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

fiction, writing

Writing process? Part one

Advice about writing? What is my process? Well, first it’s just write. Write as much as I can, when I can and make time for it.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated. Let’s see if I can answer over a couple of posts.

Part one: Planning plants?

I used to write pure ‘by the seat of my pants’ aka Pantser, and just let the story tell itself through me. It was all very Romantic Poets – the wind through the lute and me just the instrument to the divine muse.

I got several novels written that way, but when I gave them to publishers or various others to look over, there were big problems with them.

e.g. The plot ambled around. The B plot started half way through the book instead of near the start as a concurrent stream. The characters made choices which were bizarre.

Some of those manuscripts are salvagable with some hard work, but looking at myself and realising I wanted to write fast, get something out there and hopefully make a little money, I knew I there had to be a better way.

So, in August and September last year I changed it up.

I read this article about increasing daily word count to 10,000 words.

Now, I’m generally enthusiastic about my work, and I can sort of find time most of the time, but planning was where I fell down. Like the Romantic poets I mentioned above, I didn’t believe in it. I thought I was above it.

Well, that’s just pretentious nonsense, isn’t it? You can’t sit around and hope a divine muse will pop into your house and dictate a book to you. You have to do the mahi and make it happen. And that meant planning.

There’s a lot of great books out there on planning* and I’m sorry but I haven’t read a single one. I had a fire under my butt and I wanted to get started immediately. So I went to planning articles and beat sheets.

Beat sheets are wonderful. Beat sheets break down the story beats into acts and important turning points, and there’s all these wonderful genre specific ones out there, too!

I’m a big fan of Jami Gold’s worksheets. She has put a ton of work into breaking down different genre and explaining each beat in a succint way.

So, I grab the beat sheet for the kind of book I’m writing and then brainstorm some things about the story.

Who are the characters? (I’ll do a post on my character notes, because I find them hilarious). Name the characters, what are their relationships and what are they most afraid of? Then I start mapping out the novel scene by scene using the beat sheet.

I don’t map the scene out exhaustively, I suppose I’m a little afraid of feeling like it’s done already, and losing the impetus to write it. So I give myself generic description. Something like:

Intro character A = house routine with daughter M – visit Important place – meet character B there. Show A’s need for love, and a way out of his lonely routine

Or

Character A is in the backyard , is startled by figure – heavy on atmosphere and description, then startle awake.

You can see I don’t give myself too much to go on, just enough to get the scene in my head so I can write it fully. Also reminding myself to write atmosphere is important or I’ll rely on dialogue too much. This makes me a planster – a planner who also writes by the seat of my pants.

I’d love to show you a picture example of one of my plot plans but it’s all spoilers for unpublished books… maybe someday.

I write this all longhand and leave lines in between each scene for extra notes. Characters can surprise you, they can move the story forward or change their minds when you didn’t expect it.

I’ve also found that as I write I might see a need for another scene to expand on something, so I give myself room for that as well.

Then, plan done, I just start writing those scenes. It really does save time, and it lets me see the shape of the story in advance. It ensures my B plot is present and interconnecting with the A plot, and it means when I’m focused I can just tear through words.

I don’t believe in divine wind from Heaven any more. I believe in working hard as often as I can, instead and tools like a beat sheet have really helped me with that.

*Romancing the Beat and Save the Cat! seem to be the two most recommended, and I have every intention of reading them… some day…

writing

How to form a Daily Writing habit

I’m trying out graphics, not sure about this one tbh

First and foremost, a daily writing habit doesn’t work for everyone, so if you’re setting out to make one for yourself know that it’s okay if you don’t write every single day. You can have break days, and you can have break weeks, and all of that is good and normal.

I’ve had some luck using a project like NaNoWriMo, where there’s a community and a special website where you can track your writing for each day, you have a goal and the site shows you graphs of your progress. That can be very motivating! But NaNoWriMo only runs once a year, and CampNaNo is a couple of times more. So although those are great short term options, if you want a proper habit it’s probably not what you want to start with.

Instead, make a deal with yourself to really do this. I’ve recently come to the realisation that people make time for the things that really matter to them. You hang out with your most important friends, you spend time on the most important piece of work. If you want to create a piece of writing every day you have to make it a priority. No more ‘I just can’t find time’ excuses, if this is important to you, you’ll make time for it.

Where do you find the time?
– wake up an hour early and write then
– your lunch break
– as soon as you get home from work
– after dinner, instead of watching TV

Okay, so I’ve made the time, what do I do now?

Set a goal for how many words you’re going to write each day. It might be a certain word count, or a certain number of pages, or just ‘more than a couple of sentences’. Your goal is yours to determine.

Staring at the blank page can be a terrifying thing. I know that. There’s a couple of options I can suggest:

  • Plan first. I’ve never traditionally been a planner, I was a ‘pantser’ which for those not in the ‘biz, means ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ writer. Don’t do this, if you’re just starting out. Make a plan, use some beat sheets, or write down the ideas you’ve had, what things you want to cover, make a mind map, have something to go on.
  • Freewriting. Just start writing with no agenda or judgement. Don’t worry if it’s meaningless drivel or just you writing ‘I don’t know what to write and I feel silly’, you just do it. Write whatever random stream of conciousness comes to you. The point isn’t the output itself, but the act of writing. The more you do this, the easier it becomes, and it opens up something in the creative centers of the brain.
  • Two projects at once. This is a controversial one, but one I learned off Lauren Graham. Have two projects on the go and switch between them whenever you get bored. If you write longhand this is easy enough to do, with two books open. If you write online as I do, have two tabs open. In fact, as I write this I am multitasking with my current novel in another tab and a roleplaying game scenario in another. Although that’s more than two projects so… ignore that.
  • Recount something. Just write out a dream you had, or an outing you’ve been on, or a memory you treasure. Anything you can just start into and keep going until it’s done.

Whatever you choose to do, do it one day, then make sure you do it again next time.

Then what?

I can’t give you a magic trick, or foolproof technique which will turn you into a daily habit writer. Because it’s entirely up to you to do. But I want to assure you that if you do want to do it, you can. You just have to want it, make time for it, and then get going.

Other tips:

  • If you’re writing online and finding yourself distracted
  • Something like 750 words can be a really good way to ‘earn’ badges by updating each day.
  • Find a check in buddy or group, where you can check up on each other or encourage as needed
  • Carry a notebook, or use a notetaking app to capture ideas as you have them. I can’t tell you how many brilliant ideas I’ve had which are gone forever because I thought I’d remember them on my own
  • It’s okay if you miss a day, and actually letting yourself off the hook for a day or longer can be very energising. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect. You can always pick it up again when you have the brain space

I hope this has been of some help, please comment if you have any additional tips or ideas !

writing

Travel blogging made easy – 8 tips which will streamline your process

Last year I managed to write a blog post for every day while I was on my honeymoon in Japan. You can read it here, if you missed it, or you’re new, or if you want to re-read.

How did I do it? How hard was it? Well, it was hard, but I did a few things to make it easier on myself. Here are my tips for making it easy on yourself and making a travel blog that people will tell you they enjoyed irl*! (*Results may vary)

Consider the blog, and your audience: My driving motivator to write a travel blog was to keep Anna’s grandmother informed of our travels. As it turned out, a lot of our family and friends also wanted to read along. So when I was writing the blog, I considered the kinds of things they wanted to know: were we having fun? what are some weird things we saw/did? what have we learned about Japan? what are some big cultural differences we’ve experienced which aren’t obvious from the outside? Those questions are guidance for the kind of content I wanted to put on. I went pretty straightforward travelogue style, but for a different audience maybe I would’ve concentrated on budget, savings or hidden gems. I don’t know. The point is, having this content direction in mind makes it easier when you come to write.

Gardens at Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

Adjust as you go: Based on comments on the blog, and on social media as I shared the blog posts, I could see what people were most responding to. For example, my audience liked to read descriptions of food, and see pictures of said food, and have details about how it’s eaten. Fantastic, I dedicated more blog space to the food.

Notebook bullet points : You don’t want to be sitting down to blog and then have to gather your thoughts. Instead keep a notebook and pen with you at all times, and make little notes on things you want to remember. You can, if keen, make the notes as you go – in subways or as you eat lunch. I did this a little, but more often I’d be doing this as a precursor to blogging. I’d open my travel journal and write a bullet pointed list of the stuff I wanted to remember.

Make use of liminal spaces: If you’re moving around a lot, you’ll probably have some time in trains, buses or other transport. You may also have some half hours or longer waiting for buses, trains or other transport. These dead zones are a great time to whip out your notebook and make some notes. Or take some photos or just reflect on the kind of thing you want to put in that day’s blog.

Late at night or early in the morning: Don’t try and carve out time in your day just for blogging. The purpose of your trip is to explore and have fun, after all. Blogging is a side project after those things. Keep your focus on fun, your traveling companions and experiencing everything. With that in mind, the best times for me to blog were first thing in the morning or after dinner when we were back in the hotel. Just before sleep meant I got some nice tipsy blog entries in, which is always fun for the reader.

Pictures say a thousand words: obviously you do want to wow people with your gorgeous prose, your descriptions of experiences, and the way things made you feel. But don’t waste time describing something you got a good photo of. Videos are great too, and allow people to feel like they’re there with you. Stick photos in, people love travel photos, and it saves you time.

Dotonbori, Osaka

Have fun with it: You’re the first audience for your content, so make sure you’re writing and publishing things which interest you. If you’re enjoying yourself, and enjoying the blogging that will sparkle through and make your posts engaging.

…Or stop: Controversial I know. But if your blog becomes a chore, and it’s bringing you no joy, just stop updating. People can tell if you’re just updating out of a sense of obligation, and the posts won’t read well. They’ll feel forced and dull. If you don’t enjoy it, just stop. You can always post thoughts and feelings once you’re back home. Also, no one’s going to tell you off for not blogging every day. People expect that you’re busy traveling, and will forgive you for a missed day or two, or delayed posts from once you’re home again and are rested and are able to take some time to craft the content nicer.

So that’s my advice, a travel blog is a lot of fun and I certainly got a lot of lovely comments from people who enjoyed reading along. Plus, it’s awesome to be able to read back through the posts and relive all your memories.