So, dear readers, the question arose in another setting as to what I do in my off time, and just how I recharge my mental capacitors in order to write more. This in turn, came up as a result of an offhand comment that I wrote 5800 words in four hours last weekend. It’s not uncommon for me to write a full novel in a couple weeks or a short story in a couple hours. I typically hate writing about myself, it seems arrogant and all that. Still, what works for me, as a writer, might help other people too, so I’ll give it a shot. Also, it’s National Write a Novel Month, so this kind of thing might help someone to meet their writing goals.
First off, I’ll confess that I don’t have a lot of down-time. Really, right now, I’ve got essentially zero. I’m working twelve to fourteen hour days with the Army right now, so I do my writing during lunch or instead of sleep. To make things more interesting, I’m getting married in December, so my fiance and I are doing all kinds of wedding planning and organization. Then there’s this blog, self-publishing admin work, and a host of other fun things that keep me very, very busy. All that aside, when I do get free time, how do I spend it? Well, reading is probably one of my top things to do. I own a lot of books. Every time the Army moves me, the movers have no issues until they hit my study… then they freak out. I’m slowly transitioning to ebooks, but some of my favorite authors are only available in paper format and every now and again I’ll make a nice discovery at a bookstore… and so the collection continues to grow. I’ve already written a bit about my favorite authors, so I’ll just say that I love to read. Mostly science fiction and fantasy, but also historical non-fiction, military non-fiction, some mysteries, a lot of the classics, and some random things that have caught my attention.
I’ve also got a lot of gaming hobbies. I’ve played a number of roleplaying games to include D&D (3.5 is my personal favorite, though I’ve played since 2nd edition), Alternity, Rifts, L5R, and Pathfinder. I love to play, but I often get roped into being the Gamemaster. This, of course, leads to me having less available time. I also play Warhammer 40k and Fantasy tabletop strategy games. I’ve got an extensive collection and a lot of models to paint still. I like games in general because they’re a good way to socialize with friends and to push the boundaries and explore possibilities. I used to be more into computer/console games, to include shooters (Half Life, Counterstrike, CoD, MW3), MMORPGs (Eve, WoW, ToR), and strategy games (Homeworld, Civilization, Red Alert, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires) but I prefer to spend time with friends in person, without the electronic interface. Also, I’m pretty short of time as I previously mentioned. If you aren’t careful, computer games (especially MMO’s) are holes in which to dump time and money.
Outside activities are pretty important to me. I grew up in Colorado and Texas, both great places to get out and do stuff. I’m an avid skiier, I love hiking, camping, fishing, and shooting. I have some favorite spots up in the mountains of Colorado, but I love the wilderness in general. I also listen to music, everything from Puccini to Chevelle. The right music at the write time is a great way to enjoy the moment or just to relax. My favorite types of music are the ones that resonate with my current emotional state. So yes, I’ll listen to opera if I’m in the mood. I really enjoy classic rock, to include Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Foriegner, Charlie Daniels Band, Foghat, Pink Floyd and a few others. I’ll also listen to a variety of modern bands, to include Cruxshadows, E Nomine, A Perfect Circle, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Nickleback, Three Doors Down, Within Temptation, and a lot of other random stuff. I really enjoy complexity, deep bass lines, and a variety.
Why is this stuff important? I do that kind of thing to refresh my brain and help me put things into perspective so I can write. I’ll be honest, I get the most productivity from writing if I’m in a windowless room without distractions. No internet, no TV, no people, just me and a notebook or a computer. I do most of my preparation to write while I’m in my down time. And yes, I have had moments where I’ll be in the middle of a movie or out on a hike and suddenly something will click in my brain and I know exactly how I’m going to write that scene that has bothered me for the past three years.
Something I’ve found very true is that writing is a lot of work. It is a constant thought process. My fiance can tell when I’m thinking about writing, because I get a thousand yard stare and I’m only half paying attention to anything. I’ve driven home during rush hour traffic, got lost in thought, and literally couldn’t remember the entire drive. Recharging that capacity for thought is very necessary. It prevents burn-out and it helps refresh ideas. You can’t write if your brain hasn’t had time to process material.
When I do get writing, what habits to I utilize to maximize my output? When I have time to really focus on writing, I typically set myself a schedule. It goes a long way to forcing yourself to write, whether you feel like it or not. And trust me, at a certain point, a schedule makes it so that you are ready for that time when it comes. What I put on my schedule may not work for you, but some of the ideas of why I put them on there may help you out. First off, I get up early and do something active. Normally this is a workout, but it might just be a long walk. Afterwards I’ll find something that gets my brain engaged and active, this could be work, a game, a puzzle, whatever. Time-wise, I’d suggest at least an hour for each. This makes me alert, but also gives me more energy for the day. As an aside, don’t forget to eat, and eat healthy. I’ve covered a lot of this in my “Finding Time to Write” post, and I realize I’m rehashing a bit, but it bears repeating. In the afternoon I’ll work out again and then read through my notes and see what I need to accomplish. Here’s the fun part for me: I’ll take a nap. Maybe only forty minutes or so, but that gives my brain time to reset and think things through.
After that, I write. Earphones in, internet unplugged, and in a comfortable position. I’ll write everything that comes to me, it doesn’t matter if I scrap every word I write, later, for now, it is all about putting it on the page. At this point, I’ve spent most of the morning thinking about what I was going to write, and it should come out easily. If not, well, then I focus on getting things written anyway. The most important writing habit is, well, writing.
How does this work, if, like me, you don’t have a lot of free time? Well, again, a schedule helps. Time management is the key, as is self discipline. If you have ten hours of time when you’re not at work, well, you have my sympathies. Allocate some time for sleep and and rest and all the fun stuff. Put the rest towards writing. I’ve functioned before on four hours of sleep or less each night for a four months. It was miserable, but I managed to write not just one but two full length novels. Why do that to myself? Honestly, I had to. I needed some outlet for all the stuff in my brain and I wanted to do something productive with it. As my favorite writing joke goes: “What’s hell? Spending all eternity hunched over a keyboard made out of razorblades. What’s heaven? You’re published.” I write because I must, it is part of who I am.
So, my dear reader, if you wanted to know more about me, or if you just wanted my perspective on how to churn out some words, hopefully that helps. If you didn’t, well, why’d you bother to read all this?