Writing on the Move

With the upcoming move, I’ll also be changing a lot of my current habits. In my experience, every time I’ve moved, my routine has gone out the window and I start again. I see this as a good thing, because we often get stuck in a rut and complain about “the same old same old”, but we never do anything about it. We always intend to, but it doesn’t happen. Moving makes you change it.

Anyway, packaged in this move is a good deal of commuting to work. When I tell people the details, their eyes go large and their mouths drop open, because they are gob smacked. OK, are you sitting down? I’ll be travelling two hours (each way) to work each day. “Are you kidding?” is a question I’ve been asked a fair bit in the last six to eight weeks. I just smile and say, “I never kid.” 😉

Yes, that’s a lot of travelling and anyone in their right mind would avoid it. Obviously I’m not in my right mind because I’m willing to do this. But the way I see it is that I’ll be sitting on a train and if I use the time effectively, this could be a very good thing! I could do exactly what I do at home, but on the train instead. In fact, I might (and should) even do more on the train as it’s uninterrupted time with no distractions. Being a writer, I am looking for ways to make some of this time my writing time – maybe the morning trip when my fellow commuters are quiet and sleepy and I’ll catch up on some reading time on what I think will be the noisier trip going home. Reading and writing have always been two of my loves, yet over recent years I have found that both have slipped further and further away from me. The commuting will bring them back to me and, believe it or not, the prospect is exciting!

The reading part of this scenario is easy. I take a book on the train and read it. No surprises there. However, I’ve been thinking about how I can make the most of my new “writing time”. Years ago, I would have bought myself a notepad or exercise book and written longhand. These days, I hate doing that. It’s fine for planning, but not effective (for me) for writing. So I started looking at mini notebooks (the laptop kind). Not only would I have all my files with me, I could happily type away to my heart’s content. Perfect!

Once I got the notion that this would be the way to go, I started checking them out. They are small, light and would provide exactly what I need. But…to buy one would set me back around $600. I could get an Asus EeePC for $327, which has Linux instead of Windows (I don’t have a problem with this), but the keys are quite small and I believe it would hinder my typing to the degree of being frustrating. Acer, HP, Dell and Toshiba have their own versions out, with larger keyboards. However, the problem is that I already have a normal sized laptop which works perfectly well (and is not even a year old yet) and I can’t justify spending $600 on a mini laptop. Admittedly, my current laptop is large and quite heavy compared to the smaller versions and wouldn’t really be suitable for lugging to work and back each day, but does that give me an open license to purchase another laptop?

Why not buy second hand, at a fraction of the cost? Sometimes I amaze myself at how brilliant I am. So I went to ebay (and a couple of other online auction places) to check out what bargains were available. In my mind, I’d be spoilt for choice, but in reality I discovered that purchasers on these sites obviously haven’t done their homework and they were buying used good for almost the same price as a brand new one. In many cases, purchasers of the Asus EeePC were paying more than shop prices! What’s wrong with these people?

Now I’m not sure what to do. I can see this travelling time being a perfect time to write, but I’m loathe to spend the money to set myself up because I don’t know how long I’ll be commuting. If I don’t buy the mini notebook, I know the new habits I form after I move will be detrimental to my writing, but if I do buy it I might only get a few months use out of it. Then again, I might love the routine and not want the commuting to stop.

I guess if I buy it and then stop the commuting in coming months, then I could put it up on ebay and hope some fool gives me my money back…or more!

Three Easy Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write

by Will Kalif

Writing is a wonderful, yet sometimes, very hard thing to do. Often it is very easy to not “make the time” to write and nobody is going to motivate you. You have to motivate yourself. Here are three techniques that will get you writing.

Technique 1: Modify Your Internal Dialogue

The biggest reason why a person doesn’t write is the internal dialogue that is run when making the attempt to write. It usually takes the shape of unreasonable questions like “What should I write? Or What if my writing doesn’t make any sense? Or What if my dream of writing is just silly?” These questions become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you hear yourself asking these questions you should immediately interrupt this pattern by replacing it with new questions like: “What kind of fun things are going to happen in my fictional world today or what challenges will my main character overcome today?” This shifts the focus from you to the world you are writing about. This is extremely effective in that it erases the thoughts of doubt you are having and starts a train of thought about the writing.

Technique 2: The Carrot

There are common tools used to motivate people in all sorts of ways and there is no reason why you can’t use these tools on yourself. I keep a pint of my favorite ice cream in the freezer with a note on it: “Did you write?” It is as simple as that. If I don’t write I don’t get the reward. You can set yourself a word or page count goal and then establish a reward for achieving it. And with writing it is very important to establish a time line too! You have to say something like: “If I write a page every day this week I am taking myself out to dinner on Saturday to celebrate.” And make sure you stick with it. No writing and no ice cream.

Technique 3: The Stick

As funny as it sounds this is a technique that really works on two different levels. Assign yourself an unpleasant task like cleaning the bathroom or organizing the garage. If you don’t make your writing goal then this will be your penalty. I have used this technique and it is really effective. And the interesting thing about how this technique works for me is that while I am doing the chore I assigned myself I am thinking up new ideas, scenarios and plots for my writing. For me, simple tasks that take a few hours seem to clear my mind and free me to think. So even if I lose the challenge I still win.

Writing is an extraordinarily rewarding pursuit. Yet sometimes it can be a very hard thing to do. It is just putting words down on paper and you have been doing this since the age of four. So don’t worry about anything and just write. The only way to get good at it, as with anything else, is to actually do it.

About the Author:
Will Kalif is the author of two epic fantasy novels. He is currently working on his third novel in that genre and his fourth novel in the genre of horror. You can check out his writing and his other interesting projects on his website – http://www.stormthecastle.com

The Lure of a New Project

If you visit a lot of writers’ websites, you’ll soon find a large majority of them openly admit to starting more stories than they finish. There are several reasons for this, but I’m going to talk about only one of those reasons today – the lure of a new project.

Yesterday, after a strong fight against it, I allowed the lure of a new project to take hold of me. I must say that the feeling is quite overwhelming and I can attest that the excitement of working on something new and fresh is what forces writers to stray from their current project. The writer has not stopped loving the old project; they just need a complete change of scenery. We do this all the time in everyday life. We change jobs when we start feeling bored and depressed with the old one. We seem to change partners at the drop of a hat these days. So why can’t a writer change projects too?

We spend many long months, even years, planning and writing a project (this is especially true when writing a series). Is it any wonder that we grow a little tired of the … well, same old, same old? To me, it’s not surprising at all. New ideas are always surfacing. We might write the idea down, but we will usually return to the job at hand. However, as the months tick by, the lure is more tempting and then…before we realise what’s happening, we have strayed.

Be warned, if you allow the lure to take you too often, then you will be one of the writers who openly admit to starting more stories than they finish. Do you want to fall into that category? I believe none of us do.

A serious writer will discipline themselves against the lure. They will set up guards to force the enemy back. They will build traps to stop the evilness from approaching their sanctuary. They will do whatever it takes to see their current project completed and submitted. That’s how a writer becomes an author. They submit completed manuscripts for publication, which is something you cannot do if you never finish a manuscript.

So, take this as a warning. The lure of a new project feels great. It’s exciting. It’s even inspiring and motivational. But if you give in to this weakness too often, you’ll never finish a project…and you’ll never become a published author.

How to Murder Your Muse

A muse is similar to a witch’s familiar, which is usually associated with a black cat. The cat is a companion to the witch, but it doesn’t do the work of the old hag (although it can be a pair of extra eyes, which I suppose she could find helpful). A muse on the other hand is meant to fill the writer with extraordinary ideas and help the words flow like the gushing waters over a waterfall. In other words, the muse is using the unsuspecting writer and is writing the novel through them.

I’m not sure I like that idea. When I finish my manuscripts I want to know that all that hard work is actually mine, and that I haven’t been something else’s vessel to get the work done.

To be honest, I’m not even sure I believe in muses but if you insist you do have a muse and you really want to be rid of it, how do you murder that pesky presence?

You could try to trap the little devil, but I haven’t heard of anyone being successful in this task. Muses are adept at hiding just when you need them most. In fact, they take great delight in playing hide and seek and will often disappear for days, if not weeks, at a time.

You could fool it into believing you’re not ready to sit down and write, because a muse loves to appear at those times. It knows the writer gets frustrated and annoyed when it’s an inconvenient moment and that gives the muse a thrill. The excitement is heightened when the writer has absolutely nothing to write on too. Oh, how the muse enjoys that.

I must hang my head in shame, because I’m not able to tell you how to actually “murder” your muse. I wouldn’t want the authorities knocking on my door and accusing me of being the mastermind behind such an act. I believe the best line of attack is to go the other way – ignore it completely. Every time it shows its ugly head, push it to one side and don’t listen (and you’ll feel a certain amount of enjoyment after doing this for a while). The muse, however, will find this treatment intolerable. A word of warning, muses have a temper and it’s quite amusing to watch them stamp their feet and shout profanities so you’ll have to keep your own amusement in check. If you are strong enough to do this for a prolonged period (a couple of weeks should do it) then the blighter will pack up and leave.

You see, a muse wants everything its own way. It’s not interested in your plans (especially fast approaching deadlines) and it certainly doesn’t care about the assorted ideas you have. The muse looks down at its vessel as being inferior and…well, to put it bluntly…stupid. The writer must do as the muse directs or all Hell breaks out. It’s that simple.

However, we writer types know we are not inferior and we certainly are not stupid. If we sit down and think about it carefully, we don’t need the muse. All the muse is doing is dictating when we can write and what we write about. We have our own ideas and once we rid ourselves of the fearsome muse, we’ll be able to write whenever we want…and what’s more, we’ll be able to write in peace.

How to Get More Writing Done

No Plot No ProblemThis is another topic that is inspired by Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

Chris said that after the first year of NaNoWriMo he discovered an urge to seriously write the next best seller. He quickly arranged for three months off work so that he could dedicate himself to the edit of the manuscript he’d written during NaNo (which he describes as a very bad rough draft). If he was able to find time to write whilst working ten hour days, meeting friends for dinner a couple of times a week, and still fitting in the house cleaning, laundry and all those errands we just have to do each day, then imagine how much he’d get done if he had all day to write!

I bet you can guess what happened.

He found it hard enough to get out of bed before 2pm, let alone sit down and write. He did everything (including building a squirrel run) but what he planned to do in those three months.

I can relate to this. Every single time I’ve had time off work, I have hardly written a thing. I always feel guilty if I just sit down and start writing, so I talk myself into doing the washing or vacuuming first. That should make me feel better. But it never stops there, because then I feel as if I have to do the dusting and clean the bathroom. Hey, I’ve done just about all the house work by this stage so I may as well finish it off. I won’t have anything to feel guilty about then. Right? Then I’m feeling tired and figure I’ll sit and stare at the wall for ten minutes…while I rest. I end up taking a nap and before I know it the sun is setting and evening has arrived and I’ve wasted the whole day…again. The next day I find some other reason(s) to feel guilty.

The reason for this is: When we are complaining there are not enough hours in the day as we successfully juggle family, work, home and the thousand other things we have to do each day, every second we spend writing is precious. It’s a reward. It’s our special time, just for us. As humans we enjoy precious rewards and make the most of them. But when we have eight hours a day, every day, in which to write, the pressure sets in and writing becomes a chore. We have to produce something great. We have to come up with lots and lots of ideas; there’s no excuse, is there, as we have plenty of time to think of them. We have to prove how good a writer we are. The result is that we find it difficult to write.

For some of us, to be productive, we have to be busy, busy, busy. If you are one of those people, you are out of your mind to try and take all those other chores away. My most creative writing period was when my sons were young and I worked full time. I was only able to snatch a few hours writing time late on a Friday and Saturday night, but I managed to write two manuscripts with word counts of over 200,000 words each in that time. That’s a total of about 450,000 words in two years.

Now I still work full time, but I have most evenings to myself these days. In the last couple of years, I’ve written less than 100,000 words. That’s a huge difference. Granted, back in the “olden” days there was no internet to distract me, but that’s no excuse.

Writers write; everyone else talks about it.

Enforcing a Deadline

No Plot No ProblemOn Friday night I actually started reading No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

Chris Baty, the author, is the founder of NaNoWriMo and starts off by telling us the history of the project. He wrote about the first year NaNo came into existence and how there were only twenty odd people taking part. Then he went on to tell us what he learned that month and how it sparked his interest in writing a novel…for real.

Chris writes No Plot? No Problem! tongue in cheek – but there are some inspiring comments to be found in the book (and I’ve only read the introduction and first chapter so far).

One statement that got me thinking was what he said about the most important ingredient in writing. He claims it’s not coffee and it’s definitely not character, plot or setting. The most important ingredient in writing is having a deadline.

Without a deadline, we sit back and take it easy. We relax and procrastinate. Why shouldn’t we? There’s plenty of time to get the job done so why not leave it until tomorrow and do something else today – like sleep in, or read, or watch the TV, or play a computer game. We can always write tomorrow.

This attitude never allows a writer to finish a project. After several months of working half-heartedly on a story, we get sick and tired of the characters and the setting and start on something fresh. This cycle can be never ending. And this only provides the writer with several half-finished stories and no enthusiasm.

However, with a deadline, we will knuckle down and get the job done. Of course, we can set our own deadlines, and for a disciplined writer that works well, but for most of us we know we can change the deadline if “life” throws other issues at us. Although this isn’t a sin, it does mean that projects still don’t get finished because the deadline is self imposed and flexible.

But a serious writer who is given a real deadline, that is not flexible, will soon discover that inspiration and the need to produce something submittable will force the writer to lock themselves away from the world and get the job done. Having a solid deadline means we will write everyday until the story is complete, polished and submittable.

I agree with this and now I challenge all writers who set goals for themselves to think of those deadlines they give themselves as solid, no excuse acceptable, deadlines.

What I Learned

This month, because of Mini-NaNo, I learned something about myself as a writer.

I don’t like to write every day. And I don’t intend to write every day again (unless I do another Mini-NaNo, which is highly likely, but I doubt I’ll wait until next Novermber).

Every writer is different. Some like to write in short spurts – writing a few paragraphs then wandering off to do something else, then coming back to write another few paragraphs before wandering off again. Others love to sit and write for hours on end – losing themselves to the story, forgetting to eat and the housework etc. Some from each group will write every day, whilst some will write when the mood takes them, and others only write on set days each week.

However you decide to write is up to you. As long as you do write. As long as the routine you chose gets the words down and the story told.

Personally, I prefer to set a goal to write a chapter a week. It doesn’t matter if I write that chapter in bits every day, or over several days, or all in one sitting. As long as at the end of the week the chapter is finished. Naturally, if I write more than the required chapter, that’s a bonus and I normally don’t include that in the tally for the following week.

What have you recently learned about yourself as a writer? How did this new found knowledge come about?

Recipe for Successful Writing

If nothing else, participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo (or a mini version of it) has taught me a valuable lesson. And I’m only on day 4!

As a reader, when I read, I need to be feed excitement on every page. I need a reason to want to turn the page and keep reading. Reaching the end of a chapter that ends on a cliffhanger is great, because I want to turn the page and read on, even when I know I have to put the book down and go to bed. This is a sign of a good book, to me.

Writing is much like reading. Even though the writer knows exactly where the story is heading (in most cases), the writer needs cliff hangers too. Sure, some writers can sit at the computer – day in, day out – and write with no trouble whatsoever. However, I believe that writing is hard work and most writers struggle to get the right words. In the last four days, I’ve discovered a new recipe for successful writing.

  • Never write ’till you drop. You are exhausting yourself and your mind and body will not thank you for it.
  • Set small daily word count goals, instead of huge ones that may be impossible to achieve. Reaching the small goal is easier to do, but it’s also inspiring. Who cares if you only write 500 words a day. That’s 3,500 words a week. That’s 14,000 words a month. That’s 168,000 words a year. That’s nothing to be ashamed of and at least you’ll get the project finished.
  • Stop writing, even if the words are flowing nicely, on a cliffhanger. Don’t continue writing the scene in a frenzy and stop when it’s finished. Why? Because the next time you sit down to start writing you will struggle to get started. Getting started is the hardest part of writing. But if you have stopped in the middle of an exciting scene, you will eagerly sit down and start pounding away at the keyboard without having to find inspiration. The inspiration is already there. You won’t forget where the scene is heading over night and you’ll be itching to get back to the keyboard in order to finish writing that scene. And when you do finish the scene, you continue writing until you reach another cliffhanger before you stop again.

I’ve been using these steps for my Mini-NaNo and it’s working a treat. I haven’t been pushing myself to the limit. My goal each day is 835 words, yet each day the total work count is increasing steadily. This alone inspires me, but then, because I’ve stopped in the middle of an exciting scene I feel inspired to return to my work and keep typing.

You should try it.