Finding the time and the energy to write and keep writing!
The most common complaint I hear from other writers, is that they do not have the time or the energy to write as much as they know they should. They face numerous challenges in completing a project, often hitting brick walls where they do not write for days. Before they know it, days have turned to weeks, and it is very scary how quickly weeks can turn into months. Life takes over. Tiredness takes over. Feeling guilty takes over. And the end result is a writer who cannot write, who wants to write, but is coming up with excuse after excuse for why they cannot write. Not having enough time or energy, and real life getting in the way appear to be the three top reasons writers give for being unproductive, or for giving up on a project. So what do we do about this? How do we avoid falling into this extremely common trap? Because believe me, once you have fallen out of the writing habit, it can take years to get back into it again. Here are a few tips to help you find the time and energy to write, and keep writing!
Carry a notebook everywhere.
Do this for multiple reasons. It will stop you forgetting ideas, as you can jot them down as soon as they pop into your head. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to hold onto an awesome idea, that slips away from you by the time you get back home! Always write it down. Use the notebook to record things you see, hear, smell and touch. Use it to write down impressions of people, snippets of conversation and anything you experience or witness in your day to day life. The more you do this, the more observant you will become. Taking notes put you in the practice of noticing things, and the more you begin to notice, the more notable ordinary things become. Observing and noting down as much as possible will enable you to become better at communicating your experiences into words. There will be things you observe that you may never have noticed before. Don’t forget, that stories can grow from the tiniest seeds. Inevitably you will start seeing stories everywhere. Once it is written down, it takes on its own creative life, and becomes part of the reflective process. One idea will spark off another. Unconnected ideas will reach out and link arms. Like tiny spiders webs or brainstorms, connections will be made, relationships forged, and stories will merge with others and grow into something entirely new. Becoming more observant makes life, and in turn writing more extraordinary. It makes you realize that there aren’t any ordinary or mundane moments, if you get into the practice of noticing them.
Read. Write. Repeat.
To begin, I suggest sticking to this formula as rigorously as you can, but in time, once you are in the habit of doing both, it will become more about quality than quantity. Reading makes us better writers. There is no getting around this. Think back to when you first knew you wanted to be a writer. Think back to the first time you put pen to paper and explored a story you’d kept in your head until that moment. Wasn’t it the same feeling you had when you fell in love with a book for the first time? That need to make it last, to savor it, to understand it and think about it. That longing for a sequel, or a prequel, that need to read it again as soon as you finish. Feeling like you know the characters, like you can laugh and cry with them, be yourself with them and understand what they are going through. Aren’t these the same reasons you want to write? You have to read to understand writing. If you enjoyed a book, then question why? If you didn’t enjoy a book, then ask why? Break it down and work it out. Was it the pace or the plotting, the dialogue or the characters, or the overall themes? What was it that didn’t convince you? Use great books and less than great books to help you become a better writer. This is not about copying, but it is about learning the craft. And as for writing itself, it needs to become a habit. Get used to the simple act of doing it every day, or at least nearly every day, and you will always be better than you were the day before.
Be patient in finding your voice.
This only happens if you put in the work and practice your craft. One of the reasons writers get frustrated and give up on projects, is that they are fearful of sounding like someone else. To begin with, you probably will. Undoubtedly you have your favorite books and authors, and you will have your preferred styles and genres too. There is nothing wrong with that. If you are writing, and worrying about sounding like someone else,don’t worry, just keep going. Just like everything else we learn to do in life, you learn from someone else first. Eventually, what is truly you will come to the surface. This will come with confidence and time, and confidence will only kick in once you have dedicated enough time to the craft, so don’t give up! Finding your voice is just one of the many struggles you will face as a writer, and like all of the others, you have to write through it. Just write, write, write. It does not matter if it all gets thrown away or dismissed or deleted. You are learning all the time.
Beat the first draft fears.
First drafts are emotional hell. To begin with, it is terrifying. Literally putting those first few words down can be the hardest thing you ever do. It is all there waiting for you. Blank pages. A story waiting impatiently to be told. It’s there in your head, but will your writing ever live up to what your mind imagines? You will never know if you don’t get going. Get it done. Accept the clunky, clumsy, ugly writing. Accept the inevitable plot holes and unrealistic dialogue. Just get it done, and do it every day, until it is done. There will be times when it feels euphoric. When it is all flowing perfectly and beautifully, all unfolding in front of you with barely an effort. There are days you can’t be dragged away from it. Nights when it occupies your mind and keeps you awake. And then, you will hit a slump. Or a wall. Whatever you wish to call it, it will feel impossible to get past. It’s not going right. It’s boring you. It’s gone flat but you can’t pinpoint why. You don’t know what you are doing. You take a day off. And then another. You tell yourself you have writer’s block. Not true, just get back to it! It will slow down, and it will be harder, but write yourself over that slump and through that wall. Just write it, even if it’s even more terrible than what went before. Just get it done and accept it’s rubbish. Embrace it’s rubbishness! Tell yourself you will fix it later, because you will. Dedicate a certain number of words or pages a day, and get it done.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t watch TV. Don’t be a slacker.
Okay, if you have a busy, tiring job, then of course I have sympathy for you. But you must have spare time, right? There must therefore be things you do in that spare time? Reading? Watching TV? Going out for drinks? Okay, so you need to ask yourself, which is more important? Watching TV and eating snacks? Or writing that story? Becoming a writer? Realizing your dream? Get up early. Go to bed late. Squeeze it in. Make notes in your notebook when you are cooking the dinner, or walking the dog, or taking your lunch break. If you have kids, I also have sympathy. I have four. I had three of them very close together and those were the years where my writing just stopped. I told myself I didn’t have the time or the energy. But guess what? Once they were in bed, I did have the time and the energy to watch reality TV or to read magazines. The truth was, I was out of the habit, scared and full of doubt. Since the youngest one came along, I guard my writing time fiercely. I write whenever I can, which is mostly once the youngest is in bed. I cannot do it any other way. It will not get done any other way. The truth is this; writing needs to become the thing you cannot do, and not writing needs to become impossible.
All of these things helped me find the time and the energy to write and keep writing. Through all the ups and downs, slumps and walls, blocks and self-doubts, the most important thing to remember is keep going until it becomes an addiction. Then you will know you are on the right path, and nothing will get in your way.
10 Top-Tips For 2016
Another year is over, and a new one is already upon us. Did you achieve your writing goals in 2015? Or did the year pass you by too quickly, with life getting in the way of writing success? Don’t let another year fly by, without achieving your dream. Make sure you are continuously moving forward; whether it is getting that novel written, growing an audience, or keeping an eye on new trends. Here are some tips to help your writing progress in 2016.
1) Write. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it so often needs saying. First and foremost, above all else, if you are a writer, or if you wish to be a writer, then you must write. Personally I advise every day, even if it is just a little bit. Just a few sentences or a paragraph, maybe just a few rough notes, or a to-do list. Write something. Even if it is a blog post or a secret diary entry detailing your fears, just do it, just write something, anything. Just write. The more you write, the more you need to write. This is true. The more you exercise your craft, the more your head will fill with more. No excuses. No moaning. Just do it. Write and don’t stop. Let it become your addiction.
2) Make time. You have to demand the time and then guard it fiercely. When I started writing again after a long break where small children and work took up all of my time and energy, I had to give up other things I thought I cared about. TV went, reading magazines went, falling asleep on the sofa after the kids were in bed, went too. It turned out I didn’t care about those things as much as I thought. Once writing had a hold of me again, that was it. It had its hooks in and was not going to let go. Good. This is how it should be and this is how it needs to be. If you only have an hour a day, that’s fine. Grab it with both hands and make it count. Whatever time you can get, hold onto it and use it every day without fail, no excuses.
3)Find a writing group. This can be online or in real life. You need people around you to kick your backside along every now and again, offer feedback and inspiration and genuine advice. Friends and family may not be useful for this! Writers who attend groups are far more productive than those who don’t.
4)Treat writing like a job. I know, it sounds boring, and writing is meant to be fun, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. It is fun and should be fun, after all it is your passion and your dream, but if you don’t treat it seriously, it won’t happen. I resisted this idea to start with, but now I embrace it entirely. Whatever time you dedicate to writing, imagine it is your job, and you need to turn up, work hard, and get results. You can’t just slack off or call in sick. You have to go, whether you feel like it or not. You will be amazed at the difference this makes. I do all my writing in the evenings, and get anything from 1-3 hours. I give myself Saturdays off, and it does feel liberating not to put the laptop on for that one evening. But the rest of the week, I mean business!
5)Write weekly to-do lists to keep you on track. Daily ones become stressful, weekly ones are more flexible. Every Sunday night, sit down and write a list of goals you would like to complete this week. From writing a few new chapters, to emailing bloggers who might review your book, whatever it is, write them down. It feels very satisfying to tick them off, and it helps keep you focused. You won’t forget to do something if you write it down. If the list is not completed by the following Friday, then just add the things you missed to the new weeks list, and carry on. This way you will always do everything you intend to do, but in a relaxed and realistic way.
6)Know Your Audience. Another idea I resisted to begin with. I wrote what came into my head, and my audience would surely find me, right? Wrong. It’s hard to sell books, very hard, and it does help if you know who you are writing for and what type of people will like your book. This does not mean that people outside of this target audience are to be ignored, or repelled. Of course not. Many of the people who have really embraced my books have been far from the type I imagined would, but still, growing an audience is hard work. There is so much to choose from out there, it helps to narrow it down a bit. Who should you aim at specifically and how should you do this?
7) Not finished your book yet? Start building an author platform anyway. I’m serious. Do it now, or you will wish you had later. This doesn’t have to be all online, this can involve real life as well, such as having business cards made up to hand out, or getting involved in local author events and groups. But online is where the bulk of it will happen these days. Don’t worry about the fact your book is unfinished. Drag people along for the ride. Start a blog and post extracts. Join Twitter and Facebook and get them linked to each other and also to your blog. That way anything you post on your author page about your writing will get automatically tweeted, and vice versa. This will help you grow your followers and likes. Look at Wattpad for posting work in hope of getting feedback. Again, share posts to your blog, Facebook and Twitter to save time. Start storyboards on Pinterest, or boards for books you like and books that are similar to yours. This can also be linked to Twitter and so on. Your book does not have to be ready and published to start growing an audience, and making connections. You can start now, and the sooner the better.
8) Go for long walks. In my experience, the best and only way to conquer writers block, is to walk. If you have a dog, take them and get away from other people, away from roads and noise and distractions. If you don’t have a dog, walk anyway. Get out in the fresh air, get close to nature, just exist, and before you know it your mind will naturally start to wander. You will find ideas coming and going in waves. Whenever I struggle with a chapter, or feel I don’t quite know a character, or if I feel intimidated by the ideas I’ve had to begin with, I walk and walk and walk. It all happens on walks! Conversations, dialogues, insights about characters and why they behave as they do, new plot twists I never saw coming, brand new books, sequels, you name it! It gets a bit stressful when it really kicks off, because I get scared I will forget something on the way home!
9) Be careful with your money. We’re not all rich, and we don’t all have lots of spare cash to spend on professional book covers, editors and promotional packages. There are so many sites out there now set up to help authors, and a lot of them want money. This is not to say you can get it all done for free, and if there is anything you should spend money on if you do have it, it is a professional editor, but do be wary. There are a lot of people making money out of writers these days, and you should think very carefully and do your research before parting with your hard earned cash. There is a lot of promotional work you can do yourself for free; you just have to be smart and consistent and determined about it. Social media is free, running a blog is free, and I would highly recommend playing around on Canva.com for graphics, book covers and so on, which is also free!
10) Think Local AND Global. Don’t neglect either. Reach out locally, hand out cards, leaflets, put up posters, join groups, seek out other creative types and keep an eye on local events, book fairs, clubs, contests and so on. It will all help to spread the word, and also help you make those all important connections. Think globally because this is the way forward, the next thing to tackle. Consider having your books translated into other languages, and in audio form as well. Keep an eye on trends in other countries, and make your book eye catching and compatible with the ever growing trend of reading on a smartphone.
Above all else, decide on your goals, write them down and stick them somewhere you can see them every day. Don’t let 2016 be another year where writing gets pushed into the sidelines and neglected. Don’t fall out of the habit, or make the mistake of thinking it is a waste of your time. Everyone deserves a dream, but making them come true takes hard work!
DISCLAIMER!! I am not an expert or a professional. I am sadly not a bestseller either. These tips are written from my own personal experience as a writer and as a reader. I hope you find them helpful if you are struggling with how to write convincing dialogue.
You see, dialogue is my thing. I love reading it and I love writing it. I am guilty of slightly cringing when I come across dialogue that does not convince. The prose might be beautiful, the descriptions breathtaking, the plot gripping and so on, but if the dialogue is stilted, stiff or unconvincing, it will annoy the hell out of me and make me want to stop reading…
Show not tell? As writers we hear this mantra all the time and it is an important one to understand. You do not want your narrator, whether first or third person, ‘telling’ the reader everything. There are many ways to avoid too much telling, and using dialogue is one of them. Let the characters do the talking. In short, let them speak! You don’t need to keep telling the reader that Brian said this and Lucy said that; let the people talk! If the characters are talking, they can do some of the ‘showing’ for you. Instead of using the narrative voice to tell the reader what is going on, allow the characters to talk and have conversations that put this information across. Conversation is fascinating if you think about it. Think about what people mean, but do not say. Think about whether they are lying or exaggerating for effect. Think about what their body language can convey to the other characters. Does Brian scratch his beard when he is thinking? Does Lucy tug at her lip when she is nervous? Don’t rely on reams and reams of pretty narrative to get your story told, or to move your plot along. What is a story without its characters? Use them and let them speak, let them do the telling for you, in their own way.
Visualize your characters. Every time you write dialogue, you should be able to see your characters in your head. Obviously you will know, or you should know, what they look like. Write down their general descriptions such as age, sex, hair colour and build so that you don’t forget. But more importantly than that, build them in your mind. See them completely. Know their face as you would know the face of someone in real life. Learn their mannerisms. Do they stammer or stutter? Do they bite their lip? Do they brush their hair behind their ears when they talk? When your characters start to speak, when you start to fill their mouths with words, see them in your mind. Know every little detail about their physical presentation, so as you start to write the words, it is like having a little movie playing inside your head.
Read dialogue out loud. As you write it, as you start to make the characters speak, read the words out loud. Become them. Become their mouthpiece. Don’t worry about accent, just say the words as they would say them. Let your face become their face, along with any nervous twitches, throat clearing or wiping of noses. Read it out loud as you write it down and it should become obvious if it sounds wrong. Personally I read it out as I am writing it, and then read it out loud again when I am going back over it. This usually points me in the right direction and helps me pick out any words or phrases that do not feel real.
Pay attention to people when they speak. Sounds obvious, but sadly not all of us are terribly good at listening these days. We are often good at talking, good at voicing our opinions, but how well do we stand back and really listen? Practice this craft and you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of the way that people speak. People do not speak in long, flat, monotones of dialogue. They break their speech up with pauses….their voices go up and down, their body reacts as they speak, releasing sighs, laughs, coughs and eye rolling. All sorts of things go on when people speak. They frown, they make faces that convey their opinions on things they are hearing or seeing. They interrupt and talk over each other, they trail off, or get distracted and change the subject. Watch and listen and where possible take note. When people are talking around you, become a silent observer. Listen in on conversations on the train or the tube or the bus, or while in the shops, in the Doctor’s waiting room, in the school playground. People are everywhere and they are never quiet! You can learn so much about speech and will find it easier to apply all these quirks to your own characters.
Don’t force things on them. Okay, you want them to help you ‘show’ not ‘tell’ too much. But don’t use them like puppets either. Don’t force your opinions into their mouths and be careful that you are not making them say something that is not realistic, just because it helps you push the story forward. Know your characters inside out and know what they would say and what they would not say. Dialogue is all about personality. Yes you need to drive your plot forward, so you need to move the characters about and you need to be in control, but just not too much. Be subtle. Think about how your characters will react. Imagine they are real and exist in your life. They come to the shops with you, they eat meals with you, they go on walks with you. Now ask yourself, would they really say that? And in that way? Or are you just wanting them to?
Be realistic. Think about your characters before, during and after you make them speak. If they are a teenager and it’s been a long old time since you were one, are you really getting it right? Are you sure you know how young people speak now? What about regional aspects? Not just accent but regional phrases and cultures. Would they really say it the way you have written it? Think about gender. Think about every aspect of your character’s personality and life. Does their background effect the way they speak? Are they quiet and withdrawn? Do they mutter? Be consistent or it will come across as unconvincing. Use dialogue well and it will really help bring your characters to life and encourage the readers to fall in love with them. Make your characters individuals who speak differently to each other. One will speak one way, and one another. Some people say ‘um’ a lot, some people start sentences with ‘so’ or ‘like’. Some people have a favourite swear word…
Avoid cliches/predictable dialogue. Hard to avoid unless you are aware of what they are, or can be, but my advice would be to read, read, read. Only when you have read really bad, contrived and cliched dialogue will you know what it is! If you’re not sure, just think about things people would never say in real life, and imagine that. Over dramatic, over the top, overly wordy or descriptive, that kind of thing. Who talks like that in real life? Well I suppose some people do, and if you are writing about them, then fair enough. However, bear in mind that if things get too predictable every time your characters speak, then something is lost. Remember that one of the main reasons characters fall flat or fail to convince the reader, is poorly written dialogue. You want your readers to believe in your characters, fall in love with them or loathe them, want to be friends with them or wish they could take them to the pub for a drink. This is not going to happen if your characters to not speak like real people.
I think that is all! For now…!
‘I don’t have the time,’ is the number one thing people tell me when they say they would like to write. I can understand this and have been there myself. Or at least I thought I didn’t have the time. In reality, I just wasn’t organising my time that wisely. When I was a kid, writing was my number one priority. If I could have chosen one thing to do, above any other, it was writing. It meant more to me than just about anything else. When I was a kid, I imagined that when I grew up I would have all the time in the world to write to my heart’s content, but this is not what happened. It fizzled out when I went to University. At the time I told myself this was because I now had to study. But of course I wasn’t just studying! I was going out most nights, drinking and having fun, and then laying in the next day sleeping. There was plenty of time to write, I just didn’t look at it that way. The same thing applied when I had my first three children and worked from home as a childminder. Of course there was no time for writing! There wasn’t even enough time for reading! But if I look back now, I can see that there was time. I just chose to use that time sprawled out in front of the TV. When my third child went to school the itch to write again came back with a vengeance, and three years on from then, despite another baby, I have managed to hang onto it and have published three novels through an independent publisher. Here are my top tips on finding the time to write!!
1) Ditch the TV. I’m serious. You don’t need it! If there is a choice between reading and watching TV then choose reading for your leisure time. Reading helps you become a better writer. TV does not. I don’t watch hardly any TV any more. There are usually two or three programmes a week that I will watch, and that is it. No soaps, no reality TV, no wasting my time. If I still watched all the junk I used to watch, I would have zero time for my writing.
2) Get up early and go to bed late. Okay, within reason! Obviously if you have a family and/or another job, then you need a decent night’s sleep. But why lie in when you could be writing? Sneak down and get some done before everyone wakes up! Get up earlier than you have to and write before you go to work. No doubt the stories will buzz through you all day at work and by the time you come home you will be desperate to get back at it. As soon as the kids are in bed, or you are home from work, then write.
3) Stop making excuses. I used to do this all the time. I don’t have the time. I’m too tired. I can’t concentrate. There is no point. Believe me, I used to say all these things and I believed them too. Not any more. I do have the time if I use my time wisely and prioritize the writing. Don’t put it off and think tomorrow will give you more time, or more energy because it won’t. Tomorrow will be the same as today and you will use the same excuses if you let yourself. Break out of this mindset and accept that although you don’t have much time, you do have time.
4) Sneak writing into all parts of your life. Tap notes into your phone or your tablet when you are waiting, walking, or on a journey. Any time you are alone and can get away with writing, then write. Even if it is short notes, or lists of things you want to tackle, or brief disjointed ideas, or loose lost words. It doesn’t matter. It’s still writing, and you will be surprised how many sneaky bits you can do throughout the day if the mood takes you. These snatched moments will spur you on. They will feed the passion. They will lead you back to that story when there is more time later! You will become hooked again.
5) Remember how it used to make you feel. Remember when writing was who you are and what you did. Remember when the stories filled your head all of the time, especially when you should have been concentrating on other things. The trouble is, adult life came along and convinced you that time is short and should be spent on more productive things. Not so. Don’t let it. Life is short and before you know it weeks, months and years have dragged you away from the last sentence you wrote. Go back to that sentence. Go back to that time. Go back to that you. Remember how it felt and what it meant to you and how exciting and breathtaking it really was. Find your inner child again and let them show you the way. I did, and I have not looked back since.