Designated writing hours… or not?

Every week, Friday is food day on my blog, but I half expected that I would have to call every day “food day” this week. The week before Passover, every day is food day. Shopping yesterday, cleaning the oven today, getting a head start on my cooking as soon as I can!

So far, though, prep work hasn’t superseded my freelance writing, blog, or social time. I wrote this post while I was waiting for my car to be ready, because today was also snow tire removal day for me.

I’ve had three lunches out in the last week, and now that I have freelance deadlines, I’ve been thinking more about how to structure my time.

After I was downsized and started blogging and working on my book, a few people asked if I had designated hours for writing. I wondered if it made me less organized or productive that I didn’t… aside from specific blogging days, when I usually write in the morning.

But my schedule seems to have evolved, just like my post-downsizing path in general. I blog Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and I work on my book more regularly now that I’ve joined an online group that holds me accountable each week for the number of words I write.

The book-writing hours are still evolving. I try to start earlier in the week, although I still don’t have designated days. At first, I thought I should be writing more, and more often, but now I’m content to write my self-imposed minimum, and sometimes exceed it.

Because of the subject matter (the year I lost my dad, and said Kaddish for him), I think it might actually be better to write the book in small doses, even though it’s not all sad. Parts of it are funny, parts are just interesting, and some parts have broader implications (I hope other people will think so too!).

Now that I’ve adding freelancing to the mix, it would be easy to spend most of the day in front of my computer.

It was good for me to get out of the house and spend time with friends this week. I like working on the things that are most time-sensitive before I head out, and catching up with the rest of my writing later.

Maybe I do have designated hours now. Sort of.

 

 

 

 

Blogs I read (about writing)

When I started blogging last summer, my main focus was writing, but I posted on the subject of food one day a week. (The balance has since shifted to 50-50, now that I’ve added “Chocolate Sunday” to the mix.)

But when it came to blogs I looked at, I found myself reading a lot more about food than writing. For one thing, there are probably twice as many food blogs than writing blogs (even though there must be a gazillion writing blogs – a recent online search yielded a nonuple-digit number of hits).

For another thing, I have a lot of experience writing, but less experience writing about food. I knew that some food blogs are very popular, and I was curious about what makes them work.

Lately, however, I’ve found more and more writing-about-writing that interests and inspires me. I thought it was worth sharing a few links:

Here’s one with a forgettable url, http://nhwn.wordpress.com/… but a much catchier name, “Live to Write – Write to Live.” The “nhwn” refers to the New Hampshire Writer’s Network. The blog has some interesting posts, and links to other writing sites.

I like this one too, http://francesmariebowens.wordpress.com/, with more good links, inspiration, and updates on the blogger’s novels-in-progress.

Writekidsbooks.blogspot.ca is a favourite as well, even though I don’t write children’s books. But much of it applies to any type of writing, and I happen to know the blogger, a talented writer.

Lastly (for now), here’s one I thought I was following, but apparently was only accessing through Twitter: www.writewithwarnimont.com. Lots of useful info.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Reading, Writing, and My Library Record Book

In addition to unearthing my Grade 8 Home Ec notebook when I organized my home office last week, I found my Library Record Book from elementary school (Grade 4/5). The cardboard-covered 9″ x 6″ notebook contains charts with spaces to list the type of book, its title, author, number of pages, and how we would rate it.

I’m amazed at the quantity of books I consumed – more than 10 a month, up to a total of 2,100 pages. A friend of mine once said that that’s how I ended up becoming a writer, because of all the reading I did as a kid.

I don’t remember all the books, but I do remember some. Anne of Green Gables and other books by L.M. Montgomery were a staple of my reading diet – Pat of Silver Bush, Mistress Pat, Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest are all duly recorded… and rated A+ (or ++++) to infinity!

The Secret Garden, a classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett that was made into a movie in 1993, also stands out in my mind, as does The Ship That Flew, a 1939 fantasy by Hilda Lewis.

I read a lot of biographies, too. Many of them were about nurses like Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, but there were also books about Helen Keller, Marie Curie, Marie Antoinette, Captain James Cook, Lawrence of Arabia, and Charles Dickens.

The books – many of them decades old  by the time I read them – fed my imagination and my love of reading. I rarely read 10 a month now, but I still love to get wrapped up in a good book.

What I read on my vacation

I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick, and – by extension – what makes relationships tick. So I was intrigued by the title of Ann Patchett’s new book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

I knew it was a collection of personal essays, but didn’t realize how much of the subject matter had to do with writing. Wow! Now that I’m working on my own book after spending twenty-plus years writing articles, I found the best-selling novelist’s latest offering to be an especially great read.

Before tackling book-length fiction (and non-fiction), Patchett got her start writing short stories and freelance articles. Her best-known novel is Bel Canto, a story about a group taken hostage in South America, and the dynamics between them and their captors over time.

It’s heartening to me that Patchett made the leap to full-length books, that it wasn’t easy, that at times she lacked confidence in her ability, and that she succeeded so spectacularly, winning some half-dozen writing awards along the way.

In her new book, she shares not just her story, but a generous amount of practical advice and lessons-by-example for writers.

She is equally forthcoming on the subject of love – of family, friends and pets, as well as the subject in the title.

I didn’t work on my book when I was away, but I returned home with new enthusiasm for the project, some new ideas about writing, and validation of thoughts I already had.

 

It’s starting to feel like a book

Yesterday and the day before, I worked on my book, writing twice as much as I do most weeks.

For the first time since I joined a writing group on LinkedIn, for which I have to post a weekly word count, I felt like I was ahead of the game. So I started to edit, which I haven’t done for a while, and got a look at what I have.

Most of the editing I’m doing consists of fine-tuning – adding, deleting or changing words and phrases. I’ve also had to cut or move some larger chunks. Aside from that, I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out.

But it still feels pretentious to say I’m writing a book, even now that I’ve written a substantial part of it (maybe a third?), and even though I’ve announced it to the world on my blog.

The book started writing itself in my head in 2009. That’s how I’ve thought of it ever since, and it feels like a more accurate description than “I’m writing a book.” Before I was downsized last June, I’d only written the first couple of pages, and it didn’t feel like a book.

Recently, I’ve had encouragement about writing the book from more people who… aren’t my mother! I do think the subject – a memoir about losing my father – will resonate with a lot of people. There’s much that’s universal about mourning a parent, even though there are aspects that are unique to me as an individual, and as a Jewish mourner who said Kaddish for eleven months.

I’ve also given much thought to what makes a synagogue (or any institution) a welcoming or comfortable place, how good things can come out of bad, what I value in people, and the changes in women’s ritual participation at synagogue. I think these themes are implicit in my story. I hope they will prove as compelling in book form as they’ve been in my head.

Word nerds

I only came across the term “word nerd” for the first time last week, but it resonated with me immediately, and I thought that, for sure, I qualify.

After looking at a couple of online word nerd quizzes, like this one on grammarly.com, I’m glad I don’t meet all imaginable criteria. I don’t correct pop song lyrics in my head, and I don’t fly into a rage when I see a sign that says “ten items or less.” That said, I do know the difference between “less” and “fewer.”

I didn’t do so well on the Writer’s Digest multiple-choice quiz, either. But I loved its link to this picture.

January 9 was National Word Nerd Day. This article about it pegs me as an “editor.” It says that I’m not just picky – I’m right! I’ll have to remember that line.

I can’t say I’m always right, though. A friend of mine found a mistake I overlooked when I wrote Tuesday’s blog post. Maybe she’s an “editor” too.

As for me, I know it’s picky, but I won’t call someone “a trooper” if I mean “a trouper,” and don’t get me started on the difference between alumnus, alumna, alumni and alumnae.

The thing is, I’m not just picky – I’m right! (Thank you, Mediabistro.)

New Year’s Eve assessment – my 88th post

I started this blog almost six months ago, shortly after I was downsized, and I think it’s time to assess how far I’ve come, and what I’ve learned from the experience.

1. Time is relative. I posted my first blog entry July 9, two and a half weeks after my last day of work. In retrospect, I think I got it up and running pretty quickly. At the time – when I was researching blogs, learning WordPress, and figuring out how I wanted my blog to look – it felt like it was taking forever.

2. Blogging does everything for me that I hoped it would – it keeps me writing, brings structure to my day and week, and is helping me figure out and/or evolve into what’s next in my life.

3. Cooking is therapeutic, creative and nurturing. But I knew that already.

4. Don’t underestimate the importance of fun. What started as my “fun” blog day (“Friday is food day”), in contrast to the two more “serious” days when I focus on writing and being downsized, has turned out to generate the most interest, judging by the number of views and amount of feedback.

5. I have some ideas for my blog (particularly food and chocolate days), and it will be time to start implementing them in the New Year.

6. Small, consistent efforts make a difference. So does being accountable. I’ve been working on my book much more consistently since I joined a writers’ group on LinkedIn.

7. Going through the paraphernalia I brought home from work has been a big effort, and getting it out of the dining room was a big accomplishment. Continuing to work on the house (deciding what to keep and what to get rid of) seems to propel my work-related post-downsizing “journey” too. I see them as parallel and intertwined.

8. Online groups are a great idea! I’ve joined several on LinkedIn and one on Facebook. I’ve found lots of information and support that I wasn’t expecting.

9. Since I began blogging about food, people have been asking me for cooking advice. It seems I have much to share, and not just with my kids.

10. Starting a blog was more a matter of following my instincts than following a plan. So far, my instincts haven’t led me wrong.

11. I’ve put serious job hunting on the back burner, but haven’t ruled out a conventional job. Blogging as a “pseudo-job” and working on a book have helped fine-tune my ideas about what I want and don’t want in any future job.

12. It takes time to regroup after losing a job. But regrouping doesn’t necessarily mean not moving forward.

13. Working at something you enjoy is the best! I did that for 22 years as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News, and I’m doing that now working on my blog. But, so far, the blog isn’t remunerative.

14. Sometimes the answer – or at least the next step – is right in front of you, if you just look for it. In a concrete way, that’s how I got many of the ideas for my blog posts, especially about cooking. Speaking generally, I believe it’s important to be aware of what’s around you, and how it might be relevant to whatever else is going on in your life.

15. I’ve taken small steps outside my comfort zone in the past few months, leading to more progress on the post-downsizing path. Being downsized is a huge step outside of the comfort zone – “a kick in the pants,” as someone described it to me. But I do believe that new doors will open, and that some already have.

Happy New Year, and hoping that the right doors will open to all who need them.

Writing time: flexibility versus structure

Lately, I’ve been wondering how other writers structure their time.

I was intrigued to learn that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent about 15 minutes a day working on his new book A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey, which is being released today. (More info about his book in this Globe and Mail article.)

I’ve been hearing about other writers who have designated writing hours, during which they don’t schedule anything else.

I’m still figuring out what works best for me.

Since I began my blog, I’ve enjoyed the combination of structure and flexibility. Blogging four days a week, usually in the morning, provides the structure. That  leaves a lot of time for flexibility, which is the part I’m still figuring out.

I’ve begun working more seriously on the book that’s been percolating in my head, although I don’t have designated writing hours for it.

To create momentum, I added “work on book” to my daily to-do list. It seems like a small thing, but the reminder to be consistent is helpful to me. I might miss a day here and there, but the daily reminder means the book never drops off my radar.

I like having the flexibility to work on it at whatever time of day I choose, and I  find that the minimum time I set for myself often turns into a longer stretch once I get going.

I also like to stop at a point where I know what I’m going to write next, so that it will be easy to pick up where I left off.

I’d be interested to know what works for other writers.

 

 

I’m not retired!

Two people asked me this past week how I’m enjoying retirement.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, other than to set the record straight, and add a few words about what I’m doing (blogging, and figuring out what’s next).

It would help if I knew what the question meant. Was it a comment on my (middle-)age? An attempt at humour? A euphemistic way to avoid saying that I was downsized (after 22 years as a reporter for The Canadian Jewish News)?

I suppose I’m old enough to retire, but it was never on my radar screen. I loved my job, and secretly hoped to stay there until my early 90s, circumstances permitting.

And yet, I find myself excited sometimes at the thought of doing something different. I attended a panel for freelance writers last week, and came home hyped about the possibility of taking on some freelance assignments.

I was also motivated to polish, tweak and fine-tune the work I’ve done on my book-in-progress after I attended sessions run by the Humber School for Writers at Word on the Street, an annual literary festival in Toronto.

I plan to attend a job fair later this month, and I’ll be taking a social media workshop too. I’m not retired… I’m in transition.

 

Out of the dining room

Two days ago, I OD’d on sessions for writers at Toronto’s annual Word on the Street festival.  I’m still processing everything I learned at the literary event’s “Wordshop Marquee,” hosted by the Humber School for Writers.

I’ve had a book percolating in my head for the last few years, and after I was downsized in June, I began to work on it more consistently.

So I was naturally drawn to sessions like “The Insider’s Guide to Getting Published” and “How to Write a Bestseller.” I returned home with copious notes. Yesterday, I highlighted the nuggets I think will be useful, plus the ones that validate what I already know. I have yet to go through all the literature I brought home about various writers’ groups.

But content aside, I think my attendance at the sessions marked a turning point in my journey toward whatever is next for me, career-wise.

For the past three months, my “home office,” aka my dining room, has been the focus of my “work” life. It’s where I write my blog posts, connect on LinkedIn, and sort through more than 20 years of old notes, deciding what to recycle or shred as I shift my attention to new priorities.

Last week, I signed up for a three-day social media workshop that I learned of indirectly through a LinkedIn group. Tonight, I plan to attend an event for freelance journalists. As well, I recently received an e-mail about an upcoming job fair, which I’ve added to my calendar.

All of a sudden, my calendar is filling up with events… and possibility.

No blog posts on Thursday or Friday of this week – the last of the Jewish holidays! I’ll be back on Sunday.