Tag Archives: Advice

Better use of time

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have started translating my weekly goals onto a daily goal list. I’m still doing it, and it is working brilliantly. The funny thing is that I’m actually adding more goals as the week goes on, so I’m getting even more done.

To meet my targets, I’ve had to force myself stop watching TV on work nights. This seems to have cured me of an unknown addiction. Now I can survive without knowing who gets voted off of Survivor. I’ve also realised that it doesn’t matter if I watch all my TV in one binge session on a Friday night (I loved ABC’s War On Waste).

Most importantly I’ve discovered that I feel a lot better about going to work when I have knocked out 2,000 words, or edited a couple of chapters the night before. All this time it’s been within my power to give myself what I’ve always wanted; to write.

There are so many ways we can use time, but some take more courage, more willpower and more determination than others. But when you make those choices it can be so much more rewarding. I know I’m only three weeks in, but my general happiness and contentedness is so much higher than it has been in a long time. And my word counts are still nearly as high as when I had my 4 months off last year.

Another benefit I have noticed is that I seem to be living more in the ‘now’. I enjoy the sunrise when I walk to the bus before work. I appreciate the songs of the magpies as they welcome me home (or more accurately the leftover cat food they know I’m about to throw out). I realise that I can take moments of time for myself at any time. Even while I’m waiting for SharePoint to apply my metadata (which seems to take so much longer now it is in the cloud) I can look out the window at the park and be in my own little world for a few seconds. Time really is what we make of it.

Sunrise on the way to the bus stop

What I’ve learned from pantsing – part 1

I have just finished writing a novel which, when I sat down to write it, I didn’t know much more than what happened in the first chapter. I had faith that it would be a novel, and I had seen a lot of my writing friends successfully write novels with similarly no idea about where it was going, so I had support from them that I could do it too. This was my experiment with pantsing.

The first thing I was overjoyed to learn is that pantsing is fast, really fast. I started writing my novel on April 4th and finished it on July 31st. I have written a planned novel in a similarly short time, but it had about two years in research and note writing and quite a few non-starts over many more months in that time.

The next thing that struck me is just how much hard-core editing I’m going to have to do. I have to insert people into earlier chapters, remove stuff that never went anywhere, inject some foreshadowing and delete out foreshadowing for things that never happened. This is all stuff I rarely need to do when planning.

The last big difference I noticed was the drive to sit down and write. I don’t know if it was to do with pantsing, a wet cold winter, or the deadline of a submission period I wanted to sub this novel to, but I wrote about 3,000 words a week while working full time. Part of it was the excitement of seeing what would happen next and knowing that my mind wouldn’t head out into the next part of the novel until I’d written the bit I knew about.

After all this, I actually still feel very unsure about pantsing. Next week I’ll share my conclusions about the process and what I’m going to do next.

An author is not an island.

Recently I’ve heard a few people justifying illegal downloads of books because they thought the author had already made enough money. Quite aside from the troubling idea that others can deem that you have made enough money (I’m sure no-one is doing that to them in their jobs, and I’m pretty sure authors are not making as much as people think they are) it struck me as ridiculously naive to think that the only one who loses out on the sale is the author.

Of the average book sale in Australia, the author receives between $1 and $3, depending on how good their agent is. As we all know, books don’t cost $4, so you can see that there are a lot of other people taking a cut for work they do along the way. Those people are not millionaires, they are normal people struggling to pay their rent/mortgage like everybody else. That is who you are stealing from when you illegally download a book.

But also upsetting is the impact this theft has on first time authors. A lot of debut novels do not make back their production costs. Publishers keep publishing first time authors despite this in the hope that they can find the next big thing, and it is the established authors, the ones people are illegally downloading, that bankroll publishers to be able to take the risk on first time authors.

So please stick up for any artist who you hear being ripped off. Profits from movies do not just go to the big name stars, a lot of people are involved in the release of an album, not just the singers, and an author very rarely edits, prints, distributes and markets their book themselves. A lot of people get hurt from this theft, and I want to see new music, movies and novels coming onto the market. That can only happen if the people involved with making this art get paid.

Writers’ week wrap-up

As predicted, Adelaide Writers’ Week was as inspirational as always. I have over 3,000 words written as proof that the writing monster has finally awoken, so I hope I can keep leveraging off that motivation.

It was interesting to hear how others approach their craft. Alexander McCall Smith told us all that he wrote 5,000 words a day, no wonder he can manage to publish four books a year! Others seemed to hit on the golden 1,000 words a day, which certainly makes my 300 word goal seem pretty sad in comparison. I do wonder if maybe setting the bar too low leads to less than ideal results.

Again it was interesting to hear how others get their novels written. I’m always amazed to hear how some writers just write the bits they see and then collect it into what they think will be the order of the book, and then they finish off by writing all the joining bits. Hannah Kent even had a folder with dividers marked up for her (at the time estimated) 13 chapters. She just put the bits she had written behind the chapter tab that she thought it might end up in.

Many were write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers, which I’m starting to believe is the most common approach, where you just sit back and see how the story unfolds as you are writing it from start to finish. This does lead to some serious editing work though, so while these writers tend to push out their novels in 3-6 months, they also spend nearly twice as long fixing up the second draft.

Finally it was nice to hear from many authors who did not get published until later in life. I’m sure it is just my own paranoia and selective hearing, but many of the authors I’ve listened to in previous years either got published on their first attempt after they had decided to write a novel, or they were first published under the age of 25. This year there were at least two authors who had started seriously writing in their thirties, but not found success until their forties. So there is hope for me yet.

Adelaide Writers’ Week is so good in that you get to see so many authors from so many backgrounds and writing in forms you may never have read, let alone attempted to write. And it is all free. It is such an injection of inspiration for readers and writers alike and I hope the festival continues long into the future.

Understanding future you

With the New Year on the horizon a lot of us will be setting (or meticulously honing) our goals for the next year. As an avid goal setter, I would like to share one piece of advice for when you are setting your ‘achievable’ goals and that is make sure you understand future you.

Time and time again when I set my goals I seem to believe that future me will be somehow more motivated, dedicated and un-distractible than current me. For example; my list for what I wanted to achieve with my week off between Christmas and New Year gave me three tasks to complete on Boxing day, one of which was ‘paint deck’. By the time I had scrubbed the deck, and painted just the outside fence part it was 7pm and I was exhausted.

Current me stupidly took time off for meal breaks, phone calls and sun exposure which future me apparently would have worked through. Current me also only works at a human pace, while future me gets no muscle aches, hand cramps or frustration at having to save so many bugs.

The point is, you should factor in a lot of contingency in your plan. I’m already looking at my list of what I want to achieve in January and it is looking very full. At the same time I know that I have an event on every weekend, not to mention visitors to catch up with, so the *future me* alarm is starting to ring.

So if you suffer from a bit of future me, my advice is take your list and halve it. It will always feel much better to achieve MORE than you set for yourself rather than less. I’m going to take my own advice and put the red pen to my current list, and hopefully I’ll get the deck finished before I go back to work.

A marathon, not a sprint

Writing is such a slow process that you can’t help but want to speed things up a bit sometimes. Earlier in my writing career I made the mistake of sending out my stories too soon. After bleeding over them to get them finished, the moment I typed ‘the end’ I was so flushed with relief and excitement that I wanted to send them out straight away. Which is what I did, over and over again.

I have a soft spot for my first novel Paragon, but when I finished it the closest I got to editing it was converting some of the hand written pages into Word files. Then I systematically sent it off to some of the biggest publishing houses in Australia. They all said no.

Eventually I realised something might be wrong with the magnum opus, so I thought an edit might be necessary. I was shocked at the number of typos, incorrect words and even transposed names that were in the manuscript. And I had sent this out!?!

After the first edit I sent it off again, and amazingly got some interest from the last remaining big publishing house that I had not already burned with my typo-laden manuscript. After some time, and a breathtakingly close call, they passed on it and Paragon went to the bottom drawer.

Since then I have learned all sorts of things about point of view slips, excess gerunds and exposition that I have now corrected in the story (thank you writers groups). But I cannot send this to any of the major publishing houses now. They said no to Paragon and generally, unless they invite you to resubmit, there is no second chance.

If Paragon had been in the shape it is in now when I first sent it off, instead of being my learning novel, it might have been my debut novel. I was trying to sprint to the end too soon.

So the lesson I have learned, rather painfully, over more than ten years, is that writing is not a sprint, it is a marathon. You have to be prepared to pace yourself and give things time, and you can only make it to the finish line if you take all the steps to get there.

No submission

For the last three months I’ve been working on my YA comic fantasy to try and pull it into shape for the Strange Chemistry call for un-agented submissions. I got my first 10,000 words looking pretty tidy (a big thanks goes to my writers group), and this was all I needed to submit. It is the rest of the novel that has been giving me grief.

For starters it wants to be too long. I keep going to write a chapter to get them closer to the climax, and suddenly the characters go off and weave another tangled web. They give me enough hints for me to see what they are planning, and I like it, but I can’t fit it all in and still keep it under 100,000 words.

This is leading to the other problem of not having finished the first draft. In theory, if the Strange Chemistry people like the story they could then ask to see the whole manuscript. That might be in six months time, but it could happen the day after I submit the first 10,000 words. As it stands now I’ve only written the first half, and I’m getting less and less confident that it is actually as much as a half!

So after much anxiety, and trying to force my characters in directions they didn’t want to go, I’m throwing up my hands in defeat. This novel will not be going in for the Strange Chemistry submission this year. The last thing I would want to do is submit a great first four chapters and then submit a sub-standard first draft when they asked to see more, assuming I could even submit a completed draft at all.

I don’t know if it is age or experience that has taught me that it is better to wait for a year and do something properly rather than rush into certain defeat, or maybe I am just so attached to this story that I want to give it the best chance it can have at being published. Either way it isn’t going to be ready for the October 31st deadline, and I’m okay with that.

Goals

I am a huge believer in goals. Every New Year I set my annual goals, and then based on those I set some smaller goals, and then every week I have a list of 20 goals that I wish to achieve. They can be as simple as paying a bill or as significant as submitting a novel.

In September I was part of WriMoFoFo which is all about setting a goal and trying to achieve it in four weeks. There were a lot of us who started the WriMoFoFo journey, but what surprised me was the number of people who dropped off. It made me wonder about people’s relationship with their goals.

Given I have a list of twenty things to achieve every week, I’m quite used to not achieving all my goals, and I’m okay with that. I could count on one hand how many times this year I have been able to cross off all twenty items in a week. I don’t think the point of goals is to make you feel guilty if you don’t achieve them, but rather to get you focused on trying to achieve them.

If I have a goal roll over on my list over four weeks (and yes, if I don’t achieve them they do roll over to the next week) I realise it is too big for one week and on some level I must be finding it overwhelming so I’m not doing it. My response is to break it down into a smaller goal.

Earlier this year, when I was struggling to write anything, I changed my goal to just turning on my computer. I had to turn my computer on four times a week. Yes, some days I just turned the computer on, checked my email and then turned it off again, but some of those days I wrote. The next week I made my writing targets.

Goals should not be set in stone, big goals may not change; I will always want my novel published by an established publishing house, but the sub-goals I use to get there are constantly evolving, and I think that is how it needs to be. Don’t let you goals overwhelm you, let them speak to you, let them guide you about what is enough to expect of yourself, and what is too much in one go.

The most important thing of all about goals is that they should be achievable, so if you aren’t making your goals, break them down. Every journey starts with a first step, don’t make that step too far to take, or you will forever stay standing where you are.

WriMoFoFo – the final tally

I don’t think I’ve hit a WriMoFoFo target since we started doing them about four years ago. I’ve never even come close to hitting a NaNoWriMo target either, but I don’t think that’s the point of these things, the important thing is that I’ve written words.

I started slow this year with WriMoFoFo, and then got slower. And just when all was looking rather lost I set myself a cracking pace of about 1,000 words a day to race to the end. That’s how I handle targets. That’s why I’ve learned never to give up.

It would have been very easy when, after the first week when I was only on 13% and I should have been on 30%, to say ‘stuff this, I’m not going to make it, I might as well pull out.’ But 13% was still 2,933 words. I don’t normally write 2,933 words in a week. So it was still good.

I could have dropped off during week two when at 25% I should have been on 50%, but I could see there were 5,494 words in the ‘FoFo bank, so I couldn’t complain. Likewise at week three when my 43% was sadly far off the 75% it should have been, but the 9,357 words I had written still made me smile.

At COB last Sunday night I had only managed to get to 69% of my WriMoFoFo target. That translated to 15,124 words written in four weeks. That’s a lot more than I would normally manage.

Ask me if WriMoFoFo was a success and I’d have to say YES. I wrote more for four. I didn’t give up and I didn’t berate myself for the days I missed. I set my targets high because I wanted to write a lot of words. I wrote a lot of words, not as many as I hoped, but many more than I normally would.

Even better, I don’t feel burned out. If previous WriMoFoFo’s are anything to go by, I will now be in a habit of writing on Monday and Thursday nights, which is two more days of writing than I was doing before. So, while I may not have reached my word-count goal, I have got myself back into the swing of writing, and that is more important than hitting an arbitrary target.

Writing books

I was thinking of giving a book about writing to a friend who often tells me she would like to write. The only book on the topic of writing that I can really remember enjoying was Stephen King’s On Writing. So I read it again just to make sure it was as good as my memory had built it up to be, and it was, but it was not really the right book for a writer who is only starting out.

I know there are a lot of books out there on grammar and correct prose, such as Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, but I’m trying to find something that will take her to that next step in an entertaining way. A book that will warn her about the issues of point of view slips, too many ing words, fear of said etc. But one which will do so without sounding condescending or boring.  

And while we are talking about great writing books, there is another one I would like to give a plug to, and that’s Give ‘Em What They Want by Camenson & Cook –but that is around the business of selling books, so again it is probably a bit premature for that yet.

So please give me some suggestions about writing books that you have found both interesting and useful. I should also take this chance to say a big thank you to those in my two writing groups; because of you I’ve managed to learn a lot of these tricks directly from some very talented and imaginative people.