Writing While Working

Picking up the thread of Peter Grant’s blog on vacations yesterday, and harking back to David Pascoe talking about writing with an infant in arms, I thought I would touch on techniques to keep productive around the day job. Or in my case, the day jobs and the school. Admittedly, most of my writing this last year has happened while I was on a break, and could sit and write all day (or until my First Reader dragged me from the keyboard to walk the dog and eat). And I am planning to write one, and possibly two, novels during my upcoming winter term break, because I’m not making much forward progress this semester.

However, not everyone has the ability to take a break and write. I worked for years with little ones and a home office, and vacation? What’s that? Yet I still managed to write here and there. Even now, with the demands of school, I am managing a bit of writing here and there (most in this one class, where the ‘teaching’ consists of having ppt slides read at us). It’s not ideal, but it is better than not writing at all.

artist artisteThis is where we find out if we are a good artist, or effete artiste who can’t work unless everything is just so. If I have to wait on my frail alabaster muse to come tickle me with just the right inspiration, I may never get anything done. On the other hand, if I am willing to start putting words on paper, any words, just to keep momentum going, knowing that I can come back later (when it’s all done! no back-editing while you write, or you will never finish anything) and fix word usage or minor continuity slips. The difference between the artist and an artiste? One works at it, the other waits for it to come to him.

Things you can do include getting up thirty minutes earlier than your family (or an hour) and writing. If you’re not a morning person, reverse this for night writing. I have written during my lunch hour. I have written during work, when I was in a position that had long lag times where I was required to be at my desk but had no active tasks. With time and practice, you will most likely find that you can turn the flow off and on at will. I’m not saying it will always be easy.

It isn’t easy. It requires practice, which might mean setting a daily word-goal, and just like going to the gym, make yourself stretch and reach it. I have heard many different ideas for writing while commuting, none of which involved a keyboard on the steering wheel, thank goodness. Digital voice recording can be done with an inexpensive device, or a free app on a smart phone. I’d briefly entertained the idea of setting my laptop secured in the passenger seat and dictating to Dragon Speaking while driving, but it was pointed out that road noise is not conducive to this. While yes, dictation then requires transcription, you will likely find that you also catch and clean up the errors while you are doing so, and the typing will be faster as you aren’t composing while you type.

I’m not the fastest typist in the world. Actually, I am pretty bad at it, not having been taught touch typing (Mom originally taught us to type on a manual typewriter when I was 11, and it took a lot of force to make each letter happen. My tablet keyboard, after that, feels weightless). The last timed test I took put me at about 40 wpm. However, that was three novels and approximately 250K words ago. not counting the blogs, goodness, which might double that. My typing speed has gotten better. I know that I can do 1000 words in an hour, which was my point. (I’m really rambling this morning, it was a long day and I haven’t had much coffee yet). Given an hour a day to write, what could you produce?

Again, don’t worry about editing, just writing. Find those little pieces of time to get words on paper, and then when you have a full manuscript, you can set it aside for a day off to work on editing. I’m not sure I’d try editing in the little bits of time I use to write in. Before you can edit, you need to finish, and to do that, while working, you have to cultivate self-discipline, and use your brain like a muscle. It does get easier with practice.

And if you would like to take a break and read something, my short fantasy tale The Dwarf’s Dryad is free today through Tuesday. It was written in a 5 hour burst one Sunday morning…

19 comments

  1. I like to have a small pad of paper (I mean really small) in my pocketbook, and I have found jewels in there that open my work into new places and my plots into new twists, precisely because I took the time to jot down the few thoughts that come to me wherever I am, except driving of cours3e, because then I ‘m not thinking, I’m doing.

    1. And this is an excellent idea as well. I usually have notebooks with me, because school, so I often wind up with pages of ideas or even longhand stories in them, the trouble is remembering they are there.

      I’ve also used Evernote on my phone and tablet to jot down ideas on the fly.

  2. The muscle metaphor is very apt. Unless I’m in NaNo with all those lovely graphs egging me on, I can’t do 2000 words a day with any regularity. During NaNo, I get up and write 500 words, go to work, 500 at lunch, come home for another 500, and then, the last 500 is kind of hard, sometimes excruciating.

    A couple of months ago, I realized that 500 a day works during non-NaNo times. I’m at 70,000 words now, and I have to keep going because I’d like to finish the first draft so that I can, for the first time since I started, do NaNo like it’s supposed to be done: a 50,000 word novel with the words The End at the end, as opposed to planning to write another 50,000 during the next NaNo. I have the idea, know what’s going to happen for most of it and will find the rest out in November.

      1. I don’t know. At the end of November, my brain is done. If my plan works, I will have two first drafts by the end of November. I’ll start revisions to the first one then.

  3. Kevin J. Anderson has a short but useful ebook on writing – a number of the tips might not work for everyone, but I found it useful because I’m not always able to sit down and just write / draw nonstop.

    I also carry a notepad with me everywhere I go, along with three pens. The notepad is for grocery notes, story / plot / concept ideas and quick sketches, and anything I need to note down or I will forget.

    Story related anything I put on a clean page, and when I get home I tear it out and put it in a folder for the purpose. One day I may need more organized note folders, but the catchall works for now.

    I go with the notion that one never knows where inspiration will strike.

  4. I’ve started carrying my idea notebook (little black Moleskein) and a notepad in my brief-bag. I’m also doing research reading, so during lunch or off-periods, or while the students are taking tests, I can make notes and sketch out story bits and ideas. I’m being creative, but not so engaged that I can’t get up and answer questions, wander around checking on things, and what have you. The writing comes faster once I get home, since I have so much prepped already.

  5. The internet is my problem. Sure, school and (yay) I got a job, and I ought to be writing a couple of papers and doing homework, but I *intended* to write because I figured out what happens next and the internet got me. Which is pathetic and my fault, but there it is. I’m considering going cold-turkey, but I can’t not check my mail and I can’t not check my on-line homework and then I end up arguing non-money based economies with some dummy on Wil Wheaton’s google plus… I’d be better off binge reading category romances.

      1. Thanks. I’m an assistant to a Landman, and meant to be a trainee to be a Landman. I’m starting out doing filing. It’s lease management for oil and gas, ultimately. If it goes well (and I do think I’ll like it) maybe I’ll be writing a “mineral rights on Mars” story someday. 🙂

        1. I would totally read that. I’m starting to outline (in my head) my manifesto on property rights in outer space. Mine will be a little dry, but maybe we can do a boxed set.

            1. Oh, definitely. The sequel to my second book is going to get into all that–after I rip up the current beginning. No homesteaders, alas, but I have evil plans to take advantage of the Outer Space Treaty ban on “national appropriation” and how that would affect a certain nation with lots of state owned enterprises. Hee, hee, hee. I do want to do a serious article, however. I can probably get the article published in a law journal, but will then sell it online. I am sure it will sell like hot-cakes.

              Btw, just started The Eternity Symbiote and am really enjoying it. It moves.

              1. It’s my first novel, and I will be the first to admit it has serious issues. But it was written ten years ago, and, well, I’m not the same writer I was back then.

                Good luck with the article 😉

                  1. Thank you 🙂 I am rather feeling the lack of writing recently, in the form of having three novels attacking me at once with no time to write them, and that doesn’t count the novella I’m frantically trying to wrap up so I can publish something. The storytelling oozes out if you don’t give it proper release.

      2. Seconding the congratulations.

        I have an old machine that I can just about write on, that I can’t hook up to the internet. I indexed the more usable story idea notes from the other machines, and transferred them over.

  6. There are a lot of things that can interrupt a writer’s schedule. School and work kind of have to be adjusted to for the routine, but then there’s midterms, finals, big paper, deadlines and rush jobs. Not to mention the unexpected, illness, injuries, family stuff. Even vacations can wreck a routine.

    I think it’s important to get back to the routine as soon as it stops becoming one more stress in an over-stressed situation.

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