How I had a Productive Summer

Or as I like to say, how I made the most of interrupted time.

Think back to June. Was this you?

“I have an incredible writing project planned for this summer. I’ll write a first draft. Complete revisions. Write, query, get the book published, and go on a worldwide book tour. All before school starts in September.”

Well, that did sound a bit like me (minus the book tour. Do you think I’m delusional?) I set a deadline of August 30th. to finish revisions on my WIP. The timing was perfect. It had been resting for weeks (per Stephen King), I was dreaming about the characters and plot holes, and I gave myself almost three months to complete them. What could go wrong?

Duh, summer!

Picture this:


Monday, the second week of June, CBS This Morning just finished. I skipped to my writing desk and opened my laptop. Aaahhh. #amwriting.

Duh, summer!

Son#2 stomped downstairs.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Smshidhgehisld,” he said. I translated it as good morning, and since I was in such a deliriously happy mood, I may have imagined he said I love you. Unfortunately, it was most likely “why is it so bright outside?”

But to be honest, I was too excited to get to work to make sense of it.

I sipped coffee, ignored Teen Titans Go on TV in the family room, and opened chapter one. I reworded the first paragraph.

Duh, summer!

Son#1 shuffled downstairs. He’s not a morning person.

“We have no milk!”

As a kid lit writer, no milk was something my main character would complain about, but duh, summer! I sipped more coffee, took a deep breath, and turned the computer off. There were more important issues to tackle. Really, the thought of cereal without milk, or having to eat waffles for breakfast, was inconceivable. Right?

Between taking care of every day needs, vacations, hanging out with the kids until they remembered I was an adult and therefore boring, and the unexpected houseguests (which came in the form of a copperhead snake that sent my son to the hospital), I realized revisions would not be possible. But that didn’t stop me from trying, getting frustrated, and trying again.

Then sometime toward the end of June, a light bulb went off. I actually saw stars and it was not from being hit in the head sparring. I realized there was writing time during the summer. It was just in five or ten minute intervals.

Instead of saying what the hecks, packing up my writing materials, and being completely unproductive this summer, I learned how to make the most of those cherished minutes I found during the day.

Here are a few activities I did during those times:

  1. Writing exercises. Fifteen minutes, or five. There was no rule. I found writing for even a few minutes energized my creativity and brought out the joy in writing.image
  1. Catching up on writing articles. I read and took notes on the dozens of saved newsletters, links to blog posts (like the amazing ones from The Winged Pen), and Facebook posts about writing.
  1. Making notes for future stories. Just because I was deeply involved in one story didn’t mean ideas for future ones dried up. I wrote them down as fast as they came and expanded on a few when I had extra time.
  1. Research. I scanned the Internet, books, and watched TV. I talked to people about subjects, places, and names. All of which will help me dive deeper into my WIP as well as future stories. How else would I have learned about phillumenists. I had no clue there was a name for a person who collected matchbooks. What a unique character quirk.
  1. Read. Of course that goes without saying.

So this summer, instead of being unproductive, which to me meant cranky, I did a little bit of everything. And all those tips will make the revision of my WIP even better.

I would love to hear what you did this summer and how you found ways to be productive. Please leave them in the comments below.

IMG_2142 - Version 2 A third degree black belt in taekwondo, HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.


10 Tips to Control Writing Book Fever

Mosaic owl on a pedestal in the Library of Congress.
Mosaic owl on a pedestal in the Library of Congress.
Wise owl in the Library of Congress. Mosaic by Elihu Vedder.

My parents gave me a subscription to THE WRITER magazine when I was a kid. Years later, as an adult, I shyly checked out writing books from the library. You’d think I was checking out something indecent, but laying the books on the check-out counter felt like hubris.

It was hard to meet the librarian’s eyes. I mean, if anyone knows what a writer looks like, it’s a librarian.

The other day, I wondered why there are so few writing magazines published in Germany. There are magazines in every other possible subject. Photography magazines fill a wall at the train station bookshop. But writing magazines are rare to nonexistent. My native German husband said, “In Germany, writing is not for amateurs. People don’t do it as a hobby.”

That stung for a moment because, of course, I am an amateur. On the other hand, I’m not shy about checking out writing books from the library anymore. But I still don’t go up to the bookstore owners and ask where the writing section is.

Bookstore owners probably also know what writers look like.

Ironically, too many craft books can make us doubt ourselves even more. I won’t stop reading them any time soon, because I get insights that help. But when those insights start to feel like a blur, make the internal editor too loud, and keep me from “shipping,” it’s time to take action.

So how do you keep your writing tools in line?

  1. Learn selectively about structure and point of view and character arcs and all kinds of other theories, not all at once. If you get consistent feedback, find tools that might help, study them, and pick one to try. Don’t be a snob about tools you don’t understand. You may need them some day. On the other hand, writing tools that don’t excite you to write should find a new home.
  2. Purge electronic writing tools and writing e-mail newsletter subscriptions. Your to-do list is already long enough. If I list everything the writing newsletters suggest, I feel overwhelmed and come to a creaking stop.
  3. Risk. Pick one contest/tool/assignment that feels risky and try it. Risk is the antidote to the full toolbox’s illusion of readiness. It takes courage and that makes you feel like a writer again.
  4. Ship. Write something you owe and make it public. This is even better if you write something that someone wants: a thank you letter, a birthday card, a promised blog post. Don’t read writing books instead of writing. It will make you feel like a liar.
  5. Choose your mentors carefully. Find work you like and then see how it works. Only take craft advice from people who are after the same things you are. If they don’t write what you want to write, but their advice sounds really, really good, test their theories on work from a writer you admire.
  6. Critique a writing partner’s work. Admire what they do well. Take courage that they are also still learning.
  7. Anarchy. Write something and break a writing rule you know is “true”.
  8. Enjoy. Read something you enjoy and admire in the genre you’re writing in. Reading good writing brings me joy, gives me rest, and inspires me to imitate it.
  9. Read blog posts about publishing minutiae after you reach your writing goal for the day. You’ll enjoy them much more.
  10. Go write. The best cure is to write. It’s no different for any other profession. Read too many gardening books without digging in the dirt and you get imposter syndrome. Linger a little too long in Williams & Sonoma’s fancy kitchen shop and you’ll end up ordering out for pizza. The way of the amateur is to love the writing itself. Get thee to a keyboard.

IMG_4373HighResHeadshotLDLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she’s not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.