Monday, January 25, 2010

Writing 101: Finding Time to Write

Welcome to Writing 101.

Many people aspire to writing, getting published, finishing a book, and so forth. But for most of those I have spoken with and observed (blogs, twitter, etc.), the single greatest obstacle to realizing their writing dream is finding time to write--not talent, not imagination, not desire, but time. Think about that. Are you in this category?

At this point in my writing life, finding time seems simple--but I remember years ago when it was real struggle. In the early years, weeks, sometimes months would pass with little forward progress and it took years to develop good habits. If you are having this problem, here are some tips for finding, or rather making time to write.

Your mileage will vary, but I am confident ANYONE can make 5 hours a week to write. That adds up to 250+ hours per year. MOST PEOPLE can make 10+ hours each week (520 hours/year) and a MOTIVATED PERSON with a professional attitude toward writing can make 15+ hours per week.

But how?

Here are the top two. These are changes you can make, probably without impacting anyone else in your life. I have another list that starts to affect other people, but that will be another post. Hope you find this useful:

#1 -- TURN OFF THE TV -- do I have to explain this one? Most people watch 2+ hours of TV every day. This is not quality time. This is wasted time. Even the news, even educational programs--all television viewing is waste. On your deathbed, you will not look back and think, “Wow, I wish I had spent more time in front of the flat screen.”

For a typical 2-hour per day viewer,14 hours per week have been freed up for writing. That’s 728 hours per year. For an average writer, this is a book. For a fast writer, it’s two or three. You might want to use about 4 of those hours to exercise, do some cardio, maybe get in shape (another dream many people have, but don’t think they have time for).

#2 -- TURN OFF THOSE VIDEO GAMES. Sure, not everyone does this, but those who do know what a time-suck this can be. Hardcore gamers spend 20-40 hours per week playing video games. Casual gamers play 5-10 hours per week. And yes kids, this is an utter waste of time.

I’m a gamer. Used to be a hardcore gamer. Here is what I do now that I am a writer: I don’t game when working on a book. However, I do take time between books to play through 1 or 2 best-of-the year kind of games. It scratches the itch, and frees up a ton of time for writing.

For me, this was the hardest habit to change. Took over 5 years to decide the writing was more important and to unplug the console. What I am writing these days is far more interesting than even the best games, so nowadays put them aside without really thinking about it.

So there you go: 14-20 hours per week are now available for you to start that writing project. What are you waiting for? A swift kick in the ass?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Status -- January 16, 2010

Exciting news: Sold “The Identifier” to Psudopod -- the #1 horror podcast going right now. This short story is a personal favorite and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

No major news on ZPF. I have gotten excellent feedback from beta readers, giving me several ideas to improve the book. No news from agents or editors, but that is a slow process. For now, ZPF is on the backburner (unless I get a call) and I am working a new project.

The new project has gone in an interesting direction. Around Christmas, I had thought I would the start the year writing a novel-length expansion of Doofus -- Young Billy solving the mystery of M.L.B. and finding his shoes. This would be a middle grade story (for 3rd-5th graders) running about 40K words. Then, as happened with ZPF, a completely random idea bloomed into an interesting idea that exploded into a mind-shattering, keep-me-awake-at-night brainstorm--the Cat 5 hurricane kind of brainstorm.

As a result, I have shelved Doofus, shelved another runner-up (about a gang of thieves posing as homeowners in suburbia), and gone to a steampunk story set in Victorian London.

Try this out:

FORBIDDEN: After investing a toy with the forbidden gift of life, Malthus, a tinker’s son, is drawn into a treacherous and secret world of machines, magic and spies in Victorian London.

This alternate past has a 3rd tier of society, the Enlightened Society, made of individuals gifted with Craft and/or Ken.

Craft is witchcraft/sorcery and is primarily found in women. Ken is an intuitive, seemingly mystical, understanding of machines which is primarily found in men. Craft is highly suspect (work of the devil and all) and in parts of the world it is forbidden. Ken is more accepted socially and is the engine driving a fast-forward leap in industry and steam/clockwork technology.

In the last couple weeks I have gone through character and world-building exercises, developed an outline, and researched the period and other steampunk works. The plan is to start the first draft on January 17th and see how far I can get by April (I expect to finish a rough draft). After that, I will shift back to ZPF and edit based on feedback received from Beta readers--though a phone call on ZPF could radically alter my priorities.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Fine Art of Not Overreaching

Writing is hard enough without setting yourself up for failure. One of the smartest things a writer can do is to pick goals and projects that are achievable. One the dumbest things a writer can do is to overreach.

This is a huge problem for me.

When I start brainstorming, it is typically a big storm. One idea leads to another, to another, to another and so on. Then, just when things are saturated, a new idea emerges that is completely unrelated to the rest. I want to write all of these things. Sadly, this is not a realistic goal.

In the past I have tried to work too many projects at once--and failed. I have tried to work projects of epic and grandiose scale--and failed.

Thus from this cornucopia of concepts, I may only choose one. At least I am to be successful. This results in dropping 90% of my brainstorming, and taking 10%, developing it and making it shine. This strategy works well for me, I complete most of what I start. Many other authors have reported similar results. So let me offer you this advice:

Do not overreach.

Be realistic about your productivity, how long a project will take, other things going on in your life, and what you are truly passionate about. With these things in mind, take all those great ideas and whittle them down to one idea, an idea you can bring to life in a reasonable amount of time (1 month for a short story, 1 year for a book).

If you do that, you will finish the project, achieve your goal and go on to a life of bliss, happiness and achievement.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 Accomplishments

Here is a look back at 2009. It was a good year for writing.

2009 Accomplishments:
- Finished a novel: Zombie Proof Fence
- Sent out first round of queries.
- Received requests for fulls.
- Waiting to hear back.
- Finished 9 short stories
- Sold 4 short stories
- Saw 2 short stories published (other 2 pending)
- Maintained a blog (over 20K words)
- Captured over 50 story ideas for future use (over 22K in undeveloped notes).

The Numbers:
- 956 hours writing
- 447,828 words written
- Monthly average = 37.3K words, 80 hours.
- Beat goal of 57 hours/month

So there you have it. How was your 2009?

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Goals Part 2

Here are my writing goals for next year, the “what I can do” sections have ideas that other writers may find useful. Achievability is crucial, so I have a plan to meet each goal. I have also looked at contingencies and challenge goals (because I am an overachiever).

Write another book, maybe 2

My goal as a part-time novelist is to write a book each year. The story at the forefront of my mind is a Middle Grade book, which will be very short (1/4 - 1/2 an adult book). Depending on what happens with ZOMBIE PROOF FENCE, I may have ~6 months available after writing the MG book. My challenge goal will therefore be to write a second book. Here is what I can do:
  • Write every day. This is the most important step. At 500 words per day, a first draft emerges fairly quickly. At this rate, it will take 240 days to write first drafts of both books. This leaves some wiggle room for life, revisions, short stories and the like.
  • Plan. Develop characters, story arc, know the ending, explore enough to KNOW the story closes in a satisfying way--all before starting the draft. This insures success.
  • Measure progress. This helps keep me focused, and also shows me when I’m getting off track.
  • Write first drafts. With so many things going on, expecting polished drafts is too much. If time permits, I will revise the new book(s), but realistically that may fall into 2011 as ZPF is the #1 priority this year.
  • Share. Sharing outlines and early chapters with my local writers group does two things. First, it provides external deadlines. Second, it helps expose weaknesses in characters, world-building and voice. This feedback allows me to make course corrections early on, and results in a far more mature first draft.
  • Re-evaluate after key life events. If ZPF sells, I will have a deadline for revision and need to focus on marketing. After the first book is done, my goals may shift. The unexpected could happen with family or work. After major life events, I will reevaluate to keep my goals achievable, yet challenging.
Write 6 New Short Stories

Short stories are fast--fast to write, to revise, and to sell. They improve writing skills quickly, they build self-confidence, they allow experimentation, and they help build an audience. I plan to keep this part of my writing going in 2010. Here’s how:
  • Write every day. Déjà-vu because I wrote yesterday too.
  • Capture ideas. You never know where a story will come from, so write down ideas, character sketches, dialogue, whatever--and keep those notes organized and indexed.
  • Pace = 1 story per 2 months.
  • Plan = 1 month to draft, 1 month to revise.
  • Share. Shorts are good for writers group. Once polished, submit. The more work in the mail, the greater the odds of getting work published.
  • Enjoy. A quick or experimental short story is a lot of fun and less stressful than the novel work. Short stories are good for taking a break, a change of pace, or a stress reliever.
Blog Weekly

Started blogging last year, but it was intermittent. Plan for this year is to blog at least once per week. The challenge goal is to blog twice per week. Here is what I can do:
  • Write every day. Hmm. I’m seeing a trend.
  • Post every Sunday. This is the most reliable day for getting things done (given my schedule).
  • Write book reviews. Interesting content for readers, and good ‘fill’ for lean weeks.
  • Write serial articles on writing. I know a lot about writing. Yay. Some of my trick and tips can help other writers so why not share? A structured series will be interesting to read on the blog, and I can write sections or themes more efficiently than random posts which improved the on-time delivery of content.
So there you have it. What are your goals, and what is your plan to achieve them?