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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The Solitary Life

It’s been thirty-eight days since I arrived in upstate New York, and so far it’s exactly how I imagined it would be: gorgeous, quiet, clean and solitary. Several people have asked how I can possibly like being alone all the time. “I would go insane,” they tell me. “How do you manage not to?” (some visual clues at the bottom of this post)

First of all, I am not entirely alone because I have a dog.

Secondly, I’m not entirely alone because I take walks and pass by neighbors (everyone waves to each other up here), and sometimes we even strike up conversations. I also get out of the house for errands, events, meetings and socializing with new and old friends in the area. So far, I’ve been to a brunch, an Oktoberfest party, a lecture, a business meeting, two book club gatherings and an afternoon of apple picking, which was a lot of fun.

Thirdly, I’m not entirely alone because I go to New York City (aka “the city”) every few weeks to be with family, friends and colleagues. Soon, I’ll be venturing to New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to see more people. These weekend trips are wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is they keep me on my toes. Driving in New York City is no joke.

All that said… I am definitely alone most of the time. Here are a few reasons why it doesn’t bother me.

I’m writing. When I’m not writing, I’m reading. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m checking social media, riding my motorcycle, cooking, walking, watching television, sleeping or, like previously mentioned out and about, in and out of the city and so on.

My daily schedule is broken down into blocks of time that start at 4:30 a.m. and end around 9:00 p.m. The 4:30-7:30 a.m. block is what a friend and I have dubbed the Plath Hours, after Sylvia Plath’s habit of working between four and eight in the morning, before her children woke up. We actually check in with each other via Twitter with the hashtag #plathhours. Feel free to join us if you’re interested. We don’t do it every day. Actually, the past few days, I’ve been writing at night instead of the morning. We dubbed the night writing hours #poehours.

My schedule includes a total of nine hours of writing time every week day, but I’m not writing the entire nine hours. I’m also checking email, social media, doing research, keeping up with my Modern Loss editing, and reading online journals. The point is, I’m at my computer working, with little to no distractions.

The rest of the day is broken up between playing with Ruby and regular day-to-day activities. We spend roughly three-four hours per day outside – rain or shine. I use this time to read and exercise (I’ve done both in the rain). Ruby plays fetch, chews her sticks, and explores the vast and many mysteries in the backyard. Afterwards, she sleeps under my writing desk on a bunch of pillows (rough life, I know.)

At 4:30 p.m., if I have errands to run, this is when I ride the motorcycle. Luckily, it’s still warm enough to ride. If I don’t have errands, Ruby and I walk to a nearby creek. She’s recently befriended a beautiful Doberman who lives at a farm along the way, and now he follows us to the creek. The dogs end up swimming, wrestling over sticks, and chasing squirrels and chipmunks. I’m not sure how we’ll keep up this routine when it gets cold, but I’ve thought about taking up cross-country skiing as a way to stay warm and still be outside.

A friend recently teased me that I’m living “a monk’s life.” It’s not as severe as that, but he has a point. It would definitely be nice to balance this solitary life with human company at the end of the day. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if/when I live with someone again. I’m pretty sure I will still spend a lot of time alone, in my office, with the dog at my feet.

I guess what I’m saying is that I see this lifestyle continuing on some level. Maybe I won’t live in the countryside, or maybe I’ll live part-time in the countryside. Either way, I plan to always have a place where I can be alone in a quiet, private atmosphere, and hopefully a fireplace or wood burning stove.

For now, I’m okay with things the way they are. Most of my energy is going into my work, which fulfills me in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.

When people ask me how I like this new solitary, country life, I just smile. “It’s good for the soul.” It’s also producing results. More on that later.

woods Ruby on road to creek Ruby and Bronson2 ruby and bronson moto vista creek4 creek3 creek 2 creek happy me