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.
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?
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.
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