Coaching KidLit – EPISODE 25: WRITING ROUTINES AND PRACTICES
Christy and Sharon discuss writing routines and practices for writers navigating their creative journeys, including the need for flexibility, embracing imperfection, and finding joy in the process of creating a sustainable and personalized writing routine.
Key Topics Include:
- Personalized Process – Finding what works for you
- Flexibility and Adaptability – Adjusting to life’s changes
- Iterative Improvement – Constantly growing as a writer
- Overcoming Perfectionism – Letting go of idealized standards
- Tracking Progress – Monitoring and analyzing writing output
- Self-Kindness – Acknowledging and celebrating small victories
- Joy of Writing – Cultivating a positive and fulfilling writing experience
[00:00:00] Sharon Skinner: Welcome to Coaching KidLit, a podcast about writing and publishing Good KidLit.
[00:00:07] Christy Yaros: We dig into various aspects of writing craft through a KidLit lens, and provide inspiration and clear actionable items to help writers like you move forward on their KidLit writing journeys.
[00:00:18] Sharon Skinner: I’m Sharon Skinner. Author Accelerator, certified book coach and author of Speculative Fiction and KidLit, including picture books, middle grade and young adult.
[00:00:29] Christy Yaros: And I’m Christy Yaros, author accelerator, certified book coach and story editor, focusing on KidLit, including middle grade and young adult.
[00:00:38] Sharon Skinner: Hey, Christy.
[00:00:39] Christy Yaros: Happy New Year.
[00:00:40] Sharon Skinner: Oh my gosh. It’s another new year already.
[00:00:43] Christy Yaros: It is so lots of people probably making some New Year’s resolutions around writing, right?
[00:00:48] Sharon Skinner: Yeah, absolutely. I know a lot of people are setting goals and getting ready for a whole new year of writing. So let’s talk about writing routines and processes.
[00:01:00] Christy Yaros: I agree. Let’s do it.
[00:01:01] Sharon Skinner: Okay. So the first thing that I think we should start with is putting to bed some of the problematic thinking that people have around writing routines and writing processes. So what are some of the things that you feel like you’re hearing from people that Are those kinds of things where, they think that it needs to be done a specific way or, the kinds of things they’re hearing.
You want to talk a little bit about that?
[00:01:26] Christy Yaros: What I hear a lot with my clients, especially in my large group is this. expectation that you have to do it, first of all, a certain way at all, right? Like that there is one way that is going to get you to your goal. And if you can’t do that, then you’re a failure. And I think there are things that work for some people, and there are things that don’t work for some people.
And it’s really up to you to figure out what it is that works for you. I mean, I know we love to hear from published authors what their process and what worked for them. But then the danger lies in saying, well, that worked for Sharon. I can’t make it work for me. I’m not good enough.
[00:02:04] Sharon Skinner: I agree with you. I think that it’s not a one size fits all. One of my things that I say all the time to clients and other writers is process is personal. And a Writing schedule or how you come at it is going to be very personal and it’s got to fit into your lifestyle. Not everybody can get up in the morning and have a cup of coffee and sit down at their computer and write for three hours and then answer email for an hour. Where you are at in your writing journey matters. Where you are at in your life situation matters. All of those things make a difference in how you can approach your writing process.
[00:02:45] Christy Yaros: And I think that even changes throughout the year, seasonally. There are months that are more crazy than others. I mean, we just came out of the holiday season. How much you were able to get done in December might vary greatly than how much you can get done in March, or August. teachers have the summers off, sometimes that actually makes it harder for them to get work done than they think it will, because they actually have time off and they want to take time off.
A lot of it is definitely figuring out what works for you and then allowing yourself the flexibility to say, this is what works for me now. And next week, I might have to do something different because life is different because circumstances are different because I’m in a different place in my manuscript or in my process.
And just like writing, your writing process is iterative.
[00:03:31] Sharon Skinner: And each project could be different. My process has morphed with every project. So every book that I’ve written, every project I’ve worked on, and I, have nine novels out now, two picture books, two collections. Every single one of those has had a different process or a different writing system around it.
I’ve tried on a lot of different things, and sometimes I’ve found that the project drives the process. It doesn’t mean that you’re not good or that you haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe you’ll never figure it out. There are other writers out there who are well published writers who will say, my process just changed again. The way that I come at this has changed again. And we get a lot of information from people who will say, this is the way to do it. You have to write every day to be a writer or, you have to plan each section that you’re going to work on, or it has to be at least, so many hours a day.
I actually have clients who can’t get the words out if they’re timing themselves. But if I tell them they only have to write 500 words, their brains click in and they can go, Oh, I can do that. That’s two pages. It’s not an hour. It’s not 45 minutes.
If it’s an hour, they’ll sit in front of the computer sometimes and fiddle and feel like the blank page is mocking them. But yet when you tell them, think in terms of how many words instead of a time goal, then they can fill out words. Our brains are funny.
[00:04:55] Christy Yaros: Our brains are funny, and each of our brains is funny in a different way. And so much of being a writer is knowing yourself, and that comes across in so many ways. And the better you know yourself, the more the emotion is gonna come out on the page, right? The more you can access those parts of yourself, the better your writing is going to be, but also the more you know yourself, the better your process is going to be. I am not a person who’s ever going to get up at 5 a. m. and write. But there’s certainly a contingency of people, the 5 a. m. Writers Club, in my group program there’s a 5 a. m. room that opens every morning that a bunch of people go in and do before work. There’s also a 4 p. m. one. that people join in the afternoon. In my younger days, my most productive time was 10 or 11 p. m. It’s certainly not as much as I get older, but different days are different energies.
But how do we figure out what our process is?
[00:05:50] Sharon Skinner: For me, it’s just try it on, try it on for size, and if it fits, great, and if it doesn’t, put it back on the rack, it’s just like shopping, you shop around for all sorts of things, and I think process and writing systems are the same that we need to try them on and see what fits, so you talked about your 5 a. m. group, and how you were more productive late at night. I’ve always been an at the end of the day writer. I’m not a morning person. You couldn’t force me out of bed at 5 30 in the morning except when I was in the military and I knew I’d get in trouble if I didn’t get up.
You can’t force me out of bed that early. There are people who say, Oh, exercise in the morning. I’m an exercise in the afternoon kind of person. It’s the same kind of thing. You’ve got to find out your rhythm. Everybody’s personal rhythm is a little bit different. And when our brains kick in and I know some people say, well, I worked all day, and at the end of the day, my brain doesn’t want to do that.
For me, it’s like flipping a switch in my brain and one of the things that I found that worked for me on a couple of projects was to get away from the desktop and take my laptop and I didn’t have to go to a coffee shop.
Some people like to go to a coffee shop. To me there’s too much distraction in a coffee shop, but some people like that white noise and distraction and an energy of people. That’s not me, but I would take my laptop and go sit on the couch in the living room in a different place in my house and turn off the email and turn off the texting and leave my phone in another room and that’s when I would write.
I would sit there on the laptop and write and I was keeping track of how many words a day that I was writing, not so much the amount of time that I was spending, because I didn’t always have the same amount of time to spend in an evening. So, again, you’ve got to find what works for you, even if it’s just sitting in a different chair to get your brain switched into that mode.
[00:07:36] Christy Yaros: Yeah. And keeping track, like you said, I think of something because how do you know if something’s working for you or not? If you don’t have something to look at to tell you, and we talked about this a little bit in November with our sprinting. And I talked about this with Sarah in December’s episode about project management, but truly, in business.
You keep track of hours spent on projects and effort spent and time and resources and all of these things so that you can accurately redo another project again later to say, this is what worked, this is what didn’t work. And writing is no different. And there’s so many different parts of it, that just tracking words on the page might not work for you because there’s more to writing than tracking words on the page. And if you judge yourself solely on one metric, how are you going to live up to what you’re trying to do? Because you could figure out a plot problem and spend a whole week doing that.
And that’s super productive, but you might not see any words that manifest that.
[00:08:37] Sharon Skinner: That’s so true. And a spreadsheet is a really great way to do that. And you know me, I’m not a big spreadsheet person, but if you put the days down, and then you put the number of words down, and you put the accomplishment, the outcomes the outputs of the time that you’ve spent, and you can put down the hours that you’ve spent, I think That’s a really great way to determine if the process that you’re using is working for you or not.
And it’s quantitative rather than qualitative data. Qualitative data is for me to get up from the computer and go, Yeah, I did some work today, and that’s also something you can track, put a check mark when you feel good about what you got done. Or when you feel like Oh, I had a breakthrough or things like that.
So it’s nice to have a spreadsheet that shows you the time that you spent and the energy that you spent working on something and what those outcomes were.
[00:09:27] Christy Yaros: Then actually looking at that information, I think, we track things and then we don’t necessarily look at it, but looking at it at the end of the month or the end of the week, say, I’m going to try this for a week and see what it looks like. I’m going to try this for a month and see what it looks like.
And then say, Oh, look, I was really productive on Saturday mornings. I didn’t realize that. Or, it looks like afternoon blocks were my best time to write new things, but the mornings were a good time for me to figure out issues that I was having. Because with writing there’s so many different parts of it that engage different parts of your brain that require different amounts of energy in order to do.
So to set yourself up for success, having some sort of plan of the things that you know you need to do so that when you do sit down, I think that’s also another point. Knowing what you’re going to do before you sit down saves you that decision fatigue of what am I going to work on and allows you to just sit down and get right to it.
[00:10:25] Sharon Skinner: That’s true, but there’s also the need to be somewhat flexible with yourself because you’re not the same person every single day either and your energy is not going to be the same depending on, did you have to deal with a grumpy boss or a sick kid or a demanding pet or whatever it was that you had to deal with today or yesterday .
So your energy can change and being flexible with yourself is really important. And that’s not to stay. I don’t want you to use it as a cop out and say, well, today I’m not going to write because, I had a crappy day, I’m not suggesting that at all, because it’s real easy as a writer to make excuses to not write.
That’s one of the things that’s common, I think, for a lot of people is that it’s real easy to go, well, I just don’t feel it today. I like to say that you can’t wait for the muse, but if you show up, the muse will too. Back to what you were saying about the different processes in the brain.
Honestly, I have more than one project that I’m working on at any given time. There are some times when I’m still processing in my subconscious what needs to happen next in a particular story. And for some reason I’m struggling with it, so I will jump on writing something else. That’s another reason why I write flash fiction or shorts, is to just keep the writing muscle going, even when maybe on the longer project I’m feeling like I’m not sure if this is working for me or not today.
[00:11:42] Christy Yaros: And so having a list of possible things that you can work on at any given moment is probably a good idea. So that, like you said, if you sit down intending to write a scene but you’re just not feeling it, there’s something else you can do instead of just beating yourself up and sitting there staring at a blank screen.
Again, in your life, think about how you approach the rest of your life. There are things that you plan, there are things that you wing, there are certain times of day that you do things, there are Sunday dinners, and there are Tuesday dinners. Right?
You’re not going to put the same effort, maybe on a Tuesday, as you might be able to do on a Sunday because you don’t have work that day.
Thursday evenings in this house each of us has something different to do in the evening, so just trying to make sure that you can have food on the table looks very different than it does on a Saturday. Or at the end of the week when there’s no food left in the house and you haven’t gone grocery shopping.
We’re adults who mostly function in this world. So, how do you do that in other areas of your life? And then how can you say, This is pretty much how I operate. So let me apply that to the way that I write. How can I take the ways that I’m successful in real life and make that work with my process?
[00:12:54] Sharon Skinner: I think having a plan and options is really great. We do that. A lot with clients where we will do the blueprint, or we’ll do the inside outline with clients. And then, I tell my clients, you don’t have to write this linearly. You don’t have to start at the beginning and write to the end.
You can write the opening, you can write the ending, you can write the climactic scene, then you can write the things that lead up to it. You can write the scenes that excite you on that given day, or if your energy is more in tune with the mood or tone of a scene that falls in the middle somewhere, go write that scene. Go work on that, throw two characters in a room together and see what they say and see if that somehow informs part of the manuscript. There are a lot of things that you can do that are still writing and exploratory and still give yourself some flexibility and the ability to, take into account that subconscious churn that goes on in the brain, which is why people talk about taking a walk or how ideas come in the shower.
Or, having a routine. Some people like to, put on a certain type of music, or aromatherapy, or light some incense, or a candle, or have a piece of chocolate before they start writing. You could set yourself up to get yourself in the mood, in the space for writing.
Like I said, for me, it’s just moving to another room with a different, device, but it could be as simple or as ritualistic as you need it to be.
[00:14:18] Christy Yaros: Right. Because it’s personal.? And it’s, what is it that motivates you? And again, same thing, like think about How, and I’ll just keep bringing it back to food because I think it’s something, we all have to deal with, how do you cook a meal? Are you someone who takes out all of the ingredients before you start and preps all the stuff into little bowls and then starts cooking?
Or are you frantically, like me, where’s the basil? Digging through the spice cabinet while something’s about to boil, look at that and say, okay, like this is what makes me comfortable in other areas of my life. So this is what I need. Do you need the door closed?
Do you need to be at Barnes Noble? Do you need to put on headphones or use a purple pen instead of a blue pen or this font instead of that font? And so what If other people might think that that’s weird, whatever you do is you and be you, because that’s what’s going to Make your book great.
[00:15:11] Sharon Skinner: Yeah, that’s going to come across in the writing. They say no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader, but it’s the same for joy. If there’s no joy in the writing when you’re writing a joyful scene then it’s not going to come across for the reader, as well. The mood and the tone and the voice, that’s all you.
And if it takes a purple pen to get that out on the page, go for it. Or a green pen or whatever. If you need to have bitter chocolate before you write that bitter scene or a glass of wine when you sit down to write that’s okay. It’s your process. I think people get so hung up in how somebody else did it and how somebody else does it, that it makes it hard to find your own system or your own process, and I want to put that to bed. Like you said, we’re all different. We all need different things. We all have different tastes in food, and some of us just want comfort food. Some of us want a fancy dish. But, It’s all personal.
[00:16:06] Christy Yaros: I think part of it stems from the way that a lot of us grew up in school being told this is the way that you do things and this is the process that you follow to do math. This is the way that you write an essay. And because in that setting, the goal was to get the grade, to please the teacher, to do whatever, to move on.
And now when we’re out in the real world and it’s up to us, we want, we crave that kind of process, that kind of structure, but the goal is different. And so you do have to figure out, and there’s nothing wrong with saying, Sharon, can you tell me what works for you? And then trying that for a few days and saying, you know what none of that worked for me.
Or, okay, the part where you said this, that resonated, but I couldn’t do it at the time that you say that you do it. It’s great to talk to other writers and listen to other writers and see how other people do things. But ultimately, yes, it has to be what is going to keep you going, because going back to joy in general, it’s a long process.
Writing a novel takes a lot of time. Editing a novel, revising a novel, querying, pitching, selling, marketing. We did not choose a one and done career here. This is constantly happening. You’re juggling multiple projects. You’re starting new things. We’re not here for the money. I’m sorry, you’re in the wrong industry if you’re here for the money. You have to be here for the joy.
[00:17:32] Sharon Skinner: I agree with you, we’re here because we have reasons to write. Most of us do not think we’re going to get rich overnight. Hopefully. It would be nice to have but it’s not why I write, it’s not why most people write. If I meet somebody who says that, they wanna write a book to make a bunch of money. I usually tell them to buy a lottery ticket and a drink because they’ll enjoy that a lot more and have just as much chance of hitting the lottery as they would hitting the big time.
[00:17:58] Christy Yaros: I think another thing that people have to take into account, especially those of us who care about what we’re doing, which I’m going to say is most of us, is that we’re always trying to get better. We’re always trying to learn new things. So when you’re sitting down to write, you’re not just writing, you’re becoming a better writer.
And that takes more time and more effort than just plopping words onto a page and moving on from them. So you’re going to come across times in your process where it feels a little bit harder because you’ve leveled up and you’re expecting a little bit more from yourself, but you haven’t quite gotten to that point where you’re capable of doing the next thing. Trying to be a better writer as you’re writing leaves you constantly sitting in a place of discomfort.
[00:18:41] Sharon Skinner: And the same thing works with revising and editing yourself. You reach different levels where you start to see the things. I have clients who tell me that, I’m now the voice in their heads which is good thing because then they’ll be writing along and they’ll say, well, Sharon’s going to say, there’s no emotion on the page here in this scene.
What do I do about it? So over time, you, as a writer, are iterating, you are leveling up to the next level and becoming that, and a self editor, you’re iterating to the next level. There’s always something to learn. We can always all get better. That’s the thing about this writing journey, is there’s really no end to it, because we can learn new things and get better at it, and some things become a lot more ingrained and organic than others.
But, over time We do get better. I like to tell folks that no written word is ever wasted. So whenever you’re writing, whatever it is you’re doing, the writing is the thing.
[00:19:36] Christy Yaros: And so that means that maybe sometimes you can sit down and you can write 500 words in an hour, and other times you can only write 200 words in an hour, because those 200 words have layers upon layers on them that you’re thinking about all of these things, and so the words aren’t going to come as quickly.
And that’s also, just something to keep in mind that you can’t just judge yourself by that, especially, I think writers who work with coaches like us. I have a few writers now who have gone through the whole planning process with me and are drafting and they’re saying, the words are coming more slowly, but the words that are coming are so much better.
Not the words themselves, but the scene does so much more than somebody who’s just sitting down and drafting something without having any plan, because you can see those layers that would normally come out in revision already there, the connections that we’ve made from planning are already there.
And so it might feel like the words are coming more slowly, but yeah, They’re not going to need to be revised as much later. So you do the work now, or you do the work later, you have to take into account where you are in the novel writing process, how much time you’re Prep you’ve put into it, what part you’re at to also say, this part might be slower than that part.
And so my process needs to change. My expectations of myself need to change.
[00:20:59] Sharon Skinner: And again, nothing we write is written in stone. We’re not ancient Egyptians. We don’t write in clay tablets that harden. We have the opportunity to revise. So, We can add some of that layering, too, and deepen the story later on if we’re not at that place in our writing process where we’re already layering in.
That can come later. Some people need to get the story out and then add all of the layering. And some people discover later that they’ve written in multiple layers and didn’t even realize it. Again, it’s so personal and how the words come out onto the page from the processing that we’re doing in our brains is very personal.
And that’s why there’s room for everybody’s books. That’s why there’s room for everyone to get their books and their stories out into the world because they come from a very personal place.
[00:21:47] Christy Yaros: Yeah. And just getting the words down sometimes frees your brain up to do that subconscious work that it wouldn’t have been able to do if you were holding it in until it was just right. If you’re afraid to put something on the page because you don’t think It’s perfect yet. It’s not let go.
That’s another thing we all need to let go of is perfect. It doesn’t exist. We’re artists. We’re never going to be completely happy with anything that we do because we’re always getting better and we always could have done something differently. We’ve made creative choices and that’s, where we are with it.
But freeing up your brain is a big part of it and getting the stuff out. Like we can’t carry all of the things around and you’d be amazed sometimes what your subconscious is capable of if you give it the space to stop trying to remember what’s technically going to happen in the scene and start to think about those other layers that can be added later because you’ve already put the words on the page no matter how crappy you think they are.
[00:22:39] Sharon Skinner: I like that you brought up that there’s no such thing as perfect, because what would you even measure against? How would you even measure that? You can’t measure perfect.
[00:22:48] Christy Yaros: You can’t, you can only torture yourself in trying to accomplish something. And our idea of perfect is so much harder on ourselves than what other people’s ideas are. We expect more from ourselves than other people do. And so we’ll never be happy with, I mean, this is years of therapy that I can tell you.
If you’ve gone through the perfectionism and trying to get out of that, it really only hurts you. And it’s not a badge of honor. It’s not something to try to attain. Especially, I think, because we do want to keep getting better. We are going to become better writers. And like you said earlier, like certain things as you keep doing them, are going to become part of your subconscious routine, that you don’t have to say, I need to put emotion on the page because you’ve done it so much, it just comes out naturally. So it becomes easier. Now you’re going to work on something else that you weren’t able to do subconsciously, before. Process is a process. Your process is your process. The process changes.
[00:23:45] Sharon Skinner: Process is personal it really comes down to figuring out what works for you at any given time and, again, that can change and that can morph. An action item that I would give is for writers to, allow themselves some space to try on different processes and like you say, do some kind of measurement against which you can judge, am I a Saturday morning writer?
Am I an evening writer? When do I enjoy it the most? When does it work for me the best? When does it feel right? That qualitative piece is really important too. It’s not just about measuring, but about knowing what feels right for the particular project you’re working on and when things are really, really rolling for you.
Start to make note of that and keep track of that and I think that will help Not looking at the days when we don’t write or the days when we struggle, but looking at the days when it’s working, when it’s flowing, when it actually feels right, and figure out what those things are that you’re doing on those days.
What is it that’s feeding that flow, I think is a really good way to approach finding your process.
[00:25:00] Christy Yaros: I like that. And then my action item, I would add the zooming out of it and looking at it more holistically just like we asked you to do when you’re doing revision is that on the granular level, you might feel like you’re not making progress, because you’re not sitting down every day, or you’re Only spending this much, but your only is more than someone else’s nothing.
And there are a lot of people who say they want to be writers and don’t ever actually sit down and do any of the work. So be kind to yourself in the sense that anything that you’re doing is better than not doing it because it’s something you’re choosing to do. Nobody is really waiting for you to put this story out into the world. That might sound cruel, but it’s true. It’s because you want it and the people who you surround yourselves with hopefully also want it too, but really saying I’m not a failure because I tried to sit down every day and I couldn’t. I’m a success because I got 500 words down this week and maybe I only had an hour, but I did that.
And then trying next week, something else. Every day is new. Like you said, nothing is set in stone, and we always have the opportunity to revisit and reiterate and ask questions. Revise our process, re envision our process, and where we want to go.
[00:26:15] Sharon Skinner: Yeah, just going back to that whole, food analogy. Some days, the cupboards are more full than others, and it’s easier to pull a combination down that works.
[00:26:25] Christy Yaros: And some days you have all of the ingredients to make that meal and you still make the emergency frozen mac and cheese because it’s just that kind of day.
[00:26:34] Sharon Skinner: Absolutely.
[00:26:34] Christy Yaros: Well, thank you, Sharon.
[00:26:36] Sharon Skinner: Thanks for, hanging out with me. I always love our time together and appreciate all of our listeners. Thanks for listening.
[00:26:43] Christy Yaros: Absolutely, and I hope that you took away something from this and can be productive in this new year. And join us again next month. Thank you everybody.
[00:26:54] Sharon Skinner: Happy 2024 and let’s get some stuff written.
[00:26:58] Christy Yaros: Yay! Bye.
[00:26:58] Sharon Skinner: Bye! for now.
[00:27:00] Christy Yaros: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Coaching KidLit, a writing and book coaching podcast for writers who want to level up their KidLit writing game.
[00:27:07] Sharon Skinner: For more about us and to discover what a book coach could do for you, check out CoachingKidLit.Com and follow us on social media.
Follow us on Instagram and Twitter: @CoachingKidLit