10 Ways To Write More

clockI am not, I admit, the most productive of writers.

If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I’d be up there on the rostrum and I can only shake my head in wonder at other writers who seem to be ‘super productive’ (you know the types: they tweet things like ‘another chapter written!’ or ‘got an idea for my next novel!’).

How do they do it?

Well, they probably do some, or all, of the following:

1. Consider The ‘Pareto Effect’

You may know it as the ’80-20 Rule’. The ‘Pareto Effect’ states that, for many phenomena, 20% of input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. For example, in business, 80% of sales usually come from 20% of clients, the richest 20% of the world’s population control 80% of the world’s income and so on.

Have a look at the time you spend writing and the success you have in each area (your idea of success might be monetary reward, another writer’s could be the number of words he’s clocking up). You may well find that 80% of your success comes from 20% of your input and with that knowledge, you can decide how best to allocate your time.

The ‘Pareto Effect’ certainly applied to me until recently. Running a writing class and tutoring for the Writers Bureau ate into the time I had free for ‘writing’ but my short stories – on which I was only spending 20% of my writing time – were bringing in 80% of my writing income (income = success for me!). So that’s the area I want to concentrate on – and I’ve phased out the others (at least for the time being!).

2. Find A Good Way to Say ‘No’

Most of us say ‘yes’ to things we don’t really want to do out of politeness or a sense of obligation. I’m not saying ditch all your friends (or become a hermit) but it’s worth practising how to say ‘no’ to invitations or you could really do without – thus freeing your time up for something you do want to do: write!

It might be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry but I just don’t have the time.”

3. Make An Appointment With Yourself To Write

Someone told me once about a creative writing class they attended, run by a very scary lady who, at the end of each session, made everyone say when – exactly – they were going to write during the coming week. She wouldn’t accept a vague, “A couple of evenings, after work”, you had to be precise. eg: “I’m going to write on Monday from 6pm to 8pm in Starbucks and on Saturday afternoon, in my study from 3pm – 5pm.”

She made them write those ‘appointments’ in their diaries and the following week, they had to report back. Sounds a bit extreme? Well, the person who told me that story – Martin Davies – has subsequently written 6 novels, one of which was a Richard & Judy Book Club Read in 2006. Go figure, as they say across the pond!

4. Get Up Early

Now, if you’re absolutely NOT a morning person, this might not work for you (not even by going to bed earlier and starting the day with a jug of coffee?) but there are several advantages to getting up early to write, not least the fact that you’re supposedly more in touch with your subconscious when you’ve just woken up! But also it’s quieter, the world hasn’t ‘got going’ so there are less interruptions or temptations to check emails or social media.
If you manage to write before you start your ‘day job’ – whatever that may be – you’ll feel rather smug: if you do no other writing for the rest of the day, you’ve managed some, first thing. You’ve done the most important thing: you’ve written.

5. Don’t Multi-Task

I am guilty of this, I’ll admit it. But research has shown that you don’t actually achieve more by multi-tasking, it just feels like you are! (Remember that expression ‘a busy fool’?)

Received wisdom is: do one thing at a time and finish it before you move on to the next. Don’t start a new project until you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Starting is easy: finishing is trickier. Don’t be one of those people that never finishes anything.

6. Reward Yourself

Make yourself a lovely cocoa to drink when you start, or bribe yourself with a bar of Galaxy once you’ve written 1000 words. Whatever floats your boat (10 mins on Facebook, perhaps) – whatever’s going to give you that gentle kick up the backside that we all need from time to time.

If you like cats – and I’m not a great fan but this is fun – try typing directly into the Written Kitten website. For every 100 words you type in, a new picture of a cat pops up! Cute!

7. Set Goals & Targets

Groan. I know, this sounds serious and a bit too much like WORK but remember Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

The theory is, if you don’t set yourself a time limit, you can take forever to complete what you’re doing. Deadlines, targets, mini goals and bigger goals all help you control and monitor your progress and should help you to write more.

See Simon Whaley’s excellent book The Positively Productive Writer if you want to know more about setting goals.

Another tip is to break down your task into smaller components (so if you’re writing a novel of 100,000 words and you want to finish the first draft in a year, you’ll need to write 8333 words a month, which is 1923 a week, which is 274 a day (approximately!) Doesn’t sound too bad if you break it down like that, does it?

8. Report In

It’s all very well setting goals and targets but you’re more likely to stick to them if you’re accountable for them in some way. So try to ‘report in’ to someone – whether that’s swapping your totals (or your work) with a writing buddy or setting out your goals in a blog post and then keeping readers updated on your progress.

9. Watch How Much You Watch

The average Briton now spends 24 hours a week in front of the TV. Aagh! That’s a whole DAY! Now, dear reader, I’m not suggesting that you are one of these couch potatoes but it’s worth totting up how much you do spend – and whether you could be doing something else a little more constructive (eg: writing!) instead.

James Herriott, who wrote those lovely vet books back in the ’70s, apparently used to write sitting in front of the TV, with his family around him. Great if you can do that – he had the best of both worlds – but I suspect most of us would find that too distracting! (but might be worth a try…?!)

I am not too much of a gogglebox but I must admit to watching the current Great British Bake Off, which inspired this rather tasty banana cake the other day…

Banana cake 003

10. Don’t Strive for Perfection.

Don’t write what you think you ‘should’ be writing, write what you enjoy and what excites you. Don’t worry about the first draft – it’s supposed to be rubbish. In fact, give yourself permission to write rubbish. You can always improve it by editing and redrafting. Many of us procrastinate because we’re frightened of being disappointed by what we write but if you lose that fear – and worry about improving it later – you can and will, write more.

And on that note, I’m going to reward myself for this blog post with a cup of tea and a piece of that cake. Do write and tell me your tips for Writing More!

Posted in Finding Time To Write | 7 Comments

Artist’s Date #1 – ‘Smelling The Roses’

rosesRight. As I’m writing an article about ‘Artists’ Dates’ I thought I’d better start going on some.

So, today I went all on my tod to Todenham to the Alain Rouveure Galleries. It’s about 5 miles down the road from me. Or 8 if you go down all the country lanes and get lost. Thank you, Janice. (Janice is my trusty SAT-NAV).

I’ve written about Julia Cameron’s ‘Artist’s Dates’ here so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I will tell you how it felt to be on an artist’s date.

Firstly, it felt odd to be going somewhere on my own (or, at least, with just my ‘creative self’ for company!). I don’t often – if ever – go on a ‘solo expedition’ or ‘adventure’ which is what an artist’s date is and, once I got over my resistance (‘I don’t have time!’ ‘This is frivolous!’) it was quite exciting! No one else to accommodate, or please, or talk to – it was liberating and relaxing.

And because there was no-one to talk to, I really noticed things. Not just the artefacts in the Nepalese exhibition, or the paintings, or the lovely jewellery, rugs and scarves for sale but, as I sat in the Himalayan Coffee House, (well, a girl needs refreshments!) facing the view of rolling hills, I really listened to the music that was playing, I really tasted the Nepalese coffee and I absolutely resisted the urge to check my mobile or even write anything. I just sat and took it all in. (And breathe…).

Then I wandered through the beautiful gardens and .. cliché alert, but this is true..I stopped and smelled the roses!

Everywhere I went, by the way, there was this little black and ginger cat. Ah, sweet, I thought, it’s following me. I asked the girl behind the counter in the cafe, what the cat was called. “That one’s Myrtle,” she said. “There are ten.”

Ah, so it wasn’t following me. It was just a different cat in each room!

Soo, that’s the artist’s date done and it did feel good. Time seemed to slow down though, so I did find it quite difficult to make myself stay there for the full hour (which is the guideline. Any less and you won’t really take things in). I’m sure, with a bit of practice, it will get easier. And I should have taken my camera – I will on the next artist’s date.

Did I ‘top up my well of creativity’? I think I probably did. Whether or not I’ll ever write about Nepal, or Shamans or a place that has ten cats, I don’t know but I certainly came back from my artist’s date feeling that I’d experienced something new and that’s got to be good!

And on a different note, the Della Galton Book Giveaway. The winner is Tracey Booklover. Well done, Tracey, your book will be with you in the next few days.

Posted in Artist's Dates, Books, Cotswolds | 7 Comments

Giveaway: Della Galton’s ‘How To Write & Sell Short Stories’

I've got two, so one's up for grabs!

I’ve got two, so one’s up for grabs!

After putting you through all that ‘A to Z’-ing (phew, I was glad when I got to Z), I thought it was about time for something different.

So, I’ve got a giveaway, courtesy of Kishboo the e-fiction magazine for fiction lovers! (not ‘fictional lovers’! That’s a different thing altogether).

Kishboo ran a competition a little while ago and I was the winner of a novel and Della Galton’s excellent ‘How To Write And Sell Short Stories‘. Turns out, I’d already got that book on my shelves (albeit a slightly older version!), so rather than let it go to waste I asked Sharon at Kishboo if she’d mind me giving the book away and luckily for us all, she said yes (it’s the one on the left).

You can buy Kishboo as an e-magazine for your Kindle for just 99p or you can read all the issues (4 so far) on the website free.

The next deadline for Kishboo’s short story competition (£3 entry fee, prizes of £50, £25 and £15, plus all 15 shortlisted stories appear in the next issue), is 20th October 2015, so there’s plenty of time if you want to have a go.

If you want to win a copy of Della‘s book – an invaluable tool if you’re trying to ‘crack’ the women’s short story market, or enter competitions (ahem, like Kishboo’s) or even if you just want to remind yourself of the essentials of short story writing – then this is what I want you to do:

In the comments section, tell me (briefly – it only needs to be a line or two!) about a short story that you’ve read recently, that you’ve enjoyed. I’ll start us off with this one:

In the latest (September’s) Take A Break Fiction Feast, I really enjoyed Gail Richards’ story ‘How I Met Rory’. I’ve already emailed Gail to tell her this (she was the winner of the subscription that I gave away to TABFF a little while ago).

I liked it because it was a bit ‘different’ – I really didn’t have a clue how it was going to pan out, which kept me reading. I’m a sucker for a bit of romance – and an animal – and they were both in there and Gail really managed to pack a lot into just one page. Oh and I learned something too – that ‘zenzero’ is Italian for ginger!

So, that’s it. The only other rules are: 1 entry per person, deadline is 20th August, when I’ll choose a winner at random AND you can write about any story apart from one of your own…! Good luck!

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 9 Comments

My Writing A – Z … Y is for YA Fiction

Finding AudreyY is for YOUNG ADULT FICTION

My OH recently brought something ‘extra’ back from the supermarket.

“I’ve got you the new Sophie Kinsella book!” he cried, holding Finding Audrey aloft, with great pride.

I didn’t like to burst his bubble – or seem ungrateful – by pointing out that it was actually a Young Adult novel (her first) and therefore, probably, in truth, not top of my reading list.

So, I read it anyway. It made me laugh, it made me cry, I really enjoyed it! (And the great thing about YA novels is, they’re usually not as long as ‘adult’ novels, so you can zip through them! Bonus!)

It made me realise that I’ve read quite a few YA novels and enjoyed them (Harry Potter, of course – and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the Twilight series and The Hunger Games).

If you’ve written – or are writing – a YA novel, you might be interested in the Fish YA Novel competition here – closing date 30th October 2015.

Tips:

When I taught some ‘writing for young adults’ last term, these were some of the tips I gave the class:

• You must be in the HEAD of a teenager to write YA fiction. Don’t write as an adult looking back.

• Make sure your character’s age suits your audience. Teenagers and children will read ‘up’ (about children older than themselves) but not down.

• Go steady with teenage ‘jargon/slang’. (Throw in too many ‘sicks’ and ‘feels’ and your novel will not only soon date – you might get it wrong!)

• There are no limits. You can and should deal with dark topics. YA novels have been written about sex, pregnancy, suicide, abuse, school shootings, cancer, death, drunk driving, incest, bullying, rape, murder (BUT offer a kernel of hope at the end).

• Nobody wants to be taught lessons when they are reading fiction – especially young adults – so avoid preaching. Teenagers have radar for lecturing/moralising and it will turn them off your book.

• In YA fiction you can lie about anything except emotions. The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth.

• Write hopeful endings. In writing for young adults there still seems to be a sense of responsibility not to moralise or ‘warn’ but to allow for possibility. Let your readers believe that, in the end, the choice is theirs.

Y is also for YES. I have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to too many things (I’m just a girl who can’t say no and all that), which means I race around like a headless chicken and don’t leave myself enough time or space for writing.

I am trying to rectify that. For example, I’ve just told my class that I’m taking a break and won’t be taking the class again in September.

Z is for ZZZs.

I need my 8 hours sleep. My friend Chris will confirm this. She’s always quoting the time we were at Arvon – sharing a room – and we’d gone to bed on the first night, not too late, while others on the course were still up and chattering in a room below us.

“Isn’t it fabulous?” she said (I’m paraphrasing), “being here, with all these other writers, in this exciting location, the whole week ahead of us…?”

Silence.

Then, from the bed across the room (ie: me), “Snnnnnrrrr…”

If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t write. I sit at my desk and I just want to snooze. I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish I was one of those people who can survive on four hours sleep a night. Imagine how much more I’d get done!

Z is also for ZADIE SMITH, another British, female writer that I admire.

One of her tips is “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” (Unless – I would add – they are bringing you tea).

cuppa

Posted in Books, Competitions, Finding Time To Write | Tagged | 5 Comments

My Writing A – Z … V is for VACATION

Rhossili Beach, The Gower © Alan Stevenson

Rhossili Beach, The Gower © Alan Stevenson

V is for VACATION

Whoops, I’ve been away for a little while! Apologies for the lack of blog posts but I’ve been on my VACATION! I know that’s American but it fits the bill nicely for ‘V’.

Last week I was at the Writers Holiday in Pembrokeshire. The weather was lovely, I ate too much and relaxed lots too (which is another way of saying I didn’t actually do any writing). I’m back now, feeling very refreshed and raring to go! Simon Whaley was there too and he writes about the workshops he attended here which, I must admit, made me wish I’d done a bit more work too but you know, sometimes, you just need to STOP?

V is for VOICE

What do we mean by ‘voice’ and ‘finding your voice’ as a writer? (answers on a postcard please…)

I remember someone telling me that you just have to write, write, write and your voice will come through naturally. Meg Rosoff, who’s a writer I admire, since reading her best-selling YA novel, How I Live Now, has written a very erudite and thought-provoking article here about voice, what it is and how, possibly to ‘find’ it.

Her conclusion is, “Stop thinking about your voice. Think about your life instead. Live. Take risks. Seek wisdom. Confront the unconfrontable. Find out who you are. Let your voice gain power as you go.” Sounds easy if you put it like that…

W is for WALES, where (I think I’ve said!) I’ve been for the last week. On our way home yesterday, I managed to get to a place I’ve always wanted to visit, since discovering, from more than one source, that it’s ‘one of the best beaches in the country’ (or even, depending on whose opinion you’re reading, The World!)

It’s Rhossili beach on the Gower and just around the corner is Worm’s Head, which you can walk across to, when the tide’s out.

Worms Head Rhossili © Alan Stevenson

Worms Head Rhossili
© Alan Stevenson

W is also for WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, who was born just down the road from me, near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Do you know what the following books have in common?

• Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
• The Sound And The Fury (William Faulkner)
• Under The Greenwood Tree (Thomas Hardy)
• Band of Brothers (Stephen E Ambrose)
• The Fault In Our Stars (John Green)

Bet you got it. Their titles are all taken from lines by Shakespeare. So, if you’re looking for an inspiring title for your novel or poem, flicking through ‘The Complete Works’ of Mr S might not be a bad place to start…

X is for eXtra

Let’s face it, writing is hard work and I’ve come to the conclusion that, unless you’re eX-tremely talented and eX-tremely lucky, half measures won’t do. In fact, you have to give it everything – that eXtra something – if you want to do well (your ‘doing well’ might be different to mine, which is why I haven’t been specific).

For example, on the odd occasion when I’ve submitted a story with a kind of ‘hmm-not-sure-about-that-one-but-it-will-have-to-do’ attitude, guess what? It’s come winging back to me with a big fat rejection note shortly after.

Only our best will do: we have to go that eXtra mile!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

My Writing A-Z… S is for SAND

S is for SAND

OK, that’s just an excuse to use this photo of gorgeous Old Hunstanton beach in Norfolk, which looked like this ‘on the ground’:

Old Hunstanton Beach, Norfolk.

Old Hunstanton Beach, Norfolk.

and like this:

Old Hunstanton Beach from the cliffs

Old Hunstanton Beach from the cliffs

from the top of the cliffs.

We were there for 4 days last week and it was really perfect: sunny and sooo dog-friendly.

S is also for SUMMER

Some of my blogging buddies – for example, Wendy – have been writing about how difficult it is to knuckle down and write in the summer! There’s so much to do outside and less of an urge to hibernate! Winter is much more condusive to writing, I suppose. But bear in mind that if you’re sending work to the women’s magazines, they probably have fewer submissions during the summer months..! Just saying!

T is for TARGETS

Some of my writing students are very ‘anti’ targets. They had targets when they were at work, they tell me and they don’t want any more now! Or, they say, writing is ‘just a hobby’ and they don’t want to force themselves to write. They write, they say when they’re ‘in the mood’.

And that’s all fine. I understand. But if you do have an aspiration or a goal – whether it’s to enter a short story competition or complete a novel – then targets, I think, are important, even if they’re ‘loose’ ones – and sometimes ‘the mood’ has to be encouraged, coerced, even.

I often have to force myself to sit down to write, really not feeling like it but then, after a few minutes, when I’ve warmed up, it’s fine and I’m glad I made the effort to start. Time has a nasty habit of slipping away and unless you try to pin your goals down (with time slots, appointments to write and deadlines to meet) they just won’t happen.

T is also for TWITTER

I like Twitter but lots of people tell me they don’t ‘get’ it.

My writing buddy, Sally, says it feels like ‘lots of people shouting’ and I think that’s a pretty good description. It can be like that but I think it depends who you follow. If I follow anyone – individual or organisation – that just keeps telling me about their latest book or offer that I might like to BUY, BUY, BUY . then I’m afraid I just ‘unfollow’ them (ah, the power of that ‘unfollow’ button!).

T is also for TEACHING.

If anyone’s interested in setting up their own class or teaching creative writing in any context (eg: for the U3A, perhaps), then look out for a NEW non-fiction e-book that I’m launching this summer! (erm, she says optimistically! No, it’s mostly written, but still got to ‘fine tune’ it!).

My class has finished for the summer and I am still in two minds about whether to start it up again in September, for lots of reasons. I do enjoy teaching but it’s very time consuming. Last term I was spending the equivalent of one working day on each class (including preparation, delivery, homework marking and various emails…), which is crazy.

I know some people would say – don’t spend so much time preparing, don’t take in homework, don’t answer emails – but I can’t do that. If I’m going to do something, then I like to do it properly, or not at all. (*gets off soap box*)

U is for UMBRAGE as in ‘taking umbrage’

I was ‘umming’ (ooh, there’s one) and ahhing about what to choose for ‘U’ but then an email popped into my inbox and eureka, I had it!

The title of the email was: RE: QUARTERLY SHORT STORY COMPETITION ENTRY (SUBSCRIBER).

It flashed through my mind that perhaps I’d WON the latest Scribble magazine short story competition that, as a subscriber, I have free access to! First time I’d entered, too…

I clicked on the email and read, “… I regret to advise you that this item has not been accepted for publication. I am sorry you have not been successful this time, however, I am always pleased to receive good quality short fiction and I would be very interested in seeing any further material you think may be suitable….”

Ah, so my story wasn’t ‘good quality short fiction’!

I must admit, for a few moments I ‘took umbrage’! How dare they! Who are they and what do they know anyway?! I wanted to email back and ask ‘what was wrong with it?’ But then I calmed down and that thick skin, in which a little chink had just appeared, sealed over again (urgh, I sound like a lizard).

You can’t afford to ‘take umbrage’ when you’re a writer, right? You just have to shake yourself off, remember it’s only one person’s opinion and get on with it.

Posted in E publishing, Finding Time To Write, Short Stories, Tweeting | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Guest Blog: Catherine Horlick – editor of Pennyshorts

penny_shorts_full_logo_final (1)Catherine Horlick is the editor of a new short story website Pennyshorts
which is for readers and (hurrah!) for writers, of short stories.

I’ve got two stories on there already (!) and I asked Cathy to tell us a little more about herself and how she got the idea for Pennyshorts – and, importantly, how it works! (If you have any further questions, post them as a comment and Cathy will answer you!)

WHAT IS PENNYSHORTS?

www.pennyshorts.com is a website which makes short stories of all genres available for sale, directly to a reading device or email address.

Short stories are a very neglected art form and the site connects readers to talented writers of short fiction. Writers have an opportunity to showcase their work and readers can enjoy bite-sized fiction whenever they want it.

The stories are all carefully vetted, edited and proofread, so are free of the typos and other errors which plague so much e-published content. A pennyshorts app will soon be available.

HOW MANY STORIES ARE ON THE SITE?

Currently there are just over 100 stories of all genres on the site (July 2015), and more are being added all the time.

WHAT KIND OF STORIES ARE INCLUDED?

All genres, except writing for children. Funny stories are always welcome, as are snappy crime, thrillers, sci-fi and unconventional romances. I enjoy good ghost, fantasy and horror stories too, but tend to steer clear of anything nauseating. A good Coming of Age story is always a pleasure to read and I’ve also included Life Writing and Memoir.

There’s a lot of variety, but the stories are all engagingly written, self-contained pieces with great characters able to transport you to a different world over your morning coffee, and can liven up a bus ride or train journey.

SO HOW DOES IT WORK?

Browsers can pick a genre, and can also see a story sample, either the first paragraph or first half page.They can also see the author’s picture and biography, which often includes links to other work.They can choose a story by word-count, how recently it has been added to the site and can also check a story’s reviews.

A reader can either download an individual story for 50p, or can choose one of three pre-payment packages, e.g. 3 stories for £1. For each story chosen, the reader is emailed 3 files:a PDF, a MOBI or an EPUB file, depending on whether they wish to read the story on screen or on their reading device. Pre-paid stories can be downloaded anytime within a year, and each reader can maintain a library, which is visible on ‘My Pennyshorts’. Readers’ ratings and reviews are very welcome but are monitored for spoilers.

WHAT ARE YOUR SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS?

A minimum of 1,000 words, sent as a word document to editor@pennyshorts.com. I’m fine with simultaneous submissions and also accept reprints, as long as the story isn’t available elsewhere online for free.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE STORIES YOU REJECT?

I’m not keen on gross-out stories, so it was a definite ‘No’ to the man-eating spiders. I rejected an incredibly well-written story about a dog being beaten to death as it was deeply traumatic and haunted me for days. I reject anything tired, predictable and clichéd: the standard must be high, to justify charging.I’ve had no shortage of submissions, so far the acceptance rate is c. 15-20%.

DO YOU PAY AUTHORS?

Yes! Authors accrue 50% of each pay per click download, and a pro-rata share of the prepayment packages each time their story is chosen by a reader. Payment isn’t the only author benefit:reputable agents and publishers can access the site for free. Authors are also welcome to include links in their biographies, either to other work or to their websites. Many of my authors are highly successful and published already, but it would be fantastic if a previously unpublished author were to be discovered thanks to pennyshorts.

About Catherine:

Catherine Horlick comes from a family of bookworms and she’s been writing prose and poetry since she was at school. Her first novel, ‘The Wrong’un’ will be published later this year and one of her short stories, ‘By George’ appears on the site.

She has an MA in Creative Writing, and over the past 10 years has been a member of various creative groups. Over that time she’s come across so many wonderful short stories with no outlet which, as she says, “are mouldering away on hard drives”… and that’s what gave her the idea for Pennyshorts.

Follow Pennyshorts on Facebook here and on Twitter: @pennyshorts

And if you’re interested in short stories, do think about supporting Catherine in her new venture – not just by submitting stories but maybe even by buying a few too…! (*lecture over*)

Posted in E publishing, Short Stories | Tagged | 4 Comments