Writing

A Writing Routine that Sticks

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For the longest time, I have been struggling with finding the right writing routine for myself. I work full-time, and then I have creative gigs on the side. So most days, I’m working during prime hours and then after work hours and on weekends. I really wanted to be the type of writer that could write all night and burn the midnight oil. But, admittedly, I’m not. I’m so tired at the end of a work day. And all I want to do is eat, read, watch a movie and sleep. In a perfect world, I see myself getting up from a good, uninterrupted night’s sleep, taking a big stretch, making a nice pot of coffee, and after walking my beloved dog, sitting down and writing for hours into the afternoon.

But that’s not my life. Not yet.

I’m currently working on a new play, which will be produced by The Welders next fall, so I’m officially on a deadline to complete a draft so that I can enter the revision and dramaturgy process. My bad writing habits (or lack thereof) had to change. Quickly.

I began looking up the writing routines of specific writers, some of whom I enjoy. For instance, Haruki Murakami (I just finished reading A Wild Sheep Chase.) likes to wake up at 4am every morning and write for about six hours straight with zero distractions. Stephen King likes to get started at around 8:30am, but what’s most important for him is that his workspace is exactly as it was the day before and arranged just so. Octavia Butler (my fave) said that she wakes up early in the morning, goes for a walk, and then writes for a few hours, sometimes coming back to her writing a little later in the afternoon. Obviously, these are the routines of professional writers, meaning that these people have gotten to a point where their main job is just to write. What about me? What about the emerging writer who has bills to pay? I realized I had to dig deep and find my ideal routine for where I’m at in my career right now, in this moment.

Step One: Coming to Terms

I had to be honest with myself. I cannot write without daylight. I am most productive in the mornings and afternoon.

I like sleep and that’s okay. I’m not some tortured writer who can’t sleep until a work is finished. I’m not “giving birth” or ripping out an idea from my guts when I write. Ideas get on the page only when I’m well rested. There are times when I jot down thoughts, dreams, notes on the fly or in the middle of the night, but I’m not sitting down at the computer at 3am because of an idea.

I don’t like to perform writing in public. Before I had my own living space to myself, I lived with roommates. This meant that my space was limited and to write, I took myself out of the house, found the coolest looking hipster coffee shop I could find, brought my laptop, glasses and wore a cute outfit, ordered coffee (black with sugar) and sit down to look like I’m writing. I’d be less productive—looking at other people looking at me writing—and spent money on coffee and pastries I didn’t need.

Silence is better. I need to hear myself think.

Step 2: Answer—How much time is enough?

Now, that I’ve gotten honest with myself about my bad habits and also my preferences, I had to make a logical plan. I decided that I’d do this by being realistic. Every writer wants to dedicate as much time as they can in a day, but I had to realize that I work 40 hours a week and then more for creative gigs. Without spreading myself too, too thin, I had to find writing time to which I could commit.

Right, now, that’s 15 hours a week. One hour before work, Monday through Friday, and five hours on Saturday and Sunday. Once I’m confident in this routine, I’ll push myself to two hours before work on weekdays making my writing time a total of 20 hours per week. So far, I’ve been writing about 15 hours a week for the last three weeks. I’m so proud.

Step 3: Determine, prioritize projects.

I use to skip around so hard while writing. It’s how I end up with half a dozen incomplete projects. I’m realizing that before I sit down, maybe the day before, I decide what I’m going to do during my writing time. I’m strategically working on what needs to be worked on. I’m setting small benchmarks to make sure I’m making the right amount of progress at a reasonable pace.

Step 4: Seek opportunities.

I have to admit that I am weakest at finding more opportunities to publish my work. Some of my time needs to be dedicated to finding writing journals, magazines, contests in which I can submit my fiction for publication. While I intend to self-publish my first fiction novel, so much can be learned about the industry by submitting shorter fiction along the way. So I’m telling myself now: “Teshonne, level up, and submit your work!”

Step 5: Pet the dog.

Beaux is such a good boy watching mommy write. He deserves a cuddle. :)

I found this article helpful, maybe you would to:

https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/7-useful-tips-establishing-writing-routine/

-BAB

Afromemory goes to the Kennedy Center!

Labor Day weekend was super busy and super magical! I was once again commissioned by FRESHH Incorporated Theatre Company to expand Afromemory into a 60 minute one-act play to be performed in a staged reading at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I was tasked with hiring a cast of actors and director to bring the play to life. What I decided to do was show a little more of how the protagonist Sarah B. got to the point she was at in the 10-minute play that was produced last Spring. I was thrilled to find so many people, from the audience members to the actors, so enthusiastic about the story I tried to tell!

Actors Lori Pitts, Tara Reeves, and myself after the show

Actors Lori Pitts, Tara Reeves, and myself after the show

Below is just a snippet of the 20-minute post-show discussion facilitated by FRESHH Inc. Theatre team member Fatima Quander that followed the staged reading of Afromemory. Thank you to the director Angelisa Gilyard for your thoughtful and explorative direction. Thank you to the cast Bryanda Minix, Karen Elle, Jonathan Miot, Tara Yates, Lori Pitts, and the lovely, young and talented Kayla Earl for your talent and commitment to bringing my play to life! And thank you especially to FRESHH Inc. Theatre for providing me with yet another platform to share my work!

You Can't and Shouldn't and Other BS...

fortune cookie (mine)

There was a time that I wanted to get into a good MFA program for Creative Writing and spend my life half-heartedly teaching while I write my life’s greatest work. The time to make that happen was my junior year of college. Junior year was like trying to make up for lost time. I had finally made it into the fiction writing class that I had sought out since freshman year. I had even switched my advisor from a wonderful, Black, female english professor to a scatter-brained, White, feaux-liberal professor because she was a published fiction writer, and I wanted a good and relevant teacher recommendation in the bag.

My plan to take over the world seemed to be unfolding smoothly. By the end of the fall semester, I had written a few short stories that I would submit as writing samples. One story was voted second best in my fiction writing class, and I was praised by the instructor for taking feedback seriously (sometimes, too seriously). I felt I was ready to ask my advisor to write a teacher recommendation. She responded, not with an immediate yes, but rather, she wanted to read my stories. Ok, I said. That made perfect sense to me. That way, she could pull details from my most recent writings to express how brilliant I am as a writer! And I had no qualms about my writing and my potential. No problem.

After I submitted my samples to my advisor, she sent me an email saying that she wanted to meet with me. I was confused by this. Why was meeting necessary? Why didn’t she immediately agree to writing a recommendation? What was she going to say? At that moment I felt that I was applying for a teacher recommendation, that I had initially thought to be readily expected.

We met next to her office, unexpectedly big with an appearance of coziness, including a leather couch in a lobby area and a small conference room shortly passed that. We met in the conference room, which was more wooden table than room. Still, the warm wood color of the table and chairs calmed me a little, and she smiled warmly while carrying in copies of all of my samples. Perhaps she was giving me feedback. I am so so good at getting feedback. And I would appreciate any feedback before submitting these samples with my graduate applications.

Have you ever had a moment in which you were talking with someone and you at first think you understand where that person is coming from? And then something–maybe it’s the person’s body language, or the words that change meaning while their body language stays the same– something tells you that you and this person are no longer on the same page. 

She smiled and spoke. She smiled and told me that my writing was horrible. She said that she would not recommend me to any school. I had a lot to learn before…

…learning to write. She told me that I shouldn’t bother applying.

SHE TOLD ME THAT I SHOULDN’T BOTHER APPLYING.

SHOULDN’T BOTHER APPLYING.

SHOULDN’T BOTHER.

SHOULDN’T.

APPLY.

She smiled, and then, as I tried to make sense of this smile and the words that were coming out of her mouth, it finally clicked: she thought my writing was trash. There was no potential laid anywhere in those stories. Just trash. And then my face changed. I felt sick. My eyes looked down because they already had tears beating down the ducts.

And there I was, crying in front of this woman, who had read my writing before, even gave me an A in a past Creative Writing class, sophomore year. I can’t remember what I said in response to what she said about my writing. Honestly, I can’t remember, and I won’t try to make something up because nothing made up could even come close to the abject  desperation I exposed of myself in that moment. She suddenly looked sympathetic. And as I gathered my belongings and proceeded to the door, I further berated myself by thanking her for reading my stories. And she wrapped her arms around me, crushing my confidence with this confounding sense of caring and patted me on the back, crippling me for many years to come.

I don’t think she understood the fragility of a college student’s will to actively pursue something so hard to achieve even with the highest confidence. Or perhaps she did understand what she was doing. That Bitch.

After lamenting this dark moment in Teshonne history, something still told me to try. So I looked for someone else who would write my recommendation. Alas, I went to the one person whom I should neverhave left in the first place, my first advisor and mentor. I met with her in person to request a recommendation and she immediately said yes. She agreed to read my writing. When she did, she responded with the kindest words (and called that other woman a bitch). She made me feel better about applying. I don’t want you to think that she was feeding into my own delusions about my writing. That wasn’t her intent. Instead, she tried to restore a confidence that the other woman had shredded. And that confidence was needed to pursue writing. Without that, I would have lost the will to excel, to do better. I probably would have given up.

I applied to a few schools. I got into one which offered me a full tuition remission and a yearly stipend. Did I take it? No. (Because I was an idiot and followed a boyfriend to New York City.) But I did realize that I could write. Was I, am I perfect? No. But I have that potential that allowed people to see what a great writer I could become. And I will always hold onto that, especially in those moments when my confidence starts to wane.

I’ve also become more adept at sensing and dismissing bullshit.