Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Two Helpful Hints

These days, I split my time between writing and working. Not "split 50/50" (or "split half in two," as the charming expression from the southern US goes) -- just split, as in divided, probably unequally. My schedule depends on the weather, because a lot of the work I'm doing is outdoor stuff.

Ah, the weather: unseasonably hot and humid. Suddenly the things I have to do outdoors (scrape, prime, and paint buildings, this summer) can't be scheduled into "afternoons, I'll paint." I look at the sky and feel the air. Is it both cool enough and dry enough this morning to paint? Is it too hot to be outdoors between 10:30 and 4? Is the wind shifting, thus dropping the temperature five degrees in ten minutes?


While I've been out and about (and inside staring at the sky), I've learned a couple of things. 

Hint #1. Write where it's physically comfortable. Or in my case recently, where it's cool. My office is in our walk-out basement. Working there is way less fun in February, when the sun doesn't shine in and things get nippy. However, on a hot July day, my office is mostly shaded by the deck, it's comfortable, it's tidy, and it doesn't smell of bug repellent. Basically, it's best place in the world, and I find myself heading downstairs for long stretches. As a result, I'm getting a lot of desk-type work, including some real writing, done. I also have a designated space upstairs, where it's warm -- too warm now, but pleasant on those February days when downstairs isn't as alluring. I didn't frequent it much last winter, and I didn't produce much new writing. Hmm. Coincidence?

Need further cogitation on this? Here's a story (third-hand, but useful) about how leaving a guitar sitting out in the living room increased the likelihood that its owner would actually play it every day. (By the way, Eric Barker's "Barking up the wrong tree" has fun, quick ideas and lists.) Practice the path of least resistance!

Hint #2. Use someone else's wheel. Sure, writing advice is everywhere (ahem). It's easy to get distracted by it, and troll around reading it instead of actually writing, but that's a post for a different day. At times, all that advice can be useful. When I face something related to writing that I can't quite figure out, for example. And I've found that good advice tends to find me when I need it.

Lately, as part of my planning extravaganza, I put some projects on hold until I complete the ones I have on the go. That means I have set aside ideas, notes, starts, drafts -- half-baked, fully cooked, and in between -- that I will return to. On one hand, distance is a wonderful thing. I think "time apart" is one of the best tools for revising something. On the other, it can be tough to return to and develop something originally concocted by a different version of yourself.

Enter Sarah Selecky, a writer with an excellent short story collection, newsletters, daily writing prompts, courses, and other tools. In one of her recent newsletters, she included a link to a few of her thoughts on story revision: Six ways to look at an abandoned story. One of my favo(u)rite parts of this advice is #5 -- "Expect that going back to an old story will feel weird at first." That reassurance removes a lot of my fear that "I'm not doing it right." Getting back into stories may not be easy, but finding it difficult isn't necessarily a sign to abandon the story. OK. Good to know.

There. Two things for you to ponder as you handle the heat. Just call me Heloise.