Finding Writing Time and Setting Your Story in the Here and Now

Finding More Writing Time
Finding More Writing Time

I hope you’re enjoying a taste of spring wherever you are. We’ve actually had some temperatures on the plus side of 0 Celsius for a few days. Cardinals and juncos are returning, the crows are making a lot of noise, and some of the snow is melting. All good.

I found a couple of blog posts that I thought I’d pass along. The first one, How to Eke Out 2 Hours of Writing Per Day, has great tips for finding extra time to write, but I also think it can help you find some extra time for whatever personal or work project you need to work on. The second, How to Build a Rich Setting for a Contemporary Story, offers excellent strategies for writers of all ages who are writing about the here and now and who want to make their setting tangible to their readers.

How to Eke Out 2 Hours of Writing Per Day

am institute (author marketing) February 12, 2015

“It’s easy to get into a productivity rut. When life gets jam-packed with work and family obligations, 10-minute tasks can easily turn into half-hour endeavors. This problem is universal, but most people never squeeze out the necessary time to fit in creative work. You have to strive for better to be a writer. Here are five ways to carve out two hours of writing per day:”

How to Build a Rich Setting for a Contemporary Story

This blog was written by Stephanie Morrill who writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Check the archive on this site for other great tips for teen writers.

“… can you imagine Gilmore Girls with no Stars Hollow? Veronica Mars with no Neptune? Gossip Girl would be wildly different without it’s NYC backdrop, as would The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.

“I think the first question to ask yourself when figuring out your contemporary novel is if  you should use a real place or make one up. This depends on the type of story you’re telling ….”

If you would like to get advance notice of my new books, writing tips, interesting links and new writing prompts, please take a moment to sign up for my mailing list in the box on the right. I promise no spam and no three times a week emails asking you to buy things. I’ll just drop you a line about once a month when I’ve accumulated some interesting news and useful material. Thanks!

Writing Prompts for July 2014

IMG-20120521-00409Happy Canada Day to those north of the 49th parallel, and an early Happy 4th of July to those living south of our border. May you all enjoy safe and relaxing holidays with family and friends.

Since we’re half way through the year, now’s a good time to check in with your writing goals How close are you to achieving the goals you set back in January? Have your goals changed? Did some events or people come into your life to take away your writing time? Now is not the time to fret over time passed or lost. Celebrate what you did accomplish and spend a little time over the next few days thinking about the next six months.

Maybe the goals you set were unrealistic for your lifestyle, or schedule, or personality.  Is there one small thing that you could change that would free up some writing time? Is there a TV show that you are still watching in reruns even though you’ve seen every episode? Can you delay checking your email, Facebook, etc. in the morning and give yourself a half hour of time at the beginning of your day? Skipping that time in front of a screen and heading for your writing project could give you a scheduled time every week (or day!) in which to put some words on paper.  Maybe writing in your journal while you’re having lunch or just before bed will be all you can do to keep the writing flowing during a busy summer. Even a small number of words, as few as 250 a day, can leave you with a decent-sized manuscript at the end of six months.

When the busy holiday weekends are over, here are some writing prompts for you to think about for the rest of the month–or for the next six. 🙂

1. Use one, some, or all of the following words in a story or poem:

a) blue, floor, mirror, shoe, ribbon, fear

b) screen, shine, cover, window, ink, push

2. Here are some opening sentences for you to try:

  • Prom met all expectations.
  • “Turn that off now!”
  • Waiting stinks.
  • The boys found the body right after lunch.
  • “What’s in the bag?”
  • Sirens echoed through the valley.

3. See if you can think of a story or poem to go with one of these titles: Love’s Embers, Brook’s Brothers, Chase, Blue, The Last Tower, Mouse House, One Small Moment, Candle Power, Apple Days

4. Can  you think of a scene to go with these lines of dialogue?

  • That’s mine.
  • Are you sure?
  • Are you sure you want to ask that question?


  • I thought your magic would help us to get out of here.
  • I thought it would, too.
  • So, what’s the matter?
  • Someone’s using stronger magic.


  • You said you had the key.
  • I do.
  • Then why don’t you use it?
  • I’m not sure I want to know what’s on the other side of the door.

Hope you all have a writerly week ahead.

Learning My Lesson–Again!

Week One of Classes: I survived. The students survived. And I’m sure we all went home on Friday night relieved that the first week was over and feeling a lot better about next Monday morning.

And the writing, Heather? Okay. Not so good there. I completely lost track of the mindset that would have helped me do some writing last week. I forgot that, in order to get any writing done when I’m busy, I have to stop thinking about writing a story, but instead think about writing in smaller pieces. Sadly, I sit down thinking that I really need to get that story written, and then I freeze because I don’t have the time or the ability or the energy to concentrate through such a complicated process. I can type, but I certainly can’t create.

Today, I finally came in for a landing and remembered the lesson I’d learned before about all this, and now, I’m ready to face another busy week that will include writing on terms I can cope with. The lesson is in this quote from Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird:

“I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”

I don’t have the time to write the story, but I can write a small part of it–one scene, one moment, one character description, one brainstorming page of scribbles to work through a plot point. I can research something, or journal to clear my head. All good. All doable. If I remember the one-inch picture frame.

I’m IMG_1563going to reread this blog by Kristi Holl, too. “Chop! Chop! Writing in 20 Minute Slices.” If you’re having trouble feeling like a writer when life gets crazy, you might want to read it, too.

Hope you have a great week and that you find the time you need, even if only  a few minutes at a time, to feel like a writer.

Word Count and Daily Goals

Lake Huron shore
Lake Huron shore

I read a great post by Elizabeth S. Craig yesterday about word count in which she says, “I set myself a daily goal, but for others a weekly goal might work better.  If you have a chaotic schedule, setting a weekly goal can give you a chance to make your goal by either spreading your goal out each day or having a marathon writing session all at once to catch up.”

Okay, my goal has simply been to write every day and make some progress on one of my writing projects. It seriously has never occurred to me to set a number for pages or words to be completed in a day or a week. The only time I’ve ever done this is when I did NaNoWriMo. My focus has mostly been on simply finding the time to write. I think I am definitely missing something here. I love seeing the word count go up, but I’ve never worried about whether it went up by 500 or 1500 words, as long as the number increased. I’ve decided that I want to get the draft of the sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl done before the middle of August, but when I think about it, I could get it done sooner if I changed my approach, and then have time to write other things, too.

I work to deadline and word count all the time in my freelancing life, but even then I don’t set myself a daily number of words to produce. I just get the work done.

This is going to take some thinking about. How do you work on large projects? Do you set daily word or page counts? I feel like I’ve been on another planet or something when it comes to this. Hmmm. Time for me to get in gear.

There are two links in Elizabeth’s blog post that I’m going to add below. They really are compelling reading, though Elizabeth added a justified caution about the strong language in Chuck Wendig’s post.

Have a great weekend!

India Drummond’s “How I Easily Doubled My Daily Word Count”

Friday Wrap-Up (on Saturday)

BlossomsClearly it’s been one of those weeks. I seemed to have been playing catch up every day. I’m hoping that the weekend is just what I need to get organized for the projects ahead with some time, too, for family and a little work on one of my ongoing fiction projects.

One of the toughest things this week was negotiating a price for a large project with a local editor. It worked out well, but it was stressful, nonetheless. I said ‘no’ to the first price and the second, and then he called and a third price was chosen that I was happy with. I never expected the phone call after the second ‘no thanks,’ but it was a real morale boost when it happened. My work was valued, and he was willing to pay a price I was happy with to keep my skills in his writers’ stable.

That’s the mystery of freelancing. You never really know whether what you have done has made an impression on the person who has commissioned your work, or whether it’s just another project they can tick off on their list and move on. Have you been contacted because you’re at the bottom of their writers’ list (and everyone ahead of you can’t take the job,) or are you the first person contacted because the editor thinks you are the best match s/he knows for the project? Um, did I mention that a bit of insecurity comes with being a freelancer?

I also believe that work attracts work. As soon as I committed to this large project, I got a call about another job for someone I worked with last year. It was a much shorter project, but still, it’s a cheque, and it was a fun creative piece that I enjoyed working on. I’ll find out how his client liked it next week.

So the weekend will be spent with my calendar, blocking out work times for the several things I’m juggling over the next few weeks, including freelancing, wrestling with the new intranet program at the college to set up my fall courses, prepping said courses, and, I hope, carving out time for the fun, creative writing that’s just for me. I love calendars, and coloured markers, and getting organized. I know I’ll feel a lot better going into Monday, once I get it done.

How do you organize your writing, work time, and family time to make sure that there is room for all in your life? Love to hear some tips on the balancing act.


June 2013 Writing Prompts

Peonies - My favourite June flower
Peonies – My favourite June flower

I can’t believe it’s June already. We had every kind of weather in May from snow to a heat wave with thunderstorms, high winds and hail in between. I’m hoping that June calms down a little–and not just here, but for those other parts of North America that have already had enough destructive weather to last a lifetime.Here are the writing prompts for June. If you don’t find any of these inspiring, you can find lots to write about at the Writing Prompts tab above, too. Hope you have a creative month!

1. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem.

a) music, heart, fear, jacket, flower, door

b) basket, park, jewel, mirror, thunder, hope

2. Here are some opening lines for your story.

a) Jenny smelled like cookies.

b) It was only 8:30, and already I knew I should have stayed in bed.

c) Red cars are best.

d) The wind moaned in the chimney.

e) Flat tires aren’t funny.

3. Some things I think of when I think of June. Maybe they’ll inspire a story or poem.

weddings, the longest day, summer solstice, “June is busting out all over,” June bride, D-Day, Juno, school’s out, June bug, report cards, graduation, Father’s Day, midsummer, taking off the first hay, fresh mown grass, bird song, gardens, planting, change.

4. Here are some lines of dialogue that you can use to create a story.

a) I’ve had enough

Enough what?

Enough you.

b) I’ve stepped in something

You’re right. Now, keep moving.

What is it?

You don’t want to know.

c) There’s a light flashing.

Don’t worry. It’s only a problem if it’s red.

It’s red.

5. The year is nearly half over. Where are you with the resolutions you made in January? Is it time to make some new ones? Are you making progress? Are New Year’s resolutions just dumb anyways?

Hope you have fun with these prompts and find some joywriting time for yourself in the next 30 days!


More Writer’s First Aid–A Must-Own Book for Busy Writers

Kristi Holl’s More Writer’s First Aid: Getting the Writing Done is the perfect resource for writers who want to carve a writing career out of a life that seems already full of family, work, and just the “stuff” of living. I printed my PDF review copy, because I read better that way. I used sticky notes to highlight the parts that stood out and that I could mention in this review. I ran out of sticky notes. There were gems in almost every chapter.

This is a book that gives you permission to be human—to be confused, frightened, crazy-busy, in pain, and a first class procrastinator. Kristi offers accessible solutions to the challenges of a writer’s life without being trite or condescending. She writes with a voice that has “been there, done that” and has sought solutions in the work of other writers as well as from her own instincts. She shares her solutions and the struggles to find them and make them work, without a smidge of “holier than thou.” She speaks as a fellow traveller and survivor who has worn all of life’s hats, along with that of writer. Reading the book is like having a special writer friend give you a hug and a nod of complete understanding—just when you need it.

This is not a how-to-write guide. There are no tricks for writing great dialogue or creating a compelling story arc. Chapters are grouped under these headings:  ENJOYING THE WRITING LIFE—EVERY DAY!, WRITING HABITS THAT HELP YOU, A WRITER’S EMOTIONS, FAMILY MATTERS. She deals with the hard stuff. How to work after a loss, while working the day job and juggling family, when serious illness hits you or a family member. And the practical: how to stop procrastinating, the realities of finding writing time—and equally essential—thinking time, in a life full of demands on your time and attention.

I’ve read a lot of books about writing over the years. (I even wrote one!) Only three have made my annual reread list. Now there are four!

Blogger KRISTI HOLL is the author of 39 books, including MORE WRITER’S FIRST AID.


On Reading William Zinsser – Part 2

“Trust your material if it’s taking you into terrain you didn’t intend to enter but where the vibrations are good. Adjust your style accordingly and proceed to whatever destination you reach. Don’t become the prisoner of a preconceived plan. Writing is no respecter of blueprints.”  On Writing Well, p. 52

 Zinsser writes these words in Chapter 8 encouraging journalists and non-fiction writers to let their material lead them in an “unexpected direction” and not to “fight such a current if it feels right.” But, I think the words apply equally as well to novelists and short story writers.

 Even in my not-particularly-vast experience, I know that what I have planned for my characters isn’t always what happens to them. I learn something new about them as they and the story grow, and that “something new” takes them and the story in a new direction. In one WIP, I changed the voice part way through. I had started in third person limited, but my character was so strong that he got tired of being a “he” and decided to become an “I.” Free to talk in his own voice directly to the reader, he blossomed into an even more lively, funny and spunky character.  I would have missed all the fun if I hadn’t let him take over.

 The intimidating part was going back to the beginning of the book to see if it would work with the material I’d already written. I had polished those first pages so many times I practically had them memorized. Now, I was going to throw all those finely tuned words and take a risk with a new voice. A scary experiment, but it worked. The opening is faster, cleaner, funnier and tells a better story.

 Have you ever amended, erased, thrown out your blueprint? What happened? How did you feel about the result?


Joywriting and the To-Do List

After finishing a busy end-of-semester week very tired and with little energy or ambition, I faced the weekend with no other goals than to relax, watch the Players’ Championship and indulge in some DVDs with the family. The weather cooperated by being too cold, rainy and windy to do much else. My goal, which I admit was not set too high, was achieved and now I am working on the coming week’s To-Do list.

I have 18 items on my list so far, and I know that more will be added as my first, real, school’s-out week progresses. But there’s one thing missing. Joywriting. This word was coined by the son of my friend, Jean Mills. To quote her blog Joywriting 101, “it’s when you turn your attention to the project that is calling your name, the fun project, the one that allows you to escape this world and enter the imaginary one that only you inhabit.”

Last week, I came across another blog at Writer Unboxed by guest blogger, Heather Reid. She urged writers to “write for the sheer joy of it.” Her words plus the memory of Jean’s blog were enough to make me look at the To-Do list again.

The problem with my list is that it covers chores, writing jobs, and commitments for the entire week—every one of which I will put before joywriting. This morning, I’m going to actually add it to the list and get out the calendar and carve out some joywriting time this week.

Do you have strategies for keeping joywriting in your life? I’d love to learn how you make it work.

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