Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

You cannot deny it. The Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays usually give you a good feeling about life in general. If you’re up North you have the snow. For those of us down south, we must rely on Thomas Kinkade to set the mood.

I am in a much better mindset to write during the holidays. Unfortunately, living in the Houston area rarely provides me with those heart-warming, visually appealing Christmas scenes . . . sleighs and snow-covered trees in the forest, so I improvise by burning a Vermont White Spruce candle while listening to a 24-hour Christmas music radio station on my computer.

Let’s face it, we need all the inspiration and help we can get.

There is a wealth of information available on the Internet on how environment nurtures creativity. I once read about one writer who wallpapered their entire room with an outdoor scene. Some writers need to get out of the house and write in coffee shops, their local Starbucks, or lug their laptop and writing materials to the library, one of my favorite places to get away. Surrounded by all those shelves of books, how can you not be inspired?

Many writers need a dedicated space or room, and that is generally where I do most of my writing, except when I decide I need to get out of the house. Yet the room itself is not enough for me. I have surrounded myself with my favorite painting genre, outdoor scenes. Nearly every wall has at least one painting of a scene. They’re not Thomas Kinkade, but they accomplish their need.

The desk, the lighting, and the look of the lamps, all contribute to put me into the writing mood. Several months ago, I substituted a flat desk 60×36 inch desk with an L-shaped desk, complete with a tall hutch and ample storage space. On the main section of the desk sits my desktop computer where I handle all the “non-writing” stuff. My laptop sits on the L attachment and faces the window in my office. I’d love to be able to look out on a stand of trees or rolling hills, but for the time being I’ll need to be satisfied with looking out at pedestrian and vehicle traffic on a residential street. Still, it is a welcome distraction.

My family laughs at me because I frequently change the look and organization of the office, but I believe it’s finally exactly where I want it to be. Comfort and convenience is a requirement, so I have a tall and soft executive chair for my workstation, with a recliner and a floor lamp next to the desk where I can relax with my laptop and hopefully create riveting stories, occasionally glancing up to admire the paintings on the walls.

The type of lamp can make a difference. A small desk “uplight” lamp for my desktop computer work, a banker’s lamp for my laptop work and a tall desk lamp I purchased from Kirkland’s several years ago have stood the test of time.

Like many writers, my space needs to be clutter-free, with as few objects on the desktop as possible. I recently moved my file cabinet and a large credenza out in favor of a smaller table for my printer. Naturally, I needed to keep my bookcase, if only for the imagery of books.

On the wall opposite the desk sits a 40 x 72” whiteboard, perhaps the most valuable object in my writer’s “toolbox.” The results I’ve gained from brainstorming on this whiteboard have been remarkable.

Many writers play music while working on their writing projects. I prefer easy listening, and my favorite collection of music are the Nature Quest CD’s all of which sit on my Itunes app, always at the ready for whatever I’m in the mood for, whether it be a thunderstorm, birds singing in a forest, or the crash of waves at the beach accompanied by a guitar or harp. On occasion, I enjoy listening to Enya and Gordon Lightfoot.

Take a look at the attached photos, and let’s share sources of inspiration. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll get ideas from one another.


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One of the more popular blog topics targeting writer discusses why writers procrastinate.

One recent blog asked whether perfectionism caused writers to procrastinate. At last count there were 171 comments on the blog. Many agreed perfectionism to be an issue and offered advice, the most popular to write the draft and let the revision stage improve the manuscript. Easy to say, hard to apply, isn’t it?

For me and I expect a lot of writers, perfectionism never factors into the equation because some of us can’t even get started. Now that is true procrastination.

The reason (to me) is simple. Sitting down to work on a writing project, whether it is an outline, a first draft, or revising an existing project, means you have decided to commit a block of time to essentially create something from nothing. Many writers fail because they realize that block of time can be used to accomplish other tasks. Housework, yard work, running errands, exercising, watching TV, playing video games, playing golf, or, too often, grabbing a nap, all of which I’ve used extensively in place of writing.

The remainder of this blog is not about why, or what you can do other than follow Nike’s advice, ‘Just Do It!’ You have probably read that ad nauseam.

It’s a confession of sorts and a success story of my own battle with the procrastination demon.

I use Excel extensively to maintain a daily to-do list of tasks ranging from taking medication to preparing for the following day, with a lot of the tasks listed above in between.

When it comes to writing, I track the time spent on each writing project and writing-related tasks. This serves not only as an incentive and a boost to my psyche when I accomplish what I planned, it also gives me an idea of how long it takes to write a short story, a blog, or a novel, which helps me plan my time for future projects.

Weird? Okay, I’ve been called worse, but it takes just a few seconds to record start and end times and nobody needs to see the log but me.

This is relevant because I have documented proof I should wear the crown (probably should be a dunce cap) as King of the Procrastinators.

Every day I review my task list. Writing is and I suspect will always be the hardest, not only because it’s creative, but regardless of how much time I allocate, I won’t know until I finish whether I’ve been productive or have created another deposit for the virtual trash can.

So, what do I do? The tasks that are the easiest and the ones which I can accurately predict the time required always take priority.

Writing always falls to the end.

What happens throughout my day is the “same old story.”

And so starts my “confession.”

Once I finish non-writing-related tasks, I write journals, filter through Emails and put in appropriate folders for later handling. Emails dating back several months are still sitting in the “Writing” folder.

Now it’s time to see how many friends I can request on Facebook and how many connections I can make on LinkedIn. By the time I “retweet” selected posts, I can breathe a sigh of relief and it’s time for lunch and a much needed (but not deserved) break.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I go to the gym. Yes, staying healthy is important, but given my age, I need time to stretch so I don’t pull every muscle in my body. Following the stretching and the workout at the gym, it’s usually late afternoon and I’m tired from the workout. Unfortunately (or conveniently) my mind is in no condition to write, so I will work on anything I can find other than writing projects, even if that means taking a nap or lolling on the porch.

The dinner hour has suddenly arrived and so there I am, the table is cleared and and I’ve now been up for twelve hours or more.

I could go to my office or take my laptop to another room and dedicate an hour to a writing project, but wait! Those emails are screaming for my attention. I should handle them, because once I get those out of the way, I’ll be free of all those distractions and I can spend the day doing nothing but writing!

Sadly, it rarely happens. Old habits die hard and yes, I ask myself almost every day what am I waiting for? What event will allow me to rearrange my priorities and do what I should and want to do, leaving everything else for later? Let’s face it, if you’re like me, most of what we do can wait until the end of the day, some can be delayed for several days or more.

I knew I needed to be the catalyst for such an event, because I felt my best when I wrote, even if the result was incoherent first draft material. I was making progress and I felt good about it. So why do I avoid doing the one thing that gives me so much satisfaction?

I committed to and finally made the change on October 1st, 2015. Why not? A new month – why not a new approach?

At the time I was working on a short story and a novel, which I was revising for the (I lost count) time. I needed to make those the top priorities on my to-do list.

I did, and at the time of this blog, more than two weeks later, not only has it become more of a habit, each day it gets easier, and even though other tasks now get pushed to the bottom of my to do list, to my surprise and delight, the sky has not fallen.

Making this change wasn’t easy. I wasn’t yet fully awake and not in an optimal mental state to write. Even once I rearranged my priorities, I still wrestled with the perfectionist demon, and needed to constantly remind myself that the revision stage would make the writing better.

In the first few days, although I didn’t spend a lot of hours, I accomplished more than I ever imagined, and as time passed, I allocated more hours of the day to working my projects.

To put these accomplishments in perspective, I referred to my writing log.

From October 1st to October 18, 2015, I logged a total of 38 hours toward my two projects. In the process, I completed the first draft of my short story/novella (almost 21,000 words), and revised 17 chapters of my mystery novel (total word count of almost 54,000).

Over the previous 4 months, I logged a total of 85 hours on both of these projects.

If I continue at this pace from the last 18 days, over the next 4 months I will log a total of 272 hours, more than 3 times my previous four months.

The moral?

If the self-proclaimed King of the Procrastinators can win a battle with the procrastination demon, so can you!

Give it a shot. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

I welcome all comments.

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A Day in the Life of . . .

Begin at the Beginning

 Perhaps the most popular piece of advice for writers is to begin the story in medias res (in the midst of things). Start with a significant event, something exciting to draw the reader into the story so they can’t wait to read what happens next.

Mystery writer’s typically open their story with a victim, usually a dead body, perhaps floating on the river or buried in a shallow grave in the woods. Romance writers might open their story with the discovery of a sordid affair. Science fiction writers might describe in great detail the explosion of an unexplored distant planet.

Readers want more than anything to know what happens to the main characters. They want to identify with the main character(s), love the protagonist, despise the antagonist, feel their pain and sorrow, and share in their joy. Memorable characters make or break a story and often an author’s success hangs in the balance.

Character’s lives are formed and affected by events, both historical (before the story starts) and ongoing (what happens during the story). An author might have the most interesting characters in the world, but if nothing happens, there is no story. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George and Jerry pitch an idea to NBC for a show about nothing.

Coming up with a story idea and an effective opening which entices the reader to sit up and take notice isn’t usually difficult. A murder, an explosion, a car accident – throw in a character or two and you have a solid opening to a story.

It’s what follows the opening that sometimes bogs us down. Even more, it’s what comes before the opening, the events leading up to where your main character(s) find themselves that sometimes offers a greater challenge and often leads to the writer’s most feared adversary – writer’s block.

Most writers experience writer’s block at some point in their quest to write the Great American Novel and it comes in all shapes and sizes. You might draw a complete blank and cannot get started; staring at a blank page for what seems like hours until you finally surrender and turn on the TV. You might have a solid story line but struggle to organize your scenes and chapters. Or you know what the story is about, have a number of interesting characters standing by waiting to be cast into your imaginary world, but can’t decide what they do, and when, how, and where they do it.

Try doing a biographical sketch of your characters. They all had a life before the story began and thousands of events to draw upon. You don’t need much detail but deciding on the most significant events for your main character will allow you to brainstorm how your character dealt with, say, an abortion or a death in the family. Perhaps he or she was robbed at gunpoint or saved the life of a friend. Maybe they were bullied in elementary school and later on in the story meet one of their tormentors. Memorable events like these shape your characters and influence how they deal with life’s challenges.

I suspect most writers agree conflict is necessary to present an entertaining and hopefully unforgettable story. By brainstorming the life’s events of your main characters (by main characters I mean those contributing to the story), you can determine when and how these characters in conflict first meet and how their lives become intertwined.

I find the biographical sketch method useful in a number of ways.

  1. Provides the background story necessary to keep the timeline accurate.
  2. Brings your story to the point of your in media res.
  3. Encourages a natural reaction to ask What if?
  4. Helps to determine character motive.

What will emerge from this process is a timeline for the major characters.

For example, let’s assume your story begins with the protagonist getting death threats from person or persons unknown. Your biographical sketch reveals a few years ago he or she intervened in a hostage situation. The perpetrator was shot by police, arrested and served time, but died violently in prison. A biographical sketch of the scene determines who was there, what happened, and how the other characters will contribute to the story. You might decide a relative of the perpetrator was an accomplice during the hostage situation, was not caught, and seeks revenge on the protagonist.

From the time a person is born (the birth itself might be a memorable event) they meet people, go to school, fall in (and perhaps out) of love, experience death, travel to faraway places, and work a variety of jobs, all of which will not only provide ideas for an entertaining story but reduce the odds of the invasion of writer’s block.

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