Story Magic

magic-wand

I have been drafting a short story – just little bits when I can. The idea is that it will be one of the stories for a collection I’m playing with.

I seem to have spent so long editing and planning that I had forgotten how a story can unfold across the page. I have talked about trialling some planning/outlining for my next novel but I’m deliberately pantsing this one. It might be a bit disjointed and there are times when I worry about what should come next.

Knowing that I will need to rewrite parts, or most, of it hasn’t slowed the writing at all. The first four of five paragraphs will disappear without a thought. I used them as my introduction, to expand and explore the main character as an exercise in getting to know them and not required for the story. Really it was just a place to start, to get the words flowing and see where it went. And I have had some nice surprises along the way, even though I’m only a few pages in.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing all this…trying to write. Whether I am any good at it; whether I will ever be able to sell any of it or make some form of living from it. Then there are moments, like when I’m surprised by the words that flow across the page and I am reminded of the joy of writing.

And that is something to hold on to.

Allow yourself a little of the joy to keep you going when it seems a bit hard. Writing can be hard work. When it feels too hard I try to remember that I started writing because of the magic of the first draft. Where is your magic?

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Taking Action on Your Goals

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I have been focused on taking action on my writing goals over the last few weeks. Researching and exploring the reasons we don’t act on our goals. In particular I’ve been trying to determine why my own action taking cycles.

I am a planner.

Hang on, I hear you say, no she’s not, she’s a pantser. Yes, in my writing I am but otherwise I really love my lists and calendars and mindmaps and goals.

I think it is important to set our goals (in ink) and plan our time and set deadlines for ourselves.

This is not enough. To reach our goals we need to take action – to follow through with the plans and work through the lists.

Sometimes it can be hard to take action even for something we really want.

This inability to take action can be due to a number of reasons:

  • Energy levels
  • Motivation/inspiration
  • Fear
  • They are not the right goals
  • lost sight of goals
  • too many goals
  • Distraction
  • Lack of commitment
  • Failing to plan

 

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading about how to move through these issues/problems to take action on my writing goals and write more.

I don’t want to be productivity focused – I know I can write more, I want to write more – so how do I do it?

Energy management – Knowing when you work best and working to that cycle. I have discussed this in greater detail here. Remember not to beat yourself up when your energy levels are low.

Fear – Whether it be fear of failure or fear of success or something in between, fear can be so overwhelming it can slow or halt all action.

Motivation – Are you working towards what you really want or what you think you want?

Too much or too little – Are you trying to achieve too much and just don’t have the time. Focus on what is most important to you first. Overwhelming yourself with too many goals will only stop you achieving.

Distractions – Understand what distracts you from taking action and find ways to reduce or remove those distractions.

I know that if I check my email before I do any writing of a morning then I can quite happily fill my whole writing time with reading emails and following up on links to articles and Facebook and so on.

Aware of this I don’t allow myself to even think about email or blogs until after dinner, or sometimes during lunch time at work. Even if I want to check for something, as soon as it is open I know my hour is lost.

 

Finding the tools to help you

  • Everyone is different – I have said this before when looking for tools for your toolbox; see what others are doing and what works for them and then take from them what will work for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix it up – take tools from various areas
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment – try something new and if it doesn’t work for you walk away, or change it to suit yourself.

 

This isn’t a complete list

There is far more that I could go into. And action taking is different for everyone. Some of you will find it easy to sit down and do what is needed; others will struggle even though you know taking action will get you closer to what you want.

Can it be that easy?  What does it take to be able to action your goals?

 

Image courtesy of Wiki commons
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Reading on Productivity

 

By El coleccionista de instantes [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image by El coleccionista de instantes  via Wikimedia Commons
In my slower (blocked) period recently, I spent some time reading about productivity in the hope of improving my writing and writing speed, amongst other things. This may seem like a strange thing to be reading about when my productivity was at zero. But it was interesting and a great form of procrastination because I could justify it as writing related.

My curiosity about productivity and increasing it has stemmed from a renewed dedication to working toward living from my writing. Yet to do this I really need to get some writing out there for people to read. My first novel (which was not so good) took me five years to write. And my current novel is into its third year of production. To me this seems too slow even given the fact that I’m writing around a day job and family.

 

So I asked: How do I speed this up? And how can I write faster? Will writing faster affect the quality of my writing?

 

In my search for the answers I came across a couple of great books. So great I had to share.

 

The first was Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant.

I fell across this book by accident and am so pleased that I did. It contains confident information from writers who are out there publishing lots of very good books, in a clear, no nonsense style.

What I learnt:

  • Money can be made from fiction writing,
  • You don’t have to follow what everyone else is doing – it is ok to write what you want to, and
  • Outlining is required

What I’m trying

  • Writing what I want rather than what I think a publisher would want
  • Attempting my version of outlining for the next novel.

 

The second was 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron.

This was full of very clear advice and steps as to how the author increased her own word count. I haven’t read any of her other work yet, but her blog is quite good and worth a look.

What I learnt:

  • We need to know what we are doing now and how well that works before we can determine what we need to change.
  • Planning/outlining is required

What I’m trying:

  • Mad record keeping of every minute spent doing something vaguely writing related.
  • Attempting my version of outlining for the next novel.

 

These books were in part responsible for getting me back on track with my writing, even though they were great procrastination tools at the time. That fact may give a little acknowledgement to the idea that procrastination can be good for your writing too, but I may just be trying to justify my inactivity.

I also learnt a lot more than the few points I made above and I’m sure they will come into future posts.

I believe it is important to look at what other writers are doing and what works for them and then take from it what will work for you. This gives us more options as writers to improve our own practice and who better to learn from than writers out there making a living? It is all experimental. There will be times when what worked at one point doesn’t work for the next novel, or short story.

I do not believe that you should take what works for someone else and wholly follow their processes and practice. It will only lead to disappointment.

I am trying to learn more about my current practices with my obsessive time keeping. I am also trialling some different versions of outlining. I will admit I have struggled a little with that, but I can also see the benefit. How well this works when I start writing will be further research into my writing practice. And will then determine how the following novel may start its life.

What have you done to increase your productivity that you didn’t think you would try? Hit reply and share your thoughts.

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Critical Friendships

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It can be difficult to look at your own writing objectively. Particularly if you are a new writer, it can be daunting to know if your work is at a standard where you can share it with the world.

This is where critical friends come into play and why they are important.

Critical friendships are good because…

  • Sharing gives a better perspective of what you are writing
  • Can pick up little mistakes
  • Can find the gaps
  • Tell you what is working or what isn’t
  • Can help when you are blocked
  • Give an alternative when you are stuck on which way to go
  • Help you to look at your writing more clearly
  • Support and friendship

Being a critical friend is also going help your writing as you learn to look for the above in other writers’ work you will only improve your own skills and understanding in what works and how it can be seen by readers.

 

Where to find critical friends

Facebook

I was recently asked to join a Facebook writing group. At this point we are sharing learnings and articles but I have had offers to read my work and I’m saving them up for when it counts.

There are so many opportunities on social media now to find groups of like minded people. I like Facebook but you may prefer Twitter or Google Plus or one of the many others,

 

Student groups and courses

My recent Masters course has been invaluable in improving my writing; for each unit I was a member of a small tutorial group and the critical friendships were great as members of the group came from various genre and backgrounds.

 

Writers groups

There are lots of opportunities for writers to get together. To find a group near you try your local writers centre.

 

What to look for in critical friends

  • People writing at a similar level to you.
  • Open and honest but fair.

Don’t be afraid to test out a group first – sit back and watch for a while and see how it operates then go from there.

Of the various groups I belong to I still have one critical friend who I value above all others. We have worked together for a long time, coming up to 10 years, and we write in similar genre although not in the same way. I love her writing and find her advice and critique of my writing both insightful and helpful.

Photo: Friends from Wikipedia Commons

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Working Through Procrastination

I was still procrastinating by checking on my grades for my last unit of my Masters and reading the comments that had come through from my tutor, Rosie. And she repeated comments from earlier in the term – that I had started too late in the story and it was confusing.

Ok – I thought I’d fixed that but if Rosie said it again, clearly not.

Instead of going into panic, which I have done in the past when confronted by such criticism, I stopped to think about what Rosie was actually telling me. Chances are she was right. She is published after all and has been teaching for some time, she knows what she’s talking about.

And so I immediately opened a new word document and starting drafting a paragraph about the life my character had in the “real world” and her relationship with those around her. I also thought about how I could link the skills she has the “new world” with those she might already have.

The words flowed magically across the page and I produced a couple of rough pages that led me to the current start of my story. These two pages (about 500 words) will expand to around a 5000 word chapter that will set things up and introduce my character better than what I have now.

But I am not going to write that chapter now. Instead I have jumped back to the middle where I was stuck and powered through the rocky road to produce and clear and compelling story (I hope). I did this in a similar way to redrafting my beginning.

I made some dot points comparing what I had and what I needed to happen. I then spent some time rethinking my characters and what they were doing during this time and whether or not it was within character and showed any emotional growth. Then I was ready to redraft the problem chapters.

Although I also need to do this with the beginning, I will come back to that once I have finished this draft.

This process has crystallised for me the importance of having others read my work.  I will need to find myself a good editor/proof reader and consider a second beta reading group for when this draft is completed. But I don’t want to let that search way-lay me again. Focus first, particularly while I have some focus, and then work on the publishing side when it is ready.

Do you have a problem with procrastination? Share how you work around this to get your writing done.

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The Procrastination Monster

 

Procrastation Monster

 

The past week (or so) has been one of procrastination and stalling. The Procrastination Monster has raised its ugly head.

I’m nearing the middle of my story and it needs a bit of work. I’m worried that it isn’t really going anywhere and I’m seeing some gaps I hadn’t noticed before. Some focused thinking, a bit of playing, some journaling and even some simple drafting could fix it.

I’m sure it could.

But am I doing that?

No.

I’m reading about plotting, and structure, and fluffy romance novels (not even fantasy). I know I’m stalling but I just can’t seem to help myself. I had a sick child at home for a couple of days – that was some extra time while she convalesced on the couch. But what did I do? Watched Barbie movies with her and longed for her to drift off so that I could watch the end of Game of Thrones series 3 (even though I’ve read the books and knew exactly what was going to happen.)

Now I have wasted a good week and a half.

Why?

Because I’m overwhelmed. It all seems too hard at the moment, too difficult to fix the mistakes and make the story sing.

I have noticed is that a major relationship in the story has shifted and I have not clearly shown how or why that happened. If I don’t fix that a lot of what comes next will not make sense or ring true and the reader will not be as invested in the story.

So what am I going to do about it?

Sit in front of the computer and turn it on would be a great place to start.

Sometimes you need to force yourself to start and then the stress and problems don’t seem so big. I am still writing my daily sentence but with a pencil and my daily planner.

I need to play with some ideas. Play with what should happen between what I’ve got and the next serious action point. Or decide to push straight to it. Look at whether I am filling pages with fluff to get me to the next point. Consider if two chapters could be condensed into one, or the next two or three reworked and repositioned.

To work out where to go I will read what I have and what comes next and then draft out a rough idea (in a paragraph) as to what should go between and then make it happen.

It means pushing myself to start the process. Push the procrastination monster away and start. And hopefully clarity will follow close behind the determination.

Do you know why you procrastinate? How do you work through it?

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