A blog about writing and life

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?

Thursday, March 17, 2016


I wrote this essay a few years ago. Thought I'd revisit some of these old writings. This is a true story.

I would guess I was around age nine when I was accused of assault with a deadly weapon. I wasn’t formally charged or anything, but when you’re nine any adult might as well be wearing a cop uniform.
It was a Saturday. I was dragged to my brother’s tee ball game. I took refuge on the playground with my best friend Megan. I could not handle another five year old tapping the ball, letting it dribble off the tee and barely clear home base or just miss the ball completely. We were on the swings. The ground was covered in millions of pieces of gravel. I absent-mindedly kicked them with my dangling feet unaware of how if it was asphalt, maybe this would have gone differently. Then again it could have been worse that way. Asphalt tends to come off in chunks on the edges.

What did we talk about at nine years old? What was on the forefront on our minds?
“I got some new earrings at Claire’s last night,” Megan said pointing to her earlobes.
“Cool. Orange cats,” I commented.
I imagine it was something like that.

I heard the sound of a gravel hitting gravel in front of me. Megan and I looked up to see a boy, younger than us, hanging on the domelike jungle gym. He tossed bits of gravel at us. His face was blank. It didn’t seem too malicious. Just your garden variety rock tossing. Megan and I ignored him and resumed our cat and saturday morning cartoon banter. The boy started throwing the rocks into the air above his head. When they landed it sounded like hail. 

remember thinking, “He’s going to hurt himself.”

Seconds later, he abruptly ran away. “Do you want to see Splash?” Megan asked me. “My mom and dad have the video at home.”

“Really? The mermaid movie? Okay.” My stomach fluttered. I was pretty sure that was rated R.

“Which one?!? Tell me which one!” I heard an angry woman’s voice yell. 

Megan and I looked to our left. Storming toward us was a beet red woman. The jungle gym boy trailed behind her. We froze. I tried to steady my swing with my foot, but my legs were too short and the gravel was slippery. 
The woman stopped in front of us breathing heavily. “Come here,” she said to the boy. The boy stood next to her.

“Tell me.” She said to him. 

He looked at both Megan and I, deciding. His eyes landed on me. “Her, mom,” he said pointing at me.
My heart was pounding. The boy’s mother pulled his lip down and showed me the blood.

“Where are your parents?” she growled.

I looked into this kid’s eyes, but he betrayed nothing.

I couldn’t speak. I had no idea what to do. I could only hear Megan’s breathing. She sounded like she was just getting over a cold. I subconsciously looked over to the field my brother was playing on and without warning, this woman, this stranger, grabbed my arm so hard I thought she might have pulled it out of it’s socket and dragged me off the playground in the general direction of the baseball field. Megan followed behind along with the boy. Why did he say that? I was terrified. She pulled me harder so I would keep up with her pace. No one had ever treated me this way before. I was so scared I would be in trouble. I felt completely powerless. This was new. I’d gotten in trouble plenty of times, but never something I hadn’t done. My parents wouldn’t believe me. I had no idea how to handle myself. The walk seemed to be miles. At the most it had to have only been a block or so. I began questioning my own memory. Maybe I did do it. Did I? I was going to be in so much trouble. I was never going to get to see Splash. Could she call the cops on me? She never let go of my arm. She held me so tightly I thought I’d have bruises. I don’t remember my feet moving. I couldn’t feel them. 

She said nothing to me as we walked. My parents came into view. They were cheering. Maybe my brother’s loser team was on the upswing. My dad glanced my way and the smile fell from his face. “Beth?” This was it. I was in trouble.

Then the woman started screaming, “Your kid threw rocks at my Bobby! Look at what she did!” Bobby, the stupid fucker, showed him his lip. “She could have killed him!” The woman started to speak again, but my dad interrupted her.

“Get your hands off my daughter,” he said in a tone I had never heard before.

It seemed for an instant that she had forgotten she was holding my arm. She let go suddenly. My dad pulled me over to him protectively. I couldn’t speak. I was shaking. 

“She didn’t do anything,” Megan said breaking the silence. “The kid is lying.”

My dad looked at me. I nodded. He then looked at the woman. He didn’t need to say anything. The truth hovered in the air, undeniable. She walked away with her lying son in a huff. I realized I was holding my breath. When I let it out, I cried.

My best friend had my back. That was no surprise. That was in the job description. But my dad had my back too. Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was. If adults say something it must be true. That was what I had always believed. But my dad knew the truth when he saw it. To see an adult really get it wrong, was astounding to me. But to see my dad get it really right, now as a soon to be cynical teenager, that was the miracle.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Elizabeths on a Train: Last Thoughts

In October 2015, my friend Elizabeth and I went on a cross-country writing train trip from Montreal to Los Angeles in five days. Here are some stories, insights and musings that came from that adventure.

So tired....

I soaked in the early morning rumble on the train on our last hours on the rails. I eased my way to the observation car looking for the sunrise in California, listening to Coheed and Cambria, “There to Mars.”

How to describe this journey…. It was more magical then I even imagined. More fun. More intense. More inspiring. More…. More…. More….

As my traveling partner said, “This has been a crazy, wonderful, intense, inspiring adventure.”

On the train, writing and storytelling was more concentrated and wonderful, your senses more alive. The book I read was even more nourishing.

We rolled into LA’s city limits. There was nothing pretty about this actually. Gritty and grimy. The decidedly not glamorous parts of LA. Such a contrast to the rest of the country, but it had it own dirty beauty. I felt happy. I was nearly home. I stepped off the train and sadly, I felt most of the magic stay behind on the metal steps of the train car. I felt exhaustion take over. But I didn’t want it to be over yet. We sat in the beautiful Union station and rested a moment. Took it all in.

In five days I went through two counties, twelve states, met twenty strangers, finished one novel revision, read one book and spent approximately five hours belly laughing and countless hours dreaming. The train gave me the space the write. What a gift. But it was so much more. It was the space to expand and take people in and value friendship and now I’m dissolving into tears. It’s a bubble that does burst. But the memory fuels me. And this will not be my last train ride. This is just the beginning.

My favorite picture from the trip. Elizabeth and I. Travel weary. So tired. But oh so happy.

To see the "other" Elizabeth's posts about our trip visit her website.