How To Find The Time To Write

What can you write in ten minutes?

Let’s say you write on average twenty to thirty words per minute. Heck, I’m writing this on my phone on a crowded train and battling with autocorrect, so let’s say I can only write 10 words per minute. In this worst case scenario, ten minutes means at least one hundred words.

One hundred words are not to be sneezed at. Each block of one hundred is one (tiny) step towards the ultimate goal of finishing your novel. And if your ten minutes are not spent crushed on a train typing on a phone that refuses to spell properly, your blocks could be even bigger than mine.

“But I don’t have ten minutes,” you wail in despair.

Yes. You. Do.

Ten Ways To Find Ten Minutes To Write

1. On the train
Ignore that commuter trying to read over your shoulder. Stop playing Candy Crush and/or Temple Run. WRITE.

2. In the morning
If you’re an early bird, set your alarm ten minutes earlier. Have a notepad and pen by your bed so you don’t have to trek far, and WRITE.

3. In the evening
If you’re more like me, go to bed ten minutes later. While everyone else is drifting off to sleep, take those extra few minutes to WRITE.

4. Whilst cooking
While your pizza is cooking or your fish finger grilling… Take your laptop and/or notepad into the kitchen, keep one eye on the nosh and WRITE.

5. At work
Slow day? Pretend to write an important email and jot down story ideas instead. Working through lunch? Who does that! That time is yours. Boring meeting? Flip open your notepad and WRITE.

6. In any queue
The post office, the bank, the bus stop, the doctor’s, the supermarket, a traffic jam… whenever you’re stuck waiting, WRITE.

7. In a restaurant or bar
Out with your other half and/or friend? If they get up to go to the bathroom, whip out your phone and WRITE.

8. Whilst watching TV
If you simply cannot give up ten minutes of TV time, then wait for each ad break and WRITE. The time pressure is a great motivator, too.

9. In the bathroom
Okay, I may be clutching at straws, but some people do read in the bathroom…

10. MAKE the time to write
If you simply cannot find those spare ten minutes to write, then make them. Decide what you’re willing to sacrifice. Those dirty dishes can wait a little while. Block off your calendar, lock the door, and take the time to write.

I wrote half of this post on a crowded train, in danger of being impaled by the doors. Who said writers don’t live on the edge?

Share your ways to find ten minutes to write in the comments!

Writing Transitions In Fiction

Without transitions, your story will not flow smoothly.

Transitions are words and phrases that serve as bridges from one idea to the next, one sentence to the next, or one paragraph to the next. Three minutes later… After five hours… The next day… These phrases keep the reader from having to find his or her own way and possibly getting lost in the reading.

Transitions are the glue that holds your ideas together. They are very important, but too many transitions can cause as much confusion as too few.

You don’t necessarily need a transition between every idea or every sentence, but it is a good idea to use a transition between each paragraph. Transitions usually come near the beginning of a paragraph, however you should use a transition wherever it works best.

The eHow article on How to Write Transitions In Fiction offers some useful advice.

How do you deal with the passing of time in your stories?

(I found this post sitting unloved in my drafts. I can’t remember if I wrote it all, or quoted it from somewhere else. Oops!)

Finding Inspiration Again

The words have gone.

It’s every writer’s secret nightmare: to sit down, brimming with ideas, only to have the words shrivel into dust. The few that end up on the page lie in awkward sentences like jigsaw pieces that don’t quite fit.

They’re dead; there’s no emotion left.

For the last few months I’ve struggled to write — and what’s most frustrating is that I don’t know why.

I’ve tried focusing on one project. I’ve tried flitting between them. I’ve tried outlining and freewriting, skipping ahead and writing in order. Music and silence. Bedroom and living room. Evening and daytime.

Nothing seems to work.

Staying inspired and motivated is no easy matter. With every unproductive writing session I’ve felt gradually more defeated, and it would be so easy to let everything slide, to stop trying so hard, if only to avoid that creeping sense of depression.

Because without words, what am I?

And then I wonder: where can I find inspiration again?

But there is no magic cure, no secret shop of wonders.

The truth is that inspiration is inside of us. We won’t find it anywhere else. And if we lose it, the only thing we can do is to continue to sit down in front of that dreaded empty page — to continue despite every defeat — and WRITE.

Yes, even if all the words are clumsy, mismatched jigsaw pieces.

How To Break Writer’s Block

As I sit here writing this, I’m suffering from the worst head cold I’ve had in years.

My nose is blocked. My ear is blocked. My sinuses are throbbing. A dull, persistent headache thuds beneath my right eyebrow.

So, obviously, my mind has turned to the subject of writer’s block.

A common credence – one I’ve often considered myself – is that writer’s block doesn’t exist. It’s all in your mind. Stress, pressure, fear and anxiety have gotten to you; YOU have blocked yourself.

There might be some truth in that.

But, given my current condition, I’ve begun to consider other possibilities.

What if writer’s block works like a common cold?

Think about it: everyone gets a cold at some point and it affects everyone differently. You cannot immunise yourself against it. There are as many varieties of cold & flu relief medicines as there are methods to overcome writer’s block… and each method’s success rate will change depending on what strain you’ve caught.

Extending this comparison, how then would we cure writer’s block?

The sad news is that — like for the common cold — there is no cure.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do.

How To Cure Writer’s Block

First of all, don’t panic. A cold isn’t the end of the world; neither is writer’s block.

Secondly, resign yourself to letting it run its course. Most blocks resolve themselves; only seek medical attention in the case of prolonged blockage.

Third, just because there is no cure doesn’t mean you can’t treat the symptoms. Go for a jog, drink caffeine, use writing prompts… Whatever method makes you feel less gloomy.

Lastly, eat lots of kiwis. They have the highest Vitamin C content of any fruit, and whether you have writer’s block or the common cold, it’s bound to be good for you.

So is writer’s block all in your head?

Maybe.

But, from the depths of my blocked sinuses, just because something is all in your head doesn’t make it any less real.

The Importance of Words

Wilmer Stone read our stories to us in a monotone as if he were reading from the pages of a phone directory. What we learned with each stab of pain was that the words themselves and not the inflections supplied by the reader had to carry the emotion of the story.
- Solutions For Writers by Sol Stein

I’d like to challenge you.

Take the nearest piece of writing – something you’ve been writing or reading – and read it aloud with no emotion or inflection whatsoever.

How does the story change?

I’ve been on and off reading Sol Stein’s Solutions For Writers, one of the few practical and useful writing handbooks.

Best of all, it makes me think.

The words, and not the inflections, have to carry the emotion of the story.

I have a tendency to overuse italics, forcing a stress onto a particular word to make the sentence have a certain emphasis. When revising, I strip the story of all formatting. The only italics that go back in are the ones I simply can’t avoid – and even those I consider a luxury.

I’m sure others have their own guilty pleasures. A personal pet peeve is exclamation marks; while I don’t subscribe to the drastic rule of having max one exclamation mark every three pages, I’d delete them wherever possible.

Exclamation marks and italics have their place, but if abused they lose their meaning. What’s worse is that they impede you from hearing the true meat of your story.

So be sparing. Strip away all inflections. Listen to what the words alone are saying, and make them precise and clear.

When you’ve finished revising, read your story aloud as if you’re reading from the pages of a phone directory.

You may be surprised by what you find.

Plotting vs Pantsing: Why stick to only one?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

There are countless blog posts arguing the pros and cons, hundreds of authors who’ve staunchly declared for a side.

Why must it be one or the other?

I freely admit: I pantsed the first draft of Above Ground. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but each week when I sat to write the next chapter, a part of me didn’t know what would happen.

Yes, that’s how I ended up with a (pointless) scene where a werepenguin eats a cheese puff.

That first draft was a badly structured nightmare of inconsistencies and pointless scenes. I had to write an outline from scratch and perform drastic surgery that took as long as writing the draft in the first place. While doing so I vowed: never again.

I vowed that I would be Team Plotter, all the way.

But now that I’m busy hammering out the outline of a second novel, I’ve come to miss the liberty of pantsing. The looseness of spirit. The “I’ll worry about this not making sense later”.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m enjoying outlining. It has saved me from writing (and deleting) pointless scenes. It has made me think about world building, character motivation, and theme – all of which I often neglect.

But writing the outline first is a subtle kind of torture. The closer the outline gets to where I want it to be, the harder it is to resist the temptation to just go for it and write. The only thing holding me back is the knowledge that I haven’t quite figured out the story yet.

But what’s the point in picking sides?

We are writers; we challenge ourselves. We take utterly scary things like zombies and turn them into short stories!

Plotting? Pantsing? I refuse to fit one box, to pick one side.

While I’m plotting Novel #2, I’m going to start pantsing Novel #3, and who knows — maybe I’ll write Novel #4 backwards whilst asleep, hanging upside down from a eucalyptus tree.

What about you?

Writing In First Person

Inevitably, when I get a novel idea, it comes to me in first person.

The climatic moment of self-realisation (which for me generally comes first with a story) simply sounds better in first.

I lie in a daze, following the words, discovering the story… Yet when I sit to write, I write in third.

And if I start writing in first – or try changing a story into first – nine times out of ten, I change it to third.

Why?

Is it because of what I’ve read?
I haven’t come across many good books written in first. Most of the ones I’ve read have been fairly average, so perhaps I’ve subconsciously linked average writing with first person.

Is it because of genre?
A pitfall for writing in first is that it’s easy to get caught up in the protagonist and forget to pan out to the world at large. With a science fantasy like Above Ground, the world is bigger than any one character… and third person allows me to step back and describe the world without the very personal first person point of view distorting it.

Is it aesthetic?
The beauty of third person is the aching distance between reader and protagonist. You feel her pain yet can simultaneously see the bigger picture, which makes the moment all the more exquisite. For me the distance of third person allows for greater immersion and suspension of disbelief; I sink into the character because I want to, not because I’m forced to by the pronoun ‘I’.

Or is it something else?
Perhaps I am making excuses. The more I reread the above list the more doubts I have. The reasons which seemed so solid in my head appear now as flimsy as the screen from which they glow.

Thinking about it, I’ve read many averagely written third person novels – and don’t know why they stick out less in my mind. And a good writer could successfully use first person regardless of genre.

Perhaps it is simply experience. The majority of the books I love are written in third, and that is the sole reason for my unconscious bias.

What about you? Are you biased one way or another?

Join The SENSELESS Writing Challenge!

Senseless ChallengeCalling all short story lovers!

May is National Short Story Month – and therefore the perfect time for an absolutely senseless idea.

Let me explain:

Short stories have a special place in my heart. They’ve helped me dabble with countless ideas, overcome writer inertia, and introduced me to communities like #fridayflash. Most importantly, they’ve helped me hone my craft by focusing on different techniques one at a time… And this where the senseless challenge comes into play.

THE SENSELESS CHALLENGE: THE FACTS

  1. We have five senses.
  2. May has five Fridays.
  3. Each Friday is dedicated to one of the senses.
  4. On that Friday, you post a flash fiction focusing on that sense.
  5. If you have twitter, tweet about your story with the hashtag #flashsense

Take sight. The story for that week could be about a ghost who can only see, but not hear or feel or smell or taste. On the other end of the scale, it could be about a blind man – and how he sees without seeing.

The aim of the challenge is to become more aware of how you use senses to convey description – and hopefully have fun too!

The schedule is:

There are no rules. You can take part for one week or all five. You can write about not having that week’s sense or only having it.

I’ll do weekly round ups so we can all enjoy each others’ stories.

PRIZES

At the end of May, I’m going to poll readers on which challenge story was their favourite (excluding my own, of course!).

The author of the winning story will win a print copy of one of my books.

EDIT: Far too many amazing people took part to make it fair to pick only one story. All entrants get a free ecopy of any of my books!

Each author can enter a maximum of 5 stories into the challenge – one for each sense. Winners will be announced on June 10th.

PARTICIPANTS

  1. A.M. Harte
  2. Nathan Payne
  3. Laura Besley
  4. N.M. Martinez
  5. Laura Amos
  6. Kiri
  7. Joseph
  8. Brinda Banerjee
  9. Peggy McFarland
  10. Christopher Munroe
  11. Kelly Stapleton
  12. Tim VanSant
  13. JP West
  14. Shelli Proffitt Howells
  15. Deanna Schrayer
  16. Chuck Allen

Want to join my senseless challenge?

Leave a comment on this post linking to your blog.

The Writing Meme

I’ve had this writing meme saved in my drafts for ages, unread and untouched, so what better time than now to procrastinate with it?

The rules are simple:

  • Copy paste the questions below onto your blog;
  • Fill in your answers;
  • Drop a link to your post in the comments here.

My turn!

The Writing Meme

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

The classic culprits: just, little, up, down, in, out, but, then, and of course and. I have to cull through my work to remove anything unnecessary.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

Same as above, which is why I ruthlessly delete them when I’m editing. Also, ‘suddenly’ and ‘all of a sudden’ can be annoying – the latter more so.

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?

It’s hard to pick; my favourite changes with my mood. Most of the time, I would say it’s one of the short stories in Hungry For You. Particularly the eponymous story, “Alive”, or “A Dead Man’s Rose”.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?

When I read through old stories – and particularly old fanfiction! – I cringe with embarrassment, but I don’t regret writing them. Every story I write makes me a better writer.

Name three favourite words

I honestly struggle with picking favourites.

…And three words you’re not so keen on.

And equally struggle to pick words I don’t like. Words are words.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

I have favourite authors, but I don’t see myself becoming them, so I’m not sure. I think we’re all trying to find our own path.

What’s your writing ambition?

To do justice to the stories I want to tell.

What’s the last thing you wrote?

A scene from my current WIP, a werewolf novella.

Was it any good?

I hope so. I’m not at the editing phase yet so I’m not letting myself think about that.

What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?

A short story I wrote in 6th grade about a horse escaping from a zoo. With pictures.

Write poetry?

I used to, then realised I’m crap at it.

Angsty poetry?

Yep! That’s why I was crap at it.

Favourite genre of writing?

Anything speculative.

Most fun character you’ve ever created?

Mort, from Hungry For You. He’s a total stereotype (overweight policeman, always eating, a bit crude), and yet I had fun using him as a counterpoint to the zombies.

Most annoying character you’ve ever created?

Lilith, the protagonist of Above Ground. She’s so hard-headed sometimes it defies belief.

Best plot you’ve ever created?

I’m not sure about best, but I really liked the set up in “Hungry For You” – female policeman who killed her zombified boyfriend ends up entangled with what might be the last male zombie alive.

Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?

I loved the scene in Above Ground where you discover the truth about Liam’s parents. I felt positively evil writing it.

How often do you get writer’s block?

Never. I do get writer’s laziness though.

Write fan fiction?

Not anymore!

Do you type or write by hand?

Typing all the way.

Do you save everything you write?

I try not to. If I find myself doing it, I create an archive folder and shove things in there. Keeping everything isn’t healthy; you need space to become a better writer.

Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?

So far, I haven’t. But maybe one day.

What’s everyone else’s favourite story that you’ve written?

Most people pick “Hungry For You” (the story, not the entire collection).

Do you ever show people your work?

That’s the point of this website. :-)

Have you written a novel?

Yup. See Above Ground.

Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Only in fanfiction.

What’s your favourite setting for your characters?

A contemporary/urban setting.

How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Actively, two. I’ve got another half a dozen on the backburner.

Do you want to write for a living?

Yes.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?

No.

Ever written anything in script or play format?

No.

Do you ever write based on yourself?

Everything I write has a piece of me in it.

What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Maeve, from Darksight. I’m still working on piecing that story together.

Where do you get ideas for your characters?

From my head!

Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Often.

Do you favour happy endings, sad endings or cliff-hangers?

Bittersweet endings. Happiness comes at a price.

Have you ever written based on a piece of artwork you’ve seen?

Only for small writing prompt exercises.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

To an extent.

Ever write anything in chatspeak (how r u?)

Eugh, no. Drives me mad.

Entirely in L337?

Nope.

Was that question appalling and unwriterly?

Yes. Except now I’m tempted.

Does music help you write?

No, but it helps me prepare to write.

Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops into your head.

“When I’m lonely for boys what I miss is their bodies. The smell of their skin, its saltiness. The rough whisper of stubble against my cheek. The strong firm hands, the way they rest on the curve of my back.”

- “Alive”, in Hungry For You

Your turn!

Letting Go Of Old Friends

I recently unfriended over 180 people on Facebook.

I’ve previously considered deactivating my account; I rarely use Facebook other than to look at photos and stay in touch with family.

Then I realised what was really putting me off.

Every time I’d log in, my newsfeed would be a sea of half-forgotten names – people I haven’t seen or spoken to in over a decade, and am unlikely to ever speak to again.

That guy who I last saw in fifth grade isn’t my friend. Neither is his younger sister. Neither are most of the people who attended my school, or many of my acquaintances from university. While their names and faces may be familiar, I (and they!) have changed so much over the last few years that we may as well be strangers.

I looked through my friends list and wondered: why am I holding on to these people?

But what does this have to do with writing?

Story ideas are much like friends.

As part of my spring e-cleaning, I’ve sorted through my writing folder – tidying up projects, deleting unnecessary drafts, and tackling that dreaded “to sort” folder.

At one point, I browsed through my ongoing projects list – a sea of half-forgotten titles, stories I haven’t thought about or worked on in years, and am unlikely to ever work on ever again.

Those half-baked novel ideas and outlines? They’re not my friends. I don’t know who they are anymore, and they don’t know the kind of author I am, either. I’m never going to write that romance novel, or finish the sea creature story, or figure out why the time travel thriller didn’t work. I have too many other ideas I’d rather be working on.

As I looked through my projects list, I wondered: why am I holding on to these stories?

So I selected them all and dragged them into an archive folder, which is pretty much like unfriending, if you ask me.

And if one day an old story idea or old friend knocks on the door and we reignite our friendship – brilliant.

But in the meantime, I have new friends to meet.