The importance of time

One of the things that drives my wife crazy about my writing is time. Not that I spend time doing it (she gets that part…”). Sometimes it’s not even really about how much time I spend writing. Instead she gets frustrated with how regimented and monitored that time can be. I can honestly tell you how many pages I can typically write in an hour. I know how many pages I can transcribe in an hour. I can estimate how many hours it will take me to write a given thing and when it will be most efficient for me to put those hours in. I’ve spent a few years doing this and I’ve figured this stuff out. And sometimes my idea of what I need to do just doesn’t work for my wife…

The thing is, my wife has things that she wants to do too (and other people and things in the lives of us writers usually have the same kind of needs). And sometimes the amount of time, and the actual moment in time when things need to happen, conflicts with what we as writers want and need to do. And this really does lead to problems.

While there are those that will try to pass off a ‘system’ for writing as ‘the right system’ for everyone; I for one don’t really buy into any of it. In my estimation you have to learn the best way and time for you to write by your own experience and adjust for your own situation. A professional writer with no kids and a full time mom with three kids don’t have the same situation (and they may have wildly different writing styles, subject matter, and/or genres as well…). And don’t even get me started about my friend the funeral director (who is basically on call 24/7).

I won’t try to give you ‘the’ system dear reader; however, I will pass on a couple of things I have learned.

You have to actually put time into it…

Not a whole lot to say on this one. You have to actually devote time to writing if you want to write. If you don’t there will always be something in the way. You have to choose to write and make time to do so.

You have to learn about you…

You need to know a lot to figure out what kind of time you need to write, and how to use that time. Some of that knowledge can be found in books, blogs (like mine…), and other sources. But, some of that knowledge can only come from you, and you can only obtain it by experimentation. You can only obtain that kind of knowledge by actually trying different writing times and keeping track of how you spend your writing time. It really is a ‘learn for yourself’ situation, and in some ways it has to be. No two writers are alike, and neither are their situations.

You have to be reasonable with others in your life…

As much as we may want to climb into our hole in the ground, office, booth at our favorite restaurant, or whatever, and just write the world away; husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, etc. all do need some of our attention and time. None of us live in a vacuum and there are people to see, bills to pay, and things to do. Even (especially…) if we don’t want to, we need to be aware that we will spend time outside of our writing.

Some of that time can be handled and dealt with through planning (get out your calendar and plan a time to pay that light bill…).

Some of that time happens unexpectedly, and you really do need to put down your writing and deal with something else (if my wife is crying I might just want to find out why… If my desk is on fire who cares if I’m almost done with chapter four?).

Some of that time… Well sometimes you have to make a decision. Do you really want to go to that concert, play that golf game, or go see those in-laws? (It could happen…) If you do, then you have to figure out how to make that happen and still have time to write. Or you choose not to do one or the other, and suffer the consequences…

You have to communicate (and sometimes teach)…

I know this one isn’t always fun, but for the 100% of us in real life; sooner or later you need to talk to someone about writing and the time you need to write (note: I don’t mean “explain to” but actually have a conversation with). Often the person you’re needing to talk to is someone important in your life. These conversations can be challenging, some people have little experience in the writing world. Sometimes the people you’re talking with work differently than you do. Sometimes the people you’re talking to really haven’t thought about what you’re trying to do. In any case you need to communicate with them to help them understand, and to understand their side at least a little bit as well.

Communicating about writing isn’t always easy, but doing it is easier than not doing it. Communicating effectively can save a lot of ‘hurt feelers’ in the long run.

Time is an important part of writing dear reader. You need to learn about it: how to use it and how to communicate about it. If you don’t, then you’re headed for problems (if you do anything at all…)

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Chaos… Panic… Scented pine cones??? It must be the holidays!

My NANO Kit

As I mentioned last week I will be doing NANOWRIMO next month…

For those who don’t know yet NANOWRIMO is a yearly event in which writers try to write an entire 50,000+ word novel in a single month. I’ve done it twice. I can tell you it isn’t easy. You have to be committed and put in the work. You also need to know a little about your habits as a writer (and you may learn more in the process). Today I’m going to talk briefly about my “NANOWRIMO kit” and the process I use.

The bulk of the kit is actually in the front picture for this post. I’m one of those oddballs that likes to write by hand before I put the story one the computer, so I depend heavily on pens and seventy page college ruled notebooks (some of the ones this year are predecorated by a friend and will be used for the female pov in the story). Doing things this way has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side my writing speed (by hand) and my thinking speed are closer together for long stuff like this, so on a flow basis the notebook works better for me. The notebooks also make it easier to strike through and go on if I take a wrong turn.

On the other hand it’s harder to do word count on a physical copy, and the final count is computer verified. So, ultimately it has to be transcribed onto the computer to ‘win’.

Here’s the thing though. This ‘weakness’ in my style is a strength in disguise. Usually when you pick up for a new day’s writing it’s a good idea to review what you were working on last time (or at least the pages leading up to what you will be writing). When I start a day’s writing my first step is to transcribe what I wrote the previous day. This gets the information into the computer, allows me to review, and serves as my first editing pass. It takes time, but it puts me in a stronger place to write the next section (and gives me that all important word count…).

It’s my way of doing things and doesn’t work for everybody. Part of the fun is learning what works for you (and, by the way, that may change from story to story).

One thing that does change story to story is where I write. I virtually never do the actual writing at my desk. Editing yes. Writing not so much. Instead I tend to go out to write. For some projects it may be the public library; for other’s it’s my traditional writing hangouts. Last year I wrote about half of the book in a mall food court and rewarded myself with CCG cards.

This year I have two pov characters and things might get even more complicated.

The final piece of the kit (other than time) is also not in the picture. That would be the vast amounts of my favorite soda I’ll be drinking (another reason I don’t write on my computer…). Like so much else the choice is up to you. But I do recommend finding a lovely beverage to support you through the process. It helps.

Because I am going to be going all out on the book I will be quiet in the blogosphere next month (I’ll be writing, just not here…). I look forward to talking about the experience after NANO and I hope to hear from a few of you as well.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you in December.

Until then: Um…

Yes, can I have several packs of pens, a case of notebooks and all the (product name withheld) delivered to…

NANOWRIMO an avenue and obstacle to success

I know NANOWRIMO is still a couple of months away, but to really do it is a commitment and that means some of us need to start thinking about it now…

Let me say at the outset that I am a NANOWRIMO fan. I like the idea and the organization. Johnson Farm, my first published novel, was a NANOWRIMO ‘win’, so was the sequel. At the same time the third book in the series is one that I wouldn’t even attempt as a NANOWRIMO project…

Depending on what you want or need to do taking on a NANOWRIMO project could be the best, or worst, thing to do. The key is to understand what NANOWRIMO is and what it does for you (and what it doesn’t do for you…).

NANOWRIMO is an organization {link} and an event. The idea is that during the month of November writers will go all out and write a full 50,000+ word novel. I can tell you it is a challenge, but it is a ‘doable’ one. I’ve succeeded in ‘winning’ twice and reaped the benefits.

The benefits of NANOWRIMO, what you really get out of it, can include:  experience, opportunities and potential contacts (with other ‘REMOs and supporters), and (hopefully) a completed first draft of a novel.

Things you do not get (directly) from NANOWRIMO include: prize money (maybe side bets…), a guaranteed writing contract, or a finished book. You could get any of those things, but additional work is required.

NANOWRIMO really is an avenue to success…

By definition completing a NANOWRIMO project gets you writing. To do 50,000 words in one month’s time you kind of have to put your head down and start writing. You have to put away the ‘somedays’ and the fear of the blank page. It is a small window in which to act rather than thinking about acting. That is the first real benefit, if you actually do a project you will get words on the page.

Second, if you ‘win’ (finish) you have a book manuscript, the raw material that is edited, crafted and revised until it becomes a finished, novel length, story that you can publish if you choose.

You also get contact, support, knowledge, and potentially goodies an opportunities thanks to other ‘REMOs and supporters. ‘Winning’ NANOWRIMO can be a good way to build your network/community; as well as proving to your friends, family, and neighbors that you really can write something that big.

Basically NANOWRIMO is an opportunity to build your writing community (or start one if you need to) and create a manuscript that you can then turn into a book. This is great if those things are what you need, but…

NANOWRIMO really is an obstacle…

The thing is, writing 50,000 words in a month is hard. If you’re not already experienced as a writer; if you don’t have a plan when you start; if you don’t have the time to throw at the project; you may struggle. If you let yourself give in to depression over not being up to ‘average’ on word count, or any number of other factors, you may even fail.

Also stemming from the tight time line, it can be hard to build in the features you want. It is a lot simpler and easier to do a story with one continuous voice than it is to do a polyphonic story. Chances are if you are trying for a more complex structure, and trying to meet a NANOWRIMO timeline, you will end up with some big holes that will take a lot of work to fix during the editing process.

And you have to edit. During NANOWRIMO you probably don’t have the time to do a lot of editing. But, you will have to come back and edit before you really have a finished story (we’ve talked about editing here before and we will do so again…).

As much as I like NANOWRIMO I’m not doing it this year. Why? Because I have a couple of manuscripts on my desk. So, right now there are other tools I need to use.

 Other things, other tools…

NANOWRIMO can be a great thing if you need to create a manuscript to work on, or the experience of creating a manuscript. NANOWRIMO can really be a good experience if you’re willing and able to commit. It can even help you build your community. But it really isn’t the only thing you need.

Don’t underestimate the value of education and preparation. You might want to read a few books in a genre before you try to write one. You might want to pick up a ‘how to write’ book, or take a class. You might even want to do some ‘real world’ research.

You also might want to do some planning. I have a lot of respect for ‘pantsers’, at least the ones who actually pull it off and create novel. I’m also not entirely sold on outlines (for reasons we will talk about another day…). But, you still might want to put in some planning for what you’re going to write. You know, so you have an idea of who your audience is, so you can have someone besides the butler do it, that sort of thing. Preplanning never solves everything but it helps.

You also need to edit (yes we talked about it already, but somebody out there needs to hear it again). Sometimes a new manuscript is the last thing you need. Currently I have three manuscripts, three partial manuscripts and a couple of non-novel projects on my desk. I’ve ‘won’ NANOWRIMO a couple of times now. It’s time to get the manuscripts off my desk and get them published!

I am a fan of NANOWRIMO. I think it can be really helpful to writers, if you understand what it is and how to use that ‘win’. The thing I want to avoid is people thinking that winning NANOWRIMO is all you have to do to be a successful writer.

There’s a lot more to be done, and I for one should get back to it.

See you next week dear reader. Until then

  1. Find a dream.
  2. Figure out how to make it happen.

You have to commit

Honestly the hardest thing I had to deal with during my wife’s family’s family reunion was the owners of the property where we stayed.

The husband (who seems to be the one detailed to actually maintain the place) was quite evidently not committed to the operation. He had another business that he was interested in and was quick to write off issues and problems with the property as being his wife’s ‘thing’.

The wife (who I have not met in person) by all appearances is trying to run the business, but she really doesn’t seem to have put the learning and thought into really running things. I could be wrong in my diagnosis, but it was very easy to identify problems. Even when you filter out the maintenance issues which she sent her husband to deal with there were business end items that the husband was quick to put squarely on her shoulders.

But what does this have to do with writing?

Well, writing is a serious business. Writing is something that there aren’t a whole lot of people who are actually going to be pushing you to do (at least not in a way that is helpful). Writing is something that you personally have to put the time and effort in on if you want to succeed.

You can get help (I’ve discussed it here), but ultimately writing is a vocation that requires personal effort. It takes time, learning, thought, and heart. Writing is something that you have to commit to.

In The Karate Kid Mr. Miagi said, “Karate is like road. Karate Yes, OK. Karate no, Ok. Karate maybe so? Squish.” In Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill teaches us to decide what we want and what we will give to get it. Both of these apply to writing one hundred percent.

To write anything worthwhile, long or short, fiction or nonfiction, you have to pay the price. You have to put in the work. If you are just going to ‘try’ you will fail. If you commit and do you have a chance to succeed.

I’m not always perfect. We all have off days and days we can’t give 100%. But, if you want to be a writer and you want to have a product that is worthy, you have to commit. You have to put in the time and effort. You have to read, learn, write, and edit with real intent and effort. You have to do what you need to do to succeed.

If you do all that you can and fail. Well, you failed while daring greatly. If you failed because you didn’t do enough. Well, that’s on you.

If you choose to be involved in this endeavor I do want you to succeed dear reader. That’s why this blog is here. The idea is to assemble what you need and the rest is on you. See you next post.

The written word doesn’t work alone…

Writing is in many ways a solitary process. Ultimately if you want to write something you have to sit down and actually write (if you pay someone else to write it you didn’t entirely write it). The thing is the writing process, and even more so written communication, is seldom actually a solitary process.

It is true. Written communication and the writing process are not things you can solo your way through. Well, there is the case of you writing a note for yourself, but that’s the exception that proves the rule…

Generally when we write, be it a text, an email, a blog post, a pamphlet, a novel, a series, or a set of encyclopedias (remember those?) we are writing with the expectation that someone will read what we wrote. That means we might finish the writing, but we haven’t actually communicated until someone has read and understood what we wrote (and then there’s the issue of multiple ‘right’ meanings…).

Someone has to read what we wrote for communication to happen. That means, unless you really are just writing to yourself, at least one other person is involved in the process (and even if you left yourself a note you have to come back and read it for communication to have happened…).

Sorry… Other people are involved and we actually need them…

Because we can reasonably expect at least one other person to be involved in the process, we have to start thinking about our audience and how to communicate with them. Sometimes we can do that on our own, but as we get into more complex projects or deal with new and different audiences it can be useful to get other people involved before you finish the writing part of the process.

It’s not always easy to listen to criticism, and not all criticism is constructive (or even helpful). But, pre-readers, editors, and other helpers and advisors exist to help you, the writer, convey your message.

Sometimes it’s annoying (like when the guy you asked to check punctuation wants to rewrite your opening scene); sometimes it’s thought provoking. Sometimes it becomes down right funny (like the time a 14 year old pre-reader thought the story was about him, even though it was written before I’d ever met him). But, no matter how little (or how much) you like having that second set of eyes, having someone read and give honest feedback is really valuable in writing.

In fact, some writing projects won’t work out without some help and feedback. (if you leave out texts and shopping lists that’s most projects…)

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next week.

P.S. I’ve left out the very special category of book reviewers… That’s not any form of disrespect. It’s just that they work at a different point in the process, so I’ll talk about them at another point in the blog. For now let me just summarize this way… If you want the book to be readable find an editor. If you want people to read it find a book reviewer!