Friday, August 18, 2017

Remove Distractions and Write Better

Distractions are some of the biggest reasons why writers simply cannot get their stories finished. We all know this. We all talk about this. And yet, we continually keep those distractions around us and then complain about the lack of progress. If you want to truly be a successful writer, those distractions have to go away.

I was listening to a podcast on NPR from the series Hidden Brain. In this series, Shankar Vedantam  was studying the concept of Deep Work. Essentially, how to really maximize projects you are doing and really, as the concept says, go deep. One of the things he noted with a researcher is the impact small little distractions can have on your work.

The specialist being interviewed noted how so many authors, to be successful, pulled out of society and found a great place to hide away and stay focused, Thoreau and J.K. Rowling found great successes by eliminating those distractions to get real work done. But the scientist went on to note that even smaller little distractions become huge impacts on that quality of work.

One of the things he noted were people who feel they are working well, but have to "just check in" on an email or a phone call. While this might seem like a quick check, the time it takes to get back into the groove of the bigger project is even larger. Essentially, think of the phrase "I am so on a roll now." We have all used that line before, but this is what they are talking about. If you are working that well and truly are "on a roll" stopping and trying to get that ball rolling again is even harder.

So, what are some ways you can eliminate those distractions in your life so you can write. Let's consider a few:
  • Eliminate social media This is a big one! You don't need to have your phone right next to you beeping every time someone posts on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. The same is true for having that social media running "in the background" while you write. Turn it off. I don't care f you have to shut down the wireless, but get off the grid! I don't know how many times my wife will be in the middle of a project, I will be in the other room and post something about the kids and hear her say, "Oh look, Scott updated his profile." Big mistake, she should have been working. In fact, as I write this and she is working on things for work, she has stopped three times to post something on Facebook, comment on an email that just came in, and checked her email three times. Not focused.
  • Have your research ready ahead of time Yes, I know that the Internet has all of the research right there so use it. But, have it taken care of BEFORE you start writing. Know what you are going to need for that next block of writing you are doing (see next distraction below). Getting online to find something will lead you to looking to other things which may or may not have anything to do with your writing. You might say that this will be good for later, but now is not the time to slow down your writing.
  • Plot out your story Sorry people, but I am back to this again. Plotting is the way to go. Knowing where you are going and what needs to get finished that day with your writing gives you the focus you need to succeed. My wife gets frustrated some days when we have some plans later in the afternoon. She will often say, "I'll get these projects finished while you run those errands." Now, in her head, she is thinking the errands that need to be run will take a large amount of time, giving her the time she needs to finish projects. For me, I streamline my work. I know the order of where to go to maximize the trip. I know where I can do "one stop shopping" to speed things up. The end result is that I am finished earlier than she is. OK, I get this is a gender thing, but in all honesty, I want to get on with my projects so I can do other things. The key is focus.
  • Turn off the phones Like social media, having your phone near you when you write will be a distraction. Now if you have no friends and no one calls you, this is fine (well not the bit about no friends but you get the idea). Every time that phone rings, you get pulled away from your work. Let the answering machine take care of things. 
  • Clear off your desk Again, this may sound insignificant, but having things sitting around your desk pulls your eyes away from the writing that needs to be done. I just noted, as I was writing this, that my eyes moved off of this section three times since I wrote the word "Again" just three lines earlier. I looked over and saw my checkbook... this reminded me that I had a bill to pay and I needed to update the ledger. I looked over and saw my insurance paperwork and reminded myself that I needed to take that to the truck (I have been saying this now for the last 2 weeks, by the way). I saw my pad of paper with the EQUUS FOUNDATION projects on it and I was reminded to get some social media out on that. Those are distractions.
  • Quit playing with the background music I watch my son and daughter doing this all of the time. They want music to listen to when they do their work. That's fine! But they keep their Spotify going and when they get a song they don't like, they pick the phone up and scan through for a new song to listen to. I scream, "Will you get back to work!" and their reply is "I am just looking for a new playlist. A) I interrupted (see last distraction in the list); but B), the time they took to look for that new song just took them "off that roll" they were on.
  • Have all of your supplies ready to go This is just like the research thing, but have all of your writing tools ready to go. When you clean off the desk, have your note pad ready to go, have the pencils sharpened. Have pens that work ready to go. Bring your snacks to the table. Have a tea pot or your coffee in the room with you. DO NOT create a situation where you have to get up "just to get a cup of coffee!" you know what will happen... You start to pick up the kitchen, you check the email (see above of "just checking in"), and your have lost your roll!
  • Find a quit place of solace to write Many major companies have changed how they set up their office spaces. By making the place nice to work, they maximize the productivity. You need to be focused. If you have an office to work in, shut the door. Keep it quiet. Keep the lighting perfect for writing. I know of several authors who have built little sheds in their backyards so they can walk away from the house and stay focused. When you are writing, you want to just think about the writing. Try adding plants. Light candles. Have a desk top waterfall flowing. Just be focused!
  • Kill the family No, I am not serious about this, but when you write, your family needs to know that they cannot disturb you. They cannot have you there to intervene on a fight. They cannot have you there to fix them a meal, or to ask even the smallest question. This time is your time so use it! You need their backing!
So, tell me, what are some of the things you do? 

And, now that you have finished being distracted by this blog post that just showed up in your social media feed, GET BACK TO WORK!!!!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Writing Lessons From Horse Riding Lessons

Yesterday, my daughter had a fantastic riding lesson. OK, maybe fantastic was not the right word for it. The lesson appeared to be a complete disaster with the horse deciding that that would not be a lesson he wanted to participate in. And yet, the lesson did turn out to be fantastic because after the 90 minutes of what seemed to be a huge problem, the lessons she learned were amazing.

We are all going to have good and bad days, just like the horse. Sharper Eagle for the last month or so has been through the roof, incredible. He had a bad day. Just like us.

As writers, you too are going to have bad days. Everything you write on that current work in progress will be the biggest piece of you know what you have ever seen. You will know good and well that your agent is going to dump you, your editor is going to fire you and your family will disown you for all the time you wasted on that story.

But that is not going to be the case.

Something just didn't work out right. And, like my daughter, from that disaster, you will discover how to fix this issue and move on. You will learn how to overcome those obstacles so that problem hopefully will not show up again. What's more, is that you will learn more about yourself and your writing style. You will grow as a writer.

I fully get that during that moment, all of those comments will probably fall on deaf ears. But, know that somewhere in your brain, you will remember that you have gotten over problems like this in the past, and you will do so this time, and you will do so in the future.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What Should You Be Writing?

Is your writing not going well for you? Do you feel like you are spinning your wheels and no matter how hard you try, that story just doesn't do what you want it to? Maybe you have finished the story and are sending it out to editors, agents, or even getting reviews and nothing is looking positive. It may simply be because you are in the wrong genre.

I have been doing some critique work lately with authors and had the chance to read two different pieces from the same author. The first story was...OK. Nothing amazing. I tended to find more things to pick on within the story and never really left satisfied after reading it. Was it bad? No. Was it amazing? No. It was just there.

But then I read another story from this author and it was amazing. It was a different genre and this author clearly rocked it. The voice was there. The writing was not forced. Wow!

After talking with the author, I found that the first story was an attempt at doing something new. This made a lot of sense. The reality of the situation is that the author simply was not comfortable with that new style and was still learning it. The other, the author had mastered.

So, with that in mind, what should you be writing? The answer is quite simple. Look to  your own bookshelves.

Now, I know that there are many of you who claim that you read everything out there. The odds are, though, that you do gravitate toward one genre more than another. In other words, if you walked into a bookstore, consider the shelves that you tend to go to first. Consider the aisles that you gravitate to. That is what you should be writing.

So, why is that? Because you full understand the genre. The wording, the styles, the nuances are all things that are running through your blood, so when it is time to write that genre, your brain already has the tools to make the writing successful!

I know that there are also some of you out there who believe that writing in the genre you read would tempt you to plagiarize stories and you would copy more than create your own story. This really is not the case. There will be common tropes, but you simply will not steal ideas. Another way to think of this is what your major was in college. You gravitated to the areas you knew better than others. Sure, you may have had some great teachers in other disciplines, or had classes you really loved in other disciplines, but your strengths really came out on the courses you understood.

I want to also add that authors should also consider doing this when they are deciding which publisher they want to write for. Look to your shelves again. The odds are you tend to read a select group of publishers and shy away from others. So go there!

Now, go out and do your research!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Before You Start: Does Your Story Have A Market?

I am sure every writer out there has done this some time in their past. Out of the blue, you come up with "THE PERFECT" story to be written. It is unique. It is fresh. It is hot and sexy. You can even see how the story will translate perfectly into a made for TV movie, or even the big screen. In most cases, you have even decided on who will play the characters and maybe even drafted your acceptance speech at the Oscars.

But, in all of this excitement, there is one piece you may have forgotten to consider and is necessary. Will this story even fit in the market today? Is there a place on the bookshelf in the bookstore for your story? Will anyone buy it?

Too often, writers simply start writing and then wonder why not editor or agent is interested in buying the story. They know the writing is good. Their friends have told them the story is great. But it simply does not sell. Now, part of this is that they have people who are a bit biased when it comes to the reading, but the bigger issue might simply be there was not market research done.

One of the roles of an agent is to work with authors before they commit a lot of time to a project. They don't want to dedicate too much time to a project, just to find that the story will simply not sell.

Market research is tough since we really don't know what it will be like a year from now, but there are a lot of things an author can do to minimize some of the damage.

Consider looking at the characters. Are these people who a reader would want to connect with? Are these people we would want to feel sympathy towards, or are we simply going to want to close the book and let them flounder.

Is the premise of the story something that really would work out. In other words, can we develop a plot that has purpose and meaning? Is there a real conflict in the story or is this simply a complication?

We can also look to see if this story is too similar to other projects already out there. Sure, common tropes are fine, but if someone on the outside picks this novel up and feels a sense of having already read it somewhere else, the book is not going to sell.

I know you may be overly excited about that project, but please, consider taking the time to think it through first. Not doing this may result in you losing valuable time that could have been spent on something that would sell.