Writing Efficiently

The number one reason I’m given for not writing is, “I don’t have time.” It’s an easy trap to fall into. That being said, I know it’s possible to get some writing in no matter how busy you are. So how do you accomplish that? Sometimes you can manage an hour or two, but it’s not the right time and nothing gets done or your mind is racing. Instead of describing the valley your army rides through, you accidentally type out your office meeting schedule.

Today I really want to go over some strategies to make that precious, short, bit of writing time more efficient. Of course, as always, these are suggestions you don’t have to take to heart, but maybe you can think about it and find some habits of your own.

We all know what efficiency is. It’s making the most use of your time. If you can only sit down and write once a week for an hour, you need to make that the most productive hour of your week.

calendarSchedule Your Writing Time

Writing everyday is optimal. Both for progress and for improvement. It’s not a realistic goal for a lot of people due to day jobs, family, and obligations. If you schedule your writing time, as in physically write it down on your calendar or in your phone, you’re more likely to commit that time to writing. Sit down and take a look at your calendar and at your family schedule. Find where you most often have some down time, but remember don’t force writing into all of your down time because you need to relax and vegetate just like everyone else. Pick out a time slot and keep in mind what events might occur. Ask yourself, is that when we usually have dinner? Does my favorite tv show come on at that time? Is there some other, unwritten, reason I don’t have anything scheduled for that slot? Be realistic too. I would suggest to start small, in half hour or hour increments and go from there. If the time doesn’t work, pick out another one until you find that golden hour of peace and creativity.

Be Offline

Research is necessary for most writing. Fiction or not. The internet is a wonderful, evil, double-edged sword place. Do your research before you start. Research can be done one question at a time in tiny 5 minute increments throughout your day or week. Of course, if you’re writing a nonfiction title or your book is more involved than that, perhaps sacrifice some of your scheduled writing time for research. The point is, try to be offline when you’re writing. No internet. No Facebook, no blogs ;), and no instant messaging. Including your phone. Leave your phone out of the room or turn it onto airplane mode. You have scheduled this time for you and your writing only. If the time is scheduled then the world can hold on for that one hour. If you’re afraid of someone getting a hold of you in the case of an emergency, leave your phone on, but have it across the room and out of arm’s reach.

Do Not Disturb

Being offline and do not disturb go hand in hand. Tell your family this is your writing time. Lock yourself up in a room and put up a sign. Writing in progress! Or world building in progress! Construction Zone! Make it quirky, funny, serious, whatever you like but get across the point, Do Not Disturb. Talk to your spouse or partner about how important it is for you not to be disturbed

Away From Home

If you have problems accomplishing the above, for whatever reason, try writing away from home where distractions or family can’t disturb you. The library is quite honestly my favorite place because it’s so quiet and as a bonus if you need to do research you can always do it the old fashioned way. Of course the library’s hours are indeed limited and you may work through the window in which their doors are open. If you live in a town with a university or college, their libraries stay open considerably later, especially during test time. There are 24 hour diners. I love diners because you can snack and have drinks while you work without the clean up. If you have a laptop or tablet you feel comfortable writing on you can go to the park if the weather allows. Or sit in the car while it rains. Peace and quiet is the goal. Do you have another friend or two who are also writers? Schedule a writing party each week with them. An agreed upon time and place where you can all sit together and get stuff done. Just be careful to stay disciplined. My friends and I will have writing races where we time ourselves for one hour. There’s nothing to win but bragging rights, but it’s still fun and very effective. You’ll be impressed how high your word count gets when it’s a competition. Friendly of course.

Organization

Being organized is the key to efficiency in so many aspects of life. Why not apply it to writing? Yes, I know, again I’ll say outlines are amazing, but organization is more than having an outline ready. Have all of your notes, research, and character sheets ready to go. Get pens, paper, anything you need for note taking and editing. Need some water? Have a glass at the ready. If you have an hour scheduled try not to let your butt leave that seat in the allotted time. Go to the bathroom before you start. Try to eliminate any excuses to pause your writing before you even get started. Make a checklist.

wordcountWord Count Goal

A realistic word count goal will make the most of your writing time. “But, it’s only an hour!”, you say. I’ve written over 2000 words in an hour. I discovered this by doing the writing races with my friends. It seems like a lot, and I type fast to be fair, but this was also due to my absolute concentration and competitive nature. My point is, you can set a decent word count goal to reach within an hour’s time. Start small and see how fast you go. Days will vary, of course. And by all means, if you meet your word count goal in the first half hour of your hour writing time, keep going! If you’re on fire you’re on fire!

Clear Your Mind

Five minutes or so before you start, sit down and take a look through any notes you have. Think about nothing but your book. Do some meditation of sorts and clear your mind. Do some breathing exercises. Especially if something else is nagging for your attention. Just breathe. Plot. Think of your characters doing everyday tasks. How do they go shopping? Do they celebrate the holidays? Before you put the words onto the page, allow yourself to live in your world for a few minutes until ours is an afterthought. Begin.

Until Next Time

I’m sure most of you have seen these tips and variations of them all over the web. However, I offer them up on the chance that it’s new and exciting. If I can help one person finish their novel faster I’m satisfied. Life happens. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with missing out on your writing time to go to your daughter’s soccer game. Nothing wrong with dismissing Write Night for Date Night. However, you need to find the time. Don’t let it become habit. If you don’t respect your own writing hour, how can you expect anyone else to? If you can find the time to binge Netflix for eight hours on the weekend, pretty sure you can spend some of that writing. As always Dragon Bloode: Covet is out in ebook everywhere ebooks are sold.

 

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Huff, Puff, Gasp

Writing is like exercise. The more you do it, the more you practice, the better shape you’re in. I suppose this law can apply to most activities, but usually one doesn’t think of doing writing exercises. Today I want to introduce a few simple, yet effective, writing exercises to try on your own time. You could even do the same exercise multiple times to see how you improve. If you don’t have time to write on your creative/nonfiction projects, you can find time for these short exercises to stay honed to your craft.

#1 Sensory Exercise

With a sensory exercise, you have to describe an everyday object with as much detail as possible without using the name of the object itself. You also use the five senses, and just as I covered in my passive vs active blog, you’ll want to stay away from directly saying saw, felt, heard, etc. We’ll do a pencil as an example.

Long, hexagonal, covered in a layer of banana yellow. Slate grey lead comes to a sharpened point at the tip with a dark salmon rubber eraser at the opposite end. A metal band wraps around the line between wood and rubber. Chew marks dent the otherwise smooth surface.

I turned the description of a pencil into a paragraph. Of course, you don’t really want to do this with everyday things in a novel, but it’s excellent practice for when you need to, or really want to, focus on describing something for your story. If you can describe an everyday object, such as a pencil, in great detail, you can manage that grand palace in your elven kingdom or that small spaceship your smuggler uses in a galaxy not far from here.

Suggestions for sensory exercises: your old sneakers, items from your desk, a lamp in your living room, a remote, car tire, toilet paper, faucet, cellphone, etc.

#2 Picture Perfect Short Story

This was an exercise we did in a writers group. Mary Andrews came in with a simple picture from a coloring book of a dragon attacking a town with troops shooting at it and said we were going to do an exercise. We had five minutes to write a short story explaining the backstory of the picture. It was insanely fun for me and got my creative monster fired up.

Just as I described above, the basic premise of this exercise is to take a random picture and create a backstory for it. Then time yourself for five minutes. We did ours in longhand, but the option to type it out is always there. Do not go over the time limit. Create a beginning, middle, and end to your story. Try not to let it get cut off in the middle. Also, don’t think about it before hand. Start thinking when that timer begins.

I’m not going to write a short story, but what I would like to do is make suggestions on where a story can go from this picture. A knight comes a long way to find the temple in the valley. He’s met by its guardians. Who sent him? What’s he searching for? Is the temple a holy place guarded by just men, or a place of evil worship that he must destroy? Is it a temple at all or a guard post? Take the challenge and write up a short story! Post it to your blog or website, just be sure to link back to the creator of the picture as I have done.

#3 Be Your Own Thesaurus

Sometimes you can tell when a writer busted out the Thesaurus. Long, complicated or uncommonly used words stuck in a sentence that is otherwise simple. Sometimes it interrupts the flow and you can, just, tell. To say I don’t use a Thesaurus would be a lie, but I keep it to a bare minimum. An exercise I engage in often to keep my word use varied without interrupting my flow is to take a random picture of a person, or a word and trying to come up with as many variations as possible. With a world of knowledge at your fingertips, you can make use of the many random word generators and image searches online for this exercise.

Unknown French Noblewoman - School of Clouet

Unknown French Noblewoman – School of Clouet

Take this portrait of an unknown French noblewoman. Let’s describe her. Poised, dignified, young, attractive, blonde, blue-eyed, fair skin, finely dressed, jeweled, wealthy, married/widowed/single are all adjectives you could use to move her around a room. For example, the dignified young woman glided to the sofa and sat. Instead of using her name, let’s say Marie, thirteen times on one page you can use an adjective to identify her without redundancy. Even if you can only think of a few, it’s better than using a name over and over. You can even add these adjectives to your character sheets for use later on.

Next we’ll do a random word exercise. The first word from my generator is cheerful. Ecstatic, happy, content, good mood, optimistic, satisfied, sunny disposition.

The point of the word and picture adjective exercise is to make word variation a habit or to at least flow naturally. Instead of looking to a Thesaurus, which as I mentioned is totally okay on occasion, you can conjure up these words from memory or habit.

Until Next Time…

I hope these exercises can help keep you in writing shape! Something else to keep in mind, is a blog serves a purpose in forcing you to write once a week as well. Even if you sometimes forget to post on Mondays. 😉 Dragon Bloode: Covet is out in ebook everywhere ebooks are sold.

Writing is Life

Hey all! First, an apology for being gone so long. It wasn’t intentional by any means. To explain, my processor decided to stop working correctly and I had to send it in for repair. I got on my backup old man laptop, but he wasn’t having it. Then! Theeeen! I cut a six inch gash in my foot and couldn’t walk, much less set up my 47lb desktop when it was returned to me. So here we are! Now, the reason I mention this is because I learned a lesson. Well, I think I already knew this lesson, but it was always in the back of my mind. I never put much thought into it.

Writing is life. I don’t mean live, eat, breathe, and sleep writing, but that writing is best reflected from real life experiences. I learned, with the gash on my foot, procedure, how stitches and cleaning are done, as well as what it’s like to live with the itching, and bandage changing and many other activities that go into wound care. I’ve never had surgery, luckily, so this was a new experience for me.

It got me thinking. I always hear about writers who go to expensive and foreign getaways to get inspiration and write their next best selling novel. The jealous little rodent inside of me always found it silly. I thrive creatively when I’m in a boring dump! But really, of course I would write in a castle in Europe if given the chance. There are options for those of us who find ourselves in a cramped apartment in the city or a big house in the middle of the desert.

Now, of course I don’t recommend going out and getting yourself hurt like I did, but what can we do to learn about experiences to better portray them in our writing? I know there are already writer’s resources galore. Such as, a book on police procedures and a book on poisons. Of course written resources are amazing and should be used often, but sometimes it takes more than that. Go exploring-online. Or in a book. Go to your local bookstore and pick up one of those large coffee table books you always thought pretty but could never justify the price when you don’t even own a coffee table. Watch movies. Buy traveling guides. Does your story take place in Seattle but you’ve never been? Get a travel guide to Seattle. Go to DeviantArt and peruse the backgrounds and scenes for inspiration. Write down your dreams! I do everyday when I wake up. You never know what you’ll use. I have used scenes from my own dreams in my book Dragon Bloode: Covet.

And of course don’t neglect people. If you’ve never experienced a broken bone, why not ring up your cousin Suze and ask her what she recalls? After the cut on my foot, my dad asked me, “Has it started itching yet?” I had no idea. Oh man did I have no idea! Only someone who’d had a large incision or wound would think to ask. Not to say that we can’t look up medical guides on the matter and discover it for ourselves, but it’s far more colorful and entertaining to have your father regale the sagas of his various injuries over the phone than Times New Roman at one in the morning doing your best zombie impression. With the internet at our beck and call, why not go into a forum or find a pen pal/Skype buddy who lives where your story takes place? They could not only describe everything, but take pictures for you. Perhaps even do a Skype call and you can direct them how you wish if possible. Plus, you’ve made a new friend!

No matter where you live, there is something to inspire around you. I live in a desert. The land is flat and the sky is oppressing and large. You can use your surroundings to explore the opposition. When I look out my living room window to the field of wild flowers and weeds (that is if it’s rained at all and they’re not brown brush mulling around over dirt in the hot wind), I imagine a thick forest where I can’t even glimpse the sun. If you live in a tiny apartment in the city, what about that country house overlooking rolling hills in your mind? Inspiration can be found all around us, don’t spend all of it at the computer. Writing is life, and in living life your writing will improve. A lot of famous writers lived by this motto. Hemingway explored the wilds and Fitzgerald went to extravagant parties. Those who used mundane surroundings to conjure fantastical places are J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien.

We can’t all get away to foreboding castles and sunny cottages in the glen, but we can all make use of our own experiences and the experiences of those around us. Now, if you need someone to describe to you in great detail how it felt to have sheet metal slice the side of their foot open and the process following, you know who to ask.