Category Archives: Choice

Writing With A Full Plate

I have always felt that National Novel Writing Month was scheduled during one of the most inconvenient times of the year. Many of us in the United States have significant travel plans and social commitments for the Thanksgiving holiday. College students are working on end of term projects and preparing for final exams. People with full time jobs are feeling the push to meet year-end financial goals, working extra hours to close out projects, and getting ready for the next financial year. To top it all off, Christmas looms just on the horizon. With all the commitments pulling at our time and attention in the month of November, keeping up a consistent work count is hard. But maybe that’s perfect after all.

You see, we can’t just be able to write when things are easy, when our writing space is clean, organized, quiet, and perfect, our beverage of choice is at our elbow, and we have neither a care nor a commitment in the world. If I waited for those moments to put my butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard, I’d get 10 pages done a year max. Especially for those us trying to break into the business, there is constant distraction, ever growing commitments, and a million and a half other things that need doing right the hell now. For people like me, writing isn’t about quiet afternoons and hot cups of tea. It is about carving moments out of the chaos to make the dream work.

Having NaNoWriMo during one of the most socially active months of the year teaches us to manage our writing while still honoring those commitments. Writing can be all consuming if you let it. I’ve met more than one aspiring or published author who bemoans driving away spouses, losing touch with friends and siblings, or missing parts of their children’s lives because of the muse. I never fully realized the toll that writing takes on those we love until I saw how worn out and lonely my girlfriend was after my first NaNo success. I’m going to find a way to be a prolific author AND give those I love the time and attention they deserve. I can’t give you any advice on this one, as I’m still working on the balance myself. All I can tell you is that I, like many of you, need the people in my life and that we can make it work.

We all have full plates, but learning to make time between the courses is part of the process. NaNoWriMo provides structure to help us learn that lesson. It gives us a concrete goal, an international group of supporters, and a really busy month in which to make it all happen. If you are anything like me, you aren’t going to find a two-hour chunk of time that fits neatly in your schedule. Rather, you are going to take your laptop to work and write during breaks and lunch. You only have fifteen minutes? Well, then grab that cup of coffee and boot up the laptop. Write fifteen words. That’s a sentence, maybe two. Pack it up, go back to work. Eat your lunch quickly at your desk, then pull out the laptop. For me, lunch break writing is the hardest. I work at a computer all day and often am mentally worn out even by lunch. However, I have found that escaping into fiction, turning off the analytical side of my brain and letting the creative side reign, helps refresh me to finish out the day. Just remember to set an alarm for the end of lunch before you get lost in the joy of writing, only to be interrupted by a boss who passes by your office at 13:30 and asks you what you are doing. Because that never happened to me, not four times.

Furthermore, you don’t have to be putting words on the page to be doing writing work. I find that some of my best fiction thinking gets done during my commute home, while on my bicycle, or when I’m pushing a lawn mower around the yard. I crank up some high energy music, focus the active part of my brain on the task at hand, and get to doing what needs to be done. Meanwhile, my unconscious mind invades my thinking brain, co-opting some of the real estate to work out plot problems, have conversations with my characters, and just imagine the possibilities. I’ve had so much success with this, that physical exertion has become one of my main strategies for working my way around or through a block. They key is to carve out a little time after the physical activity to make use of that authorly momentum. It doesn’t need to be much, maybe thirty minutes or an hour, but taking the time to get the words that build up onto paper is essential.

The last piece of advice I can give you about having a packed plate and finding the time to write is that you must maintain your momentum. I don’t care if it is only one sentence, spend the time every single day writing something. Sometimes that one sentence will turn into two, then a couple paragraphs, then ten pages. Sometimes it will stay one sentence, but it will be more than you had the day before. 50,000 words may feel like a sprint, but really it’s just preparing you for the marathon. Daily practice builds those pathways in our brains, strengthening our writing muscles, and making progress. Even if it is only one sentence. They key is that it’s something.

Now, Go Forth and Write!

Welcome to the final hours of our pre-NaNoWriMo time! There are many people who are out there right now, anxiety ridden and dreading the toll of midnight. But y’all, dear readers, should be ready. You should be pumped. Our bloggers and guests have shared a plethora of advice and their own experiences. Hopefully you found their insights useful. You’ve done your prep work, imagined the impossible, and planned your way through to success. You’re ready to climb the mountain.

But what if you are still nervous? I mean, NaNoWriMo is a huge commitment, right? The answer is that you write anyways. You put your butt in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard and you give it everything you have to give. Though there are people who sprint up mountains for fun (crazy, right?) I prefer a hike. A slow and steady plod will get you there just the same, no matter how loud those voices in your head yell that you can’t make it.

What if you aren’t done with your prewriting? You have at least another 965,439.27 hours of prewriting left to do. You have to work through the complete 17th volume of your world’s history, and you don’t know how your protagonist kept their hair in the third grade, and there are at least 60 constellations you have yet to name and invent complete mythologies for… What do you do then? You put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard. At some point, prewriting time needs to be over. As one of my mentors, Kevin Anderson, said to a group of us at a seminar, “A book that doesn’t exist cannot be published.” The hard truth is that most books are never finished, they are abandoned. Start, work your hardest, and you’ll be surprised by what you can do.

But what if you miss a day? How could you possibly crest the 50,000 word peak if you lose your momentum… Step 1: You forgive yourself. Step 2: You put your but in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. Seeing a theme? I once saw a nutritionist who told all her clients that meaningful change was a process. You only failed when you stopped trying, success being one choice away. You just had to keep choosing to fight. And you know what? It works just as well for writing as it does for losing 40 pounds.

So, all of us here at the Fictorians wish you the best in this year’s NaNoWriMo. Surprise yourself, discover that you are far better than you give yourself credit for, and work your way up that mountain. Know that you aren’t alone in this. Know that what you are about to do is really hard, but you have everything you need to do it. The view from the top will be worth the climb, I promise. First drafts need not be perfect, but they do need to be finished. Now, go forth and write!

Six Jedi Mind Tricks for Writers

A Guest Post by David Farland

    1. Write in your sleep. The day before you plan to write, stay up a little late and plot out the scene you will write. As you do, consider where it will be set, who will appear in it, when it will occur in relation to other scenes, who will be your viewpoint character, and what actions or changes will occur in that scene. Write a quick sketch of a paragraph or two about the scene, then go to bed. You subconscious mind will worry about the scene while you sleep, piecing it together, and in the morning it will appear vividly in your mind so that you write it with ease.
    2. Create a “Sacred Writing Space.” When you plan to write, some people find it helpful to write down the goal: I will write tomorrow from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM. Then, when you go to work, do not let anyone violate your time. That means that you don’t check your mail or talk to friends on Facebook. Your writing time must be dedicated to writing only. If you plan to start at 6:00 get your butt in your chair a few minutes early, open your files, think, and begin typing at or before 6:00. In the same way, the space where you sit must also be dedicated to writing. Some people find that over time, they get in a habit of doing some things—like watching videos—in a certain chair. It might be difficult to break that habit consciously, so it may be easier for you to move your chair or move into a new room to create your sacred writing space. I don’t know why, but I tend to write with fantastic ease while sitting in airports.
    3. Shut the freak up. Doctor Jerry Pournelle once pointed out that the desire to write arises out of a profound need to communicate. If you stop communicating with others—by turning off your television and your radio, stop talking to friends, don’t answer emails, and simply let the silence grow around you, you will find that very soon your imaginary characters in your story will start speaking to each other, so that you will find yourself writing dialog. (This may take a couple of hours, but it works!)
    4. Put yourself in the writing mood. Sometimes you sit down at your writing desk and just don’t feel in the mood to write. You may be anxious about other things, or tired, or whatever. Don’t let your mood derail you. Simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, then remember as vividly as possible a time when you were writing freely and without effort and enjoying the act. Hold that emotion for thirty seconds. If you don’t feel ready to write, try it again, only time hold in your mind a time when you felt excited to right. Hold it for thirty seconds. If that doesn’t work, try it again, only this time sit and remember times when you receive praise or awards or publishing contracts for writing. Hold the emotion for thirty seconds. You will soon find yourself “in the mood” to write.
    5. Develop the habit of getting into your “Writer’s Trance.” We all have times when we slip into our imaginary worlds fully. Sometimes it happens when you’re driving, or exercising, or washing dishes, or late at night while listening to music. Once you find yourself in that sphere, simply stop whatever you are doing and write! I often keep a notepad in my car, for example, so that if I find myself vividly imagining scenes while driving, I can stop and take notes. In the same way, listening to music late at night often gives me inspiration, as does lying in bed and thinking about my book before I fully wake up. Find out what works best for you, and learn to court your muse.
    6. Learn to think. Many times, a writer will try to sit down to write, only to find that he doesn’t know what to do next. Perhaps a certain character’s voice won’t come, or the writer hasn’t plotted his novel well enough to begin composing. Many writers feel intimidated at this point and feel “stuck.” Instead of giving up, simply imagine that you are getting up from your “stuck place,” and you are moving to a more creative spot. In other words, focus your mental energy on solving you writing problem. Getting stuck is a common part of the writing process, and it’s perfectly natural. A real writer doesn’t give up—instead he begin brainstorming, thinking about how to handle the upcoming scene. Simply put, you have to brainstorm the scene, looking at it from all sides, until you get excited about writing it. As ideas come to you and you look at the scene from different angles, some of those ideas will feel so “right” to you, that you’ll find yourself growing eager. When you’re ready, just write!

David Farland:

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and he has won over seven awards—including the International Book Award and the Hollywood Book Festival, Grand Prize—for his fantasy thriller Nightingale. He is best known, however, for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

Farland has written for major franchises such as Star Wars and The Mummy. He has worked in Hollywood greenlighting movies and doctoring scripts. He has been a movie producer, and he has even lived in China working as a screenwriter for a major fantasy film franchise.

As a writing instructor, Farland has mentored dozens who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).

Farland judges L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future, the one of the largest worldwide writing competitions for new fantasy and science fiction authors. In the video game industry, he has been both a designer and a scripter and was the co-leader on the design team for StarCraft: Brood War. He set the Guinness World Record for the largest single-author, single-book signing.

David Farland has been hailed as “The wizard of storytelling” and his work has been called “compelling,” “engrossing,” “powerful,” “profound,” and “ultimately life-changing.”

When Disaster Strikes – Getting My Momentum Back

I’ve blogged on the Fictorians before about the infection that nearly killed me in 2014. What I may not have mentioned that outside of that scary situation and hospital stay, it really wrecked my writing momentum. This was February 2014. If we rewind back to mid-2013, I went into the most productive period of my writing at that point. From July 2013 to January 14, I wrote two novels. I wrote what became my debut novel SLEEPER PROTOCOL and another shorter novel that’s my tribute to Elmore Leonard called SUPER SYNC. In that six month period, I also wrote a few short stories and my overall total of words written was probably somewhere near 180,000. This was an incredible time and I really felt like I was getting into a higher gear when everything came crashing down.

After my illness, I barely wrote anything new for a year. Yes, I sold and went through subsequent edits on both SLEEPER PROTOCOL and an earlier novel RUNS IN THE FAMILY, so I was “writing” but I wasn’t writing anything new, which we all know are two entirely different things. But, in that period from April 2015 to January 2016 came the impetus for the sequel VENDETTA PROTOCOL and I decided to try my hand at a prequel to RUNS IN THE FAMILY. Writing was slow and arduous. There were several times when I wanted to simply give up. I was going to publish a novel, after all. I ultimately decided that I wasn’t going to be happy with one book on that shelf by my deathbed. It was time to write more, so in January 2016, I decided that it was time to get off my ass and write. I’d been incredibly productive before then, and I believed I could get back to, or surpass, my productivity. It just required self-discipline to get into the chair and write and a little faith that I would get better, both mentally and physically.

It was slow going at first, but I outlined an alternate history novel. From there, I went into the draft of VENDETTA PROTOCOL with the goal of writing it in three months. SLEEPER PROTOCOL took me 7 weeks and I figured I would need about double the time. Turns out, I wrote VENDETTA PROTOCOL in 9 weeks. Because I could feel myself getting faster and I trusted myself as a writer. Was it perfect? Hell, no. But I was getting it out of my head. I turned around from that draft and wrote a novella LANCER ONE. After that, I was asked to submit to a military science fiction anthology, so I wrote a 9,000 word story “Stand On It.” At the end of 2016, I started work on the alternate history novel I’d outlined in February-March. I worked on that draft into February of 2017.

Not long after I finished that project, my military science fiction anthology story turned into a novel titled PEACEMAKER. I wrote that novel in less than three months. During that time, I was asked on short notice to provide a story for the upcoming X-PRIZE: Avatars anthology. I had to turn it around in two weeks – I did it in a week. All of that “new writing” ended back in June of this year. I’ve been editing ever since. The results are crazy.

PEACEMAKER get worldwide release on August 25th. VENDETTA PROTOCOL gets an ebook release on September 13th and a print version following. The novella LANCER ONE is due out in October. The first anthology A FISTFUL OF CREDITS was released in June and is selling like hotcakes. The X-PRIZE anthology is due later this year.

Two weeks ago, I turned in the alternate history project to my editor/mentor. It’s the most difficult book I’ve written to date. I’ve now laid out a plan for the rest of 2017 and it’s ambitious as hell. I can get it done, though. My momentum is back. How did I do it?

Go back a few paragraphs. For me, it’s about putting my butt in the chair and writing. Yes, I plot and outline, but I’m also thinking about the books and projects all the time. I take a lot of notes. Some of them work, others don’t. The best ideas I don’t have to write down because they stay with me. Once I’m committed to writing the project, I let go of my inner critic – that little bastard that likes to click the backspace button more than he types. I write because I know that I can fix it later. I get the story out of my head. If it comes in short or over the desired word count, I go back and fix it. All of that is faith in myself. Will I make mistakes? Yes. Can I fix them? Yes. I’ve taken very strongly to the belief that I can fix anything in editing. The result is my productivity is higher than ever.

Let go. Have faith. Write.