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Posts tagged ‘procrastination’

First Monday Mentoring August – why am I so good at putting off writing?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when you’re invited to ask questions and share your experiences of being a writer – not the glamour side, but the realities hardly anybody talks about.

One big question rarely addressed is the problem of not writing. The dreaded P word – procrastination. You know the problem – you desperately want to write and you finally steal a few hours to yourself. You even have a fabulous idea you can’t wait to explore. You sit down at your keyboard and…Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

The words that sparkled in your head when you woke up that morning have been sucked away as if down a drain. You find yourself doing almost anything but facing that blank screen.

Okay, you get the idea. So what is the problem and what can you do about it?

First, cut yourself some slack. Creative work doesn’t run to a timetable. Nor can you produce something new without at least some struggle. That’s why you don’t try to write the perfect novel at first draft. You try to write something approaching your idea for a novel – what Nora Roberts calls “the dirty draft.”

The aim of a dirty draft is to get the story, chapter, scene or sentence down in some form. Even Michelangelo had to throw raw clay into a heap before he could shape it into the vision in his head. And that’s before he tackled the unforgiving marble.

Writers are lucky that we don’t have to work in stone. Everything can be changed. And trust me, it’s far easier to change a rough draft than to stare at the screen until sweat beads your brow.

Instead of going off to clean the fridge, force yourself to stay put. Write something, anything. Write a letter to yourself describing the story in your head. Sneak up on the story by writing around the scene. Draw the scene as a stick-figure cartoon. Write a ransom note from one character to another.

This kind of craziness can have a surprising result. You get caught up in the story almost against your will and you start writing. When this happens don’t stop to edit the work or consider if it’s right or not. Just let the words come. When you’ve done as much as you can, stop and breathe. Admire your achievement. You’ve gone from nothing to actual words. You’re a star.

This is really all there is to writing a novel. Figuring out the first bit, writing that; figuring out the next bit, writing that, and so on till you have your dirty draft. Then you can start to knock it into shape as a sculptor does the clay.

If you’ve tried all these suggestions and a few more and cleaning the fridge still looks good, ask yourself whether the idea is ready to be written? I frequently find that a major block is often a message from my muse telling me I’m going in the wrong direction. Give your story a shake-up, take it somewhere different and see if that helps. Then go do some mindless chore or sleep on the problem.

Writing Homeworld, Book 3 of my Beacons sci-fi romance series, I was well and truly stuck. After leaving the book alone for a bit I woke up one morning sure that the character I’d thought of as male was actually female. Further, she was a weather engineer, a profession I didn’t know existed until I went looking. As soon as she arrived, the book was off and running.

Procrastination is a strange beast. We may find ourselves doing almost anything but the work when actually, the story is bubbling deep within our subconscious and will surface when it’s ready.

Writer E.L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Is procrastination your problem? What have you tried to get back on track? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Coming up – Canberra Writers’ Festival 25-27 August 2017

Meet Valerie and her agent, Linda Tate, “in conversation” at

The National Library Friday 25 August 4pm-5pm, details

http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/Show.aspx?sh=AUTHORS17

 

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

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5 things writers should not take into the New Year

It’s not only First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing and publishing, it’s also the start of a New Year when many are making resolutions for how you want to be in 2014. Common ones are to be thinner, fitter, more successful and preferably richer than in the year gone by. As writers we may also resolve to get more writing done and set the bar higher in terms of what we expect of ourselves and our work.
All these are worthwhile goals. And as the saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you will still land among the stars. But while you’re shooting for the moon, consider 5 things you should NOT take into 2014.

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1. Unhelpful habits
Many writers “fuel” ourselves in ways that aren’t good for us. Chocolate, anyone? This year, resolve to change some of those habits for better ones that support you and your work. Before writing this, I headed for the kitchen for coffee and a home-made cookie. In my head I heard, unhelpful habit, and stopped to ask myself what besides a cookie would meet my needs, picking up a small bowl of grapes instead. I can also look at alternatives as creative fuel. Some writers use music, scented candles, a workspace set up a certain way, or playing a game or two to get themselves into the right frame of mind. As we move into 2014, what unhelpful habits can you switch for more helpful ones?

2. Procrastination
Depending on how long it goes on, procrastination can show itself as anything from a sudden need to clean out the refrigerator (in the domestic sense, rather than point 1 above), to full-on writer’s block when you can’t produce words at all. Start by asking yourself whether you’re distracted or blocked. When I find myself dodging a project, it’s almost always because it’s not ready to start yet. I either need more information – say about characters or story elements, or I’m trying to force the story to go in the wrong direction. Taking stock, doing some brainstorming with a supportive friend, or on paper; or filling in the research gaps often gets me going again. If you’re blocked because of fear – of not being good enough, or of looking foolish, for example – it helps to reread something you’ve already written to remind yourself of what you can achieve. If you’re a new writer, you might join a group or sign up for a workshop as a way to get over your fears in a helpful environment.

3. Tired ideas
If you’ve been struggling to write and don’t feel you’re making progress, use the new year to put away tired material. If you’re sick of it, readers are unlikely to be inspired, either. Try something new – a new style, format, genre – invent a new series character or world, and see where they lead. Freshen your approach and you’ll very likely recapture the excitement of writing as you go into 2014.

4. Negative self image
The nature of writing can lead us to question ourselves and even our sanity. Are we crazy spending time listening to voices in our heads, writing about imaginary people, and mentally living in made-up settings? But it’s not crazy, it’s what writers do. Then we share our stories with readers as our gift to the world. (See my previous blog on using your unique gifts.) We also ask ourselves why we think we’re good enough to follow in the steps of the great writers before us. I have no doubt they asked themselves the same thing. A healthy dose of uncertainty can be a spur to success, as long as it doesn’t overwhelm you.

5. Over-confidence
This may seem to contradict point 4, but it doesn’t. As I mentioned, having a healthy dose of uncertainty is good, whatever we want to achieve. It keeps us striving to do better, to prove that one story or one book wasn’t a fluke. Writing anything can seem like a miracle – and it is! But we must be able to step back from the work and see its flaws as well as its magic. Both are usually in the writing you’ve just completed. Setting it aside for a while and starting something new can restore your objectivity. In writing as well as in life, we need a balance between under and over-confidence, to achieve our best.

As a writer, what don’t you want to take into 2014? Share your experiences in the comment box below. I regret they must be moderated to avoid rudeness and spam. To have your comment appear right away, click on “sign me up” at lower right. I don’t share your email details with anyone.
Happy New Year and may your words flow freely,

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Resolutions to improve your writing in 2012

Some of the most common resolutions we make this time of year are to lose weight, get fitter, eat healthier and so on. Many of them can be applied to writing. Here’s how.

Lose weight

An easy writing resolution to start with. Aim to shed some weight from your writing by saying what you want to say in fewer and simpler words. Clear communication is key. You want the words to carry your story rather than attracting attention to themselves. In literary fiction, the words can be a reason for reading, but in most other forms of storytelling, the reader should get caught up in what’s happening so they feel as if they’re living the events instead of being told about them by the author. Make every word work for its place in the manuscript.

Get fitter

Workouts for authors are a good thing. Spending most of our working days seated at a keyboard doesn’t make our muscles happy. There are standing keyboards, desks you can fit to treadmills, and many other devices to overcome this problem. Or you can set a kitchen timer to remind you to get up and move around at regular intervals. Computer apps do this as well. But what about a fitness regime for your writing? When you begin, are you writing ready? Is your mind elsewhere, worrying about family or job worries? Or on what to cook for dinner tonight?  It’s amazing what jumps into our thoughts when we should be focussing on the story at hand.

I recommend having “rituals”, routines you set up that get your mind into the same place as your body. Rituals can range from checking emails to reading over your previous output. Set a time for the rituals to end and work to begin but don’t nag yourself if you need rituals to ease into your writing.  Walking through the door of the gym gets you into fitness mode; so having a set time and place to write tells your mind that it’s time to write.

Your writing also needs to be toned up – with the basic research, outlining and character development in hand. You don’t need to know every detail of your research. It’s OK to put “to come” in brackets and hunt out specifics later. But constantly flitting from draft to research can be another form of procrastination.

Set up a budget

This is a favourite personal resolution you can apply to your writing. Choose a measurable goal you want to achieve and the time frame for getting there, then work backwords to how many words you need to write on a regular basis to achieve the goal. Do you want to enter a contest? Submit to an editor? What requirements do you need to meet? Just as a budget needs room for unexpected costs, your writing budget also needs leeway for life to intervene. Every writer’s word budget will differ depending on the time you have available. If it’s only a few hours on evenings or weekends, be realistic in setting your word budget and keep a diary or wall chart of your progress so you don’t short-change yourself.

What other resolutions would get your writing into peak form for 2012? Share your hints by adding a comment below.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and on Facebook

 

 

 

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