riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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10 Tips on How to Maintain as a Writer

I’m reviving the Industry Friday series (where I post professional advice on Fridays) with some thoughts on how to maintain as a writer. Now that I’m writing full-time, I’ve noticed several habits that help me stay productive and avoid getting stir-crazy. The foundation for these habits is a deep love of writing. If you don’t love it, none of these habits will help. Writing is inherently lonely and difficult, but I believe these habits help maintain a healthy equilibrium.

1. Get up early

You’ve heard me mention the Plath Hours before. I can’t stress enough the benefits of squeezing a few extra (peaceful, quiet) hours out of the day. You don’t have to wake up as early as 4:00 am. Even an hour before your normal wake up time will increase productivity. Or start with 15 minutes earlier and work your way up. As I write this, it is 4:12 am – I actually woke up today at 3:30am without my alarm clock going off. This is because I’ve grown accustomed to getting up early. Of course, this means going to bed early, and possibly taking brief naps during the day, but it’s worth it. Here’s an article to help you get started.

2. Take a shower and get dressed

If you write at home all day, it might be tempting to roll out of bed and work in your pajamas, but don’t do it. At least, don’t stay in your pajamas. At some point before your “normal” work day begins, take a shower and get dressed. You don’t have to dress formally, but wearing clothes that are clean, comfortable and presentable will affect how you feel, and possibly how you approach your work, even if you never leave the house.

3. Have a routine

Contrary to what some people think, “routine” is not a bad word, and I don’t know any writer who doesn’t keep one. Whenever you choose to get up, have consistent, set work hours, including lunch break and quitting time. If you need to run out to do an errand, schedule that into your day, but don’t start cleaning your house, doing the laundry or watching TV in the middle of your day. If you wouldn’t do it at your office job, don’t do it at your home office.

4. Take a daily walk (or more than one)

Personally, I think every writer would benefit from owning a dog. But I understand that dogs aren’t for everybody. But do take a walk, or several walks, every day, rain or shine. Your brain and eyes need a break. Your lungs need fresh air. Your mind needs to reset. Your body needs to move. Get the blood pumping and let Nature inspire you. Gyms and classes are great too, but Nature is free and literally right outside your door.

5. Read books 

You don’t have to join a book club to read a book. But if you do join a book club, you will definitely read at least one book a month. And you will meet other people who love books and love to read. The most important thing is to read, not just for research or work, not just the news, not just online, and certainly not just your Facebook feed. Reading flexes the mind at the same time it relaxes it. Reading also gives us ideas and makes us better writers.

I’m part of a book club now, and we alternate reading one fiction and one non-fiction book every month. The other night I went to the meeting, which takes place in a small local bookstore, even though I hadn’t read the assigned book (I read a different book by the same author). At the end of the evening, everyone listed their favorite books they read this year. I now have a list of 15 great books to read! I truly enjoy our lively discussions.

6. Find your people

The worst thing a writer can do is write in solitude and not have any type of support network (of other writers). You need people in your life who will read your work and give you honest feedback, with whom you can discuss life as a writer and writing issues. People who “get” you artistically and professionally, people you can trust, be vulnerable with, and with whom you share mutual respect, no matter what level everyone is at. I am incredibly blessed to have found my people and thank g-d for them every day (hi goats!).

7. Join a library

Libraries are incredible resources, great places to work, and they’re free. If you’re looking for a specific book and the library doesn’t have it, some will order the book for you. My local library does that. Even though I live in a rural area, I have access to any book I want.

8. Eat well (and stay hydrated)

It sounds so simple, but sometimes writers forget to eat, or neglect to eat healthy because it might take longer to prepare. Another bad habit is not drinking enough water. I’ve been guilty of both in the past, but now I eat a hearty breakfast every day, a moderate lunch and dinner, and drink tea and water throughout the day. My vices include coffee in the morning and wine at night, but not too much of either. Because I live in a rural area and restaurants are far and few between (and expensive), I’m also cooking again.

9. Back up your work (and have more than one computer)

Back up your work in multiple places, all the time, and if you can afford it, have two computers. This way if one goes down, you can keep working, which just happened to me recently. My desktop shut down and wouldn’t start again. Before panic set in, I remembered that I have a laptop, transferred my thumb drive (on which I keep all my current projects) and continued working without skipping a beat.

10. Listen to the radio

Public radio is another amazing resource, and in my house it’s on almost all day. It’s my primary source of news, music, weather and local events. You will hear interviews with filmmakers, authors, political analysts, poets, musicians, actors and more. You can listen online too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something on the radio that made me pause with thought or emotion. Some of my favorite shows: Fresh Air, The Roundtable, The Diane Rehm Show, The Moth Hour, Ted Radio Hour, and American Music Roots.

And one more…

11. Go out and have fun!

I once knew a writer who never left the house except for meetings and would feel guilty about taking time off to spend with family or travel. He was also plagued by migraines. I don’t know if the two related, but I could never understand why he kept driving himself so hard and seemed to get such little pleasure out of life.

Living a full and healthy life (emotionally, physically, spiritually and socially) is part of what makes for great writing. The best material is life itself.

Happy Friday and happy creating!

Sunrise from my office window

Sunrise from my office window


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What’s New

It’s been a while. I won’t use the excuse that I’ve been busy because you’re all busy too and keep blogging. I will say that I took a freelance writing seminar in late March that sort of rocked my world, in a good way. In no particular order, these are some changes I’ve made in the past six weeks since the seminar (and last blog post):

New Routine

I now wake up at 6:00 or 5:30 a.m. and write until 7:00 a.m, every week day. I don’t always write, sometimes I just stare at the computer and think about writing. But things I definitely do NOT do are: 1) check my email or get on the internet, 2) clean the apartment, 3) pay bills or do anything administrative, 4) wash the dishes, 5) check my phone. This time in the morning is my sacred hour, when everyone, including the dog, is asleep and quiet. I love it.

Another change is that I no longer sleep with the phone (and alarm clock) next to my bed. The phone sleeps in the kitchen, so when the alarm goes off at dawn, I have to get out of bed to turn it off. There have been a few mornings when I’ve stumbled back to bed. But after staring at the ceiling for a few minutes, I got up to write.

Besides more/better writing time, I naturally wake up earlier now, even on days off. I’m more punctual to work. I feel more satisfied with my day because, even if I get nothing else creative done, at least I’ve had this hour. I watch less television and go out less during the week. On more than one occasion I’ve used “I have to be in bed by a certain hour” as a reason to decline evening invitations.

New Diet

At the writing seminar, I was asked to choose “a personal experiment I’d like to try for 30 to 365 days.” I chose not drinking, not spending money, and not over-eating. The day after the seminar, I quit drinking alcohol.

I honestly didn’t know if I could do it. I’d been drinking either a few beers or half a bottle of wine almost every night.  I’m not exagerating when I say that not having alcohol in the house used to make me antsy. The thought of not drinking really scared me, and the first week was tough. Tougher still are social engagements like going out to dinner or a party. The thought of going to brunch this weekend and not having a mimosa makes me sad. I miss drinking socially more than anything. On the other hand, I like being more present and less groggy.  I think it’s made waking up early a little easier. Originally, I’d given myself a 30 day limit. It’s been 37 days now. I’m not saying I’ll never drink again, but for now, I’m going to keep refraining.

As an experiment, I also decided to cut out sugar, and more recently wheat, dairy and caffeine. Again, very scary (especially caffeine). I’m now eating mostly protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts and drinking water or tea, occasionally a non-alcoholic beer. Like alcohol, I thought I couldn’t live without caffeine, but the weird thing is I actually feel more awake and energetic. I’m also less moody. I’ve heard people say these things before, but when you start feeling them yourself, it’s a bit of a revelation.

Oh, one last benefit of not drinking alcohol: it saves money.

New Social Media 

Not as important as routine and diet, but still relevant – I’ve started to be more active on Twitter (@nivaladiva) and less active on Facebook. Twitter was a challenge to figure out (I’m still figuring it out), but what I’ve learned so far is that engagement is key, as is providing information and not being afraid to voice your opinions about things that matter to you. You can learn a lot from the news feeds and other people, including job opportunities. I know people who have landed jobs that they learned about on Twitter. It’s not all about following celebrities.

New Toy

I bought a Suzuki s40 Boulevard motorcycle. More on that in another post.

New Work

No, I haven’t quit my job (yet), but I am revving up the freelance writing. Just this week I sent out my very first pitches to two publications. Working on the next set of pitches now. Feels both scary and exciting to put myself out there, but I’m determined to forge a writing career in more markets than just film & television.

New Travel

I took a few days off from work around Easter to visit family in the Bay area. Good practice for road tripping with Ruby at a later date. One thing about traveling with a dog, you end up spending a lot more time outdoors.

Not sure what this is, but looks like a huge "N" to me (Crissy Field, San Francisco)

Not sure what this is, but looks like a huge “N” to me (San Francisco, CA)

Ruby meeting the Golden Gate Bridge (Crissy Field)

Ruby meeting the Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, CA)

Meadow in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland)

Meadow in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland, CA)

Redwoods in Redwood Regional Park

Redwoods in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland, CA)

Bench in Cesar Chavez Park (Berkeley, CA)

Bench in Cesar Chavez Park (Berkeley, CA)

Close-up of bench

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”             – Helen Keller

Ruby and her sunset (101 Freeway rest stop)

Ruby and her sunset (101 Freeway rest stop)

 

 What’s new with you?