This episode is a bit different to usual. I wanted to talk to you about something which has changed my life and I thought I needed a little bit more time to do the subject justice.
So, although it’s a shorter episode than usual, it’s just me talking to you. I hope you don’t mind that there’s no interview; do let me know your thoughts on the format. If successful, I may do a few more short ‘in between’ episodes throughout the year.
Don’t worry, though; the main interview-heavy episodes will continue. I’ve got lots of great guests lined up for 2016 and I can’t wait to share them with you all.
I’ve buried the lead a bit, here, haven’t I? Sorry. The thing which changed my life is this: Goal setting.
I don’t remember the exact point at which I realised that anything in life – truly almost anything – was possible if you made a plan, broke it down into goals and then manageable steps.
Like most simple things, that doesn’t automatically make it easy to accomplish, but the moment I realised that even seemingly-impossible dreams came with a road map was an exciting one.
I discuss goals (and how to define a concrete one) as well as ways to break an enormous task (such as writing a novel!) into small steps.
I also answer this great listener question from Phoebe Morgan:
I was wondering if you might be able to do a podcast on the submission process from agent to publishers – my first book went on sub last week to editors and it’s just so nerve wracking! I’m finding it hard to know what to expect and it would be great to hear some other experiences about this – how long people were on sub for etc, how up to date their agents kept them.
The submission process can vary a lot, but I share my personal experience in the podcast.
If you have experience of being on submission (or some words of encouragement) you would be willing to share with Phoebe, please leave a comment on this post.
If you have a writing (or publishing) question that you’d like me to tackle in a future episode, please get in touch via email or Twitter.
I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).
In the last podcast, I answered this great question from Helen Redfern. I’ve have had enough messages since to know that it’s an issue for lots of folk, so I thought I’d jot down my answer and add a little more on the subject.
How do I learn to write for just ten minutes? I feel that if I don’t have a few hours uninterrupted there’s no point in starting and just doing ten minutes. How do I change that?
I definitely used to struggle with this, but I have managed to shift my thinking on it.
I say ‘shift my thinking’ because that’s really what is required. You have to alter your perspective on ten minutes so that you stop viewing it as a tiny, unusable slice of time.
First off, I suggest you prove yourself wrong. Set a timer for ten minutes and write. Not to add wonderful words to your manuscript, but purely as an exercise. See how many words you have written when the timer goes off. It doesn’t matter if you have 30, 50, or a 100 words, it is concrete, recordable evidence that something can be achieved in that time.
If you’re feeling too much resistance to this idea and you really feel you cannot write for just ten minutes, do consider that this is fear talking. It’s offering a reasonable-sounding excuse to prevent you from having to put words down.
The way to blast that excuse is to set the timer for ten minutes and NOT WRITE. You have to sit and stare at the blank screen or page of your notebook and not write a single word. You can’t do anything else, either; no music to listen to, no browsing the internet, no reading. Just sit for ten minutes. I bet you’ll be surprised at how long that actually is.
Okay, so once you’ve proved it’s possible, you might still feel that it isn’t worth it. That adding 75 words to your book or working for ten minutes is a drop in the ocean.
Now, you need to make it fun, make it a challenge. See how many micro writing sessions you can fit in this week. Reward yourself for every ten minute session. As long-time listeners know, I like stickers. A sticker for every ten minute session over a week. At the end of the week, count them up and marvel at the hours you have worked.
Congratulate yourself on your wizardry – you have created writing time where none existed before.
Or, you could draw a grid of boxes on a sheet of paper or use some squared paper. Every time you work on your book for ten minutes, colour in a box. When you look at that ever-expanding block of colour you’ll have a visual reminder of how that time adds up.
Another tip is to prepare for your ten minute sessions so that they are as valuable as possible. If you know you could grab some time when you get home from work, then use the commute to think about your story and about what you’d like to write next.
Finally, it’s good to remember and to truly understand – deep in your bones – that this is how books are written.
They are written in small chunks. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph.
As hard as writing is, I think we sometimes think it ought to be even harder. So difficult that we couldn’t possibly dash off a few sentences while waiting for the kettle to boil. The secret, if there is such a thing, is that the time taken to write the words does not reflect the quality of the writing. Some will come out well and some will not. Some will be cut and some will not. And, sometimes, words dashed off between appointments will be the very best, because you didn’t have time to second-guess yourself and were able to access your muse or sub-conscious or wherever you believe your writing comes from directly.
A final tip is to consciously alter your thoughts. I know that mantras and affirmations sound a bit ‘out there’, but they do work. I like to use positive phrases which have success built-in. They describe the belief or behaviour as if I already possess it, making me feel instantly more positive and capable.
So, for this issue, I would use something like: ‘I am the kind of person who grabs every spare moment and uses it to write.’
If this doesn’t speak to you, try different wording until you find something which chimes. Then repeat it. Whenever you remember to do so and whenever you think about your writing or schedule. It will feel false and ridiculous, but if you stick with it you will find the statement becomes more plausible. Repeat it often enough and you will believe it. Magic!
Was this helpful? Head to the comment section if you have a follow-up question (or a tip of your own to pass on). And thanks for reading!
My guest today is Sunday Times bestselling author, Miranda Dickinson. Miranda’s first book, Fairytale of New York, was a massive success and was short-listed for the RNA Novel of the Year award as well as hitting the top ten on the Sunday Times Bestseller list. Over the last six years, Miranda has published another six books, including Welcome To My World and It Started With A Kiss. Her work has been translated into seven languages and has sold almost a million copies.
Miranda’s latest novel is A Parcel For Anna Browne – available now!
(Please note that this and other book links on the site are affiliate links, so I will earn a small commission if you use it to make a purchase. The money goes towards the running costs of podcast.)
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo (or are slogging though a first draft at any time!) there will be plenty of days when you get stuck.
First off, know that this is entirely normal. It doesn’t mean that you have failed or that your book sucks. It (almost) definitely doesn’t mean that you are working on the ‘wrong’ project and that you should switch to the Shiny New Idea which is fluttering its eyelashes and looking adorable. A couple of weeks with that idea and you’ll be in exactly the same situation – trust me!
So, if you can’t switch projects and you’re not going to give up (as if), what can you do to get the words flowing again?
Stop writing and go for a walk. Or do some cleaning or crafting or take a shower. Activities which engage part of your brain (and get you away from the blank screen), can be perfect for mulling over tricky plot points.
Try a different point of view (POV). Try writing in a different tense or POV (switch from first person present to third person past, for example) or write from the POV of a minor character. Remember, these words aren’t intended for the final manuscript, so it doesn’t matter whether they ‘work’ or not. They’re just to get you writing again and to give you alternative insights into your characters and story.
Go meta and write about your story. Open a new document and tell yourself the story as if you don’t know it. I like to begin with: ‘This is a story about //name//who wants…’ Then you just waffle on about everything you know about your book; where it’s set, what happens, who is in it and what they are like. There will be lots you don’t know and that’s fine, too. Ask yourself questions! Don’t worry if you can’t answer them right away, just typing them out will plant them in your mind, ready for your subconscious to answer.
Write a list of everything you thought was cool about your idea when you started out. The stuff which would make you want to read the book if you were the reader, not the writer. If you’ve done this already, revisit the list and remind yourself of what got you excited about the book in the first place.
Make a book collage (or Pinterest board) or book soundtrack. Concentrate on getting the feel for the story; the atmosphere and tone, but don’t over-think your choices. Just pick the pictures or musical tracks which you feel instinctively belong in your book.
Finally, try not to fret too much about your word count goal (even if you have signed up for 50,000 words during November). All of this day-dreaming and noodling about and writing words which are for your eyes only is part of the process; it is the work.
We don’t like to talk about them. We’re frightened that by talking about them we will make them stronger. Or, worse still, we will jinx our productivity and conjure them into existence. No writer wants to say the word ‘block’.
I’ve always struggled to write. There are two people inhabiting this body; one wants to be left alone to write, wants nothing more than acres of time in which to type and think and come up with sentences and words and passages of description and dialogue. The other one, unfortunately, wants to do anything else. Anything!
Both of these people, however, like having written.
I read this quote from Brene Brown (from her book Rising Strong) recently: ‘We can choose courage or we can choose comfort but we cannot choose both.’
The toddler part of me bawled ‘why not?’, while the adult part of me nodded sagely, letting the words sink in and the truth trickle through…
I can’t have both.
It’s supposed to be scary.
I need to choose courage because that’s where creation lies.
But on a bad writing day, I choose comfort over and over again. I choose to write this blog rather than open my work-in-progress because however frightening a personal post like this feels, it is nothing to the anxiety I feel about working on my book.
On a bad writing day, I choose to say ‘yes’ to a friend’s invitation, even though I know it’s during my writing time. I may pretend this is something else (the selfless act of a good friend, for example) but I am lying.
On a bad writing day, I slip into the comfortable routine of editing a piece of old work when I should be making something new. Or I take all day to write a paragraph, telling myself it’s ‘difficult’ when the truth is, I am stalling.
On a bad writing day, I let the voices that tell me I’m worthless and my story is stupid and that I have no talent or creativity win.
I’ve had a lot of bad writing days recently. I’ve chosen comfort so often it’s beginning to feel like my new routine.
Luckily, that frightens me. I see my life stretching ahead, filled with comfortable no-writing-days, and I imagine all the books I will never write, the stories I will never tell.
That frightens me enough to make me open my document and get back to work. I want to have written and I know fine well there’s only one way for that to happen: courage.
Did this post resonate with you? Do you have Bad Writing Days? How do you overcome them? Please share your tips, advice, or experiences in the comments below!