Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Can you write without inspiration?

Have you been bossed around enough by the fickle mistress that is inspiration? How many good writing hours have you wasted and how many self-help books have you spent your money on in the pursuit of one goal: to write (and write well) whenever you want?

I am sure that some of you out there have long reached the following conclusion: writing on schedule is impossible because writing without that spark of inspiration is impossible.

This post is designed to show you that however plausible your reasoning might be (I am sure you went through plenty of pain and experience before throwing in the towel), you’re totally wrong about this! You CAN write any time you want and you CAN write reasonably well and progress your writing project any time you sit down to write.

Now, before you launch a complaint in the comments below this post, let me elaborate on my reasoning and the circumstances, pain, and personal moments of writing experience that have led me to form this seemingly far out opinion.

In case you are not a regular reader of this blog, the first thing you need to know about me is that I have been writing fiction for just over twenty years. And in all that time I failed to do one thing: finish a full-length novel. However, I gained something more valuable than a finished piece of work in all this time (which I therefore don’t consider a waste).

I gained a detailed understanding of what it takes to finish. AND against my own expectations *drumroll* the key to finishing your project is NOT inspiration. It is NOT genius. It is grit. That ability to come back into the arena even after you have been knocked off your feet countless times and have lost plenty of fights.

The secret to finishing your novel, novella, short story, column, self-help guide (or whatever else your are dreaming of finishing one day) is the ability to sit down at your keyboard and type even when you REALLY don’t feel like doing it. But that’s not all there is to it.

There is a second part. In addition to the willingness to sit down and type, you also need to have a way of overcoming your self-doubt. Shut up the inner critic, don’t give in to ANY self-talk (not even pep talks), and make sure you have a coffee/ tea/ water to sip every time you’re in danger of giving in to your doubts.

Ultimately the secret to writing on schedule is this: all you need is one sentence you don’t hate. That’s it! Once you have that first sentence down you are more than likely to get sucked into writing a whole paragraph – sometimes even a whole scene!

Here’s how I get to that one sentence through my tried and tested writing routine (nearly 1-2 hours of writing nearly every day):

STEP 1:
Decide what I want to get done that day – minimum expectation only, so I can give kudos to myself if I exceed my target. Stacks the odds in my favour.

STEP 2:
Make a cup of herbal tea/ coffee – this is a habit I have established. It signals comfort and tells my brain: “there is nothing to be scared of, buddy.”

STEP 3:
Go to my writing space – I have a set place where I like to write and where I am used to being productive. Bottom firmly planted on my writing stool (good for my back)…tick!

STEP 4:
Open my favourite writing programme (truenovelist.com) – being familiar with the controls of my writing programme helps not distract me from the task at hand: writing!

STEP 5:
Write a rough outline to define the scope for the session – a small blurb or bullet points that detail what I am about to write will do. For me, that’s mostly scene synopses to make sure I know what should happen in the scene I am about to write (I tend to write in spurts of 1000 word scenes, or complete flash fiction one-shots).

STEP 6:
This is where I write that sentence I DON’T hate. It’s magical. Happens now almost automatically, although on some less inspired days I might still have to have 3-5 gos before it actually sticks.

There we are, a 6-step blueprint on how to initiate good quality writing any time you want (with zero reliance on that fickle mistress showing up – just don’t forget to thank her whenever she does decide to flounce into you writing space…it helps!)

See ya next time 😉

If you have found my 6-step blueprint for writing reliably of any help, please let me know in the comments section below this post. Knowing what you like to read, helps me plan more helpful content for the future. Have a good writing week!

Standard
Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

How to get back to writing after a long break due to illness?

While giving up is never an option, the temptation is always there; lingering. From the sight of the smallest problem, right up to big, all-consuming crises (aka when life takes over), fear and self-doubt are always there and ready to pounce!

“You can’t do it anymore,” they shout.

“You can try but you will fail in the end,” they snigger.

“Go ahead, write…BUT it will be bad writing, coz you’re a bad writer.”

I am sure there is many more delightful messages you yourself have received over the days, weeks, months, and years since you decided to try and be a writer and start finishing projects rather than just scribble on napkins. I have had daily memos of this kind ever since I first thought about trying to write a novel.

There are many famous writers out there trying to encourage us. “Write very day,” they say. That’s good advice but is it feasible? For me, it’s certainly not an option. I do aim to write every day and write most days as a result.

But for those of us who also ride the 9-5 job train, there will always be the day when you’re kids get sick, or when a deadline is looming, or when you finish the day exhausted and need to fall asleep on the sofa right after dinner…or the day you get sick.

I went through a very scary experience last year. A sudden dizziness overcame me towards the end of a typical work day. I was struggling to focus my eyes. I was feeling nauseated. My left arm went numb, then my left leg, then the left side of my face…until the entire left side of my body felt heavy and devoid of any feeling.

I was home alone that day. I was scared. I called the emergency services and was rushed to hospital not knowing if I was coming back. Two thoughts went through my mind: 1. Will I see my husband again? 2. What if I never get to write my novel?

This is where I have to point out: we don’t have kids. If we did, I am sure they would have featured in my thoughts.

After 20 hours of tests including a blood test, a urine test, a chest x-ray, a head CT, and an MRI (among others), I was sent home with the following diagnosis: my physical health is excellent, there is no infection and no other physical cause for my symptoms…BUT…the symptoms are real, they will recur, and they will recur every time I am severely stressed.

So, I am playing a game and I will be playing it for the rest of my life. The name of the game? Manage your stress. Meditate every day. Sit in silence for 10 minutes every day. Exercise 15-20 minutes every day. Eat healthy every day. Do breathing exercises every day. E-V-E-R-Y D-A-Y. Forever!

The last few weeks were stressful. I completed a big work project and I didn’t take good enough care of my stress. Now, you know where I was and I why I couldn’t write. On a scale of 0-10, how bothered do you think I am that I have missed blog posts, missed Wattpad updates, and made no progress on my novel?

You’re right, the answer is 0. Because my certainty that I can recover from momentary episodes of my stress-induced symptoms is 10. I have done it before, I can do it again. I have written before, I can do it again. It’s my mantra. It’s what I say to myself when the self talk gets nasty. It’s what I chant in my meditation.

I did this once, I can do it again…so can you.

If this posts helps even one person, I would be chuffed to hear about it in the comments below. If you have your own experience with coming back to write after an illness, or if you are managing any chronic illness whilst being a writer, please share your methods for keeping your writing practice and your writer’s mindset in check.

Standard
Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Why you should tell your story…

Once upon a time, a little girl had an idea for a story. It so excited her that she couldn’t help but run out into the garden and tell the story to the world…at the top of her lungs.

The neighbours weren’t exactly pleased – although I imagine a few of them were at least intrigued by the story about another little girl who couldn’t sleep and conjured a bunch of extraordinary creatures into being.

Those creatures were the mumble dwarves and the little girl was loosely based on the storyteller – you guessed it; that was me! I was eight.

To restore peace and quiet to the very conservative neighbourhood I grew up in, my parents made a rule. I had to write my stories down…instead of shouting them into the garden. At the time it seemed like a punishment. How would people find out about my stories if I could only write them down?

It later dawned on me that every book in our home (and in the world) had once been just a scribble on a piece of paper. And once I had grasped that concept fully, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer. I was thirteen when this happened.

Twenty years on, much has changed in my life. But one thing is still the same – I am still dreaming about being a writer. In fact, that is all I want to be. So, why am I sitting in my living room, typing this blog post in a hurry before having to start my soul-sucking full-time job that makes me nothing but tired and stressed?

You guessed it again – because I never got over the hurdle of actually showing my work to anybody after I hit sixteen…until last year, when I decided that enough is enough and that I can’t live with myself if I don’t at least try to get my fiction out there. Who knows what can happen?

The one thing I am sure of is that I am not the only person who is going through this storm. Although, I am sure that we are in different boats, it hurts all the same when a gale blows at us and when the waves crash down over our heads.

So, as a beaten and battered (and quite wimpy) writer, with impossibly big dreams, let me shine a tiny beacon of hope into the darkness. You should tell your story! Even if nobody reads it. Even if nobody who reads it likes it. Even if your writing is bad. Even if you never achieve your dream.

Why? Because the journey is worth it! If nobody reads your work, find a way of marketing it better. If nobody who reads it likes your story, find out why and fix it. If your writing is bad get feedback, READ, and STUDY the books you love, write more and get better.

If you are a writer, then writing is something you feel compelled to do. It most likely makes you happy. It most likely, makes you feel like you have a purpose. And that, in itself, is a massive reward.

See ya next time 😉

If you got any kind of value out of this post, share your own sop story in the comments below. No judgement! Everyone is loved…and maybe if we all share a little beacon of hope we can light up this darkness and feel a little less alone as we see each other struggle in our own, uniquely painful ways.

Standard
Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

How to find time to write with a full-time job?

Many of my friends and family don’t understand why I am still writing. After all, I finished university, got married, and snagged a full-time job. What more do I need? The creatives among us will have no difficulty rattling off a catalogue of needs that a job simply cannot fulfil. And I would happily plonk my signature under any such list – any time!

The deep, inner drive of the creative force within me makes my ordinary life unbearable at times. And the feeling that I don’t have the right to complain makes it at least ten times worse. Having my full-time job swallow my life is my biggest fear. The thought that I might die one day, with my stories still inside me, has me lying awake at night with a sprinkling of cold sweat on my brow.

Every glowing performance review kills a small part of my soul. Because each time somebody tells me that I am good at my job, the thought of leaving all this behind one day becomes scarier. And the possibility that my writing might one day pay my bills (if I’m lucky) seems more and more ridiculous the older I get.

So, I do all I can to fight the demons. This week the demons are full of strength and I feel weak. But I still have a choice. I can give up and let the demons win (in which case my worst-case scenario is certain). Or I can write. As long as I write there is a chance. A tiny spark of hope.

I am not going to sugarcoat things for you. Writing alongside a full-time job is HARD. Maybe the hardest thing I have ever done. It requires time management and the willingness to let bad writing happen. Don’t be afraid to write rubbish now and edit another day. Work out if you are a morning person or a night owl – then schedule your writing time accordingly. Make a realistic appointment with yourself..then show up. Otherwise you will be very frustrated.

In my twenties, I used to be a morning person with the ability to jump out of bed at 4:00am and get dressed by Disney birds. By the time I had to leave the house I would have already written at least 1000 words and feel like a rockstar. I miss that younger, more optimistic version of myself.

Now, in my thirties, I am a night owl. I no longer stress about writing early on in the day and accept that my most creative time will be at 9:00pm when I have done everything I need to do for the day (including my job, any housework, shopping, cooking, eating, tidying etc.)

When my reminder goes off, I go to my desk, write as much as I can for 2 hours and then go to bed. Some evenings I can write 1000 words, on others it’s closer to 10. But it’s my new routine and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It also means that I am able to produce 3 blog posts (including 1 flash fiction story) per week.

I make slow but steady progress on my debut novel (Fearful Magic) by chipping away at this enormous task. Just knowing I am getting closer to my goal and can write reliably is a big help when the demons show up. No matter what they say to me, I have some work to show.

The weekends are mostly for editing. On Saturdays I might still try to write (mostly outlines) but it’s usually less productive than when I write in the week. On Sunday evenings, I spend 1 hour planning ahead; including what scenes/ blog posts/ flash fiction to write next. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous…but it works.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this post insightful, have a great writing routine already, or are still looking for one, share your thoughts (and tips) in the comments below.

Standard
Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you choose the best point of view for your own narratives?

One of many questions I have about writing fiction! And while I am sure that there is no perfect answer, I also believe that there might be some different answers, depending on who you are and what you write and who your audience is.

I recently touched on this when I wrote about breaking some writing rules

The main reason why this interests me has to do with productivity. I don’t know about you, but I have very limited time to write in my busy life. So, optimising my time and getting my fiction drafts as far as possible every time I sit down to write is absolutely essential. Otherwise, how can I make my dreams come true?!

One major stumbling block on the journey to becoming a successful novelist is having to rewrite your entire draft just because you picked the wrong point of view to tell your story from in the beginning. Once you write yourself into a corner it can be pretty tough to get out of it – especially if you’re writing in first person.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi but many novels in these genres suffer from dissatisfying ‘miraculous’ solutions to problems that the protagonist can’t solve because their is no way he/she/they could have had access to the information, place, or powers needed to get out of their latest pickle.

I try not to work miracles in my stories. NOT EVER! And it’s very hard. But I also found that the better I plan (I’m a plotter, remember?) the easier it is to actually finish my stories. And isn’t that the ultimate goal for us novelists – to one day finish our novels so we can hit ‘publish’ …eventually…and without our readers feeling cheated?

The choice of which point of view you use to tell your stories is NOT arbitrary. Choose wisely. Think about what kind of story you are writing, how likely your protagonist will be able to convey all the information your audience needs so you can solve your problems in a clever, yet plausible way that doesn’t require miracles.

And don’t forget: if your are using magic to solve any problems in your story, you better not break any of your self-imposed limits and rules. Just inventing a new rule that the audience didn’t know about up to that point is cheating. Your readers won’t appreciate it.

How do I know this? Because I am a reader and I hate feeling cheated. And every time an author cheats me, I make a note of their name and never buy their books again.

See ya next time 😉

If you have experienced the pain of having to switch point of view in the middle (or close to the end) of your narrative, share your experience in the comments below. I would also love to know if you know of any clever tools (or at least aides) to help choose the right point of view from the beginning. I always love to learn new techniques.

Standard
Author Business, Fiction, Writing Process

Eight rules for writing fiction that you should definitely break!

Yes, yes…you’re right. There are definitely more than eight rules when it comes to writing fiction; especially in the realm of the fantasy genres (and sub-genres). But I found this article in The New Yorker (from 2013) and it strikes me that the eight rules they picked for their article are eight that I definitely break often…without breaking my stories!

In the wild west of indie publishing it might be tempting for new authors to launch into their projects thinking one of two things:

A. That you have to follow ALL the rules known to fiction authors.
OR
B. That you have to follow NONE of the rules known to fiction authors.

Neither approach has my recommendation. If you follow each and every rule you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a stale piece of prose that will be so rigid and structured (and flat) that nobody will want to read it…unless they are a special kind of individual who likes to torment themselves!

On the other hand, if you follow none of the rules you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a wild, unstructured beast of a story that will fail to provide any useful reference points to your readers. Your fiction will evade all tropes and genre conventions and be of use to nobody. Some rules are good! But I don’t think those are the eight rules hailed by The New Yorker…

Here are my recommendations about the eight rules mentioned in their article…which is published in the humour and cartoons section of their website (although this is not necessarily clear if you come in via google results as it’s categorised as ‘daily shouts’ rather than ‘satire’):

Show, don’t tell.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes we heard it many times. Show don’t tell is where it’s at. Don’t write your story like a manual for household appliances (seriously, please don’t do that)! But you can’t show everything without messing up your pacing, narrative voice, style, and general appeal. So here’s my version of this rule for the modern fiction writer of 2021: show when you can and tell when you can’t. Choose wisely.

Create three-dimensional characters.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

This one tickled me the most! The article literally advises fiction writers to avoid cliché character descriptions by telling your reader how long, wide, and girthy some hard-charging banker character is…as he drives around in his flashy sports car… oh my! You want to avoid cliché character descriptions? Write down the clichés you know of and then find innovative ways of describing the character traits to move you away from the overused descriptions.

I am not saying YOUR version of the hard-charging banker has to be a slim, unicorn riding, sugarplum fairy with delicate wings…but how about not describing the character as ‘hard-charging’ to start with? And what if your banker character was secretly uncomfortable with driving a sports car but too afraid to show it? Wouldn’t that be a lot more interesting than learning about his measurements in 3 dimensions?

Choose a point of view.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Sounds like good advice – doesn’t it? After all you don’t want to end up head hopping and confusing your readers…? Sure, but there is a problem with this rule which is why I often break it. The point of view from which your story needs to be told is not arbitrary. Depending on what information you need to convey to your readers/ characters to conclude your story, every writer who has ever written themselves into a corner without escape (I have done this many times), will have experienced what happens when you choose the wrong point of view.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi fiction but this only really works well if your protagonist has the freedom or opportunity to access every place, character, and knowledge that is essential for moving your plot past all of the crucial landmarks in your story.

Otherwise you might end up having to invent ‘magical’ phenomena, additional characters, work miracles (not very satisfying for your readers), or constantly rework your plot to get out of those pesky corners. You’re not really choosing a point of view…you are matchmaking your point of view with the story you want to tell. Work out what your story needs and learn to use the relevant point of view to your advantage…instead of to your detriment.

Give your characters motivations.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Now this is among the most problematic pieces of advice in the fiction world. You are led to believe that if you can work out what your characters(s) want(s) you can come up with a great, engaging plot for your story that will have the readers turn the pages to the very end. But have you read any of those stories that are primarily driven by characters’ wants? I have! And they bored me to tears.

One wants cupcakes. Another wants to be with somebody else’s spouse. The next wants power. It’s just what they want. But there is no reason why! I firmly believe that it’s not enough for a character to want something. Whatever it is the character strives for, he/ she/ they must need it.

Think about Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Do you think he just wants the ring? Does he just want to own it? Does he just want its power? If you need to remind yourself, go ahead, I think you’ll find that what Frodo feels in relation to the ring runs much deeper than want. Frodo needs it. The ring calls to him. He is drawn in and becomes increasingly obsessed (or possessed – you choose) by it. Giving it up is painful. Unthinkable.

Figure out what your characters need! And don’t forget that your antagonist must need something that conflicts with what your protagonist needs – otherwise they’re on the same side.

Write what you know. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Oh dear. Another overrated piece of fiction writing advice. Please don’t write what you know. It gets boring pretty quickly. I spent years trying to write a novel about what I know and it has resulted in some of the worst stories I have ever written! Everything you know is already so close to you that you will have difficulty writing about it in a fresh and interesting way. Instead, write what you love to read! In my case that’s YA Fantasy (mainly high fantasy).

Find what rocks your socks as a reader…and then write a story within that genre. Write a story you would love to read that is full of the type of characters, plots twists, and conventions that make you love your favourite genre. Chances are it will be well received by readers who like what you like. Be your own ideal reader. It works! Everything else can be researched.

No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Problems getting emotional when you are writing? Me too. Does this mean that our readers can’t be moved by our writing? I hardly think so. Comments on my work suggest otherwise. I think this point was thrown into the original article to allow for some comic relief but I really don’t believe this to be valid at all – humorous intention or not.

No need to go slice onions…just have your writing read back to you to check the reader experience. A lot of the emotional response from readers comes from an element of surprise, coupled with effective foreshadowing. As a writer, make sure your works sounds right and that you have the correct setup for the emotion you wish to incite in your readers. The rest is just gimmicks!

Revize, revize, revize.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

I know this might seem like I am being contentious on purpose. But hear me out. Revising your work is a good thing! Every writer’s output needs an edit (or two, or three). What your work definitely doesn’t need, though, is a perfectionist maniac author who is so worked up over the possibility of releasing anything into the world that might feature the tiniest flaw that they never release anything at all.

All stories have flaws. A determined critic can poke holes into just about anything (just look at me picking apart The New Yorker article over here). Here’s the rule you need: write, edit, revise, proofread, then publish. Get your story into the hands of readers (at least beta ones), collect feedback and make your next story better. Write, write, write and ship!

Trust yourself.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes and no. If you are writing what you love to read and your story is shaping up to be the kind of book YOU would buy, chances are good that you are on the right track! But please don’t forget that the question is: does this work of fiction read like the books I love to read? Rather than: do I think the story ideas are similar to other books I have read in this genre? Trust yourself as a reader but beware of your writer-self.

You have to be honest with yourself. Is the quality of our writing comparable to the books you love to read? If the answer is no (or if you’re unsure) listen to your beta readers…by which I mean other people who love to read what you love to read. Be unemotional (I know this is hard) but don’t assume people will love your story just because it’s the right type of story. It also has to look, feel, and read like other stories in the genre and that takes a whole lot of skill. Keep learning.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this post and are curious what a story that breaks all these fiction writing rules might look like, have a look at my one-shot YA Fantasy story ‘Shadow Play’ (for free). As always, comments, feedback and further thoughts on this post are welcome. Please share in the comments.

Standard
Author Business, Self-Publishing

Can free text-to-speech software save your self-publishing budget?

I am slightly biased when it comes to anything technology (my day-job involves horizon scanning for technological solutions in a large organisation) and it never fails to amaze me how many of the most boring and menial tasks can now be done faster and easier with the help of advanced tools. So, I recently had a brainwave when it comes to improving my writing and my proofreading – for free! – and I thought that you might be interested in trying this, too.

If you are thinking about self-publishing, or if you have already got some experience with this, you might have discovered that self-publishing can be expensive. Especially if you want to put out quality products (i.e. books). No, I am NOT suggesting that you use free text-to-speech software to help turn your books into audio books. But I AM suggesting that this type of software can be make you a better writer. And it will cost you nothing at all.

How is this possible, you ask? It’s all down to one little fact that we writers already know: it’s impossible to proofread yourself. Everyone who has tried it will undoubtedly have come across the problem of missing words (‘be’, ‘a’, ‘the’, are common problems), duplication (‘the the’ and ‘a a’ are my personal faves), and a general issue with spelling and grammar (don’t get me started on this one).

If I am telling you that the culprit of such problems is the human brain, your eyes will probably roll right into the back of your head. But this is exactly why technology is an excellent solution. Software is dumb! It doesn’t have thoughts, it doesn’t assume, doesn’t understand words that are misspelled, doesn’t block out duplicate words, and it most certainly doesn’t fill in words that are not actually there.

So, dropping a paragraph of your text into a free text-to-speech online tool (Natural Readers is my tool of choice), helps you beat your overly helpful brain! It lets you hear your writing as it will come across to your reader and you will hear if your sentences are overly long, and whether your narrative flows…or not. You will hear every misspelled word (because the software won’t be able to pronounce it) and you will be alerted to all missing and duplicate words.

I recently used this to edit a one-shot YA Fantasy story and the feedback I had on this from readers was so much better than I could ever have anticipated.
My favourite comment on this story claims:
This is one the most well written stories that I’ve read on here [Wattpad]! So much passion in so few words! I commend you! : )

See ya next time 😉

If you give this approach to self-editing and proofreading a try, share your experience in the comments below. Links to your stories on the web are also welcome! Have a great week.

Standard