Writers, writing

Boosted productivity via Bullet journal genius

I’ve been using a bullet journal this year, and I’ve found it useful in a lot of ways. Specifically I’ve been loving tracking my word counts/pages edited for each day. This is an example month spread from May. I used to just have words across the whole page, but then I realised I wanted to have editing and learning and things accounted for as well.

So, here’s May with the central spindle date margin, editing etc on the left and wordcount on the right. The running total wordcount for the whole project is on the far right.

I usually try to focus on one project, but you can see I jumped around some (and did work on two projects in one day towards the end… ) I also had a full week of learning, but it gives you a general idea.

But then for the month of August, I tried this system from youtuber Garrett Robinson:

Suddenly my hours were focused. I was less likely to get distracted, or mooch around on other tabs on my laptop. I would be tempted to but just say to myself ‘no, this is my hour to do X’ and apparently that was all my brain needed to really knuckle down. So to speak.

Here’s my running totals for August. You can see that my daily word counts have shot up, I’ve been more focused on a single project, and my pages edited have increased as well. August 11th is, as far as I can tell, my most productive words day ever. It’s a heady feeling.

More than that, I wrote 25k words in one week. I think my previous record was a very exhausting 20k week which resulted in almost nothing the week after. With this system I was still energised, I wanted to keep writing, but I knew my editing on another project was my priority so I jumped into that instead.

This last weeked I travelled to Christchurch and went to the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference, so my word count’s been a bit all over the place. But I learned a lot and have a nice new list of actions for various projects, etc so. It’s all good.

I love this bullet journal tracker, it really really works for me, and I recommend anyone looking to up their productivity gives it a go, for one month at least. I’ll definitely be using it for September and churning out some serious words.

Writers, writing

Writing process? part five- the editing/redrafting

In a lot of ways editing is my least favourite part of the process, but at the same time I do enjoy it, and I do like seeing that my skills in editing have improved.

So the first thing is that I was under the impression you need to let a manuscript ‘rest’ in a drawer for 6 months to a year, so that you can gain distance from the work and let your sub conscious work out plot problems or whatever.

This is, to put it bluntly, crappola.

You can edit something right away. Or you can wait a week if there are puzzles that need fixing up, or you can set it aside. But know that on some level the setting it aside for a time is you avoiding the next step. Remember that the resistance in your brain is trying to stop you succeeding, and telling yourself ‘no, I must not look at it for X time’ is a really easy way to never take the next step.

That said, a little distance can be nice, and sometimes you want distance. If it’s a particularly problematic manuscript for example.

Anyway, assuming you have let precisely the right time elapse, here’s some tips on how I wrangle the editing process.

Weasel words – Or filtering words. These are words which find their way into your writing but can easily be dropped or rephrased in order to make the sentence stronger. For example: That, just, looked, up, down – you’ll have your own words that you’re using or overusing, and a quick Ctrl + F + search for that word will highlight how many times in your manuscript you have it. Whittle them out, rephrase the sentence and see how your prose improves.

Further reading: Filtering words , words and phrases to discard

Beta readers – Beta readers are amazingly magical unicorns who like your work enough to read it and give you feedback on it. If you find good, reliable beta reader do whatever you can to keep them. I have a brilliant one who keeps track of plot holes, points out when a character’s turn of phrase doesn’t sound like them, and also peppers the manuscript with compliments and “Oh my God, I know these feels!”
Besides giving feedback on a draft, you can also bounce ideas off a trusted beta reader, such as “what if I made this guy the villain?” and see what they think.

Actual professional editors – these are worth their weight in gold, and although it can be a little daunting to pay someone a large chunk of cash when you’re starting out, the difference a good editor can make to your manuscript will definitely pay itself off in time. You learn more about writing craft, your own weaknesses as a writer and new techniques that can improve your next draft.

Proofreaders – different to an editor. An editor will look at characterisation, tension highs and lows, ways to improve the story itself. A proofreader will look for grammar errors and typos. Freaking genius, because even if you’ve done this yourself you’re going to miss things. You get so used to your own words that your brain skims over the details.

Editing software – I love Grammarly, but there’s also Hemingway, ProWriteAid, even the spell check in Google docs or Word. They’ll all pick up things you might have missed. Grammarly and Hemmingway will also pick up sentences which are too complex, or incidents of passive voice.

So I’ll generally do a few passes, one searching for my weasel words, one with beta reader feedback, then send it to the professional editor and do another pass with their feedback. Then run it through grammarly and word spell/grammar check and made the changes those programmes find which I also agree with.

And then Proofreader time, which I do last before uploading to Amazon. Amazon itself will also find a typo or two sometimes!

So editing is time consuming and it’s hard, and I don’t really like it, but it’s necessary and it’s a great way to upgrade my writing skills.

You’re never going to get a perfect, typo-free and perfectly punctuated manuscript, so at some point you have to say ‘fuck it, that’ll do’ or you’ll be polishing that thing forever. Don’t do that, accept it’s as good as it’ll get and let it go.

Writers, writing

Writing Process? Part four – the perspecacity

Okay, so let’s say you’ve read and applied the previous posts, you’ve started something and you had momentum for a while. But then something came up – maybe a cool new TV show was released and you’ve marathoned that for days. Or maybe you got sick or work got intense and you haven’t had the headspace to write.

It happens to everyone.

I find around the 8 – 10 thousand word mark I often trail off and think about a new, more exciting project I could be working on. I’ll can always come back to this one later, right?

How do you keep with the same thing?

Honestly? you just have to be super strict on yourself. There’s always going to be a time when you struggle to motivate. You have to find what motivates you. Here’s some ideas, but you have to find your own golden ticket…

  • Read through the plan for the book and remind yourself of the neat stuff to come
  • Write your back of the book blurb. Writing the blurb is so depressing and difficult I’d rather do almost anything but write it
  • Reconnect with your reason for writing – the most motivation I had was at the start of the year when I was in a job I actively disliked. I hated having to go into the office, and I wanted a way out – writing could be the way out, but I have to complete manuscripts for that to work
  • Daydream about your potential future readers, and how much they might love your story
  • Bribe yourself. I really want to play my new video game, but I have to get words down. Well, if I get X many words today, then I can take a break and play for half an hour. Then I can write more and ‘earn’ more time. Then if you get into the flow of writing, you can put the reward off a bit longer and earn bonus extra words. Brains are easy to trick sometimes!
  • Some sort of tracker or progress recorder, which has worked especially well for me lately (more on that soon)

It’s hard work.

You have to put the next words down or the thing will never get finished. But just think of the end point – if you get to the end of the manuscript then you will have finished a manuscript! and that’s pretty miraculous, really.

You just gotta want it and keep on wanting it as hard as you can. Then you do the work and keep on doing the work. Then one day you can type ‘the end’ and feel like the big goddamn hero that you are.

There’s no foolproof method here, it just comes down to understanding your own reasons for writing and what motivates you. If you want to write for money then of course you have to have completed manuscripts to publish. If you want to write to tell your story and share it with people – you have to have it finished to do that.

If you have a way to force yourself back into a WIP when you’re in that ‘fallen out of love’ stage please comment and let me know!

Uncategorized, writing

Writing process? Part three – the actual writing

I’ve written before about a daily writing habit, but I think there’s more to actually writing. And by actually writing I really mean writing enough of a first draft to complete a piece of work. So, here we go…

Part three: the actual writing

Honestly? Finishing a draft is the hard bit because it requires self discipline and saying no, and forcing yourself to be creative. I don’t have a tried and true method for making any of this easy, but here’s the basic tenets I stick to, that I’ve found helpful to remember in terms of writing a first draft.

Don’t edit as you write – it’s really easy to fall into a trap of perfecting things as you go. You can’t do this. Your job when writing a first draft is to get the first draft done.

Don’t judge – following on from point one, it’s really easy to write something and immediately think ‘oh no, that sucks, I’m terrible’. You can’t do that on your first draft, instead you have to stick to your plan and …

Just spew it out – write as much as you can as fast as you can manage. There’s lots of quotes around this ‘you can’t edit a blank page’ and ‘you have to write what you’re going to throw away’, that kind of thing.

Don’t over commit or stress yourself out – signing up to something like NaNoWriMo or giving yourself a really big daily word count to start up with, or even telling yourself you have to write every day is a quick way to burn yourself out. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you just give yourself five minutes a day, or a half hour, or aim for 500 words, whatever works. Don’t call yourself a failure if you don’t manage to stick to your initial goal. Just look at your goal and see if you need to make a change to it. Then forgive yourself and try again when you can.

If it’s boring, skip to the next bit – this is a hard one to realise when you’re in the woods of writing, but if you’re struggling with a scene, it could be because it’s boring. You can either skip this bit (often when it’s ‘and then character A got to place B’ you can safely skip it). If it’s a scene you need for plot reasons, then my favourite way to fix it is to ask what would make it fun? Don’t let a boring scene slow you down, nothing boring has to be included. Readers will find it boring if you do. Another thing you can ask yourself is…

What’s the worst that could happen? – conflict drives story and reveals character, so look for it in every scene. Then at the end of the story, you can ask ‘what’s the best that could happen?’ and make things brilliant for your babies… well, assuming you’re writing something where everyone survives and your leads get a happy ending. I’m writing romance at the moment and it may be influencing things.

You have permission to write whatever – I know this is kind of obvious, but I have definitely run up against an internal belief that I have to write something worthy or I’m wasting my time. Now, this is a stupid belief and it needs deconstructing.

First: what is worthy? I don’t know, but it sounds stuffy and elitist.

Second: Why the fuck shouldn’t you write just exactly what you want to write?

Third: Forget worthy. Channel your inner child, think about the coolest most fun thing you can imagine and tell a story about that. Worthy is a trap (and an excuse not to write).

So, there you have it. Those are the things I try and remember, and generally this has helped me.

Some other hacks if I’m having trouble getting going:

  • write on paper in a cafe or library
  • voice to text on whatever programme you have, and dictate your story
  • alternate writing on a new draft with another project – have both open in tabs on your laptop and switch between them when you get distracted
  • Pomodoro technique or writing ‘sprints’ of a certain time

Please comment and let me know if you have how to write hacks, everything works differently for different people, so you never know what might hit and what might miss.

Read the Writing process series
Part one – Planning
Part two – Characters

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Writing by not writing

Sometimes not writing is part of writing.

I know that sounds counterintuitve, but it’s true. Recently I spent a hard core month writing as fast as I could. I was very in the zone, and I got a lot of progress done, which was awesome. However when the month was up, I was somewhat burned out.

I gave myself a couple of days off, and agonised over not getting more words written. I mooched around the house, watched Netflix and beat myself up about not being productive. looked at my stack of ‘how to write’ books and realised I could be doing something more constructive than agonising.

So I gave myself an official Learning Week.

I spent some time each day doing the following:

  • Reading books on how to write
  • Doing the Judy Blume Masterclass online
  • Reading articles I’d been putting off
  • Doing the writing assignments from Judy Blume in longhand
  • Researching how to be a successful indie author online
  • Reading novels for fun

It was really pleasant – I love learning, especially when it’s stuff I want to learn. I wouldn’t have had the same amount of fun if I were learning accountancy, for example.

Anyway, over the course of the week some cool things started to happen. I had new ideas of how to solve some of the plot problems in the end part of my novel work in progress. I had new ideas for possible new novels. I had ideas for blog posts and bits of dialogue.

I also learned about marketing myself and self-publishing, which was the aim, but even while taking time out to work on a patchwork quilt (not even learning!) my sub-conscious through up an idea of how to make a scene better.

Sometimes, when you’re working constantly on something you’re too close to it. You can’t necessarily see the problems or the solutions to known problems because you’re putting all your time into getting it done.

When I stepped back a little and allowed my brain to do other things, I solved those problems. For example, I woke up at two in the morning and realised I had to change Point of View for a climactic scene. Like, ridiculous timing but such a good results.

I definitely recommend giving yourself dedicated time to learn, and I’ve actually kept it up with a couple of hours a few times a week. I figure it’s time away from writing, but it’s upskilling and it’s giving my brain some time to process problems.

Recommended reading, based on what I’ve learned stuff from reading. (Didn’t get all of them read this week…)

Unleash the Beast by Steff Metal

Emotional Craft of Writing by Donald Maas

Write to Market by Chris Fox

On Writing by Stephen King

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On Writing

There’s a wonderful movie called I’m Your Man and it’s a documentary and a recording of a star studded tribute concert to Leonard Cohen. It’s got some incredible performances. But it’s a movie I come back to when I want some encouragement or inspiration for writing.

Having spent all of April in a frenzy of writing a lot, or nothing at all, and putting a lot of pressure on myself either way, I’m in day 2 of relaxation – stepping back and examining what I’m doing a little bit, and trying my best to be kind to myself. So, I’m watching the movie.

Here’s my favourite quote from it, and maybe my favourite quote about writing ever:

You don’t have all the time in the world, I say to myself, you know how long it takes you to get something done. So you gotta run through at least ten versions of this thing. So you have to write down what you’re going to abandon, see how it works in the whole thing and then throw it away. And then throw it away. ~ Leonard Cohen

I love this for a few reasons, but the first one is that it doesn’t play with the idea of the perfect first draft, or even that writing is easy. It acknowledges that it is work, and you have to write the garbage in order to throw it out. This quote tells me to not judge, to just write, and when it’s done, then look at it. Then chuck out what doesn’t work and then to write it again. Obviously this is somewhat easier in song form than it is with an 80k word novel manuscript, but the idea is the same.

If it is your destiny to be this labourer called a writer, you know that you’ve go to go to work every day, but you also know that you’re not gonna get it every day. ~ Leonard Cohen

There’s another good one – this idea that you have to work at it consistently, that you can’t expect it to be easy or fun all the time.

Some people make doors, carpenters. Some people cut hedges, some people are plumbers or doctors and nurses. Leonard Cohen is a songwriter, he goes to work at that. You don’t get a sense from him like ‘oh I woke up one morning and this beautiful song, there it was, freshly painted. With him, he goes ‘no, no… I hate to wait a lot time for that one’. ~ Bono

Writing, and especially, getting to something good in your writing, takes time. Time and work.

I have to keep reminding myself of these things, because I’m sometimes seized with a horrible impatience to get everything Done and Out There, but that’s not necessarily how it works.

Balance these ideas with the Agile idea of the Minimum Viable Product, or getting something out there which is Good Enough, is another mind bender. Nothing can ever be perfect, so I know I can’t keep reworking things forever. I can throw away parts ten times and twenty times, but at some point I have to say “good enough” and put it out into the world.

If you get stuck in endless rewrites, edit, perfection, then you are giving yourself the excuse to never show it to anyone, and therefore neither succeeding or failing. Perfect isn’t a thing, but good enough is. It’s knowing your definition of good enough that’s the real trick. I’m trying to learn it at the moment.

So yes, watching this movie is an education and an inspiration, and it has some brilliant music in it it too. I’m interested to hear any thoughts you have on inspiration, letting go, working at something and knowing when to let it go.