HOW TO SAVE TIME WHEN YOU WRITE

It’s a fact: you can save a lot of time by becoming better at what you do. In general, I believe this applies as much to writing as to most other things.

Think about it—you’ve probably spent a few years writing a shopping list, no? Aren’t you a bit faster than you were when you wrote your very first one? I bet so.

I’ll give you some examples for writing.

Learning from others:

1.     When I first joined a writer’s group after writing a full-length novel and a few short stories, they quickly pointed out three ways I could improve. One was no head-hopping in scenes—stay in point of view. Next up was learn to use active voice instead of passive voice. I began searching for “wases” like crazy. And third, search and destroy most (some say all) modifiers. If I hadn’t joined the group, who knows how long I would have gone on making those same mistakes?

2.     I have also read quite a few books about writing and the writing life. I can’t list all the things I’ve learned from them, but I know it’s stored in my brain and peeks out to help me when needed lots of times.

3.     Reading other people’s work, both fiction and nonfiction (since I write both). How does he do such great descriptions? How does she make her points so succinctly? Things like that.

Learned by myself:

Then there’s the actual writing. This is the best way to learn, of course. Almost everyone will get better as they write. I hope I’m better after having written probably around a million words than I was when I first put pencil to paper.

1.     How to write on a schedule. Seat in chair, brain on fire. Same time every day works best for me, and for lots of other writers I know.

2.     How to write to length. Tell me to write a 50-word story, and I can do it almost at once, give or take a word or two. Then I can fix it so I hit it exactly. Tell me you want between 2,000 and 5,000 words, I can hit that even better, without going under or over. Give me a novel length, again, I can hit it. This did not happen in the beginning. It took a while, and an awareness of word counts. It probably helped that I wrote a lot of short stories—for a few years I was writing one or two a month of different lengths.

3.     How to handle different aspects of writing—do better descriptions, for example. I still don’t think I’m great with descriptions, but I have learned a few tricks to make it easier for me to write them. You may have a different weakness that with time and effort will lessen.

Bottom line? You get better and faster the more you write. So, to save time later on, write a lot now. The more you write every day, the quicker you’ll improve.

AUTOPILOT REVISITED

He’s back:

Remember my post about developing habits to help you get through your days quicker and easier? http://www.janchristensen.com/is-habit-destiny/

Well, here are a few more thoughts about fine-tuning your schedule.

1.     Have a routine for checking your notes, calendar and to-do lists every day.

2.     For major projects, don’t list on your to-do list more than three to five actions related to the ones you’re going to tackle that day.

3.     Prioritize your goals on your list, not just in your head.

4.     Take items off your lists that are no longer necessary or desired, even if you haven’t finished them. It’s surprising how many of us leave things on there that no longer interest us or that we haven’t a prayer of accomplishing. They just clutter lists up and can make you feel discouraged.

Realize that you cannot always, get everything done that’s on your to-do list every day. Hardly anyone ever does. This will eliminate a lot of stress.

And finally, effective time management uses the great in-and-out system;

Try not to take on a new task before an old one is finished.

This works on so many levels—Before bringing in a new food product, new clothing, new decorations, new project, new anything, get rid of something else. You whole life will be less cluttered.

And your time will be more easily managed.

WRITING FIRST DRAFTS

The first draft is for you, the writer. You put in everything that comes into your head. Throw it in there. You never know where it might lead. Describe everything. Talk boringly about the weather. Have your characters move from point A to point B to point C in excruciating detail. All this helps you see in your mind what’s going on and helps you make sure that things are possible

Draft Business Stamp 1 by Merlin2525 - A slanted solid orange business stamp, with the words,

When working on the second draft, it’s time to think about your reader. She doesn’t want to know every detail, every play-by-play, or read paragraphs about the weather. Or what roads your character took to get from home to his favorite restaurant (a favorite peeve of mine).  Sure, leave in the weather if it pertains to the story–the bad weather is making it hard for your protag to do something she desperately wants to do. Sure, leave in some play-by-play to up the tension in an action scene and to enable the reader to “see” it happening. Leave in a main road in a major city that everyone’s heard of–it helps the reader “be” there with the character.

Yes, it’s a fine line. And some readers like more description than others. If you’re writing a historical romance, you can leave in more than if you’re writing a hardboiled detective story. But you may still have to take out some in that historical romance so the reader isn’t bogged down in the details. And you will want to leave some in that hardboiled story to ground the reader, to help him see what’s going on.

Be sure to save your first draft in several places such as a thumb drive, CD, “off-site,” and/or in the cloud away from where you write. Then save it as a second draft and whittle away. Then if you think you’ve cut something you should have kept, you still have it. Do the same for the next draft, and the next.

Nothing is more exciting or more excruciating sometimes than writing a first draft. But the sense of satisfaction when you type “the end” is always exhilarating, too. Go for it! Now, I’m off to work on my first draft for the second in my series about Tina, the professional organizer. She’s having a time of it, and so am I.

PICK A DAY TO CLEAR

You’ve been keeping lists of your to-dos, and even crossing off some. Maybe you notice that several of them have been hanging around on the list way too long. Probably because you dread doing them. They are unpleasant in some way—will take too long, get you all hot and sweaty, take too much brain power, or something else.

Want to clear those tasks from your list in a hurry? Pick one day to do them all, or as many of them as you can cram into the day.

Decide on a time to start and a time to finish. Work for your one hour, take a ten-minute break, work the next hour, take a break and continue until mid-day when you take an hour for lunch and relaxation. Then go again in the afternoon with one hour/ten-minute break until the time you decided you would stop. You may even get on such a roll that you decide to continue until you have more done.

Friday’s a good day to do this. You have the weekend to look forward to, and during that weekend you can bask in all you accomplished on Friday.

WRITING AS A BUSINESS

“They” say writing is a business. Writers have to write, of course, but they also have to spend about an equal amount of time promoting.  Especially if they self-publish. How do most writers feel about this? From reading blogs and speaking to other writers, I’d say most aren’t too thrilled with marketing their work and themselves.

Let’s think about this a moment: the common wisdom now is that the entrepreneur needs to spend most of her time working on her business, not in it. For writers, this would be writing for publication. Without doing that, there is no business. Working in the business is doing things that almost always can be delegated. No, you can’t send someone else to do a signing unless you want to be called a fraud later on. But you can hire/bribe/coerce a friend/relative to set up that signing for you. And make the brochures, posters, order the books, solicit reviews, etc., etc. If you are self-publishing, you can get someone to make your cover, format the final versions, upload them and use a distribution service. Self-publishing or not, you can hire someone to set up your website, maintain it, and set up your blog.

Yes, this takes money. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the people who have made it good as self-published writers, most of them, spent quite a bit of money promoting themselves. Now, even those who are published by the big New York companies are also finding out they have to do a lot of their own marketing and pay for it themselves. Some even use up their entire advances doing exactly that.

Here are some hard questions:

  • How serious are you about your writing career?
  • If you were starting any other business, how much would you invest the first year in the start-up? What is holding you back from investing that same amount in your writing career?
  • How much do you enjoy marketing your work?
  • If money were no object, what would you delegate to others?
  • How much of a control freak are you?
  • How much time do you have to do it all yourself?
  • How much energy do you have to do it all yourself?
  • How good would you be at teaching someone else to do what is needed and letting them handle it after that?
  • And again: How serious are you about your writing career?
  • Do you think you are good enough?
  • If you’re a woman, are you thinking that you can’t invest family money in your career? Would this be a good time to think more like a man?
  • Has anyone you don’t know personally ever offered to publish anything by you, and even paid you for it? If not, how do you know you’re a good writer?

I’m not going to suggest any answers to these questions. No two writers are the same, and we all have to find our own paths. But some deep thinking is needed, I believe, about this subject. Because I see a lot of us (yes, me included) struggling with the business aspect of a writing career. Most of us would rather just write and let someone else handle everything else.  Is it even possible to make that happen in today’s world? Again, I don’t have the answer. I just know we need to think about it.

Would love to read your thoughts in the comments!

DO WRITERS STILL NEED PRINOUTS?

In the age of the computer, do we still need to print stuff out? Well, maybe. If you have a good memory and back up often, maybe not. However, if your memory is iffy and you go for months without backing up, probably.

Two things I always print out and keep on my computer, too: contracts and anything to do with finances.

Contracts because even those of us with good memories may forget where the heck we stored a particular contract on our computers. I don’t have many contracts, so I simply have a file folder labeled, you guessed it, “contracts.” On the computer, though, I store the contract with everything else I have about the story or book, such as the actual document in different formats, a notes file, etc. Also with contracts, I like to read them over in printed form and mark them up.

Financial records because I keep them by year in a folder. I make copies for my accountant at tax time, and they are available if Uncle Sam ever comes calling. So, this is a convenience. And of course, some stuff still just comes in snail mail format, so it’s not on the computer to begin with.

Manuscripts, I  used to print them all out and had a physical file for each one. When we moved to the motorhome, with several 80,000-word manuscripts and about eighty short stories written, having everything in print simply took up too much room. What I had already printed out, I put in our storage unit. But I had a laptop with plenty of memory, so I stopped most of the printing and physical filing and worked out a good system on the computer.

transfer cabinet by johnny_automatic - clip art, clipart, externalsource, file, file, furniture, furniture, image, media, office, office, paper, paper, png, public domain, storage, storage, svg,

Notes and Research are also now kept on the computer.

Submission Trackers used to be kept in two different places. One submission tracker was in each physical file folder for the work. And a notebook had printed-out submission guidelines in alphabetical order with a tracker of what was sent to that publication. At the front of the notebook I had a form for each story sent out, date, and response. Now all this info is kept in my computer.

Are you still printing everything out? Some things out; some not? Do you have good systems in place or just wing it?

RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT MANAGING YOUR LIFE

Some basic ideas that will help you live your best life:

Eat at the same time every day, and eat healthy.

picnic 01 by Anonymous - A picnic laid out ready to eat! Originally uploaded by Daniel Delay for OCAL 0.18

Move around more. Go to different places to do different activities on your computer if you use a laptop or tablet. For example, take it to your bedroom to do serious work when you don’t want to be interrupted, or to your home office, if you have one. Put it up on a high counter or bar to do your email and stand while using it. Stretch out on the couch to surf the net. You get the idea.

Do sit-down work in fifty-minute-to-one-hour increments. Then get up and move around. Studies have shown that our attention tends to lag at about the hour mark. Plus your body needs a change of position at least this often.

Schedule your breaks. Yes, schedule them.

Get plenty of sleep. Your work will go easier, your fun will be more fun, and you’ll be healthier, too.

Exercise for at least twenty minutes a day—thirty minutes is better. You can easily fit this in if you break the time into two parts. Do a lot of stretching, some jogging in place, some basic core exercises, and have some hand weights to strengthen your upper body. Purchase an exercise mat, and you can do all of this anywhere there’s enough room for you and the mat.

And finally, do work you love to do, or at least enjoy most of the time. If you’re not, go out and find it.

VOICE

I am no expert on voice. I do notice that many of my main characters do not in any way sound like I do or like each other. However, it’s said that many famous authors have such a distinctive voice that you can always tell who wrote something. This means they use the same voice for all their writings. More about that later.

Below are some thoughts by other writers about voice. I read through blogs and articles to come up with these and paraphrased them. I leave it up to you to take what resonates with you and forget the rest.

Voice is simply the way you use language. But of course, it’s not really that simple.

Probably you want the reader to “hear” the story in her head as well as read it. Your voice should resonate. It should be uniquely you. It’s you, wrapped up in the way you express yourself on the page. It consists of your originality and your courage to express it.

It’s not censored (except for audience appeal—you may swear like a sailor at home, but if you’re writing for children, you have to quit that when you write).

It’s how you do humor—self-deprecating, sarcastic, outrageous, gentle, etc.

It’s when you get what you’re feeling when you’re writing a scene down on the page in your character’s viewpoint. Let it all hang out. You can edit out any melodrama later.

Most of all, it’s natural, one writer says. Not forced, not planned, but coming from deep within your subconscious mind. In other words, just let the words flow from you as you write. You can change them a little later, but if you change their order, even the actual words, too much, the voice will no longer be truly your own.

Or it is planned. You figure out what your character’s voice would sound like, and you use that throughout. It comes from the character’s personality, not your own. You’re not plucky, but she is, so she sounds a lot different from you. She has different thoughts. She does things you’d never do. Thus she has her own, unique voice. The next story you write has a plodder as the main character. His voice is somber, muted, sardonic, maybe.

From all this, I hope you can see you have to make up your own mind what voice is and what you’re going to do about it in your own writing. I know that I pick, consciously or subconsciously, a different voice for each of my main characters. Or at least I think I do. And I rarely edit very much except for clarity or echo words or bad grammar and spelling. Because I think too much editing and overthinking interrupts the flow I was in when I wrote and probably changes the voice so that it’s stilted and unrecognizable. Or, worst of all, every characters sounds the same.

But that’s me. You may decide to use the same voice for all your characters. Many famous writers do that. I don’t know that they chose that way on purpose, but it’s there. But I think they edit carefully to preserve the way they believe the text should sound. And there’s nothing wrong with that obviously because they did become famous.

And one more thought. Maybe the writers who have such distinctive voices use it in the narrative, but each of their characters has his or her own voice. But us modern writers don’t seem to use as much narrative as the writers of old, and we tend to write in close third person or even in first person. In that case, it seems to me each story would have a different sounding voice. But again, you may not be as comfortable with that as I am and decide to use the same voice for everything you write.

I’d love to read some comments about this issue. There’s certainly no consensus about exactly what voice consists of.