Archive for January, 2013

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When Do YOU Grab Time to Write?

January 29, 2013

Time running outLike most writers, I’m sure you have the same excuse: “ I just don’t have time to write!!” (extra exclamations added for emphasis). But like the X Files used to say, ‘the truth is out there’, I’d like to say, “the time is out there” .

What do I mean by that, you may ask? I expected that question so let me elaborate. Writers are high maintenance folk when it comes to their precious writing time. Myself included, I’ll admit. If I am going to work on an article or increase the word count on my novel, I want to have a long chunk of time in front of me. I like at least an hour, if not more to really focus and tune in to my theme or dialogue. But we must break through that high maintenance barrier if we choose to be a part-time writer.

The reality is that most of us have daily lives that get in the way. We zoom around town racing to work, running errands, preparing meals, chasing kids upstairs to brush teeth and get them to bed, etc. I’m sure this is sounding familiar.

If you are like the other 99% of writers, you cannot expect time to be your friend. You simply can’t expect to be awarded hours each day to spend in your luxurious and peaceful writing den. You have to take what is yours, and when you can get it. And the truth is, time is everywhere. Here are some examples:

Before Work

I like to get up a bit early each morning before work and spend 30-40 minutes on my laptop before I leave the house. Ugh, I can hear the groans already: “But I HATE waking up early!!” . No worries, then check out the other options below. But if you really want to be a writer and finish your story, you need to make and take time, which means you may sacrifice some sleep doing it.

Bus/Public Transportation

Do you take public transportation? Now there’s a prime example of wasted writing time. Though you can’t spread out like the bus is your own private office, you can jot down some notes on your pocket sized Moleskine notebook. Use that 30 minutes it takes to get downtown to continue plotting out your story, or figuring out a new scene. Jot down notes. Sketch out some new character traits.

Lunch Hour

Once or twice a week I’ll bring a brown bag lunch and my trusty notebook computer. The size is perfect for traveling to work. During my lunch I’ll claim a spot in the lunch room, plug into the iTunes, and type away. If you’ve got a laptop, notebook ‘puter, or any kind of tablet computer, you have no excuse not to use it for your writing project at lunch time.

Dr Office

How long have we all sat in a doctor or dentist office? Or other appointments like the DMV (shudder)? These are other times you can use to move forward with your novel.

Before Bed

Finally, you could switch off that TV (use DVR if you must record your favorite program) and type away for the last 30 minutes of the day. Sit in bed and bring your laptop. Assign this time of day to expand your word count by even 100 or 200 words.

As you can see, the time is out there. If you truly want to be a writer and at some point claim to be a published author, you must find the time to dedicate to your craft. Don’t let time be your enemy – take the time that is yours!

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Trees or Forest?

January 19, 2013

ForestDo you see the trees or do you see the forest? In writing classes we learn that this metaphor describes how we as writers get our stories on paper (or bits and bytes — choose your poison).

Those who see the trees are ones walking through the forest, passing one tree at a time along an unfamiliar trail. This type of writer likes to sit down with a blank screen or paper and begins writing with no plan. Rather, they like to see where the story takes them. Occasionally there may be a diversion onto a trail that goes nowhere, but the adventure was not lost and can be helpful somewhere further down the trail. Usually there are a higher number of revisions to this process, but these writers like the exploration.

Other writers may like to have a map of the forest in front of them, before they begin trekking through unknown territory and risk getting lost. With a pre-determined plot already outlined, the process of writing the narrative is quicker and the book falls into place much faster. Some writers say this method hinders creativity during the process of writing. And staying strict to a pre-determined plot results in a stifled story.

One camp of teachers and writers will advocate that structuring a plot before you write is the best way to go. But others, even famous novelists, will tell you that they sit down in front of a keyboard and begin typing a book from beginning to end, without ever planning where it goes.

The truth is that there is no absolute correct and proper writing procedure. But, we as writers need to figure out how we work best. That much is essential if we are to succeed in our writing.

For over a dozen years I always thought of myself as a “tree” guy, liking to make up a story or non-fiction article as I go along. However, I have a lot of false starts on my hard drive because of this.

During the three years I wrote online articles for a living, I learned to start with at least a basic structure. I outlined how-to and “tips” articles so all I had to do was fill in the gaps.

When 2013 rolled the calendar I decided to re-visit my fiction writing, and I applied similar structuring to my stories. So far I have a novel in progress with a basic outline, and dozens of scenes sketched out. I feel more confident that this story is going somewhere and am encouraged to keep writing.

Perhaps you need to take a look at your writing method. Is your current paradigm working for you? Take some time to seriously consider whether you should change to a look at the trees, or view the forest to help your writing more productive.

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Sit Down And Write

January 11, 2013

SitDownAndWrite

Yesterday I tweeted the hashtag, #sitdownandwrite. Then I thought I’d follow the hashtag to see what other tweets might include this subconscious direction. Not a single other tweet. Not one.

That surprised me. If you do a Google search for “sit down and write” you’ll get over 86 million results. Why? Because writers and authors who teach or motivate others to write like to say this as their #1 direction. Just sit down, shut up, and write.

Why is this said so frequently in published books and writing courses? Because it’s easy to procrastinate. Especially if one has a full-time job, children to take care of at home, oh, and maybe catch up on the latest Dexter episode. Understandably, life gets in the way. But the bottom line is: writers write.

I’ll admit, I’m no different. I admitted a few blog posts ago that I’m a chickenshit and getting down to writing is a complex, time-consuming, and scary proposition. But I’ve learned that what helps me sit down and write is some motivation. Here are some that might motivate you, too.

Deadlines

But back when I was writing online articles full time I had a good motivation – deadlines! Some weeks I had 30 to 50 articles assigned to me and like always I would procrastinate until they absolutely had to get done. I recall on one single day I tallied up about 25 articles totaling around 12,000 words. If I could do that every day I could write a novel almost every week! But no matter what, I always met my deadlines, which meant I had to place butt firmly in chair and ignore the signs of carpel tunnel.

Giving yourself a self-imposed deadline can help a lot. Say you want to finish your novel and have it ready to send to publishers by mid-year. That’s motivation to sit down and write at least 16,000 words each month, or 555 words per day, EVERY DAY, until then.

Schedule Your Sit Down And Write Time

For some folks it is more helpful to schedule a block of time to sit down and write. Earlybirds may want to set 30 to 60 minutes each morning at the keyboard right after they wake up. Others may want to do this the last thing before bed. Others may find that bringing a sandwich and spending 60 minutes at the laptop during lunch hour each day is the way to go.

The important thing to remember is to set a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.

Rewards

I am finding that rewards are good motivators for me. I’m a sucker for donuts, and I have a special place in my heart (and stomach) for Dove’s dark chocolate. And there’s nothing quite like a delicious local micro-brewed IPA. I allow myself to indulge these things if I reach my goals.

What do you like most? Determine that you can allow a little indulging for yourself if you just sit down and write like a good writer should.

Don’t forget that you wanted to be a writer. But nobody can call themselves a writer if they don’t sit down and write. Get to it and be proud of your results!

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Write Your Morning Pages

January 10, 2013

Have you read The Artist’s Way? If not, you should. Any creative individual whether engaged in writing, painting, singing, acting, et al, should read this book. The book’s author is Julia Cameron who since The Artist’s Way publication has become known as the guru of unleashing creative potential.

I was first introduced to Julia Cameron when I bought a used book at Powell’s Bookstore (powells.com) here in Portland. The title caught my eye and the used price fit my budget. That book was called The Right to Write. I still have the book and I have read it through twice since I purchased it, plus have collected all her other motivational books. In all her books Julia Cameron has a way of not only digging into the artist psyche, but also showing how creativity can be easily tapped and expressed. She writes in a journal-style with daily chapters, which resemble one of her biggest instructions and assignments to all writers and artists – morning pages.

Morning pages originates from The Artist’s Way, which started out as a set of organized writing course lessons Cameron taught freelance. Students found her course so helpful and motivating that she was encouraged to publish it as a book. Since 1992 this book has found its way into millions of artists’ hands. As mentioned, morning pages is an assignment where writers (or any artist) sits down each morning and simply writes out three pages of text. Could be stream of consciousness, a confession to a diary, a journal of events – whatever you feel like writing. But by doing so an artist helps tap into the subconscious mind and helps release ideas, sort out or solve problems, discover a new plot narrative, and much more.

Now if you’re like me, handwriting is no fun. I started typing when I was 14 and have been doing so ever since. After all the hours each day I spend clicking and typing my hands have developed a semi-nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Freehand writing usually results in painful cramps and gnashing of teeth.

But I found a great free website that centers around the morning pages theory, but is geared for zippy typists like me. The site is called 750words.com. The founder of 750words.com determined that three handwritten pages averages out to be about 750 words. On his website you can easily type each day into your account, and the site keeps track of whether you reach 750 words. This also allows users to type any time of day, plus motivates writers by awarding badges for writing a certain number of days in a row, typing posts under 20 minutes, and more including a NaNoWriMo badge.

I’m sure Julia Cameron approves of this helpful website. Back in 1992 when computers were still giant boxes on a home desk this option wasn’t available. But I find it to be a great tool in completing my Artist’s Way homework. Give it a try!

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

January 9, 2013

moleskine notebookThe #1 question most authors get asked during interviews is “where do you get your ideas?” What a silly question. I’d like just once for a best-selling author to answer something like, “I get them from frequent dumpster diving, and I root around in back alleys. Plus I’m a cyber stalker and I steal ideas from other authors.”

While it is a silly question, it is one of those queries that rattles about in everyone’s mind. So where do story ideas come from? That question is good for both overall story ideas and themes, and more specific ideas for plot development and scenes.

Every author has his or her own method of collecting ideas. Here are a few that I use:

1. Observation

This is probably the most-used idea catcher in use by all authors. While we like to write and believe we are creating something out of nothing, a lot of what we put into our writing comes from past observations. Even JRR Tolkien wrote an entire new world based on pre-written Norse mythology.

Observation happens every day. We have plenty of observation about our families and friends. These memories help fashion who we are and who we become, and also add flavor to our story characters.

One form of observation some writers like to do is people-watching. Sit down in a bar, or a mall, or even a busy downtown street on a sunny day. The people who walk by can provide some great character traits and dialogue. One reason that Quentin Tarantino’s movies are so good is because of the dialogue. Tarantino admits a lot of his snappy cinema dialog resulted from being a casual observer of actual dialogue. Take the time to be an observer and don’t be afraid to incorporate what you hear/see.

2. Jot it Down

It is frequently stated that inspiration rarely comes when you sit down to type out your story. It is wise to carry a small notebook or audio recorder to jot down ideas when they strike which is usually a least-expected moment. This also works for jotting down character or idea observations from #1 above.

I use a soft cover plain lined Moleskine notebook. It fits perfectly in backpack or shoulder carrier. I am on my second Moleskine notebook. I seem to like to write down a lot of ideas but fail on the motivation to follow through with them. Despite my laziness, I’m glad I have these documented resources to browse through when I need to, or have a new idea I want to expand upon.

3. Dreams

Rarely do I remember my dreams when I groggily wake up each morning, but sometimes I have such a vivid dream before I awake that I have to write down some details. I recommend having a notebook or pad of paper by your bedside so if it happens to you, there will be no excuse to get the vivid memory down before it fades.

These are but just a few main methods of capturing ideas. I say capturing because as mentioned, ideas are elusive and rarely come forth on demand. When your ideas strike you, be prepared to save them.

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Oh my God, I’m writing a Novel!

January 8, 2013

First, pay no attention to the distance between the last post and this one. I’m back now and that’s where we begin!

This post is the first of many along the journey of writing my first novel. Said novel has been about 12 years in the making, as I have had concepts, ideas, starts, stops, mental rejects, do-overs. I’ve shelved the idea. I’ve collected other ideas for novels in my little black Moleskine book. I’ve experienced dreams that I believed would make a great novel. But still nothing has come of it. Why? Because I’m a procrastinator and a big one at that. But mostly because I’m a chicken-shit.

We’re all set up with the fear of failure. And I don’t claim exemption. But here’s my internal and subconscious thought process: if I can’t write it the way I want, and have it turn out as a best seller comparable to King, Crichton, Grisham, or Rowling, then why bother.

But I’ve recognized that irrational fear. And now it is time to stomp on it. Why? Because I’m getting too damn old and I gotta do it now or just give up, man.

So here I reclaim my blog and document my journey as I write this blasted novel. I am glad I realized early in the process that the blog should follow along. Who knows – perhaps my experience could be helpful to others. And it could keep me on track.

So here’s what I promise: I’ll write posts with updated stats on the novel itself, provide information and reviews of the tools I’m using, spill guts on the psychology of writing a novel, include tips on plot development, promote ideas on publishing, and provide other resources, both online and off.

So far the novel is begun and is estimated about 2,000 words with 2 scenes written. That leaves a long way to go. And you get to join me along the way! Let’s go!