Exercise routines

When I was teaching, I got a lot more exercise. I used to walk to work nearly everyday, as well as to and from my kids’ school. Now I work from home and wave goodbye to my children from my front door. I sit at my desk typing for hours, occasionally going downstairs to make tea or coffee. According to my phone, my daily step count dropped to an average of 3000 from 10 000.

After a few months of this new sedentary lifestyle, and a whole lot of complaining about my aches and pains from hunching over my laptop everyday, I realized I had to make some changes.

I started with my desk: I ordered a stand for my laptop and an external keyboard so my posture would be a little less terrible.

Next, I rejoined the local Y, which is only two blocks from my house. I learned how to use the elliptical machine and took advantage of the free training session to set up a strength-training routine. At first, I resented losing an hour from my day to go to the gym, but sweat-induced endorphins have helped to turn me around.

A few weeks ago, I attended a QWF workshop about the reciprocal relationship between walking and writing; you can read Alice Zorn’s description of the workshop on her blog. This was a good reminder that writing doesn’t just happen at the desk; walking allows you to process thoughts and ideas in new and wonderful ways.

Then, a few days ago, I made the biggest lifestyle change so far: we adopted a puppy! Samson (pictured above) is a 9-week-old black labrador retriever. My husband has been wanting a dog for years, but I’d been resistant. Now, I’m embracing the opportunity to spend more time outside and counteract my desk-bound writer lifestyle.

Bottleneck

Remember all the great progress I made last week?

This week, I started a new scene and ran into difficulties almost instantly. Not only did I fall short of my word count goal for the week; I never even managed to finish this one scene! I kept having to stop and restart, change and delete.

Obviously, this was frustrating. I was irritated with myself, at my loss of momentum and my lack of progress.

Then I took a step back and asked myself why this scene was so difficult to write. I reviewed the last few scenes for each of my main characters, and suddenly it all made sense: This isn’t just a move-the-plot-forward kind of scene. This needs to be a pivotal moment in both characters’ stories.

This particular scene represents a crossroads for my characters, both individually and for their friendship. Not only does this scene represent the culmination of one part of the narrative, it sets up major crises and plot points for the next part. In order to write this section, I need to keep a ton of information in mind for both characters, then tell the story from only one character’s point of view.

No wonder this has been difficult!

Once I realized what was happening, I stopped beating myself up. I made some notes, collected my thoughts and let myself slow down. I’m going to take my time to get this scene right.

Structural support

I’m a little stunned by my productivity this week.

I wrote more than 7500 words, propelling my total word count past 95 000. There are still a few chapters to go before this draft is finished, but I’m definitely on track to finish in June.

I’m sure it helps that I took that “break” to work on short stories last week, but the biggest factor of my success is the structure I’ve got in place for this book. My scene-by-scene outline lets me alternate smoothly between my two main characters, always moving their individual stories forward, juggling various narrative arcs and subplots.

This doesn’t mean writing the book feels like paint-by-numbers, since I still have to work out the setting and action when I sit down to write each scene: the how and the where and sometimes the when. But the outline is providing the who and the why and the what next; it’s functioning as a scaffold for the whole book, stabilizing the overall structure and giving me the confidence that my story actually holds together.

The other major structural element that’s holding me steady is time management. My daily word-count goal and writing routine might seem constrictive, but they are habits that compel me to productivity. Sitting down at my desk at the same time every single morning keeps the book moving forward, day after day.

 

Short Story Week

This week I went rogue: no novel writing! I didn’t even open up the file in Scrivener.

Increasingly, over the past few weeks I’ve been struggling with motivation (not enough) and procrastination (too much), so I thought I’d change my focus for a few days and work on something different.

Instead of adding another 5000 words to my novel, I declared this ‘Short Story Week’ and gave myself five working days to work on shorter pieces. I revised a story I’d written a few months ago, changing details that didn’t fit and creating a whole new ending. I also started writing a new story, building up scenes and working out timelines and relationships for these new characters.

It was all very loose, freewheeling creative work compared to the structured writing I’ve been doing this year. I didn’t finish a polished draft of either story, but I made good progress and it was definitely satisfying to take a break from the novel for a few days.

To cap off the week, I gave a reading at the Atwater Library. I got to stand up and read my short story “Foreign Bodies” to a room full of attentive listeners. Pretty dreamy, especially being in the company of award-winning writers Laura Legge, Lesley Trites and Anna Leventhal.

Next week, I’ll be back to my regular routine: just me, typing away at my laptop, following my outline until I finish this draft.