Writing Routines and Winter Break

I'm about to escape for winter break, and it feels like I just finished final exams, thanks to Kids Heart Authors Day. I'll be back on the Fire Escape on 2/24. In the meantime, I leave you with my answer to the question asked last week by Shonna Slayton during her blog's Author Crush Month:

"What are your writing routines?"

Long Showers, Lattes, and Permission to Fail

By Mitali Perkins

As a former teacher, it’s helpful for me to think of dividing the year into four academic quarters. I set goals in marketing and writing at the start of each quarter. Fall and spring quarters are busy with school and library visits, but I also try to write as much as possible during those months. During the winter and summer quarters, I slow things down and focus primarily on writing.

I have a writing buddy in town (Karen Day/NO CREAM PUFFS) who meets with me regularly. We tell each other our goals and try to hold each other accountable.

It takes at least a year for me to write a book. I begin by brainstorming in my journal (and/or during long, hot showers), letting characters and a narrative arc form themselves in my mind. Once I have that story arc and a strong character, I start by taking Jane Yolen’s BIC (Butt in Chair) advice. That chair for me is usually in a local café. I tell myself I can’t leave the place until I write at least 1500 words. I am only allowed brief bathroom breaks and one latte refill.

The next day I’ll head out again (usually to a different café as I don’t want to wear out my welcome), and start by cutting and revising. Then I try to add another 1500 words, and so on and so on. I give myself permission to write garbage because I know my strength is revision. Once I have a lousy first draft done, it gets more fun. I go back and hone and cut and polish and carve and paint and decorate until it’s finally ready to send to my agent.

So on a day without an author visit, I’ll ideally dedicate about 3 pre-lunch hours to writing. Then I spend about 3-4 hours/day on correspondence, editing work that’s closer to publication, promotion and marketing, networking, writing blog posts, reviewing/reading other books, doing interviews, and/or preparing talks for upcoming appearances. I’m finding that younger writers are asking for more of my time these days, so I’ve added mentoring to the list.

I rarely meet my goals, but if I didn’t set them at the beginning of each quarter, I think I’d be half as productive. And while I know I’m blessed to be a full-time writer, my biggest challenge is shared by all those who are self-employed: motivating myself and staying on task. It’s a constant struggle as self-discipline and delayed gratification don’t come easily for me, but I’m growing. Thanks be to God, we can always grow and change, no matter how long we’ve been pursuing our dreams.

Photo courtesy of Francesc Esteve via Creative Commons.