My Writing Routine – Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St Clair

Welcome to the forth article in our My Writing Routine series. Each week, we bring you the writing routine of a different author, delving deep into their processes, tips, thoughts, and techniques for getting their words onto the page.

Today we peer into the writing routine of author Anthony St. Clair.

1. Can you give us a bit of a background about yourself as a writer? 

Two events growing up told me that words and expression would be the core around which I would build my life, values, and career.

In middle school I was part of a creative writing program, and while working on short stories I realized that my future would always involve the written word. Then, in college, I spent a couple of years as editor of the student newspaper. Someone told me that I was able to express ideas they had, but couldn’t find the words for. That told me I had a useful skill that people could find beneficial.

My career as a professional writer began in college, with both the student newspaper and a part-time job as an editorial assistant at THE ROANOKE TIMES newspaper in my hometown, Roanoke, VA. Since then I’ve worked as a professional online content writer, doing everything from editing travel stories to managing product copy for a national e-commerce website. In addition to writing, I’ve also lived in Scotland and Ireland, and traveled to a range of countries including India, Thailand, Australia, and Japan. Since 2000 I’ve lived in Oregon, and now have a wife and 2 children.

In 2011, though, after years of soul-searching my wife and I decided that I would leave a job I’d had for 7 years, in order to make a go of being a professional independent writer and author. Since then I’ve been building my business, where I focus on 3 things: writing articles and features about the craft beer industry in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, managing online content and marketing for businesses, and independently publishing a fantasy series based in travel, alternate history, and beer.

So far I’ve published 3 books (e-book and trade paperback) in my Rucksack Universe series: THE MARTINI OF DESTINY, HOME SWEET ROAD, and FOREVER THE ROAD. The fourth book, THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY, will be available in early 2016.

More about me, my books, and my writing is at my website, anthonystclair.com, and I’m also on Facebook and Twitter (@anthonystclair).

2. When you’re in the midst of writing a book, what does your routine typically look like?

I write 5-6 days a week, which I accomplish by getting up before everyone else and making sure the coffee is fresh, hot, and strong. I also get dressed; I work from home, but I can’t work in my pajamas anymore than I can sleep in a suit. My writing day begins either with a book I’m working on at the time, or any articles that I’m on deadline for or have been assigned. Except for Mondays, when I begin the day by reviewing and planning out the week, each day starts with getting the writing done. That way, no matter what else the day brings, I know that my various projects are moving forward.

Figuring out my process made all the difference in writing. Before I knew how I needed to write, I would try to start projects but always ran out of steam. Now I have 3 published books, one on the way, and two more in development. My process is simple: I write like I travel. I need to have some idea of where I want to go, but then give myself total freedom within that journey to change.

I can’t just sit down and go from zero on a story. I need to know why the story needs to exist. I ask myself this question: “If I was telling my best friend why she should read this book, what would I say?” Once I can answer that question as both one word and one sentence, I plot out the story, including the action and emotion, scene by scene, all the way through. However, as I write I also let the project change course and evolve, and the end result is always a better, stronger, more compelling story.

Figuring out my process was probably harder than actually writing a book. Now that I know my process, I can crank through my planning and manuscript writing at a strong pace.

3. How does your routine change when you stop writing and start editing? 

When writing I give myself total freedom. I veer, go on tangents, perceive something interesting and run with it. I envision every sense and aspect of the experiences my characters are living and enduring, and I put down on the page as much of those sensations and reactions as I can.

Once I’m done with the initial rough draft, I follow Stephen King’s advice and put away the project for 4-6 weeks. During that time I catch up on other tasks, from developing other stories, to writing 1,000 words a day in my Rucksack Universe Core Story file, which is where I keep track of ideas, characters, who everyone is, what color their eyes are, back story, and all that fun stuff.

After that resting period, I’ve gotten some distance from the manuscript and can come back to it fresh. Once I put my editing hat on, things change. I like to joke that I’m self-employed, so my boss is the biggest jerk you can imagine. And when I’m editing, I get ruthless. I don’t kill my darlings. I massacre them. And smile.

Editing is essential for every book, and especially for indie authors who want to put out a book that rivals or exceeds the quality of the best traditional publishing houses. My books go through extensive editing processes, which I outline on my website: anthonystclair.com/quality. After my rest period, I do a straight read of the manuscript. I take a few notes, mainly if something jars me or seems out of whack, or if I see an angle to explore that I missed during the drafting. I then do an extensive developmental edit, ensuring that plot, theme, and character are all working together—and that there’s sufficient tension, peril, and—if you’ll pardon some technical jargon—must-keep-reading pageturnability.

After I’ve done all the editing I can do, I turn the manuscript over to my Chief Reader. She gives me extensive feedback, and after making more revisions I send it out to a team of Beta Readers. After incorporating their feedback, the manuscript goes to my copy editor, who fixes hard-to-follow passages, corrects grammar, and ensures compliance with The Chicago Manual of Style, a common US standard for publishing. After that the manuscript is proofread, locked down, and prepped for e-book and paperback formats.

4. Do you have any quirky rituals or specific writing goals to help you to focus?

Each book gets its own playlist.

I go through my music and pick out pieces or songs that seem relevant to the theme of the book, or just that I find help my mind, heart, and imagination stay in the world of the story. The result is as eclectic as my random brain. A typical playlist might include The Chieftains, Cowboy Junkies, Beethoven, Red Molly, Hozier, The High Kings, U2, and Fiona Apple.

For goals, I have a daily writing goal of “Write for 60 minutes or 5 pages or 2000 words or 2 drafts per day”. That covers my bases with the range of projects that I work on, and ensures that I can always find a way to get words in.

5.  Can you describe the space in which you usually write?

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I work from home, and this is my home office. Designed in accordance with Virginia Woolf’s guidelines, this room has a door that locks. Here are a few things you’ll find in my home office author cave:

  • Much-marked world map
  • Buttons with sayings I like, such as “I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person” and “I’m a HEROINE ADDICT: Lover of Strong, Kick-Ass Women”
  • Coffee mug
  • Headphones (my wife and kids are still asleep when I start working, and I like some music in the morning)
  • Bullet Journal (current notebook: a green, pocked-sized, ruled, hard-cover Moleskine)
  • Files for clients and projects
  • Art from my 3-year-old son
  • Pictures of my wedding day and my 2 kids
  • Lots of books on business and the craft of writing, including Stephen King’s On Writing, John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing, and Laura Wattenberg’s Baby Name Wizardseriously, it’s great for figuring out character names
  • My limited-edition, state-of-the-art standing desk, cleverly disguised as a milk crate

6. Which software, tools, and apps help you to write?

I use an Apple MacBook (which I really, really need to update someday), and an iPhone 5s:

  • iWork Pages: Managing my weekly task lists, as well as final formatting for articles and other assignments. I prefer Pages to Microsoft Word.
  • Scrivener: All manuscripts for my fantasy books, as well as drafting and research for all articles. Scrivener makes it easy to organize all my writing, shift content around, track progress, and export publication-ready e-book files. I adore Scrivener.
  • iWork Numbers: Logging my business’s finances, invoicing, and tracking assignments. I prefer Numbers to Microsoft Excel.
  • Evernote: I use both the desktop and mobile versions for research, marketing ideas and task lists, and information about each book (e.g., ISBNs, links to online stores, descriptions, etc.)
  • WordPress: My self-hosted website and blog for marketing and sharing things with the world (I blog on both my desktop and my phone)
  • Dropbox: Off-site backups and exchanging files with clients
  • Remember the Milk: Online task lists. I use this partially as a repository for tasks to get to later, and also for tasks that repeat daily and weekly. It’s a big time-saver. Instead of typing a task again and again, every day I simply open my computer and see “Write for 60 minutes or 5 pages or 2000 words or 2 drafts per day”
  • Google Calendar: So my wife and I can keep track of our work needs, appointments, social engagements etc.
  • Canva and Acorn: Respectively, for online and desktop graphic work
  • MailChimp: Email marketing
  • Google Earth: my fiction is set in real places or made-up versions similar to real places. Google Earth helps me add verisimilitude of place
  • Hootsuite: Scheduling and monitoring social media for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, both for myself and for clients
  • A pocket-sized Moleskine, a Sharpie refillable stainless steel pen, and the Bullet Journal framework.

7. What music or sounds help you to better focus?

Music varies. I love classical music, and start my day with the 2-hour broadcasts of Performance Today, the most popular classical program in the US. It features recent performances and engaging interviews. From there, I listen to everything from pop to Celtic. Sometimes I use my external PC speakers, and sometimes I use my wife’s Yamaha RH-5Ma over-ear headphones. They’re comfy.

8. What kind of things completely take your focus away?

My wife and I are both self-employed, and we have a 3yo son and a 10mo daughter. We balance work and child care, so usually when one of us is working, the other is in charge of our children. Sometimes I need to help out and leave my desk for a few. But when writing is your job, you learn to push pause on work, and then hit play when you get back to your desk. Being a professional is getting it done, no matter what.

9. How do you get back on track when your writing routine has broken down for a few days or more?

I get to be with my family while doing the work I love, and that keeps my motivation strong. Sometimes there are circumstances that have me working less or being off for a bit, such as someone getting sick or family/friends visiting from out of town. If I am off my routine for a few days, I usually sit down and note the high-priority things I need to do. That could be a scene from a book, outlining a new project, or finishing an article on deadline. For a book, I look over what I’ve done previously, take a few minutes to put myself in the point-of-view character’s mind and feelings again, and get going.

10. If you could change anything about your routine, what would it be?

I’m always learning and evolving as a creative professional, so I’m always changing things about my routine in order to make it better and have the productivity I want. In fact, I just made a big change.

I thought I was setting a good schedule for bringing out my next book, but I wasn’t. I had arbitrary dates that were stressing me out. As I said before, I’m self-employed and my boss is a jerk—but luckily, I have pull with the guy. I realized that I needed to change my expectations on book releases. Instead of setting a date from further back in the revision process, now I’m getting the manuscript locked down completely before I set a release date. That gives me more realistic expectations, and lowers my stress level, while still making sure that I’m staying on track with the book.


Don’t forget, you can learn more about Anthony at his website.

If you would like to be featured in a future My Writing Routine article, please email marketing [at] scarlettrugers [dot] com

Katie Newingham – My Writing Routine

Katie Newingham

 

Welcome to the second of our My Writing Routine articles. Each week, we bring you the writing routine of a different author, delving deep into their processes, tips, thoughts, and techniques for getting their words onto the page.

Today we peer into the writing routine of author Katie Newingham.

1. Can you give us a bit of a background about yourself as a writer?

Raised in a household of boys, I often received messages that my emotions were wrong. I was too sensitive, cried too much, and needed to get over it (my mom’s leaving). I seemed to feel and sense more deeply than others, but learned to repress my thoughts and emotions – the page is where I found freedom.
 
When I was seven, my grandmother gave me a journal and encouraged me to write. By middle school the pages were filled, so I began writing poetry on notebook paper, and by high school, I had a selection of favorite poems I kept hidden in plastic sleeves. Throughout college I wrote non-fiction and then had a career as a producer for web and television news. It wasn’t until my second child was born that I wrote my first novel, THE LOST STORY. You can find ramblings on StoriesUnderFriction and my day-to-day antics on Twitter @KatieNewingham.

2. When you’re in the midst of writing a book, what does your routine typically look like? 

My day starts like any other parent, corralling the kids into a carpool line and seeing them off on their daily adventure in school. When I get home, I warm my cup of inevitably cold coffee and slowly transform from mommy mode to writer mode. I rest in silence, and infuse my brain with caffeine. I may tweet a bit after that, read a motivating article – generally procrastinate – till about nine or so, and then I dive into the scene of the day. Four hours goes by in what feels like minutes and my stomach lets me know it’s time to eat. After lunch, I read for about an hour, sometimes my work, but usually another author’s. Then I do random chores and go pick up the kids. Occasionally, I write at night after the kids are asleep, and most days I read for another half hour to an hour before the night tucks me in.

3. How does your routine change when you stop writing and start editing? 

My routine doesn’t change much whether I’m writing or editing. I probably read more when I’m editing because I hit upon issues I’m having trouble solving, and I want to learn how the “greats” develop their characters or plots, or even be reminded how to change up my sentence structure. 
 
I also have a lot more anxiety with editing, so I tend to take more breaks for snacks, or Twitter, or when I’m really frustrated, my garden. Pulling weeds seems to help me figure out what darlings to kill.  

4. Do you have any quirky rituals or specific writing goals to help you to focus?

When I’m really having trouble believing in myself as a writer, I put on this particular paint splattered sweatshirt. It’s soft cotton on the inside, and collegiate on the outside, with the initials of my college on it, CNU (Christopher Newport University). When I attended this school, I never felt like I fit in, and struggled through a full time schedule and 30 hours of work in the university book shop. But I made it and I did well. The sweatshirt reminds me of this period. Of how I finished what I started and was more capable than I thought.
 
As far as writing goals, mine is simple, to finish well – each story. Sometimes I write 500 words, but they’re good ones and I’m satisfied, then there are crazy days when I write 3,500 words. It’s more about getting through the scene then it is word count for me.

5.  Can you describe the space in which you usually write?

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A decluttered space with a comfortable seat and natural light are key for me when I write. So my room is my favorite spot to draft. On my bed, I sit with a host of pillows supporting my back, and when I look up from my computer, I’m staring out at oaks, pines, and maples. When editing, I choose a chair and table, either the desk in our office, or the dining table – whichever is cleaner!

6. Which software and apps help you to write? Which tools do you use?

I wrote most of the first draft of THE LOST STORY in Pages on my iPad, and then realized the editing functions were limited in this program, and switched everything over to Word. I’ve heard a lot about Scrivener and am considering getting this program.

7. What music or sounds help you to better focus?

My soundtrack is based on the scene of the day. I have a writing playlist that includes jazz, pop, alternative, gospel, and blues. All music is inspiring! Often I write in silence.

8. What kind of things completely take your focus away? 

My husband and children are my greatest distraction and inspiration. It’s difficult for me to write with loud, unexpected sounds in the background, but I’m able to zone into my writing with white noise. Flexibility in writing is key to perseverance and finishing the novel. Our work environments are often filled with flames, so its no wonder our first drafts are often burnable.

9. How do you get back on track when your writing routine bas broken down for a few days or more?

Author Tayari Jones wrote a blog on this and suggested journaling, which has been a passion of mine. In my greatest, most discouraged time, I took her advice, and penned a personal page. It got me on track. And still to this day, if I miss a day of “work writing,” I turn to my journal to cope with the backup of words. That’s what it feels like for me when I don’t write, I get word constipation. 

10. If you could change anything about your routine, what would it be?

If I could change anything about my writing routine it would be the unexpected interruptions, which often wind up in my work. I’m learning to take life as it comes and embrace flexibility in my writing. Neighbors, friends, household appointments, school book fairs, bring new experiences to my books.

Don’t forget, you can learn more about Katie at her website.

If you would like to be featured in a future My Writing Routine article, please email marketing [at] scarlettrugers [dot] com

Tim Yearneau – My Writing Routine

My Writing Routine

Welcome to the second of our My Writing Routine articles. Each week, we bring you the writing routine of a different author, delving deep into their processes, tips, thoughts, and techniques for getting their words onto the page.

Today we peer into the writing routine of author Tim Yearneau

Can you give us a bit of a background about yourself as a writer?

The truth is I never set out to be a writer. To make a short story long, I got a Masters degree in communications at the University of St. Thomas way back in the late 90s. At that time I did a Masters project on trademarks, which I was very passionate about. In fact, the length of my project thesis was the longest they had every seen to date for that program. My advisor suggested that I turn that project into a book. After teaching a few survey classes in Intellectual Property for another university that book idea, which had been percolating in my brain all those years, came to the surface and I decided to write a beginner’s guide to Intellectual Property. It took me a couple years, but I finished the book. But my writing ambitions didn’t go beyond that book.

Until I started working at a special ed school and a co-worker, a writing fanatic, persuaded me to enter the Nanowriting Challege which occurs every November. I participated and had a blast. Concurrently, my friend Lisa, who had done some editing on my Intellectual Property book and liked what she read, really encouraged me, if not pushed me, to pursue another book that would reach a wider audience, namely she pushed me to write about my travels. She was very persistent and kept after me. Simultaneously I was about to embark on a Barbeque Tour to settle a debate from work over the best barbeque. I decided to give in to my friend Lisa’s persistence and write about my trip. From that modest intent my travelogue book has ballooned into something far from modest, and thus a trilogy is born, and that’s where I’m at now.

When you’re in the midst of writing a book, what does your routine typically look like?

My overall philosophy is that a little bit over time adds up to a lot. I don’t operate on any sort of set schedule where I write every day at 8am for 1 hour. I’m not built that way. If I have a day off of work or on a weekend I might get up, eat, head to the coffee shop and write for anywhere from ½ hour to 2 hours. Or I might head to McDonalds at 10pm at night and start writing until 1 am. Or I might head into the Uptown area of Minneapolis and stay until this one particular coffee shop closes at midnight.

The bottom line is, I don’t have a rigid routine. I am more random depending on my mood. I’ve written in the mornings, the afternoons, and in the evenings. I float to different coffee shops depending on my mood, and lately I’ve been driving 40 miles away to a small town and writing at a coffee shop there because I get a lot done.

When I’m writing at a coffee shop I tend to write a little, schmooze, write a little, schmooze. I like people, life, and action, and do better with stuff happening around me and I use those opportunities to meet new people. How, where, and when I write is flexed into my daily routine, which can vary quite a bit.

How does your routine change when you stop writing and start editing?  What happens when you complete a book?

When I write a book I create what I call the Nanowrimo version first. Meaning, like the Nanowrimo Challenge, I just write and write and get everything out of my brain and into the laptop. No editing, no worrying about an outline or structure, just write. Raw and unedited. Then I let it sit for a while. Then I take the time to create the first draft, which I may or may not have someone look at for feedback. That sits for a while then I take the feedback and incorporate it along with my own feedback. Then let it sit, and repeat the process.

Only after doing this process for a number of times do I bring in an editor to edit. Usually I bring in one editor, go through a round of changes, then one more go around. Then I let it sit for a while, go over the whole thing myself for my own edits and updates, then bring in another editor. This cycle might continue for up to 3 or 4 different editors because each one has their strengths and weaknesses.

After completing a book I might let it sit for a while, but in my case I decided to add to my story because I took another trip, so I start the process again. I don’t typically have multiple books going at the same time. I like to finish what I’m working on before beginning another one.

Do you have any rituals or specific writing goals to help you to focus?

I don’t think I have any quirky rituals other than to roam between different coffee shops based on my mood. My writing goal is usually only write as much as I feel like and see how it goes. Some days only a little. Some days a whole lot. I stick to my philosophy that a little bit over time adds up to a lot. It works for me.

Can you describe the space in which you usually write?

I don’t like isolation, and for that matter, I actually hate being on a computer. I love my people, life, and action. So I almost always write at coffee shops, and virtually never at home.

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I might pull up what I’ve written late at night when everyone is in bed because with others buzzing around, too many distractions. Same reason I go to the coffee shops aside from the people, life, and action. I can’t get anything done at home because of the distractions.

Which software and apps help you to write? Which tools do you use?

I use Scrivener for my drafts and Office Libre for editing when I’m working with editors.

What music or sounds help you to better focus?

I own an Apple Mac Book Pro 13” and I have iTunes. I have a bunch of songs of all kinds that I listen to when I’m writing. I don’t listen to music all the time. Ironically I will put them on if even there’s too many conversations going on at the coffee shops and I can’t focus because of them. I just have the standard Apple earbuds.

What kind of things completely take your focus away?

There are two things that distract me, aside from the daily grind of life. When I’m at home and trying to work on something and people continually want something from me or talking at me when I’m writing or editing on the laptop. In these cases I simply quit what I’m doing and turn off the laptop with the idea I’ll head to a coffee shop the next day.

The other distraction for me is if I’m at a coffee shop and some people near me engaged in conversation and their conversation dominates my hearing. I tend to focus on their conversation rather than what I’m working on. This is when I pull out the earbuds and pop on iTunes, and I crank up the volume.

How do you get back on track when your writing routine bas broken down for a few days or more?

I’m not too disturbed when my “routine” breaks down for the day for I don’t have a set routine anyways. I fit my writing into the ebb and flow of my life, and I just look ahead to when there is a time to resume.

The biggest thing that breaks down my “routine” is that my head hurts from starting at the computer screen. I get fatigued, migraines, and buggy eyes. My brain is fried and feels like mush.

In these cases I have to get off the computer for a few days and take a break, even though I want to keep writing. I can’t function very well if I’m fried. I love ping pong and chess so I go do those for diversions or watch TV. Then when I’m refreshed I start writing again.

If you could change anything about your routine, what would it be? Why?

I like my way of writing, with no set routine or schedule. The biggest problem I have is fitting it in with work and the other stuff I have going on. It is hard coming home, then heading out to write. The biggest thing I would change is to reduce the amount of time I work so I have more time for this, more balance and I’m more refreshed. The other thing is that where live there are so many distractions. It would be nice to cut down on those.


Don’t forget, you can learn more about Tim at his website.

If you would like to be featured in a future My Writing Routine articles, please email marketing [at] scarlettrugers [dot] com

Toni Gallagher – My Writing Routine

Welcome to the first in our weekly series of My Writing Routine articles. Each week, we’ll be bringing you the writing routine of a different author, delving deep into their processes, tips, thoughts, and techniques for getting their words onto the page.

First up is storyteller and author Toni Gallagher (follow on Twitter)

Can you give us a bit of a background about yourself as a writer?

I’ve written all kinds of things since I was a kid, and majored in journalism at Northwestern University. I’ve been working in reality TV (which is not writing exactly, but storytelling) for over 20 years. Recently I’ve entered the children’s book world by writing a middle grade novel (ages 8-12) called Twist My Charm: The Popularity Spell. It’s published by Random House and will be followed in 2016 by a sequel, Twist My Charm: Love Potion #11. And of course I’m hoping Random House will want a third book!

To find out more about me, check out my website: tonigallagherink.com. It has a link to purchase my book, but a lot of other fun stuff, like the “books” I wrote in elementary school, newspaper articles I wrote in high school and college, letters I received from Steven Spielberg and John Irving, and photos of my travels around the world.

When you’re in the midst of writing a book, what does your routine typically look like?

Usually when I’m writing, I also have a full time job, as I’m guessing most people do. I’m not a morning writer, because I like to exercise (spin, yoga or taking a walk) before work. I’m not a big fan of working out (I didn’t start until I was around 30!), but it really helps me keep my energy up for a long day ahead.

So I work a full day (currently I’m an Executive Producer on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on Bravo) and eat dinner (usually a frozen dinner!) at my desk before wrapping up around 7 pm. Then I head to a coffeehouse. Writing at home, I face too many distractions. I attempt to write two hours before calling it a night.

On the weekends, I try to carve out two or three hours at a time – and go to a different coffeehouse to keep things interesting. (By the way, I don’t even drink coffee. I drink iced tea!)

How does your routine change when you stop writing and start editing?  What happens when you complete a book?

Because I’ve worked in television so long, I’m a writer who likes editing more than writing. I’m totally open to changes and even enjoy making them. Because of this, I can sometimes work at home when I’m editing…though I still like trying different coffeehouses.

I prefer to have a short breather in between books, though I was on a deadline for my Twist My Charm sequel. As I recall, I took a three-week vacation to Cambodia then started again. When I finished Love Potion #11, I took another break, but spent a lot of time creating my website and getting ready to promote The Popularity Spell. Now, after a little bit of downtime, I’m eager to work on a potential book #3.

Do you have any quirky rituals or specific writing goals to help you to focus?

I don’t really have any rituals, aside from ordering my iced tea! As for my goals, they change each day. Am I starting a chapter? Finishing a chapter? I’m thrilled if I can write four or five pages in a two hour window. Even if it’s terrible, it gives me something to work with later. Writing something terrible is way better than writing nothing.

Can you describe the space in which you usually write?

I write in coffeehouses all over Los Angeles, from the beach to downtown. I even use writing as an excuse to explore neighborhoods I’ve never been to before, which is great. However, if it’s a weeknight when I’m working, I have one “go-to” place, called Priscilla’s in Toluca Lake (which is in the Valley in LA).

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It’s open until 11, plays enjoyable but non-distracting music, and there’s usually a lively mix of people there. The staff are friendly too.

Which software and apps help you to write? Which tools do you use?

I don’t use any tools at all, aside from a computer and Microsoft Word. In addition to the main document, which is the book itself, I usually have a scene breakdown (which I sometimes call a “beat sheet”) to keep me on track. I tend to write in order, unless I’m particularly inspired on a particular day to take on another section.

At home I have a big bulletin board with an index card for each scene. Television shows do this as well. For me, it’s a great help in planning my book, moreso than the actual writing. Looking at the cards on the wall, I immediately can see what scenes I’m missing. I can ask myself how to get from one part of the story to another one, then just add a card.

It’s also helpful to color code the cards in whatever system works best for you.

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For me, I like to make sure I don’t have too many scenes in the same location, so I might change the color for basic locations like ‘home’ or ‘school.’ Or I’ll sometimes put a B- or C-plot in a different color. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as it works for you.

What music or sounds help you to better focus?

I like having music on, but I’m not super particular about it, as long as it isn’t too distracting. I don’t use headphones when I’m writing.

What kind of things completely take your focus away? Once your focus has been interrupted, how do you get back into a flow state?

Unfortunately the biggest time suck is right there on the same instrument we’re using to write – the computer! It’s so hard to not peruse the internet. Going to a place without WiFi helps. I’ve also heard about a program called “Freedom,” which allows you to turn off your access to the internet. I haven’t used it; I just try to use my own willpower.

If I’m at home, I can be distracted by anything. In addition to the internet, there’s dishes, a cat, my checkbook, what to wear tomorrow, whatever! Unfortunately I don’t have anything specific that gets me back into the groove. The one thing I would recommend, though, is forcing yourself to sit there and work for a specific amount of time. Whether you’re focused or not, whether you think it’s good or not, just write. Often I think I’m done for the night and I’m about to give up, but when I stick to it, something good often arises.

How do you get back on track when your writing routine bas broken down for a few days or more? Are there any activities that reliably bring back your motivation?

I find that being active can help. A walk, a hike, even a spin on the spin bike – where you’re alone with your thoughts – can get the ideas flowing again. You don’t have to necessarily make yourself think about your writing; just do something active and see what crosses your mind.

Also, though I don’t generally do writing exercises when I’m alone, I love them when I’m taking classes and workshops. You can find prompts online or in books, then write for 10 minutes, even if it’s not a particular scene for your story. Maybe it’s something else about a character, or some dialogue that you’ll never use in your final product, but will inspire you to keep going.

If you could change anything about your routine, what would it be? Why?

If I could, I’d probably like to write from home more. After all, I’m spending a lot of money on iced tea!


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