Tag Archives: Pep Talk

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

Tricks to get you writing

I’m doing my annual read of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ –this book always inspires me to write more. In one part of the book King talks about how after his accident he found that none of his usual tricks worked to get him writing. He doesn’t actually detail what his tricks are, and I think that is because the tricks are things that you set up that work for you, no-one can make them up for you.

Let me give you an example; when I can’t write I play three games (no more, no less) of Freecell. It was a habit I forcefully set some years ago where I only EVER allowed myself to play Freecell before I wrote. If I played the game I had to write. This programmed me to get ready to write any time I play Freecell. It works beautifully.

But it doesn’t have to be habitual programming, I’ve heard of lots of tricks that writers use to get them writing; have a conversation with your protagonist about anything, write a back-story scene that you are never going to use, write the most exciting scene in your story even if you are not yet up to that, type whatever words come into your mind about any topic, write freehand while laying on the lounge. There are as many tricks as there are writers.

I’m into NLP, hypnotherapy and psychology, so I like the idea of programming myself to get over these humps, hence setting the Freecell habit at a time when the writing was going well. But if you are not into that, experiment to find the trick that works for you, and be prepared to think outside the box – it may be a location or type of tea that gets you writing. Just remember, if the trick you are trying takes you away from writing it is not a successful trick. There is a big difference between something inspiring you (like watching a move) and something getting you to sit down at the page and write.

The Unreliable Narrator

There is a format of writing know as the unreliable narrator. This is where the character taking you through the story is lying to you, but you don’t know it. For example, they may talk about how wonderful person X is and can’t understand why someone would murder them, then the punch line of the story is that they are the one who murdered person X.

Generally this style annoys me (though when pulled off well it can be excellent), and the only way I can relate it back to real life is those friends (and we all have them) who exaggerate their stories and sometimes get confused about what they imagined and what actually happened. And let’s face it, we know they do this so we don’t put a lot of stock in their tales anyway.

But then I realised we do all have an unreliable narrator who we cannot trust; ourselves.

I recently wrote a story and tried to edit it within 24 hours of finishing due to a writing group deadline. The edit was a waste of time. The story looked like a mess to me. I couldn’t see enough good bits to exorcise the bad bits. Yesterday I edited it again. There were lots of good bits, yes there were also lots of opportunities for improvement, but it was not the total write-off that my first edit indicated.

Then I was talking to a friend who was saying how much she hated her novel right now, and instantly I went ‘oh, you’re up to that bit’ –because it is so common for writers to hate their story at some stage, usually closer to the end than the beginning. It is our unreliable narrator kicking in and telling us stuff is crap when it is not.

I’m sure this same narrator tells us we are stupid, fat, ugly etc. and we believe it. If only it was so easy to recognise our exaggerating, lying self in real life as it is when it comes to editing. I guess we do have the benefit of writers groups to tell us that it is not crap (and honestly tell us when it is), but our friends and family are probably a little less reliable when we check in with them about if we really are being stupid.

Wright and wrong

Writers group opened with the usual guilty confessions about how much we had not written since last month. This is a fairly common conversation in both my writers groups, yet each month there is new writing to be critiqued so something must be getting written.

Are we expecting too much of ourselves?

For the most part we are not full-time writers. We have jobs, families, friends, gardens and pets that have genuine claims on our time too. There is no denying that writing is a lonely game, and you have to make sacrifices that others won’t necessarily understand, but I wonder if we are all a bit too heavy on the guilt.

It is hard to find the balance between saying no to the social events so you can get your story finished and giving your time to those who need you and who, in turn, you will need in the future. After all, if we do reach the goal of getting published, we want to have loved ones to invite to the book launch.

I’m starting to realise how important it is to factor in the non-writing time. You can either plan for it and enjoy it, or you can put unrealistic expectations on yourself and get disappointed. Sometimes having a bit of a break can be good for your writing.

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.

My movie

No, I’m not talking about the one I’m writing, I mean the one I’m living. I don’t know why, but I always think of life as being like our own personal movie. In my more philosophical moments I wonder if I have made all this up and you are just actors in my movie, but then I smell jasmine in the moonlight, or listen to Alison Moyet singing Only You, and I realise there is no way I could be that creative.

I just read (again) Illusions by Richard Bach. Every time I read it I love it and I want to start reading it again the moment I get to the last page. I love the idea that we live by our accepted illusions, and that changing our life is as ‘simple’ as seeing through those illusions. But to borrow a Matrix-ism, I am yet to take the red pill.

I do believe in fate, but I also believe in free will. I also think that all time is simultaneous, and therefore it follows that just because something was fated to happen doesn’t negate the possibility that you chose for it to be –it is just that all time and therefore all choices have already happened and therefore must be.

Okay, maybe I just squeezed a book’s worth of philosophy into a paragraph, but the point is, change only happens if we make it. I don’t know that I’m quite ready to take the red pill, I love chocolate and the good parts of family too much, but I’m ready for some change. So I will stop looking at my limitations and give more things a go.

If nothing else it should increase my word count for WriMoFoFo

P.S. A very special HAPPY BIRTHDAY today to my (almost) life-long friend Karen. I miss you very much and I’m glad you are still in my movie – I just wish we could be shot in the same scene a little more often 🙂

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Adelaide Writers’ Week – On Writing

I had a good time at Adelaide Writers’ Week this year, though the 35 degree days did lead to a few headaches and a bit of heat exhaustion! I discovered a few new authors and was made both richer (in experience) and poorer (in book purchases) for having been there.

A funny thing that I noticed with a number of the authors was the concept of when they started to write. A lot of them did not start writing, or even think about becoming writers until their late twenties, thirties or even forties!

Having been writing books since I was in primary school, this shocked me at first. How can you just decide to write? Just knock out a book and get it published in a couple of years? I had been slogging away my whole life and still did not have a publishing contract to show for it.

Instead of drowning in my jealousy (I may have dog-paddled in it for a while) I kept listening, and a theme emerged, both in those who, like me, had always wanted to write, and those who came later to the idea; they all wrote a story.

Yes, it is a crazy idea; to be a writer one has to write a story and finish it. Sure, I have been writing most of my life, intensely over the past 10 years, and I have hundreds of thousands of word to show for it, but how many novels have I written to completion and put through at least one editing round? How many? One.

When you look at it like that it makes perfect sense, in fact the ONLY way you can become an author is to write a story, finish it, polish it and send it off. Everything else is just practice.

I may have seven novels on the go, but until I finish them, it can only ever be a hobby. That was my big take-away from Adelaide Writers’ Week. I’ve always laboured over the fact I need to write, but it is the finishing and polishing that I really need to focus on.

Is it the end nigh?

This Friday will be the 21st of December 2012, or as the Mayans knew it; 13.0.0.0.0. In the Mayan calendar there are no dates past this auspicious or apocalyptic date, which has led many to believe that the world will end (which was as good an excuse as any to take the day off work as far as I was concerned). Others believe it will be a new awakening of the human spirit.

This potential end of life as we know it gives us a great excuse to reflect on what is important to us; of what are we most proud? Most ashamed? If we could set something right, what would it be? What do we wish we had completed, or spent more time on, or with? What do we wish we had said?

If the moon does not turn blood red on Friday night (that’s the first sign) and the earth does not shake from its core, then what will you do to celebrate the continuity of life?

Perhaps this potential end is a good trigger to get us thinking of new beginnings? Armed with our regrets and achievements from the past we can begin to plan for a better future.

It may be that Friday is our Last Day living life as we currently know it, but maybe that doesn’t have to be a bad thing? Maybe on Saturday, if we awaken to a sunny new day instead of a cataclysmic world of cinders, then maybe we will put that second chance to good use and focus on creating more of those proud moments for when our end of days really does come.

So I wish you all luck, stack your tins in the pantry, get plenty of bottled water and don’t forget the headache pills and candles. Whether it is Christmas or Armageddon it will all come in handy, and there is nothing wrong with hedging your bets.

Willpower

I think a large number of writers suffer exactly the same problem that I am often lamenting about in here, a lack of progress. We call it different things; procrastination, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of time, competing priorities and even writer’s block. All these things we know we need to take ownership of, but they all come down to one thing, willpower.

The non-fiction book I’m reading at the moment is Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonigal, and even though I’m only half way through reading it, I would highly recommend you get your hands on a copy. For anyone who is not getting what they want to do done, or if you keep doing something you no longer want to do, this book can really help.

There are so many tips and hints, exercises and honest self-appraisals in here, but perhaps the one that has helped me the most (so far) is the suggestion that next time you want to ‘spoil’ yourself, act as if you will do that thing every time for the next week. So in my case, if I want to just sit in front of the TV and relax after work, I have to ask myself ‘would I commit to doing that every night for a week?’ Suddenly the impact of that action on my long term goal has a lot more weight. If you consider every sabotaging act in this same long-term-effect way, you suddenly find yourself working more toward your goals, and less in favour of treating yourself.

Obviously I’ve tried to express in one paragraph what Kelly McGonigal takes a whole chapter to get across, so if what I say doesn’t make sense to you then read the book. But seeing the impact on my writing productivity from doing the willpower exercises and being aware of my willpower lapses when they happen, just in this week, has made me realise how important willpower is to getting where you want to be. Goal setting alone is not enough.

Whether you want to write a novel, quit smoking, eat more healthily, progress in your career or simply stop watching so much TV, mastering your willpower will make all these things so much easier. By understanding how your brain works in these matters you can minimise the pain of making a change. Don’t believe me? Try it.

Kelly McGonigal Maximum Willpower

Writing tools

When setting yourself up as a writer there are many things you convince yourself that you need to be properly prepared to write. Some are actual needs, like a computer, some are more nice-to-have needs, like a room of one’s own. But there is one thing that I think many writers overlook; the ability to touch type.

I learned to touch type using a free tutorial that came with my computer back in 1995. It felt like a long, slow process, but after forcing myself to do it several times a week for about ten weeks I one day sat down at the computer and something just clicked. Suddenly my fingers knew where the keys were even when I didn’t. If I looked at the keyboard I got lost, but if I looked at the screen, or even out the window, the words came out just as I had thought them.

This has been invaluable for my creative process. When I hand-write my ideas my hand can never keep up, and I have been known to forget what the end of the sentence was going to be by the time my pen got there. But sit me at the computer and my fingers lag only marginally behind the sentence that forms in my head.

If you are serious about your writing I cannot highly enough encourage you to learn how to type without looking at the keys. I know a lot of you are probably pretty fast and think you are too old to learn new tricks, but the benefits far outweigh the effort in my experience, and even when you have long breaks away from the keyboard you never seem to forget how to type, you might just slow down.

Just as an aside, it has also been ridiculously useful at work, but that was entirely a by-product or my desire to write.

So use one of the many free online courses, sign up for adult education classes, or check out the software that came with your computer –whatever you think is going to work best for you. Touch typing is like any other skill you learn, it feels awkward when you start, but eventually you end up doing it without thinking.

Give it a try, your writing will thank you for it.