 2 hours’ work. For me, during summers away from teaching, my aim is 4 hours on a short day, but as long as 8-10 hours for a full day of writing or revision. I get there by repeating these 2 hour blocks of work.

Do I have to stick with the clock? Not precisely.

Using time blocks helps structure the day and keep you honest – both in your discipline and the need to stop for breaks. But the day’s goals may dictate more organic work-blocks: retyping chapters one and two might fit neatly into one hour, or might prompt a sidetrack into research over the actual date the TSA was started. Maybe that block will be 1.5 hours, and maybe another block will be just 30 minutes, since it involves an intensive re-evaluation of my character’s inner motivation that requires a breather for reflection afterward.

I don’t stop to a factory bell if I am in the middle of something. Likewise, sometimes a task goes more quickly — or is more draining, so you need a break sooner than expected.

Having minimum or maximum time blocks can help you stay on track. If I planned to write an hour, I’ll push myself to keep going if it’s been less than 45 minutes. If I planned an hour but keep going off on tangents, I might control this by stopping if it goes past 2 hours.

Are you working at home with family? Honoring time blocks also helps to manage that temptation to get lost in writing and forget a promise you made to take kids to the pool or go out to dinner with your partner.

5)  Break up the work

To achieve 8 and even 10 hour days, I’ll keep repeating breaks and time blocks to stay refreshed but productive throughout the day.

Time blocks also help to create natural shifts in the work.

For me, this might mean 4 hours on the novel, then 2 writing for my blog or clients, or to work on submissions. Or I might break it into hours for revision, versus hours for research or drafting new material. Shifts in work help keep you from burning out.  I use a color-coded Outlook calendar to keep a visual of the time needed and available for each, throughout the week.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my "office" view for the afternoon.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my “office” view for the afternoon.

You can also shift location. This morning I have certain work (like this post) that has to be done on household wifi. But I’ve packaged afternoon revisions so I can take them with me to the beach, which allows me to honor time with my boys. Flexibility in where you work is a great strategy for buying time to write.

6)  Celebrate an accomplishment.

Keep yourself going by celebrating a milestone. Intrinsic rewards can be something as simple as flipping through all the editing marks you’ve made on a printed manuscript or reviewing your word count for the day. One friend kept tally of her word count on her mousepad at the end of every day.

Make it social by sharing this. Lots of us keep each other going by posting our day’s milestones to Twitter or a goals group with writing friends online. Some share their word counts on NaNoWriMo software during challenges throughout the year. Tell your partner or your kids. Build in a fun reward, like a festive drink or night out with friends.

Or… yes, there are days when the “celebrate” step is replaced with “chastise.” Do reassess goals for the following day if a milestone wasn’t reached or new issues came up.

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What About You?

What time strategies do you use to reach your writing goals? Am I alone in trying to work 8-hour writing/editing days (I doubt that)? How do you keep yourself both refreshed and moving toward your goals?  Or, post a question if you think readers here could help you solve your writing-schedule challenges.

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(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)


Filed under Novel Writing, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Process & Routine

Writer’s Day Job: Is Teaching a Good Job for Writers?

Working with my WIP's first draft, summer 2012. c. Elissa Field

Working with my WIP’s first draft, summer 2012. c. Elissa Field

One of the most popular posts on my site is Writer’s Day Jobs: Balancing the Time-Money-Credit Trifecta — which weighs the challenges writers face in balancing time to write against the need to keep a roof over their head.

Aspiring writers might work on a novel at night after a day in an office job, but published authors might also be fighting for time to work on a new book while attending to promotional tours.  “Day job” is not a pejorative: whether that job is trying cases as an attorney or working in a book store or waiting tables or working as a surgeon, we simply use the nickname “day job” for how writers pay the bills.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that, over the last 20 years, I’ve balanced a daily writing practice while working a range of jobs. I worked full time as a writer, as a freelancer and an in-house writer. I worked an 8-5 desk job as a paralegal, office manager and as an assistant to a judge. I’ve taken time off to write, and I’ve worked piecemeal to buy flexibility. Most recently, for the last 5 years I’ve been a teacher.

I promised to share reviews of which day jobs allowed the greatest success — financially, for writing, for the job and for overall career success. Today’s post is the first as I review what has been an amazing job: teaching.

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Day Job Review No. 1: Is Teaching a Good Job for Writers?

In Writer’s Day Jobs: Balancing the Time-Money-Credit Trifecta, I set out the belief that a good day job for writers needs to offer a balance of 3 things:

  • time to write: hours, brain cells and creative energy available for writing
  • money: to keep the worries of life at bay
  • street credit: any form of credibility the job lends to your life as a writer, whether through credentials, experience, knowledge, etc.

Time to WriteRevision checklist-

In my first job teaching, I only taught afternoon writing classes. Each day, I’d wake early, drive my sons to school, and then write for 2-3 hours in that quiet time alone. Around noon, I’d dress and head off to teach, run an after school workshop, and be home with the boys by 4 or 5. Sweet gig. Not only did I have structured time to write, but the orderly schedule of getting ready for afternoon classes actually helped keep my writing hours more focused than in years when I was working as a full-time writer. I have other writing friends who have had a similarly light teaching schedule as an adjunct professor or teaching specialty classes, like English to adults or SAT courses.

As a full-time teacher the past 2 years, I struggle more to find writing time, although, strictly speaking, my work hours are still shorter than an office job. Even with after-school responsibilities, most teachers leave work by 5, and most teaching jobs are limited to during the standard working week.

More noteworthy are those long holidays and summers off. How do I have time for this post? Nine days off for spring break. Nearly 3 weeks off at Christmas-New Years. Long weekends, Thanksgiving, Easter… and then there’s the 2-3 summer months off.  This is a great benefit to writing parents, as it offers writing hours as well as flexibility for time with your family. Equally, this is time for attending workshops, conferences, research or travel, without having to take time off from work.

Whoa, not so fast. The downside is that teaching is not limited to your assigned classroom hours. When I taught 10 hours as a part-time writing teacher, I often spent an additional 10-30 hours/week in planning and grading.  (Really 30? Essays and papers take, on average, 20-30 minutes to review and give feedback on; multiply that by the number of students. It’s daunting.)  While I had those mornings to write as a part-time teacher, I rarely work on novel-length fiction during the school year now that I am full time.  Most nights, my “free” time goes to grading, planning, writing teaching materials or corresponding with parents. Or sleeping. I really love the creative vibe of teaching, but it does demand full attention.

There are exceptions.  If I were to teach this same grade and subjects again, the planning spent this year might free up time next year. Some subjects take less planning or have faster grading.  And some writers rally easily to go back to their own writing. In fact, depending on what you are working on, it is possible that your work teaching may feed your creative energy for writing (see more on this under Street Cred).

I find time for short work: I’m experienced at disciplining myself to write, so manage time for nonfiction, blogs, teaching materials and short, draft-form pieces of fiction (say, a single novel scene or a short story).  What I don’t count on is being able to claim extended and mentally consistent time for working on novel revisions during the teaching season.

That doesn’t mean teaching does not allow time to write. In fact, lots of teachers do write and publish, myself included. I’ve written most of my current WIP, kept 2 blogs, and written and published short stories while teaching, not to mention all I’ve written for the job itself.

The key is to be disciplined about setting aside time to write. Especially important is to be ruthless about using those extended holidays to write, revise and submit. Participating in a writing group may help keep you motivated to claim that time, when it feels tempting to work on other things.


While other day jobs may demand less attention or time, full time teaching jobs can make up for this in the relief of a continuous income. When I was a freelance writer, I loved the flexibility of being able to write full time, but the need to constantly market or look for the next project was often a distraction from making the most of time for fiction (or for my family). Knowing you have a consistent income for the coming year removes a major distraction, which lends creative freedom.

A lot is made of teachers being underpaid, but a full time teacher generally makes a healthy middle income.  Depending on your state, subject area and certification, starting teachers earn roughly $25k/year at the low end, $35-40k/year in mid-range, and up to $65k/year in the highest paying states (there are only a few of these). Full time teachers also earn benefits including health insurance, sick days or personal leave, and retirement contributions or a pension.

If you loved the idea of that part-time teaching schedule I had, expect much less financial reward. My first year teaching part-time, I made $19k by also subbing and then filling a second part-time role for the last months of the year (so I actually was full time the last few months). The next two years, for the same part-time job and same hours, they changed my contract so I made only $7k one year and $11k the next. All of those roles were hourly, no benefits, and there were several staff meetings and trainings I had to attend, unpaid.

On the other hand, you may find ways to create additional income.

  • See Street Cred, below: teaching credentials and experience may open doors for you to get paid writing assignments or speaking engagements.
  • Current internet opportunities allow unprecedented ways to monetize your expertise. For example, teachers can become vendors to sell their best lesson plans on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers or by self-publishing.
  • More traditionally, outside tutoring pays $25-100/hour.

Teachers also benefit from a slew of random financial perks, including participation in credit unions or preferred financing. A surprising number of retail stores offer teachers 10-20% discounts, including clothing stores (J.Crew, Ann Taylor and Limited Express),  craft stores (Michaels), book stores (Barnes & Noble) and some restaurants.

Street Cred

There are lots of jobs that give you time off to write or a solid income, but lend no street cred. Credibility is something every writer will measure differently. Some want a title in the writing profession to feel they can claim legitimacy. For others, it could be experience in the field they are writing about. I count street cred as anything a writer takes to be legitimizing or helps them on the path to publication.

CastilloSanMarcosTeaching has cred, for nearly all teachers and writers. As a writer, the amount of street cred that transfers may have to do with the subject or grade level you teach. The connection between my teaching and writing was obvious when I was strictly a writing teacher, or even as a history or English teacher. As a writer of adult fiction, the connection is less obvious now that I’m teaching 5th grade, and might be less so if I were a lower elementary teacher or math teacher.  If I continue with strictly adult fiction, the connection between my writing and teaching might be stronger if I were a high school or college English or writing teacher.

On the other hand, what if you are writing for children, middle grades or young adults? Teaching gives you a huge advantage in this, as I can’t tell you how much more clearly one understands tween and teen concerns and interests when watching them all day long.

Plus, you understand the priorities of teachers who recommend and assign reading — for example, you understand that books are more likely to be purchased in classroom sets if they connect to the historical periods being taught, or character education or cultural diversity being addressed. Story elements that enable your book to not just reach kids, but make it onto summer reading or awards lists, ahem, significantly increases your ability to sell books.

As a profession, teaching credentials and experience also give you the credibility to write or speak as an expert in the field. Teachers have transitioned classroom experiences into books and paid speaking about teaching (may require advanced degrees or research). Other teachers write essays or how to books about specific skills (such as Kate Messner’s Real Revision). Beyond strict classroom teaching, educators may be able to transition to hosting workshops, camps or other educational programs. Similarly, many teachers become entrepreneurs creating businesses independent of the school environment.

One last point about street cred: teaching is by no means just a day job. You will care about teaching as deeply as you do about writing, so will care whether your writing gives “cred” to your teaching just as much as the other way around. Compared to many other day jobs, teachers are very careful about their professional and public presence outside the classroom, which may feel like a creative limitation to some writers.

Making it Work: Manage Your Time & Be Ready to Write

So, is this a good day job for a writer? Not if it leaves you too creatively drained to write.  I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I know countless teachers who always dreamed of writing but never attempt it until they’ve retired, simply because their creative energy went into teaching until then.

But there are also lots of very successful writers who got their first works written while teaching. Rick Riordan, Rick Wormeli, Kate Messner and more.  Yes, you can write while teaching.

Writing on vacation - while in the treetops with my boys.

Writing on vacation – while in the treetops with my boys.

But you have to do it — you have to have material ready to run with when the summer months hit (example of this: Novel Revision: Work is Messy, Book May Bite), and you have to have short tasks to accomplish at other times.

Not only does it take discipline to actually write, but you have to be ready to overcome surprise hurdles. Last summer, as I got underway revising the first draft of this WIP, my laptop crashed. Knowing summer was my only time to tackle that revision, I had to be disciplined to shift to handwritten revision on a printed draft and adapt to working on a different computer. Similarly, since I need to make use of our holidays off, I’ve had to adapt strategies to write on the run in order to not miss out on time off with my kids.

As with any job, you also have to prepare for the mental transition from the day-world to that of your writing. When writing for the courts, I had to shift from pragmatic legal writing to fiction; in my current work, it’s from teacher-voice with goofy kids to the journalistic-literary voice of my paramilitary WIP. This is one of the greater challenges, but is true with most day jobs — and many writers find it a relief for the day job to require a different voice as the day work doesn’t deplete the creative reserve needed for writing.

What Else Do You Need to Know?

Teaching is not a “fall back” job. It is often referred to as a “calling.” Teachers love it for the creativity, challenge, and fun working with discovering learners… but it is a demanding job. Some positions may be easy to get, but it can also be very competitive to be hired or to keep a position. I’ve worked desk jobs before where I had my own laptop out and snuck in writing between phone calls; this will not be that job.

Requirements include a college degree plus certification. Elementary Ed majors generally do student teaching as part of their coursework, then take state testing for certification. Have a different degree? States generally have an alternative certification path, requiring certain education courses and then state licensing exams. Courses and exams for my certification cost between $3-6,000 (it was comparable to getting licensed as a real estate agent).

Some states require a masters degree (or you can earn more with a masters). Masters programs I’ve seen range between $9-20k.  I’ve mostly addressed teaching K-12 in this piece, but lots of writers teach at a college level, particularly during or after earning an MFA in writing. To teach other subjects may require a doctorate degree, and tenured college-level positions have been very competitive through the recent economy.

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How About You?

Do you have a success or challenge story to share about writing while teaching? Any recommendations for other readers?

Or, what other professions have you held as a day job while writing?

As always, it’s great to hear readers’ thoughts in the comments.

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Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

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Filed under Writer's Day Jobs, Writing Life

Motivation to Write: Setting New Goals to Move Beyond a Success

c. Elissa Field

c. Elissa Field

It’s the 12th day of 2014. I’m sitting on the couch, surrounded in both directions with the binders, books, papers and plans from yesterday’s work: reviewing curriculum for the rest of the spring.

I sat down with my laptop to finish what I was working on — but first ended up re-reading comments from author Gae Polisner in response to an excerpt from my novel draft that I had posted on her Friday Feedback column.  The comments from her and other readers had me re-opening the novel draft for Wake.  I scanned past the excerpt I had shared, getting lost in the voice of a new piece I’d written during the holidays.

There are times in life when you are staring down the barrel of multiple to-do items. And there are times you see your life revealed with remarkable clarity.

Last Year’s January Challenge

One year ago, I was teaching writing part-time. I loved the job and the students, and it gave me time with my two sons, but it perplexes me how I kept them fed (or tuition paid at their school) with how little I was being paid.  On the upside, I would drop the boys at school in the morning, come home and write for 2-3 hours, go teach for the afternoon, pick them up and come home. I finished research for Wake.  I finished the novel draft and made it through first revision rounds.

I reached goals.  Every single day, I faced those free hours by asking myself, “What one (or 5) thing(s) could I do right now that will make my life better tomorrow?” and I tried, every single day, to that first.

What puts my life in perfect clarity right now is that one year ago I hosted the January Challenge here to use just that kind of strategy to tackle competing goals and make real progress.  (Don’t check it out now; I’ll put links at the bottom.)

One of those things that would “make my life better tomorrow” was the writing: get the novel polished enough to query by end of summer.  Some of them were personal, like resolving my divorce and where the boys and I wanted to live.  But one big goal was that wanted to be hired to teach full time.  I love teaching in a way that is similar to my love of writing: I love the in-the-trenches intensity of it, the creativity, the constant demand for solutions, the perspective that working with middle schoolers gives me, the way both professions continually re-examine the world.

It’s interesting that New Year’s hit this year and I felt no temptation to set resolutions, because I really did follow the strategies I wrote about, and made a ton of progress last year. I had kept my novel writing goals and tripled my blog traffic.  I made money off my site.  I expanded my writing about education.  I made progress with the family goals.  And one big fat accomplishment: I was hired as a full time teacher, tripling my income from the previous year and satisfying my hunger to grow into a more challenging professional role.

The “Day Job” Challenge for Writers

I’ve written before (link below) about how most writers balance their time for writing against the demands of a day job, whatever it may be, calling it the “time-money-credit trifecta.”  For anyone new to the term, it’s not a pejorative but recognition of a writer’s job other than writing.  The day job could be literary agent, partner at a law firm, teacher or professor, full-time parent, journalist or night clerk at a hotel.  Even the time published writers spend in lecturing or attending book signings is work that takes time away from writing.

The truth is, no matter the drive to complete a novel, it is important for writers to have an income that allows them to be housed, fed and healthy, and not worried about supporting their families.  I can’t downplay how important it is to my family that I succeeded in teaching this past year, nor the opportunity for growth and “street cred” that teaching has offered my writing.

Success as Hurdle to Motivation

I sat on the cusp of 2014 completely unworried. My goals this year related to continuing in success, not creating it.  Sure, I was short on time and behind my target date of getting the novel done, but I still have the coming summer.  Things were going well.  There were still some family goals to focus on and plenty of demands for me to address in teaching, so why worry about the writing?

Let Hunger be Your Fuel

I wonder if other writers would relate to this same moment: what made me go back to setting goals this morning was the hunger that it awoke in me, to have shared an excerpt of my novel draft with another writer and to read her feedback.

“Keep going,” Gae said at the end of her comments.

She had questioned certain things, praised others and wondered about context.  I went back to the full draft and, reading my own work, heard my characters’ voices and saw things to fix. The hunger was there to get back to it.  I wanted to do just what she said: keep going.

And other goals came alive, too: to follow through with the grad school applications I’d started or registration for workshops/conferences I wanted to attend.  To light the fire that would keep me moving forward, not just continue.

During the school year, I focus 1,000% on my students, my sons and the amazing work being done at the genuinely fabulous school where I teach.  If I stop to write, it’s often new teaching materials or an article on what went well in class.  I like that I teach in a demanding environment, where it feels like competing at the Olympic level.  And yes, I still work on the novel when I can.  What I am experiencing now is the success I worked for last year.  It’s awesome.

But current success was hiding the hunger that had compelled me to grow.  I needed to re-find that hunger.

Do First the 1 Thing That Helps You Grow

The hunger this morning recognized that I have dropped my own rules for continuing to grow.

Yes, I will get back to what I need to do to continue my current success.  But I need to remember not to skip that step beforehand: to do, first, one thing that will continue to move my goals forward.

Both as a teacher and as a writer, I have goals I still need to work toward.  Whether it is spending an hour on the novel or finding the number of the professor I need to call for  a recommendation letter for grad school or… the small steps done each day are what get us closer to reaching our goals.

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Are you looking for motivation or working on writing goals?

Does any of this ring true with you?  Feel free to share your own goals, successes, or blocks in the comments below.  If you wrote about a similar theme, feel free to share a link to your blog post.

I’ll re-share links to the January Challenge, below. It was a popular series, as the strategies shared are particularly helpful to writers, who are often challenged to keep motivated despite competing priorities.

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grasp c Elissa Field

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Filed under Inspiration, January Challenge, Motivation to Write, Relentless Wake, Time Management for Writers, Writer's Day Jobs, Writing Life, Writing Mother

Writing Process: Where Do You Write?

writing ct 1-

One of the cheery questions that writers seem to like trading experience about is, “Where do you write?”

There are those who are passionate café writers. There are those who post long reflections on their experience writing at a weeklong or month-long retreat where trees block view of the closest human being. There are those who write on subways. There are those attending conferences this summer who will imagine long hours writing in the Adirondack chairs on a grassy mountainside.  There are those with full fledged home offices or equally meaningful cubbies with small totems that inspire them to write.

One of my most productive places to write, ever, has been sitting in bed in my house, which is that kind of new construction where the master bedroom is huge and airy, on the second floor with a bay window looking over treetops so it feels like sitting in a treehouse. Chi moves so well through that room that I am neither bored nor distracted.

More often, as single mother, I am in the corner of the sectional sofa in the family room in the middle of my sons’ action, so I won’t someday hear them in therapy saying their mother spent their childhood with her nose in a laptop locked away in her room. I’ve written in other busy places: conferences, courthouses, schools, train stations, airports.

I’ve written in spectacularly beautiful places — on a cliffside balcony looking over the Mediterranean in Positano, Italy; in a beautiful hotel room; at famously photogenic beach. Few places are as beautiful as that empty chair in the picture with this post, where I am sitting right now on the sun porch of my mother’s house in Connecticut, looking out over her gardens as she and my son weed.

ard na sidhe blogBeautiful places and busy places have often left me with ideas to write from. My current WIP began with an image from a gorgeous mountain lake in County Kerry, Ireland.

But, ironically, my philosophy about “where to write” is the same as my philosophy on buying notebooks or pens for writing: the best writing places are equivalent to or more boring than the writing you’re doing. If you’ve ever had writer’s block, then never buy some heirloom-gorgeous writing journal because you’ll be too afraid to write a wrong word in it. I’d rather a boring composition notebook, any day.

As beautiful as this seat is in my mom’s sunroom, I’ve spent more time photographing it and writing about it than working through the list of revisions I’m supposed to be making.  As we get ready to drive back south tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll lament leaving this beautiful location many times. But the truth is, it does me well to dip in such beauty and then retreat to the quiet where the words I need to work on are the main attraction.

As a final thought, I think the best writing seats have good chi — air flows readily so your ideas feel free to unravel — yet are not in the main line of that energy. For example, that seat pictured in the window demands the action of looking out onto the world, in the traffic flow of the main door. In reality, these last two weeks, I’ve written better when snugged into the sofa set back in that same room, with a similar view and still in hearing of all the house’s activity, but sheltered behind the main traffic and action.

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What About You?

Is your writing space important to you as you write, or are you portable in your work? Do you have rituals, like favorite quotes or icons on your desk, or other ways your writing space gets you going? What would you change, if you could? What would you recommend writers look for or avoid in a good writing space?

If you’ve posted about your writing space in the past, feel free to leave your link in the comments.

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