Sunday, May 30, 2010

Adapting Our Writing Routine...and How to Survive Our Kids' Summer Vacation by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Elizabeth Spann Craig  writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams, the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and blogs daily at,  which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers in its current issue.

Delicious and Suspicious releases July 6, 2010. 

As the mother of two, Elizabeth writes on the run as she juggles duties as Brownie leader, referees play dates, drives carpools, and is dragged along as a hostage/chaperone on field trips.

Adapting Our Writing Routine…and How to Survive Our Kids’ Summer Vacation

By Elizabeth Spann Craig

I have a week and a half until my children’s schools let out for the summer.

This time last year, I was completely horrified at that realization.

This year? Not so much.  Because I managed to write the better part of a novel over summer break last year.  It had to be done…I was under a deadline.  I developed my own routine last summer.

Now I’ve got a routine for every occasion, not just summer break:

My routine when writing at home isn’t working for me and I need to escape:

Yes, sometimes writing at home isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.   That’s because when you’re faced by a dog that sleeps a lot

and cats that hang off the side of small tables while they sleep,

 sometimes it can make you feel a little bit sleepy.
Or sometimes the house is too interactive.  The dishwasher stops running, the dryer buzzer goes off, a table sassily says “dust me.”
So I go out and write where the background noise is there but means nothing to me.  
  • I’ll write at the library, the coffee shop, or a diner. 
  •  If the background noise starts edging into the foreground, then I put headphones on and listen to music I’ve downloaded to my computer while I write.
The I’ve-only-got-15-minutes-to-write-today routine:
  • I make it count by planning the writing the night before. 
  • What am I going to cover? 
  • Where am I picking up the story? 
  • What’s the point of the scene? 

If I know ahead of time that I have a really, really limited timeframe to write in (I’m travelling, it’s a holiday, etc.) then I make every little minute count.

The it’s-a-beautiful-day writing routine
  • I go to the park after school with the kids. I take a laptop and a folding chair (and, yes, I look nerdy as heck and don’t care a bit.)
  • I write in the hammock
  • I use a notebook and pencil if the sun is glinting too much on the computer screen.
And now, for you parents out there, my routine for surviving the kids’ summer vacation (and still get a book written): 

Go completely with the flow.  There is no routine over summer break…that’s how summer break works! But I do have tips for you: 

Go on an outing—the kids and your manuscript. If your kids are older, the park, skating rink, bowling alley, swimming pool, etc, work out well. If they’re younger, try one of those indoor playgrounds with inflatables. 

Bring a friend for your child. Or more than one. They’re much happier if they are on outings with a friend or two. And they’re more inclined to let you get some work done. 

Plan some dedicated time with your child to play one on one. This time can be either before or after the time that you need to get some work done. Here’s the deal with this time: you need to be completely focused on your child. No thinking about anything else. You play Monopoly, read a few books, whatever they want to do with you---and then you explain you are going to spend X amount of time writing. 

Quiet time works for everyone. Even my older child (12) needs time to unwind in the afternoon. My kids unplugged for a while with a book or played quietly in their room while I worked on my laptop. When I had a toddler, I’d put her in her room and give her books. The rule was that even if they couldn’t sleep, they had to “read” (look at pictures.) 

Host playdates. I know—this sounds like more trouble than help. But usually (this depends on your kid and the kids you invite over), my children disappear to hang out with their friends. It’s the perfect time to write. 

Remember that the more adaptable we are, the more writing we can get done!  Best of luck, everyone!  And Happy Memorial Day!
 (My corgi, Chloe, desperately wanted a cameo in my post because she’s a huge admirer of Kaye’s Harley. So excuse the gratuitous corgi photos. :) )


Mason Canyon said...

Oh, if only I could be this organized. I love the photos of Chloe, and the one photo of the cat. :)

Thoughts in Progress

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Mason--And then some days it all just falls totally apart! But I try to make it work, no matter what. :)

Chloe and Shadow are sweeties! They just sleep a whole lot...

Lorel Clayton said...

Great suggestions! I like the idea of getting something productive done, even if I only have 15 minutes.
Happy Memorial Day!

Jan Morrison said...

If you can do it with young kids, I can do it with older kids and a job. I think! I too like the fifteen minutes of making it count!

Vicki Lane said...

Wow! What an admirable work ethic! Good for you!

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth - Thanks for these terrific ideas. I agree completely that flexibility is the only way to stay sane. That and a laptop : ). I think my favorite of your ideas is to be prepared to write wherever one happens to be. Creativity can flow at the park, the doctor's office, a coffee shop or an airplane...

Patty said...

You can never post too many pictures of dogs and cats - and Corgi's are just soooo photogenic!

Terry Odell said...

Ok, what about adapting to hubster's retirement? Home all day. Every day. Forevermore.

Unknown said...

Those are some great suggestions. I've started incorporating 'timeouts' for me. My family has been supportive of that.


Roz Morris aka @Roz_Morris . Blog: Nail Your Novel said...

Elizabeth, this really made me laugh, especially that cat (who looks just like my old grey tomcat). I love seeing other writers' routines - and sometimes I find that trying a different one, because I have to fit in other things, can be rejuvenating.

Cleo Coyle said...

Elizabeth - Fantastic ideas - and I love your photos! (Also looking forward to the release of Delicious and Suspicious :)

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I love this advice, Elizabeth! And your approach obviously works. I finished Pretty Is As Pretty Dies last night at one a.m. because I couldn't put it down. I laughed my head off and not just because of the garden gnomes. Can't wait for Delicious and Suspicious. I am also a Corgiphile. Great pix.


Carol Kilgore said...

Great tips, and I love Chloe and The Cat. For all my bravado, I can see you're much better at managing your time than I am. You give me hope.

Publius said...

I don't know how you do it, Elizabeth! You're my hero. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Lorel--Thanks! Just 15 minutes can be enough time.

Jan--Definitely! We just have to rethink when and where we write...and make it work.

Vicki--Thanks so much!

Margot--We just have to open ourselves up to the possibility of writing in different places. :)


Terry--Oh...that's a tough one! I'd say he suddenly needs to develop an affinity for golf. :)

Clarissa--Sometimes moms need time-outs, too!

Dirty White Candy--And sometimes routines just don't work and we have to go to Plan B.

Cleo--Thanks so much! And thanks for dropping by.

Mary Jane--Thanks so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed "Pretty." Aren't corgis funny? Chloe sometimes has the biggest grin on her face...

Heather Wright said...

I have the best summer vacation routine, because my 14-year-old likes to write, too, and he totally gets what I do. One of us is on the Neo, the other is on the netbook, and both are plugged into our MP3 players--bliss!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Carol--Thanks! And you do a great job managing your time--between your busy blog and your writing. :)

Wendy--Thanks so much! You're my hero, too. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Heather--That sounds like heaven to me!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I need to get over my idea that the only place I can write is at home. Your routines make such sense - I’m going to try them out.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those are some great ideas, Elizabeth!

Dorte H said...

Perhaps I should try some of these with my daughters (20 and 24 years old)?

My experience is that it is easier to entertain little children without giving them your full attention than young daughters (they notice immediately if you really want to be somewhere else :D)

Unknown said...

Great post, Elizabeth! I'm bookmarking it . . . 4 school days left for us.

BTW, I love Chloe! We saw a women walking 3 Corgis near our cabin this weekend. Too cute!

Mary Aalgaard said...

This is great advice. What I really appreciate is the line to truly be present when we're with them. That can be hard. But, they notice if you're mind is there, or if you really are focused on them. Thanks! Write on!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Jane--It's hard, but once you do, you get so much done!

Alex--Thanks so much!

Dorte--And then they want to know, "What's wrong, Mom? You're not listening to me!" :)

Janel--"The more the merrier" part of the summer vacay was what was so surprising to me last year. The more children I added into the equation, the easier my day got!

Mary--You are so right. The times I've been distracted, they're disappointed and I might just have well not have spent the time with them. Much better to just set that time aside and focus completely on the children.

Stacy Post said...

Excellent practical advice! I will try your strategies for sure, Elizabeth! Love the corgi too!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Stacy--Thanks! And thanks for dropping by. :)

Meredith Cole said...

Ah, the dreaded summer vacation! You're so right about going with the flow. This weekend I could have stressed out about not writing and missed all the holiday fun, but instead I went to some parties, the pool, and hosted a playdate. And now I feel ready to tackle my manuscript again. Great post, Elizabeth!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Elizabeth - this was a wonderful post,and a lot of fun.

Harley is a big fan of Chloe's (and so am I !), and Matthews isn't that far away. Maybe we can plan a Chloe/Harley playdate this summer!

I hope you'll come back to Meanderings and Muses again too.

And thanks to everyone else for stopping by!!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Meredith--Glad you had a chance to take a break...I know you've been doing a lot of touring lately!

Kaye--Thanks so much for having me on! I loved it. And Chloe would LOVE a playdate. :)