Monday, August 20, 2007

Protecting My Process

by Beth Burgoon

My kids go back to school in six days, twenty-three hours and eleven minutes. Am I counting down the days? Yes. (I like to tease my kids that I actually start my back-to-school countdown on the first day of summer vacation *g*) Am I excited? You bet (but you already could tell that, right?)

Okay, I want to put in a disclaimer here. I love my kids. I adore them. I think they are the best kids around. But I work from home and to write I've discovered I need two things: A schedule (not easy to come by with three active kids) and quiet (my oldest plays the guitar--electric, acoustic and bass--and drums, my middle child is constantly singing--with or without blaring background music--and my youngest is young enough to still want/need quite a bit of my attention). Oh, who am I kidding? They all want/need my attention which they try and get by coming into my office, sitting in a chair, staring at me and sighing (loudly and repeatedly) while muttering about being bored.

None of those things are condusive to my writing process.

Which brings me to my point: I haven't always been true to my writing process and I haven't done nearly enough to protect it.

I realized this truth last week when, on one of my writing loops, a wonderful, published author said we needed to respect and guard our own creative process like junk yard dogs. For years, I've known what works for me but have, in an attempt to write better and faster, tried numerous other ways of writing. Unfortunately, while those other ways may work for some, they haven't worked for me. So I've decided this year when I have the house to myself again, I'm going to allow my own unique creative process to shine. I'll take the time to think about my new story, to make notes and type up a quick outline of scenes. Then I'll dive into the story, get to know my characters and let the words flow until I have a rough draft. Once I have the skeleton of my story done, I'll slow down a bit, flesh it out and take the time to polish those rough edges into the best story I can possibly write.

And when school lets out next year for summer vacation, I'll have a working schedule and process that works for ME. One that I'll protect and guard fiercely no matter how loud those bored sighs get ;-)

What do you do to protect your writing time and/or process? How long were you writing until you found what worked for you? For non-writers, is there something in your life--a hobby, exercise or just YOU time--that you protect? And come on, am I the ONLY one who gets excited about back-to-school? :-)


Joan said...


I'll get excited along with you about back to school time...though I don't have any kids :-)

You'd think being a single lady I'd have plenty of time to write and develop my stories etc. And in essence I do but us single gals can still get waylaid.

Two things can put a wrench in my writing process. 1) Having to do chores/run errands on my days off because darn if that PC (Prince Charming) has YET to show up and help out and 2)The Food Network.

I know, I know just turn the TV off and I do sometimes. But then if it's time for "Ace of Cakes" or the latest "Food Network Challenge" (who can resist a reality show about chuck wagon cook offs, uh? Who?). It's even worse during the holiday season when I am mesmerized by the shows on chocolate carving.


I am getting better about tuning things out, sitting my bottom in the chair and writing. Mainly because my current work in process tentatively titled "Barbarian Soul" has got me jazzed.

But God help me if TFN has a "Cookies in a Flash" special.


Trish Milburn said...

It takes a lot of trial and error at the beginning to find out what works for you, and I think it's an eventual discovery. I mean, I think I think I'm still discovering things about my process, and I've been at this a long time. That said, I've known for awhile that I can't write with music or the TV going in the background. Luckily, I work from home too and there aren't any kiddies needing attention.

Kirsten said...

I hate back to school time, because it means our lives are about to ramp up to hyperspeed. But I work outside the home, so I've got a different persective on this. ;-)

My process is pretty flexible. I usually do some pre-planning (a synopsis or general outline) and think about it alot. That's actually a huge part of my planning process-long walks, massages, acupuncture, all become a time to muse about character motivation, conflict, plot, etc.

I think one of the best things about being pre-published is that you work on your own schedule, by your own method. :-)

Beth said...

Joan, The Food Network is one of my favorites as well! And it's funny how many things I can find that need done immediately instead of writing *g* There are always errands to run, laundry to do and a kitchen to clean but this summer I handed over most of the housework to my kids which helped a lot ;-)

Trish, I've taught myself to write my rough draft while listening to music only as a way to drown out the commotion of having four other people at home (my husband now works from home as well). But for polished pages, I do prefer silence *g*

Kirsten, it used to be school meant crazier schedules but now that my kids are older, their activities are more year 'round *g* We no sooner finished softball/baseball when basketball practice started! I too find walks are a great time to plan my stories!

Caren Crane said...

Protect my process? That makes me laugh! At home, it's difficult to have a process. I tend not to write at home, simply because there is too much else to do and there are too many people there. Their presence disrupts me.

I have found I work best in a public venue like a coffee house. I can easily tune out the background noise, conversation, music or whatever. It helps me focus.

At home, on the other hand, I get the bored sighs (they are everywhere!) and my older daughter loves to come practice piano - 4 feet from my desk. Ack!

Like Kirsten, I find the school year to be a blur of after school and evening activities. But if I have an hour to kill before picking someone up, I can scoot to the coffee house and write!

Hallelujah for the school year!

Cassondra said...

This whole process thing is a most interesting subject to me. And once again, I'm the nut in the Bandita lair.

When I was in journalism school, I learned that most of my process for writing is thinking it through, and even with a long article, I might go up until a couple days before deadline to actually start writing, but my subconscious mind WAS working. Weirded me out then, but it worked. Always turned out great. Once the deadline loomed, all I had to do was sit down and type what my mind had figured out. That's worked for me ever since.

But with novel length, this process gets really wonky and convoluted. I'll get an idea, live, eat and sleep it for a few weeks, then when I sit down to write, it's a two week marathon of writing day and night, two hours sleep, getting up to write more--completely dysfunctional--until I get the story out of me and onto the paper. And when I do, it's a mess. There's LOTS more drafts to go, lots of cleanup. Though with each manuscript, it's been "cleaner" that first time.

I've tried like everything to change it and become a "disciplined" writer--so many pages per day, etc. But when I do that, it's drivel. I live in fear of publishing and being on a schedule of two or more books per year. AAAAHHHHHH.

I'm still hoping though, to streamline the process a bit. I do trust this crazy process, and I know it works--even down to pre-purchasing my character's favorite foods (which, yes, I MUST eat while writing their stories)--but I surely do wish it were a different, more sane one.

Christie Kelley said...

I just returned home from the annual BACK TO SCHOOL SHOPPING!!! Can you feel the excitment brewing here? The sneakers are bought, as are the new shirts for the teenager, and all the binders, paper, pencils, pens, etc that both boys should need.

With fall also comes the slowdown in real estate, which I desperately need this year. For a real estate economy that is supposed to be down, my summer was really busy.

Back to your questions, before I started real estate, I always worked a 8-5 job. So for me, I use that as my writing time when I don't have anything going on in real estate. Once I get my elementary schooler off at 8:30, I hit the PC. And not that I'm wishing this year away, but next year, he leaves at 7:30!!

I'm a schedule person, which is why real estate is hard for me. I get frustrated when I think I have a day to write and suddenly get that call from a buyer who just has to see a house now. So there just isn't a way to protect my process while I still work in this business.

Anna Sugden said...

Great post, Beth. I know what a great mum you are, so I don't have any worries about your excitement about back-to-school. Even as a former teacher, I'm pleased to see a new school year start!

My writing process has evolved over time and continues to evolve. After my first ms, I learned that it was ok to have my own process, - which was the basis of my Six Pack article and workshop. I think the biggest hurdle was getting over my fear that I was doing it all wrong!

As a newbie writer you're swamped with books and workshops - all of which are enormously helpful, but can turn you into a manic chicken racing around trying to do everything everyone tells you. Taking a step back, and a deep breath, then finding out what works for you is a big point in a writer's life, I think.

I still use my six-pack, though it too has evolved and continues to do so as I learn and experience writing more books. I also find different books work in different ways - so that affects my process.

For me, the biggest issue is defending my writing time. With travel and visitors and life in general, it is easy to let the writing time give way. Some times it can't be helped, like this summer. But, like you, it's time to get back to serious writing.

PS I'm a Food Netwokr fan too! And we won't mention my other vice which involves hunky men on skates *grin*

jo robertson said...

Beth, what an interesting topic! I bow down at the feet of you goddesses who have children at home, summer or not, and still carve out your writing time. I've been there and I could not do it.

When I was 30 I had six children, the oldest was seven years old. Life was so chaotic that in my memory it's one of those montages that whirl past the screen at mock speed. At that time of my life, I was absolutely incapable of doing both tasks of writing and rearing children.

Nowadays I'm spoiled and I know it. I do almost nothing around the house. My husband grocery shops, pays bills, does yard work, keeps the cars in shape, and does most of the house cleaning. I do not deserve such kindness, but evidently my husband thinks I do (very big giggle). Let's not tell him, shall we?

Hence, my writing process is rather haphazard. There are no outside parameters to force me into a structured schedule. Sometimes I think I'd be more productive with deadlines and other people clamoring for the completion of a project. But mostly, I think I'm just very very lucky.

Aunty Cindy said...

It's nice to hear that others have an evolving process! And VA you are SOOO right, every book IS different. The process bends a bit to accommodate each variation.

And yes, it is true Joan, we are our own worst enemies! *I* am the one I must protect my process from, if that makes any sense. I tend to put my writing far down the list of priorities (but still ABOVE house cleaning and ironing!). After all, I don't have "real" deadlines and this is not a "paying job"... not yet anyway. So that is what I'm working on now, giving my writing a HIGH PRIORITY!

Thanx for a great post, Beth. And for the record, I counted down until school started too!

trying to avoid the back-to-school shoppers (sorry Christie)

Beth said...

LOL, Caren! Glad to know those bored sighs are universal *g* And I know what you mean about the piano. My youngest plays but doesn't practice nearly as often as her drum playing brother!

Cassondra, your process doesn't sound nutty to me at all! I like to think a story through as well and as I'm currently getting my new story down in rough draft form, I'd say we have a bit in common *g* And really, as long as your process works for you, it's a good process :-)

We did our back-to-school shopping spree on Saturday, Christie! I love back-to-school shopping and my mom and sister usually head to mall with us so it's almost like old times ;-) I envy schedule people. I'm afraid I'm a bit too laid back to schedule myself like I should. But I'm hoping to change that this year *ggg*

Donna MacMeans said...

Process? There's a process to this madness?

I have a confession. My last manuscript was like a gift from heaven, it virtually wrote itself. I'd plop myself in front of the computer and pages just spewed from my fingertips. It was wonderful.

This book, however, is not a gift. It's a daily struggle. I keep wondering what I did that made the last book so easy. I'd like to bottle whatever it was, because I really need that magic now.

Until I figure it out, I guess my process is to sit in front of the computer, whether motivated or not, whether engaged in the story or not, and pray like the dickens (smile).

Tawny said...


Do you mean the whining neurosis and daily paranoid emails to my CP's?

Oh... you mean the ACTUAL writing stuff... Yes, I have a process LOL.

I write in the dark. I write with headphones on. I write to the same tunes until the book is finished, then I use that playlist when I revise, edit, etc. I set a page goal and shoot for that goal. I need a deadline to push me, despite my whining about it.

and I don't allow myself to watch the Food Network until my pages/book is done :-D

btw, back to school means enforced schedule for us, which I do NOT take to well. I am horrible with schedules, but I always start each school year trying really really hard. By January, we're in free form school mode LOL.

Beth said...

I agree, Anna, that finding your process is a big turning point along with discovering your own unique voice and being true to that voice *g* I'm getting better at guarding my writing time although there are some days I admit I give it up too easily.

Jo, you deserve to be spoiled! I'm not sure I could write with twice as many children -- the three I have seem to take up quite a bit of time ;-) And there's nothing wrong with being lucky!

I'm right there with you, AC, in trying to make my writing a priority. We just have to remember that we deserve to give ourselves the time to write even if we're not making money from our stories yet *g*

Anna Campbell said...

Beth, what an interesting post. I remember ages ago reading Jenny Crusie saying, "Protect the work." It's so easy not to!

Caren Crane said...

Jo-Mama, you deserve whatever good things life can give you! I'm with Beth. I have three kids and they are plenty. Can't imagine doubling the fun. Yikes!

I don't know if anyone could write while raising a passel of little children. I mean, I'm sure there are Super Women who do, I simply can't conceive of such.

I had a blissful 6 months where I was laid off and still getting full pay (hear the chorus of angels singing?). It was the most fun 6 months of my life! My kids were in year-round school and I could do whatever I wanted every day!

I'm not quite as drastic as Cassondra, but I tend to "marinate" a story for months and then write like a demon for a few weeks and knock it out. My GH finalist ms was one I wrote during the blissful 6 months. I wrote it, edited it and had it ready to submit in 7 weeks. It was amazing!

I started a book (well, I had about 25 pages written before conference) after we got back from Dallas. I now have 156 pages. While I won't finish it in 7 weeks, it will be done before Thanksgiving. I'm loving it!

The book before this one I didn't let marinate long enough, because I felt pressured to write something. I wrote 2/3 of the book twice, then got it right when I rewrote the 2/3 the third time and fnially finished it. Great book, but the process was horrible!

Lesson learned: let them marinate while I can. Deadlines will come around soon enough!

Keira Soleore said...

Luckily, for me both I and the wee one are thrilled that school's going to be starting soon. Summer has been a boring experience for one and a sigh-worthy one for the other.

Beth: I loved your post, because that is precisely what I need to do. Create a process and schedule and then fiercely protect them and my writing time from even myself and my procrastinatory tempting tactics.

V.Anna: Do you have a link to your Six Pack article? Thanks.

FoAnna: Loved your interview over at RNTV!! That cheerful smile is how you kept faith in your writing for all those years.

Tawny: You're amazingly organized!!

A lot of foodies here. Anyone a fan of Bravo reality shows? *ME*

Suzanne Welsh said...

The process...

UGH! For me it's the little train that could. A few pages at a time, one scene at a time, one chapter at a time. When I type those glorious words THE END, well I might have to go back and tweak a bit, but no layering for me.

Kids, grown and the only one still living at home works nights, too!! Good Boy! DH, makes his own hours and is gone most of the day. Good Boy! Rocky, only fusses at me to go out or to take a nap. Dog=nag!

BUT, here's the big catch in my life...WORK. I only work 3 12-hour shifts a week. They float back and forth, no set schedule. Then I have to I'm usually up until 2-3 am plugging away.

When I'm in the zone the IPOD/ZEN thingy plays driving rock in my ears. It cuts out the surrounding noise, and even though I sing off key with the lyrics, the music keeps me focused.

The other oddity about my style? I work on more than one project at a time--in different genres.

WIP #1 pg 285 of contemporary small town series with suspense elements.

WIP #2 pg 45 of regency period historical with suspense elements.

WIP #3 reworking beginning of prequel to WIP #1.

When I get stuck on one, I flip gears and work on the other, letting my subconscious figure out the problem on the first.

It's my process, not one I would wish on anyone else. And now off to work!

jo robertson said...

Suz, you amaze me! I cannot work on more than one project at a time, at least not evenly. And you work 12-hour shifts. Wow! I know that's common for many medical people (my SIL's a respiratory therapist and has that schedule), but I think people forget that 12-hour days take a toll on the mind and body. It's not at all like working 3 days a week of 8-hour shifts.

My hats off to all you women who work outside or inside the home (OR BOTH!!) and keep anything resembling a schedule!

Beth said...

Ah, Donna, you have one of my favorite processes: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard :-) Works wonders, doesn't it? There are some days and some stories that require us just sitting down and writing - if we want to or not *g*

Tawny, I'm very familiar with your process *g* Whatever you're doing is working so keep it up ;-)

Anna C, I agree that protecting the work isn't always easy but it is so important!

Love how you let your ideas marinate, Caren! Must be working as you're kicking out those pages on your WIP ;-)

Keira, I'm lucky that my kids love school as well, and honestly, by the end of July they're getting bored and anxious to be with their friends all day long *g*

Suz, I'm in awe that you can switch gears! Wonderful! And to me, the best part of having a process is that it doesn't have to work for anyone else. Just me :-)

kathy said...

I plan my writing time at exactly 3o minutes after the kids bedtime every night.I have found this time to be the best as far as consistency goes.I know that no matter if there is school the next day or what not that my "me" time will not be interrupted ....well atleast by the kids anyway.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Jo-when I chose to change jobs back in June, I was required to work one month of 5 8-hr days a week. OMG! Shoot me now! No sane person gets out of bed at 5 AM. I don't know how people who work like that keep up with the housework, much less find time to write.

And switching gears (or books) is the lazy woman's way to write. My subconscious really does the work, (ergo the regency heroine riding in the car with me to tell me about her back story one day on the way to work!).

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Great post Beth! It took so long for me to discover my process that I agree, you have to protect it at all costs. Ha! I too tried a lot of processed suggested in classes - after all these were PUBLISHED AUTHORS suggesting that their way worked. Easy, right? Nope. Like Cassondra, I do better with what a friend of mine calls a Core Dump to start with. I don't eat the same food as my characters, although that's a great idea. (Note to self, try this!) I love Tawny's idea about the music too. Also, like Suz, I write on several at once for the same reasons - get stuck? Switch stories. Forward progress at all times.

As to school...I only have five more days to get through before school starts! YEAH! Happy? You bet. Like Beth, I love my kids, but trying to write and get to camp, pick up from camp, etc is so much more challenging than school.

Things may change for me, process-wise, now with a deadline and contract. (Gosh I love writing that)

Keira, I'm right there with you, I LOVE Bravo's shows - Top Chef and Project Runway! Yeah!


Beth said...

Kathy, your scheduled writing time is such a great idea! Wish I had the discipline to write in the evenings but my brain shuts off at 8 pm ;-)

Jeanne, I'm down to five days as well until school starts *g* All the running we do in the summer seriously cuts into my writing time. Next year my oldest will be driving. Not sure if that's a good thing or not!