Creating is messy

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The full quote from Scott Belsky goes like this:

‘No extraordinary journey is linear. The notion of having established ideas and making consistent incremental progress is impossible. Those seeking a linear journey can still be successful, but often they struggle to create anything new.’

Something to remember when your work in progress isn’t doing what you want it do to. Now, get on with your creating ūüôā

Embed drama in your story

Drama drama drama…

As I research and plot my next novel, while I’ve landed on a broad theme, I still need to find the drama or conflict to bring it to life, move it along and give it power. Are the stakes high enough yet for my main characters? Not yet. These second novels can be challenging…

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How to research your novel & what it brings

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I have mixed feelings about research. On the one hand it can be dull because it’s not actual writing and can take discipline, but on the other hand it’s learning and it’s creative because I don’t know what exciting things it will bring to my story.

Research can also be a fearful process. Will I find the story hook I need? Will it give me the dramatic plot points I’m seeking? Will it fit with the story I have in my head? Or will it take me down rabbit holes? This depends, of course, on how much of your story exists in your head, and whether you’re a pantser or plotter.

There’s the danger too that research can become a procrastination point, as it has with me lately. Here are my best tips on how to research effectively and efficiently:

  1. Explore – First and foremost, research is about exploration. Perhaps you’re just looking for details that will make your story realistic like setting and costume, but maybe you’re looking for plot points and characters. Let your curiosity loose and see where it takes you.
  2. Read – Scour stories, articles, and other pieces you find on the internet. Devour books (fiction and non-fiction). Trawl through diaries and old newspapers. Investigate journals. Go where you need to go. Become a magpie.
  3. Watch films, documentaries, TV РVisual research such as watching films,  documentaries or TV programs can be a rich source for writers. They can be emotive and give you pictures of things that might have been challenging to imagine. Use them as enrichment and to add authenticity.
  4. Conduct interviews – Talk to people. Is there an expert who could help you? Is there someone you’d like to use as a character? Were there people who experienced the kind of event you’re writing about?¬†Most people are willing to help out so find your courage and ask. All they can say is no.
  5. Travel РMy next story is going to require me to travel overseas during a particular event that will be the culmination of my novel. I also need to be there to see whose pathways I will cross and where that will lead me. I know one author who needed French WWII collaborator stories for her story so she went to a rural town there, sat in a cafe, told people what she was after and gradually locals came to her to talk. Travel can add colour, character and plot points. Create the opportunity for synchronicity to happen.
  6. Take organised notes – I use a physical book or sheets of paper to write up the details of each piece I research, then I highlight key information with a pen and rewrite it in a more meaningful way. For my first novel being published next year, I wrote up must-have points in sequential order because that’s how my story was organised. I ended up with 3 pages of notes that I used as a checklist. For any details, I had the longer notes. Also, I¬†do separate notes for ideas that emerge during the process.
  7. Trust – With my last two novels I’ve had clear ideas of how the stories were going to work, meaning that while my research filled in gaps, I didn’t need it for plot points. With my current story I’m somewhat in the dark so I’m relying a lot more on what emerges during this process. Whether you’re a panster or plotter, trust that your research will give you what you need.
  8. Background only – Whatever you find through your research, your novel is fiction, not a lecture. Your research should inspire and inform you and provide authenticity where needed. It should never dictate your story or characters. Let it sink in to your mind and fall into the background.
  9. When to stop – Stop when you have enough critical information and can start writing your story. You could research forever, which can become an excuse for procrastination. Just dive in. You can always do research along the way to fill in specific details.

 

Stoke your creative fires

While all fiction and creative non-fiction requires strong characters with something to say, my next novel, a strained family saga, is especially character driven. I’m reading The Art of Character by David Corbett to extend and deepen my abilities, and (in theory), liberate my creativity. What are you doing to improve your work?

‘Life is like riding a bicycle.
To keep your balance you must keep moving.’
Albert Einstein

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Why creatives need down time

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It took me a long time to work out that down time isn’t wasting time, rather it’s an essential practice to creativity. I had such a protestant work ethic in me it felt lazy taking time out from writing. But I eventually realised that having a break by walking or doodling or reading or cooking refreshed me. When I returned to writing my problems were solved, my words flowed into art and I made other breakthroughs.

Science confirms that taking a break by napping, meditating or walking in nature increases productivity, replenishes attention, solidifies memories and encourages creativity.

Professor Lajos SzeŐĀkely talks about the creative pause ‘…when the thinker interrupts conscious preoccupation with an unsolved problem, and ends when the solution to the problem unexpectedly appears in consciousness’. And I love this quote from¬†Ferris Jabr saying¬†‘Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during down time’.

When you consider the apparently 18 things that highly creative people do differently, it confirms that down time is indeed fundamental to creativity.

Highly creative people daydream, observe everything, work the hours that work for them, take time for solitude, turn adversity into advantage, seek out new experiences, fail up (rather than taking it personally they use it constructively), ask the big questions, watch people, take risks, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, follow their true passions, get out of their own heads, lose track of time, surround themselves with beauty, connect the dots (finding vision), constantly shake things up and make time for mindfulness.

But down time can’t be spent just any way. In the digital era we’ve become addicted to the distractions of google, email, social media, TV and so on. Being distracted is easy because it stops us from thinking or feeling anything challenging. Yet sometimes this is exactly the place where growth and problem-solving occurs. If you hate being bored like I do, the reality is that it gives space for the mind to wander, which is where creativity can happen.

Here are some ideas about how to build down time into your life to expand your creativity:

  1. Create sacred space that’s technology free. If you go for a walk, don’t take your phone. Allow your mind to wander, feel the breeze on your face, smell nature, listen to the sounds around you, look at the people’s faces. Use it to connect with what’s around you.
  2. Schedule down time where you allow your thoughts to roam free. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advocates going on a regular artist date with yourself, where for say two hours a week you commit time to ‘nurturing your creative consciousness’. She says it’s like spending quality time with or pampering your artist self. Take them to an art gallery or the zoo, wherever they tell you they need to go.
  3. Meditate. The practice of observing yourself and allowing thoughts to come through you without attachment or engagement allows things to come up in a safe way. Meditation promotes focus, calmness, clarity and insight.
  4. Listen to and¬†trust¬†yourself. If you feel you need a break, don’t chastise yourself for being lazy. Listen to yourself and trust that your mind knows when it needs down time. Creativity happens in mysterious ways.

When re/writing makes you bored

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Some days when you write the words appear dull, the message unoriginal, the work turgid. You just don’t feel it. This might be your mood, but when I find myself regularly bored with my writing, I know something is wrong.

Here are some ideas on how to write yourself out of your boredom and shift (back) into creative brilliance:

  1. Write for YOU! Don’t write for others‚ÄĒwhat you think you should be writing, what you believe the market wants, what your family says, what your upbringing dictates. Writing must be authentic to be good. Writing is hard enough let alone when you’re pretending to be someone or something you’re not. This can make you feel vulnerable, but it’s only writing. See where it takes you.
  2. What are you really trying to say? Write in stages until you discover what this is. Sometimes I get caught up in the technical stuff or what my head tells me etc.. This has value. But when I’m done with all of that, I get annoyed and ask myself what it is I’m really trying to say and write with all of me. This is when I surprise myself. This is what kindles my fire.
  3. Noun and verbs¬†are the key to lively sentences that carry the reader onwards. They’re the central elements in creating action and movement. Choose powerful and evocative ones. Rather than writing¬†The cat sat on the hat¬†say The tabby crushed the fedora.
  4. Cut out the crap. This means¬†the superfluous adjectives and adverbs, the things you’ve already said in a different way, word repetition, anything that’s not central to or doesn’t advance your plot (kill your darlings), sentences that tell the reader what you’ve already led them towards knowing (patronising, ick).
  5. Space out description and back story.¬†Rather than having great chunks of these, eke them out in bits (up to three lines) as your characters take action. That way you’re not taking readers out of the story. Also, ensure you begin your chapters with exposition (action or showing) or timely narrative (informative telling).
  6. Consider structure. This is a huge topic covering setting, plot, theme and more. Each story, and indeed chapter and section, should have a beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (of sorts). If your beginning is short and sharp, your middle bloated and ending sudden, your structure needs adjusting. Get the first draft done and adjust. Write tables or chapter summaries, anything that gives you perspective .
  7. Are you allowing your characters to be authentic, or are you telling them who they should be? Sometimes characters surprise you or go rogue or want to leave your story. Authentic writing fosters real characters. Listen to them. They’re not boring, or if they are, they’re meant to be.

Happy writing over the holidays. See you in 2018!

 

 

 

 

Finish your [writing] project

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In 2016, I attended a two-day workshop run by an author and psychologist. Its purpose was to give writers the necessary tools to finish their project, focusing on how to get in the right head space and plan properly.

Many attendees, including authors who’d published multiple books, were stuck. I was bored and had almost stalled because the drafting process felt endless.

At the end of weekend, I came away with a solid, realistic plan to finish my novel. I exceeded my goals and finished drafting well before my deadline. I’m using the same tools now to help me finish my redraft before Christmas.

Here are a some helpful points that came out of the workshop.

Mindset

The optimal mindset for creativity involves being a little excited, optimistic and seeking pleasure.¬†You might have to fake it til you make it, but don’t give in to negative thoughts.

There are ways to help you create this mindset. Close your eyes and imagine a welcoming, mental place you can travel to before you begin work. For me, this was a deserted beach with wild waves on a cool days. For someone else it was a brightly coloured circus tent. You might also like to do a bit of relaxation, meditation, repeat some affirmations, go for a walk or do some breathing exercises before you work.

If you have a bad writing day, and we all do, separate yourself from your work. Don’t judge yourself and create fear and anxiety, which will be counterproductive the next time you write. The work simply didn’t go well ‚ÄĒ it wasn’t your entire being the failed.

Develop strategies to push through fears and doubts. There are many books on this, or read a piece by an author you admire about how they achieve this? The are loads on the Internet.

Be prepared to go beyond your comfort zone into new creative territory. Play, have fun. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Not a lot when you think about it. Trust yourself! You can always adjust your words later. Just get something down on the page.

Writing environment

This is about creating the optimum writing environment for you. When, where and how are you most productive? The aim is to find regular times to write and the best physical space in which to do that with the technology and other resources you need.

Write down your answers and create a plan. Diarise these times and build strong boundaries around them to ensure nothing gets in the way of your writing.

Set your intentions

Write down your long, medium and short-term goals. Be specific.

  • Specificity = measurement¬†= accountability (to yourself).

Measure your progress daily, weekly and monthly. Small achievements over time add up and are motivating.

I keep a diary of my daily weekday word limit because that’s how I’ve decided to monitor my redrafting. But word count is only one possible way. You could set goals for outlines, chapters or a manuscript end date. For example:

  1. I will finish redrafting my novel by 21 December. My MS is x words long, there are x weeks until then, which means I must draft x words 5 days per week.
  2. I will have a first draft completed in 12 months i.e. by 24 October 2018. The average book is 80,000 words long and I plan to take 3 weeks holiday in which I won’t draft. This means I will draft 1,630 words over 49 weeks. I will write 3 days per week.
  3. I will write 1,500 words, 4 days per week.
  4. I will write for 1 hour, 5 days per week before work.

The plan

In your plan, make sure you have the following elements:

  • Specific, measurable goals
  • Creative mindset strategies
  • A creative environment you go to each time you write
  • A diarised writing schedule.

For more hints on creating a writing routine, see this post here.

Now go for it!