Tag Archives: writer day job

Writing Life: Get Out in the World

Annual Sing for Hope installation of pianos in public parks, NYC. Photo credit: posted by Ashley Butler on Sing for Hope facebook (http://goo.gl/2PVae).

Annual Sing for Hope installation of pianos in public parks, NYC. Photo credit: posted by Ashley Butler on Sing for Hope facebook (http://goo.gl/2PVae).

As the school year ends, summer’s long days rush at me — in freedom, yes. Yet the value of my summers off (in addition to spending time with my boys) is the time it affords me for novel revisions.

Are You In or Out?

Both of the novel manuscripts I’ve been working on involve people out in the world.

In Breathing Water, the main character moves all through vibrant scenes from her mother’s house along the Miami River to art galleries throughout Miami to an illicit trip to Cuba to recover threads from her mother’s past. The characters in Wake are on the run through the Irish countryside. I’ve written stories where the main character works charter sailboats, or is the marketing writer for a corporation expanded into India.

My stories move. They travel. The world passes through their fingers.

They don’t happen on the couch in my living room or sitting here at the keyboard.

But that is the irony of the long hours it takes to write and revise a novel: no matter the life and adventure and other world the story captures, so much of that has to be created by a writer trapped at a keyboard indoors. Sure, we can all snag some laptop hours on vacation or mobile work from wherever we might be. Still, hundreds of hours get logged at a keyboard far from the action.

I am ready for that this month. I’ve spent the past two months out in the world — in classrooms with students, on an extended history tour of St. Augustine, at beach parties, at an amusement park… I’ve spent so much time “out there” interacting with people and other places that I genuinely crave uninterrupted hours to disappear back into the work on my novel that has been relegated to 15 minute blocks here and there in the past 2 months.

So no complaints about the work ahead.

Where Inspiration Lies

But a piece in the New York Times got to me yesterday, as a fabulous reminder of what it is to be an artist (amateur tinkerer or pro, in whatever medium) out interacting in the world.

Each year in June, the group Sing for Hope installs 88 pianos into public spaces throughout New York City — there for the sole purpose to be played by anyone who happens by. Each of the pianos is painted or decked out by artists and designers.

  • Click here for the NYTimes article or here for a video link, in which the reporting musician visits and plays with people at several of the parks.
  • For more information, including interactive challenges going on daily (to wit: musicians attempting to play all the pianos in one day, and random players posting pictures), check out the Sing for Hope facebook page here.
  • Are you closer to Cleveland, Paris, Omaha or Boston? The group Play Me I’m Yours is running similar projects with events in those cities; visit streetpianos.com for more info on that group.

I’ll be in New York next month, too late to check out the installation for myself — but the concept alone (and listening to songs being played by various musicians who’ve posted video) was enough to captivate me.

Get Out

As much as I will make the most of my free-to-work hours in the coming months, Sing for Hope is reminder to savor opportunities to go where you can find pianos in a park or fresh fruit at a market or conversation with a friend or the warmth of smelling horses out in a field or the crisp snap of wind in filling sails… or whatever other joys of summer that will stimulate your senses.

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What about you?

Where will you go — or do you wish you could go — to stimulate your senses or inspire your creativity?

To my regular readers, this also serves as a “hello,” as so many friends have inquired about my absence from some of our common forums. All is well — I’ve been busy, in great ways, with work. In February, I took over teaching a 5th grade class, which kept me busy planning not only writing, but U.S. History and science. I’ve kept going with work on my novel, but additional writing time has gone to nonfiction and education materials, including setting up a separate blog and Pinterest, sharing the title Mrs. T’s Middle Grades (Why “T”? I teach under my married name of Thompson). I’d welcome feedback on the new blog (email or DM me), as it’s a baby and in need of tweaking.

I look forward to reconnecting to hear what you have been doing, as well — either here or in our facebook or twitter forums.

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January Challenge Week 4: And Then Plans Changed…

space suit c Elissa Field

Anyone who has followed the January Challenge since the beginning knows that it sets out to support all of us in kicking off 2013 goals by spending one week apiece to focus on:

During Week 2, I posted How the January Challenge Arose from Freelance Writing to address how each of these steps is needed to keep a writing career growing — whether as a full time professional, a novelist with a day job, a busy blogger or someone still dreaming of getting a first draft off the ground.

Writers have accepted a profession that seeks unstructured days to have the freedom to write or explore the world. But, truth told, “freedom to work” sometimes takes more discipline and structure than lives yoked into a traditional job. Writers take on responsibility to stoke their own forward momentum so that free hours don’t escape unused.

Beyond that, writing hours need roll-bar-strong discipline to fend off the interruptions that continually threaten to claim a writer’s attention.

Children. Day job. Editing project. New client. Platform building. Broken dryer. Teaching. Deadline. Travel. Blank page. New inspiration. Friends, family. All these quality things vying for attention. For many writers, these distractions increase with success as new demands arise for speaking engagements or teaching or promotional tours.

In posts like 15 Strategies for Finishing Work, I shared some tricks for setting concrete tasks that help create a clear plan for getting the writing done.

And Then Things Change

My own weeks 3 & 4 of the January Challenge became a prime example of why those “roll-bars” are needed.

For Week 2 (“start something”), I set about the steps necessary to begin production of a literary magazine for my students, as planned. Fate laughed, and in a single day my prior job of teaching 3 writing classes and leading the literary magazine was switched entirely to cover a position vacated by a colleague who leaves our school this week.

Which brings us to…

Week 4: (Re)Evaluate and (Re)Plan

It’s easy to take sudden changes in plans or priorities as the latest “derailing” of the writing we planned to get done. How many times does intended writing get back-burnered because of a genuinely justifiable interruption from work or life?

The key to keeping writing moving forward is expecting those interruptions. Change wasn’t a surprise. New demands on our time aren’t a surprise. We know — it’s not our first rodeo — something always comes up.

Whether ending a project and needing a new client, or running into a production snag, or having a new PR issue to address. Whether a writer setting aside your own revisions while teaching others to write, or an agent pitching novel drafts without time to work on your own, or a parent trying to finish a novel with a sick kid, late sports, holidays or packing for a family trip… There’s always something.

As I said in the post about freelancing, this is why I evolved the “finish, begin, improve, and evaluate/plan” cycle, so you can continually dovetail new work in without stopping work on your original goals.

So we take on Week 4 of the challenge: it’s time to (re)evaluate and (re)plan.

Applying Steps of the Challenge as You Evaluate & Plan 

Evaluating and planning really means creating a new to-do list for the coming months, applying many of the steps set out in prior posts.

  • Evaluate what you accomplished in the prior month (or day or week). Reward yourself with check-marks, log word counts in Scrivener, or hours on your calendar. Blog about it. Celebrate.
  • Evaluate where you stand on existing projects. Create a list of tasks for steps that need to be finished, targeting any obstacles that have kept you from moving forward.
  • Evaluate what is going well. What do you want to do to continue this success, or to replicate it on a different project?
  • Measure these successes against your ultimate goal. In celebrating your 10,000 words written last month, will this get you to a finished draft by March? Set new quotas or adjust the ultimate goal, as fits.
  • Sometimes intermediate successes cause new hurdles. New material I wrote on my novel draft last fall requires new revision steps to reach the final version. Since I don’t want to delay finishing, what will I do to add writing hours to fit these revisions in? (I cancelled an optional conference.)
  • Did success in one project prevent work on another? Evaluate if it’s time to reclaim hours for a project pushed to the back-burner.
  • What will you take off your list? Surprises, successes and changes in plans often leave old to-do items irrelevant. Remove things that no longer matter to you.
  • What will you finish this month (or day or week)? Maybe you have a deadline or mandatory project to finish (I need to hand off my prior classes to the new teacher). Otherwise, like in Week 1, pick one thing you’ll just get done.
  • What new goals arose? Add in new goals or things you want to start. For me, this includes starting my new classes. But also planning for a Reading Challenge on this site in March.
  • What needs improvement? I’ve improved linking around my blog, improved how quickly my sons can get out of the house in the morning, repaired my car, cleaned my office. I want to claim more efficient writing time with a computer upgrade: I’ll schedule a laptop upgrade within the month to make the most of working time during the school year. I’ll plan a website upgrade in June, as I’ll have more free hours for tweaking during the summer.
  • What will you delay? It’s not lame to adjust a timeframe if you are still honoring what is most important to you. Don’t quit the goal; just move it to a better time on the calendar. With revisions, this sometimes includes scheduling a break to allow some distance from a piece of work.
  • In a prior post, I mentioned how writers often balance the time-money-credit trifecta. Evaluating your current balance of those 3 things impacts how to prioritize goals in the coming months. This last month brought me increased income and increased street cred to write in one of my subject areas. That means I’ll evaluate and plan where I will steal time back to work on the novel and stories (or when I’ll write pieces to make use of the street cred). This is key in planning my to-do list. For example, the money allows me to pay for 3 tasks which actually free my time or increase my efficiency to work on the book — and I need to make sure that takes place.
  • What resources do you need? Don’t forget to list supplies or knowledge you need to acquire to achieve immediate goals, or have on hand as you reach later steps. Key in this: what experts or peers could you seek out to expand your potential? Don’t overlook delegating or reaching out to a friend.
  • Don’t forget to plan when you will re-evaluate again. Consider the chunks of time/priorities on your calendar, and see how they form natural times for when you will pause and set priorities. I will be evaluating things with my day-job daily over the next week, as it is the transition time for the new job. I’ll have a breather to evaluate during next week’s 3-day weekend, at which time I’ll plan for the weeks until spring break. I can claim some writing during break, and will also use that to spend time with my sons and plan through the end of year.

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Where Are You in Your January Challenge?

write start badgeHopefully your January Challenge didn’t involve as drastic a change as mine did — unless it was a fabulous success that makes your wish list irrelevent!

A few readers who responded said that they wanted to take on the challenge but weren’t sure if they were doing it in the right order or at the right time. Hopefully the post on freelancing or this post make it clear: there is no right order or time. Our mutual challenge is just to get our 2013 goals off and running by recognizing obstacles that keep us from getting started and breaking projects into steps we can tackle.

It would be great to hear from you in the comments (or share link to your post if you blog about it):

What challenges did you take on, whether to finish, start or improve?

What obstacles are you encountering? What strategies helped you move past them, or what encouragement could you use?

What successes have you had?

If you blog about your January Challenge, please include a link back to one of the January Challenge posts here, and then share a link to your post in the comments below. You are welcome to use the January Challenge badge if you want to be festive. There is no time limit — we are working on goals for the whole year, so you are welcome to participate well past the end of the month!

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grasp c Elissa FieldThe Complete January Challenge:

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