writing

  • #NaNoWriMo Burnout

    #NaNoWriMo Burnout
    #NaNoWriMo Burnout

    Are you currently engaged in National Novel Writing Month? Have you been furiously writing away and watching your word count build as the days go on? With the middle of the month approaching, maybe you’re already suffering from #NaNoWriMo Burnout?

    Maybe you’ve even fallen behind or dropped out. Due to that one or two days when you couldn’t get any writing done… You felt like you’d failed and you dropped out.

    Or maybe you picked up your thread again, but those missing days still bug the hell out of you.

    Don’t heap unnecessary pressure on yourself

    The truth is, with everything else that’s going on – Covid, lockdowns, restrictions, job worries – you don’t need the added stress of writing obligations.

    Or a feeling that you’ve somehow failed.

    #NaNoWriMo is great for getting people engaged in an activity for a fixed period of time, where you can also talk to other participants.

    But if you find it’s all getting too much, it’s perfectly okay to drop out.

    Your health is more important than a word count

    First of all, your health and wellbeing come first. Secondly, your writing won’t necessarily benefit from you feeling stressed out and under some kind of obligation to produce.

    If you feel that NaNoWriMo is the boot up the backside you need to get you motivated, there are others ways to get the same results. And they don’t involve the same short-term pressures.

    If you can find a writing group – including an online writing group – that would certainly help motivate you.

    You could also try and find some accountability partners. It can be one or two and then check in with them periodically. Set reasonable goals for the next check-in.

    Never set unreasonable goals. You’re just setting yourself up to fail and feel bad about it.

    And that can keep you trapped in a negative downward cycle of ‘what’s the point’ and ‘I can’t do this’.

    One technique I found helpful in the past

    One thing I’ve found helpful in the past is writing down a word count for each day. Even if it was just 30 words. Tiny word counts were fine because there were other days when the count would be in the thousands.

    Momentum was the key.

    I could count up the words at the end of each month, each quarter, each half-year, and each year.

    Over the years, the overall word count went up dramatically.

    At first, there was novelty and enthusiasm. Then there was the sense of obligation and the grind of having to do it. This is why even allowing small word counts can help. After a while, I had to write and if I didn’t there was a feeling of dissatisfaction. I didn’t associate it with a sense of failure or duty either. It had more to do with the feeling that writing was such a part of my daily life that I missed it and didn’t feel right when it wasn’t there.

    Nevertheless, we’re all allowed breaks.

    If you feel that a month of writing isn’t for you, it’s fine to take a step back. Never mind what other people are doing. Writing is not a competition – though it might feel like it is sometimes when you’re on social media.

    Still intent on finishing #NaNoWriMo?

    If you’re feeling a bit burned out, but you still want to continue, remember to take breaks. Go for a walk. Listen to music.

    If you need help concentrating, you can use a social media blocker like Cold Turkey.

    You can also use a Pomodoro timer to pace yourself.

    Whatever you write this month is just a jumping-off point, not the end goal. You can rework it later. Or even run off with a side character and live happily ever after in a new plot/novel!

  • The #1 thing writers need to succeed

    The #1 thing writers need to succeed

    The #1 thing writers need to succeed

    What’s the #1 thing writers need to succeed? Is it a particular word processing program? Is it a particular writing app? Perhaps it’s attending a particular writing school? Or maybe it’s a question of networking or building up a big social media following?

    There’s no doubt some of those things are at least helpful – a decent social media following or a writing network can be very useful. Not just for marketing but also for feedback on your work.

    But there’s one thing that towers above everything else and it’s not something you can buy. It’s not something anyone can give to you. So, what is it?

    And the answer is…

    In a word: discipline.

    Boring, I know. Maybe even disappointing. But here’s the thing, if you want to be successful, you need discipline.

    Whether it’s allocating distinct time periods for writing, and not compromising or giving into other temptations. Whether it’s meeting deadlines – particularly important if you have a contractual deadline. Whether it’s setting aside the time to learn or refine techniques or skills. You need discipline.

    Procrastination and distractions

    Writers are often plagued by distractions and/or procrastination. Why is it so much easier to open a social media app than to get started on that piece of writing? The truth is, if you want to succeed you have to get tough!

    This is no different to a small business owner building their business. Like an editor, or a graphic designer, a copywriter, or any other kind of business owner or freelancer, writers need to build a sense of discipline.

    What are your weaknesses?

    What does this mean in real terms? Well, you might want to start with examining your own particular weaknesses. What stops you from writing? What are the most common excuses you give for not getting on with your work?

    You could be suffering from a social media addiction, which leads you to constantly check Twitter or Facebook. Or perhaps you’re stuck or experiencing writer’s block, and you’re avoiding the issue by looking for distractions. Maybe you are suffering from imposter syndrome and don’t really believe your writing is worth the time and discipline needed to succeed. Maybe you don’t believe you can succeed.

    Defining success

    There’s also the question of what success really means. This differs for different people. For some, having even a small number of readers amounts to success. Especially if those readers left good reviews. For others, just finishing a book is an achievement in itself – and they’re not wrong. Not everyone is out to be a working writer. Sometimes writing a book is an item on a bucket list – something to tick off. A goal attained.

    Want to be a full-time writer?

    Let’s say you want to be a full-time writer one day. Not an easy goal, nor necessary for a writing career. Many great writers have had day jobs. But to achieve that goal, you need to develop some discipline. (To write around a day job also requires discipline.) You need to become your own boss.

    You need to learn to set goals and commit to them. Time to get tough – with yourself, and also with other people who make demands, and who don’t take your writing seriously. Also, never forget that if other people see you don’t take your writing seriously, they won’t think twice about interrupting you.

    Block distractions, set goals

    While you can’t buy discipline, you can start to research ways to help yourself get there. Learn how to focus better, how to block distractions. Find out the times of the day or week when you seem to be most productive. Maybe there are particular environments you work best in.

    Try social media blockers, set timers, allocate times for writing. Block Twitter for three hours and commit to write in that period. Don’t allow writers’ block to defeat you. Set yourself goals and keep at it.

    Discipline is like a muscle – you have to keep exercising it. Your stamina will increase over time.

    Start with achievable goals

    You can start by setting yourself lower targets and gradually increasing them over time. Don’t judge yourself according to what others are doing. Compete only with yourself. How much writing did you get done three months ago? Now, how much writing are you getting done today?

    Never stop learning and developing

    And it’s not all about writing – there’s research, editing, developing your writing skills (CPD), marketing (when you get to that point). If you were an editor, you’d be expected to continue your professional development, periodically taking refresher classes or courses to upgrade your skills.

    As a writer, you can also continue to expand your skills.

    Of course, by itself, discipline won’t guarantee success. You also need a certain amount of talent. But talent is often the result of study, and study requires discipline. You need to research your market, and that requires discipline. You need to weather rejection, pick yourself up and carry on. And that too is a type of discipline.

    And finally…

    Think about what you’ve achieved so far, and plan out some writing goals for the next year. Achievable goals. You could aim to submit to certain writing publications. Perhaps there’s a novel you need to finish. Maybe you’re struggling with developmental issues like show versus tell, point of view, structure, characterisation, worldbuilding, and so on.

    Time to draw up a curriculum!

    Or perhaps you’d like some feedback on the opening chapters of a novel or memoir you’re working on. You might be interested in my opening chapters edit – the word count can be adjusted to your particular needs.

    Most of all, keep writing and keep learning. You never know where it will take out!

  • Does your desk look like a bombsite?

    Does your desk look like a bombsite? Or is it pristine, like this one?
    This desk is absolutely nothing like my desk. It’s inhuman.

    Hey, editors and/or writers! Does your desk look like a bombsite? Welcome to my life. The situation is so bad, I’m not even going to cough up photographic evidence. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. And my word on this is gospel.

    There are papers all over the place, a style guide, a dictionary, some DVDs that have somehow migrated over here, a graphics tablet, notebooks, pens, a lamp.

    I was pondering this situation today when looking at my desk from a distance (from the warmth of the radiator across the room) and remembering a piece of advice from other editors. Get a second monitor.

    A-ha! Edit the manuscript on one monitor and use the other to look stuff up.

    A second monitor on my desk would:

    • Make the mess even worse
    • Block most of the lower window (though it’s a tall window)
    • Push a decorative lamp to the floor (appropriately a woman reading a book)

    But… but… the second monitor wouldn’t be a TV screen I roped in years ago when I first got my PC. A temporary measure that’s been going on for three years now. The second monitor would have a built-in camera, and I could finally attend the zoom conferences I always have an excuse to get out of. (Well, I could probably use my phone, but I prefer to ignore that option.)

    If I bought the second monitor, I could attend interactive webinars and stuff. But then I’d have to show my face and I hate cameras. I suppose I could wear one of the three cloth masks currently sitting among the clutter. One is floral, one tartan, and the other has a paisley pattern.

    So, for the time being I am not buying a second monitor, but I am thinking about it. Because sooner or later, I’ll have to replace the TV. (I don’t actually watch TV, which is why it was better off as a monitor.) I will also have to tidy up this desk. And I will no doubt choose the very right moment to do it – a moment when I should be doing something else. And then I will decide that since I’m tidying the desk, I might as well tidy the whole bloody room. (I realise this is what a normal person would do anyway.)

    I do tidy my desk periodically. It’s just that it seems to be a breeding ground for papers and books and notepads. Before I know it, stuff is piling up again. It seems to happen all by itself.

    Truthfully, I don’t need a second monitor for developmental editing. I am an Olympic Gold Medalist when it comes to keeping multiple windows open and flipping back and forth. I suppose it would save time for copyediting or proofreading, but while I look stuff up, I don’t have to do it quite as often.

    Anyway, I think there’s something to be said for creative chaos. When I’m in heavy writing periods, my writing space also looks a mess. I’m slightly suspicious of tidy writers and tidy editors. It’s almost as if they have a character defect. A screw loose.

    It’s not natural or healthy for writers to be tidy. I remember one of my editing courses in the past saying something about the importance of a tidy workspace. Clearly, it never made any impact on me.

    I am unrepentant. But you’re still not getting the photos. I shall now return to pondering my artfully arranged mess and wondering whether sorting it out means a few hours off what I should be doing. There’s always a bright side to everything.

  • Don’t take too long to start your novel

    Don't take too long to start your novel

    So, you have a story you want to tell. You’ve been thinking about it for years. It would make a perfect novel. When you finally get round to putting it down on paper, you’ll know exactly what the characters are like, you’ll know how they interact, and you’ll already know how it ends.

    All that’s required is the time needed to sit down and write it. Plus motivation and lack of distractions.

    But is your novel really as well planned as you think? Are you sure you understand your characters, let alone how they interact with one another? Is that ending really credible? Have you ever thought about the structure of your story? Do you understand how story structure works? If you’ve never written a story, let alone a novel, you’re already in trouble.

    When you finally write your story, you might force your characters to do exactly what you’ve imagined all those years, forgetting that characters on the page must be organic. They must be natural and credible and as close to real people as it’s possible to get. If you turn them into puppets, performing at your will, readers will know, and they will lose interest.

    And those plot twists might not work out the way you thought. Perhaps they happen too early, or too late. And when you finally show your story to others, the ending doesn’t work at all. But if you’ve spent years imagining all the details in your head, the danger is you’re so attached to your unwritten ideal of a novel that you won’t make any compromises.

    The characters, the locations, and the plot must be just so. It’s what you’ve planned. You thought it out. You thought about it on your way to work, soaking in the bath, or lying in bed at night.

    And when you finally write your story, then show it to others, you might resist the best of advice.

    Because you have an ideal story in your head, which is ideal to you, which plays out like a film, except that you don’t really understand how films are structured either.

    Don’t take too long to start your novel

    It’s best not to spend too much time thinking about your story. The longer you leave it, the harder it can be to make the sacrifices necessary to bring it into the world in a decent shape.

    If you insist that the ending must be so because that’s what you planned all those years ago, you’ve already lost. Endings should be a natural consequence of the plot and characterisation, the final domino falling into place.

    With novels, things rarely go to plan. Those characters you thought would get on, only do so because you force them to. It’s perfectly clear to any reader that they’re incompatible and their relationship makes no sense.

    The ending comes out of the blue because you didn’t want your readers to guess the twist, and you never learned about foreshadowing. Meanwhile, your poor beta readers think the twist makes no sense.

    There’s no point creating the perfect novel in your head, that book you’ll write one day… you know, that day when you finally have the time. The longer you put it off, the harder it’s going to be. And that little ego voice that says you don’t need to learn about characterisation, structure, foreshadowing and so on… that little voice is not your friend.

    It’s time to bite the bullet. By all means start plotting it out on paper. Write up character studies. But don’t run the risk of spending too much time plotting on paper or your enthusiasm will be spent before you write a first draft.

    Don’t spend years dreaming about your novel. Don’t become so attached to all those characters and plans that you sabotage a good idea because you let it set in stone. And don’t spend too long plotting it out on paper. Learn your craft, be prepared for your characters to surprise you, and don’t count on that ending working. Always be open to new ideas, new characters, and new twists. Your novel should be an adventure for you as much as the reader.

    Don’t take too long to start your novel. Stop dreaming and start writing.

    Are you a fiction writer or memoirist? Do you need a professional manuscript critique or developmental edit? I’m a fully trained member of the Editorial Freelancers Association. Check out my services page.