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#NaNo Tips: “Stealing” Writing Time

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Awhile back, I was at a church where the pastor’s sermon topic was on tools to becoming a more godly parent. (Needless to say, as a single, childless person, if I’d known ahead of time this is what the topic was going to be, I probably would have found a way to keep from being obligated to go.) So I spent the twenty-five minutes of the sermon time brainstorming the next couple of scenes of the story I was working on at the time, while still listening to why parents shouldn’t let their boys take lessons from Ray Rice on how to treat women, nor allow their girls to take behavior and fashion lessons from Miley Cyrus.

This made me think about all of the places and events where I’ve “stolen” writing time.

Almost a decade ago, just before the 2005 Nashville ACFW conference, I took Rachel Hauck and Susan May Warren to the Bluebird Cafe for writers’ night. Rachel was researching her Nashville-set chick lit novels, and Susie and I were along for the fun. While we were sitting there enjoying the music as performed by the people who originally penned it (not the people who recorded it), I dug down into my purse for a pen and grabbed the stack of napkins (yes, paper napkins!) from the middle of the table and started writing. As Vice President of ACFW, I’d been so extremely busy for weeks preparing for the conference that I hadn’t had a chance to get any writing done . . . and I had a full revision of my thesis novel due in about five weeks and needed to rewrite the first several chapters. I enjoyed the music, had a good time with Rachel and Susie, and got about five napkins covered with the new opening scene of my thesis novel (Stand-In Groom), which was probably the only writing I got done in about a two-week span of time.

A few months before that, I’d gone to Baton Rouge for Memorial Day weekend to attend a family wedding. While there, my cousin and his wife were giving a concert at my grandmother’s church’s Saturday night “cowboy” church (dinner, Southern Gospel music, a short sermon).Ransome Brainstorming We were still seated at the long table, which had been covered with white butcher paper. Shortly after the music started, I once again dug for a pen in my purse (I always have four or five with me). A few weeks before, I’d written the opening chapter to an idea for a historical novel to submit for workshop critiques at school. I’d been cogitating on the ideas for the characters for a while, but I wasn’t sure exactly where the story was going. So I started brainstorming ideas right there on the tablecloth! By the end of the evening, I ended up taking home a two-foot by three-foot section of butcher paper where I clearly outlined the two directions I could take the story—either Julia could stow-away on William’s ship or she could make a business arrangement with him where they would marry so she could return to Jamaica aboard his ship. I wrote notes for both scenarios and the pros and cons of each. When I returned to Nashville, I knew exactly which decision Julia was supposed to make and moved ahead with writing Ransome’s Honor. (Yes, I was writing RH while in revisions on SIG.)

Back when I was a full-time writer/editor and was traveling quite a lot (I logged an average of 7,500 miles each of those four years for writing events/workshops, book signings, and conferences), I “stole” the travel time by writing in the car. Yes, when I was driving—by using the voice recognition software built into Windows 7 to dictate my story into text. (Revisions afterward were quite interesting, especially when I got to parts where the computer hadn’t understood what I was saying and, even reading it aloud and trying to figure out what the words the computer wrote down sounded like, I couldn’t remember what I’d been saying.)

More recently, it’s stealing time on my lunch break at work, whether it’s bringing my laptop or Surface with me and doing it deliberately or grabbing some scrap paper off the recycle pile and scribbling like mad to get an idea down before it disappears (and then carrying those pages, folded up, around in my purse for weeks until I remember I did that and need to type them into the computer at home).

While technology (cell phone with Quick Office, a Surface tablet with the full Office suite) makes writing in any situation/location easy—such as recently, as I’ve sat in the waiting room at too many different medical-type offices—sometimes I just can’t be hunched over my phone or tablet, such as in a meeting at work or at a music event/venue. Sometimes, it does mean just grabbing the nearest paper-like substance and a writing utensil and making do.

And sometimes, it’s forcing myself to spend time brainstorming and thinking through where my story is going—like when I’m on the treadmill. Usually, I’ll just plug my earbuds into my ears in without any music playing (to block auditory distractions) and then make myself think about my characters and story as I’m walking. I did this ten years ago when working on Stand-In Groom, except then I was swimming an hour or more after work every evening. In the middle of a lap, I came up from the water gasping from just having hatched the idea of George’s secret-identity plot.

As I’ve stated in another post, everywhere is a good place to brainstorm (or write). But how often do we either recognize and/or utilize the opportunity to “steal” that time and actually use it for writing?

What are some instances of time you’ve “stolen” time from another activity or event to write?

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