Tag Archives: Motivation

Project promiscuity

Okay, I know I’m inviting a bunch of really bad spam from that title, but it was the most accurate way I could think of to describe my old approach to writing. I’ve been writing all of my adult life, and until the last few years I was a big believer in writing what I felt like writing. Our moods change a lot, and when you are happy you don’t really want to get bogged down in a depressing or dark piece of fiction. So I always used to have a number of projects on the go at once.

I ended up with a lot of novels that only got to chapter 5. I also had a lot of partially written short stories. What I had very few of was finished pieces. I also did almost no editing because the lure of new words always won.

About three years ago I decided I needed to finish stuff, so I tried to focus on just one project at a time. It didn’t work, as soon as I got to a difficult bit in my story I’d set it aside and start thinking about another story. Thinking turned into writing, and next thing I knew I had another novel that only made it to chapter 5.

Not many people know this, but a few years ago I spent a week believing I had a brain tumor. My doctor prepped me for it with too much conviction, and due to a whole manner of mishaps it took a week between the doctor’s diagnosis, my CT scan and getting the results that the doctor was wrong. I had a bunch of really bad symptoms that gave incredible verisimilitude to my incorrect diagnosis, so needless to say I did a LOT of thinking about the future, and more specifically, how short that future might be.

Above everything else I wanted to finish my novel. Despite my symptoms and stress, every night after work I came home and wrote like a machine. I’d hit a tough bit and I would slog through it to get to the next part where I felt more comfortable about what was happening. I didn’t let any other projects distract me.

By the time I discovered my brain was clear (and disappointingly showed no signs of secret microchips implanted by alien abductors), I had realised that I could force myself to focus. That novel was EveryWere, my pantser novel, and I finished writing it in just over 3 months.

That was a game changer for me. Since then I have picked just the one project at a time and regardless of mood, inspiration, or haunting writing daemons, I work on only that project. I have finished another novel, two novellas and five short stories since then. Probably more completed words than in my entire writing career before that time.

A lot of people enjoy project promiscuity, and they can make it work for them. But if you are like I was, and you aren’t finishing anything, then don’t wait for a terminal diagnosis to get yourself focussed. Try being faithful to just one project. You might go through some tough times together, but you may also find yourself in a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your writing than you have ever had before.

Happy writing.

The secret language of handwriting

My approach to the library recently has become more like my approach to Twitter; I let others find the good stuff for me. If I go into the library without a specific book in mind, I’ll head straight to the ‘to be re-shelved’ pile to see what others have recently borrowed. This is where I found a book on decoding handwriting.

It is annoying me how accurate it is. I started with the approach that it would be like star signs and you can probably see yourself in every scenario, but it is a whole lot more precise than that. It has picked up on things about my personality that even I don’t like to admit to myself. I am starting to worry about the hand-written notes I’ve given to others and how much I really told them if they knew how to read it.

What worries me even more is what I will learn about others when I look at their handwriting? After I read ‘What Every Body is Saying’ by Joe Navarro which covered the unconscious communications of body language, my success in meetings went up significantly. I often find myself resorting to tricks and reading people without even realising it. I think the handwriting book will give me an even greater insight into what is really happening inside people’s minds.

There is one big problem with decoding handwriting; you have to get your hands on a copy of hand-written text. In my current workplace, I think I’ve seen the handwriting of only one other person in the past 8 months. Even our informal notes are taken on the computer these days. It’s like I’ve finally been given the keys to the Jet a year after teleportation has been invented.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m going to let this pass me by. I’m reading the book over and over to make sure it sinks in (as would be expected of my evenly spaced, small-lettered handwriting). There are gems in here that I will one day be able to mine, I have no doubt of that.

It also reiterates that the re-shelving piles should always be my first stop at the library.

Putting words on a page is not writing

This week I wrote about 15,000 words… about a form. Half of that was technical support information. The other half was a step by step user and administrator guide. There was no twist at the end, no edge or your seat horror, and it had a rather Hollywood end where everyone finishes with… a completed form.

Putting the red arrows and green ticks on the print-screens was the most exciting bit about writing the manual. I don’t think anyone will be uploading it to their kindle for late-night reading. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if anyone else actually reads it from start to finish. Even I found myself glossing over bits. I should have secreted away an offer of a chocolate frog just to see if anyone came to claim it (I have done that in a user guide once and it took over a year for anyone to spot it).

A lot of people have suggested to me that I should try to get a gig as a technical writer so I can write each day. After this week I realise, for me, that would be a really bad idea. When I got home each night, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of a computer. So I’ve been doing paper edits instead while lying on the lounge. It was the least typing-version of writing I could come up with while still progressing my novel.

Building a form is fun. I get to layer logical rules over the top of each other to see if I can make the form work. It’s like playing a game. Writing about form is boring. So I’m going to stop saying that I want to be a writer, what I really mean is I want to be an author. This week taught me that they are NOT the same thing.

Top 10 writer things to do – Go to a convention

Just in case you don’t know what they are, writing conventions are usually two or three day events with a few ‘big name’ key note speakers and then a heap of other authors and industry people. These people participate in talks about all aspects of writing and sometimes they even run master-classes. The talks can cover everything from publishing trends to how to write action scenes. Most genres run conventions in most countries, just type in a Google search and you’ll find something.

I’ll never forget my first convention. The key note speakers were Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman and Poppy Z Brite. They were fantastic. Not only did they give great talks, but they mixed with everyone afterwards in the convention bar (and there is always an attached bar). But the key note speakers were just a small part of what made it so great.

Conventions attract people from all demographics who have one overriding thing in common; writing. Meeting other people who are serious about their writing is one of the most important things a writer can do. You get to talk about issues, successful tricks, and you can find out about resources or opportunities you might otherwise never hear about.

Being at a convention gives you permission to be a writer, and your presence there shows how serious you are about improving you craft. After you have been to a few conventions you will probably find that you get less out of the talks, but you still get a lot out of hanging out at the bar. More than a few life-long friendships have been born at conventions, and I would highly recommend you make the most of it.

The hardest thing about going to a convention is dealing with the downer you inevitably fall into when it is all over and you return to your ‘normal’ life. I channelled this feeling into making me seek out other opportunities to feel like a writer, which I’ll cover in the rest of my Top 10 blogs.

2016 – a look back

The week I turned 30 I decided I was going to properly ‘try’ to be a writer. I joined a professional writers group and I made the decision to finish my novel. That was over ten years ago now (or six if you use my online age). Strangely 2016 is the first year where I have truly felt like a writer.

It has been a great year when I look back on it, even though it feels like I haven’t done much. That novel I wanted to finish back when I was 30 took over ten years to complete (all up). Last year I wrote a novel in four months, this year I wrote one in three months. I’m also on the cusp of finishing a novella. This is definitely not just a hobby.

I was made redundant from my day job in June and I enjoyed four glorious months of full-time writing. Any fears I had about the lonely life of a writer were well and truly dispelled. This is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I now have managed to land a part time job which lets me continue to write at a rate I couldn’t have imagined three or four years ago.

I know I may never get a publishing contract for a novel, and my self-publishing may never hit the $ values required for me to actually get a cheque, but I love to create and explore and disappear into these worlds. 2016 has shown me that this is something I can give to myself, no matter what the publishing houses of the world may say.

I have learned a lot about myself and a lot about writing over the past year. The thing I would like to share, which applies equally to writing a novel or any other goal in life, is that you just need to do it. Say ‘no’ to lounging in front of the TV, let the dishes build up sometimes and make your goal a priority. That’s what my decade+ has taught me most, and it seems like the most obvious thing in the world.

I hope when you look back on your 2016 you can see all the things you have achieved and celebrate them. I also hope you can light your passion for completing even more in 2017. Happy Christmas and have a safe New Year!

Regrets

I believe most of us aspire to live life without regrets, but what does that mean exactly? I think of it as being if you had your time again, what would you change? Probably a bit of a redundant question really because after the first change, thanks to the time travel paradox, you’d probably not get presented with the rest of the decisions you were hoping to fix and you’d end up a very different person with different regrets anyway.

It makes me wonder if perhaps what we really mean is that we are okay with regrets, but we don’t want to wallow in them. You can use a past regret to help with making better decisions now. A classic example for me is that I regret not doing more with my zoology degree. It’s not something I cry myself to sleep over, or get sick about each morning as I go to work, but if I watch a David Attenborough documentary, or an episode of The Supervet, I do wish I had tried harder.

So what can I do now? Well, instead of wallowing in regret I’ll take my current situation and try to bend it back toward something zoological. I don’t think it is a coincidence that my last two story sales have been animal-based. My recently finished novel had animals playing big roles. This is my passion and who knows, if I do it well, I might just make a living out of it one day.

So what do you regret? More importantly, how can you feel fulfilled in that area now? It is so important to live in the now, you only have control to change what you do next. I like to think that is enough.

NaNoWriMo 2016

Every November writers around the world take part in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you do 50,000 words in a month, or around 1,700 words a day. I have never stuck to a NaNo ever. This year is shaping up to be no different.

I don’t know what it is about NaNoWriMo that rubs the wrong way with me. I love a deadline, so you would think I would relish this, but for some reason it annoys me. Sure, there is probably a bit of jealousy that others can manage 50K in a month, but I think a big part of it is that I feel like NaNo’s only purpose is to get words on the page, and sometimes writing involves not putting words on a page.

Yes it is easier to edit words than blank-page write them, so you would think that having 50,000 of them would be a bonus, but I have heard too many stories of people rushing off in a direction they could feel was wrong for their story, however they were determined to push on so they could get their 50K for November. So come December they cut out 30K of what they had written. That is disheartening for anyone.

I am a big believer in going with your gut, and if it feels like the story is going in the wrong direction you can bet that it is. I think the best thing to do if you hit that feeling is stop and brainstorm. Think about where the story is going, think about where else it could go and think about where it might have gone wrong earlier. All these things take a bit of time and don’t necessarily get 1,700 word per day onto the page.

Then there is also the fact that in Australia November is always incredibly sociable. We get good weather after months of winter cold, and the build up to Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. So I’m going to skip NaNoWriMo yet again and think about doing WriMoFoFo (write more for four weeks) in the New Year.

Good luck to all of you giving NaNo a go!

Targets

I know it is the last post of the month so I’m meant to be doing my author top ten, but with my last day of work quickly approaching, I just wanted to expand a little on my expectations for my time off.

Firstly, let me quell any concerns you may have if you think I’m expecting to write and sell a novel that is somehow going to make me rich. Even if Penguin did reply to my email and said they wanted to publish my novel, from that moment to the first royalty cheque would be at least 18 months, more likely 2+ years. This time off is not about making money out of writing, I know that I will be going back to work at the end of it.

For most of us who write, it is not a choice. We get grumpy and guilty when we don’t do it, and we are happy to miss out on everything else in life when we do write. After a while it isn’t about how many people read your story (and let’s not even talk about how many actually like it) eventually it is just about getting the story written. You want to breathe life into that thing that constantly haunts you.

In the past few years I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everyone likes what I write. My story Stanhope’s finest was a lot of fun to write, and it is the sort of thing I want to do more of, but lots of people don’t like that story, some have said they hated it, but I know there is a small group out there who like Greta as much as I do.

So this time off is not about getting anything published, I will try, don’t get me wrong, but if I come out of the next 3 months with a finished first draft of my next novel I’ll be happy. The best thing about that target is it is 100% within my sphere of influence, unlike getting published which seems to be about 60% luck.

Writers group

I’ve heard a lot of people bag writers groups over the years. This weekend was my writers group meet-up, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Quite aside from the fantastic critiques they give me (which have greatly improved specific stories and my writing in general) but it is such a release to talk about writing with others who write.

Stephen King is perhaps one of the best examples of someone famous I can think of who has voiced an opinion against writers groups. However he does share his writing with a core group of readers, several of whom are writers, and he comments about hanging out with other writers, I am sure they must talk about writing when they catch up. So maybe he does have a writers group, but he just calls them friends. I like to think that my writers group are friends too, we just happened to meet through writing.

I think what I’m trying to say is that if you are a writer don’t do it alone. Meeting up with other people who write so you can talk about the challenges the highs and the lows is amazingly valuable. You may get support from your non-writing friends when you talk about these things, but you get understanding from another writer.

A selfish pursuit

I once heard artists described as ‘selfish’ people. This came from an artist. Having ruminated over this for a while, I can see where they were coming from. Most forms of art require a lot of focus and dedication, often at the expense of focus on the world (and its people) outside. Isn’t this the very definition of selfish? Being lost in one’s self?

There are a lot of negative connotations around selfishness, in fact I can only think of negative aspects of it, other than for the person who is being selfish of course. But maybe this is where art breaks through the selfish definition? I think of all those novels, songs and art which have given me so much joy. I am so grateful to those artists that they didn’t let family commitments or overdue friend catch-ups come between them and their art. I benefit daily from the artistic selfishness of others.

Perhaps the truly selfish thing for the artist to do would be to hold that creativity in so that no-one else gets to experience it? Maybe I need to get a bit more selfish to become less selfish? In summary; I need to write.