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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    The challenge is to be oneself.—Derek Raymond

    1. Unhook

    2. You know what I’m talking about.

      The number of hours a writer can waste on the Internet would make even the most hardened geek’s blood run cold.

      Here’s my #1 tip to getting work done, the one that carves out time in my schedule every blessed day so my clients don’t gang up on me and appear at my door waving fistfuls of precious manuscript in righteous indignation over their heads.

      You know that little doohicky with the floppy ears that plugs the blogosphere, Facegook, and Twitter into your computer like a cable plugging the Matrix into the back of your neck?

      Reach right over and yank that sucker out.

    3. Close your mouth

    4. And a weird thing will happen. Everyone out there will stop listening.

      There you’ll be, sitting at your desk or kitchen table or armchair or porcelain throne with a head full of words and nowhere for them to go.

      Lightbulb!

    5. Plug your ears

    6. But before you bring out your manuscript or open your notebook or click that golden Open button, take a quick look behind you and all around. Are you alone? You’d better be. Otherwise you’re going to have to roll up some little bits of tissue and insert them (very carefully!) into your outer ears. Or take a moment to breathe deeply and hum through your nose until you’ve forgotten all about the other people in the room.

      Whatever you do, don’t look up. That only encourages them.

    7. Watch the clock

    8. What time is it right now? And what time do you expect to have the biggest chunk of time available today?

      Whip out a red pen and scribble that time on your hand. I write on the thumb part of the back of my left hand—always have, always will, even though 25 years ago I injured my arm and damaged a nerve so it feels kind of yucky.

      Now whatever else you do all day, keep one eye peeled. About half an hour before that time, start closing down shop. Take care of anything that might interrupt you—like kids with appetites—and shut down the airlocks. You’re going into orbit.

      Alone.

    9. Take advice

    10. Then pick up a really good book on writing advice, something that makes your head just want to detach from your neck and do a little dance across the room. I mean, a really good book. Something full of concrete, hands-on advice while also intensely encouraging and inspiring.

      Let it fall open randomly and start reading. This is called divining, and it works for writing just like it works for oracles.

    11. Doodle a name

    12. If you get too caught up in the reading, pick up a pen and doodle your protagonist’s name on something. It doesn’t matter what—your arm, the margin of your book, your jeans, the back of the cat. The act of holding that pen and writing that name over and over links synapses in your brain and makes them start pumping juice toward the little grey cells allotted to that personality in your mind.

    13. Drink tea

    14. Don’t eat unless you’re starving. And don’t get yourself all jazzed up on caffeine or stupid on booze. Just make sure you have something warm and comforting you can reach without looking up, like a swimmer taking a breath, before you sink back down into the imaginary place you’re exploring.

    15. Zonk out

    16. And if the noise in the room or in your head is really loud, go take a nap. This isn’t copping out. It’s preparing you to stay up late after everyone else has gone to bed, after your part of the planet has turned off the lights and disappeared, when the quiet rises up around you like mist so you can see your characters come walking or stumbling and crawling out of it toward you.

      Even if you try to do a runner at bedtime it won’t work because you won’t be able to get to sleep.

    17. Disappear for a week up a river or a mountain, break a leg, and get snowed in

      And if all else fails, do what I’m going to do and just vanish into thin air. Leave your house. Go somewhere else. Trade apartments with a writer friend and force yourselves to communicate only by phone. Don’t back yourself into a corner where you actually injure yourself unconsciously, getting just that desperate to escape your daily routine.

      You know that feeling that you’re about to get sick and have to spend a day in bed, so you haul off and spend a day in bed so you won’t get sick?

      Do that.





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    The Art & Craft of Fiction
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    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor


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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    64 Comments

64 Responses to “9 Ways to Find the Time to Write”

  1. I stand by these. These are helpful. I do a lot of these, especially napping. I don’t stand by the coffee one though, which is what helps me rejuvenate my frontal lobe after a particularly good sleeping session.

    I once time spent 6 days in a remote cabin with no electricity, no hot water, one window, a dog, and a lot of mice. I wrote a lot. I edited a lot. Most of it was pure garbage, and I think I haven’t looked at it since. But it was fun. Also: it was spooky. I saw only one other person – an attractive young woman-hiker, but apparently she was on some sort of retreat too. As in retreating from the pale, drooling man who hadn’t talked to anyone in almost a week.

  2. Victoria said on

    It is totally spooky. You learn a whole lot about what it means to you to be alive on this planet when you’re locked up inside your own head for long periods of time. This is why so many experimental novels of the ’70s were about writers going crazy locked up inside their own heads.

    But that unique, spooky view on reality is where the gold is. Sitting around describing in factual detail what happens day-to-day in a remote cabin inhabited by mice is surprisingly good practice at writing compelling scenes.

  3. The shut your mouth and vanishing ones are my favorite. Maybe I should check into a hotel and just type until check-out time. No distractions, mini fridge full of munchies, facilities…hmmm.

  4. Victoria said on

    Watch out for that mini-fridge, Raquel. They charge up the wazoo for that stuff.

    Bring a suitcase of sandwiches and teabags.

  5. O.K. 😀

  6. Victoria said on

    🙂

    That’s what I like, Genevieve—a writer who just says, “O.K,” and does it.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with #1 and #5.

    The internet is a huge time suck (as much as we LOVE IT) and the advice of the masters can help us leap mountains. My favorites (trust me, there’s more but my Top 10 are below):

    Jesse Lee Kercheval (Building Fiction)
    Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)
    Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones & Wild Mind)
    Julia Cameron (The Sound of Paper & The Artist’s Way)
    Stephen King (On Writing)
    David Morrell (Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing)
    Christopher Vogler (The Writer’s Journey)
    Blake Snyder (Save the Cat)

  8. Victoria said on

    Thanks, Jenny! Writers always appreciate great recommendations. And, hey, feel free to take my book into orbit with you, too.

  9. Great advice. I love the idea of getting away to write, wish it were possible, but the rest are definitely possible. Thanks for the reminder…there are too many distractions out there, but only if you let them.

  10. Victoria said on

    Oh, it’s hard. I know. We all work for a living, and a lot of us also have kids to raise. That’s why I recommended a sick day rather than, say, a stay at Yaddo. Unless your kids are really little, you should be able to swing a few hours hiding under the covers once in awhile.

  11. Humorous, refreshing and realistic. That is the best list of applicable tips I’ve seen yet!

    Thanks.

  12. Victoria said on

    Thanks, Joan! It can be so hard to find that time. . .

  13. The Matrix image is a very potent one for me. Of course, how to balance that with the advice to be on the Internet networking is the question! I just read a post yesterday by a successful author who advised that we should not leave the internet for days each week. We should be a steady, consistent presence.

  14. Victoria said on

    Beware advice to make your marketing more important than your writing. Sure, once you’re an experienced writer with one or more books finished and know exactly what you have to sell, the blogosphere is an amazing new resource for writers. But first you have to become a professional writer.

    That successful author has already put in their years of apprenticeship. That’s the joy of the work!

  15. How many ways can we say the same things we’ve known all along but dont do? You’ve clearly come up with a refreshing new way. I’m tweeting it. Got to you from Debbie Ohi. Keep up the great work!
    -dawn

  16. Victoria said on

    Thanks, Dawn! Debbie’s a great resource.

  17. Great fun. Good advice. Gonna do some of this, like 1,2,4,5,8, and 9. Definitely 8 and 9. Thanks for the entertainment and inspiration.

  18. Victoria said on

    You’re welcome, Betsy. I figured I’d get lots of people saying, “Oh, yeah. Definitely 8!”

  19. This sounds like the Biblical answer to procrstinating authors like me!!

    What I found worked for me (my first novel ‘Third Best’ just got published) is that even on those terrible days when nothing seems to be flowing (and sometimes that is worse that even writer’s block!) just type something, anything, even if it sounds absolutely terrible in your head. Eventually something will emerge that will surprise you (‘Finding Forrester’ style).

  20. Victoria said on

    That’s hilarious about the “Biblical answer.” I’m going to tweet that. 🙂

    Yeah, Arjun, there’s a lot to be said for simply sitting around reinforcing the conduit that leads words out of your brain onto the page. I used to journal a lot (“and then she said—and then I said—“) and now I blog about craft. Natalie Goldberg really blew the writing world open when she said, “It doesn’t have to have a goal. Writing exercises are developing your skills.”

  21. Great reminders, thanks! I have to not open my web-browser when I’m writing – for me that’s key to focused writing. Thanks – I’m likely to link to this on my blog later today.

  22. Victoria said on

    I do that, too, Pam. But if I don’t unplug, I get pinged every ten minutes or so when my email reader checks my email, and that is totally distracting.

  23. […] a great post, Victoria Mixon writes about 9 Ways to Find the Time to Write […]

  24. Hi Victoria. Great tips, will tweet to our followers.

    Happy writing

    Adam
    iwritereadrate.com

  25. Victoria said on

    Thanks, Adam!

  26. I love #9. I wrote the bulk of my first book during the week I took off after getting my wisdom teeth pulled. The recovery wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but had already taken the week off work, so it was a great time to get the draft done.

    Plus the fact that my face looked like I had ran chin first into a cinder block wall made me want to stay away from the world, helped as well…

    Great article! Thanks.

  27. Victoria said on

    You’ve got to wonder, Michael—how much of writing is about creating a fictional ‘avatar’ for ourselves, someone who doesn’t look the way we look in the mirror every morning?

  28. I don’t know, but my fictional avatar was pretty ugly for a couple of weeks… or uglier that usual 😉 But there is a place that I have to go when I get fully engaged in a project. I have more energy there, and if there is enough time, the state of “flow” occurs and then everything seems to slip into place. It is hard to find that kind of time in a busy household, and many times I settle for 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, an hour after weekend soccer practice, etc. I don’t get these types of blocks of unbroken project time often at all, but I do cherish them when they do occur.

  29. Victoria said on

    Amazing how much time our lives take up, isn’t it? That pesky business of living. 🙂

    So many of my clients are parents. You wouldn’t believe how much of my correspondence with clients goes on around soccer practice.

    That’s great you’ve found a way to make writing happen. Getting that door open is one of the biggest issues writers face—it’s like prying open a sealed vault with a toothpick and a pair of fingernail clippers. But once it’s open. . .then you’re exactly where you need to be.

  30. […] Victoria Mixon has a host of tips on finding time. […]

  31. Thanks for the fun and useful article. Another idea is to have two computers. One for work and one for play. Even two desk setups: one minimalist, another indulgent.

  32. Victoria said on

    That’s a pretty good idea, Dave. I have two places to work—in my office, and by the kitchen fire. I get a lot more actual writing done in my office because I have room on my desk to spread out books and papers.

  33. Sheri Adams said on

    Turning off the phone is one of the best techniques I’ve ever run into. I started to do it when I had a migraine and now if I am busy writing or creating something, the phone goes off! The off button is one of the greatest inventions on any machine that will disturb or occupy you.

  34. Victoria said on

    “The off button is one of the greatest inventions.”

    Amen.

  35. These tips are just what I’ve been looking for. I’m a writer who has many ideas but has trouble figuring out “when” I’ll get them down and focus on them. Love the writing-in-your-hand thing. 🙂

  36. Victoria said on

    Nobody ever finds enough time! Especially in this day and age. It’s such a constant struggle.

  37. Thank you! These are all so helpful!

    #2 is funny, I always clean the house or chat non-stop, sometimes I forget I have control of my mouth…
    #3 This is why I don’t understand how people can write in a cafe! Too much noise makes me crazy, I downloaded ocean sounds off iTunes to help me focus.
    #6 is great, a way to connect and focus on your goal. It makes perfect sense and I never thought about it. If you’re going to write about someone, you need to make that connection, like a kid in school writing a boy’s name over and over…

    🙂

  38. Victoria said on

    “I forget I have control of my mouth.” 🙂 So do I. You should see what goes on on my IM. Friends quail.

    I used to write in cafes all the time because they’re hot-beds of material, but I didn’t get any novels written there because I couldn’t spread out my notes on plotting without getting latte all over them.

    And sometimes you really just need to sit and write your protagonist’s name over and over and over again—fantasizing.

  39. I find it halarious that rule #1 tells me not to use the internet, but I found this on stumbleupon when I should have been studying. : /
    irony.

  40. Me too my friend. Me too.

  41. Victoria said on

    You guys are too hilarious.

    Me too.

  42. […] 9 ways to find the time to write: http://victoriamixon.com/2011/03/07/9-ways-to-find-the-time-to-write/ […]

  43. Thanks for the good advice. I never wrote so well as the 6 months I lived in a flat with no phone, no TV and no internet access! I’ve linked to your wise words from my blog, here: http://annasayburn.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/developing-our-fiction-half-way-through/

  44. Victoria said on

    No kidding—total stimulus starvation is fantastic inspiration to create!

  45. excellent tips. writing is kind of a hide & seek sport. you have to go out and listen a lot, but then when you go out & comment on it you have to be alone with your thoughts. Easy if you’re predisposed to deep thinking & reflecting, but harder to shave space & solace to keep momentum.

    k

  46. Victoria said on

    It’s really hard these days, Kaitlynn. Holy cow. It was way easier in pre-Internet days.

    Now you just have to show enormous self-discipline and tenacity. And, as you say, create your own solace. That’s what the life of the imagination is all about.

  47. Aarushi said on

    Hi Victoria,

    Your blog is amazing. These are truly inspiring tips. I am a self-proclaimed “writer” who doesn’t really do much of the actual writing very often, unless assigned by one of my college professors. I go through every day thinking at the end of it I will churn out some words but I don’t know what happens. I have ideas but lose inspiration or the other way round. I will try these tips out. Again, I love your blog!

    -Aarushi

  48. Victoria said on

    Thanks, Aarushi! We’re all self-proclaimed. There is no license to be a writer. . .although it would probably help.

    And, yeah, we all struggle with getting work done. Don’t worry about it. College is a busy time of life. I spent a lot of my college years castigating myself for not writing regularly, only to find when I looked back on them later that I’d done a ton of good work.

    It takes a long time to get good in this field—a really insanely ridiculously long time. Whatever writing you’re doing now, whenever you can, you’re improving your craft.

  49. Paul Bursey said on

    I love your writing style Victoria, oops time to zonk out

  50. Victoria said on

    🙂

    Made me laugh, Paul.

  51. Stumble Upon is the bane of my life, especially as a writer.

    My most productive time was when I had to take a year off Uni due to ill health – I taught myself disciplne through the seemingly endless stretch of time I had in front of me and needing to fill it. I wrote a short play and started two novels, writing about 20,000 word of each. Unfortunately since being well and having to do things like uni work and job searching, writing itself seems like procrastination from the other essential things :s

    And when I have a spare five minutes I go on stumbleupon. Doh.

  52. Victoria said on

    Yeah, I hear a lot of this, Gillian! 🙂

    Don’t pressure yourself. Set a timer, go to StumbleUpon, find one thing really inspiring to read about writing, and take notes. The act of taking those notes will snap you out of your trance, especially if you start scribbling your protagonist’s name when you run out of notes to take. Feel your hand creeping unconsciously toward that plug. . .

  53. I feel like I’m going to get sick soon, the flu or something like it. Great time for a 14 year old writer. That and the boring Literature class, when I just zone out. haha. Great advice. Thanks!

  54. Victoria said on

    I know that flu, Teresa. It’s a pernicious bug. Knocks you out cold for a day, except for your writing hand.

    It’s weird that way.

  55. Number 5 is important, though at some point you just have to sit down and start writing. I’m no professional author, but I enjoy creative writing. For me, the hardest part is getting started.

  56. Victoria said on

    That’s the transition, Jacob, and everyone struggles with it to some extent. That’s why reading a really good book on writing can help—it can bridge that transition for you, calling up references to your own manuscript in your mind, so you don’t notice when you leave the real world and arrive in your fictional dream.

    Then you write!

  57. I can do all but 8 and 9. Partially because i’m only in high school. partially because i have too much going on. But since this is what i want to do i will definitely try :))))

  58. Victoria said on

    🙂

    High school? I got some of my best napping done in high school!

  59. I am reminded that the first time I managed to produce a good “short” story to publishable standard, I wrote it while on a training course where the accomodation was a motorway service station. Daytime – learning things. Evening – no Internet, effectively no TV, no company, food that filled a hole and no more – but I had a lap-top with me.
    At the end of the week, I also had 9K polished words, ready to go.
    Research and emailing a copy for criticism happened in lunchtime (about 20 minutes online a day).

  60. Yes, the Internet and TV are the biggest obstacles to decent writing in today’s world. Cut them out of your life, and you’ve won half the battle right there.

    Write because you love it! Life is truly too short to waste staring mindlessly at a screen.

  61. Ben Chason Sokol said on

    Miss, you are inspiring.
    Just so yo know.

  62. Well, thank you, Ben! How very kind of you. 🙂

  63. […] you pondering whether or blogs are dead or just evolving into books, plus that pesky question of how to find time to write either one. Now this week I’m going to very quickly teach you absolutely everything I know about social […]

  64. I needed a laugh – my shoulders were tense with anxiety over how am I EVER going to plow through the research I planned for my book. Now I know. I heart this post.




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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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