One writer’s rules. What are yours?

IMG_0474.PNGSome of mine off the top of my head include:

  • Write even when you don’t feel like it. Often you can turn that around
  • Write regularly
  • Trust YOUR writing process, no one else’s
  • Sometimes down time is writing too e.g. problem solving, fermenting characters, problem solving
  • Writer’s block means something is wrong. Listen, learn and overcome
  • Constantly challenge yourself to improve
  • Get feedback for your work from supportive people, experts perhaps or a writers’ group
  • Read, read, read good writers inside and outside your genre as well as writing books. INVALUABLE!
  • Write for you, not for anyone else or fame or money and so on
  • That said, your drafts should move from writing to get things out of your system out to considering your reader
  • Enjoy writing. Again, if you’re not, look for what’s going wrong and change that.

Writing multiple books at the same time

IMG_0472.PNG

Should you write multiple books at the same time? Perhaps you have ideas and characters bursting out of you. Or you have two or more stories of equal importance.

I believe it’s possible under some circumstances to write two manuscripts at the same time, but with some clear boundaries.

That said, there are circumstances where your writing energy would be better spent getting one project to a certain finished point first. How do you know?

If you can’t stop yourself from writing more than one book at a time, here are some guidelines:

  1. Your manuscripts must be very different. Perhaps one could be non-fiction and one fiction. Perhaps one could be crime and the other literary fiction. This way it will be easier not to diffuse your writing energy.
  2. Your manuscripts must also be at different stages. For example, you could be having a break from a first draft manuscript while your beta readers are looking at it or you’ve put in the drawer to get some distance. Alternatively, one could be at the plotting or first draft stage with one and on your third rewrite with the other.
  3. Make sure you have the energy for each story. If not, then go back to your priority story and let the other sit for a while. Trust that it will be developing in your head as you work on your priority manuscript.
  4. Your stories are part of a series. In this situation, you might find it natural to work on more than one part in the series, as long as you have a clear idea where they’re going and one doesn’t constrain the other.

But if like many people working on two manuscripts means you’re diffusing your energy, there are ways you can keep your non-priority project alive.

  1. Keep an ideas book and jot down your ideas so you don’t lose them. Keeping them on the back burner doesn’t mean you can’t develop them. Often they are stronger for this.
  2. You can even develop your plot and characters so that when it’s time to write this story you have a lot of preliminary work completed.
  3. You could also do research while you’re working on your priority manuscript. Again, more work will be done so you hoe straight in to the next book when the time is right.

Good luck fellow writers. Remember, never never never give in. Keep on learning and improving.

Writing to music

IMG_0407.PNG

I had an amazing writing day the other day. Words flowed out of me in a way I’d been working towards for a while.

What did I do differently that day? I asked myself. It took me a while to work out what it was, but I’d spent the morning doing physical work and listening to music  – my Best Songs Eva playlist. I’ve been experimenting since then with listening to music before and during writing. This is what I found:

  1. Music inspires
    Art feeds art, and music can inspire you to write in a new way.  Choose the right playlist to arouse, impel, exalt, animate, fill  you (you get the idea) with feeling,  openness and receptivity and let it flow out of you onto the page.
  2. Music enhances mood and creativity
    There’s something about listening to the right kind of music to get your neurons and synapses firing. I had to write about something based in personal pain, which I hadn’t been looking forward to. But it flowed out of me with an honesty I was flawed by, and surprisingly it was less painful than I’d expected. My word combinations were also new and exciting. I came up with language I didn’t know I had in me. Some of it needed paring back, but it was a great start. Music seemed to be my muse.
  3. Great lyrics help language
    Music with great lyrics – by that I mean words combined in a new way to create meaning and impact greater than their sum – can make you think about language in a new way, just like reading a classic book by a great author. It’s about looking at language through someone else’s eyes to spark new ways of using it yourself. It’s also about absorbing compelling language in an unconscious way that will hopefully show up on the page.
  4. Music can block distractions and create focus
    Some people use music to block out other distractions. I didn’t find this myself, but it definitely gave me greater focus and single-mindedness.
  5. Write while listening to music?
    This is OK for me, but not ideal. I found it interfered with the music of my words, sentences and paragraphs. That said many people swear by it so experiment to work out what’s best for you.
  6. Or listen to music before you write?
    This works best for me and it’s how I plan to go on using music. I’m working on creating playlists for certain moods I want to create in my writing. But really, anything that moves me seems to inspire. What works best for you?

Should you write every day?

IMG_0345.PNG

I’ve been tussling with this one for a while. Some people are happy writing when the mood takes them and produce plenty of work they’re satisfied with. Others find weekly word quotas work for them. I thought I was one of those people. But if that’s the case, why did I struggle to get back into my manuscript after a weekend break?

Over the last two weeks I’ve attempted to write every day, which I largely managed except for one day. Here are the things I discovered:

  1. Writing is a committed relationship
    When writing a story, whether fiction or creative non-fiction, it’s as though you’re in a long-term relationship with your characters and story. By dedicating daily time to spend with your work you’re remaining connected. That means it’s easier to pick up where you left off the previous day. Your work is fresh, alive and growing, like a plant you have to water daily for it to thrive. Also, the characters and story stay with you, which means you’re more likely to be working on them at a subconscious level. It’s all about maximising your flow.

    The other point about writing being a committed relationship is that if you treat it well like you would a loved partner, your writing becomes less like work and more like fun. With your story and character connection strong, you’re happier to nurture and spend time with them. This has to be a productive thing.

  2. Set time aside, even if you don’t write
    By setting time aside every day, be it half an hour or two, you’re allowing the possibility of writing to happen. You’re receptive and open to the possibility, like you’ve put the kettle on or wine bottle in the fridge in anticipation of a good friend’s visit. This is about giving your characters permission to speak and allowing your story to move forward as it needs. Perhaps they don’t turn up on the day, but by creating the space you’re extending a welcoming hand. You never know what might happen.
  3. Form the habit
    There are loads of myths out there about how many days of repeating something it takes become you form a habit, but my research showed the correct number is sixty-six. If writing becomes a habit, you’re more likely to do it regardless of your mood or circumstances or other forms of resistance. Do first, think later.
  4. Write little and often
    You’ve probably heard the maxim that goes something like, ‘Don’t write a lot, but write often’. I’ve been doing a lot of this—an hour’s writing, half and hour of something else, another half an hour of writing and so on. For me it takes the pressure off having to sit down for hours, taking on large chunks of work, big themes and major events etc.. I can attack my work in bite-sized pieces and come back refreshed and willing to write the next bit.
  5. It feels better
    Writing is an outlet and a purpose, and on the days I write I simply feel better. I feel more me, more grounded, more satisfied. I’m not sure I’ll write every day, but most days seems to work well for me at the moment. Try it for yourself.

The value of morning pages for writers

IMG_0286

Recently I began doing morning pages again. Morning pages are Julie Cameron’s idea from her book The Artist’s Way on how to improve creativity. They involve doing three longhand pages of stream-of-consciousness writing (or even drawing) about anything top of mind each morning. Usually this takes me 20-30 minutes.

I read Cameron’s book years ago and tried them but didn’t find them particularly useful. Recently I saw her give a lecture and was reminded about them so I thought I’d try them for a few days.

Well, I’m a convert. I do them on most working days now and they’ve been quite remarkable. These are the things I’ve found they help me with:

  • Setting daily priorities.
  • This includes setting writing goals and not letting them disappear amid other life demands.
  • Coming up with ideas on how to overcome writing problems. Later, when I attack them on the page, they don’t seem nearly as daunting.
  • Venting and get things off your mind so you can focus better without such annoying distractions.
  • Other things that have been bothering me suddenly come up on the page, usually with a resolution. Afterwards I feel a sense of clarity and lightness.
  • They just make everything deeper, no matter how irritated I feel about doing them.

I find if I don’t do my morning pages, I’m less focused, my goals are less defined and I achieve less. My time fritters away and I end up feeling a diminished sense of achievement and even frustration compared to when I do them.

Maybe you don’t need them right now, but they’re a good thing to bear in mind should you find writing becomes more challenging. Happy writing.