Creative Spaces — Post by Victoria M. Johnson

Creative Spaces

I love my writing space. I have a large Mac computer where I do most of my writing. It sits in a corner of my office surrounded by bookshelves, writerly magazines, and notepads. I wish I could say I keep the desk clean, but paper clutter is a constant struggle for me. I’m always working on something, taking notes for something else, and keeping track of things to do. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who fights the paper demon. I also have a weakness that often overtakes my office–I love books. I have too many but there is always another one I want. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories and anthologies all beckon me. If I lived in a larger home that wouldn’t be much of a problem, but we live in an 800 square foot mobile home!  I’m happy here; it’s the perfect size home for us, set in the perfect location. I know I just need to read faster so I can pass the books on.

My office inspires me. When I first enter the room I see a few writing awards I’ve received hanging on the wall. I have encouraging quotes and affirmations around my desk area that I can easily see as I’m writing. And some interesting images and fun pieces of art make me smile when I glance at them. All of these things spark my creativity. But what about sparking my productivity?

I’ve had to resort to using an egg timer. That’s right. I have an egg timer on my desk. I use it to limit my time doing things that I find irresistible that aren’t writing. The major temptation that takes me away from writing is Twitter. Followed by Pinterest. Both of these distractions are so enjoyable that if I don’t watch myself, I can spend hours every day there. The egg timer is my only defense to ensure I stay productive and create new material everyday. I also use the egg timer to trick myself into doing tasks that I don’t feel like doing. I’ll say to myself, “You only have to spend 25 minutes editing this piece” or “Just take 15 minutes to read email.”  If I don’t do a little bit at a time, then the task piles up into a really unpleasant chore. So the egg timer serves a dual purpose, and I found a cool looking one.

Creative Spaces post by Victoria M. Johnson

Victoria finds inspiration in her small corner desk space.

My husband and I have lived in this home for nearly three years. I created a short story collection titled, The Substitute Bride, while living here. I’ve also written my first poem and several more poems since moving here. I’ve worked on film projects in this home. I’m editing two major pieces that were partially written in our previous house: one is a mainstream thriller and the other is a nonfiction book. And I’m working on a new short story collection. I’m eager to return to a romance novel that I entirely mapped out last year, but I got distracted by my publishing house (Avalon Books) selling to a new publisher (Montlake Romance) and I decided to wait until all that dust settled before writing it.

I don’t listen to music while I write, but I do like music when I’m on social media, tidying up my office, or handling the business aspects of writing. I don’t look out the window of my office because that distracts me. But I sometimes sit by the window of our dining room when I write poetry.

My office is my creative sanctuary. My writing style is reflected in this space.  One glimpse at my office and you’ll know this about my writing: 1. I have an optimistic outlook. 2. I believe in clearing away clutter and leaving only what’s absolutely needed 3. Timing is everything, and 4. I adore intriguing images.

No matter the size of your space, make it an inviting atmosphere. Then, once there, write. Fight off the distractions. Protect your writing time. Only you can control your productivity. You also need to fight off insecurities about yourself as a writer. Many writers experience doubts at one time or another. Write down affirmations and post them near your computer. One of mine says, “I have interesting stories to tell.” Another says, “I have a unique voice.” I see them everyday and these help boost my confidence. Write four or five and post them where you’ll see them.

Bio: Victoria M. Johnson is published in fiction and nonfiction. She also writes and directs short films. Read her full bio here. You’d make her happy if you followed her on Twitter and Facebook, or even Pinterest.

Reach Writing Goals in 15 Minutes or Less

Did you set New Year’s resolutions this year? Are they the same as your unmet resolutions for last year? If so, please don’t get uncomfortable. I’m not pointing fingers. In fact, I too, have unresolved goals carried over from last year and the year before. While I write goals for each area of my life, the one we’ll delve into here concerns writing goals. And to be more specific, writing productivity.

Productivity is the amount of ‘product’ we produce each year. In our case, the product is the number of pages we write. It’s apparent that the more pages you write, the more productive you are. And so when we set goals to write a book in one year, write 10 short stories, or create a chapbook of poems; we are making a resolution to a big picture goal that taunts and eludes many of us all year long. Rather than feeling like we’re reaching our goal when we write one page or a line in a poem, we end up feeling like we’ll never get anywhere close to accomplishing that big goal. That kind of unproductive thinking leads to troubles like writers block and, well… unproductivity.

I’m proposing that you break down that big picture goal into doable steps.

Instead of resolving to write that big thriller novel, how about resolving to write two pages a day, five days a week. That kind of productivity would add up to 520 pages of draft material. But let’s be honest, we all know writers need days off for vacations, family matters, holidays, sick time, and so on. Here’s the thing, even allowing for all these life interruptions, you can still write a draft of a 400 page novel (and edit it too) in one year at the measly page count of two pages a day. Do the math. (two pages a day, five days a week, for 40 weeks equals 400 pages and allows for twelve weeks worth of interruptions throughout the year, and if you occasionally write three pages, you can make up for it). You don’t even have to sit at your desk for several hours to get those two pages.

Reach Writing Goals in 15 Minutes or Less

If page count scares you off, try time increments.

Try really small time increments like 15 minutes. Surely even on your busiest days you can allot 15 minutes to writing. Those 15 minutes really can help you finish a sizable project. Before you scoff, let me say that many of my newsletter articles were written in 15-minute increments. I obviously may need three or four such sessions to complete the draft but I get it written. In 15 minutes I can also write an outline for one of my Blog Talk Radio show episodes, generate bullet points for a chapter of a non-fiction book, create scene notes for a fiction story, or plot a dialogue scene between two characters. If I waited until I had an hour to sit and write I would never produce any work to submit.

I’m like you. I have a dozen commitments. I don’t have time to write either. But I can get thoughts down, a few sentences, flesh out an idea, etc. At the end of a day or two I have a draft I can work with. Another cool thing is that sometimes when I intend to write for just ten minutes to scribble down an idea I’ll look up and discover that 30 or 40 minutes have passed and I didn’t notice because the writing was flowing effortlessly.

And I’m not the only writer who confesses to squeezing in my writing to whatever minutes I have available.

Romantic suspense author, Stephanie Bond, consistently writes several novels a year and teaches writers about page production. She says she’ll write on her Alpha Smart keyboard throughout the day whenever she has a few minutes. At the end of the year she’ll have an extra book done that she wouldn’t have produced if she didn’t write during those small blocks of 10 to 15 minutes.

Award-winning romance author April Kilhstrom, the first author I heard talk about the ‘Book In A Week’ method of writing, insists she writes whenever she gets a moment and that those ten minute and fifteen minute bursts throughout the day (in addition to the few hours she spends daily at the computer) result in a completed draft of a book in about a week. She uses every available free moment to continue writing and at the end of the day she types those notes into her computer. Once she has that draft, she’ll take a few weeks to edit it before submitting the manuscript to her editor.

Bill Belew, the former editor of WritersTalk, says he writes a blog post in about 15 minutes. He does this everyday, for several blogs. And look at his annual accomplishments, not only in posts written but his increasing readership. In one year he produced something like 5,000 posts and had 20 million views of his blog posts!

Of these three writers above, how many of them would you guess reached their writing goals last year? If you said all three, that’s my guess too. Of the writing goals I accomplished last year, I achieved them by being willing to write in small chunks of time rather than waiting until I had the afternoon to write. Of course I relished those afternoons too, but I’ve found that writing steadily—even 15 minutes at a time—leads to increased productivity. And a productive writer produces pages written. That’s the product we’re trying to sell right? No pages, no product. At some point we do need time for deeper thought but that’s no reason to let minutes go by that could have added to your productivity. See if this practice helps you reach your writing goals. I believe every minute you spend towards pursuing your dreams is a minute well spent.