28 September, 2019 § Leave a comment
Spotted this cartoon today in my travels and it stopped me in my tracks. So much so I had to write about it!
Not that I was doing any of those things, of course. No, I was actually ‘researching’ on the web. Every good writer needs to research – fact-checking, thoroughness of topic coverage, clarifying thoughts, finding other angles. For example, in my research mode, I came across this cartoon and that inspired this post on procrastination. Serendipity? Or, procrastination? Maybe even productive procrastination ™?
How did this happen? I am producing a short piece but am totally uninspired by the title on which I have to write. To get into free-flow mode I decided to research how to write a story using a formula. Maybe that would give me a hook to hang the piece on. I’ve been researching for at least two hours!
Totally inspired. Not to write the piece but to find out more about these formulas and how some writers write so many books in such a short time. Starstruck.
But it hasn’t helped me write that original piece. In the process, I’ve ‘lost’ time even if I have gained knowledge and content for future posts.
Procrastination and I are old friends. We’ve been hanging out together for æons.
My advice is if you’re going to procrastinate, use your time well.
If you are going to nap, set an alarm so you’re up at a certain time ready to go.
If you’re going to snack, take a short break and make it a healthy snack so your body digests it well and doesn’t give you grief.
If you’re going to social media, set a time limit and have a purpose rather than zoning out and getting caught up in tangents – SocMed often makes you feel FOMO (not a good headspace for writing).
If you’re going to do chores then make it a time-limited quick one: if you decide to tidy your office just focus on your desktop or a drawer – don’t decide to change the whole room around.
You can find other things you NEED to do right now instead of write – phone a friend, research, get the mail, sharpen your pencils, whatever. Simply recognise you are putting off the inevitable and your brain needs a quick recharge before getting back into it.
- set a time limit
- make sure your chosen activity will put you in a better frame of mind
- commit to getting back onto your writing after your interlude
Imagine a firefighter deciding to procrastinate. Not going to happen. She has to deal with the real and present event. So do you. Get a handle on procrastination if it’s an habitual ‘out’ for you by using the 3-step plan above. Discipline is part of a writers armoury.
[Cartoon credit totally goes to Ellis Rosen. Go check him out. He’s worth procrastinating for.]
21 September, 2019 § Leave a comment
It seems really naff, awkward, silly to think about reading your writing out loud. After all, unless you are a lyricist or poet, you don’t write with a view to your words being vocalised. But reading aloud works.
As a writer, we really do think we don’t have to read our writing. That once writ, we have created a masterpiece even if only in our own mind. Yet when we write the only next action is for that work to be read, hopefully by many other people.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve picked up a self-published book from Amazon Kindle which was in desperate need of editing. For some of them, a simple read-out-loud process would have made the world of difference to enjoying a book or stumbling through it and giving up. Don’t be that writer.
Before releasing your words into the wild, it pays to verbalise them to yourself. You’ll be surprised how well it facilitates better writing.
When you read your writing out loud, you find
- words you trip over
- those rambling sentences
- the phrases that fail to roll off the tongue no matter how well they seem when written
- the clumsy constructs of words
- overuse of repetitive words
- words you missed out
- you find yourself speaking words that aren’t written
- ask yourself ‘should they be in the text?’
- words you don’t need
- you find yourself skipping over words that you have written
- ask yourself ‘are those words redundant?’
Don’t be tempted to think reading in your mind is a substitute. It isn’t. The brain works differently to process the written word when it’s spoken to when it’s silently read. Trust the process and read aloud with your voice!
The advantage is that
- your work will present better to the final reader and create a better experience for them
- you’ll decrease the incidence of poor reviews because of fixes that are easily applied now rather than once published (if that’s your aim)
- you’ll increase your chances of being accepted for any competitions or submissions because these corrections help your work
Reading to yourself doesn’t take long but make sure you have a red pencil at the ready to pick up any edits you need to make.
What really helps is if you have a friend who can sit with you. Give them a printed copy of your piece. As you read they can pick up the skips, the adds, the clumsiness. With a bit of luck, they will also pick up the typos and grammatical errors as well!
If that’s not possible, record yourself reading your writing then listen back as you follow along on a printed copy, making edits as you go. The advantage here is that you can rewind and replay a section to pick up errors or stop at a certain point while you make notes. Most laptops, PCs, mobile phones these days have a voice record and playback facility.
Reading your writing out loud helps you pick up the rhythm of your story. Your ear picks up and responds to sounds that flow. How many times have you been to an author talk when they have read a passage from their book? Has the reading been easy to listen to or stilted? When it’s easy to listen to it’s a pleasurable experience and you engage with the work. When it’s stilted you mentally tune out and become disinterested.
Case in point. I’ve just read this article out loud and made around five edits to make it read better. Let me know if it can be further improved.
Aim for your work to sound pleasant to the ear. Keep editing and revising until the cadence flows. Your future readers will thank you for it.
15 September, 2019 § Leave a comment
Malala Yousafzai told her amazingly brave story in her first book I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. She has since penned two other books and a documentary in addition to her advocacy work for education.
From the age of 11 Malala pursued her activism by blogging for the BBC about education in Pakistan. She was marked as a threat by the Taliban and an attempted execution occurred on a school bus when she was 15. By 17 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Currently, she is studying at Oxford while continuing her writing career and pushing for the right to education for girls.
What formed Malala’s views? Her father was an advocate of education and had set up a school. He was anti-Taliban. There’s no doubt she was influenced by her father’s politics and belief and the family almost paid the ultimate price for it.
Reading and writing are powerful. They are the fundamental building blocks of education. When someone can read they have access to the knowledge of the world. Malala has exemplified the potential for education and her writing has changed the world from igniting a push for girls education to establishing schools for refugees to influencing leaders.
Malala has an impactful story. You may not. But that doesn’t lessen the capacity of your writing, your words, to benefit others either through education (non-fiction) or entertainment (fiction).
Learn. Write. Get your words out there.
9 September, 2019 § Leave a comment
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades
How true is that?
Most people can write, even if only their name.
Most people can fashion a blog or a letter or a job application, even if they need some help.
Those who are called to write from a professional standpoint … it becomes harder.
Forcing creativity is a challenge. The right words don’t always come. Or they fall out in the wrong order. Or some words are missing and they’re needed to make the entire work make sense.
Inspiration doesn’t come on demand and sometimes pops in at the most inopportune times when you don’t have a pen or paper or app to capture it.
Deadlines can be killers of words. The closer a due date looms the harder it is to write. The words that are written are scratched as soon as they hit the paper. More than one writer has begged leniency from an editor for an extended deadline. And self-imposed deadlines? They are made of elastic.
Finally, that sense of writing something beautiful, read-worthy and magical that puffs out your chest and makes you feel you’ve chosen the right path can be vaporised into the air by one tiny criticism, a rejection letter, a comment.
Such a nefarious activity, writing.
And yet, we crave it. We love it. We play with words and build castles of stories.
We wouldn’t have it any other way. Writers are tough, strong, persistent, insistent and dedicated to their craft. We can handle difficult … can’t we?
1 September, 2019 § Leave a comment
Writing an 80,000-page novel sounds arduous, and difficult and long. Some people take years to write their novel: some work assiduously every day and pump it out in a few months. If you do NaNoWriMo style, you’ll have a rough draft in a month.
Flash fiction though can be written during a short trip on the train. Doing quality flash fiction might take a slightly longer train ride.
Micro or flash fiction is an art form in itself. It demands that every word works to create the whole story. Oscar Wilde* once famously wrote, “I’d have written a shorter letter but I did not have the time.” Because you have less space to build a world, its characters and a plot, micro fiction forces you to be economical with your words. No fluff, no padding, no extraneous detail.
So, how do you write microfiction?
David Gaffney gives you a plan in his article in The Guardian.
“1. Start in the middle.
You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.
2. Don’t use too many characters.
You won’t have time to describe your characters when you’re writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.
3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end.
In micro-fiction there’s a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you’re not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or “pull back to reveal” endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.
4. Sweat your title.
Make it work for a living.
5. Make your last line ring like a bell.
The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you’ve been run over by a lorry full of fridges.
6. Write long, then go short.
Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn’t sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.”
Flash fiction is a terrific technique to use small periods of time productively – waiting at the dentist, at the airport, those times you wake up at 3am for no reason. Keep a little notebook handy and pop a bundle of writing prompts in the back for when you need to be inspired.
Who knows? It might be the easiest way for you to publish – your own collection of microstories.
Read the whole story at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/14/how-to-write-flash-fiction and make sure you look at the follow-up article he wrote too.
The attribution of this quote is more correctly Blaise Pascal in 1657 who said “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to
make it shorter” as noted at http://www.lb7.uscourts.gov/documents/314-cv-921.pdf.