June 10th, 2015

A Writer’s Summer Break

In a few days, my son will be out of school for summer break. He’s signed up for a few weeks of camp but unlike previous summers, he’ll be home more weeks than at camp. The deeper into the end-of-year crazies we got, the more freaked out I became over schedules. When am I supposed to write? I’ll never have that first draft done if I don’t have time to write! How will I be able to focus on details for the writing retreat I’m responsible for? It’s. In. September. Do you hear me breathing into the paper bag?

In a fit of planning, because I’m a planner (not a plotter, that concept still scares the pants off of me), I printed off the summer calendar and started puzzling in word count and retreat deadlines, and blog dates, because it all had to be done. Right? Right?

Wrong. Well, right but not completely.

At the end of each school day, my son would check off another day on the closer-to-summer calendar. His excitement was stressing me out. When did summer lose that sense of opportunity? When was the last time I had a real summer break? Okay, I’m not going to count that far back, but summer, people. Summer. Long, hot, lazy days, going to the pool, soft serve ice cream, reading in a shady spot. Summer.

The last few months have been challenging, to say the least. I’m at the point where I need to make some hard decisions and I haven’t had the time or energy or brainpower to make sense of my options. I need to regroup.

Hello, Summer. Perfect timing.

But I’m still a planner and I still need goals. I know, I know … making “relax” a goal on your to-do list isn’t exactly in the spirit of summer. I can’t help it, sorry folks. I need a plan.

So here’s my summer plan:

1) Read more. If you guys are anything like me, you have a TBR pile that’s threatening to take over your house. And still buying more books. With an active 10 year old in the house, reading quietly for hours on end isn’t realistic. He is, however, all keeping me on task, so I set up a summer reading challenge. We both picked the number of books we intend to read during the summer and created a tracking sheet, complete with smiley face stickers to mark our achievements (confession, the stickers were my idea – don’t judge!).

My summer list includes a couple of debut authors (debuts are a great way to see what’s being picked up by agents and publishers), a couple of books with related themes to my WIP, a couple of books that are completely unrelated in theme and genre, and a couple of books that have been in my TBR pile for way longer than I care to admit. Oh, and one writing craft book.

2) Finish that business plan. We’ve all read about needing a business plan. I created business plans when I started my freelance company, but I never really thought through a plan for my writing career. Over the next few months I’ll finish the plan I started and abandoned when I first started writing.

I know more about myself and my capabilities now than I did when I first started. I also know more about the industry and the various opportunities out there. For example, I have a story idea that’s not big concept, mainstream but there are a couple of small publishers who acquire just that type of book. I’ve been wanting to get back into writing essays so I’ll be researching publications (online and print) and story ideas over the next couple of months as well.

3) Write something totally different. Over the last few months I’ve started and stopped a couple of different story ideas. My brain doesn’t want to latch on to any of them. So for the summer break, I’m putting those ideas away and giving my brain cells permission to let loose.

I’m fascinated with short stories so I’m taking a stab at writing a few. I’ve been batting about an idea for a middle grade book. And I haven’t written a picture book in a while. Whatever I write though, will be for me. I miss the fun of writing for the sake of writing, for no other reason than letting creativity flow. Who knows, maybe by the end of summer I’ll have something to revise with an eye for publication. Or not. The important thing for me is to stretch myself and have fun.

4) Declutter. Oh the clutter! My office has become a dumping ground for papers I don’t have time to file, my laptop screen has become a shelter for homeless files and jpegs, my browser is crowded with open tabs of unread blog posts, my closets are overflowing with all the miscellaneous things I don’t know what to do with, and the brain … wait, what point was I trying to make?

The in-between projects period is perfect for de-cluttering. When I’m busy, I fall into the trap of jotting notes on any scrap of paper I can get my hands on. That means that when I finally come up for air, I have mini-mountains of paper scattered about my office. An email comes in with a blog I want to read so I click and open it then promptly get distracted. I’m afraid to look at the number of open tabs in Firefox and Safari.

My goal then for the summer months is to read those posts that are still waiting to be read, file or trash the papers that have taken over my office and family room and kitchen, get rid of the clothes that no longer fit, and fill my “ideas” notebook with the various ideas that have been flopping around in my head.

5) Explore. It’s so easy to fall into the day-to-day trap. Work, home, school activities, sports, more work, more cleaning, another sports practice. I was trying to think when the last time we—or even I—did something different just for the fun of it.

Remember the reading list I mentioned above? Yup, a book in a genre I don’t normally read. The weeks when my son doesn’t have camp, we’re going to play tourist. I’m lucky to live in a place where people come for vacation and yet, unless we have visitors, we rarely get out beyond our day-to-day requirements. I have a list of things I’d like to do, places I haven’t been to in years or—gasp—haven’t been to at all. And yes, I’ll be keeping my “ideas” notebook handy because you never what fun story ideas will be lurking in the most unexpected places and your mind is clear to finally see them.

Granted, I’m in the enviable position of actually being able to take the summer “off.” I don’t have a contract with a hard deadline looming over me, I don’t have an agent or editor waiting for a manuscript or proposal or essay. But even if you can’t take the summer to regroup, give yourself whatever time you can. If you have a week of vacation, maybe that’s the time to pick up a book in a genre you don’t normally read or jot down ideas for expanding your creative outlets. Or do what I’m doing and plan a spontaneous adventure. 😉

Have you ever taken time off to regroup and re-evaluate? Did it help? What did you do to re-spark the creative juices and/or soothe an over-tired brain?

About Orly

OrlyAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

33 comments to A Writer’s Summer Break

  • LOL on the homeless files! I’m headed to the beach right NOW and trying not to freak out about my end of the month book deadline. I’m meeting extended family I haven’t seen in decades. I owe it to them and to me to live in the moment and celebrate summer for a few days!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      I love your last line, Deb. So true! One thing I’ve learned over the last year is that you can’t take time for granted. We don’t know what tomorrow brings or who may be taken from us unexpectedly.

      You can also look at the time as research. Imagine the great characters and scenes you can extract from a few days with extended (or any) family. 🙂

      Enjoy the beach!!!

    • I hope you relax and enjoy yourself to pieces, Deb. You deserve to take a break with family.

  • I’m in the same boat this week. Kids out of school, no camp this week. Trying not to overschedule the days.Getting up early to workout, and to work. I work until kids wake up, then we do things together. We have our reading time, doing some math problems here and there, plus explore time. My daughters want to teach me ballet! So we are having ballet workshops after breakfast. It’s fun! I’m taking the approach that I should enjoy the summer with them as well (it’s summer break for me too!)– thus the am work, and then the day with them. Also, they both like to write, so we have decided we will write a story together. 😉 This will be fun to try something different, and exercise another part of my writing brain. After they go to bed, I curl up with a book and some sot music to wind down my day. Then I start it over the next day. I’m getting a lot done because I know I have less hours to work, and I’m having fun with my girls. Go with it! Have a great summer!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Oh Maria, I want to hear more about the book you’re writing with your girls. One of our summer projects is to write a middle grade book together. We’ve been brainstorming ideas and I’m completely in love with this story already. 🙂

      Enjoy every minute! We’ll have to compare notes in a month or two. 😉

  • I envy you the reading time, Orly! I’m going to need to schedule a backyard reading day – soon!

    So funny – the published writers I know told me, before I published, “Enjoy this time, when you have no deadlines, no outside pressure. You’re going to miss it someday.”

    I smiled and secretly thought they were nuts.

    I know better now.

    If anyone deserves a break, it’s you. Go fill your well! My deadline is the end of September, then I’m deadlineless – and looking forward to it!

  • Hi Orly,
    Love this (I’m in the same boat–3 kids kick off summer break on Friday). I, too, always stress about the dead-time. Last summer, I tried a different tact, instead of word count goals, I made time goals (tried to write/edit/plot for 2 hours in the morning before the kids were up & moving). The rest of the day was family time & tackling my TBR pile. I didn’t keep up with my usual writing pace, but I made progress and that reduced my stress level. Here’s to another (slower paced) summer!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      That’s a great plan, Kris, and I’m glad to hear it worked. Setting goals that you can achieve is a huge step toward reducing the stress level. You’ve inspired me … I just wrote down the three things I need to do this summer, everything else will be bonus. 🙂

      Cheers to a great summer!

  • I’m in that spot between school’s out and summer camp here as well. For some reason, I’ve scheduled every dentist, orthodontist, and doctor appointment into the start of summer, leaving no time to even think about writing. Oh, and summer at the library (real job) is INSANE, and it’s devouring all of my energy. Funny how working the Summer Reading Program leaves me no time to read!

    I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time. I’ll see if that can get my behind into gear in July.

    Enjoy your summer and all of that beautiful time to read!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Kerry Ann, you made me laugh with the summer reading program although I can totally see how that would suck up your time. Good luck with Camp NaNo. I thought about it but with limited child camps that month, I figured it would send me over the edge. 🙂

  • sfreydont

    I’m with Laura. Go fill that well. Enjoy the summer, the kid. Mine are out of school, have been for several years, and I still feel like I never have enough time. Probably because writing is like an amoeba, fills every little unused space and more before you can fill it with something else. And as for stickers? Bring em. I’d love it if when I finished that first draft, someone would slap a smiley face on it. Second draft? one of those ribbons that says good job!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Shelley, if you make it to the retreat, I’ll bring a stack of stickers just for you! 🙂

  • You are right! I’m going to use the stunning backdrop of summer to recoup and inspire. Thanks!

    Dee Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT

  • I like this list, especially the idea about the business plan. I work full time and don’t have summers off, but I still like the idea of putting together a business plan AND writing plan that will have me on track for the career I *hope* to have someday. To regroup, re-evaluate, and re-spark, I get into my car and drive through the country. Being in nature always gets me out of my head and out of my stress … in a good way!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      This is the first year I haven’t had work staring me down, Brandi. I’m kinda giddy at the idea but nervous too. I may have forgotten how to relax. 😉

      Right there with you on the driving through the country. When I get close to the maximum fill line, I get in the car and drive to the stable. Country roads and then horses … no room for stress with that combination.

      Good luck putting together the business and writing plans. I’d love to hear from you after you do!

  • Good luck with the business plan and all your summer activities. Sounds like you have some great plans for the summer.

  • I’d love to see a post here with samples of business plans!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Susan Spann did a series for us about business plans. If you type that into the search, it’ll bring up all of her posts – or click on her name under Posts by Subject. But yeah, it may be time for another look at that subject. 🙂

  • With grown kids, summer vacation doesn’t have the same triggers for me. Instead, summer is just another time to work! And that needs to change somehow. I need to get out and do more because I’ve become such a stick-in-the-mud. I do, however, always seem to have time to read. 🙂

    What I really loved was your item #4. This is my life! My desk is piled high and I don’t know where to start. I can get half of it cleared, give up on the rest, and then the first half fills up again. It doesn’t help that it’s become the dumping spot for whatever needs clearing from the dining room that i don’t know what to do with. I have been working on closets, though – I’ve lost weight and donating clothes is FUN!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      I was just trying to clean out my office – AGAIN! Sigh. I’m determined though to declutter by the end of summer … house, brain, life. 🙂

      Since you seem to like the closet clean-out and donating books, can you please come help with mine? I always get stuck with “but it’s in good shape, I’ll wear it sometime.”

  • Holly Robinson

    Orly, I love this post–we writers always forget that reading is a big part of our writing lives, and it’s just as important to make time to read other people as it is to craft our own stories. Thanks for the reminder. Happy summer!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      My TBR pile is become a TBR room. I keep teasing that I’m taking the rest of the year “off” and will just read. Although even then I won’t make a dent in the pile. So many amazing books to read! 🙂

  • I’ve got a similar situation this summer – and I do have a (partially self-imposed, but nevertheless crucial deadline) for a usable first draft (preferably an edited one). So I am panicking quite badly… Sounds like you still have quite ambitious plans for the summer – wish you well with them!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Overambitious. That would be me. 🙂
      No panicking aloud … I was just telling Laura yesterday about the new story ideas. Her answer: “See what happens when you let go?” So there, no panicking. Good luck with your deadline and enjoy the summer.

  • Well-done, Orly. I admire you and all the others who give priority to their children even while following their commitment as writers. Thanks for providing inspiration.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Thank you, Rick!
      There’s so much we can learn and relearn from kids if we allow ourselves that luxury. And those lessons/experiences make us better writers, not to mention better adults. 🙂

  • […] to find that creative spark again and NOT worry about writing for publication. Cool idea, right? (For those of you who read my June post, we’ll take a quick break until you stop […]