11 January, 2020 § Leave a comment
Writing challenges are terrific to spark your productivity and focus. It doesn’t matter what kind of challenge – just focused action with butt in chair doingness.
If you want to get the best out of any challenge, here are two key things you need to do.
Schedule the time
That’s right. Drag out your trusty diary – digital or paper – and plug in the times to be allocated to this challenge. Then stick to it! Some challenges will have specific times allocated where everyone in the challenge gets on a call or skype in or whatever.
Check the times and dates, double check any time-zone calculations if needed, and mark those times out in your diary. They are non-negotiable appointments with yourself.
Here’s a tip – sync all your diaries so you don’t miss the time!
Set up a reminder to alert you ahead of time to get ready. You know, grab your coffee, get your papers together, kick start the computer, sharpen the pencil, grab the sign-in details and chocolate (always chocolate).
Decide on your priorities
It helps to know ahead of time what you’ll use this time for.Obviously if you sign up for a 30 day squat challenge, you know exactly what you’ll be doing. But in writing, we have so many choices 🙂 Will you work on your book, your book front matter, your back matter, your author platform pieces, your quarterly planning schedule …?
As soon as you sign up for the challenge, write down what prompted you to do so. Usually, there is something in the back of your mind, prompting you to join, that said ‘this will help me to …’. That. Write that down. And if you can’t remember, write down a shopping list of the things you need to be getting on with. Then pick which is most important and can be progressed in the time frame you’ve got. Notice I didn’t say completed. It’s about moving forward. If you can complete something, all the better. But don’t overly stress yourself.
Know what you are going to work on before you start the challenge.
30 Writing Challenge Activity Ideas
Here’s a grab-bag of activities and tasks that might inspire you to get underway or done during a challenge.
- write a chapter in your book
- brainstorm chapter titles and choose the best ones
- mock up an idea of your cover design before getting it done professionally
- review your book notes and refine any ideas
- create a book plan if you don’t have one
- outline your blurb
- draft your book’s premise
- set up your front matter eg dedication, acknowledgement, disclaimer etc
- sketch out your characters – protagonist, antagonist, others
- make notes about your setting to stay consistent
- list a set of questions your non-fiction book will answer for the reader
- prepare a speech you plan to give eg at a local library book launch
- write up a blog post or ideas for a series of blog posts
- write an essay or an article for publication
- create a series of social media posts
- prepare a publishing calendar including social media, blog, newsletter
- think up some swag ideas to sell on Etsy then create them
- put together a timeline to finish and publish your book
- write a set of course notes and materials
- draft a description and keywords for your Amazon listing
- compile a book bible including mock cover, and all elements (setting, characters, chapters, messages)
- prepare a set of questions you’d want to answer in an interview about your book
- create a freebie lead magnet, giveaway, reader/subscriber gift – journal, planner, checklist, quiz, workbook, recipes, extra stories about characters – be imaginative
- write a prequel to your book series
- generate ideas for a pen name and decide on one
- set up digital spaces for your author platform eg website, facebook, etc
- draft and finalise your author bio
- check your online branding is consistent across platforms
- prepare for your book-signing event (include extra pens)
- create a calendar of events/activities for the year
Note that a writing challenge doesn’t have to be about the act of writing. It can be, but if you are also a self-publisher then there are lots of moving parts to distribute and market your books. In that case, there are even more activities you could take action on.
Ideally, you are set up with a plan and are working towards an end goal. If not, then any activity that enhances what you are doing is good. Better is when you select tasks to tie on with your overarching plan. That’s why you need to set your priorities before heading in to a challenge. Work hard on the right things.
Of course, you don’t need a collective writing challenge: do a challenge on your own. Set a specific day and timeframe, say Thursday from 1-3pm. Mark that in your diary. Decide what exactly you will work on, say drafting a table of contents. Note that in your diary too. Decide where you’ll do it and get everything ready before your time starts so you can hit the ground running. Get into the routine of doing a self-challenge a week and you can make progress faster on things that matter.
I challenge you to join a challenge or set your own. DO it now. Your future writing productivity will thank you for it.
28 November, 2019 § Leave a comment
Another literary legend lost.
His death last Sunday is punctuated by the volumes of words from this prodigious talent. A critic, intellectual, broadcaster, presenter and ever-improving poet James has left an indelible mark on Australia and the world.
The ‘kid from Kogarah’ who traversed those suburbs a couple of decades before I lived there, managed to propel himself from suburban life to being a player on a far larger stage.
There were elements of James’ personality and behaviour that rankled yet none can deny the way his words leapt into your soul like a burr in a shoe demanding to be noticed.
He was someone I’m happy to have admired from afar. I suspect had I been a dinner guest I would have been swallowed like a minnow by his gigantic mind and acerbic wit, being left as pulp to be rinsed off the dinner plate.
Above all else, poetry was his literary love.
Read some of Clive James.
Watch his videos.
Take on board his turn of phrase.
See the effect his words have on your writing.
Make that your tribute to him.
12 October, 2019 § Leave a comment
J.K. Rowling has created arguably the most fantastical world in contemporary times.
Her success in the Potter franchise is widely acknowledged.
Writing fantasy fiction in any form has not been my interest even though I love Harry Potter and the entire series. I was as captivated as any child, reading those books. Even though it’s not my genre as a writer, I respect Rowling’s genius in creating her amazing world.
If you want to get a glimpse of what’s involved in creating such a world then reading these insights is worth your while.
It’s through the detail and integrity of place and people that Rowling has captured her world for all to share.
Now, if you want to learn from a highly successful writer, then this video is one to watch.
Early on you will see that she was passionate about creating her world (even if she did get the train station wrong). The completeness of her notes and drawings and scribbles is a testament to someone who lived her imagination so continuously.
What you’ll also learn is how disorganised she may seem (though she knows where everything is) and, how focussed she was on the minutiae of her world to make it authentic.
Note: she redid chapter one some 15 times until she felt she had it right. (And I groan at doing my first edit!). It’s a great reminder to analyse your story to make sure you’re not giving away the plot too early and to feel ok letting some of your words go.
“It felt as though I was carving a book out of this mass of notes …condensing and editing and sculpting.” If you have enough material, you have the luxury of deciding what to leave out, what to put where and how to best massage your story.
Watch the video and make sure you take notes. Learn from the greats.
5 October, 2019 § Leave a comment
I love a good writing group. And there are plenty of them. Taree Scribblers is one.
Writing groups run along similar lines but do it differently which is why one’s experience of a writing group varies from one to another. Much of the variation between writing groups is down to both the process they follow and the mix of people in the room.
Even though it was a 170km round trip to head to Taree, it was definitely worth the effort.
When you join up somewhere new, you want to feel welcomed and the Taree Scribblers crew did that. A friendly and inclusive mob of writers.
When you join a writing group you want to feel that you gain a benefit in some way.
For some, it is simply to escape the isolation of writing alone and have a writerly chat over a cuppa. For others, it’s getting their work validated through reading or critique. Others prefer to learn something through a workshop or lesson on some aspect of their craft. Yet others, it’s about practising their craft through writing sessions or exercises.
Taree Scribblers covers all those bases.
At the session I attended there was a brief cover of general business to update the membership on things such as competitions, publications, financials etc.
Read Your Writing Out Loud
Then onto reading of short pieces for those who wanted to play. Each month they set a theme word or phrase and I’d been forewarned so had my 500 words ready. When you read aloud there’s always something of the shy 10-year-old that pops up and cringes wondering if it’s boring or tiresome or inadequate. No such feelings at Taree Scribblers. Each piece was warmly received: all writers were of a confident and capable standard. I felt my piece said ‘I deserve a place at your table’. It was my credibility stake in the ground. Once I’d heard others, I knew I could learn from this group of published and polished writers.
After a short tea break it was onto a workshop session covering how competitions are judged and how to prepare your submission for success. This was an excellent session and I wish I’d realised it was on – I had to leave early for another appointment but would have made arrangements to stay for the whole session. Anything run by Jacqueline Winn is worth sticking around for!
So for my money, I’ll be back. Taree Scribblers is now a regular on my calendar.
Check out writer’s groups in your neck of the woods and get along to see how well it matches your needs as a writer.
Taree Scribblers meet the second Wednesday of the month in Taree from 10-12.30/1pm.
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?