Back to School, Back to Writing

I didn’t intend to skip most of my writing days this summer. No, we weren’t gone on tons of family vacations. Most days we didn’t even have much going on. But I have 6 kids and they generate a lot of noise and distraction, so writing was super difficult to come by.

Now I’m sitting here, on my kids’ first day back to school with my thoughts jumping here and there, my own distractions (ahem, I’m looking at you Facebook and email!), and I’m struggling to get back into the swing of things.

Really, this is a pep-talk to me, but you’re welcome to come along if you can admit you have a problem (the first step is acknowledgement…).

How to bring focus back to your day

Writing isn’t our only priority in life. We have house cleaning, other jobs, kids to take care of, bills to pay, grocery shopping, etc. But it’s easy to waste the day clicking refresh on email or scrolling social media instead of actually getting anything done. But how do you get done what you need to and still write?

Back to School

How many of us save writing for “later” or when we’ve finished everything else?

Stop that and try these:

  • Make daily lists. Be specific. What do you need and want to accomplish today? Put in a specific writing goal whether it’s 100 words or 10k words. Check it off as you go along. If you are accomplishing everything and still wasting a lot of time, you may need to up your goals.
  • Accountability partner. Having a person you check in with throughout the day or at the end of the day helps keep you on task. You exchange lists and cheer each other on as you achieve your goals. They can also help encourage you (or threaten you) to work harder.
  • Yoga, meditation, and grounding exercises. Sometimes focusing is hard because our mind is anything but quiet. Finding ways to calm your thoughts is necessary to help you focus. Some need meditation, some need yoga. Being mindful of yourself is healthy. You will figure out what you need to calm the thoughts and focus.
  • Healthy diet. If you feel good physically, it impacts your mood and your ability to think. I was at a retreat last week and had healthy, fresh, non-processed foods every day. It really made me realize how much what we put in our bodies impacts our ability to work hard. If we don’t feel good, we don’t function as well.
  • Set a timer and turn off social media. Make yourself sit butt in chair, fingers typing for 30 minutes to an hour. Then get up and walk, dance, or move in general. Find a healthy snack or get a drink. Do another task, or get right back to it.
  • Reward yourself. Sometimes we’re like little kids who need some positive reinforcement to work harder. Say your goal is 10k words for the week (doable, right?). If you achieve that goal, maybe then you get to buy a pair of shoes, or get a massage, go to dinner with friends, buy a new book, whatever will motivate you. Find your “currency” and offer it to yourself as a reward for achieving a larger goal.

Hopefully some of these help me this year. Maybe they will help you as well.

What nifty tricks do you have to keep yourself focused and writing?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Five Reasons Why I Rejected Your Manuscript

Last month, I wrote about some of the differences between writers and publishers, as well as some of the challenges of getting your work published. Here’s a quick recap: Publishing is a business (GASP!). Publishers want to make money (and that’s okay). Writers also want to make money (and that’s okay, too). It’s not easy to get published (no duh!). But that doesn’t mean you should give up (yay!).

This month, I want to talk a little more about the publishing world, and see if I can’t help give you some more perspective when it comes to that all-important question: Why did you reject my manuscript?

I hear that question a lot, and unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Saying “It’s not personal,” while technically true, doesn’t do much to ease the sting of rejection. Neither does the standard rejection letter that most publishers send out, which are often devoid of specific reasons for the rejection.

As a slush pile reader, I don’t make the final decision about whether something gets published or not, but I often make the first decision. And while a “yes” or “no” from me carries a fair amount of weight where I work, it’s someone higher up the food chain who ultimately decides your story’s fate.

Here are five of the most common reasons I will recommend rejecting a manuscript, as well as some possible solutions.

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Reason #1: It’s badly written. Hands down, this is the number one reason I will pass on a manuscript. “Badly written” encompasses both the content and the style. Maybe the plot is thin, or the characters are flat, or the dialogue is stilted. Or maybe there are grammatical errors as far as the eye can see. Now, a few problems here and there are not deal breakers—even the most professional authors make mistakes and need an editor’s help—but if the whole thing is a hot mess, I’m sending it back.

Solution: Write better. No, seriously. Write better.

Reason #2: It didn’t follow the rules. Every publisher has specific rules for submitting, and few things will red flag your manuscript for rejection like trying to go outside those rules. Some publishers will only take submissions from agents, for instance. Some publishers only want a cover letter and three chapters. Some only want an electronic copy, and so on. When a manuscript comes in that isn’t in the format that we require (12 point Times New Roman, double spaced, one inch margins), or it is clear that the author didn’t bother to read our submission guidelines, we know they’re probably not very serious about their craft. Or, it may as simple a thing as an author not even doing basic research to see what kinds of things we publish (which is how we once got a hand-illustrated horror story about a serial killer in the Deseret Book slush pile).

The reason for this is not because publishers are super nit-picky (although they are), but because when every manuscript follows an identical format, it levels the playing field. I don’t want to see your manuscript; I want to see your story. I want the manuscript to disappear into the background so that your story can take center stage.

Solution: Whatever publisher you’re submitting to, do your homework and play by the rules.

Reason #3: Timing. Here’s the thing: there are hundreds of manuscripts in the slush pile at any given moment, and we read them (more or less) in the order in which they were received. So it’s quite possible your post apocalyptic YA paranormal romance thriller is, in fact, amazing—but it arrived in the slush pile two months later than another post apocalyptic YA paranormal romance thriller that we really liked and are going to publish. That’s not your fault, it’s not your story’s fault, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It’s just bad timing, and sadly, nobody has any control over that.

Solution: IDK, try a different publisher?

Reason #4: It was my fault. Look, I’m human. I make mistakes. I try to give every single manuscript that comes across my desk a fair shake, but every once in a while, I completely and totally blow it and pass on something that was, in fact, really good. I wish I had a good reason for why this happens, but I don’t. Maybe you just caught me on a bad day. Maybe it’s because you write in a genre that isn’t my personal favorite. As with the timing issue, it’s not your fault. It’s not because you’re a bad writer. This one, while rare, is all on me.

Solution: Okay, this one requires a little more than a pat answer. Problems like this are why I’m not the only slushpile reader. Every one has bad days, and this is specifically why we will often have multiple readers look at manuscripts. And the good news for you is that I’m usually aware of when I’m in a bad mood or when I’m just not into your story because of the genre. When that happens, I will make specific mention of it and suggest that someone else take a crack at it. My solution for this problem is to trust that the right readers will see your manuscript 99.9% of the time.

Reason #5: What does the market want? Ah, there’s the question publishers get more than any other. As I wrote last month, publishers and writers are always looking for the Next Big Thing. The challenge is that publishers are always looking and planning really far ahead. For instance, the publisher I work for has 2018 titles all locked down, and is already looking at 2019 and even into 2020. What is being published right this minute is what we hoped would be the Next Big Thing two years ago. Writers see what’s popular at the moment, and think “I’m getting on that train!” and then we get inundated with thousands of the same kinds of stories. So it may be that your manuscript got rejected simply because the market trends are changing. Again, writers don’t have control over that.

Solution: Like the timing issue, there isn’t an easy answer here. Trends go in cycles, so be patient, I guess?

Rejections are not fun, and nobody pretends like they are. The submitting/rejection phase is probably the worst part of being a writer, maybe second only the marketing/self promotion side once you do get published (but that’s a post for another day). But remember that every published author has been rejected many, many times before—and often, even after they’ve been published! So take heart, because you’re in good company. Rejections can be an opportunity to improve your skills as a writer and to strengthen yourself as a person. Keep at it, and don’t give up!

Also: I swear it wasn’t personal.

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

The Art of Self-Discipline

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about self-discipline. Specifically, my severe lack of it. So many goals have come and gone with noble intentions but feeble follow-through. I vow to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, read more, eat less, obey the speed limit, and a thousand other things large and small. Broken resolutions are, unfortunately, part of being human.

I get mad at myself. But I also tend to laugh it off and turn it into a joke: “Ha ha, another resolution bites the dust,” or “Whoops! There goes the diet. Maybe I’ll try again next week.” It’s a coping mechanism, I suppose, to make myself feel better. But when a goal repeatedly goes unrealized, at some point I have to do something different to get a different result. I can’t keep setting the same goal without taking proper action to see it through.

Consider the following quote by Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

When I think about the times I truly made a lasting change in life or accomplished a major goal, it took a special brand of persistence: the kind that requires sacrifice, sheer stubbornness, and a willingness to work every day, even when I didn’t feel like it.

No, it’s not always fun.

Yes, it gets results.

Every time I finish or revise a manuscript, I reach a point in the process where it seems too hard—even impossible. Where I want to chuck it all in the garbage and give up writing forever. Sometimes it’s my own self-doubt that gets in the way. Other times it’s just life: work, family, health issues, and more.

So how do you overcome that temporary paralysis? How do you work around the many demands on your time, move beyond self-doubt, and get the thing done?

Forward progress is the key. A chapter a day, or a page. Even a paragraph.

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Someone once told me that time will pass whether you’re working toward your goal or not. A year from now, would you rather have a finished manuscript or a pile of excuses and regrets? Easy to say and harder to do, I know, but here are a few simple methods to help you stay on track:

Accountability

Have a friend or loved one check in with you once a day, once a week—whatever suits your writing pace—and ask how things are going. A supportive confidant can offer words of encouragement, monitor your progress, or be a sounding board for new ideas.

Reminders

Writing programs, apps, a simple alarm clock, sticky notes—choose one method or several that will remind you to get working and encourage you to keep at it.

Rewards

For every chapter finished or every thousand words written or every page revised or –insert goal here-, reward yourself. Eat a favorite treat, take a walk outdoors, buy a new notebook (my favorite), or choose another reward that is personal and meaningful to you. Some writers even use sticker charts or other fun trackers.

Routine

If you are a creature of habit, try to write in the same place at the same time every day. A strict routine leaves little room for procrastination. Or, if the sight of your office or writing space is killing your creativity, try a change of scenery. Change up your routine by writing at the coffee shop, library, or other public space. I tend to get a ton of writing done when surrounded by strangers.

Self-discipline, I believe, is more art than science. It takes trial and error to find a style that works for you. For some it comes naturally; for others, it’s a daily struggle. But it’s a necessary skill for any writer whose end goal is a masterpiece in the form of a finished, polished manuscript.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

Picking a Writing Conference

Five years ago, I began going to writing conferences. I felt beyond excited, and yet, very nervous about what to expect from them. The first year, I packed and brought my closet with me, which gave me a great deal of options on things to wear. But, my smile was the thing I wore that didn’t go out of season or style. To be honest, I couldn’t put it away even if I tried. I found “my people.” Writers, creatives, and like-minded friends, that I clicked with immediately. We discussed our sleep deprivation from long hours of writing in the night, to brainstorming our next person to kill off, and running story pitches by each other.

I saw myself growing in the writing world. Continually learning techniques and working on elements of my craft, and then applying what I had been taught from conferences and workshops. Every year, I was drawn to different classes, where I knew I still had much to learn. Along this journey, I went from writing a picture book, to creating a psychological thriller. I even got my fingers typing away at a time traveling fantasy, and then wrote some nonfiction articles. A lot of times I’d get ideas that would spring up and be completely in left field from my last project. But, I responded to the creative energy I was feeling, and allowed myself to create and play, and see where it might take me.

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With that, my conferences changed. I’d go to some of the same every year, but others became different depending on what I happened to be writing at that very moment. Why? Because a way to stretch as a writer is to go to conferences and classes that benefit you. They should be providing you with new information, ideas, tools, and other ways of looking at your manuscript. The first time I switched up my conferences, I had a dampened demeanor. It was a conference where many of my writer friends attended, friends that I only got to see at this one. I wanted to be there, but . . . my psychological thriller desperately demanded attention, and what would benefit and feed that novel, wasn’t the conference I typically went to. I had to expand and open my options to give my dream of getting this book published an even stronger chance. Changing comfort to growth made a huge difference as the classes gave my story exactly what it needed. I learned about blood spatters, poisons, fingerprints, and gained a plethora of knowledge on forensic and criminology statistics.

Who knows? Maybe in the future, I’ll be working heavily on a nonfiction project, and go to workshops filled with information geared in that direction. There are so many great conferences. I haven’t had a bad experience at any of them, and have walked away with a notebook full of ideas and thoughts. My mind always energized and overcharged every year, at everyone I’ve been to. When you’re searching for a writing workshop, class, or conference, here are a few tips to consider before you choose the right one for you.

  • What project/genre are you working on right now? What skills do you feel are a weakness in your writing? Aim for those classes.
  • Will you be expanding yourself as a writer at this conference? How so?
  • What stage are you in with your writing? What resources do you need more of?

Publishing, marketing, craft, or industry.

  • Lastly, are you going to this conference for you or for someone else? If it’s both, even better. Make sure that you’ll be getting resources, that will be moving you forward in whatever stage you’re in with you’re writing.

Before deciding on the conference you’re going to go to, make a list of all the ones you have an interest in. Then, do lots of research on each one so you can understand the genre and classes that will be presented, but also the agents and editors that’ll be attending. If you’re writing an epic fantasy, going to a crime writing conference will not provide you with a magic system class. Be honest, and give yourself and your story what it needs to propel you to the next step in your writing journey. Have fun researching to find the conference that can help you do just that.

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Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

The Road to Perfection

My successes as a baker have been very hit and miss. I can make one recipe and a month or two later, when I try to make it again, end up with a failure. Same cook, same products, same mixer and house and stove and attention and . . . flop.

I was reminded of this a week ago when I made a family favorite – Blondies. This single pan of cookie joy is my favorite because I don’t have to stand in the kitchen for two hours putting in and pulling out baked goodies. I’ve made it so many times that I don’t have to flip through the book to find it, I just feel for the flour covered pages (I’ve never claimed to be a clean cook either).

When I checked on the cookies in the oven, the looked perfect. Golden goodness, chocolate chip gooey-ness, a little bit of crust on the outside, the smell made everyone ask when they’d be done.

At first, they were okay. Warm sugar usually is. But as they cooled, the top got hard, the inside stayed gooey and they literally fell flat. I let them stick around for about five days – after all, I have teenagers and they like food. But these didn’t even make the teen appetite cut. Finally, yesterday, I threw them all away.

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Coming from a family, particularly on my mom’s side, known for their cooking, there are times when this feels like a massive slap in the face. I can read and follow instructions. I’m using the exact same recipe they are. Theirs turn out amazing, mine turn out amazing to meh. But the real slap in the face (besides killing the whole idea that I’ll be “that mom” who has yummy treats whenever friends come over) is that these mistakes create disappointment AND cost money. I know, it’s not a lot – ingredients that I mostly have and the sacrificial bag of chocolate chips. The sting lingers longer, though, right now as I’m both gearing up for back to school (and my kids have all grown out of their clothes and two need new glasses) AND saving for a trip that I’m very, VERY excited about. Okay, there’s a little bit of disappointment from the kids I have to deal with too.

And still I bake. Or at least try. Because I like the taste of the yummy treats. I like when things turn out well and my efforts are rewarded. I like showing my kids that just because something doesn’t go right the first time, doesn’t mean I get to quit.

Why, then, do so many of us think that our writing is going to turn out well the first time? Why do we think our efforts to create character and setting and story are actually going to turn out the first time? Those of you who read the first part of this cringing because your cookies have always been awesome would probably, very quickly, tell me to try this next time or that, something that comes intuitively to you as a baker. Would you offer the same suggestion to someone (maybe yourself) when you are in the midst of writing a story? Because when you are writing and you make a mistake, you didn’t tease with the essence of goodness. You didn’t have to mourn the chocolate thrown away instead of eaten. And tossing words can be painful, I’m not saying otherwise. But it is absolutely, unequivocally part of the process if the desire you have for your end product is something that you will feel good about and, maybe, will even have the honor of having others feel good about too.

The reason why we utter “Practice Makes Perfect” so many times, in so many situations, isn’t to insist that each practice is going to BE perfect. It is acknowledging the road to perfect is paved with lots and lots and lots of imperfections.

But as far as I can tell, it is the only way to build such a road.

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TashaTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

When Writing Makes You Realize You May Need Therapy

This post gets pretty real. And it probably won’t teach you any writing technique, but perhaps it will help you with writing in some way. Mostly it’s a bit of self-care.

I have a bit of a dark past. Those childhood experiences have woven into the fabric of my entire life (without me realizing it until more recently) and it tends to come out in my writing—which is good and bad. But also eye opening.

For many (if not all) writers, writing is therapeutic. It’s a healthy way to get out thoughts and feelings or help sort out events or circumstances you’re trying to make sense of—maybe through a personal essay, or perhaps torturing a fictional character with situations you’ve personally suffered through.

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But even with the benefits of writing out all the messed up or hard times (or deep, dark caverns) from your life, it can also take a toll emotionally, mentally, and even physically.

For example, I wrote a nonfiction book about healing from sexual abuse which also includes my personal stories. Every time I’d sit down to write, my anxiety would skyrocket and I could feel my heartbeat intensify. A panicky feeling would permeate my whole body. It took a lot longer than I thought it should to write because of the effects on me. It’s the same when I work on posts for my website on the same subject.

And every fiction idea I have seems to be on this same heavy topic. Clearly, I’m using writing to work through my trauma. And I’m mostly fine with that, but it does make intense scenes and situations difficult to write.

Do certain scenes or subjects you write (or read) amp up your emotions? Do you disassociate while writing, losing track of what’s real and what’s not, perhaps thinking you’re a victim all over again? Does it take time to recover from writing intense scenes? If so, are you cognitively aware of something in your past that may be the cause of the trigger? Or have you suspected something buried in your subconscious?

I’m not suggesting that every time something affects you that it means something dark and disturbing. Writers also often have the gift of empathy and can feel emotions from an experience they haven’t personally gone through. But it could also hint at something you may not be fully, consciously aware of.

Your body and soul remember traumatic times that you may have blocked out.

Granted, when I started my aforementioned WIP, I was already in the midst of therapy (oh, the crazy horror/thriller story ideas I get from my brain during therapy!), so I knew some of what was going on. But the intense emotions and memories that would creep in were still surprising. Like, “Hey, I’m working through this and this shouldn’t be bothering me.” And then I would feel like I was losing my mind, but really I am just still working through the healing process.

My point is, take care of yourself. Be mindful of what you experience as you pour your heart onto the pages of your masterpiece. If something you’re writing is triggering for you, pay attention to it. Take a step back and pull yourself into the present. If you know what it is, acknowledge it and thank your mind and body for trying to protect you. Remind yourself that you’re safe now.

Also, if you think you may need the help of a professional, there is no shame in therapy. It’s actually a very healthy and adult thing to do. If not a professional, perhaps you just need to chat it out with a friend or spouse (who may also suggest therapy depending on the situation or severity of what’s going on).

Writing is therapeutic, but it also may dig up some skeletons from your past. Listen to your inner-self. If you need to take a break, do it. Be kind to yourself and do what you need to be mentally, physically, and emotionally safe.

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Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of {too much} Solitude

I work at a university, which is another way of saying that I never had to leave school. At least I’m on the other side of the red pen, now. And I still get to have that school year mentality—the one where Christmas break, spring break, and summer vacation are the most wonderful times of the year.

Ah, summer vacation! I start looking forward to it in March (pretty much the day after spring break ends), because I am going to get SO MUCH done. When May rolls around, I think with awe about the months spanning uninterrupted before me. I make elaborate lists: write, work out, write, read, write, yard work, write, home improvement… I wake up early, excited to get started. Why can’t the entire year be like this?

And then, about mid-June, the novelty wears off. I start to get…bored. I sleep in later. Seven a.m. turns into seven-thirty turns into me barely cracking an eye when everyone leaves the house. The sad truth is, as much as I love my writing time, my mind starts to unravel when left to itself for too long.

As I’ve been doing this summer thing for awhile, I’ve developed some coping techniques. When the kids were younger, I was still at my wits’ end by August, but at least it was never dull. Then they started getting drivers’ licenses. The house got too quiet. My low spot was the summer a few years ago when pretty much my sole hobbies were playing Candy Crush and crying (yeah, I know—so many warning signs). After that, I took a good hard look at myself.

Writers, of necessity, spend a lot of time in their heads. We long for those quiet hours when it’s just us and the keyboard. But this isn’t a healthy place to stay for too long. These are some of the things I’ve learned that keep me functioning.

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  1. Take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. After my rock bottom summer, I started seeing a wonderful endocrinologist, who did some blood work and prescribed a medication for hypothyroidism that changed my life. It turns out that was what I needed to combat depression, but everyone is different. Don’t neglect yourself, and don’t downplay symptoms.
  2. Stay in touch with other writers. And not just through text on a computer screen. I have a writer friend I don’t see often, but we message each other every now and then and meet up for lunch. It’s incredibly invigorating to have even just that little bit of contact. Critique groups are wonderful for that, too. Also writing conferences.
  3. Join or start a critique group. I know I mentioned this already, but it’s important enough to repeat. A thriving critique group is hard work, but a go-to support group is a lifesaver. It’s also a source of accountability. I find it a lot easier to sit down at that keyboard when I know three other people are waiting for 5,000 words by Tuesday.
  4. Get some exercise. I am the world’s most reluctant athlete. I don’t get runner’s high—I get runner’s I-hate-this-I’m-so-miserable-and-why-is-it-so-damn-hot-(or-cold-or-windy)? Some might say I don’t run far enough (I’m looking at you, my marathon-running critique partners). My answer to that is…well, I won’t say it here. But even with as little as one yoga session and a couple of walk/jogs with the dogs every week, I find my body refreshed and my brain churning with new ideas.
  5. Hide the snacks. Getting rid of them is best, of course, but that’s too hardcore for me. I’m guilty of leaving treats in plain sight—right at this moment I’ve got a family pack of Reese’s Pieces, some strawberry peanut M&M’s, a bowl of tortilla chips, a box of candy left over from Christmas, and half a bag of chocolate Chex Mix on my kitchen counter. And that’s only what I can remember without going to look. Welcome to my sugar-addicted life. It’s only a few steps from my laptop to Chocolate Heaven—not nearly enough to count as exercise, more’s the pity. But out of sight, out of mind, and putting all that stuff away in a cupboard helps. And right after I finish this, I’m going to do just that.
  6. Train your family to be supportive. This one doesn’t always work. But if you’re fortunate, you may have someone in your life who will not only respect your writing time, but help pull you out of any writerly funks you may fall into.
  7. Learn something new. For awhile, I made a game of developing a new skill every summer. One year, I learned how to knit. Another, I took piano lessons. Last summer, I canned 36 jars of peaches from our tree. (For someone who hates to cook, that’s a huge accomplishment.) New hobbies keep me busy when the words don’t come, and hey, now my characters can talk semi-intelligently about knitting, pianos, and canning fruit. This summer’s goal? Dog agility training. Really.
  8. Or volunteer. Or otherwise become involved with something external and different. My family is usually supportive (see above), but my husband is occasionally guilty of uttering the words, “Since you’re not doing anything this summer, why don’t you…” But you know what? One day a week of working at his business has actually been good for me. For one thing, it resets my mind. After applying it to new and challenging problems, I return to my writing refreshed. Also, new skills: if your characters need intimate knowledge of state and private vehicle impounds in the state of Utah, I’m your guy. And it keeps me on a reasonable getting-out-of-bed schedule.
  9. Finally, have something to look forward to. For me, it’s road trips, days at the lake, and returning to my fulltime job in August. Ah, fall semester! I can’t wait.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.