Category Archives: Useful Resources

Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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Lots of 99c and free books AND a giveaway! #funnybooks #99cbooks #freebooks #giveaway

Apologies to those of you who read my newsletter as well because this week’s blog post is, basically, what I just sent you. I know I’m a lazy, bad lady but I wanted to share the funny bits a second time.

Anyway, here we are, talk about time flying, I just blinked and it’s bye-bye January. Here’s hoping Nostradamus is wrong and armageddon, a 26 year long World War III (shudders, that’ll see me out) and all the rest, fail to materialise.

Luckily, I had other important matters to distract me this week as McMini required a bit of help from me to conduct his exhaustive research into the latest burning philosophical question that’s been bugging him:

Does Darth Vader poo?

Yep. And you know what? Amazingly, the answer is out there.

Straight up. It’s true. It’s amazing what you can see on YouTube these days.

Yes. We found it.

He doesn’t, by the way. Apparently he has bags and tubes around his armoured suit that collect er hem … stuff. He doesn’t have to eat, food goes in intravenously, but he does like a drink from time to time so he has straws inside his helmet so he can take the occasional drink. A bit like James Hunt then – or was it Nikki Lauda, or even Graham Hill? – one of them used to get thirsty during Grands Prix so had an orange juice delivery system rigged up so he could have a drink from a straw in his crash helmet. Needless to say, the first time he used it, most of the orange juice squirted in his face.

Anyway, burning question answered, McMini’s next quest is to find out weather Darth Vader has a willy, ‘because it might have been burned off when he fell in the lava after fighting with Obiwan Kenobe.’ He wants to know if prosthetics are involved and if the results are metal, plastic, etc, and whether the wires are properly insulated if it’s electronic, ‘because otherwise he will have an electric shock every time he has a wee.’

And I thought I was weird.

Odds are, by the way, that Lord Vader doesn’t have a willy. As one of the lovely folks who read my newsletter pointed out, wobbly dangly bits would be the first things incinerated in a lava pit-related plunging accident and it’s obvious he doesn’t. It’s why he’s in such a bad mood all the time. That and having sacks of pooh under his suit, next to his skin I expect.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. To be truthful, I am very happy to lose myself in the bizarre world of my son, if it distracts me from the relentless horrors of the real one. It struck me that you may be looking for a distraction, yourself. If you don’t have anyone of your life of suitably distracting eccentricity, fear not. I have three ways for you to lose yourself in books this month. Because I’m feeling all technologically whizzy, I’m going to put the pictures in too. Oh yes I am.

THING 1: Patty Jansen’s Monthly Promo.

This month over 100 sff books for 99c or 99p etc. It runs from today through to Sunday 5th February, but some books may be reduced after that. To check it out, click this link: http://pattyjansen.com/promo/

THING 2: CCEkeke’s Monthly Instafreebie promo.
For a week in February, 22 books, all free in return for mailing list sign up.

This runs from 5th – 11th February but you may find the offers are on before or after those dates.You can find that here: http://ccekeke.com/february-promo.

THING 3: There is NO Thing Three.*

THING 4: Funny Five.
Another smashing giveaway in which you can win funny books.

This one runs from 1st – 12th Feb. You can win copies of:

  • Good Omens (Pratchett and Gaiman)
  • The Ultimate Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams)
  • The Princess Bride (Goldman)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
  • Novels and Short Stories of Kurt Vonnegut 1963-73.

If you enter, you will also receive a series of curated emails featuring free or bobby bargain humorous books (99c). You can find that one here: http://readfunnybooks.com/giveaways/funny-five-book-giveaway/

So there you are! That should keep everyone going for a week or two!

Enjoy.

* Sorry, I have to stop doing that joke.

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Few Are Chosen Officially Declared Awesome.

A quick post today: Awesome Indies have already been kind enough to list Few Are Chosen but here is the site’s review. I am pretty damn chuffed about this one, I must admit. So, if anyone’s interested, here it isReview: Few are Chosen by M T McGuire – fantasy.

Thanks to Tahlia Newland for taking the time to review Few Are Chosen!

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Top tips for writers…

From writers… Thank you Neil Gaman for pointing me at this from your twitter account – yes I am one of your many billion followers. Yeh, I know, I must learn how to re-tweet but as yet I haven’t so…

What I like about this articles is that unlike most of the how to books, sites or articles you read about writing, ask successful writers, themselves, and they suggest you write what comes out, rather than what you think will sell.

Mmm… I like that approach.  Anyway, enjoy the article which is here and part two can be found… here!

Enjoy!

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Audio publishing…

Hmm… so what I really need to find is a Smashwords for audiobooks…

I was thinking I could read it, myself, Scott Sigler style.

He is the guy who gave his books away as podcasts and ended up getting picked up by Orion after he had 50,000 downloads.  Something like 60% of the people who downloaded his book for free went on to buy a paper copy.  He did put in a long day around the internet taking part in forums, writers’ groups and the like ‘soft’ selling his books.

For the moment, I think I will stick to the e-shorts for this.  I’m starting on another one so I would be reading the first… so long as the police cars who drag race up my street, my son and my husband could keep quiet for long enough to allow me to do so… yeh… it’s going to take a long time.

I do have a good programme for doing the recordings… It’s made by a company called CFB Software and you can find them here.

LP Recorder – really a specialist thing for recording records onto your computer so you can make them into MP3s.  HOwever, it works very well when you change the input channel to mic as opposed to line in.  If  you combine it with LP Ripper which helps you split the recordings up into tracks, you get something pretty powerful.  It’s a reasonable price, too.  They quote $70 for the two programmes together or $40 for LP Recorder on its own.

So, same deal as my current e-publishing venture, give away my short stories for free and try to build up a following.

About 250 people have downloaded my first short story from Freado, Scribd and Smashwords although it’s probably all my mates and acquaintances… not sure…  Clearly the next step is to read this and put the recording on a new podcast page, here, with a link from the entries on scribd, freado and smashwords.

I’m crap at short stories so it isn’t easy and it isn’t necessarily going to help sell my book, which is rather better, I hope.  Even so… it will be interesting to see what happens.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

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Writing Competition…

I’ve found a useful and informative blog run by the Writers and Artists yearbook.  They are running a short story competition.  2,000 words or fewer on unity or union.  The Price is £500, an Arvon course and on-line publication on the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook site.   It closes on Valentine’s day.

Check out this post for more details.

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Quality feedback about your writing, for free

Where to find it?  Well… possibly here.

YouWriteOn.com is partly ArtsCouncil funded… not the part which encourages you to pay them to publish your book.  I’ve read about that coming in for a bit of flack in places. The fact they hard sell it on just about every page is enough to make me leery.  Putting that aside this is the first review site I’ve read that is fair.  Here’s why:

  1. You upload the first 7,000 words of your novel or 2,500 words (I think it is) of your short story.
  2. You request a work to read and review it.
  3. Reviews are assigned to members of the site completely at random.
  4. You are given a credit for each review you write and each credit earns you a review of your work from another member of the site.
  5. You are given questions about the work you have read which you have to answer, thus ensuring that you read it.
  6. You are asked to mark the work out of five for aspects such as characterisation, plot, writing etc, which helps you to focus what you say to the author.
  7. The marks translate into scores, strictly ballroom style, which will contribute to the ranking of each piece of writing on the site…
  8. You are invited to write a comment of over 100 words and reminded to be constructive.
  9. When you have reviewed 4 pieces of other people’s work you can see what people have said about yours.
  10. When you have received 8 reviews of your work you can enter the “rankings” the points from your previous reviews are counted into this.

I’ve had two pieces of excellent feedback from readers for the first 7,000 words of my novel which have given me a lot to think about.

Where this system differs from other read and review sites is that although it has a ranking system, this is not dependent on return reads.  Because you are assigned work to read at random there is no incentive for you to butter up the writer in the hope of getting a good crit in return.  When you request some work to review, you will naturally aim for a quick turnaround because the faster you do it, the faster your work is sent out for review.

So… If you want feedback it’s definitely useful, I’ve no idea what it’s like from the point of view of reaching the top 10 and being “seen” although I’ve heard rumours that this does occur.

Looks good so far, then.  I will let you know how I get on when I’ve been using the site longer.

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