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Posts tagged ‘motivation’

First Monday Mentoring November 2016 – five ways to start writing when you’d rather watch paint dry

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring when we discuss aspects of writing not normally talked about.

For instance, the art of watching paint dry. I’m doing it a lot lately, not literally, but in the sense of not wanting to sit down at my desk and write actual words. After being published for four decades, and ninety books, this is a strange experience.

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I’ve found all manner of things to fill the time, from reading to giving my home a spring makeover. Watching too many real estate and renovating programs may make one thing springboard off another. I also wonder, is this how people fill their time when they don’t have stories and characters chattering away in their heads?

After a while you start to wonder if the muse has deserted you for good. Not that I’m a big fan of the muse, believing that professional writers write, inspired or not. Over many years, when I’ve been unable to conjure up the exact words I want, I’ve given myself permission to write any old how, telling myself it will be edited later.

This process has never failed me – until now. But as with everything to do with writing, there are no absolutes. The process of writing is what spy thriller writer, Len Deighton, called “a muddled system of trial and error.” He said the hardest lesson to learn is that thousands of words must be written and then discarded or rewritten before the “keepers” emerge.

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Deighton said he softened the blow by keeping his early drafts for months before throwing them away. If nothing else, this gave him the objectivity which is mostly lacking when confronting our freshly written drafts.

Writers trip ourselves up in dozens of ways. The most common, fear of failure, can lead to making sure we have no time to write that best seller. Spring makeover, anyone? Social media, while being a useful promotional tool, can feel as if we’re writing, without contributing a single word to a manuscript.

So here are five ways to stop yourself watching paint drying – or real estate programs.

  1. Find your best writing time and protect it ferociously

The time needn’t be from nine to five, unless it suits you. If you are most productive in the early hours or late into the night, keep these times free from distraction and interruption.

  1. Have your own writing place

Even if it’s only a corner of a room, or in your car, having that space and associating it with writing can be a powerful tool.

  1. Develop a writing habit

Victor Pineiro, blogged here http://tinyurl.com/zym8cq4 about writing his first novel by working on a laptop during his hour-long train trip to work. He says, “The key was not getting angry at myself for writing pure garbage some days. This was just an experiment — nothing to lose. As you’ve read dozens of times, once you do something for thirty days it becomes habit .” Once his laptop was open, he says, he felt obligated to write and it slowly became a habit.

  1. Use the small chunks of time

Like Pineiro, you can write while commuting; dictate story notes on your hands-free phone as you drive; plot the next step in your book while awaiting an appointment; or read reference material online while the kids play sport. This frees up your writing time to generate actual words.

  1. Write for yourself at first

I’ve blogged here about the critic over your shoulder, the inner voice insisting you can’t write so why bother? Somehow we have to overcome the critic and write anyway. Writing for yourself alone, and not letting anyone see your work until you’re ready, often helps. You can also do what Kate Grenville told me she does – put a sign over your desk, reminding yourself, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”

What every writer's conscience should look like

What every writer’s conscience should look like

Now all I have to do is take my own advice. Right after I check out this Tiny House makeover.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is available from Harlequin from November 21  

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STORYCRAFTING LIKE A PRO – First Monday Mentoring January 2016

Welcome to a new year of writing adventures. On the first Monday of every month, I answer your questions, invite you to share war stories, and help you along your writing journey.

If you’re a regular here, you’ll know one of my favourite tasks each year is mentoring the winner of the Valerie Parv Award, established in my honour by Romance Writers of Australia. For details of the 2016 award click on http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/110/Valerie-Parv-Award.html

Previous winners are nearly all multi-published now, taking out dozens of Australian and international writing competitions in all genres along the way.

What every writer's conscience should look like

What every writer’s conscience should look like

This year’s VPA holder is CARLY MAIN with her Roman-set novel, Memento Mori. With Carly’s permission, I’m sharing some questions she asked as we worked on her current chapters.

Your contributions are always so helpful. I’ve tried a few critique partners before, but nobody has ever suggested new plot points or new ways of telling the story. Is it largely a matter of experience? Do published authors tend to view manuscripts in a different way?

I’m also starting to think about my next book. I have two complete drafts which I now realise – as a result of [the VPA mentoring] process – I need to flesh out in terms of character development, motivations, conflict etc. and I’m worried I won’t be able to repeat the process.

Carly, 2016 is a milestone year for me. My 90th book will be published by Momentum (Pan Macmillan), meaning I’ve had books published every year for the last four decades. I was, of course, a child prodigy.

So experience is obviously a factor. Plus I’ve studied the writing process – my own and others’ – to discover not only what works, but why. Cultivating this awareness solves your concern about repeating the process.
I also try to give my minions (the name the VPA alumni gave themselves long before the movies) tools they can apply to any writing project. They’re tools I use in my own books, and they work.

Minions take over world

SO HERE ARE MY TOP 4 STORYCRAFTING TOOLS –

1. Ask yourself what work the writing has to do
Whether it’s a sentence, a scene or a chapter, every piece of writing MUST have a job to do. It can be revealing character, moving the plot forward, deepening the conflict, filling in needed background or planting clues and red herrings (in a mystery). Even better if the scene has more than one job.
When you’re editing, if you identify the purpose of the scene, you open up dozens of ways to achieve your purpose, rather than simply rewriting the scene in different words.

If the scene is only “pretty” or titillating, consider deleting it or combining with another scene. In Carly’s case, she had a crucial character to introduce and chose to combine the introduction with a scene that, until then, was doing no identifiable work.

2. Explore as many story options as you can
Say you have a love scene to write and plan to set it in the hero’s (or heroine’s) bedroom. Fine as far as it goes, but can you do better? I suggest listing at least 20 ways you could handle this scene to make it more original. Is there a mountaintop, a cabin, a creepy basement, or other setting you can use? Depending on the story, could you play out the scene on a private jet, in an office, under a circus tent, in an opal mine? I’ve used all of these and had a ton of fun with them. Readers enjoy the freshness, too.

My lists sometimes run to 100 or more options, including the outlandish and plain silly, before I hit on something that excites me. The trick is to avoid self-censoring, just let your imagination run wild. Only when you’re written out, should you evaluate your list, combine or develop the most promising options.

3. Ensure your characters’ actions DO speak for them
It’s all very well telling readers that a character is kind, honest to a fault, and loves small children. But do you show us these qualities? For example, a single mother is desperate for money for her child’s medical treatment. She finds a bag of money by a roadside. Having her use this money, even fully intending to pay it back, creates a different image of her than the one you intend. Equally, if she lies to gain a job to earn the money she needs, what does this say about her? It’s okay to show her being tempted, but she shouldn’t give in. It may nearly kill her to turn the money in, but you can use this to show her honesty is hard-won. You could show her attraction to the detective who takes her statement, or have him protect her from criminals who stole the money and think she has it. Or he thinks she’s in league with the bad guys. Showing the character’s struggles is a great way to reveal their true character and can lead to some wonderful, character-driven stories.

4. Use fewer words to better effect
This definitely comes with practice. Sadly, the words generally have to be written before we can edit out the repetitions, the information dumps (when we tell readers everything we’ve researched), and the slow passages. Give yourself permission to write as much as you feel you need. Let the finished work lie for as long as you can, a few weeks is good. Then read with a fresh eye and a sharp red pen.

Every writer is different and not all tips work for everyone. But it’s the old story about giving a woman a fish and feeding her for a day, or teaching her how to fish and feeding her for a lifetime.

You never stop learning. I still read how-to books on writing, seeking to gain even one new insight. Last week, it was Not Just a Piece of Cake: BEING AN AUTHOR by Hazel Edwards, author of the Australian childrens’ classic, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake
Writing is a never-ending learning curve.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. What are your best storycrafting tips?

Valerie

Member of the Order of Australia
Australia Day Ambassador
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

First Monday Mentoring for January – writers, what is your special word for 2015?

It’s the first Monday of January on this blog, when you can ask questions and discuss any aspect of writing that concerns you.
It’s also when many of us make – and sadly, quickly break – our resolutions for the New Year. We aim to be slimmer, fitter and more active; give up bad habits, and be more productive.

These resolutions are soon broken, not because they are unworthy goals, but because they aim for perfection, not a natural place for humans to be.

We can still work toward these goals, but they probably should be built into everyday life, rather than pressuring us at such a sociable time. For myself, I started eating more sensibly about five months ago, and am already reaping the benefits. Had I started during the most indulgent season of the year, I’d have far less chance of making the changes stick.

The one-word approach

On Facebook recently, one of my friends posted what I think is a far more creative approach to the New Year. Award-winning American Romance Author, Holly Jacobs, said rather than making resolutions, she chooses a word to inspire her through the coming year. Last year her chosen word was step, a commitment to taking more steps each day. This year Holly chose stretch which, when you think about it, is what all writers should do – not only stretch ourselves physically, but mentally, with new writing challenges and experiences.

The one-word idea makes perfect sense to me. The problem is, like many of you following this blog, I work with words. Lots and lots of words. So far, I’ve published nearly five million words in books alone, with movie scripts, short stories, novellas and articles probably adding another million.

How on earth do I choose just one?

There are writing-related words – brainwave, inspiration, dedication, productivity, imagination, success, creativity.
Scary words – procrastination, deadlines, endurance, not really the encouragement I’m looking for.
After much soul searching, I finally settled on a word to sum up my hopes and plans for 2015.

*drum roll, please*

My word for 2015 is ENRICHMENT.

As a volunteer guide at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium for over ten years, I was very familiar with this word. When visitors commented on how happy and energetic the animals all looked, enrichment was the reason.

Hummer, the handsome giraffe at Canberra's National Zoo & Aquarium

Hummer, the handsome giraffe at Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium

Everyone from zoo keepers to volunteers and children enjoying the vacation programs either contributed materials or helped make toys for the animals. Toys are usually food-related such as screw-top bottles or egg cartons filled with seeds and treats. Each item is tailored to the animal’s needs and skills, and is designed to challenge and entertain, while eventually rewarding the animal’s efforts.

In summer, frozen treats are on offer, such as “bloodcicles” for the big cats, and frozen fish for the massive European brown bears. One year, the zoo’s owners brought in a load of snow from the Snowy Mountains, and heaped it around the enclosures. Seeing a 400kg brown bear shyly check out a scary pile of snow was fun for animals and zoo visitors alike.

Enrichment for writers
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As a fan of enrichment at the zoo, I can see it working well for writers. We’re also prone to boredom if we don’t have enough variety in our work. We also need rewards to stay motivated. Chocolate is a favourite, but movies, research trips and reading time can also enrich our writing lives.

Right now, in the heat of an Aussie summer, a pile of snow in my backyard has plenty of appeal.

What word would you like to adopt for 2015?
Share your word and reasoning with us in the comments below. I moderate posts to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on the “sign me up” box at right to subscribe. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy New Year and may all your words flow in 2015,

Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s Beacons book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You
at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for August – handling your writer’s grumpy brat

Today is the first Monday in August – how did that happen? Today I open the blog to your questions about any aspect of writing and publishing, and answer them here. The blog is read by many terrific writers who add their thoughts or experiences. Post your questions and ideas, argue with mine, share your war stories. This is the day, heck, sometimes the whole week.

I regret the need to moderate comments before they appear. But turning that off leads to an avalanche of spam and rudeness we can do without. To have your comments appear right away, click the ‘sign me up’ button at lower right to subscribe. I don’t share your email address with others.

To kick things off, I’m addressing a problem all writers share – dealing with our inner grumpy brat. You can be a New York Times bestseller or an emerging writer, but sooner or later Grumpy Brat Writer will appear, usually when you’re facing a deadline or a contest closing date. You need to be ready. Just like a parent in a supermarket when their toddler throws themselves down on the floor and screams blue murder, you need coping strategies to stop your Grumpy Brat Writer from winning the day.
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Here are 5 things you’ll hear Grumpy Writer Brat whine:

1. I don’t wanna

GBW never wants to do anything, especially if it involves work. And most writing involves a LOT of work. GBW would much rather play with her friend, Google, on research sites. Even then, she may start out on topic and be distracted by the first shiny link that comes her way. Which leads to another link and another until your research topic is a speck on the digital horizon. She also loves toys. Solitaire is to GBW what Lego is to most toddlers, and just as hard to get them to put away.
The solution: GBW loves rewards. Don’t wait until the end of a project (or dog forbid, a whole book) to reward her. Give her little treats along the way. They can be time outdoors, a little taste of chocolate, a phone call to a friend, or some reading time when she does what you want.

2. Why do I hafta?
This goes to the question of motivation. Writers have to be self disciplined to get anything done. Unless you have a publishing contract, no one is pushing you to finish the book. Non-writer friends and family don’t get why it isn’t done in a week. And without a goal, you’ll find GBW cleaning out the refrigerator, brushing the cat, or lining up pens in colour coded rows.
The solution: Motivate GBW with whatever works. Enter a contest with a submission date. Choose one that you can meet without too much stress, but that’s close enough to keep you at the keyboard. Tell your writer friends you’re writing. If you’re on Twitter, use a hashtag like #amwriting. Hashtags are like secret handshakes. They link together people who are otherwise unconected. but share a common interest – like getting the writing done. Sign up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. These days Nano is international. Participants aim to write 50,000 words during November. Nobody says they have to be good words, although published novels have come out of these rough drafts. If all else fails, buy a cute kitchen timer and set it for ten minutes. Almost anybody can stay on task for ten minutes. Tell GBW that’s all she has to do, write until the timer goes off. Chances are she’ll still be going after the timer rings. And if not, reward her and come back for another 10 minute sprint later.

3. Are we there yet? (usually repeated over and over)
We’ve all heard GBW on this. She wants the work finished and the fun to start. Especially if you’re writing a book, the finish line can be months and sometimes years away. No wonder GBW gets restless and whiny.
Solution: The kitchen timer in #2 helps to let GBW know when she’s “there” at least in the short term. Choosing a set number of words you’ll achieve each day no matter what and not stopping until you’re “there” can help. Even if your goal is as few as 200 or 500 words, make a deal with GBW that you won’t stop until they’re written. If you write more than your goal, great, but beware of writing 4,000 words and then finding you can’t write again for several days. Slow and steady wins the race.

4. No! (said with jutting out lower lip and folded arms)
Sometimes I think this is the first word that GBW learns. Whatever we ask of her, we get the one word answer and the stubborn body language. How can you deal with such an implacable, “No?”
Solution: GBW is looking out for herself, but she also has an almost subliminal sense of what else is going on with your work. Every time I’ve come up against GBW’s flat refusal to co-operate – every time – it’s been because the writing is going in the wrong direction. Coming up against that “No” leads me to look at what my characters are doing. Is this where the book should be at this time? Could I change settings or characters? Add a new character? Have somebody produce a gun? Magically, as soon as I address what’s bothering GBW, she starts saying yes to me.

5. Hers is bigger/better/shinier
This is GBW looking around and wanting what other writers have. Whether it’s a publishing contract, a prize, an award, great cover art or fantastic reviews, the little green monster brings out the worst in GBW. Often, she’s so consumed with the shiny goodies others seem to have that it stops her from writing anything.
Solution: tell GBW it’s okay to feel jealous. Maybe the other person does have a bigger better shinier whatever. On the other hand, they may also have ill health, financial woes or family issues GBW doesn’t know about. Most of us show the world our best side, but there’s nearly always a dark side lurking. Remind GBW about this and also of the line from the Desiderata, “Never compare yourself to others, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” While GBW is busy envying other writers, just as many would like to be her.

How does your Grumpy Brat Writer show his or herself? How do you deal with it? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

Valerie

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http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

First Monday Mentoring for May – 5 ways to know you’re a writer

Happy first Monday in May, the day when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. No question is stupid except, as the saying goes, the one you didn’t ask. So ask away using the comment box below. You can also share your experiences as a writer with others.

I’m sorry that comments need to be moderated before they appear.
I’m often tempted to turn that off, but friends who’ve done so report an avalanche of spam and rudeness we can all do without.

To kick things off, here’s a question I was asked while attending Conflux National Science Fiction Convention in Canberra. The event was wonderful, attended by writers, editors, publishers and fans of fantasy and SF. During a coffee session, I was asked, “How do you know if you’re a writer?” A good question.Time is precious.No-one wants to slave away on stories that are going nowhere. Here are some clues that might help.

1. You look at stories differently
You read a book, watch a movie or TV show and mentally write a better ending. You get impatient because you know who the villain is before anyone around you. A pen on a desk is never just a pen. It’s a potential weapon and you’ve already thought of a dozen ways it could be used. You’re either a psychopath or a writer, possibly both.

2. You feel things more acutely
You lose someone and while grieving, store away the feelings in case a character can use them later. You attribute motives to actions, even if the person doing them was merely acting on impulse. As a writer, you know that actions must be motivated, even if not in real life.

To a writer, everyone & everything is a story

To a writer, everyone & everything is a story

3. You observe everything
Yes, even your own suffering. As writer, Anne Lamott says in her wonderful Bird by Bird, if you’re held up, you don’t actually think, “So this is what it’s like staring down the barrel of a gun” but you come close.

4. You turn everything into a story
You wonder if you’re heartless because you channel your tragedies and suffering into story ideas. Judy Nunn calls this meta-observing “the third eye.” All writers have it, and we can’t turn it off.

5. You set the bar high
I’m convinced we write to prove to ourselves that we can do it…again and again. After quitting my day job, I wrote the same number of words full-time as part-time, because I expected more of myself. Make the New York Times bestseller list? Next time aim for #1 spot. Sell half a million copies? Next time it better be a million.

Far from being a cruisy, wrist-to-forehead profession, writing is one of the toughest gigs I know. How did you find out you were a writer? What’s good and bad about it for you? Love to share your comments.

Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com

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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Still chipping away at the writer’s block

One of the most-read posts on this blog was when I wrote about the difficulty I was having putting words together. Not getting ideas, I have plenty of those, but lacking motivation when I sat down to write.  At one point I was boring myself, and that’s never good. The many comments and suggestions told me the one thing writers most need to hear – that we’re not alone.  Other jobs can be equally lonely – train drivers for instance, except that they don’t have to first invent the train.

The publishing industry has never been more turbulent. As well as what to write, we’re faced with where to submit the work – to a traditional publisher,  a digital imprint, or even to publish it ourselves. Self publishing used to be considered “vanity” and not to be compared with “real” publishing. These days, writers are zooming up the bestseller lists with work they’ve published themselves. The process even has a new name – indie publishing.

One of my friends, Tori Scott, had plenty of encouragement from editors. She was nominated for a prestige Golden Heart unpublished manuscript award by Romance Writers of America. She kept hearing how terrific her writing was, and how she should keep submitting. All while doing soul-destroying day jobs that kept her away from the work she most wanted to do – writing books.

Deciding to self publish was the smartest thing Tori could have done. She knew she could write – editors and contest judges kept telling her so. Still, the learning curve was steep. She had to teach herself to edit, format and upload her books to the various ebook websites. Find the best ways to market her work. And keep on writing new books.  Read part of her inspiring journey here http://toriscott.blogspot.com.au/search?updated-max=2011-10-06T20:57:00-07:00 And she’s been able to give up her day job.

Reading stories like these and all your thoughts on dealing with writers’ block kept me inspired too. The idea that resonated most was to try something new. I’m pleased to report that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m currently working on a movie script with a romantic theme, to be produced in Australia. I’ve written documentaries and a feature film before, but it’s exciting and energising to be scripting a story  of my own, knowing I’ll be able to see my words come to life on screen. My dining table is disappearing under notes, scene cards and sticky notes and it feels good.

Thanks to all of you who posted encouragement and personal experiences. How’s it going for you? What sharp turn do you see your writing taking now or in future? Have you dived in or are you standing on the edge of the pool, as I was doing for a while?  Writer’s Block is an occupational hazard and will no doubt loom again at some time. For now I’m writing and loving it. Hope you are, too. I welcome your comments.

Valerie

Proud Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence 2012, Katharine Susannah Prichard Writing Centre, Perth

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

 

 

 

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