Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to School, Back to Writing

Meet my friend Gerri Russell. She's a two time Golden Heart winner and was first published when she won the American Title Contest a couple years ago. Since her debut in January 2007, she's had 3 more books published. She knows a thing or two about writing. Today she's sharing about how to get back into the writing groove after a summer hiatus. My words are in bold today, Gerri in regular type. Take it away, Gerri.

This summer has been filled with one distraction after another. All the distractions might be fun, but they reek havoc with a writing schedule.

Fall brings consistency of daily writing back into the regime. Are you as ready for a change of season as much as I am. Is it time to get back to writing consistently every single day?

But there may be one little problem…are you ready to get into the groove?

In order to be a marathon runner you must learn to train every day. To start with small goals for activity and slowly build to more. You have to get your muscles in shape and prepare for the ultimate test to your endurance. Is preparing for writing any different? Not really. So what's a writer to do when their muscles are a bit out of shape? When the skills and abilities of achieving page goals each day are a bit…let's be polite here…less than toned? It all goes back to the basics--those same principles marathon runners use.

Retrain your discipline. This is a tough one. How to be disciplined enough to sit down in your writer's chair after a long break from that habit. Two things that have always worked for me are a quote and a kitchen timer. The quote: "Discipline is remembering what you want." by David Campbell The timer: gets set for 10 minutes the first day, 12 the second, 14 the third, and so on. When the timer is on, I write anything that comes to mind. It's a great way to get back in the habit of writing.

Start with a plan. What do you want to accomplish? You need a map, a guideline of where you are going. Do you want to complete a whole book by a certain date? Do you want to finish one chapter each week? Write one, three, seven, twenty pages a day?

Set small goals at first, then build gradually over time to increase your endurance. One you have a plan you can break things down into smaller and realistic goals. Setting goals helps you feel like you are making progress forward. I might start my first week off writing three pages a day, then after the first week bump the total up by 2-3 pages a day until I hit my normal daily average.

Track your progress. I'm a visual person and I really have to keep a log or a graph to show me what my goal was and then how I'm performing. Placing that chart near my computer desk can really keep me focused and inspired when things are going so well.

Eat a healthy diet and get enough rest. Yes, you actually write better when you each nutritious food and sleep eight hours a night.

Celebrate the successes. When you hit your milestones, celebrate the moment. One of my favorite ways to celebrate is to go for a hike. I like to think about it as time off for good behavior. It's also a great way to regroup and feed that writer's well with new thoughts and ideas about what to write next.

What do you need to do to get yourself back in shape after a long summer's break?

Thanks so much for sharing those gems with us, Gerri. I'm thrilled to share that a couple commenters are going to make out like bandits today. Gerri is giving away a copy of her newest release, TO TEMPT A KNIGHT and one of her Brotherhood of Scottish Templar's T-shirts! So leave a comment!

To Tempt a Knight

Upon his return to Scotland from the Crusades, Templar knight Sir William Keith is charged with finding a vital holy relic and protecting the daughter of its former guardian--a task that will force him to choose between duty to his vows and desire for the beautiful, courageous woman finally able to soften his battle-hardened heart.

PS. Wanna join me in a treasure hunt? Be sure to click on the NightOwl Webhunt graphic in the right sidebar and have some end of the summer fun!


Sandy said...

Gerri, I like your ideas for getting back into the groove. I use some of them already, but the hiking is a new one. Smile.

Thanks for inviting me, Emily

Heather D said...

Good morning Gerri and Emily.

I am not a writer, it is actually my least favorite thing. In school I always cringed when I found out that there would be a number of writing assignments. Your tips however will work for just about any course. I am a stay at home mom and the end of summer means new routines for the kids and myself. I get more leisure time through out the day... or I am suppose to right. But here in comes more detailed house cleaning, repainting, and dreaming up new ideas to make a lunch box a little more appetizing. Figuring out ways of being more active in the school lives of my kids. Elementary schools offer lots of opportunities, but I am finding it difficult with the high school student. On top of the new routines, I am just one of the most disorganized people you could meet!! Thanks for the tips!

And Emily, for some reason your NOR color was the hardest for me to find!!

Christine said...

A lot of people, and books, talk about writing for a set amount of time, or a set amount of words. What about the plotting process? It's proving very difficult for me, a new writer with a full and busy household, to sit down to plot, research, etc... BEFORE actually writing the story. Any advice for a new writer trying to get things moving in the direction of her dreams???


Cindy Holby said...

I use a timer to keep me motivated. After a while you don't even pay attention to it as you get back into the story. I had a difficult time getting back into the writing flow after my dad's cancer but with the help of the timer it happened.

Set it for 20 minutes at first. You should be able to do around 500 words in 20 minutes. You'll be surprised then at how much they add up.

Christine, I would use the same process. I'm going to research for 20 minutes, etc. As mom's we're always taking care of everything and everyone else first. The writing needs to have a prioritized time, just like the rest of your day.

Debra Parmley said...

Very nice interview, Emily and Gerri. Love the Campbell quote. I'm adding it to my collection. :-) There's just something about fall...new school books, the scent of fresh crayons, that makes me want to dive into books and story. Always has. Summer didn't really affect my library writing day which is once a week when I disappear from the world. Pretty much stuck to that this summer, but the other days were more flexible and need a bit of retraining which will start next week. So your tips are just in time!
Thank you. :-)

Cheeky Girl said...

I really like your mention of setting small goals. That's one I'm having a hard time doing with just starting out...but I need to pace myself!

Gerri Russell said...

Sandy, Cindy, Debra and CheekyGirl thanks for stopping by! Here's to getting back to your writing routine!

Gerri Russell said...


One of the toughest jobs in the world is being a mother! You sound like you're doing just fine . . . my goodness, you actually try to make packed lunches appealing. Bravo to you!

You are so right, these tips can apply to anything. As your children get a little older and can do things for themselves, your life will get more organized. Until then, hugs!

Gerri Russell said...


The first rule of writing is that there are no rules. Who says you have to have a plot before you write? The trick is to just write and figure out the way that ~you~ work.

Have you ever heard how Diana Gabaldon writes? She writes random scenes out of order until some of them fit together and eventually she ends up with a book.

There is no ~correct~ way to do it. Here's to you finding your own process in the very near future!

Barbara Monajem said...

Hi, Gerri and Emily --

I didn't take a break over the summer, but if my writing slows too much, I propel myself forward with a writing challenge -- i.e. I pledge myself to write a certain # of pages per week. My local chapter held a couple of these challenges, and I found them extremely motivating. (It's a little harder when the only person I have to report to is myself!)

Totally agreed re sleep -- lately I have realized I will get more written if I go to bed as soon as I get sleepy (instead of trying to stay up and write more) and then wake up really early and write before work. (I'm a morning person -- can't you tell?)

EmilyBryan said...

Great discussion, Gerri.

Sorry you had trouble finding my color, Heather. Was it the color itself or where I placed it on the page for the NightOwl Hunt?

No Limits Thinking, I believe there are a number of ways for a writer to produce a cohesive, marketable manuscript. I've experimented with plotting, pantsing, and a layering method. There are many ways to do it and no one way fits all writers or even all books. Maybe that would make a good blog post soon.

EmilyBryan said...

Sandy, related to hiking: I use my treadmill time to run dialogue through my head.

Cindy, you're an inspiration for keeping going after seeing your dad through his cancer battle. Thanks for sharing.

Debra, I think your once a week library writing day is a wonderful gift to give yourself!

Cheeky, I use the project manager in my Word softward. I set weekly page goals and it gives me such a sense of accomplishment to check the goal off each Friday.

Barbara, I think challenges are a great motivational tool. Writing buddies will keep you moving. I wouldn't be published without frequent kicks in the pants from the fabulous Darcy Carson.

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner said...

This is great advice, Gerri! I like your point about creating a plan. Every week (and each day) I decide what I want to accomplish; e.g., This week I will write XX words on this novel; or Today I will write the final 1000 words on the short story.

Another thing that helps me is to go someplace I won't be disracted (easy, sure!). But for 1.5 hours each day I go to a coffee house where I have NO internet, NO email, NO reading materials, just me and my laptop (and my iPod to drown out the noise--very important I've discovered). I am not allowed to leave until I write the full 1.5 hours! I am amazingly productive like this, so I make myself do it every day. Yes, I have to purchase a tea (I don't drink coffee), but it's a worthy investment in my career (and the tea is usally good, so win/win.)

Thanks for the tips, Gerri! And best of luck on your new release. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gerri, thanks for sharing your ideas on getting back into the groove of things. I am not a writer but I have a lot of other things I need to get back into and this should help!


Heather D said...

LOL it wasn't the color, I was expecting it to be either red or pink or a shade of the either. I think I just completely over looked it. I gave up trying and then came back after I did everyone else's and Wham it smacked me in the face. LOL

Christie Craig said...

Great post Emily and Gerri.

We can use a little kick in the pants tips to keep us in line.


Elissa Wilds said...

Great post, ladies. I'm hoping to kick some writing butt tonight - thanks for the great ideas!

Mari said...

I enjoy running also although I haven't braved a marathon yet...

runningmatey at hotmail dot com

Patricia Barraclough said...

Scottish knights and courageous women, my favorite historical combination. Sounds like a great book! I'll be looking for it.
As for getting back into a routine, I'm a children's librarian and summer is one of my busiest times. I actually go into my slump after summer programs end and Oct. when my fall programs start. I usually go on vacation in September which actually makes it easier. Coming back from a break, I can usually sit down and get organized relatively easily. I plan what I'm thinking of doing before I leave and finalize it as soon as I get back. Programs are scheduled and I start planning. Having a deadline helps a lot. Without one, I kind of float around unproductively.

mrsshukra said...

Hi Gerri,
Reading your post makes me appreciate what authors like you and Emily go through to write novels that give inspiration and enjoyment, thanks!


Katie O'Sullivan said...

Thanks so much for the upbeat advice! I've been struggling with my writing all summer - it seems he muse never strikes when all the kids are already busy...

Can't wait to find your book at my local bookstore!

Happy back-to-school!

Jane said...

Hi Gerri,
Congrats on the new release. It's hard getting back to the thick of things. I think taking the small steps approach works for me. Start slowly and keep up the effort.

Fedora said...

Congrats on your latest, Gerri! We're right in the thick of the back-to-school thing at our house, so what a pertinent post! I'm trying to use my time a little more wisely while the kids are in school and trying to get a little more active (it's been easy to just sit around this summer, but I'm hoping with all the drop-offs and pick-ups, I'll be walking a little more!)

Thanks for the tips!