Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing Schedules, Writing Setbacks

By Elizabeth S. Craig

Some days it’s tough to find time to write. But I really have to squeeze it in. I have an approach that works really well (except, well, when life happens):

The Set-Up—the Night Before:

I make a list of what I’m writing the next day. By no means can I call this list an outline because that messes with my head. :) It’s just “a list.”

I make sure that there are no social media windows up and running when I close my laptop before going to bed.

I set the coffee maker to automatically start perking at 4:45 a.m.

That next morning:

I get up and start writing. No email, no social media. Just an hour of writing. Then I feel smugly successful all day!


There’s a sick child.

There’s a sick dog or cat.

There is some horrible, unspeakable disaster awaiting me when I go downstairs.

Plan B!

For me, Plan B involves giving up on writing first thing, addressing whatever disaster has happened, then running away from home to find a suitable location for writing (i.e., a place that sells good coffee at an inexpensive rate). I will eat an egg, bacon, and grits and will consume about 4 cups of coffee…and write for an hour straight, at least. The waitresses, realizing my desperation, silently refill my coffee as I mutter to myself. I know no one there, nor am I likely to make friends, since I’m usually make-up free, haphazardly attired, and in disreputable flip flops. I tip well, knowing that I’m doomed to return and wanting my laptop and me to be welcomed back.

Unless…Plan B won’t work because there’s some place I have to be right after taking the carpools. (For you this could be work, for me it could be a dental appointment for a child or myself, the vet with the sick animal that put me on Plan B to begin with, etc.)

For that, I offer Plan C

The most important part of Plan C involves being prepared to write on the go. To implement Plan C, I’m armed with 4 x 6 notecards, pencils, and pens. At stoplights on the way to whatever thing messed up Plan B, I make notes on the tops of each notecard, detailing what scene, setting or character description, etc. will be on that card. During the day, I fill the cards with writing.

But then, some days… Even Plan C won’t work. These are truly wretched days when unexpected events leap out at you all day and wrestle the pen and paper right out of your hands.

So…you might have to get all the way to Plan Z (before Plan Zzz). Writing really late at night before turning in. This is when I call it quits after 15 minutes. If I’m not under a deadline, I might just give myself a free pass…a Get Out of Writing Free card. But I can’t do that very often because it’s ten times harder to get back into the manuscript (and meet deadlines.)

Do you have fallback plans for your writing? How often do you give yourself a Get Out of Writing Free card, or end up at Plan Z?

Elizabeth S. Craig

Elizabeth’s latest book is, Finger Lickin’ Dead, released June 7th. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley as Riley Adams and is featured at The Mystery Lovers Kitchen. She also writes the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink.

Blog: Mystery Writing is Murder

Twitter: @elizabethscraig


  1. Elizabeth: I could have written this blog! You've captured the writer's life so perfectly, especially when there is a job, children, and a household involved. Thanks for stopping by today. And everyone else, if you're not following Elizabeth on Twitter, you should be. She's got great links to all sorts of writing blogs and such that have been tremendously helpful to me. Maggie

  2. Very good and interesting post, Elizabeth. Thanks.

    Here's two (of several):

    The answer to "what will I make for dinner tonight?" becomes "a phone call". And, a half day or more of a weekend becomes the sacrifice fly. I make sure that my taking myself out of the weekend mix for four to ten hours doesn't ruin anyone else's plans and then I work when I would normally be off to turn the work week around.

  3. Elizabeth, thanks for visiting with us today! Love your post. Every time I think I'm going to have a day (or a few days or a week) of uninterrupted writing time, that's when disaster always strikes. Never fails. Good thing you have Plans B and C to fall back on. ;-)


  4. Stiletto Gang--Thanks so much! It's always a struggle, isn't it, to balance all the different things in our life and still get writing done! Thanks so much for having me.

    Vicky--I think the *only* way to survive the crush is to realize that something has to give. And different days, it's different things...sometimes the house doesn't look great, sometimes the meal we're eating isn't all that healthy, sometimes the kids wear mismatched clothes. But I've come to the realization that we can't do it all (well, maybe Martha Stewart can! But she has a staff. :) )

    Susan--The challenges always show up, don't they! Yay for Plan B. :)

  5. Elizabeth - I think having backup writing plans is absolutely essential! Your ideas - especially finding another place to be if you can - are so useful. I do that myself sometimes. Today's technology at least allows voice recording, quick notes and so on. When I have to write on the go, I use voice recording, and I've even been known to text ideas to myself. It works when it all hits the fan just when you were getting a good idea.
    I'd also like to add that on THOSE DAYS, it's good to remember that even one sentence is more than you had...

  6. Great post Elizabeth. Get Out Of Writing Free Card?!! I love it. I give myself too many of those, though. *sigh*. Good thing I don't have anyone breathing down my neck - yet (wish I did, lol!).

  7. This made me laugh and cry at the time time, Elizabeth. I could just see you at that coffee shop, looking like a mad woman. I love the idea of Plan A, B, C, ZZZZ. My problem is more getting the writing out of me once I have the time.

  8. When I'm working on a new novel I try to write 1,000 words a day, five days a week. Giving myself two days off refreshes me and keeps my imagination working. Some days just a new paragraph is a success though and allowing myself that helps.

  9. I try an write five nights a week when I'm working on a manuscript. Movie nights though, that is out the window!

  10. Sometimes my best plan to write is just to find time every day to write. I always make sure I have some way to write on the go too.

    I like your Plan A, B, and C. We have to have them for everything.

  11. I think being flexible and able to adapt is right up there with tenacity when it comes to succeeding as a writer. You just have to keep doing it, no matter how many plans you fall back on. Great reminder, Elizabeth.

  12. Margot--I love voice recording. I've texted myself a time or two, too. :)

    Lady Gwen--I'll admit that I work better under a deadline...even ones that I set for myself!

    Karen--I think I do scare people when I go out to write. :) So intense!

    And I know what you mean about the words. Sometimes I just have to ask myself, "And THEN what happened?" a few times in a row. Or say, "What if *such-and-so* happened?"

    Heather--Sometimes even just opening the Word program is a success!

    Alex--You've got to have movie nights! Besides, that's where you find some of your inspiration, I know.

    Teresa--I used to be really bad with it, for non-writing things. I had this "I've got to stick to the plan!" mentality. Then I found it wasn't serving me well, so I changed. :)

    Maryann--I couldn't agree with you more! I think adapting is incredible important...both to get writing done and to survive in this changing industry.

  13. I've found a plan z! I sprint write with buddies. And it works.

    Chemical Fusion

  14. Enid--I love it! So you spur each other on. Great idea! I think that must be why NaNoWriMo does so from other writers. :)

  15. Luckily (sort of), my kids are grown, so I tend to have more time. But that doesn't mean I get more done. Other things pop up, but I love the days when I can write and write. But I should be doing what you're doing - leaving the house, phone, dirty floors, and unmade beds.

  16. Helen--You know, that's why I have to leave the house sometimes to write. If I'm at home, I'm thinking I need to load/unload the dishwasher, throw a load of laundry in, defrost chicken for supper...sometimes I have to escape the guilt!

  17. The list is important. I made the mistake of staring in on a write-a-thon without that darned list, and three days in I've stumbled because of that.

    As for my runaway-from-home place -- I tend to go to Taco Bell or other fast food joints. I don't particularly like the food, but I started doing this as a college student (a long long time ago) when Taco Bell was the first to offer free refills on pop.

    As for Plan Z -- I love to write late at night. That's my prime dreamtime.

  18. Hi, Elizabeth -

    I love your ideas here. Things were ticking along ok for me until...summer break! Now it's kids at home who either a) want to to things, or b) don't want to do anything but sit in front of the computer or videogame. I much prefer a, even though b would be better for writing. I can usually sneak in some morning time, when everyone's too groggy for expectations to be very high! I like your set-up the night before idea, as well as your escape the house idea! (especially since the dirty dishes and dirty laundry languish like a perpetual reproach).


  19. I like your plan of spending at least one full hour writing with no social media stuff open. I might try that.

    My writing times are really precious to me, but I'm still in the stage of learning that it's okay to shut myself away for a couple of hours a day to work and that I shouldn't feel guilty for it. This means if I miss out on some writing time, I'm only likely to feel tense until my next change to write comes along.

  20. Great tips. I like the one where you close all social media windows. I've been doing that and it helps a lot.

  21. The Daring Novelist--I think the advantage of Taco Bell is the lack of wi-fi! When Mc Donald's starting giving free wi-fi, I thought, "Wonderful!" But then I remembered the implications of it, and decided it wasn't so great after all!

    Saw a fantastic piece on Nova last night about dreaming...and it did include some data on dreaming and creativity. Very interesting!

    K.B. Owen--I'll *admit* that in the summer I take advantage of my kids' screen time. I figure that an hour isn't going to kill them...but I try to prepare in advance so that I take the *most* advantage social media open, and at least a vague idea what I'm going to write. :)

    Paul--Oh, gosh, the guilt! Yes, hard to escape it. But we've got to. Our writing is important, too.

    Clarissa--It really does help, doesn't it?

  22. This is a problem for mos writers although I know Betty Webb treats her writing like an 8 hour job--but she has no kids--does make a difference. I don't have any young kids anymore, but my son and his family live right next door, a daughter 5 minutes away, granddaughter and her kids about 10 minutes away. Plus I have all the distractions already mentioned.


  23. Marilyn--Sounds like you've got your hands full, too! Good luck with your plan Z. :)

  24. This post came at the perfect time. I am running up against a deadline this week when Life happened, and my dog got bitten by a brown recluse. Suffice it to say, the entire week has been touch and go (my dog has a good prognosis now, thank God) but it's been difficult to get back into that "other world" - which feels sometimes like a parallel universe. I will start implementing many of these suggestions today!