Lifesavers for Writers
Strategies to Stay Afloat
“Our life is frittered away in a sea of detail. Simplify, simplify.”
-Henry David Thoreau
Since launching my little gold boat, I often feel lost in a sea of detail. It’s easy for me to get swept away by my ideas and lose sight of my goals. This rudderless tendency becomes especially strong when I’m traveling. Because I’ve noticed my stress level rises when I do not have a set routine, I’ve made an effort over the past few months to establish one. Researchers agree that a regular routine boosts creativity. Here are a few tips:
EXERCISE EARLY & OFTEN: Wake up to run, bike, swim, garden or do whatever moves you and gets your heart pumping. I’m making an effort to hitch a ride down my hill every morning and walk up. It only takes 20 minutes, and lets me plug into favorite podcasts (Writer’s Almanac, Fresh Air and Selected Shorts ) before getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle of work. Once at my desk, I make a point to follow the tips in Gretchen Reynold’s book, The First 20 Minutes.
FUEL UP/CLEAN UP: Even though I could procrastinate about this all day, I try to change out of workout clothes and sit down to eat breakfast at the table (not the computer) with a good book, then load the dishwasher and tidy up. (The telltale pile of clothes on the bedroom chair reveals I’m far from meeting this goal.)
CHART THE COURSE: Following the tried-and-true practice of Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, Vladamir Nabokov and other writers throughout history, I keep a notebook by my bed to record ideas in the middle of the night or when I first wake up. These range from snippets of blog posts to ideas for titles, workshops, marketing strategies, products and projects to wish lists of activities, books to read and travel destinations. I also keep my smart phone there (switched off until I need it) to do research for the upcoming day’s work. For example, I might Google to find the day in history, literary birthdays or cultural observances around the world. Or I might look for related images to share on Gold Boat’s Facebook or Twitter feed. I also try to stay informed about news that relates to my business.
START A DIGITAL DIET: I share posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Linked In as well as with people, groups, organizations and pages. Because the internet can suck up boatloads of hours, Poets & Writers magazine recommends you get enforced willpower from Freedom, an app that can be set to block the internet for a specified amount of time. I also like Take A Break, a page that you can open on your computer when you are working that will remind you to get up from your desk every 30 minutes (which can go by in what often seems like 5 minutes).
NEVER STOP LEARNING: As William Faulkner said, “Read, read, read. Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” When you go to the library, pull books off the shelf that look interesting and wander through subject areas that interest you. Read anthologies of work in your preferred genre–essays, short stories, travel writing, etc. and note the names of writers whose work you like. Also, don’t feel compelled to blog, but try writing on a platform like Medium that lets you collaborate with and get input from other writers. You can embed your profile, which includes a list of your most popular posts, on your website.
ESCAPE THE DESK: When distractions at home threaten my productivity, I take my laptop and work at a coffee shop or in the library. For more about standing and treadmill desks, creativity and exercise, read Freesailing Friday.
CARPE MOMENTUM: I always carry a small notebook and pen in my purse, backpack, car and laptop bag. Some writers also might want to invest in an Aqua Notes — Waterproof Notepad to capture Eureka moments in the bath and shower.
TWEET YOUR HEART OUT: Although I was not an early adopter of Twitter, I’ve found no better way to boost visitation to my website. Because Twitter allows you to target your tweets by subject, you can direct posts individually to people and organizations searching for those topics. Like all social media platforms, it’s most valuable when you use it to connect with actual people. For example, I have replied to Tweets from accounts whose content I like to tell them that, then asked them if they ever hire freelance writers. I’ve also made professional connections and learned a lot from Twitter users. Twitter also challenges you to “write short” and can be the perfect medium for taking a creative break by responding to prompts and participating in haiku and six word story contests. Every year I take part in the annual haiku contest sponsored by New York’s Library Hotel (maybe someday I will win a free night there). Twitter is also an efficient research tool for finding links to share, retweet and write about. How else would I have learned, for example, that Geoffrey Chaucer first coined the word “twitter” in 1400? As Chaucer himself wrote, “Life is short. Art long. Opportunity is fleeting.” Carpe diem.
Ellen Girardeau Kempler’s articles and essays have been published in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Westways and many other publications. She is founder and chief navigator of Gold Boat Journeys: Mind Trips for Writers, a Laguna Beach, California-based company dedicated to inspiring creative inspiration through focused exploration and travel. A version of this post was originally published at www.gold-boat.com on October 29, 2012.