Posts Tagged ‘planning’

So, after a little bit of time doing freelance writing, and an even littler amount of success from it, I feel that I’ve learned some valuable lessons for the other, more fun side of my writing life, and for anyone else who’s out there writing. These are, in no particular order…

Do more research

I’ve had to do research on all sorts of things. Not always in depth, but it’s always interesting to do, and even a few minutes’ research beforehand can making the writing flow much better and much more convincingly. Even things I think I can blag my way through are worth researching. I should bear this in mind for fiction.

Careful with the posture

Oh dear lord, the pain. I work at a laptop. This has been straining my shoulders and neck for weeks. That in turn creates headaches. Varying my posture, and never working slumped on the couch, really helps. So does the separate monitor I borrowed off a friend today. As soon as I can afford it, I’m buying one of those special posture friendly writing desks.

Goals are good, panicking about them isn’t

I’ve been setting myself lots of measurable, realistic goals – stuff like ‘write two chapters a week’ or ‘write one of those every Wednesday’. It’s good at keeping me focused and motivated. But inevitably, the first set of goals didn’t quite match what I could achieve. I’ve been running myself ragged trying to meet them, then beating myself up when I couldn’t. They’re still goals I should get to meeting sometime soon, just not yet, so I’m keeping them as aspirations. I just have to remind myself, when I start to stress out on a Friday afternoon, that as long as they’re pushing me to achieve more, I don’t always have to meet every goal.

Be more disciplined

Last night I sat up until midnight talking about gaming. Today I am dog tired and struggling to focus – hence this hasty post before I completely crash. I need to use my willpower to stick to things I promise myself, like getting to bed at a sensible time.

Now I’m going to follow some of my other advice, by having an evening off and chilling out. Have a good weekend folks.

My favourite teacher in sixth-form, the waistcoat-wearing, philosophy-spouting, local councillor Mr Anthony, had a slogan on his maths room wall:

‘If you have to swallow two toads, eat the big one first.’

photo by erikpaterson via flickr creative commons

photo by erikpaterson via flickr creative commons

It’s good advice, but easy to forget. When I’m trying to get started of a morning, I’ll often do a small, easy piece of work, to ease myself into the day. Then another, for the sense of satisfaction. And so on, picking off the easy fruit first.

The problem is, this means that the later tasks seem more daunting – everything’s harder than what I’ve done before. Whereas if, at the start of the day, I took a deep breath and did the big task, then everything would be easier from there on.

I’m trying to get back into that habit. It’s not easy, but it’ll make me more productive, and less bowed down under the weight of big tasks I’ve put off.

Anybody else got words of wisdom on this subject? How do you organise your work to be most productive? We’re all different, but I’m curious, what works for you? And who was your Mr Anthony?

Yesterday I finally had one of those experiences I knew I should be having as a writer, but have so far missed – realising that a character I’d created was completely redundant.

This is something I’ve heard mentioned in a few places. You put a character in because you like them, but actually they don’t add anything to the story. The role they fill duplicates things done by other characters. In this case they were the local detective in a murder investigation. I already had an out of town detective, who’s a stronger character, raises questions the reader will have about the setting, and shows one side of the story’s theme (living with military occupation). I have local characters who act as witnesses and suspects, answer the detective’s questions, and show the other side of my theme. Given what the other characters do for the story, the local detective, who I’d based on someone I know and admire, is redundant.

I spotted this because of Mary Robinette Kowal‘s advice in the Writing Excuses podcast. Mary’s said a few times that every character and setting in a short story usually adds at least 500 words to its length. Specifics aside, there’s an undeniable truth in this – writing about more characters and places makes for more words. And it you’re trying to fit within the word limit for a specific market that doesn’t leave space for excess characters. Once I counted important witnesses and locations, I looked down my story plan and knew I had too much.

So goodbye second detective. I’ll miss you. Heck, you’re an interesting character, I’ll probably just recycle you in a future story. But hard as it is to cut you out, I won’t weigh this story down with you.

I’m near the end of my first week writing full time, and I feel like I should sit back and reflect on how it’s gone. Self-awareness is one of the most important skills in achieving anything, and that starts with self-reflection.

Overall, the week’s been good. I’ve stuck with my full working days. I had to adjust some targets mid-week when a re-write proved more substantial than anticipated, but that’s part of learning to pace myself. I’ve managed to stay focused, hit my adjusted goals, and may even have time today for things that were dropped from the plan.

This week’s achievements include:
– blogging every day (sometimes here, sometimes for other sites)
– a big story re-write
– first draft of a new story
– reading three chapters of my novel for revisions
– my first tentative steps into networking via writing forums and other blogs

I’ve slept the best I have in weeks, and had the energy for the household chores, so there’s definitely some good side effects.

Downsides? Though I don’t feel like I miss the company yet, my behaviour says otherwise. I’m easily distracted by text conversations, facebook and checking my email. It’s not a problem yet, but I’ll need to keep an eye on that. I hit my first demotivated moment yesterday afternoon, struggling to re-engage with a story, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s another good sign that considering the alternative – back to office work – was enough to focus me.

So far so good. Now to get down to some writing.

And so it begins

Posted: May 6, 2013 in writing life
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The last couple of weeks have been rather hectic, as I’ve finished at work, put my home working space in order, and taken an anniversary holiday with Mrs K. – four years married, and I can still barely believe she even said yes.

But the thing that’s taken most of my attention these past few weeks (except on the anniversary, of course) is preparing to start writing full time.

Wednesday was my last day at work. I was given a spectacular send-off, including a red quill-style pen that will take pride of place in my writing space. I’ve handed over all my projects, packed away my office clothes, and got myself a plan. Because I know from six years as an arts student that without a plan, without a firm structure to keep me focussed, I will drift into laziness, sporadic depression, and a complete lack of productivity.

For me, that structure is all-important. It’s not rigid, and I’ll adapt as I learn my limits. But without it, I might as well head straight back to the nine to five, because I’ll never make it at writing.

I might talk about this more another day, as I’ve found some really good resources for planning a writer’s life. And I will get back to discussing the Hunger Games soon – I haven’t just forgotten. But for now, I’m going to rest and prepare, because tomorrow’s my first day as a full time writer.

This week, I’ve taken a lesson from Writing Excuses and tried the seven point story structure. It’s not the first structured plotting tool I’ve used, and it won’t be the last, but it was particularly useful.

I won’t go into the seven points – you can get that from the Writing Excuses episode or Dan Wells’s lecture. The important thing is that you plan your writing around seven key moments, most of them involving significant change. I found that seven points was pretty much a perfect amount for a short story. I could see how it would run to a decent length, but could still fit into a few thousand words.

The seven points helped to give focus to a story I’d been struggling with. In particular, working out the end state first and then starting from the opposite point gave the story and central character a dynamic arc they’d previously been lacking. Filling those seven key points also added a sense of transformation and tension that my story had previously lacked.

Seven point structure doesn’t do everything, by any means. I had to do a lot of thinking, and use another writing tool, before I even started with it. But I find that any new approach to structuring my thinking is useful, just to give me a different perspective, and I’ll be coming back to this one.

And best of all, I think my previously mentioned post-deluvian pirate story might now work. Though only if I can stop making excuses and get back to writing…