A Day in the Life. Writing Routine.

One of the questions I ask in my writer interviews is for the writer to share his or her writing routine. For some reason I am fascinated by this and inspired by it. For instance, ever since my buddy Owen Laukkanen told me he writes 5,000 words a day I’ve felt like a wimp if I only write 1,000, which is my norm.

Here is a little insight into my writing day. Would love to hear about yours. Right off the bat, I will say I know many writers have to fit their writing into a day that includes a full-time job outside the home, along with other responsibilities such as raising children. I don’t deny that I’m extremely fortunate to be able to work at home and even luckier to have a supportive husband who knows my paid writing doesn’t even make a dent in our income.

So, here is my typical day:

7 a.m.
Up and at ‘em. Spend the next two hours alternating between getting the bambinos fed and ready for school and farting around on Facebook, reading blogs I like, getting myself ready, eating, and doing a bit of paid work (I moderate a website for pay).

9 a.m.
Breathe a big sigh of relief and sit down to write, either at home or maybe once a week at a coffee shop.
Write. Write. Write.

11 a.m.
Usually by this point I’ve written either 1,000 or 1,500 words and am often ready to take a break. I’m usually starving by this point so I eat. Today was salmon, rice, and brussel sprouts.
*A big challenge for me working at home AT THE KITCHEN BAR is to avoid snacking. Some days are better than others!

On a typical day, I will do some paid writing in the afternoon. If I don’t have a freelance assignment, I also will run errands or take a walk if the weather is warm.
Also, if I’m done with paid work and on a roll, I’ll go back to my novel and write some more. Or read books on craft, such as “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogle.

Today, I also spent time brainstorming, researching and adding to my storyboard: http://thegirlwiththesilvereyes.tumblr.com/

For instance, I was trying to remember what it was like in downtown LA during the riots and to help jog my memory I did a little online research. I post photos and other inspiration found during research on my storyboard. Plus songs. Always have to have music in my novels.

3:30 p.m.
Get ready for bambinos to arrive home and start dinner prep

5 p.m.
Eat with family

The rest of the evening is often spent doing activities with and for the kiddos and hubby.

8 p.m.
Settle in with a movie or a book.

9 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Fall asleep wishing I could stay awake later.
I’m the biggest baby on the planet. I love nine hours of sleep and would prefer ten.

Soooo, looking at my typical day as a writer, you might notice a few things: yes I’m DAMN lucky to work at home. I’m DAMN lucky. But I also drive a 10-year-old car, rent, and shop at thrift stores.

The other thing (more important) that you might notice is this:
I really only write two hours a day. When people say they don’t have time to write, I try to encourage them to look at where they can carve out two hours in their day. In reality, most people can. It might mean giving up TV at night (something I had to do long ago), although I will never give up movies once or twice a week.

Anyway, would LOVE to hear about other writer’s and their routine. So please share!

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This Writer’s Life: Wisdom on the Writing Life

Feel overwhelmed with golden advice about the writing life and wanted to share it here:


Call of the Wild: Jack Londons Advice on Honing Your Creative Craft

Sometimes its hard to know where to start. In John Barleycorn, Jack London’s vivid memoir, he describes a predicament familiar to many an aspiring artist: “My difficulty was that I had no one to advise me. I didn’t know a soul who had written or who had ever tried to write. I didn’t even know one reporter.”

While much of Barleycorn is a grim warning about the slow train of alcoholism, the book also feels like an act of mentorship. Throughout, London describes his approach to being a writer, imparting a wealth of wisdom on building a career and body of creative work.

Not surprisingly, London’s work ethic was formidable. Here are a few gems of insight that I uncovered:

1. Be decisive, choose something, then attack it.
Writing wasn’t London’s first career choice. When he was forced to leave college early after his finances dried up, he needed to do something:

I decided immediately to embark on my career. I had four preferences: first, music; second, poetry; third, the writing of philosophic, economic and political essays, and, fourth, and last, and least, fiction writing. I resolutely cut out music as impossible, settled down in my bedroom, and tackled my second third and fourth choices simultaneously. Heavens, how I wrote! Never was there a creative fever such as mine from which the patient escaped fatal results. The way I worked was enough to soften my brain and send me to a mad-house.

I wrote, I wrote everything — ponderous essays, scientific and sociological, short stories, humorous verse, verse of all sorts from triolets and sonnets to blank verse tragedy and elephantine epics in Spenserian stanzas. On occasion I composed steadily, day after day, for fifteen hours a day. At times I forgot to eat, or refused to tear myself away from the passionate outpouring in order to eat.

The early days for London were a period of restless exploration. He tried everything. But most tellingly, he wrote a lot.

2. Be persistent, endure struggle, and hone your craft.
We all have to toil away in our creative pursuits. But harder than the work itself can be the long period of gestation when it feels like nothing is happening.

The trouble with the beginner at the writing game is the long dry spells, when there is never an editor’s check and everything pawnable is pawned.

Success, though, is a stacking of the bricks. Each one leads to the next, and along the way the technique gets more effortless:

I struggled along, stood off the butcher and the grocer, pawned my watch and bicycle and my father’s mackintosh, and I worked. I really did work, and went on short commons of sleep. Critics have complained about the swift education one of my characters, Martin Eden, achieved. In three years, from a sailor with a common school education, I made a successful writer of him.

At the end of three working years, two of which were spent in high school and the university and one spent at writing, and all three in studying immensely and intensely, I was publishing stories in magazines such as Atlantic Monthly, was correcting proofs of my first book (issued by Houthton, Mifflin, Co.), was selling sociological articles to Cosmopolitan and McClure’s, had declind an associate editorship proffered me by telegraph from New York City, and was getting ready to marry.

3. Develop a routine and be relentless about it.
One key is figuring out what works for you and developing a steady routine. A common denominator of successful creative people is simply pulling the reps.

As I succeeded with my writing, my standard of living rose and my horizon broadened. I confined myself to writing and typing a thousand words a day, including Sundays and holidays; and I still studied hard, but not so hard as formerly… There was so much to learn so much to be done, that I felt wicked when I slept seven hours. And I blessed the man who invented alarm clocks.

4. Settle into a groove and make the act of creating part of your life.
At some point the routine becomes a livelihood. What you do is not separate from who you are. Your day is in service to your craft.

The program of my ranch life was as follows: Each morning, at eight-thirty, having been reading or correcting proofs since four or five, I went to my desk. Odds and ends of correspondence and notes occupied me till nine, and at nine sharp invariably, I began my writing. By eleven, sometimes a few minutes earlier or later, my thousand words were finished. Another half hour cleaning up my desk, and my day’s work was done, so that at eleven-thirty I got into a hammock under the trees with my mail bag and the morning newspaper. At twelve-thirty I ate dinner and in the afternoon I swam and rode.

Jack London wrote some of America’s most enduring stories. He was horrifyingly prolific. Take some cues from his work regime, and get on your own way to building a creative life.


How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers by Sarah Manguso

Work. Be relentless. All over the world, people are working harder than you. Don’t go to events; go to the receptions after the events. If possible, skip the receptions and go to the afterparties, where you can have a real conversation with someone.

Money. Learn to live on air. Buy the best health insurance you can afford. If you have roommates, work in the library. Run and do calisthenics instead of paying for a gym membership. Invest in ear plugs, good sneakers, and a coffee machine. Buy oatmeal in bulk. Learn to cook simple, nutritious meals. Save and eat leftovers. Cafes are a waste of money, calories, and time; leave them to the tourists. Buy books used, perform periodic culls, and resell them. Wasting money on clothes is the stupidest habit of all. You will only ever need two good outfits.

Health. Stay healthy; sickness is a waste of time and money. Smoking or overeating will eventually make you sick. Drinking and drugs interfere with clear perception, which you will need in order to make good work. It may be worth paying for psychotherapy sessions now instead of paying for inpatient treatment next year; see someone in-network.

Friends. Avoid all messy and needy people including family; they threaten your work. You may believe your messy life supplies material, but it in fact distracts you from understanding that material, and until you understand it, it is useless to you. Don’t confuse users, hangers-on, or idols with friends. If a former friend asks you why you don’t have time to see him or her anymore, say your existing responsibilities have made it impossible to socialize as much as you used to. Cutting someone out with no explanation is an insult that will come around.

Asking favors. When requesting a favor in writing, ask outright and respectfully for what you want. Don’t write what appears to be a long, friendly letter full of compliments and then ask for help at the end, pretending it’s an afterthought. Such behavior smacks of tit-for-tat, or prepayment for a commodity, and it’s ugly to point out the existence of the favor economy. Just do favors and ask favors in a vacuum. If a favor is given immediately after one is received by the giver, pretend not to notice the coincidence. When given a favor, honor those who helped you. Be gracious and sincere, and don’t overthank them.

Giving favors. Don’t give favors to people or institutions that lack authority or consequence. Publishing or showing work where no one will see it or giving a reading where no one will hear it is a favor. Learn graciously to decline. The world will catch on that you are a valuable commodity. When you find great work, help it along; expect nothing in return. Bringing great work to the world is your job, whether you or someone else created it.

Kindness. It should go without saying that you must be kind to everyone you meet. People have long memories. Bad behavior should not be returned in kind. When people forget their manners, take it as an opportunity to practice yours.

Dignity. Don’t respond to personal attacks, either aloud or in writing. Don’t respond to criticism outside the letters section of a magazine that routinely publishes responses to criticism. When asked an ignorant question, take it as an opportunity to educate the questioner; compassionately explain his error in judgment or perception.

Allies. Recognize those who would help you, and let them know who you are. Assemble a coterie of influence that will protect and serve you. Doing someone a favor and then immediately asking for one is inappropriate; favors don’t win allies. Only you and your work win lasting allies. Do good work and treat people kindly, and strangers will reach out to help you. Recognize those who will never help you, and ignore them; indignation and regret waste energy.

Enemies. Know who they are and monitor them. Those who offer or ask for favors might be enemies in cheap disguise. Calling enemies out in public makes you look weak; in the company of others, act as if no enemy could possibly hurt you. When asked about an ad hominem attack, pretend never to have heard of the attacker. Don’t overlook the possibility of enemies’ influence, but don’t become overinvolved, either. You aren’t guarding state secrets. No vendetta is so important that it should distract you from your work.

Onward. Once you’ve truly begun, slow down. The difference between publishing two good books and forty mediocre books is terribly large. Don’t expend energy in writing and publishing that would be better used in your family or community. Become tempered by life. Make compromises for love. Provide a service to the world. These experiences form the adult mind. Without them both you and your work will remain juvenile.

Sarah Manguso is the author, most recently, of The Guardians: An Elegy. Her previous book, the memoir The Two Kinds of Decay (2008), was named an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times Sunday Book Review and a Best Book of the Year by the Independent (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle, the Telegraph (UK), and Time Out Chicago, and was short-listed for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

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Writer Interviews: Tace Baker/Edith Maxwell

I’ve been so lucky to come into contact with a wide range of mystery writers since I wrote my first novel. It’s been fun to watch Edith’s progress and her ultimate success in the publishing world. As you might have noticed, she also uses the pen name Tace Baker. Here she is in her own words:

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

First, thanks so much for asking me over, Kristi!

Because I hold down a demanding day job, I pretty much only write on weekends. My preference is always to get up early, put the coffee on, and start writing. But I also write well on long plane flights and love to take myself off for a long weekend self-retreat. I found a wonderful writers and artists retreat house a few hours drive away that is inexpensive because you bring your own food, but provides a lovely monastic room with a desk.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

Ouch. Going for a brisk walk can help. But keeping butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboards is usually the best approach for me. Something eventually comes out of those fingers!

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

I haven’t read Donald Maass’ books but I attended a day-long workshop he conducted and it greatly improved the book I was working on. Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel is also a great guide.

4. Who do you read for fun?

All my writer buddies! Lucy Burdette, Julie Hyzy, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Lorraine Bartlett, Kaye George, just to name a few. It’s hard to keep up.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.

I’ve always written, since the first grade. But it was my ex-husband (who wasn’t an ex at the time) who said to me, nineteen years ago, “You like to read mysteries so much, why don’t you write one?” It was the proverbial light bulb going on in my head. Well, duh! So I started.

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

First, just keep writing. Second, find a group or two. In person is valuable, and online is equally valuable, such as the Sisters in Crime Yahoo Group and the Guppies subgroup. Get feedback, get critiqued, learn the trade.

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer? Persistence. You just can’t ever give up.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink? Avocados have been my favorite food since before I can remember (can you tell I grew up in California?). Sliced with salt. In a cheese sandwich. As guacamole. In a salad. And in any form with a glass of a nice hearty red wine.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie? I’m a sap for chick flicks. “Dr. Zhivago” and “Bridges of Madison County” come to mind. As for books, any of the Louise Penny or Julia Spencer-Fleming books. I aspire to write like they do.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

I am thrilled that I have a three-book contract with Kensington for a Local Foods Mysteries series. I recently sent in the first book, A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, which features geek-turned-organic-farmer Cam Flaherty, a Locavore Club that belongs to her farm-share program, and death in the greenhouse. It will release in June 2013. That was the book I started to write 19 years ago and am so excited it will finally be in the hands of the reading public.

Edith Maxwell is the author of SPEAKING OF MURDER (Barking Rain Press, under pseudonym Tace Baker) featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau. Edith holds a PhD in linguistics and is a member of Amesbury Monthly Meeting of Friends. The book was first runner up in the Linda Howard Award for Excellence contest
Edith also writes the Local Foods Mysteries. A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE introduces organic farmer Cam Flaherty and a colorful Locavore Club (Kensington Publishing, June, 2013).
A mother and technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.
Find her at http://www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor , @edithmaxwell, and www.edithmaxwell.com . Tace Baker can be found at www.tacebaker.com , @tacebaker, and http://www.facebook.com/TaceBaker

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Books & Flicks – September Edition





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Writer Interviews: Pam Leonard

Pam Leonard is another Minnesota mystery writer and I can’t wait to meet her in person one day.  I was instantly intrigued when I read this blurb by the awesome William Kent Krueger, another stellar Minnesota mystery writer:

“With Shadowland, Pam Leonard shatters the myth of Minnesota nice. In scene after powerful scene, Leonard explores the dark heart of homelessness and sex trafficking in the Twin Cities. The result is a twisted and harrowing journey down unexpected mean streets and dangerous alleyways. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.”

-William Kent Krueger
Author of Northwest Angle and Vermillion Drift

PS. Irrelevant side note: For some reason our lovely state has a preponderance of mystery writers compared to other states. I love it!

Here are Pam’s words of wisdom. Enjoy.

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

I’m a strong believer in the benefits of physical activity on brain performance and creativity, so I begin every day with a run or bike ride before writing. I start out with a certain creative aim in mind, and then let my mind wander as I work out. By the time I get home I’ve usually managed to mine my subconscious for several good ideas. Then I try to write in comfort. For me that means a treadmill desk. I’ve found that the standing position helps me avoid that total body “clenched fist” feeling at the end of several hours of writing. I always try to stay at it for at least two hours. If I’m on a roll, I may continue writing for up to six hours. But if, after two hours, nothing much has happened… well, at least I’ve tried.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

I feel a little blocked at times, though I’m not sure it’s bona fide writer’s block. When this happens I do several things. First, I double check my physical comfort. It’s amazing how long one can maintain an uncomfortable position without being aware of it. In fact, this is what led to my switch to a treadmill desk. If physical discomfort is not an issue, then there are several other possible fixes. One is to simply get out and live. Get away from the keyboard for a while and do something. Often I use this as an excuse to do “research” and try something unexpected or even outrageous. I try to have fun with it. For instance, I needed to learn about guns for my second novel, Where Echoes Die, so I went out and took gun training and got a permit to carry. The activity itself stimulated a lot of creative ideas. I also try to hang around with and talk to as many creative people as I can. The interactions often wind up stimulating ideas. I also consider my frame of mind. For me, writing comes easiest and most successfully when I write from a place of humility. So I usually do a gut check, get myself humble, pay attention, and work at falling in love again with the world and all its people. In loving all that messiness and imperfection, it almost feels as though the whole world is helping me tell the story.

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

I’m not much for “how to” books, but there are three books I discovered after I’d written my second novel –– a perfect time to discover them. I think they resonated with me all the more because I’d already discovered the general principals on my own –– simply by doing. Story, by Robert McKee, On Writing, by Stephen King, and If You Want To Write, by Brenda Ueland, are all fascinating reads on the process of creativity in storytelling.

4. Who do you read for fun?

Oh my, I enjoy so many mystery writers, but I’d have to say that among my favorites are William Kent Krueger, John Sandford, Brian Freeman, David Housewright, Dennis LeHane, Lee Child, and J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts). You can’t go wrong with any of these authors or any of their books. I’ve never been disappointed.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.

I recall experimenting with writing as a child, and have always been an entertaining storyteller in conversation, but must confess that I never actually visualized myself writing seriously until my mother talked about wanting to write a mystery novel. My daughter and I sat down with her to help brainstorm –– and that was it! The act of letting my imagination have free rein was just too much fun to ignore. I was hooked!

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

There’s so much I could say, but I’ll pick a few key points.
First, read a lot. And I mean a lot! There’s no reason not to learn from your favorite authors. Read them for fun, but also with an eye toward how they create tension, craft dialogue, and deal with tricky transitions. Make use of them.
Shoo away all the censors. Create an “ideal reader” and write for her, as well as for your characters. Stay true to them, and don’t worry about what anyone else will think of your writing. Give the characters authentic voices. That comes from humility, which leads –– ironically, I suppose –– to confident writing. Remember, we are all far more alike than we are different. Readers can be trusted. You can be trusted.
Don’t feel guilty about the non-writing work, all the contemplative time that needs to be logged in support of your writing –– the time spent running, biking, or simply daydreaming. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. But it needs to be approached without any expectations –– by letting your mind wander, while at the same time gently, almost surreptitiously paying attention to it. Don’t force it, just do it.
And finally, write. Crazy, right? That’s the whole point! Why should I have to say that? Because all too often, people want to get everything perfect, or they let their fears get in the way, or they find some other way to sabotage themselves. Sound familiar? Just write! Do it. Don’t worry about the imperfections, you can fix those later. Just let it all out, get it on paper. You’ll be surprised by what you can do!

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

The ability to pay attention –– to your surroundings, to others, to yourself and your subconscious. As a writer, I tend to notice things that others don’t. Sometimes it’s in the small details –– the way someone speaks, the facial expression giveaways, or the subtext that’s present in everything we do and say yet seldom recognized. Sometimes it’s the big picture. But as a writer, you see these things. You analyze them. You break them down into entertaining, manageable bites. And the beautiful thing is that after you’ve fed your readers, they experience the glorious sensation of recognition. What you’ve written rings true! The same things that are in your subconscious, are also in theirs. You’ve just given them access to it. And they love that unexpected honesty.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

Coffee –– anytime. Chunks of watermelon and blueberries with grapefruit juice poured over them –– for breakfast. And of course… pretty, colorful cocktails.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

Favorite books, yes. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, and The River Why, by David James Duncan. You may wonder, seeing as how I’m a mystery writer, why these aren’t traditional mysteries. Well, I’d like to make the case that a good mystery isn’t simply a mystery. I’m a big fan of added value. In all my mysteries I add underlying themes that, if so interested, will tickle the senses of a reader. In line with my interests, these themes often deal with the neurosciences, creativity, even physics –– albeit presented in a palatable way! I’m also in love with ironic endings. These books have so inspired me.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

To the aspiring writer out there, just one more thing…
You have important things to say –– don’t let anyone stop you from expressing yourself!


Pam Leonard, a native Minnesotan, loves mystery and learning. Growing up in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, she remained to attend the University of Minnesota for degrees in Political Science, Public Health, and Medicine. Not content to live only one life, Pam discovered that writing excused such restlessness, taking her through studies of theology, architecture, handgun training, String Theory, even Krav Maga and Parkour, all of which she employs in her novels. As she says of her research… “What? It’s material.” Pam has written three novels in her Zoe Lawrence mystery series… the Midwest Book Award Finalist Death’s Imperfect Witness (North Star Press, 2010), Where Echoes Die (North Star Press, 2011), and Shadowland (North Star Press, September, 2012).

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