Bring Me Another Goddamn Daiquiri: Writing In The Summer

I think this is supposed to help you see a laptop screen in the sun. Or minimize distractions. Or let you see through time. One of those.

At least half the writers I know do no actual writing in the summer. Too hot, they say. Or too nice outside. Or too many pina coladas to slam down before Labour Day.

If that’s your jam, fine. But if there are any of you out there who–because of looming deadlines, because you’re developing the habit of consistency, because you’re just in the middle of a damn good story–want to write your heart out this summer, come with me. I can show you the way.

The first novel that I’m willing to call by the name* was written in the middle of a scorcher, with 40 degree days and no air conditioning. And I’ve written every summer since. So, with that track record behind me, here are my best tips for putting brain to page during the dog days.

1) Get Up Earlier. The sun’s up. You should be, too. I love getting up at 5:30 in the summer. It’s still cool but the sun’s out, the streets are quiet (a bonus if you run like I do in the morning), and it generally gets things off to a good start. The day unfolds before you, leaving you with so much time to get the words down. Plus your laptop has not yet become a crotch-scorching brick of fire.

2) Trail of Bread Crumbs. Make some notes for yourself the night before to remind you where you have to go the following day. Make at least one of them a really good thing: that scene you really want to write, the character you want to play with, the submission you really want to get away. Something to look forward to. Something that makes you excited, god damn it. If nothing excites you…maybe you need to think long and hard about your project.

3) Learn to make iced coffee. Cold brew, baby. Or pour espresso over ice.

4) Get Out From Under The Laptop. No one likes baked writer junk. No one. I use a standing desk pretty much year round, which keeps the Aluminum Fire Brick off my lap, an especially valuable option when the mercury rises.

Other options: start using a notebook for pre-work, getting on the computer only to do actual writing; stop dicking around online so much so you can finish faster; place the laptop on a block of ice.** Or, best yet, take your work outside. No reason to miss out on the beach because you want to write. Take a notebook and a pen with your sunscreen and you’re good to go.

Go forth and write, my sweltering word badgers. By the fall, you’ll have something interesting, even if it is covered in sweat stains.

*My second finished manuscript. The first is best not spoke of.

**I was going to write DO NOT ATTEMPT, but I think if you do this, you deserve exactly what happens to you.


You’re A Tool, Part One: Hardware


Ah, there’s your problem: Laptop Shoulder. (Photo credit: linus_art)

Every writer develops their own set of tools to get their job done. I divide mine into three categories: hardware, software, and wetware. So here’s a look at my tool box. Part One: Hardware, because scrawling on the floor in your own waste only takes you so far.

Tech Level:

1. The Computer of All Things: The vast majority of my life is spent on my Macbook Pro these days. She’s an upgrade from my old plasticky Macbook, who I loved very much but who has now retired to live in my steamer trunk with all my yarn.* I like the mobility a laptop gives me, so I can drift around the house to work. And also take it on trips with me. I suspect, however, that I will someday pay a price for the lack of ergonomics, probably in the currency of Shoulder Pain.**

2. The LifePhone: I fucking love my iPhone. It’s one of those things that I wasn’t sure I was going to like but now am physically incapable of living without. Seriously, it’s a problem. I’ll have to be surgically separated from it one day. But not today. You will pry that thing from my cold dead hands, and even then, my cold dead hands won’t want to give it up. My zombie self will fight you for that phone.
Writing-wise, I make notes and voice memos on it when I’m out and about and get ideas. Sometimes drawings, too. I’ve also got it loaded with a couple of key apps, including an interval timer to measure my work times on busy days (because I’m insane).

3. The Library: Or, as it is more commonly known, the Kindle. I carry a shitload of books on it, including copies of my current projects. Just so I can have a look at them when I’m away from the computer because I am totally that addicted. I also like it for editing. I spot mistakes on it easier, for some reason. And, of course, I use it for general reading.

Luddite Level:

1. Whiteboards: God, I love whiteboards. These are for working out big ideas. Things that are too big to fit inside my brain. Sometimes I have to take something out of my brain to unfold it properly, and whiteboards seem to be the best for those. I’ve tried chalkboards, but they’re too dusty. And I’ve used that brown paper you wrap packages in. That’s great for maps and things I don’t want to erase. But it’s usually whiteboards, with many colours of markers.

2. Actual Paper: And finally, I have a notebook. A thing with covers and pages that I take notes in. Actually, I have three: the personal journal, which stays on my desk; the hardcover one that I write most of my story ideas in and which travels to and fro; and the emergency back up notebook that is tiny and lives in a hidden pocket of my purse and never comes out except when I have no other notebooks on hand and really really need to write something down. And, of course, I have a selection of pens. Not pencils, I hate writing in pencil. Smudgy grey bastards. Pens for me. Preferably black. And one red one, in case I want to do some drawings of more than one colour. Also, it’s my favourite colour.

These items make up my survival kit. Some variation of this comes with me everywhere. On long trips, it’s everything but the whiteboard; day trips are more likely to be just the phone and the notebook. I never like to be too far from my writing. It makes me twitchy. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m twitchy.

But, like I said, everyone’s got their own. And mine is constantly evolving as I try new things and steal methods from other people. Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of trying Pinterest, which seems to be a current darling of many. So tell me, Dear Reader: what’s in your kit?

*Not a metaphor for something unspeakable. I also knit, and really do have a steamer trunk full of yarn. I like to think of the old computer in there hibernating like a bear, with a steady stream of Zzzz’s coming from under the lid.

**And the exchange rate is shit.