What does Patience have to do with Procrastination?

What does patience have to do with procrastination?Over the last week we’ve talked about procrastination a whole lot on Facebook. Why? We needed something to do instead of what we should be doing, and talking about procrastination seemed appropriate. Oddly, having thought about the subject considerably, we came to a somewhat unexpected conclusion.

Procrastination is more about a lack of patience than putting off what you should be doing.

Think about it for a moment… Think about what you put off doing (I’m not talking about little admin jobs you let build up until they bite your ass, but the things that really matter). These things typically take up a lot of time, the results aren’t immediate, the outcome might well rely on the approval of others, that approval, if not received, could extend the completion of that project.

So take your novel as an example. Think about the time it takes from idea to draft, then from draft to final edit, then from final edit to submission. Then, once you submit it, you have to wait some more. You might or might not get the deal you want. If you don’t, you have to get back to work and wait some more. It’s a long process. It takes time. So instead of diving in and doing it, you do other things. Things that do have a guaranteed outcome (sorting the shed, doing the laundry, building a website, cutting the grass…).

Because the truth is, we don’t do NOTHING when we procrastinate. We fill our time with things we can finish quickly and easily. We get busy and we stay busy. Finishing things we can control feels good. Finishing them quickly feels even better.

So what does patience have to do with procrastination?

If we had patience, we could wake up in the morning and accept that the thing we want to do will take as long as it will take. When you accept that, starting doesn’t seem so daunting.

Patience is the thing that allows us to slow, think and love the ride. It’s the state of mind that allows us to enjoy the views of the journey we’re on. It’s the feeling of calm in a world full of chaos. It’s the acceptance that we are in charge of our daily actions and that freaking out over how long it takes us to get there will do nothing but delay us and give us an ulcer.

So be calm today folks. Be patient with yourself. Some things aren’t meant to be finished in a day or a week or a year. Some things take time. The more impatient you are, the more you will procrastinate, and the longer it will take. So be patient, accept things as they are, pick up your pen, and get to work.

Kick back and watch the grass grow. It will take as long as it takes.

Is it writer’s block or are you suffering from information overload?

Information overload or writer's block??!One of the traps you fall into while deep in writer’s block is to keep yourself busy researching everything, from the genre you’re writing about, to how to write, to why you can’t.

While you are reading and researching you keep finding people who have already published their first or tenth novel and the advice they all spout is “Write every day. You must write every day.”

They might be correct. You know they probably are. But you still want to smack them for saying it, because you can’t write! That’s the problem! What part of writer’s BLOCK don’t they get?!

But are you suffering from writer’s block or is it information overload?

Considering most of my non-fiction books are on speed-reading and information overload, I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve fallen foul of an overload funk a few times. Here are some of the symptoms…

  • If you feel buzzed and happy until you sit down at your desk to write – at which point the energy in your body drains into a miserable puddle around your feet… you probably have information overload.
  • If you can’t write a sentence without feeling compelled to dig out every fact needed to write the next sentence, you might have an issue with information overload. For example: Your character picks up a gun. You’ve seen a gun in the movies, perhaps even held one, but you don’t know anything about guns, so you shut down your novel to pick up a dozen gun magazines, go to a gun show and join a shooting range. You are most likely addicted to information overload (it’s a great excuse for not being able to write).
  • If your novel is so full of facts that you’ve lost the story but don’t care because you’re sure your readers will love the details as much as you, then you’re suffering from information overload.
  • If you feel that no matter how much you read and study, you will never know enough, then you’re suffering from information overload.

Quick tips on how to get out of the research trap, escape writer’s block (!!) and get on with your writing:

ONE: Ask how much information your CHARACTERS need, and find out that and only that.
TWO: If you’re writing on a subject you know nothing about, write it from the point of view of a character who knows nothing. See what happens.
THREE: Limit your research to an hour a day – maximum. When time is limited you’ll get smarter about how you do it.

No matter how great your facts are, if your plot is a mess and your characters are weak, no one will get past your first beautifully crafted page. If someone really wants to know the entire history of China or the metal make-over of an AK47, they’ll Google it themselves.

Dump the research today and just write.

When you’re stuck in writer’s block, TV isn’t the answer!

When you're stuck in writer's block, TV isn't the answer.Another cunning trick writer’s block plays is to lock you in your own head. It feels like you’ve lost the anchor on your vision or dream and you’re drifting in a current taking you nowhere.

Because you can’t focus on anything, you go a little numb. The condition puts you on a flat, calm, windless, featureless ocean. All the ideas and inspiration and magic is under the surface, but all you can see when you look over the edge of your boat is your reflection and damn, it’s not a pretty sight!

If your ocean was tossing and wild, threatening to throw you onto the rocks of some savage and uncharted island, then you could do something with that. Adrenalin would see you through. You’d spend your days and nights, hours and minutes keeping your boat afloat and off the rocks. But when you’re in the dead flat calm of writer’s block, with not even a hint or a whisper of a breeze and no sodding paddle, you struggle to keep your eyes open and look any further than your next coffee break distraction.

So instead of building up the energy to create your own waves, you hide from your life and bury your head in TV or some other mind numbing excuse for non-existence.

TV really is Writer’s Block’s best friend. The bit of you that is too chicken to stare your challenge down, loves TV. This is an excuse and an escape all in one.

You’re a writer, right? Well, TV is all about fiction, isn’t it? So if you’re writing a thriller, watch back-to-back detective shows! What better research is there than re-runs of CSI or NCIS, or Monk or Murder She Wrote or Poirot or Wallander or The Killing or any of the other hundreds of series leading to thousands of hours of “research”?

The bad news is that watching hours of TV is absolutely not valid research.

Your mind turns to porridge and your body effectively goes to sleep.

But what if you want to write for TV? What if that’s your dream? Fine, then dig out the scripts to these series and read them, break them apart, and analyze them. Do yourself a favor and limit yourself to just one hour of TV drug a day, and for the rest of the hours left to you, read the TV screenplays. Eventually, the style, form, and nature of screenplays will sink in and you’ll WANT to write your own!

Watching back-to-back Dexter won’t get your work done.

Read. Write. Think. Walk in the rain.

Still stuck with writer’s block? Then ask yourself the tough questions!

If you're still stuck in writer's block, it's time to ask the tough questions.If writer’s block has you by the brain and you’re on the verge of deciding to go into the dog walking business and never writing another word that doesn’t appear on a pet pampering menu, then ask yourself these questions…

ONE: Do you really want to be a novelist? Yes or no. It’s digital. “Maybe” isn’t allowed. If the answer is yes, then move to question 2. And if the answer is No, then stop here and go have fun with the french fries.

TWO: Are you writing for the right age group? Yes or no? Do you like the age group you’re writing for? Are you writing for kids? Do you understand them? It’s hard to write for an age group you don’t understand and can’t relate to. So, are you writing for the right age group? If yes, fine. If no, then stop messing around and choose an age group you do understand. Writing for children is no easier than writing for adults. Don’t kid yourself!

THREE: Are you writing in the right genre? Do you watch movies in your chosen genre? When you turn the TV on, what are you attracted to, time after time after time? What is the guilty pleasure you’ll never admit to? Chances are, that’s the genre you should be writing in.

FOUR: Can you say why you want to be a novelist? What’s in it for you? What will you get out of it? What are you willing to put into it?

FIVE: Do you really know your characters? Do you know their dreams, passions, fears, and desires? Do you know what they look like, feel like, and smell like? Do you know where their birth marks and secret tattoos are?

SIX: Would you keep doing this even if you never got published? Would you do this if you never got paid?

SEVEN: Is this worth the sacrifice to your family and friends? Who believes in you? Who trusts you?

EIGHT: Have you done your research? Do you have enough information? Do you know what questions to ask? Are you making it up because it’s easier than finding out? How much artistic license are you applying?

NINE: Can you write? Are you any good? Can you string more than six words together without boring yourself?

TEN: Is the plot you’ve been working on solid? Is it packed with clichés? Is it predicable or unbelievable? Is it worth your time and your readers’ imagination?

ELEVEN: Are you writing something only you can write? Is the story world you’re creating something only you could create?

Be honest. Answer these questions. If you can’t answer them, then take the time to think until you can. Don’t mess about. It’s your life you’re choosing to spend on this. Make it count.

Be good to yourself today!

If your favourite writer can do it, so can you?

If your favourite writer can do it...?Yes, but… Have you ever read a book by your favorite writer, studied the story and the words, and wondered why that book gripped popular imagination where another didn’t?

How difficult can it be anyway? All a novel is, is a bunch of words strung together on a page. There’s nothing complex about the sentence structure. The words all follow general rules of grammar. We all understand those rules – mostly.

So you light a candle, work long into the night, and write.

But when you read what you’ve written in the morning, it somehow doesn’t sound the same as your favorite author and you wonder what’s so different about the published bestseller, and the “bestseller” you’ve just written!

Is there something in the soul of a great story that transcends rules of grammar? Short answer… Yes.

Now, I’m going to get all lotus flower on you so be patient…

There is something in the flow of a great story that has nothing to do with grammar and words. It’s the pictures the words paint, the emotions they force up from the readers’ gut, the tears that fall from their eyes when they least expect it.

In short (and in my view), the magic in a great read comes from the pictures the readers build in their minds as they read. These pictures generate feelings that are determined by how well these readers relate to those pictures.

Your job then, as the author, is to build pictures in people’s minds that generate feelings that strike chords that make them laugh and cry and weep and mourn and fly.

We all have the same tools. The same words are available to everyone. What’s different?

  • our experiences
  • our vision
  • our dreams
  • our character
  • our emotions
  • our fears
  • our courage
  • our determination

These are what bring magic to a great book.

So it’s not surprising that what you write sounds different from your favorite author. Your favorite storyteller has managed to take his or her experiences, visions, dreams, character, emotions, fears, courage, and determination and animate them in a way that has moved people looking for that particular escape.

Don’t try to be like your favorite author. It’s not possible. You haven’t lived that person’s life. You’ve lived your life, so use it. Be You! Dig into your soul and light that flame. That’s the candle you should be writing to.

Be Zen today and Happy Writing

Short story, novel, article… Always have something in the market!

Always have something in the market!Even if it’s a 1000 word short story sent in to a local competition, always have something out in the market. Getting out there has side effects, so be warned:

  •  You will always be waking up with a “Wooohoooo what’s going to happen today” feeling.
  • You will get so used to rejection that it won’t bother you.
  • Even if one piece is rejected, you’ll have something else to send out.
  • You’ll be in the market and ready to fly.
  • You’ll build up a track record of published material – even if it’s in local magazines and newspapers. So what, published is published and people notice that.
  • You learn that the world doesn’t end just because your work wasn’t accepted.
  • You learn how to send stuff out and get it noticed.
  • You might actually start to have fun.
  • Heavens forbid, you might eventually get paid for something!

Your primary focus might be on your novel, but while you’re working that, write a few articles or short stories and put them out there.

Even if you don’t get paid, so what? Eventually you will. In the meantime, you’re building a catalogue of published material, your confidence, and the thickness of your skin.

The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll sell. The more you sell, the more confident you’ll become. The more confident you feel, the stronger your writing will become. By the time your first novel is ready, so will you be.

You’ll have the right attitude, mental state, and emotional resilience to stand up to the spike-collared-steel-booted-gun-toting market and say “Hello baby face. You really want to play?”

So don’t wait until your first novel is finished. The art of getting into the market needs as much practice as writing for it. So take 30 minutes a day to write a short story or an article and submit it. Submit something every week. Choose a dozen magazines (fiction and non-fiction), study the style, submit a proposal for an article, and get going. Get out there.

When you get a YES, study the letter or email you wrote, carefully read the story or article, and uncover what they liked. Then add that to your first novel.

Nothing is for nothing.

Even a NO has value, so get your work out there.

Happy Writing Today!

Write your name

Write your name... See what happens!So, if you’ve tried everything and you still can’t find a word to write, start with your name and see what comes out. Remember, you’re writing for the bin so it doesn’t have to be polished genius…

When I first tried this, here’s exactly what came out (unedited, I might add):

“My name is Tina. But it wasn’t always. I used to be Jim Allen Mcguire. I used to be 6’2”, blonde and full of bollocks. Now I’m 6’2”, blonde and buxom. Trouble is. I’m also in Aberdeen’s only female prison and no bugger will believe I didn’t do it. Now you’re going to ask me what I’m supposed to have done to get here, and I’m going to have to tell you because pretty soon I’m going to find myself in a public shower and I’m going to go from Tina Tutu to “Crap, that’s a bloke…”

I didn’t finish the story, but it got me going and made me chuckle. So if you can’t think of even one thing to write, just write your name and let it go. See what happens.

When you write for the bin and start with something as simple as your name, a new crucial element is added to your arsenal… You start to relax and have a bit of fun.

Happy writing today

Write for the bin

Write for the bin!I can’t recall who said this but these words have been on my study wall for a year and their importance only recently sank in. I’m slow… What can l say?

Most of our greatest battles as writers are seeded by our dreams and imaginations. When we sit down to write, part of our mind is filled with character and plot, the rest is filled with our dreams, hopes, and ambitions for the book. So when we write our first draft, it’s like our audience is right there in front of us: watching, waiting, and judging every word. Instead of just writing, we stare at the page, then at an imaginary audience, then back at the page, then give up and go and make a cup of tea.

So don’t write for an audience. Don’t write for your kids or your family, and heavens forbid, don’t write for yourself. You are your worst critic. Write for the bin. Decide up front that anything you write, you will throw away. No one will read it. Ever. Free yourself up and make buddies with the bin.

Here’s what will happen…

You’ll start to write. The words might be rubbish, but so what. That’s the intention. Keep writing. When you’re done, you’ll have something on paper that amounts to a rough lump of clay on a wheel that might or might not have the potential to be a teapot.

Now you open the bin and start to throw it out. That’s what’s editing is for. Ditch it. Delete it. Trash it. By the time you’re done, very little of what you originally wrote will be left unscathed. The bin will be full, your mind will be clear, and you will have a teapot worthy of presenting to any audience you choose.

Start with only one thing in mind. Write for the bin. Get it out. You know you’re going to throw it away, so be repetitive, use as many adverbs and adjectives as you like. The bin will be grateful, your audience will not be subjected to your first draft, and you’ll be writing instead of moaning about not writing.

OK, so the bin it is… But where do you start?

What if you stare at the bin and even then, nothing comes.

I put this question to my husband: “Morris. What is your cure for writer’s block?”

Write your name”, he said.

Happy writing today! Even if it is just your name… Make it a great one!