Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“Best Practices” for Successfully and Happily Writing Every Day by Dorothy St. James, Guest Blogger

I'd like to everyone to meet Dorothy St. James, author of Flowerbed of State, the first book in the White House Gardener Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime.

Flowerbed of State, has been called “spunky” (Library Journal), “fast-paced” (Publishers Weekly), and “it quite simply blew me away” (Criminal Element).

Dorothy has a contest going at her own website, so be sure to sign up for a chance to win one of several prizes, including a $50.00 gift card from or Barnes & Noble.


“Best Practices” for Successfully and Happily Writing Every Day by Dorothy St. James, Guest Blogger

It was this writer’s dream come true and a first for me—I sold the first three books in the White House Gardener Mysteries based only on a proposal! I couldn’t believe it. I’d never sold more than one book at a time and those books had always, ALWAYS been completely finished before the offer of a sale.

This was wonderful. Wasn’t it?

I sat down to write the first book, Flowerbed of State, my fingers poised at the keyboard, my mind ready to compose a mystery that will tease and tantalize the reader.

And I froze.

Instead of the dialogue and prose for the book, other thoughts streamed through my head. “The editor hadn’t actually bought this book. She bought an idea. An idea. What is that?”

“Oh goodness, there is no book. I still have to write it. What if my idea of what the book should be and her idea of what the book should be are two very different things? What if she doesn’t like what I write? What if she decides my writing is boring and trite?”

What if...

What if...

Writers often play the “what if” game, but that’s with our plots.

If I kept spinning my wheels like this I knew I’d soon find myself at the end of my deadline with no book to hand over to my editor.

Since getting the contract before actually having to write the book really was a dream-come-true for me, I needed to shake myself out of that destructive rut and GET TO WORK.

What I needed was a little outside help.

With the assistance of the brilliant writing coach, Margie Lawson, I came up with fifteen “best practices” for keeping my head in the game, my writing fresh, and my body healthy.

I’m happy to report that I not only finished Flowerbed of State before my contracted deadline, my editor was so pleased with the book that she required very few revisions (another dream realized.)

If you find yourself struggling to get your thoughts down on the page, I invite you to give these “best practices” a try for yourself, or better yet: create a list of fifteen of your own.

“Best Practices” for Successfully and Happily Writing Every Day (and to move the story forward).

1. Exercise for 30 minutes before beginning work in the morning.

2. Update to-do list every morning.

3. Free write one page as a warm up exercise.

4. Use the 15-minute timer when getting started as a warm up exercise.

5. Email: Check and respond only in the morning before beginning work, lunch, and when finished for the day.

6. Internet Research: Limit time spent researching online and in research books to before writing and after writing times. If I need to look something up while writing, be sure to limit it to a time limit (5 minutes). Set the timer.

7. Set daily page goals and keep track of them in my project notebook.

8. Set weekly page goals and write up the goals for the month on my white board.

9. Plan to work at least 2 hours in the morning (Writing, not research, not playing online, not answering emails.)

10. Plan to work at least 2 hours in the afternoon (Writing, not research, not playing online, not answering emails.)

11. Get up and stretch for 5 minutes every hour.

12. When stumped, set the timer for 15 minutes and practice writing without worrying about quality or whether or not I’m going to keep it. Just get the words on the page.

13. At the end of the day, brainstorm. Jot down ideas for what might come next and about the characters.

14. Plan at least 2 fun outings a week to counteract hermit tendencies.

15. Reward myself with fun reading.

I’m always looking for new ways to stay fresh and energized as a writer. So tell me: What works best for you when you need to keep your “butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard” (BIC HOK)?


Dorothy, thank you so much for this excellent post. No one needs a new set of "best practices" like I do, so the timing for your guest appearance and your choice of topic was perfect.

For more information about Dorothy and the White House Gardener Mystery series, visit her website and sign up for her e-newsletter. Dorothy is on Facebook and you can also follow her on Twitter: @dorothystjames


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Dorothy.

Dorothy - Nice to "meet" you :-). Thanks for those really good pieces of advice about getting ready and really making the most of daily writing.

Dorothy St. James said...

Great to meet you too, Margo.

Thank you again, Pat, for having me here. I find that I have to keep looking back at these recommendations to keep from sliding back into bad habits.

Oh, and did you happen to notice that typo I had in there? Shows that my mind was in the garden when I wrote it. :-)

I sat down to "compose" my book, not "compost" it. Although, when you think about it, the results from writing/rewriting process and a compost pile can often be the same thing. No, not dirt, but an end result of a rich beautifully layered media.

Patricia Stoltey said...

LOL!!! I pre-scheduled this post late in the evening on one of the busiest days I'd had in ages. Even though I proofed the post three times, I still didn't catch the compost. I'm going to go ahead and fix it, so readers with a sharper eye don't spurt coffee all over their keyboards when they read that sentence. :)

Dean K Miller said...

More quality help to keep us going. thanks. I can take some of these and fit them into my normal life routine to utilize my limited writing time.

John Paul McKinney said...

Thanks for the great advice. Now I want to read one of the White House Gardener mysteries. That should be "fun reading"

Cathy said...

Great suggestions Dorothy!
Since a couple of computer games are my biggest time sucks, I started using them as a reward/mental break rather than banning them (so not happening in my world). After an hour of writing, play a round or two, then back to work!
Cathy Perkins

Patricia Stoltey said...

Dorothy has another interesting article posted at Beth Groundwater's blog today, this one about the published writer's need to promote his own book, even when he'd rather be hiding in his cave, writing, writing...

Sharon Marie said...

Hey D, you have no idea how much I enjoyed your post and appreciate the "Best Practices" list. Lately, I've been spinning like a top, dizzy and getting nowhere. Your book is my "fun reading reward." THANK YOU!
Sharon Marie

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Yes, yes, yes! It's always good to reminded that writing doesn't happen as we surf the net and check in on Facebook. However, wouldn't it be lovely if it could?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If it wasn't for my job, I'd write more in the morning!

Dorothy St. James said...

Elspeth, LOL! I often find myself wishing that surfing the net would get my book written. I seem to be very good at that. And the computer games. I wonder if there could be an app for that?

Dorothy St. James said...

Thanks for fixing the typo, Pat. It's funny how it jumped out at me when I opened the page. The more I thought about it, though, the more "composting" seemed to fit. I believe that's what I'm going to call my writing process from now on.

Dorothy St. James said...

Sharon Marie, You're such a sweetie. Thank you for making my book your reward. You're such a fabulous writer. I fear that we might all have to spin in order to get our books written. It's part of the process, until it gets out of hand.

Cathy, I am completely hooked on Jewel Quest Solitaire. Don't buy it.

Alex, isn't it frustrating when work gets in the way of writing? When I worked full-time, I found I could get about 1/2 a scene written during my lunch break.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm glad to see the post is back, but I what about all the lost comments (the ones that were also contest entries)? This is bad, very bad...

Kathleen said...

Here (finally) is the comment I've been wanting to make. It's another bravo for Margie Lawson. I'm currently taking her Deep Edits class online while working through my 86,000 word manuscript. Although I've already edited the book completely about four times, this is the time that's giving it power and cohesion. I'll take any advice she has to offer. Thanks for passing along this writing plan. My primary problem is forgetting to eat once I get going. My husband helps, though, by standing pitifully by my chair until I notice him.

I should also mention that I liked your introductory comments and easy writing style. Your books will go on my purchase wish list.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I see the original comments have not yet been restored by Blogger. I'm going to post an extension to the 300 followers contest a little later this morning because of the Blogger glitch Thursday and Friday. Stay tuned.

Tracy Jo said...

Great writing tips...thank you!!


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I have that many best practices, but...

- Bring an alphasmart word processor or a netbook to write on the bus.

- Turn up the lights (if at home) and play some MP3 tunes.

- Start writing

- Note down word count on a spreadsheet.

I'm not sure if a particular tactic would always work for helping me write when I'm in a dry patch, because the reasons can be so different, and sometimes I really do need to just take a step back instead of forcing myself to write. Usually no extreme measures are required though.

Edna said...

Dorothy, thanks. I made a copy and put it on the bulletin board behind my desk!! Your additions as also good, kelworthfiles. Thanks, Pat for the connection!!

Liz said...

You've hit the mark perfectly. When I originally tried to post a couple of days ago, I was feeling smug about following #1 by taking my dog out in the Central Oregon sunshine early in the day. Now it is raining, but no excuses, right? Number #14 is often another tough one, but my social schedule for the week has interactions with real, live people. Excellent suggestions.

Dorothy St. James said...

I'm so glad the post came back, Pat! It's a shame that the great comments were lost. Ah well, that's life on the Internet.

Liz, YES! #14 is always a tough one for me. But it's probably the most important. I'm glad you're going to have interactions with real, live people this week.

Thank you for adding to my list, kelworthfiles. I things it's a great idea to keep note of the word count. Sometimes I forget to celebrate my progress.

Thank you for stopping by, Kathleen. I'm glad that you're getting the opportunity to work with Margie. She's an amazing writing teacher. Her classes have always made me dig deeper and deeper. It's work, but well worth it.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Number #14 is what gives me new material. You're right that it's hard to get up from the computer and go out into the world when what's going on in my head seems so familiar and comfortable . . . sometimes too comfortable to make sparks fly on a page. Liz

Dorothy St. James said...

Exactly, Elizabeth! If we don't get out there and live life, we won't get new ideas. I did accomplish #14 this weekend when I attended the 2-day South Carolina Book Festival. Exhausting, but wonderful.