A blog about writing and life

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On Why I Keep Books and Tackling the Great Reorganization

It’s not always because I might read them again. Sometimes, yes. But the more I think about it, really it’s usually something else. Books are a timeline. They are memories. It’s a lifetime on the wall, turning points, enduring points. They help me remember.

            One reminds me of my grandfather’s laugh. Another reminds me of the twinkle in my grandmother’s eyes. Numerous ARC’s (advance reading copies) bring me back to working at Vroman’s bookstore sixteen years ago. Others remind me of book clubs that have come and gone. Classes in school that opened my mind. Some are gifts from dear friends. One brings me back to my compartment in the Amtrak train running fast over the rails in Ohio.
On top of that, stories keep me company, as they always have. And I like being in the company of authors whose writing inspires me. They are tangible hold-in your-hand inspiration. They are entire worlds contained between a front and back cover. I love to be surrounded by adventures. And I write in my books. I flip through them every once and a while to see the sentences I’ve marked. Ones that sparked me. And I remember.

            I just bought a separate bookshelf just for my to-read books. Yes I may have a book buying problem. I have a conundrum when it comes to my shelves. I love the look of a full bookshelf, but I’m always buying new books. So where do I put them??  Buy more shelves. It’s never ending. I think my real solution is somehow I need to get the Beast’s library or go to the Game of Thrones’ Citadel. (I find it no coincidence that fantasy stories have wonderful libraries. These authors know what we really fantasize about.)

All this being said, I think it’s time I do a real clean out. Go through each book Marie Kondo style and make sure each book is a story that brings me inspiration or brings to mind a memory I don’t want to let go of.

When someone asks to borrow a book, I twitch, how long will my memory be gone? I realize some of you will read that and think I’m insane. That’s okay I realize not all people look at their books this way. To some books are just bound pieces of paper (Who are you people???) and I’m afraid they will look at mine the same way. Books are not just books to me.

After writing this I realize I’ve organized my shelves all wrong. I need to make a visual timeline. Oh man…. I have become the literary version of Rob in High Fidelity. I need to tackle the great reorganization, autobiographical style. Yes f’ing way. I can show you how I went from T.S. Eliot to I’ll Give you the Sun in just twenty five moves. Oh this is going to be fun.

Off to empty my shelves….

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Organized Writer: Finding the time

The organized writer. Oxy moran right? Not for me. I love organizing. AND I’m creative. I read that author Annie Dillard realized writing down her thoughts gave her physical access to the contents of her mind. That is why I organize. I thought I’d write a series of posts about how I do it. I use a combo of high tech and low tech organizational tools. I’m hoping you will share with me what you do too.

“If only I had the TIME! I would write a book too.” “I have no time to write.” Blah blah. Bull.  Don’t get me wrong. I know you have a life. Maybe you have a family, a day job, a significant other, fun things you want to do. Hmmmm…. Do you think people who write consistently don’t have these things?

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Big Magic, “People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all kinds of extra time and energy for it; they do this kind of this because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kind of extra sacrifices for it. Unless you come from the landed gentry, that’s what everyone does.”

You aren’t missing time.* You can find time (in the most inconvenient places in your day, I know, but you can find it.) What you are missing might be the passion. If you want to write, if you really want to, you can find the time. It just might mean to need to get better at managing your time. (Apparently I’m in my tough love mood today. I love you! Roll with it.)

A day can easily get away from you. Hell, years go by in a flash these days. So you have to take the clock by the hands, take control. No one is going to make the time happen for you. People who say they don’t have time to write I’ve found fall into a couple categories:
1.    They are legitimately busy and let all other things take priority.

2.    They have time, but having that time is actually more of a problem.
Too much time can sometimes hinder and not help.

Do you find yourself in either of those categories? There is good news.
The solution is the same for both issues. You need to set aside time, block it out, whether that is every day, a few days a week, once a week, whatever works for you. You need to take charge of the time in your day and make a commitment to yourself and your writing.

Okay mental commitment made? Good. Let’s do this.

The high tech way:
The calendar on your phone/computer- If you have a Mac computer and an iphone, the calendars sync up. Every Friday I look at my calendar for the next week, decide when I will be writing and I block out the time in my calendar. My goal this year is to write every day. And sometimes that might mean I have to get up early to get an hour of writing in or stay up later that night or work on my lunch hour because I have plans that night. You can even put an alarm if you want to really annoy yourself.

The low tech way:
Moleskine planner-You can use whatever paper planner you like of course, but I love my Moleskine! I have a daily planner and every day I write in the time that I will be writing.

My printed out star chart! –Okay this may be a little grade school, but I need rewards. I give myself a star every day that I write. How does this help with time management? It motivates me and I want to see a star on every damn day so I’m going to find the time.

Kitchen timer- This is Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea! Get a kitchen time (or use your iphone). Set it for 30 minutes. Do your craft for that long. Stay focused. Guess what? You only have to do it for 30 minutes. You can do that. Sometimes we get so bogged down in all we do we can get overwhelmed when we think about trying to find the time to write a whole book, but can we find 30 minutes in a day? Hell yeah we can. This teaches us discipline. It teaches us that we don’t have to wait for when we have nothing to do one weekend or for our schedules to be clear of everything. That won’t happen. I believe so much in small spurts. It’s the only way I can really work.


The basic idea with all of this is: schedule your time and trust working in small amounts of time.

Elizabeth Gilbert touched on something else in Big Magic that I firmly believe, something that drives me everyday. We have no control over two things that are key to traditional success: talent and luck. But we do have control over how hard we work.

I don’t figure out when I’m writing on the fly. I don’t play it by ear. I do not trust myself to do that. I need to know before hand. This way there is no “the day got away from me” excuse. And for me when something is written down, I’ve made the commitment and as silly as it sounds, I don’t want to let myself down. Books don’t write themselves. It’s about getting your butt in the chair and just doing it. Whenever you can.

This is what I do to find the time the write. What do you do?

***I know there are exceptions to this. I do recognize that there are instances where you really may not be able to make the time and even if you could it’s not advisable. ie: sickness, death in the family etc. This is not what I’m talking about here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Organized Writer: How do you keep all your projects straight?

The organized writer. Oxy moran right? Not for me. I love organizing. AND I’m creative. I read that author Annie Dillard realized writing down her thoughts gave her physical access to the contents of her mind. That is why I organize. I thought I’d write a series of posts about how I do it. I use a combo of high tech and low tech organizational tools. I’m hoping you will share with me what you do too.

I tell myself constantly, “I wish I was only working on one project at a time. It will be so much easier! So much less stress!” Ha! Yeah right. I always have more then one writing project going on at time, although luckily the projects are in different stages. For instance right now I have:

  • A novel currently on submission
  • A novel I’m revising
  • A picture book that is slated for release this Fall
  • A fairy tale I wrote for a collection that will be released in a zine soon!
  • A comic book also scheduled for release later this year
  • Another picture book I’ve been commissioned to write that is currently in a holding pattern
  • A novel idea that I’m nurturing and collecting ideas on
  • A Daily Writing Warm Up journal I’m creating

Yeah that’s a lot to keep track of. This is where organizing can come in handy so my head doesn’t explode. And sometimes yes it does mean putting some of these projects on hold while I concentrate on one. But keeping everything straight is so important to my sanity.

The high tech way:
There are two apps on my iphone that I love for project organization: Todoist and Evernote.

Todoist- I recently discovered this app. This is my number one place to list what projects I have going on and what I need to do for each of them.

On Todoist, there is a project tab where you can list all the projects you are currently working on it. And under each project you can list all the tasks you need to complete. Once you complete a task you can check it off as done. (This is important for me. I need this sense of satisfaction.) Then the next task you need to do goes to the top of the list. I do wish I could reorder the tasks though. I haven’t found a way to do that yet.  This app is so easy to use. Very intuitive. And it’s free. There is a premium version but I find for my purposes I don’t need it.

I’ve used this app for a long time. I use it for more random project ideas. I keep a note for each project and write down things I need to do here.

It’s more of something I use when I want to get something down quickly or it’s just an idea and I’m not sure if I’ll use it (either a story idea or a to do item for the project). It won’t stay here. It will either go in my project idea notebook, Spark files (Things I talked about in my How to Organize Ideas post) or my Todoist app. Notes here aren’t just writing related. I have my “want” shopping list, gift ideas lists, and random ideas I’ve had while I’m out walking or running and don’t have a notebook with me. In this app you can also check off check boxes. A big plus for me.

Low tech:

My Big Ole White Board-
Admittedly I don’t use this as much anymore. But I do like having an “at a glance” look at where all my projects are currently. I keep it simple and easy to read. This board calms me when I get overwhelmed. I see where I am and know I can do these things one at a time.

Flat files!

I just got these babies at the Container Store. Oh I am in love. I usually have a file folder full of hard copy notes, lists and drafts when I’m working on a project. I was working the pile system on my desk for the longest time. Very decidedly not Beth-like. The piles were making me crazy. So I finally found these desktop flat files at the Container Store for each of my projects. Clear space on my desk, I love you so.

I often get asked: “How do you get so much done??” I’m no superwoman and it doesn’t always go great. I just write everything down. That’s the big secret. “But I can’t find the time!” People tell me. Finding the time… well you can do that too, but I think that’s a whole new blog post.

This is what I do to manage my writing projects. What do you do??

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Organized Writer: What do you do with all your brilliant ideas?

 The organized writer. Oxymoron right? Not for me. I love organizing AND I’m creative. I read that author Annie Dillard realized writing down her thoughts gave her physical access to the contents of her mind. That is why I organize. I thought I’d write a series of posts about how I do it. I use a combo of high tech and low tech organizational tools. I’m hoping you will share with me what you do too.

Ideas. Story ideas, blog post ideas, photography series ideas, crazy wacky ideas that are pure fantasy (or ARE they?).They come anywhere, anytime (usually when you’re driving down the freeway with no pen or paper in sight).  I’ve learned over the years that I can store a max of three ideas in my head at one time before I HAVE to get it down somewhere or the ideas will become unrecognizable mush in my brain. I had to come up with a system. Going through piles of napkins and post its and receipts with stories written on them was not working for me.

The high tech way:
Google Docs otherwise known as my IDEA FILES. I wish I could take credit for this. I subscribe to Austin Kleons’ newsletter and he wrote about how he organized his ideas and how he was inspired by an article by Steve Johnson called The SparkFile. After reading their articles, I will always keep ideas/sparks this way from now on.

What my spark files look like on my laptop

In my Google Drive, I have a file titled SPARK FILES. In that file I have handful of documents: Blog Sparks, Story Sparks, Goal Sparks, Travel Sparks, Marketing sparks, School Visit Sparks and Other Sparks. This is where I keep all my ideas. Those ideas that pop into my head that I might use at that exact moment, but someday I will. What I love most about my spark files is that I have access to these files wherever I go.  I can access on my computer of course, but I also have the Google Doc app on my phone. No million pieces of paper. No more writing down and transferring into one master notebook.  I love this. Anywhere I am and I have an idea, I can put in my appropriate spark document.

What is this thing called Google Drive and how do I create my Google Docs??
To have a Google Drive you must have a gmail account. To find your Google drive click the icon at the top right of your gmail account  with the nine little squares, then click the “drive” icon. Once in, click on the “new” button on the top left, then “folder.” And there you are, all ready to get your idea files started! Never forget a genius idea again.

The low tech way:
Notebooks. Yeah I know. Duh. As I’ve mentioned I use a combo of high tech and low tech. I keep a few notebooks for ideas regularly. I have a master notebook I use to write more specific lists, outlining specific blog posts, bullet pointing my upcoming newsletters, random thoughts, essays that will never see the light of day, but I needed to get out. This goes everywhere with me. I also keep paperback moleskine notebooks (I buy them in three pack in Target.) for specific novels I’m working on. In these notebooks I write specific ideas for this novel: dialogue, character ideas, setting, plot points. Whatever enters my head. I use this a lot early in the process when I’m still brainstorming. Then use it a bit differently after I’ve drafted, still for random ideas, but more about structure and notes I want to address. These notebooks also go everywhere with me. I prefer using hardcopy notebooks for these kind of ideas. I can draw arrows and cross out things. It feels more organic.

I also keep post its by my bedside for those middle of the night genius ideas. Of course sometimes the notes looks like this:

Then I will take those rare post its and put them in one of my notebooks or Google Docs. Wherever appropriate.

Some last thoughts about ideas. I think you should write down every idea, no matter how crazy or doubtful you feel. You never know. I wrote down an idea I thought was super nuts and guess what? It's happening. And I really think the act of writing things down actually creates more ideas to generate. Also Spark files are great for days when you are feeling unfocused and uninspired. I go there when I feel like I have nothing to offer and walk away with my well filled with inspiration and confidence.

This is what I do. What do you do?