Make it Easy

There is too much going on right now. It was my intention not to write about the Coronavirus here but how can I do anything else. Even if I don’t mention it directly, it is safe to say that it is in the background of everything I think about at the moment. How could it not be? Going out of my way to not refer to a major current event that’s affecting the whole world would be extremely obtuse.

Having said that…

At the moment everything feels like a struggle. My natural inclination seems to be to scour the internet news sites and social media as if doing that will keep me and my family safe. What I should really be doing is writing and reading but, however much I enjoy those activities, they offer medium/long term rewards whereas surfing the latest breaking news is instant gratification (albeit with a heavy dose of medium/long term anxiety).

Which is why I am doing my best to make it easy to read and to write. The two fiction books I have on the go at the moment are short story collections and the non-fiction book is about writing. I am also reading them in digital formats (which is uncommon for me lately, but certainly the most convenient format) so they are available on my phone as well as my Kobo reader. I am setting myself limits for when I can check the news and trying my hardest to stick to them. I don’t succeed as often as I would like.

This situation is hard but I am determined not to fall apart and go back to my bad old habits. If I can’t make the progress I originally wanted, I can at least not make it any worse. I am doing my best to make it easy to make the right choices.

Distracted Thought

When I spend too much time online (reading news, Reddit, blogs, etc.) it isn’t immediately obvious how much of an impact it has. In my day to day life I can usually manage to function and continue doing all the things that I need to do. It would be easy to convince myself that it doesn’t really have an impact beyond the time I spend doing it, but I also know that isn’t true.

Every morning I get up and write in my journal. It’s free-thought stuff kind of like Morning Pages but I keep it like a journal so that if I ever want to go back and look at them I can. If I have a good day then the following morning my journal is focused and tends to follow one line of thought from beginning to end. If I have a bad day then it affects me like a hangover. When I sit down to write my journal I can’t keep to a single line of thought for more than a paragraph, my mind skips all over the place and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten anything done. It feels awkward and stilted.

And I know that this is just a visible symptom of the problem. That same distracted style of thought is present everywhere and in everything I do and it can take a couple of days to get over it.

How I’m Writing Now

A lot has changed since I was blogging last year and frankly I have gone back and forth between different methods of writing for the last year or so now, but I am now reasonably settled in the way I write.

Past

When I first started writing and publishing I did everything on a computer. I used an app on my phone and computer to store notes for ideas and all of my planning was also done on a computer. Likewise I wrote all of my first drafts on a computer and could, on a good day, rattle off 5,000 words, although my average was about 3,000. I also edited on a computer. Doing things this way meant I could publish a short novel a month, and I was building up a backlog of stories that would allow me to take time off without missing any of my planned release dates. I was also “stacking” stories, so I always had one story in planning, one in first draft and one in editing/publishing. I was very “productive”.

Present

My stories don’t touch a computer until there is a complete first draft. I do all of my note taking, planning and first draft writing in a variety of notebooks. I write my first drafts with a fountain pen. I am a lot slower this way. On a good day I probably get 1,000 words written. I am focusing on one story at a time. In a stories published sense I am not very productive.

Why the change

I first tried this out over a year ago and over the next few months I went back and forth because I am a magpie and continually attracted to shiny new apps and tools. But as I said at the start, I think the change is going to stick this time. As to why I did this, well there are a couple of reasons:

  1. I enjoy the process more. It’s more fun to write in a notebook
  2. I think it produces a better story. I know there is a lot of debate on this subject, but honestly, I think slowing down a bit means I can write better

Future

I need to do better at the first to second draft part of the process. Currently I have a number of stories that are a complete first draft and I need to get better at typing them up and editing them. And publishing as well. I have one story that is complete and ready to go, but I just haven’t gotten around to putting it on the various sales platforms.

Writing Update April 2019

Its been an unsettled month for writing, but as I prepare to enter May, I have a plan and goals going forward for the rest of the year.

Firstly, the fantasy series

I have stopped work on the fantasy story I have mentioned before. The project wasn’t right for me. Although I enjoyed the planning process I just don’t love the genre enough. This became abundantly clear as I started writing the first draft.

I spent two months prepping the story and had planned for it to span three books. However, I don’t really consider that to be wasted time. It was enjoyable and it has taught me something about myself and the type of writing I want to do.

Secondly, novels

It is now the end of May and I don’t think I will be publishing a new novel in 2019.

Finally, my plans going forward

Starting in July I will be publishing a short story every month through to the end of the year. The first three are already in various stages of production. I am enjoying the work.

Once I have the six shorts for this year finished (or near enough) I will begin working on a new novel for publication in 2020. My plan at the moment is to publish a new novel every year, a short story every month and a blog post every week.

Although this is a lot less than I was publishing at my peak (about a novel a month) I have changed my production process significantly since then, which I believe will result in a much higher quality.

The weekly blogging won’t start immediately. For (at least) the length of May I will continue posting every weekday. My plan, however, is to gradually transition into longer weekly posts. For example, the recent posts about analogue / digital media might have been combined into a single longer essay. Alongside these “essays” I will likely continue publishing monthly updates like this one and, of course, announcements about new story releases.

Why I’m doing this

My number one goal with everything I publish is to make it good. My number two goal is to make the production process enjoyable. These changes are all geared towards these goals.

Editing & Publishing

Yesterday I started editing a short story that I wrote back in January. It doesn’t have a title yet. The idea is kind of Lovecraftian horror. I’m hoping to have it finished and published in May.

Usually I don’t leave such a long gap between writing a first draft and starting the editing. It is interesting to come back to a project after so long and read the words, which I know I wrote, and have them be unfamiliar. It is the closest I can come to reading my work with fresh eyes.

My editing process mostly consists of removing unneeded words and making my meaning clear when it might be confusing. I rarely have to change the structure of the story itself (although it isn’t unknown).

I will go through this edit and then do a proofread to try and catch anything I’ve missed. After that I will check spelling and then move it into the publishing process.

Originally I was going to submit the story to magazines, but I think I will publish it instead. That will mean I need to create a cover, which I do using images from Shutterstock and putting it together in Canva.

I have a word.doc template which I will paste the story into and then use the Draft2Digital tool to properly format for publication.

As I say, the story doesn’t have a title yet. Once I know what it is I will post something here with a link to pre-order or buy if you’re interested.

Starting

After my post yesterday about resistance, I did start work on the first draft of my new book. As of now I am 1,326 words into the first chapter. My plan is to write the first act (which I already have a pretty concrete plan for) and then return to planning for the rest of the book.

I’m relieved to been working on it. A lot of the resistance I was feeling has been lifted and it seems like the right decision for this project.

That wasn’t what I wanted to write about today though.

Starting something new can be daunting. Quite often that manifests in the form of resistance, but there are more concrete challenges. With writing fiction, one thing that I come up against most often is awkwardness.

Writing fiction isn’t the same as planning fiction and it also isn’t the same as writing blog posts. It is unique. And when you haven’t done it for a little while, it can feel strange.

That’s how yesterday went. I found myself struggling to fit back into the tone of voice of fiction and the result is words that will almost certainly be completely rewritten. This happens a lot.

It’s one of the reasons why I try not to go too long between working on first drafts and, in the past when I had more time, I planned and edited separatly to writing so that I always had a first draft on the go. There are a lot of benefits to that approach and if I ever have more time again in the future then I will definitely go back to it.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid this awkwardness. It’s not only due to leaving a gap between first drafts, it’s also because I’m writing about a new world with new characters and we aren’t familiar with one another yet. Over the next few days as I settle into the tone and get to know the characters, the awkwardness will fade away.

That’s not to say there won’t be other problems. As well as Resistance and Awkwardness, I have the Slump to look forward to. Usually that comes somewhere after the halfway point of the first draft when I will begin to doubt everything about the project.

For now though, I’m dealing with the awkwardness of starting something new. That’s what I have to focus getting past.

Resistance

This morning I found myself starting to doubt the story I’m working on. I began asking myself whether it was really the best thing I could be doing, whether I wanted to spend so much time writing it.

Resistance is part of any project worth taking on and I am used to coming up against it. Sometimes I win the battle and sometimes I lose. Quite often, the battles that I lose, end up being projects that I look back on and wish I had finished.

“Resistance in my experience always kicks in when you’re trying to move from a lower level to a higher level or to identify with a braver part of yourself or your higher nature. So it’s that negative repelling force. It’s kind of the dragon that we have to slay every day if we’re artists or entrepreneurs.”
– Steven Pressfield

Even now there are stories sitting half-finished that I think I might return to one day but that I wish I had never abandoned. They are stories that I think would have been really good. Perhaps they were stories which could have pushed my skill to a new level.

So the question becomes; how is it best to handle resistance?

“Don’t prepare. Begin. Our enemy is not lack of preparation. The enemy is resistance, our chattering brain producing excuses. Start before you are ready.”
– Steven Pressfield

Which is where I find myself now.

There is always the possibility that what I am working on isn’t worth persevering with, but I won’t know that until I have some perspective. The only thing I know for sure right now is that most of the projects I have abandoned would have been woth persevering with.

I don’t know if I’m ready to start yet, but maybe I should take the resistance I’m feeling as a sign that I should. There are reasons to wait, good one’s, but there might be better ones to start.

Untitled Fantasy Story Book 1

That’s how my current work in process looks.

At the moment I have a lot of stuff that I am 90% sure of, but it remains in flux. What I think is certain at the start may have to be changed by something I add at the end. Or things will need to be added here and there.

It will remain like this until I get to the final stages of editing.

This is an important part of the process for me. The longer I can keep a story fluid, the better.

However, there are exceptions to this.

I find that writing a story is a delicate balance between restrictions and freedom.

The world I am writing in has some fixed rules. For example, despite magic not featuring much in the first book, I already know how it works in the world. I also know how money works, the names of days and seasons. I have a pretty good idea about things like this.

As I work back and forth through the story I will focus more on the smaller things and those things can (and will change) but the bigger things will not.

Of course, once the first book is published, I won’t go back and change anything. At that point even the small things will be fixed. The second book in the series won’t be able to change any of those small things, but it will have its own small things which I will change repeatedly.

Reflections on a month of blogging

It has almost been a month since I took up blogging every weekday.

I will be the first to admit that not every post has been great, but some of them have been pretty good. And, more importantly, I have enjoyed the process.

So as of today the blog page public. Anyone who stumbles upon my website will now see it. I will continue to write here every weekday.

What I won’t be doing is posting to social media as I was considering. During March I deleted both my Facebook and Twitter accounts and have no intention of creating new ones. The only exception is micro.blog which I still like for all the ways that it is different to Facebook and Twitter.

Which begs the question: how are people ever going to find this place?

Hopefully many will come from the links in my books. Others will find there way here thanks to good SEO. The only links I am planning to put out are in the comments sections of other websites, if something I’ve written happens to be relevant to something that someone else has written.

Maybe it’s naive to think that I can reach anyone without using social media. Only time will tell.

Tracking

I have been keeping track of the amount of time I spend writing for more than a year now. Before that I was tracking the number of words I wrote each day. I switched because it’s relatively easy to type 2,000 words of crap (I’m a fast typist) and I was more interested in producing quality than quantity. Switching to time also means I can more easily track pre-production and editing.

I also track:

  • The number of books read: I keep a list in my logbook of which books I have finished and the date I finished them.
  • The amount of time I spend on various copywriting projects. Some of them are charged by the hour, but even when they aren’t I like to know how long I’m spending on them.
  • The amount of time I meditate is tracked in the app Oak. I don’t really use this for anything but it’s nice to have I suppose.

Over the years I have tried tracking other things as well. At one point I attempted to do full tracking. That lasted for a few weeks but I’m not sure what, if anything, I gained out of doing it. I have considered trying again, but that would mean I was tethered to my phone and I’m not happy with that.

The thing with tracking is that it can be very useful. Not necessarily for the data that you get out of it (it doesn’t mean anything to me whether I spent 20 hours writing last month or 25) but the very act of tracking itself. It elevates the importance of what you are doing and makes it easier to focus on. If I know that at the end of the day I am going to see how much time I spent writing then it gives me a little extra motivation to work harder at it.

Tracking, I think, is a valuable way to force focus. It gives us accountability to ourselves. And in this sense, perhaps it is better not to track everything. Once everything is being measured then everything is of equal importance. I want to save the power of tracking for the things that are most important to me.

Although I have only given a few examples of things I track above, I also use a form of tracking to build good habits. In my notebook I have a page for the month with the days going down the left side and a number of habits going across the top. When I complete the habit for the day I put a cross in the box. This works well for simple done/not done things.