4 Ugly Truths about Writers and Time Management

Making Time for Writing

In Episode 1 of SZWordeatery, I offered a few tips on time management for writers and admitted that I don’t always take my own advice. We’re all human; sometimes we spend two hours we didn’t have on a quest to read everything the internet has to offer on the life of Bill Watterson because some article stirred up our Calvin and Hobbes obsession.

But we also work against our better judgment to get the job done. Let’s admit to some truths about the dirty deeds we do for our all-consuming need to write. These are the accidental/inevitable ink-stains on the tidy, white life-coaching package.

1. We make unhealthy choices.


We discover that a 6 o’clock grande cappuccino can power us through a full evening of writing and keep us from crashing as a result of the three cups we had earlier in the day.

We also find that, with those three cups+cappuccino, we can be productive, functioning members of society on four hours of sleep.

We realize that food isn’t necessary when we’re caught up in a flight of inspiration. Why is it dark outside? Didn’t I just eat breakfast a minute ago?

2. Our brains throw tantrums at the worst times.


No matter how well we plan out our day, our brain might want reading when we want writing. It may not want to do anything at all.

We can’t force great ideas whenever it’s convenient to us. We can only force bad ideas and hope to find a gem in the trash heap.

Sometimes knowing we have a deadline just around the corner is enough to make our brains go into a vegetative state.

3. Life gets in the way of writing/Writing gets in the way of life.


After a full work week of sleep deprivation and caffeine overdosing, we crash and burn hard when we finally have a full weekend to focus on getting things done.

Family and friends need us when we need solitude.

Dirty dishes walk out of our sinks to slap us after a week of neglect.

We either don’t make time for exercise and end up looking like we were shot out to space and forgotten there, or we do make time for it but all the while cursing our bodily needs for taking us away from our work.

4. We make painful sacrifices.


To make more time, we give up other hobbies and dreams we loved almost equally, but not equally enough.

We forget what it means to have a free day to ourselves; we calendar relaxation. Activities we used to do for fun become integrated into our work lives–they become blog topics, articles, and pictorial marketing tools.

Time with friends and family is the hardest sacrifice we make. We lose loved ones.


It’s funny how once you decide to make the time to write and make it a priority, you forget how to live without that time. No, you don’t just forget–you simply cannot do without. When I decided I would make time for writing, I didn’t realize this activity would effectively eat up my life.

This all might sound daunting to someone still on the fence about putting writing first, but here’s another truth:

I never feel like I’m missing out.

When I write, I’m complete and so satisfied with what I’m doing that I don’t feel too bad about declining that invitation to go somewhere fun on a whim.  I may grumble about deadlines, but I actually get a thrill from the challenge. Losing people is hard, but giving up or compromising your dreams for someone else is soul-deadening.

It’s not for everyone. You have to love it in order to endure. Listen to Dr. Kelso; remember that nothing in this world worth having comes easy.

Roll Call! First Quarter Reading List

Book Meme Abibliophobia

I do not have this fear. Is there a phobia for the fear of having too many books on one’s reading list to fit into a single lifetime?

Here’s my reading list roll call for the year so far (heaven help me it’s bound to expand by the second):

The Halloween Tree Bradbury

The Halloween Tree, Ray Bradbury

I’m saving this one for October reading. I saw the television adaptation ages ago as a kid and was thoroughly creeped out. It was one of those television shows I randomly stumbled upon, so I only recently realized it was based on a book–and by Ray Bradbury no less. Shame on me!

The Halloween Tree is a spooky tale about a group of boys who have to search the past for their friend who is whisked away by a dark force on Halloween. Traveling on the tail of a kite on the hunt for their friend, the kids learn the true meaning of Halloween.

A Game of Thrones Martin

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

This is something I should have read last year. I’m possibly spoiled by the HBO series. But I’ve heard enough times that the book is better than the series (and I am obsessed with the series) so I think I need to stop kidding myself and get to reading these books.

If you live in a hole and know nothing about A Game of Thrones, it’s a sprawling fantasy with political feuding, dragons, magic, dragons, epic battles, romance, dragons and dragons.

Best of Roald Dahl

The Best of Roald Dahl, by Roald Dahl

I need more children’s books in my life and who better to turn to than Roald Dahl, writer of one of my favorite children’s books of all time, Matilda. By getting The Best of Roald Dahl, I feel I’m ordering a delicious burrito full of ingredients I’m sure to love.

If you haven’t read any Roald Dahl, I’d suggest starting with Matilda, of course, and James and the Giant Peach–oh! and The Witches…and don’t forget The BFG!

Days of Magic Barker

Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War, Clive Barker

I read the first Abarat book early last year and it’s time to get to the second. I have a reason for biding my time on this one. I went a little faint when fellow blogger Jacqui Talbot informed me that Barker has not finished writing the series and has, in fact, taken ten years to write the three books that have been released. So I’m taking my time as well, hoping to catch up right when the next book is published.

The Books of Abarat series is Young Adult fantasy that takes place in a strange and wonderful world and features a plucky and interesting protagonist, Candy Quackenbush. Here’s my book review of the first book of the series.

The Tooth Fairy Joyce

The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce

This one was recommended to me by a friend who is convinced I will enjoy it, perhaps because of my morbid taste and love of YA books. I’m actually clueless about this author and have never heard of this book. I’m kind of excited about going into a book blind.

Tell the Wolves Brunt

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

I’m a sucker for coming of age stories and (artfully) plop a shy female protagonist into the book and I’m a goner. I think I first heard about Tell the Wolves I’m Home on one of the many websites I, the co-dependant book addict, visit to receive encouragement for my addiction. And I guess the novel has received much acclaim so that’s not a bad thing.

I bet this book is going to make me cry.

Small Gods Pratchett

Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

After reading Good Omens many moons ago, I decided I had to read a Neil Gaiman authored book and a Terry Pratchett authored book. I read American Gods and now it’s Pratchett’s turn. Reading Terry Pratchett is long overdue.

Almost everything on my list so far feels long overdue.


What do you absolutely have to read this year?

Top Three Scary Childhood Books

I’ve always loved Halloween. One year, my parents bought one of those ambient Halloween soundtracks to give our house a little mood when kids ran up our crooked stone stairs with their bulging bags. I took the tape and hid under the covers in my room, listening to the howling wolves, cackling witches and creaking doors lilting out of the stereo speakers.

Some of my favorite shows as a kid included Tales from the Crypt, Freddy’s Nightmares and tamer programming like reruns of the Twilight Zone. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was Creepshow 2 when I was four years old (my parents weren’t restrictive about those things).

To this day, I find horror movies and the genre as a whole oddly comforting. Most Fridays, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch horror movies (bad and good) until I fall asleep. It stirs up a cozy nostalgia. Halloween is when that feeling is at its peak.

In celebration of the holiday, I present you with three of my most beloved scary childhood books (actually, they’re all series).

The Witch Saga Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

For a good year—smack-dab in the middle of my pre-teens—I only read books about witches. Perhaps I thought if I read enough of them, I’d become one. A girl can only hope. So when I stumbled upon Witch’s Sister at the South Pasadena Library when I was about 12, it was as if the book had been waiting for me. What can I say? It was magic.

The Witch Saga is a six-book series following Lynn Morley and her friend Mouse as they investigate, and are plotted against by, Lynn’s neighbor Mrs. Tuggle, a witch. Their families and lives are compromised by Mrs. Tuggle, but Lynn and Mouse are the only ones who see through her act. Naylor really knows how to employ that trope of adult disbelief in the tales of children and the frustration accompanied by it. I remember fuming about nobody believing Lynn.

I wanted to be Lynn Morley but I was much more like her meek friend, Mouse. And I still wonder how Mrs. Tuggle’s witchy brew tasted. I always wished I could try it, dangerous as it was. I drank a Chinese medicinal tea once and that’s probably as close to the flavor I imagined—licorice, ginseng, twigs and mushrooms—as I’ll ever get. Mrs. Tuggle wasn’t the kind of witch I wanted to be, but she was delightfully dark and wicked.

The books dealt with some issues even darker than witches, like divorce and suicide. I like a young adult book that isn’t afraid to broach serious topics.

Oh, and the main character’s mother is a writer. I remember a scene in the book wherein Mrs. Morley suffers from writer’s block induced ennui.

(P.S. I was also obsessed with Naylor’s Alice series.)

Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine

At the same time I was buying tons of Goosebumps books, I was an avid fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Remember that series? I know you do! Okay, maybe only if you grew up in America or Canada in the 90’s. Anyway, Goosebumps was a series of horror stories for young adults. They were short, easy to read, and just plain chilling.

Stine is still writing these books. I felt old when I looked at the list of books in the series and saw that the ones I read are now called “Classic” Goosebumps. I don’t want that word associated with anything produced during my lifetime. I guess I can allow that Welcome to Deadhouse is classic in that a good scare will never be outdated.

Say Cheese and DieWelcome to Camp Nightmare…so good!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz 

This is kind of bittersweet. The art in this book made it a thing to be prized among elementary school kids. Stephen Gammel’s art and Schwartz’s stories combined embodied our nightmares in an addictive way.

The publisher of this book recently decided to change the illustrations. I don’t know what they were thinking, but it makes me appreciate that I grew up with the originals.

Random story: I was one of a few kids chosen to read a tale from this book to the younger kids at my elementary school for Halloween and I did a terrible job. I was assigned to a story that relied on a blood-curdling scream for a climactic end. Me…quiet and anti-social, trying to force out a believable scream. It was the worst.

What were some of your favorite scary stories as a kid?

Summer 2012 Reading List

Remember summer reading lists in high school? I think I was one of few people who looked forward to getting that list at the end of the school year. Well, inspired by The Paris Review’s Facebook post sharing Carl Sagan’s reading list (originally posted in The Atlantic), I decided to write down and share my summer 2012 reading list.

Here’s my list:

And here’s Carl Sagan’s:

I realize mine isn’t nearly as impressive, but I think I’ve got a good mix going. I’m reading Abarat now.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Four Writing Hurdles & How to Get Over Them

First of all, you’re not getting ten writing hurdles because I realized that a lot of my issues fit under larger umbrellas. You get four instead. Good news for anyone with ADD.

So. In attempting to complete a novel these past gajillion years, I encountered, and fell prey to, numerous hurdles that indefinitely halted my progress. Faced with the task of keeping up with my 2011 NaNoWriMo goal and determined to succeed at long last, I went toe-to-toe with these hazards and blasted them into oblivion before all was lost. Pew! Pew! Pew!!

Now that it’s all over, I can claim first-draft victory and share with you a list of my top four writing issues–the Murkies and Lurkies in my brain, trying to steal all the pretty colors. But I’m not just here to whine about their devastating effects; I’m going to tell you how I leaped over those hurdles, like a surprisingly agile hippo, and completed a first draft.

This is specifically directed at completing a first draft.

Without further ado, my personal top four biggest writing hurdles, and how I got over them.

The List

Misguided Preparation

This is a tricky one because every writer is a beautiful snowflake. My prep method may not work for you and vice versa.

Full-on, chapter-by-chapter outlines didn’t work for me. Constructing an outline took the joy out of writing, and leeched all the energy out of my story before I wrote the first sentence. Then there was the question of flexibility. Could I stray from the outline? At that time, I thought I couldn’t. The outline presented itself as the most direct path to the publishing house; I was afraid I’d get turned around following any new ideas, and the story would be lost. Inflexibility in writing is a dangerous thing. My character’s and stories’ ability to surprise me is an important driving force in my writing process.

Before trying in-depth outlines, I wrote without any preparation, when the mood struck. First of all, writing when the mood strikes sounds poetic and productive, and it is for the first  few chapters, but I’ve never run down the street waving my golden ticket in the air for the span of an entire book. So when the adrenaline petered out some 7,000 words in, I’d sit on my duff waiting for the mood to strike again. And it always did, but my muse has a fear of commitment. She always shows up with a new plot, a whole new handsome face to obsess over until she gets bored again. This is why I have so many book beginnings, and only one complete novel.

This year, I decided I’d be on intimate terms with my main character, getting to know her inside and out, casually get to know the supporting cast and backstory, and draft one paragraph describing the plot. It worked.

The key here is trying out different methods of novel prep until you find one suitable for your creative process and for your story. Don’t beat yourself up if an outline doesn’t work for you–maybe you’re amazing at flying by the seat of your pants when you write. Finding your method is often a matter of trial and error. Patience is key.

Workspace Fail

The elusive writer in her mole hole.

Workspace Fail

I usually go to bed around midnight on weekdays (I work a full time job). During NaNoWriMo, I often fell asleep around 7 p.m. Those nights, hiding from the bitter November cold under the bedding, my warm laptop heating my legs like a fat cat belly, I slept like I’ve never slept before. I’ve lost hours of writing time making poor choices about where to write.

Avoid writing sanctuaries that will put you to sleep and, on the flip side, don’t work in an area that promises distraction. If you’re easily distracted, stay away from the television, roommates, significant others and, hard as this may be, try to stay away from the Internet. I’m of the type that can’t listen to music while writing. Not even classical. When I do, I just end up fantasizing about riding my winged serpent above the misty Scottish Highlands to the tune of Saint-Saëns’ Aquarium and then I wonder where the time went.

You’ve found your flow; the words are pouring out of your head and onto the page in an inky deluge. Your character is confronted by her future arch-nemesis for the first time. His lips part for that meaningful opening exchange and then he says–wait, what exactly was he supposed to say? Where are my notes? Maybe they’re under the dusty stack of 1970’s National Geographic mags I’ll need one day.

There is nothing so frustrating as having to rifle through tons of loose paper and index cards to find something in your notes, or realizing your reference material has mysteriously disappeared. I can get really disorganized during the first-draft stage, especially when experimenting with storyboard methods and outlines. There was a time when I had chapter-by-chapter synopses taped to my wall (that reminds me, I need to buy paint). Disorganization=disruption. For this reason, I favor typing my notes, character descriptions, story arcs, etc. and saving them all in one place.

Looking for a program to keep your shizz organized? I use Evernote, and Scrivener is my soul mate (I wasn’t as big a fan of the Windows version, though).

Last year, I decided to strike back against workspace fail by attending write-ins and learned that there’s something magical about writing outside of your day-to-day environment surrounded by other people doing doing doing. There’s a subtle pressure to keep busy when the sounds of productivity are all around you. Maybe it’s my rabid competitive streak, but I felt compelled to be just as busy and consistently wrote more during write-ins and when I’ve abandoned the mole hole.

Cafés are great because you can buy productivity at $1.50 a cup.

Lack of Discipline

I have the capacity to be a severely lazy human being with a bad habit of waiting until the last minute to do anything. My work ethic only extended to full-time employment (i.e. work that promises a paycheck for my time and energy). That said, I quickly sunk into depression when I wasn’t working toward something significant outside of the office. What I really needed to get myself out of that lazy funk and complete a novel was discipline (especially when writing without my fickle muse).

I don’t think I have to explain how crippling lack of discipline is when trying to get anything done. I was always making up excuses about why I didn’t have time to sit down and get cracking on a work in progress, and then got nothing back for the nothing I put into my projects.

When my 29th birthday rolled around and I realized I didn’t have all the time in the world to pursue my dream, I took some good advice and committed one hour each day to writing. Driven by the fear of growing old and doing nothing with my life, I stuck to my commitment. I now devote almost three hours a day to writing (well, editing these days).

Deadlines are also great for developing discipline. NaNoWriMo gave me a deadline for the first draft, and I came up with my own editing deadline. I have to submit my manuscript to agents by this November. My deadline may be arbitrary, but it put a fire under my butt. I need to feel panicked and rushed in order to get anything done. That sounds horrible, but I’ve accepted that fact about myself and used it to my benefit.

Figure out what bends you. What makes you get stuff done? Once you know, put that gun to your head (FIGURATIVELY! FIGURATIVELY!).

We’re coming up to the worst of my hurdles now…



When I decided I wanted to write a novel almost a decade ago, I thought every writer edited as they wrote, and that’s how you produced a work of genius. Every paragraph was churned out with painstaking attention to prose, word-usage, and style. I’d write a sentence, go back and revise it, and then revise it again before moving on to the next sentence. My first attempts were full of poetry, but devoid of plot. In other words, I attacked writing ass-backwards.

I made the horrible mistake of sharing my 2010 NaNoWriMo progress by posting each day’s writing on a blog. I thought the potential for public shaming about failing to meet my word count goals would keep my fingers on the keyboard, but it turned out that my stronger fixation on churning out flawless writing to avoid public shame directly contributed to my failure to meet those very goals. I questioned everything I wrote and re-read until my writing slowed to a molasses crawl.

I didn’t accept that the first draft was for me, and me alone, until recently.

But I still struggle with self-editing. The voice in my head that says, “This sounds stupid. Go back and fix it, loser,” no longer has a megaphone, but it’s still there. It took hearing about first drafts from other authors I consider geniuses to resist the urge to edit as I write. To tell the story first without worrying about perfection.

Seriously, buy Stephen King’s On WritingAlso, this:

This is what I call draft zero. This is private. No one ever, ever gets to see draft zero. This is the draft that you write to tell yourself what the story is. Someone asked me recently how to guard against writing on auto-pilot. I responded that writing on auto-pilot is very, very important! I sit there and I bash the stuff out. I don’t edit — I let it flow. The important thing is that the next day I sit down and edit like crazy. But for the first month or so of writing a book I try to get the creative side of the mind to get it down there on the page. Later on I get the analytical side to come along and chop the work into decent lengths, edit it and knock it into the right kind of shape.

~Terry Pratchett, source: Writers Write