Let's Talk About Summer Writing

Most writers I know feel a certain amount of guilt in the summer about writing – or, more specifically, for not writing. For me, this guilt stems from my years in college and grad school, feeling like I should be writing and/or researching and getting ahead in the months between semesters but ultimately not doing much of anything. Something about summer still gets me feeling like I should be doing more.

This summer I’ve been approaching things a little bit differently, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve been doing. I also checked in with a few other members of the writing group to see how summertime writing is working out for them. Together we’ve got some ideas on how to handle writing – or not! – during the long summer days.

What We’re Working On

Our writing retreat last month gave all of us a lot of time and space to work on various projects and all of us (except for Haley, who decided to go to Germany instead for some reason) found the weekend to be super useful. Emily explains, “I’m working on a few submissions this summer and envisioning changes for my blog. It has been slow going but our Unread Stories Club writing retreat helped give me some space to write.”

Tasha agrees. She says, “I have been working on a piece about myself, my mom, and my grandma. It is a look at how memories change, family dynamics, and growing up with strong female role models. It was something I started at a Freewrite Nite and continued at Writing Retreat.” We had the opportunity to read an updated draft when Tasha submitted for our last writing group meeting.

Writing Retreat 2018 | photo via @tashamwise

Writing Retreat 2018 | photo via @tashamwise

Writing Retreat also gave Ashley a chance to start on some (delicious and wonderful) pieces about her relationship with food, and Lindsey (unsurprisingly) worked on a 90s-inspired essay that’s going to be a pretty big deal.

As for me, I used our retreat to work on some pieces I’d pitched that were due at the end of June. Since then, I’ve floundered a little in finding inspiration to start new projects – at least until very recently. But more on that later.

Let’s talk about some insights we’ve come across regarding summertime writing issues and triumphs.

Tips on Being a Writer in the Summer

1. Manage Writer’s Guilt

As I mentioned, I typically spend summer wracked with guilt over not writing more. It’s a useless and annoying habit that doesn’t do anyone any good, but it’s definitely something many writers encounter. Emily has some thoughts on the guilt:

I recently was talking about the weird sense of guilt I have when I’m not writing with another writer, and we both realized that sometimes we need to take guilt-free and intentional breaks from creativity.

It’s close to impossible for a lot of writers to sustain any kind of writing during the summer because we’re all so busy during these months. Vacations, kids off from school, weddings and parties… these months are often jam-packed and even the most dedicated writers can find their writing plans derailed.

Tasha has found that she’s practically guilt-free this season for a very important reason:

"I am really proud of what I am working on now. Although I submitted a few pieces that weren’t published, I am not letting that discourage me. I feel like I am working on the right things for me. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am working on things that will make me money or make me famous, but I am working on things that feed my passion and keep me writing. And really, that is what matters."

Writer’s guilt is a topic worthy of a whole conversation, but I just want to say this for all of you experiencing the very specific kind of guilt that thrives in the heat: It’s okay if you’re not writing enough or at all right now. The rest of the tips below can help you combat the guilt and perhaps help you look ahead and/or set up some structure.

2. Be Intentional

Emily’s quote above about taking breaks is a good one to remember. A lot of the work of writing comes from the times when we’re not writing. And, often when we push ourselves to be creative or work on things when we’re not fully invested, we don’t like what we’re doing or we ultimately rail against the work and take unintentional time off.

Emily adds,

“The key here is intentional, because most often when I take a creativity break it’s accidental, unplanned, and riddled with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. So I have been giving myself more of a mental break from writing without the accompanied feeling of being unproductive. That said, I’m not very good at the ‘guilt-free’ part yet.”

Being intentional in other aspects is another thing worth mentioning. I’ve been adding intentionality into my reading habits this summer as well. I’m making it a point to read more poetry, so I’ve been reading a collection at the same time as whatever else I’m reading. Whenever I find myself bored and about to mindlessly scroll through social media on my phone, I pick up poetry instead (and succeed about 65% of the time).

I’m also trying to be actively engaged as a reader, which isn’t always the best idea or even possible, but I find that I can often find inspiration or feel a sense of growth as a writer when I pay attention to what I’m reading. Specifically, I’ll notice the moves a writer makes or take time to appreciate the use of language.

3. Read, Read, and Read Some More

And, of course, simply reading is one of the best things you can do for your writerly self.

Reading isn’t just confined to whatever beach read or book of poetry you’re working through right now, either. Even finding articles, craft essays, and short stories and personal essays online is great for both development and inspiration.

Les Andersen |  Unsplash

Les Andersen | Unsplash

One thing I’ve been doing lately is adjusting the way I consume information in the morning. It used to be that I’d scroll through social media (mostly twitter) in the morning and read some of the articles that would pop up. But with the world being what it is, I found I was often more anxious and angry than anything, so I turned my attention elsewhere. I subscribed to Medium’s daily email, and I get customized articles sent to me each morning based on topics I like. (Note: A lot of Medium’s content is subscription-only, but I’ve been enjoying what I read enough to consider subscribing. Even so, there is plenty of free content from writers and from lit mags like Electric Literature.)

4. Utilize Resources

Ask any one of us from Unread Stories, and we’ll tell you that sometimes we wouldn’t get anything written without either structured time we put together as a group or having a submission deadline for a group meeting. Having some kind of accountability or go-to resource is crucial for times when you haven’t prioritized writing or have been fresh out of inspiration.

Our favorite resource is each other (yes I’m being wildly presumptuous but I doubt I’m wrong), which is why I can definitively tell you that you should find a writing group or community of writers (some tips here) for the best possible experience. (P.S. If you happen to live in Boise, you can join us every month for Freewrite Nite for some dedicated writing time.)

There are plenty of other resources out there for writers online – from courses to podcasts to articles to Facebook groups. Here is just a sampling of some I either use or think look neat:

  • Tim Clare – a writer with an amazing array of programs and podcast episodes
  • Writing Excuses – a podcast with 12 seasons and all kinds of topics
  • Writer’s Digest – a huge website full of resources for writers
  • Some writing prompts (also there are plenty of those all over the place)
  • 750 Words: an accountability website of sorts, meant to help you write every day

Whatever resources you have or know of, consider taking advantage of them if you really do want to write. Or, plan on writing later, when you know you’ll have more time.

5. Get Set Up for Later

 Tasha says,

I think writing in the summertime sounds more romantic than it actually is. Sitting under a tree and creating the next great American novel is a fun dream, but the truth is that 95* weather and distractions from so many summer parties does not work well with productivity. I would much rather curl up with coffee on a cold winter day and write between my naps.

Certain times of the year are just impossible for writing. You’re too busy and there are too many distractions, or it just doesn’t feel like the best time to launch a new project. 

Many of these tips we’ve discussed so far start to help you do the work of setting yourself up for writing success later, when things calm down and you have more time. Even when you’re not writing, you can be thinking about writing or planning writing. Let yourself jot down ideas as they come to you, make plans for a day or weekend of writing in the fall, or just take notes about goals or projects you might want to take on the future.

One thing I’m doing that I’m pretty excited about is a program from Tim Clare called the Couch to 80K Writing Bootcamp. It’s a podcast that offers approximately 20 minute long episodes meant to help you gear up to start writing a novel in 8 weeks. Each episode includes 10 minutes of structured writing time with specific prompts, and it’s super easy and low stakes with each week laying a foundation for you to start your novel in a couple of months.

In addition to that program, I have actually been doing some exciting stuff this summer that’s helping me evolve as a writer. I wrote about it over on my blog here if you’d like to give it a read – I’ve got more details about my schedule and how I’m staying motivated.

Hopefully some of these tips help you address your summer writing (or lack thereof). We’d love to chat if you have thoughts or additional ideas, or some projects and programs of your own. Give us a holler below or on social media.