What exercise can do for your writing

Having fun with exercise helps clear the mind.
Having fun with exercise helps clear the mind.

I got a little sluggish over winter and then we were away for the annual retreat (although my writing buddy exercised, I chose not to). Over the weeks that followed I struggled with my writing due to a lack of confidence with the Raven Crown Series and I slacked off – with everything.

Then with a bit of a push I got back into a regular exercise regime and I’m finding the shift in energy is assisting with my writing.

Looking after the body looks after the mind.

I find that I need to concentrate when I exercise, particularly at the gym with weights, and counting repetitions. Concentrating so fully on the exercise cuts out all the noise in my head; all the worries and story ideas and lists of things to do. As well as building up my strength, and getting out of the chair – as my day job is sitting down, my writing is sitting down –  it clears the mind to allow the creativity to flow when I do sit down to write.

In a way exercise is a form of mindful meditation.

To assist the writing it is worth ensuring the body is strong. Managing exercise time is just as important as managing your writing time. And it helps maintain your energy levels so that you can write when you have the time.

Where do ideas come from?

Where ideas come fromI had the chance to talk to a reader recently who, when she had me pinned in a car, asked where the idea came from for The Mark of Oldra. She asked some really good questions about where I got the idea for many of the features of Essawood, including how they lived.

It is little things that trigger a bigger idea for me. Usually in conversation; or watching people in café’s when I should be listening to my friends.

Many writers will say that you need to be observant. To always be watching.

I think that is part of it. Paying attention certainly helps.

But it is asking questions about what you see that I think leads to exciting ideas.

 

‘What if the eggs in the nest didn’t contain baby birds?’

So what would they be? What could they be? What comes from eggs? What doesn’t come from eggs but in another world could?

So you see there are lots of ideas just from a nest with eggs.

 

One writer mentioned the installation of a telephone box outside his house, but no phone was ever connected. He used to look out his window and wonder what it could be. Another suggested taking the everyday and making it something else. Could it look like a house but it isn’t?

 

But everyone comes back to the “what if…?” idea. And I do this when drafting story ideas.

What if red riding hood ate the wolf?

What if the witch was good?

What if Dorothy never made it to Oz?

 

This can be particularly useful with fantasy as anything can happen. Any little thing you notice could, with the right question, lead into something magical.

 

What could lie behind the loose brick in the school wall?

Why do two socks go into the machine but only one ever comes out?

What do the animals do when we are at work?

 

I could list a whole range of ideas for all sorts of items or scenes that I come across every day.

 

Try it yourself:

Take a picture, or an item and think about the what if’s.

Could it be a different colour, size, shape?

Could it be used for something very different? What if it did the opposite of what it does now?

Who could use it and why?

Is it a secret?

Should it be a secret?

How did it get to where it is?

 

Find your item and write your questions or take something you know and think about how it could be different and what that would mean for your world.

 

More examples include:

What if the queen was voted in?

What if the government system was different?

What if there were five gods and you got to sit down with them and chat when you go to church?

 

For those of you that are curious, this was the beginning of an idea that would one day become The Mark of Oldra:

I was reading an article about a writer and his amazing view of a forest from his writing desk. I looked up from the magazine, out of the window by my writing desk and along my not very exciting street (at the time) and I was disappointed. I wanted to live in the forest he described and the changes he saw over the seasons.

I closed my eyes and imagined looking over the forest in winter, with deep snow and bare branches. And I was surprised by a man stepping out from behind a tree. He was cheeky enough to wave and then disappeared.

That was my first meeting with Pira.

Before I knew it Gerry was running from the house to see who he was.

Their story grew from there and changed a bit over the writing of it. But whenever I got stuck I always asked Why? And What if?

Creating Cultures and Celebrations

Peasants_breaking_bread

Today is Australia Day and over the past few weeks there has been a range of advertisements about celebrating the day in your own way and that there is no right way to celebrate the day. They are meant to encourage you to embrace your own culture and history to create the celebration that best suits. The catchcry of the series of advertisements was “what does it mean to you?”

These adverts got me thinking about the different cultures and different celebrations and the realisation that for my novel there are many aspects of culture to consider. Not just in fantasy and science fiction writing but for any world you create, culture will have an impact.

Given the day I am just focusing today on celebrations. For there are so many aspects of any culture to consider that it could possibly fill a book, this article is a good starting point.

What we celebrate as well as how we celebrate tells a lot about our culture and our beliefs. Having an understanding of what is beneath our celebrations or milestones and what would be important to your world and those in it can greatly enrich your writing.

 

Start by asking yourself some questions and brainstorming from there:

What could be turned into a celebration that isn’t in your own culture/world?

It would depend on your world as to what that might be. Examples could be harvest time, becoming a man, first kill, change of seasons, first rains, new moon.

 

What do we celebrate that could become unmarked by a culture?

In most cultures the naming of a child is celebrated. Perhpas you have created a world where children were predetermined and already named before arrival. A celebration or ceremony would not be needed. What other aspects of a culture would change the way people interact by it not being celebrated?

 

How could a special day be marked differently?

Quiet reflection instead of parties or by the wearing of a particular colour or costume.

 

Religious holidays and celebrations and ceremonies?

Could you take several and mix them together, what aspects of different religions could you apply to your own (fantasy) one? Or even the reason why some things are celebrated and not others. Jehovah Witnesses for example, only celebrate wedding anniversaries, not Christmas, not birthdays, the basis for such (that they are not prescribed in their religous text – the bible) and it may be that you could apply a similar set of rules to different events.

 

The questions above could be a starting point if you are unsure around some aspects of your culture. Thinking of the celebration first and then the reasons behind it you will be able to strengthen the world you are creating.

Not everyone, even in your created world, will do things the same way and that is going to be due to a range of reasons:

  • Different class
  • Different upbringing
  • Different religions

Celebrations are only a small part of this.

What aspect of the culture you have created was influenced by something you do in your own?

 

Image of Livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio, 14th century. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Département des manuscrits, Français

Creative Exploring Time

My daughter exploring ruins
My daughter exploring ruins

One of my goals this year is to take more time to explore different creative ideas. But making that time can be difficult.

I have already found after only one week how exhausting being back at the day job can be, how it drains my energy and competes with my writing time. When you are tired it can be difficult to enjoy and fully utilise the writing time available. I find after a holiday that there is a ‘return to work shock’ as my body adjusts to full days doing day job tasks, such as meetings and long phone calls. That tiredness that creeps in can interrupt my creative thinking time and cloud the reason I need that time.

The last day alone before I headed back to work I spent at a day spa soaking and steaming, and then treated myself to a Chinese massage. It was a bit of a cheat because I should have been writing and I felt bad for wasting the day until I got into the pool. I had so needed the time to switch off, relax, and let my thoughts go where they liked.

It was worth the escape time. I came up with some new plot ideas, fixed some outstanding problems and even had some revelations and new story ideas and all in a few of hours of just spoiling myself.

I need to do this more often…just breath and allow the right words to filter in. Doing it while I allowed my body to relax was a bonus. I love the sauna and have discovered a new appreciation for the steam room and sitting back with my eyes closed no one interrupts or talks or asks about my day. I can let the stress and worry and general impurities run from my pores and allow my mind to wander.

I am often disappointed when I have to remind myself to breath. It adds to the stress in a strange way, should I have to remind myself so early in the year when I was so keen? Part of it is that I don’t want this year to slip away like others have and find that I haven’t achieved what I wanted.

Last year I marked off most of my goals. This year I have set myself some more challenges with some tighter deadlines. Allowing myself some time to let my creative mind find the answers is not slacking off but scheduling such time can be hard because you think it is.

I am amazed by what I can produce when I allow this creative thinking time. It is taking time out but in the long run I think it will make my writing stronger and me more productive as a writer. During my first week back I had a meeting a good two hours away (a long way in Tassie). The time alone in the car was used as my creative thinking time. Sometimes I spend my exploring time at the computer or with a notebook. It can be whatever you need it to be.

When could you fit in some time this week to sit back and let your mind wander? I would love to hear what you discover.

7 Ways to Boost Creative Productivity

productivity 

I am finalising the current edit of my novel and as it draws to a close I am thinking about the next project and the one after that, and after that and how to ensure I continue to write. My current level of productivity is not what I would like it to be, particularly if I want it to carry me into a “writing career”.

During my breaks from reading through my novel, I have been researching productivity and I have discovered a mistake I may have been making in my current activities.

I have been applying a lot of business related productivity tools and theories to my writing life and processes. Some of these tools and tips have been useful. But overall my creative productivity has not improved. I still struggle with blocks and procrastination at times.

I have a plan and being a single parent there are times when I’m not going to get the time I want to write. And I’m currently living with my parents while I build a house which is distracting and the fact that I’m not living in my own space…

And breathe…

Ok, so a lot goes on in the average writer’s life. That is what life is and it is a matter finding ways to work around it.

I have talked in the past about finding time and taking action on your goals but what do we really need to do to sit at the computer or desk and write and write as much as we possibly can?

 

1. Set realistic writing goals

Before you start you need to know where you are going and why. Set realistic achievable goals that are meaningful to you.

For examples of goal setting see here.

2. Know what and when works best for you

When are you most productive?

The only one to really know this is you.

Keep records of your writing to map your productivity. Include as many details as you can, such as where you wrote and what time of day and how many words you produced in that time. Once you know what times are most productive for you, or writing place you will be able to maximise your writing output. (From 2k-10k)

3. Develop a writing ritual (triggering habit)

A triggering habit is one that triggers your brain that it is time to do something, such as write.

Of a morning, as soon as I wake, I stretch, make a cup of tea and then sit at my desk. This set of steps puts me into the writing mode and I am able to find the flow quite quickly. If I deviate from this, such as check emails first, or check the news on the TV, then I am lost and I can’t settle into writing until later in the day.

When writing in other places I have other rituals; for example, when writing in the library at lunch time, I walk from my office straight there and select a quiet desk on the second floor, pull my things from my bag, review my plans, put my handbag on the shelf above the desk what I don’t need beside it and the clear desk only contains the writing to do and a pen. Then off I go, trying to write or edit as much and as well as I can before I have to head back to the office.

4. Planning and outlining

Having a clear plan of what you what to achieve in a writing period will help focus the mind on the writing at hand.

An outline helps the drafting process and something I have battled with myself. Determining what may happen in the story before you write it can be just as fun as pantsing – and I am trialling this with my next (nearly current) project and I will explore it more as I start this process.

5. Cut out the distractions

We all find different things distracting, social media, noise or children. Determine what distracts you most and find ways to reduce these impacting on your writing.

It may be that you need to organise some quiet time away from the family, or it may be implementing a blocking program to stop you surfing the internet, or turning off the television.

6. Set deadlines

This doesn’t work for everyone and I know that often if I set my own deadlines they are passed over without a thought. If deadlines work for you, great; if not, consider making them public.

I did this recently with my call out for readers and the promise that my current work would be finished and ready to go around mid-August – which it nearly is.

7. Allow yourself some time when you need it

Don’t try to push too hard when energy levels are low. You have to look after yourself to get the most writing done.

Getting enough sleep is an important part of that. I know that after 9pm I’m not much good for anything. I could sit up and watch the telly then, or go to bed get rested and be fresh to start early the next morning (I like 4.30/5am but it is so cold at the moment that my toes don’t always agree).

 

These are my tips on boosting your creative productivity, and it may be that only some of these work for you, but some increase in productivity is going to get you writing more sooner. For more try these books.

Could one or all of these strategies work for you? Or have you tried something completely different that has increased your productivity? Please share your stories.