Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Writer Mom's Five Cool Routines for Summer

By Cindy Jones

Being a writing-mom means that just when I get the hang of my writing routines, the school year ends and my routine goes the way of last year’s lunch box. Instead of six hours of Home Alone, it’s suddenly Animal House. Writer-moms know they must be innovative
and flexible in order to snatch writing progress from the jaws of summer chaos. Here are my secrets for summer writing success:
  1. Dashboard Story Development. The car is my summer office, driving across country each year, immobilized in the driver’s seat with hours to think en route to my vacation destinations. Before firing the ignition, I review notes to guide my thoughts. Fresh morning, coffee to go, and the stimulation of an entire country flying past my window create a fertile work space where imagination can rack up as many miles as the car. One such day I drove remembering an editor’s disparaging comment that there wasn’t enough tension in my story. I drove from Nashville to Amarillo generating a list of conflict for my protagonist, a rich resource when I later sat down at my computer. Names, places, and details suggest themselves from the road and a reader could track me from Texas to the Midwest noting proper nouns incorporated into my work. The tricky part is jotting down ideas while driving, which must be why they invented dictation apps. Don't turn on the radio.

  2. Road Trip Reading. My husband is a captive audience in the driver’s seat, and a long road trip allows time to read an entire manuscript aloud, breaking only to buy gas or get lunch. Problems tend to be more apparent when read aloud and immediate feedback from the captive audience is a plus. Most notable was the time I read a manuscript aloud to see what it lacked and discovered it was nearer completion than I’d thought. Backseat drivers tend to remove headsets and provide feedback, too. Your manuscript can be their audio book.

  3. Summer School with Famous Authors. Without the regular evening routine of homework, school meetings and sports, summer frees up more time to read. And summer reading can improve your writing if you consider each book a course on the technique of a skilled author. When my agent suggested bringing subplots forward into the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, I worried the interruptions would create speed bumps in my narrative. But reading the first chapter of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, I saw how seamlessly she introduced various threads, and realized I could do the same. Like taking writing classes with Ian MacEwan, Jennifer Egan, and Balzac, summer reading can turbo charge your writing.

  4. Embracing Isolation. One of my summer destinations is so remote cell phones must be driven a mile to the nearest hilltop to achieve connectivity, and none of the places I go provide easy Internet access. Good news: writing time is not squandered checking stats, commenting on social networks, or indulging Internet distractions. I have no choice but to focus. And I have learned that it is possible to write 5,000 words a day in the wilderness. Leave your browser at home.

  5. Exotic Places to Write. Being away from home means finding new places to work. When driving my son to a distant university-sponsored basketball camp, I found a study carrel on the sixth floor of their campus library and worked at my laptop for three days solid. I thought I was in heaven, surrounded by stacks of musty books. But most vacations don't provide three days of uninterrupted writing time, especially family vacations. In that case, let growing teenagers and tired traveling companions sleep in. An early riser, packing a journal and pen, can find a seat in an English garden, urban café, or hotel lobby and write an essay before breakfast.

Summer Writing Strategies can become so invigorating, encouraging such high levels of production, that returning to one’s ordinary writing routine can be a buzz kill. Remember: summer passes quickly, but so does the rest of the year. By the time August is over, only nine months remain until school is out next year.

Cindy Jones is the author of My Jane Austen Summer, the story of a young woman who wishes to live in a novel. She lives in Dallas with her husband and four sons who are currently between semesters. You can follow Cindy’s blog by visiting her website at, twitter: @cindysjones, or check out Cindy Jones Books on Facebook.


  1. These are great ideas, Cindy! With my son in junior high and my husband a high-school teacher, our summer routine is definitely different from the school year...I need all the strategies I can get to keep writing despite the distractions ;).

  2. Thank you, Marilyn! I love the summertime. A lot of things slide...But you are prolific! I don't know how you do it. Congratulations for the wonderful launch of Any Given Sundae!

  3. Thanks, Stacy! They work for me. I'd love to hear what works for other writer-moms. There are lots of us out here struggling to stay on track.

  4. This was so much fun to read. I just got back from a mountain vacation and it's really recharged my batteries.

  5. Cindy, you are brilliant! 5,000 words a day! Oy! I would love to do that. I'd be finished with this manuscript in three more days. You've just inspired me. :-)


  6. I used to write in my head when I drove across country. Maybe I should borrow your husband and kids as critics next time :)

    Great post!

  7. Wonderful ideas! And I loved the mention of my hometown, Amarillo. It seems everyone drives through there at least once!

    I'm a mom-writer, too, and summer writing is a challenge, to put it mildly. If I get up before the kids I get more done and I take my writing with me, too.

  8. Thanks, Karin: I hope your batteries retain their charge for a long time!

    Susan: I must disclose 5,000 words only happened once!! I guess I should have said "you MAY be able to write UP TO 5,000 words a day in the wilderness!

    Amy: They make great critics if you can afford the food stops along the way!!

    Thanks, Feral!

    Sara: I'm driving through Amarillo again soon. Something about those wide open spaces really gets the imagination going. Lucky you, to live there!

  9. I am completely sure that if I have a place like that one for write I could write thousands of books

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