(Web Editor’s Note: This is an article first pubbed in June 2014 we thought we’d dig out of the archives and share again!)
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
I remember reading that line, in a classroom in Texas in August, with my collared uniform shirt scratching my neck, thinking, “Compare someone you love to a summer’s day? WHY. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”
Well, apparently in other parts of the country, summer is quite pleasant. It’s warm during the day and cools off at night, so you can wear cute sundresses and cardigans and prance around in your sandals eating ice cream and lemonade and lying the pool without wanting to die. But in Texas and many other places, summer is sweltering miserable and the only way to get rid of the constant drip of sweat on your face is to douse yourself in said pool or air conditioning.
Whether you’re so sun-shocked you’re basically comatose or spending breezy days on the beach at Cape Cod, summer can have a stultifying effect on one’s ability to do anything productive. Summer can either be so pleasant or so horrific that even normally hard working and focused people like writers can get a little . . . lazy. Here’s a few tips on how to write through the dog days without losing your cool.
Look at the Summer as a Whole
There’s often a big difference between summer and the rest of the year; work slows down, less people are in the office, school is out, the movies are awesome. You might usually spend Saturdays writing, but have a few beach days scheduled. Or maybe you usually write while the kids are at school, and now they’re home. You might have more or less time, but it’s probably a bit different from your normal routine.
We get hit with changes to our routine all the time. When you can anticipate the changes, you can be a lot more effective in working with them and still getting work done. With summer, it’s easy to look ahead. Take a morning–or even just a few minutes– and map your summer out. See what weekends you will actually have time to write. What weeks are totally out. And you can have a better perspective from which to create goals.
No matter what the task, humans are far more likely to accomplish it if they set goals. We talk about this all the time at DIY MFA–setting challenging, but attainable goals will set you on your way to achieving them. When you look at your schedule for the summer, you can figure out what is feasible. Perhaps you need to scale back daily writing because the kids are home, but can get more writing done on a planned weekend away. The point is to make it work for you.
Think Outside Your Box
Let’s face it. It might not be feasible to write a horror novel set in the Dark Ages from the front porch of your vacation home in Montauk. There’s a reason there’s such a thing as “Beach Reads.” It’s hard to get in the mood to write something epic and dramatic and tragic when you’re sipping a pina coloda with your toes in the sand. It’s also hard (and possibly reckless) to bring a laptop into said sand. Or maybe not. Maybe, for you, writing on the beach is the perfect time for murder and mayhem. You know yourself and your writing better than anyone so, keeping in mind what your schedule now looks like, set some summer goals.
Here’s a few ideas:
- Put your manuscript away — I know. This sounds terrible. But just about everyone recommends putting your manuscript away and not looking at it. The longer time away, the better. Summer might just be the perfect time for this. The publishing industry slows to a crawl, so sending query letters might not be the best idea anyway. And when you emerge tanned and ready to work in September, you can take a much more objective look at what you’ve written.
- Beef up your reading list — If summertime makes you lazy, it might be a great time to do a more passive activity like reading. Not that reading doesn’t require concentration and motivation, but it’s less so than writing. You’ll probably have quite a few lazy days–make them a little more productive and still just as enjoyable by reading books that will enhance your writing. Do you write romance? Make a list of the classics. Thrillers? Maybe it’s time to break out some Lee Child. Or read outside your genre. See if anything else catches your eye. Another great option is to offer to Beta Read for other writers. Make some friends and try out your editing chops by going to town on someone else’s manuscript. Now that’s a lazy-day solution!
- Daydream — Bring a notebook and get thinking! Seriously, some of the most important work writers do is just thinking about possibilities, working through problems and making up stories. I spend hours on the subway every day, but consider it writing time because I plug in my headphones, get my book playlist going, and think through my story. When you do get back to the page, you’ll spend a lot less time pencil-tapping and a lot more time writing.
- Socialize — We might have less time (or motivation) to write in the summer, but we can still use it productively. Maybe writing a whole manuscript is too much–what about a blog post? Summer is a great time to do a side project like figuring out your social media. Do some research. Make mistakes. Social media can take up a lot of headspace–but it is quite necessary for writers today. Summer is a great time to try out a new platform or reach some new friends. You might find something that works for you, and enhances rather than burdens your writing life.
- Retreat — Do you have a long weekend? Find some buddies and an Air B&B. Sometimes all you need is a few days away to get yourself refueled. Even just going to a different location and turning off the WiFi can give you the motivation and concentration to get new words on the page.
- Research — This is another necessary part of writing that we often push to the back burner. In one of my books, a character is a sharp shooter. I’d never actually shot a gun, though. My solution? I found a shooting range, a groupon, and took a class. Is your character an ocean diver? Maybe this is your excuse to stop googling and get in the ocean yourself. Or maybe your character is from California, and you’ve never seen the redwood forest. Family vacation, much? It’s the perfect way to have fun, not ostracize your family and friends and also accomplish something productive.