What I Learned About Balancing Writing and Life From Elizabeth Craig

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

Elizabeth Craig’s latest book, “Death at a Drop-In” , released in August and “Quilt Trip” launches this December. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently.

She blogs at Mystery Writing is Murder which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010—2013. She also manages the Writer’s Knowledge Base–the Search Engine for Writers. You can find her on her website and on Twitter as @ElizabethSCraig.

For most writers a book a year is a great goal. It’s difficult, sure, but still manageable. After the release of  Quilt Trip in December, Elizabeth Craig will have released four books just this year. In addition to that she writes an award-winning blog, tweets links to some of the best writing info on the web, and manages the writer’s equivalent of Google. Oh, and did I mention she also has a family and a life, and even finds time to drive the carpool?

As a parent, writer and entrepreneur, Elizabeth is one of my  personal role models. How does she balance it all? I was thrilled to get the chance to sit down with her and ask her.

Balancing Writing Life and Real Life

Yesterday I got the chance to speak with Elizabeth and record her Lit Loft bonus interview. We had a blast talking about the writing process, the research process behind her books, and more. At one point, I asked her how she does it all. Here’s what she said:

“I write first thing in the morning (5 a.m.), before waking my children up for school. I usually knock out the second half of my word count goal in the afternoon…frequently in the carpool line outside the middle school.”

I have to tip my hat at the first part of her answer because the only way I could ever be awake at 5 a.m. is if I stayed up from the night before. The part about writing on-the-go, on the other hand, totally resonated with me. While I don’t drive a carpool, I do carry a notebook with me everywhere and write when I’m on the bus or subway around New York City.

Elizabeth is  great example of a writer who finds ways to fit her work into her busy life, instead of putting life on hold in order to write. This, of course, is one of the core beliefs at DIY MFA, which is one of the reasons I’ve been such a huge fan of Elizabeth’s work over the years.

But sometimes writers need a little extra help. This is where tools and techniques can help us maximize our productivity and stay focused, even when life throws a curve ball or two.

Techniques for Staying On Task

Elizabeth hasn’t always been big on outlines. In fact, she’s recently moved from an organic writing process to one that is much more outline-focused. She blogged about this shift here, here, and here. This is one of the reasons why I was so thrilled to interview her for Lit Loft and get to ask her about her process for planning both her series as a whole, and the individual books.

She gave some excellent tips about outlining and planning books, which are in the Lit Loft interview, but she also shared one great insight that I wanted to pass on to you now. I myself am often guilty of trying to leap too far too fast with my word goals, so I loved Elizabeth’s advice on this topic.

Set your daily writing goal very low…make sure it’s attainable. And never, never try to catch up (unless you’re on a tight deadline for a publisher).–Elizabeth Craig

This advice applies not just to writing but to all of life. When we make goals that are too ambitious, we set ourselves up for failure but if we set our goals at a reasonable level we create a climate of success. Every time we reach that goal, our confidence in our abilities will increase, making us more likely to make those goals again in the future. As someone who always sets my goals too high then scrambles to catch up–there was a time that I’d write myself word count IOU’s–I found Elizabeth’s advice encouraging. After all, here’s a writer who’s clearly produces a TON of work on a consistent basis, but she still keeps it all in balance.

Where Does She Get Her Inspiration?

As a writer who loves crafting puzzles on the page, it’s no surprise that a lot of Elizabeth’s inspiration comes from beloved protagonists of mystery series. She told me about the book that first inspired her to be a writer. “It was a Nancy Drew mystery that I read when I was 7… The Clue of the Dancing Puppet. I wanted to be a writer from that point on. I loved the way the author crafted the story, developed the characters, and created a puzzle for the readers to solve along with Nancy.”

When asked which literary character most resonates with her she responded: “[If I were a literary character] I’d be Miss Marple. I love that she got so much out of her life and kept her mind sharp by solving mysteries. And that she used the fact that she was constantly underestimated to her advantage.” Someone solves mysteries and gets a lot out of life… sounds a lot like what Elizabeth has carved out for herself. The only difference between her and Miss Marple is that I don’t think anyone’s going to underestimate Elizabeth.

Her newest book, Quilt Trip, comes out in December, 2013. You can learn more about it and her other books on Elizabeth’s website.

I’m delighted to announce that Elizabeth is one of the speakers for Lit Loft. Check out event details by clicking below. Sign up and you’ll hear Elizabeth’s interview, plus interviews with eleven other writing and publishing experts. Hope to see you there!




Elizabeth Craig will be speaking at LitLoft 2013
Registration closes soon so sign up today!



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