Yes, WriMoFoFo has not started well for me. I’ve been a bit stressed by the move and in an effort to appease the little monster that sits in my brain when I lay down to sleep and recites all the tasks I need to do before moving day, I have started packing already. Both the recycle and the rubbish bins are full, but the nifty WriMoFoFo spreadsheet that Liz did up for us is empty.
But there have been a lot of good moments during the packing when I’ve found little writing gems that I had completely forgotten about. As much as I procrastinate and find every excuse to not write in normal life, I’m actually quite good at keeping journals when I travel. I found one from my year in the UK which had me laughing and wasting at least an hour of packing/writing time. Here is an excerpt from my time working as a carer for a grumpy old lady and her dog.
She had a beautiful chocolate brown dog, Merlin, who had taken a fancy to me and I to him. Occasionally we escaped together for a brief walk, but due to his advanced age, his major hair loss and extensive arthritis the walks were short in both time and distance. I was also responsible for giving the dog his drugs, which he took in half a Milky Way (despite my protests that chocolate was bad for dogs; “maybe in Aus-tra-lia, but it is fine here”!?!?).
It was a whole week and a half before I stole one. I ate one of his sausages barely three days into the stint. I was hungry and he ate better than I did. He didn’t mind sharing, I asked him first. Besides, if I’m going to hell for any of my sins, it would be for giving the old lady the finger through the walls, not eating the dog food.
Perhaps a job as a carer was not the best career I could have followed, but it made for some particularly funny journal entries. This shows that we are constantly collecting material, even when we don’t know it. It also proves that the bottom drawer is no place for old writing, you need to have it out where you can see it and revive it.
I’m moving interstate. It turns out that I own quite a lot of stuff that I want to take with me and after 16 years of life in Melbourne, I have a lot of loose ends to tie up as well. The universe might as well have handed me a ‘get out of writing free’ card with a credit limit of at least two weeks. I am currently swimming in the most dangerous form of procrastination, that which appears necessary.
Getting moving quotes, cleaning, packing up and closing various accounts should not be a full time job, yet that is what I have managed to turn it into. So how do you get around these unavoidable bumps that life throws at you without hurting your writing? You use whatever time you are given to the best of your ability.
A big writing challenge I have to face is learning how to write in small snippets of time. A friend writes on the train/tram in the mornings and sometimes manages to do as many words during her commute as I do in a whole day at home! Sceptical, l tried it out on a 20 minute train ride sitting in an overcrowded carriage with people looking over my shoulder. I wrote over 300 words!
Bringing that habit home can be hard, especially when you are dealing with life stresses (like moving). At home there are too many other temptations for short spots of time; eating, reading, packing or (worst of all) TV. But you need to be strong and work out what is the best use of your time. What would it be good for you to do in that 20 minute window?
So don’t use time limits as your excuse, you do not need hours to get a few more words on the page, minutes can be enough. It all comes back to my standard writer’s block advice; just write! Besides, most tasks are best done when planned in advance, so if possible plan a block of writing time, and then a block of ‘life event management’ time. But if you can’t do that just write when you can, it will be more often than you think!
Yes, it does look like I’ve just randomly hit the keyboard to produce my title but those actually stand for something. November brings with it NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This was started in 1999 in the US by a group of friends to motivate them to write more. Since then it has spread across the world, with over 165,000 participants joining in last year.
So what is it? The premise is simple; you try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, specifically the month of November. What do you win? Nothing, you are doing it for the glory.
In my writers group (SuperNova) we have found a few problems with NaNo. Firstly, November is generally not a good month, there is the lead up to Christmas and the weather has finally turned into something you want to get out into. Secondly, 50,000 words is a lot of words. Many people miss the target and find it disheartening, hurting their writing more than helping. Finally, we are all commitment phobic, we have trouble dedicating ourselves to just one novel as the NaNoWriMo rules dictate.
Hence WriMoFoFo was born; Write More For Four. The aim is to write more words than you would normally write over a four week period. So you set your own target; 20K, 10K or even 100K whatever is right for you. You can write anything; a novel, short stories, poems, whatever you want to count toward your writing goal. We even have an ‘edited words’ section for those who don’t need to write something new but rather fix something that already exists.
Normally we run WriMoFoFo earlier in the year, or when the weather is turning bad. But as fate would have it, we all have deadlines to meet, so we are running a WriMoFoFo across November.
So whether you want to WriMoFoFo or NaNoWriMo it doesn’t matter, because even if you don’t hit that magic 50K either challenge will see an increase in the number of words you write –and that is always something to aspire to! You have a week to decide; NaNo or FoFo?
They say a change is as good as a holiday. Who they are, no one knows, yet we all seem to know what they say. What do they mean; that I can help you with. When you go on a big holiday you have to update your expired passport, apply for visas, book and confirm tickets, try to locate accommodation that isn’t in the ‘bad’ part of town or next to a drop-in centre. These things can all be quite stressful. So is change.
I’m facing another change, and my first reaction was fear. Our first instinct is to think of all the bad things that can happen and we become acutely aware of what we are going to lose. More stress is caused by worrying about what might happen than in actually dealing with the things that do happen. The stress of the unknown is more powerful and debilitating than that of the known adversity.
So how do we get around this? Easy, it sounds like something that would come out of a Disney movie, but look for the positive spin. Next time you face a change make yourself consider ten good things that might come of it. Feeling the excitement of possible good things is as strongly encouraging and productive as what feeling the stress of possible bad things is damaging. So go for the good feelings, they are a lot more fun.
Of course the joy of being a writer is that no matter what the change, you can always take your writing with you. I’ve taken mine with me through three different states, two different countries, and about 16 different jobs. Writing can be your constant.
But remember, just like a holiday, some things will go wrong with your change; these are the adventure stories that make you less boring at dinner parties. Overall you normally enjoy a holiday and look back on it with a warm feeling or even a yen to return. Change can be exactly the same. A million success stories started with an unwanted change, so don’t be afraid when you are confronted with it, be excited!
Language is a powerful thing, and if hypnosis taught me anything, it was the ability of different words to program the subconscious mind. Which is why I felt bad about something I wrote in my last post… three times. I used the word ‘should’ with regard to tasks I wanted to complete. The connotations around the word ‘should’ are generally negative. It implies that you don’t want to do the task, that you have erred in not doing it, and that there will be bad ramifications from not doing it. And while all these things may be true, this is not a positive way at looking at what needs to be done.
Look at the difference in these next two lines and think about which motivates you to actually perform the task, and which invites you to go searching for the excuse to avoid it;
- I should write the novel synopsis of my book so I can send it out,
- It would be good to write the novel synopsis of my book so I can send it out.
Subtle change, but it is one that even your conscious mind can pick up.
Now I don’t want to scare you, but ‘should’ is only the tip of the subconscious-sabotaging iceberg. Can’t is another overused word that could be used less frequently with great benefit to all. But it’s not the worst.
Not too bad is a standard response from many of us when asked how we are or how we enjoyed something. Look at those words. Written on the page the implication is obvious; I’m bad, but not too bad. Really?!? Your subconscious mind (and that of the person you are talking to) will believe you are bad, so perhaps you want to re-think your message?
So next time you want to complete something, think about how your phrase it to yourself. When something is presented as a good thing, we are naturally drawn to do it, when presented as a bad thing, our instincts tell us to run away. Our self-talk can make all the difference to finally getting to that last line of the story, or not getting there; the choice is yours. So what would you like to get done? Write a list, in positive language, pin it up somewhere you can see it and read it often.
Recently I realised something I am embarrassed to admit; I make up excuses, a lot of excuses. It was pointed out to by someone asking, “And what number is that?” in response to one of my detailed and plausible reasons for not doing something that I should have done. I looked at him blankly and he broke it to me (not at all gently), “You have an excuse for everything, so I figured you must number them for easy reference, and I was just wondering what number excuse that was?” As if that wasn’t bad enough, he now asks me for the excuse number EVERY TIME I come up with an excuse (or even something that could be misconstrued as an excuse). It has got to the point where I just add the number once I have reeled off my explanation.
In reality, excuses are not very helpful. If you make up a reason for not doing something, it is probably because you should be doing it. And before something becomes a ‘should’ it was usually an ‘I would like to’ (get my tax done, write the novel synopsis, go to the dentist). If you just did these things as soon as they were identified, instead of wasting your creative energy on making up reasons for not doing them, think of how much more progress you would make in all aspects of your life, not just your writing.
I have a bunch of useless writing excuses;
# 357 I don’t have time to boot up the computer to write before I have to go out.
# 286 I need to wait until I’ve researched that thingamajig before I can write any more of this story.
# 155 I have to finish the washing/vacuuming/trinket dusting before I can write.
They go on, but I’m sure you get the idea…
So next time you hear yourself making up an excuse, no matter how credible it might seem, ask yourself for the excuse number. It will open your eyes to how often we put off progress when instead we could be driving it!
Fiction gives writers leave to let our imaginations run wild and concoct a world of fantasy, where magic, true love and justice are as real and dependable as taxes in the non-fiction realm. However, there are some things that are acceptable in real life that cannot be sprinkled into fiction without a degree of caution; such as coincidences.
Coincidences happen every day. I was giving training where I needed to open my inbox for 30 seconds so I could show staff how to save an email. At the end of the session a girl came up to me and observed that we had both been invited to the same party by someone outside of my work life. We have been friends ever since. As if that is not coincidence enough, I sent an email to one of my friends who works in accounts when, unbeknown to me, she was training a friend of mine who had just started at her office. Both girls saw my email which broke down the degrees of separation to zero! So that coincidence has happened to me twice! TWICE! Yet I could never write it in a story because no one would believe it.
The only time that coincidences are slightly acceptable (but even here tread carefully) is if it is a bad coincidence. If it occurs at the beginning of the story and helps your main character find out her partner is cheating, or the world is about to end, or aliens are living next door, then that is acceptable. If it saves the day and prevents the tragic end to which the whole story has been geared, then you are going to find your book in the recycle bin.
One of the big rules of writing is do not pull your reader out of the story, and unfortunately, even though we have all had good turns of fortune because of them, a happy coincidence is going to rip your reader right out of your tale. So the coincidence is one facet of real life that generally can’t find a home in any genre, except maybe the memoir, and only then if it can be proven. We are a cynical bunch after all…
As a writer you are always out there collecting things; turns of phrase, smells, observations, events and even *shock* stories. But, despite what friends and family think, it is actually rare that I will come across a person upon whom I want to base an entire character. If I base anything on a real person it is usually just an unconscious tick, or mannerism, or even a regularly used incorrect word. But it is never a whole package.
Well, almost never.
On rare occasions, when there are two full moons in the month or the planets are aligned, you find a person so complete with neuroses and bizarre beliefs (that you would never be able to concoct) that you just want to lift them up and squash them into your computer. This raises the eternal conundrum of the writer; just because you can, should you?
You quickly learn that something like 90% of your friends, family & acquaintances never read anything you write, so it is probably safe to lift bits from them and they will never be the wiser. Coupled with this is the amusing fact that most of the stuff you want to lift from someone they are not even aware of, so will not recognise it anyway. But others might, especially when it comes to a whole character. So do you take these perfectly formed characters and put them into your story, or not?
So far I haven’t done it, but temptation has been hard to resist, especially when I move out of the realm of speculative fiction. I would love to know what other writers do when it comes to this challenge. Do you change enough to not be too familiar, or do you just come out with a bold-faced lie when asked by your character’s inspiration if the person is based on them?
Until I know the answer to that question you can be sure that my character is not based on you. But the way they tug their ear, flare their nostrils, or say desiccated when they mean desecrated, well sorry, but that could be you. I won’t let those gems slip through my fingers.
Last night someone crept into my life and stole sixty minutes! Had they asked I would have given it to them freely at a much more civilised hour, but never mind, either way it is gone now. So after many grey skies and too long layered in jumpers and coats, daylight savings is back, and with it came the sun.
When the sun goes down later, so do I. Dawn will soon arrive earlier, and brighter and in a significantly more attractive guise than it has been sporting these past few months, which will invite me to get up earlier. I know that on the surface this seems to have nothing to do with writing, but nothing can be further from the truth. All this meddling with the clock and warming up of the seasons translates to more time writing.
Earlier waking + Later to bed = More writing time.
So make the most of this annual gift! Before you know it they will creep in and squash that hour back into the day, giving you a sleep in, but stealing your free time after dinner. We writers need all the time we can get!
Happy daylight savings!