Managing Your Time

Now that the season is on us (NaNo season, that is) you may well have noticed that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done. You start the day full of great intentions, but, somehow, you blink and it’s already gone.

So, what can you do to make sure that you get through the work you have set for yourself (without working yourself into the ground)? First and foremost, you can learn to effectively manage your time and workload; when you can do this you will find that your days become significantly less stressful.

 

Prioritisation And Planning

The first step in any time management endeavour is to be aware of what you need to do. After all, if you don’t know what needs to be done you’ll never finish it. Sit down, take a deep breath and list everything you need to do today; once you have put a star next to things that have to be done by the end of the day.

You might be tempted to tell yourself that it all needs done today, but the truth is there will always be things which can be put to the bottom of the list.

Make a numbered list; the top three should be your most urgent tasks, those which absolutely must be done, the next two are the ones that should be done today. Anything after that should be items of low priority; things which you would like to get done, but which are not necessary.

 

Putting The Plan Into Action

When it comes to managing your time you should view your task list as a living document; your to do list should evolve as the day goes by. Focus on the most important tasks first, of course, and try to limit multi-tasking. Logic might tell you that if you’re doing two things at once you’ll make progress faster, but the truth is that you’re only going to be distracted, at best, and overwhelmed at worst.

Start with the most urgent task and work your way through the list.

Half way through the day stop and take stock of the progress you have made; cross of tasks you have finished, leave notes beside any that you can’t finish for any reason, and re-prioritise the remaining tasks.

Ideally, by the time you have made it to this point you should have finished your top two or three tasks so consider what you have left and mark the next most urgent. When you reach the end of the day, do the same once more; cross off completed tasks, leave notes next to any partially completed ones, and mark the next most urgent if any are left.

The marked tasks should be first on the list you make the next day.

 

Maintaining Your Energy Levels

When you have a lot on your plate, it can be tempting to work at break-neck pace until you… well, break. This isn’t the way; burnout is very real, and very debilitating. If you burnout you will quickly find that your productivity, your mental health, and  your workload suffer.

If you want to avoid burnout and maintain your productivity throughout the day, and week, there are a few things you should do;

  1. Eat regularly; have breakfast and have dinner. If you’re not a lunch person don’t force it, but be sure to snack so that you can keep your focus.
  2. Drink enough water; stay hydrated to ensure that you don’t get headaches or begin to feel sick.
  3. Work in bursts; work for an hour or two before taking a quick break of five minutes or so. Stand, stretch, have a drink, and walk around before you sit down and start working again.
  4. Set working hours; and stick to them! When you work for yourself, or you’re a full-time student, this is particularly important. Working twelve hours a day may seem like a good way to get work done, but you’ll make yourself sick in the long run.
  5. Draw a line; define your work and private lives, and make sure that they don’t bleed into each other. One way to do this is by having “work” clothes. It may seem silly when you work at home, but something as simple as washing your face and changing your clothes can help your body and mind to change into a more relaxed gear.

 

If you’ve already managed to burnout you should start the process of beating it.

 

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Countdown To Nano…

With three days, and counting, until NaNoWriMo kicks off it’s time for all of us lollygaggers to get our collective act together. Whether you have a few things left to nail down, or you’re entirely unprepared – do not stress!

I’ve got your back, guys, and together we can get off to a flying start this NaNoWriMo. So, what should you be doing? Well, that depends on who you are!

 

The Newbie

Bless your heart – you’re excited, you’re full of enthusiasm… you have no idea what’s coming your way. If this is your very first NaNoWriMo, welcome! Whether you know what you want to write or not there are a few things you should do to make sure that your first NaNo is everything you want it to be;

1) Make A NaNoWriMo Account; 

This one may be obvious, but make an account, enter the details of your novel, no matter how basic, and get yourself all set up before November 1st.

2) Gather Your People

If you have writing friends who are participating add them to your profile so you can encourage and track each other. Alternatively join a writing group on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr and find people who you can talk with about the stresses and joys of this writerly season.

3) Pick An Idea

The most common thing I hear people say when they are new to NaNo is that they have “so many” ideas; these people inevitably become conflicted about whether they’re following the right one! Develop your ideas and then pick the one that takes your fancy most. Remember you’re not abandoning all the others for good; you’re picking which one you want to work on first.

4) Set Reasonable Goals

If you’ve never participated in something like this before it’s normal to expect that you’ll be able to keep up a break-neck pace all month. You won’t; this is a marathon, not a sprint and so consistency and endurance are key. Set a low goal which you are confident you could meet on a bad day; if you exceed it you’ll feel great. If you set a goal which requires too much from you every single day you’ll fall behind and become demotivated!

 

The Last Minute Entrant

Image result for kylo ren slide gif

So, you’ve skidded onto the scene with less than a week to go – you know the ropes, you’ve done it before… you just didn’t think you were going to do it this year. Alas the pull of NaNo was too strong, and now you’re scrambling to get ready.

So, what can you do?

1) Plot Some Shit

Look, I know you have nine billion ideas floating around; pick one, develop it, and create a loose structure. You’ve done this before – pick a genre and get ready to pants this shit.

2) Prepare Your Work Space

If you’re not as prepared as you would like, sorting out your work space is key; set up your writing station in a place you know will be relaxed and relatively undisturbed so that you can focus while you work.

You could even stash some treats and supplies nearby. Think cans of energy juice, your coffee maker, a blanket, some protein bars, or, hell, even a scented candle. Whatever you need to keep your arse in that seat while you write.

3) Inform Your Friends And Family

You know, so they don’t worry when you drop off the face of the earth for a month.

 

Perpetually Prepared Plotter

Piss off, you don’t need my help;

Go have a drink and be awesome until it all kicks off.

 

Everyone!

  • Create your ultimate writing playlist
  • Organise your notes
  • Treat Yo Self (*read: get yourself something nice to alleviate the stress*)
  • Look out your dictionary and thesaurus

 

And, finally, enjoy it!

Creating Characters That Wow

You can find complementary character sheets to use  here (basic) and here (plot centric). You can also find a fillable plot and character development booklet (in proto-stages) here. These resources are free to use, but if you wish to enable me to make more you can buy me a Kofi.

 

Once you have found and developed an idea for your next best-seller it’s about time to think about your cast of characters. Anyone will tell you that characters must be “rounded”, “have personality”, and “seem to breathe”… but people don’t really tell you how to do that.

The character sheets linked above can help you to make a note of the most basic information about your characters; their name, age, role in the plot etc, and the development booklet can help you to get a grasp of what kind of person they are (would they give someone their last bit of chocolate, or not? You know, the big questions).

 

But how do you get to that stage if you have not first created a well-rounded character?

 

World-building

The process of creating your story world is long and very often tiresome; the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that go into this labour of love are very often staggering. So why should you put all of this work to wast by not allowing it to inform your character creation process?

For the record, I don’t mean that there are people out there who just make a fantasy world and then have their character grow up in Brooklyn.

 

I mean that if you create a horrible, dystopic world with twisted morals your character will have some horrible and twisted morals too. Their story, their journey, should be slowly coming to see what the reader knows already, or not depending upon what you have in mind for them.

Morals, politics, and personal character do not exist in a vacuum; parents, family, teachers, friends, and colleagues all have an effect on how we develop over time. So do the politics of our time, key events in the world, and our level of education.

 

In short, if your character was raised by very conservative, very religious, poorly educated people in a very poor, conservative, and poorly educated community it is unlikely that they will become very liberal, very rich, and very educated without undergoing a process of change. It is your job as a writer to explain how this happened.

 

Taking Stock of the Facts

Think of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird; she learns from her very educated, fairly liberal (for his day) father, but is still influenced by, and exerts influence on, her friends. For those who have read Go Set A Watchman, you will also remember that as an adult Scout realises that Atticus is not nearly as forward thinking as she had thought.

Scout was informed by her town, her school, and her father, but did have her own moral sensibilities. When she left her small town she changed yet again, and returned to a place that felt strange to her.

 

This is excellent character creation and development.

 

Harper Lee did this by ensuring that Scouts family and childhood created her, but the world, the events of her life, and of course Lee’s own feelings, shaped her into something more adult, more well-rounded, and more deserving of our understanding than she might have been had she never developed.

 

Flaws and Strengths

One trick to creating truly believable characters is not to give them a plethora of strengths and skills, only to sprinkle a bad temper a low mathematical ability onto it in the guise of “flaws”. The trick is to make their flaws a result of their strengths. For example, “loyalty” and “possessiveness” could be two sides of the same coin. As could “emotionally strong” and “callous”.

Think carefully about what the downsides of certain strengths are because everything has its downside.

 

A Distinct Tone of Voice

Especially important for protagonists is their voice; the way in which they narrate and speak should be recognisable almost instantly. There are those who say that the reader should be able to tell who is speaking before you name the character, but that truly is a feat of incredible skill. Not even the best can do this all the time.

The way the character speaks should be a reflection of everything that has gone into creating them. Consider;

  • Their sense of humour
  • Their level of education
  • If they are speaking their first language
  • Who they are speaking to
  • What their goal is

Characters, unlike real people, never speak without purpose. They don’t waffle, rabbit-on, or give pointless information unless they have a reason to do so. Those reasons could be;

  • Anxiety
  • A desire to distract
  • A need to mislead
  • An attempt to communicate something covertly

 

Don’t get too fancy when it comes to creating a speech pattern for your character; it should sound natural and be consistent throughout the narration. To that end it is often easiest to base the pattern of speech on someone, or on a dialect, that you know fairly well. You can make small tweaks to make it less obvious, but a forced or stilted voice is the surest way to put readers off of a character, especially when the story is narrated in first person.

 

Mistakes and Motives 

Whether your character is the hero or villain you need make sure that they intrigue and infuriate your readers in equal measures.

This is achieved by balancing their mistakes with their motives; make their reasoning for doing whatever they do understandable. Ensure that anyone could see themselves feeling the same way in that position so that, even if they disagree with your characters choices, they at least see where they are coming from. Then balance this empathy inducing method with mistakes and trip ups which are innately tied to their personal flaws.

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing Your First Draft Like a Pro!

Finishing the first draft of anything, whether it be a novel, poem, or short story, is heavy going. There’s a reason so many writers fail to finish a first draft when it comes to new ideas; sure, it can be because the idea turned out to be poor, but usually it’s down to fear and life just getting in the way.

 

Trust me, I’ve let life get in the way of more short stories and novels than I can really remember. This is why you should trust my advice in this case; I’ve now ghost written six novels for clients, and two of my own. I know how to finish a first draft these days, and I’m here to help you do the same.

Finding Motivation; 

There’s no point in me throwing methods and work plans at you if you have no motivation, and certainly no-one can just give it to you… but there are somethings you can do to motivate yourself. Some of them might even be mildly helpful to your WIP;

  • Create a pinterest board for your WIP. What’s the mood, the aesthetic, and the colour palette?
  • Create a playlist that gives you the right feeling/that you can see in the movie of your book.
  • Write first! When you wake up, roll to your laptop, tablet, or notepad and even just write two or three lines of your WIP. If you have no time to do more, fine, if you can’t think of how to do more, fine. At least you did something, and that’s one less worry. Sometimes it even gets the juices flowing before the bulk of the day saps your energy.
  • Exercise. If you roll out of bed and into a jog you can be sure your whole day will be more energised! This goes for writing too.
  • Write down three things you love about the story and characters.
  • Remind yourself why it’s important to you.
  • Talk to someone you trust about the idea; their excitement will spur you on!

Here’s a Tumblr post with more hints (and more colourful language!)

 

Methods;

If you work part time and have a few extra days a week off you can pursue these in a serious way to get your first draft done lickity-split, but they’re just as effective if you only have an hour a day, or every other day, to devote to writing;

  • Adopt “working days” and stick to them; allocate one or more of your non-working days as a writing “work day” and put in a full 6 – 8 hours. This isn’t for everyone, and it can be really hard work, but it does pay off. Remember to actually utilise the time for writing, not reading, not editing, and certainly not Candy Crush Saga! Pro Tip; treat it exactly like a regular working day. Get up and washed, have breakfast and start for 8 or 9am, ensure you DO have breaks and take lunch, and when you finish for the day put it away. Draw a line between work and free time, or you could lose yourself to it entirely. In a day like this, i’d aim for anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 words, but that’s my rate of work. See how you go, and set a reasonable target for yourself, but don’t be too harsh if you miss it once or twice.
  • Fast-Draft; fast drafting, as laid out by Kristen Kieffer, is the process of pouring your story onto the page as fast as you are able to do so. It means writing in the majority of your free time each day, and it means abandoning the idea of a “good” first draft. You’re essentially pushing all the real work back to the editing stage and letting your mind gush. At this point you’re writing for yourself. Now, Kieffer states that this is not the best approach for a “pantser”, but if you’re willing to put in serious work in the editing stage you shouldn’t be deterred. It does work much better if you put in some pre-writing, however (that being detail plotting and planning).
  • Weekly checkpoint system; whether it be word count, plot point, or page based you can set yourself a reasonable goal to stay motivated. Have a partner in writing to hand over your completed sections to if you want some extra incentive. Be honest with your self about what you can achieve, however, as missed checkpoints can demotivate.
  • Reward motivation; this one speaks for itself, and only really works if you’re a disciplined individual, but it can he very, very effective. Reward yourself for good work and meeting goals. Remember that writing is HARD.

 

Small Great Things (not quite like the book)

The little things can be key in making sure that your writing is consistent, but also that you yourself are healthier and happier. Here’s my self-care shortlist;

  • Keep expect to drink roughly 2 litres or half a gallon of water if you’re writing all day. This will ensure that your eyes don’t get too dry and itchy.
  • Speaking of dry eyes; take a ten or fifteen minute break for every three or four hours you work. Stretch, do a squat or two, and look away from the screen. Even just tilt your head back and rest your eyes.
  • Eat well; don’t gorge on crap. Complex carbs, meat, healthy fats. These are as essential to the writer as the athlete. Have fruit at your desk, even.
  • Sit in a proper chair where possible.
  • Maintain good posture. Proper writing posture looks like this;

Image result for proper posture for writing

  • Try standing while you write for a while; set your laptop/tablet/notepad on the kitchen counter if you can.
  • Actually take down time; you should write as much as possible, but all day every day is no good for everyone. even 9 – 5 workers get a day or two off per week.

 

Arm Yourself With Understanding

Make sure that you have all the resources you need to get you through; do your research, develop your idea, create strong characters, develop and make use of your characters effectively, and know what mistakes you should avoid – there are quite a few.

Above and beyond all that, however, go easy on yourself; don’t fall into despair if you miss a day or two. Get back on the horse and keep your eyes on the prize!