Tag: advice

things I have learned that might help you

Why I Write About Writing

the-doctor-is-inOnce upon a time, I had a blog called “Why Should I Listen To You?” That blog foundered because it was unfocussed (and ultimately died because of platform obsolescence), but the question posed by its title is still relevant: why should you listen to me, or indeed anybody?

This is a blog about writing in general, but it is drawn from my writing experiences and my exploration of how I write – discovery writing for process, if you will. It is in my nature to need to constantly change what I do in order to keep things fresh. There are invariants in how I approach planning and writing, but my process of story generation and reification is always in flux, otherwise I fear I would always write the same stories.

What I try to impart here then are lessons and practices which I find helpful and which I hope others will find of interest: your mileage, as the hackerly saying goes, may vary. Indeed, I would be quite shocked if it didn’t: you, dear reader, are not me and I am not you. Our brains work differently, and our experiences take us in different directions.

So what is the value of advice? What is the point of writing or reading about this practice of wordsmithery?

What I get out of reading about writing is to keep the craft at the front of my mind – to make me more conscious of what I can improve and where I’m going next – regardless of whether I really learn anything new. I find these kinds of tracts especially useful during drafting prep and execution, but different texts are appropriate at different times. I also get a lot out of writing about my process and my creative activities in general: the best way to learn something is to teach it, as the saying goes.

But I’m not writing here to be prescriptive. There are rules to writing – spelling, grammar, certain narrative structures – but those exist to give common ground for you to communicate your ideas. These rules can be broken to make a point (see Spunk and Bite for some excellent examples) but the things I usually write about here, though sometimes presented as rules and procedures, are really more in the way of guoideloines, if you’ll pardon my Pirate. If something really is a hard and fast rule it’s usually effective to try following it for a bit just so you know the parameters of how it can be broken, but I’m not going to claim that much of what I write here can be elevated to that lofty level.

In short, I write down what works for me because doing so helps me explore and solidify my practice. If those concepts are of use to you then that is a truly glorious outcome.

And I am glad you’re here.

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Finding Time To Write

Here’s the thing: I accrete hobbies.

I’ve done this as long as I can remember. My bedrooms and work spaces have always been littered with incomplete drawings, half-made models, and barely begun electronics projects. I have never been good at budgeting my time, and finding time to write has not been easy for me. I don’t think it’s really easy for anybody.

I have the usual demands on my time – I have a day job, and a roleplaying group, and a family. Me being me, the job has to be engaging and demanding. Roleplaying is every other Friday evening – at the moment I am not running a game, which at least frees me from inventing stuff there. I try hard to be an involved father. And on top of all that I need to exercise. Oh, and there’s this blog.

So in there somewhere I need to carve out a couple of hours a day. My wife is supportive, but she is also busy so I try not to introduce yet more demands on her time. Change is necessary in order to support the writing.

The answer for me comes in three parts:

1. Mornings – I have cultivated the habit of getting up before five so I can be sat at my keyboard on the stroke of five to start writing. The kids don’t get up until six, so that’s one hour. The challenge here is to actually write when I sit down rather than, say, trawling Facebook.

2. Lunchtimes – demanding my job may be, but they’re good about people taking an actual lunch hour. Sandwich, desk, ear defenders – that’s another hour.

3. Occasional breaks in the rain – I can write while my son does his kung fu class. I may be able to manage an hour in the evenings once the kids are asleep.  I should be free to disappear into my office for a few hours of a Sunday morning. These other nooks and crannies should be enough to finish.

But I won’t lie – this year is going to be tough to fit it in. In truth, it’s one of the reasons I am only planning on writing 50k for NaNoWriMo in 2012.

As you consider how to make time for writing, the question to ask yourself is how permanent you want the change to be. Writing regularly is a habit to be nurtured, and NaNoWriMo is good for kick starting that. Unfortunately, it’s also good for burning out on writing and then not doing anything for months. The five o’clock start is something I have been doing for a while but I will refocus it on the writing in November.

So, what changes are you going to make to accommodate your writing? Are you going to try to make a permanent change?

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How To Write A Novel in 30 Days

NaNoWriMo looms like a big loomy thing – time to write a novel. In 30 days.

So how do you do that?

What I’m going to talk about here is how I do it. I’ve pulled bits and bobs from other people’s writing on the subject (particularly Chris Baty, of whose wisdom we will learn more at a later time) but I try to express these tenets in language which appeals to me.

I have already written about what I do to prepare for NaNoWriMo, but in short I will have 25 chapter summaries, expecting to write around 2,000 words for each (although of course more is better).

These are my rules for NaNoWriMo in general, and for high velocity writing in particularly.

The Rules of NaNoWriMo

0. give yourself permission to write crap. You will be writing quickly and not always selectively – do not think about quality. Get the ideas down, as fast as possible. More will be along soon, and you wouldn’t want to cause an idea traffic jam, would you?

1. write every day. Or thereabouts, anyway. 25 chapters in 30 days allows for five days off, but every day is better. This is particularly true of the wave of initial enthusiasm. Which brings me to –

2. build up a buffer. Aim to overachieve early in the month. This is usually not hard to manage in my experience because everything is fresh and joyful, especially in that first week, but the reasons for building up a buffer are more than just making allowances for an enthusiasm deficit in the third week.

Christmas is mere weeks away. In the US there is Thanksgiving in the last week. For myself, I lost my job half way through November 2008 and was so glad of the buffer.

So, write fast while the wind is at your back.

3. back up your novel. There are sad stories every year of people who lose a day’s work, a week’s work, or everything. The computer crashes, or gets stolen, or breaks, and everything is gone.

Back up your novel. Every day at least, in multiple locations.

As blogger Dan Rutter puts it: data you haven’t backed up is data you do not want.

4. finish the story. Hitting the daily word count goals is good; having a completed story at the end of the month is better. No worries if a chapter runs long, but at some point you have to go on to the next. Keep moving.

I broke this rule once, that dreadful 2008. I hit the word count goal for November, but there was still another 20k of story to go. Trying to grind through that in December was hard, particularly since, mirabile dictu, I was starting a new job and had to spin up on that too.

5. don’t read it straight away. This is the single most important piece of advice in Stephen King’s book On Writing – you need distance before you read the story, so you have some degree of objectivity about its quality. I leave it for six weeks pace King. Try not to let impatience overpower your good sense here.

The Rules of High Velocity Fiction

Getting everything down takes discipline. Follow these three rules and you won’t go far wrong.

1. never look back. It wasn’t a good idea for Orpheus, and it’s not a good idea for you. Editing is for later. You don’t have time for that now.

The story I wrote during my first NaNoWriMo in 2004 was one that had never previously got past chapter two because I kept going back and editing.

2. turn off the internet. That animated GIF of Space Cat? Look at it another time. Turn off the internet (pull the cable, turn off the wireless card, cut the string) and focus on what you are supposed to be doing: making words.

And researching that plot or setting detail you need for the story is not excluded here: time researching is time you are not making words. If you need to look something up, then put a note in the text [in square brackets] that this needs to be checked and then make something up which will serve as a placeholder. Look it up when you have the words for the day, or during a consistency edit.

3. don’t delete anything. Bad simile? Wrong name? Inappropriate joke about pixies? Don’t delete it, put it [in square brackets]. They’re words you have written in your novel and they should count towards your word count.

This may seem specific to November’s frenzy, but I would argue it is a general rule for any draft – they’re your words, and if you see them again in context during the edit there may be something there that might be of value. So leave them in place.

Truth to tell, I find that I don’t delete much for reasons of quality control because I am writing too quickly to be able to make such judgements in my sleep-deprived state (is there really such a thing as an inappropriate pixie joke?) but I do bracket out the wrong word or name. I also treat discursive commentary on the story as deleted words.


These are my rules for success. What are yours?

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