How to Balance Writing Time

Every writer will have their own writing routine arising from personal writing goals and what they believe they are capable of in any given time frame. I think we all have our peaks and troughs – sometimes we race on ahead and surprise ourselves with our enthusiasm for the novel we are working on, whilst other times we struggle on desperate just to achieve the minimum we have set ourselves. 

I’ve been in both of these situations before – and everywhere in between. The overwhelming nature of starting out on a novel, the excitement that pushes you on and seeps into every aspect of your life, so much so that unless you’re working directly on your manuscript every other moment feels like a waste. Right through to the procrastination techniques and lengths we will go to in order to avoid just sitting down to do one more edit…Including ‘side missions’ such as ‘research’, and reading ‘comparable titles’, and doing character profiles, or looking on RightMove for your protagonists ‘dream home’ (tell me that last one’s not just me?!).

How to balance your time to write

 

But having experienced all this, it has still taken me a long time to accept that writing itself is not the only worthwhile pursuit of a writer

Instead, I now try to break my writing day up into ‘sessions’. This means that I can pick and choose what I am concentrating on in any given session. Sometimes I spend more time editing and reading than writing itself. Other times I spend the whole session writing out a whole new chapter.

However, what I have found to be vital to my sense of inspiration and motivation is reading other novels and writers’ blogs. I don’t see this as time wasted, because it helps me focus on the craft of writing – learning from others and also building a sense of community at the same time: meaning that I don’t feel so alone as a writer. 

I also break down my writing tasks into realistic, definite chunks. I set myself targets and used the concept of ‘Most Important Actions’ to keep myself on track – each day I have roughly 3 MIA’s to accomplish, and only one of these might be novel-writing. Setting such targets and reviewing them regularly ensures I feel on top of things and allows me the permission to work on different aspects of my writing craft. So, if I begin to feel guilty for reading while I think I should be writing I can reassure myself by saying, ‘But I’m going to do some writing this afternoon‘. Reading is research: I’m learning what works for other writers as I read: Just because it’s enjoyable doesn’t mean it’s not work.

That’s how I keep my routine varied and interesting. It doesn’t leave any scope to get distracted, or become too involved in one aspect of my writing and neglect other – just as important – elements, such as reading or editing. Instead, I spend some time on all of them, meaning I don’t get bored. Not only this, but when I’m really enjoying one area – like researching – it stops me from getting to far into it and can keep me focused: if I know I’ve only got an hour to find something out, then even if I might find something interesting I mark it to read on my next researching session, rather than go off on a tangent.

You can use your most enjoyable task as a reward for attempting something you like less. For me, in the beginning, this was definitely editing. I’d promise myself an hour of writing time if I got through my editing in the morning. Now, I actually enjoy editing because I’ve discovered the best way to approach it: mornings are definitely my most productive editing time. 

crop woman taking notes in diary while sitting in park

Finally, by breaking my writing time down into sessions it keeps my mind fresh, ensuring that I never feel overwhelmed by one part of the process. I might be in the midst of writing a first draft of a short story and then realise that I need to take a break, knowing that I’ll have to switch to something else after my rest. But this just means that I’m more driven to complete other things, buoyed on by my excitement that the writing brought me. It also means that I don’t neglect everything else just because I have a spark of inspiration from the muse. This won’t work for all writers, because some will benefit more by following the muse down the rabbit hole (and on occasion, even I do this). But, for me, I feel more positive if I can see slow, steady progress across the board – rather than racing ahead in one aspect. 

Of course, I should admit that there is one time of year that I suspend most of the routine I have written about so far: November. Every year during NaNoWriMo I set myself a goal to write the first draft of a new novel. In November pretty much all I do is write – but then, I’ve given myself permission to do so and know this for many months in advance: which fits right in with my ethos for writing. Because even though right now I would love to start my next idea (that conveniently popped up right on cue in late-August) I know that I’m going to be dedicating the whole of November to it. 


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What does it take to finish writing your novel?

the end

I remember finishing the first draft of my first ever novel. I’d done it; and that was it. I sat there stunned for a few minutes. Believe it or not, ‘The End’ can be a very anti-climatic moment. There is no spontaneous applause, no balloons suddenly appear and no-one in the world knows what you have just achieved until you share it with them.

Completing a novel is such a personal, private affair that often occurs in silence and seriousness. There is the weight of all that you have done on your shoulders and the fear that it will not live up to what you believe it could be. Yet, there is also pride and satisfaction in knowing that you have done what you set out to do, that you stuck with it through the difficult times and now you have something whole to show for it. Not to mention that now, thanks to the advent of modern technology, you can shout your success from the rooftops and share in your glory with others who know just how it feels to write those final words.

I’ve completed several manuscripts since that first one. And with each one I’ve learned something new about my writing and my approach to novel constructions. It can take me a long time to be able to read the story back and determine the best route for my characters. So many changes are made on the way, not just in my narrative. I’ve changed too.

Since starting my first novel in 2011 I have written seven others. These include a fun draft for a young adult novel and a first draft intended to be a sequel to that first one; That which is left is lost. In part, writing these made me really question the quality of my first novel and led to me to rewriting the whole thing. I spent 2013 trying unsuccessfully to edit that story, it wasn’t until I sat down to tackle the rewrite that I really discovered all the issues that it had. Half-formed characters, unknown motivations and lapsed story threads plagued my original draft and even the sections I had attempted to edit were lacking the pace and narrative structure to adequately tell the story I wanted to share.

finish novelIn the rewriting of that novel I had more control. I knew what was supposed to happen when, who was integral to the plot and why they were involved to begin with. So many more things were clear to me during the rewrite and I think that is because over the past few years I’ve developed my skill as a writer. I still probably have so much left to learn. But I know this much: writing those two novels in between this draft and my original copy of That which is left is lost, really helped me to understand story structure and to develop character. Now I truly understand why it is so rare for a debut novelist to be published with their inaugural novel – because good writing, storytelling and description take time to develop.

A novel needs nurturing and caring for; the idea needs time to sit and ferment. I think writers can get drunk on the possibility of new ideas and then, when they emerge out of the other side they realise, in a hungover state, that perhaps it wasn’t such a genius plan after all – that they’ve written themselves into a corner or lost the spark that they believed was the glint of literary gold. Ideas need work, and so often that takes longer than we want it to.

The process of writing a novel is not something that can simply be taught. People can advise and suggest ways for you to get started or to keep your motivation going or even how to celebrate when you finish. But they can’t write the book for you, nor can they tell you what is best for the story you are trying to tell. All of that has to come from you.

Even as a Writing Coach I can only make suggestions and help writers navigate the choices they need to make; not give them the answers. What I can do, however, is champion your writing efforts, support you as a writer, and guide you on the way to your particular novelling success. I help writers write their novel, in their own way so that, in ‘the end’ they don’t have to waste months, or even years, trying to figure out what that looks like. I took that route, and now it’s ten years later…!

Wherever you are on your writing journey, know that what it takes to finish writing a novel is, when it comes down to it, pure perseverance. Keep going, keep writing, keep editing, and one day you’ll sit back and realise: “I just wrote my novel”.

totally did it

 


 

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What does success mean to you?

In our busy society I often think that there are some words we take for granted and misinterpret. One of these is most definitely ‘success’. We have a collective definition for success and we like to apply it to other people as an interpretation as to how well they are doing at life. But we forget that not all people want the same things as us, and even if they do, generally speaking they have their own route and motivating factors to get there.

As authors, perhaps the ultimate sign of success is to be on the New York Times Best Seller List. The longer you remain on it, the more successful you are. But, I’ve met scores of writers whose main aim is simply to reach readers, rather than get on the NYTB list. Equally too, there are some who write because they desire fame and fortune, and others still who just want their name to be known around the world. Being on the NYTB list can be a symbol that each of these have been achieved, but for those individuals the driving force behind their success isn’t focused on that list exclusively. The list is simply an outcome, rather than a product of their success. And they may not have been aiming for this at all in the beginning.

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What do you want?
The most important thing is that you learn how to define what success means to you. What is it that you really want from life? Do you want to be on the best seller list, or will you be happy having sold a few hundred copies to readers who aren’t your relatives?
Success isn’t a static thing, either. It can change and develop as you do. Once, all I wanted was to be able to write regularly and then, when this happened I set my sights on getting a short story published. Success isn’t just about the end goal, it’s also the smaller achievements on the way that mark out that you are on the path to success.

How will you know when you’ve got it?
One of the biggest challenges we face in this commercial, rat-race of a world is recognising when we are successful. A lot of the time we neglect to see our own success in favour of identifying it in others. We look around at our friends, family, work colleagues and beyond and think that we don’t match up – when, really, they’re all doing the same and believe you are more successful than they are!

Yes, that young, fresh author managed to get her debut novel onto the NYTB list, but she did it by writing about the tragedy that surrounds her life. She wants to share this to ensure other people don’t have to endure what she did; the one thing that we neglect to factor in when we judge how successful she might seem. This is a prime example of why we shouldn’t measure our own success on someone else’s scale. We can always look outside of ourselves and find people who we think are ‘doing better than us’ – but we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, nor do we understand if what these people have is really what they wanted.

My current writing desk, plus view!

Imagine your ideal life – and keep that at the forefront of your terms for success. I picture myself sitting at a writing desk, in my ‘Plotting Shed’ staring out of a window that looks onto a wild garden with trees, beside a bookshelf full of my novels with a dog (or two) at my feet. I’ve had both the dog and a writing desk for some time. More recently I left my job to be a writer and Writing Coach and my Plotting Shed is on its way. While other people might not consider that success on their own scale, for me it’s an important step to the bigger dream.

Does it contribute to a bigger picture?
And that’s what we need to keep focused on. Every one is an individual – we all have our unique dreams and desires and we should be careful lest envy starts to distract us from our own ‘bigger picture’. Yes, the ultimate dream may change – remember, success isn’t a fixed point – but don’t want what someone else has just because they have it. Consider what YOU want. Are you building up to this, or is life taking you in a different direction? Work smart by asking yourself if you really are working toward what it is you say you want.

Unfortunately, as many of us know, being an author isn’t a guaranteed path to riches. So, you can’t necessarily rely on writing exclusively to get there. I worked hard to get my two-up-two-down house on the edge of the Pennines, and for years I built in other opportunities that contributed to success on my own terms. For me, it meant a part-time job and some freelance work along with putting my health first when I had to – things that took me away from writing, but provided me with the financial security and energy I needed in order to get to where I am now.

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The importance of everyday success
While doing the washing and cleaning the bathroom don’t factor into my personal ideal of success – I don’t judge my success based on my housekeeping skills (thankfully) – it does need doing. These everyday chores are a small part of my overall success. Remember the last time you went over to a friend’s house for coffee and their living space was immaculately clean, their kids were polite and neatly dressed and they had just added a brand new extension on to their house? What tiny part of you didn’t think ‘I wish I could do this’ and compare your failings as a housekeeper/parent/house owner to theirs? It’s a natural reaction in some ways, but it’s driven by societal views. For your friend, her success that day was dependent on you seeing how tidy her home is, how well behaved her children are and how proud she is of being able to add to her home; even if, ultimately, she judges her own success on how well she is coping at work.

Remember to cut yourself some slack and give yourself credit for all the little things that you do outside of your ultimate ideal of success. Working on a novel, all I really want is for it to be written, but every chapter I complete, every plot point I work out and even every load of washing I get done whilst I’m trying to write that novel – these are all everyday successes that we often forget about. Give yourself permission to see your achievements the way someone else might – and you’ll realise that there are plenty of people examining your life who would conclude that you’re more successful at something than they are.

You never know, you might even discover that you’ve been discounting your own success in favour of chasing someone else’s!

~~~

So, what does success mean to you? Let me know in comments, or Tweet Me

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Why I Chose to Follow my Writing Dreams

The Importance Of Dreams

For a long time all I wanted to be was a writer. I love writing; making up fictional worlds that contain complex characters and moral dilemmas is my escape from the hustle of everyday life. Once, my dream was simply to write a novel; then it was to edit that novel; then get that novel an agent.

I’ve had smaller dreams in between; about writing short stories, being published, and getting a 5* review. Each time one of these mini-dreams have come true – not by accident, or luck, or magic – it has been because I made them happen. I made a conscious choice to aim high, and somehow it all worked out better than I expected!

 

Of course, as I conquered the smaller dreams, my imagination created new ones, bigger, bolder, braver ones. Dreams I never quite believed could happen to me. As was the case with this latest one: to leave my Museum job (even though I loved the work) and dedicate my life to writing my own fiction, and helping other writers achieve their own dream of writing ‘that’ novel!  

Time to Choose the Dream

I’ve secretly known I would love to be a writing coach for a while now. I get such a buzz seeing other writers commit to and achieve their dreams, and it’s been so rewarding when I’ve played even a small part in their success. For over a decade I’ve facilitated learning in my Museum role, and translating the skills to nurture new writers to build their confidence and develop their craft to actually write their novel is an easy parallel.  

During the Coronavirus lockdown, being forced to work from home my health was so much more improved. My M.E. and Fibromyalgia became background noise I barely noticed. I honestly never quite dare hope that I could live my life without the constant crushing fatigue and pain. Those things are gone now, and it made me realise that I was compromising my health for a job. Granted, it was a job I loved doing, but when the opportunity arose to apply for voluntary severance I had a choice: continue on in a job I enjoyed but continue in crippling pain; or forge a new path in a role I dreamed of, being able to live a relatively healthy life…

Bed, and laptop with word 'Dream'
Photo by Olenka Sergienko on Pexels.com

Put like that, it didn’t seem like such a difficult decision. 

Dealing with The Fear

Of course that didn’t automatically cancel out the fear. Will it turn out to be a mistake? Will I be able to make it as a writer and a writing coach and create a career that will sustain my way of life? What if no agent will take on my novel/s? So many questions, so many potential fears. But, being a writer has taught me many many lessons already:  

  • If you never put the words on the page, nothing will ever get written  
  • You make a mistake in the draft; you can fix it in the edit 
  • Characters who take the risks, reap the rewards 
  • Difficult challenges teach characters the lessons they need to end the story well 

These are the things I’ve kept in my mind as my fears arise. And like my Idea Generator method* of plotting out numerous stories before choosing one for the novel, I am viewing this path as one of many. There is no ONE right decision. There are many decisions, all of which have differing outcomes. As such I can’t say I’ll ever think I made the ‘wrong’ choice; because I don’t believe there is one. 

Being Confident about my Choice

Of all the options I followed in my imagination as to what could happen if I made various decisions at this point in my life, the one where I stood up to claim my dream and invest in it was the one I knew I would regret if I didn’t follow it. There are people in my life who whole-heartedly support me, and others who don’t quite understand the ‘risk’ I am taking. The main thing is though: I believe. I believe in my ability to make this dream a reality. 

So whatever happens in my drive to be the writer I want to be, and to support other writers to live their own dream, I am confident I will be able to take on the challenge. Following my dream is the brave, bold decision I am happy to make – no matter what happens next.  


 
 

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How to set Writing Goals

IMG_20190818_142021429I once had a very simple writing goal: “Write ONE sentence a day. Just ONE sentence, that’s all“. That prompt was intended less to create a word count, but instead to just get my butt in the chair. Surprisingly the biggest barrier I discovered to writing is putting my backside in a chair and actually starting to write. Once I got going, I can barely stop. It’s a secret we all know, but not one we readily accept to be true.

Don’t look for the ‘should’ goals
Once I realised I just needed to put my butt in the chair, it became easier to set more challenging goals. Yet a lot of the time, I have to admit, these goals didn’t help my writing ambition even though they sounded like the right ones: write that novel; submit to competitions; send things to agents. Instead these goals I felt I should be accomplishing meant my writing became artificial and too much like a chore. So much so it was like pushing a boulder up a hill. I was writing simply to tick the box I’d set up for myself, rather than because I loved the craft

The reason was that I lost sight of what success actually means to me. I don’t write to tick a box, or say that I’ve written. I write because I want to create interesting stories that prompt emotion or reflection in the reader. By confining my writing efforts to arbitrary tasks I inadvertently lessened the significance of why I wanted to write in the first place.

Set your own goals
Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 14.10.05So, in order to set realistic, achievable, and exciting goals (after all, if it’s not going to be exciting why do it?) they have to appeal to my own intrinsic drivers as a writer. For me, I never feel as high as when the story from my imagination has made it onto the page and has the potential to engage a reader. Therefore, when I set my writing goals now I always make sure I appeal to this desire to create that story, and the feeling I want to produce in the reader.

I have found with the right goals I’m more energised and confident about my writing. By making sure my goals are aligned with my values and drive to write, my belief that I can achieve my dream of not just getting published, but of making a career as an author is boosted. So it’s not about the ‘should’ goals, it’s about ‘my’ goals. If you’ve set a goal and then aren’t excited by it, or don’t want to even try it – then you’ve set the wrong goal; one that isn’t aligned with your desire to write and won’t encourage you to commit and succeed.

But why set goals at all?
Sure, a lot of writers get by simply by putting that backside in the chair and just writing everyday. But, that in itself is a goal – even if it’s not written down anywhere. And, if you don’t set any goals, how are you monitoring your development and improvement as a writer? How will you even know if you are moving the in the right direction – more specifically, how will you know if your actions are taking you toward your writing dream, and not further away from it?

While I might know what is the big goal in my life, I have numerous smaller goals that I have to meet on the way to make that happen. This is when it’s a good idea to recognise the difference between ‘Easy wins’ and ‘Stretch goals’.

Easy wins
An easy win is something that I do to keep my momentum going when I’m feeling sluggish or uncertain. This might be a minimum word count for the novel (an ‘easy’ 500 words in 30 mins); submitting an existing story to a new competition; or even just committing 20mins to some plotting or character development on paper. They’re things that don’t take much effort, and come as close to ‘box ticking’ as I get with my writing. The difference is the way I frame them:

  • Minimum word counts contribute to that story I desperately want to tell.
  • Submissions help get my work out in the world to connect with readers.
  • Plotting and character work are elements I love about the writing process.

What is important is how I describe the goal rather than the goal itself. I phrase it so that it will appeal to me. That’s what makes the difference between a writing ‘should’  and my own tailored goals. Then, working on these easy wins reinforces my confidence and increases my self-belief.

Stretch goals
Once I understood how to phrase my goals, that’s when I started to set ‘stretch goals’.  Now, I love stretch goals. The benefit of them is that you rarely lose – either you push yourself to achieve them and succeed; or you do your best and fall short but end up with more than you could have imagined if you’d just set an easy win.

A recent stretch goal was to write a full draft of my novel in seventy days. Having done NaNoWriMo for eight years, I know I can stick to the pace so, I set my daily word count and off I went. I had a chart on my wall, tracking my progress and an outline of my novel that I was so looking forward to writing. I’d done the prep work, I knew my characters, I worked out when things needed to happen, and so I just sat down to write it. But I would never have stuck with it if I hadn’t known why I was doing it and what excited me about it. 

A word about rewards
Generally we’ve been conditioned to associate reward with success. Success itself can be its own reward, but the effort that we put into something is just as important and should be recognised as such.  Therefore, as much as you might intrinsically know what drives you and why you are writing the story you are, a little reward now and then never hurts.

When I was writing my WIP in seventy days, I broke it down into some easy wins with a clear reward system to celebrate my commitment. It was as simple as a sticker on my wall chart for reaching my target, or the promise of chocolate biscuits if I did two twenty-minute writing sprints. This helped boost my confidence and encouraged me to keep going.

But when it comes to bigger goals and the rewards there, I have one rule:

Reward EFFORT not results

If I had sat down to write every day for seventy days and not reached my target of 90,000 words, or finished my story sufficiently this would not have been a failureIt was a journey, encouraging me to commit to my WIP and challenge myself to write more, not a test I had to pass. 

Rewarding your efforts because you are showing up consistently, putting in the work, and committing to your goals every day deserves recognition and reward. The same goes for short story submissions and competitions; for each rejection I receive, I reward myself. Not only because it takes the sting out of the rejection but because I’m putting my work out there. While I have very little control of the outcome, I did take action to achieving my goal to share my stories, and I want to celebrate that.

Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 14.03.14

Achieving the impossible
If you can figure out the why of your own writing dreams, then you’ll find it that much easier to set goals that you will want to commit to and achieve. And once you start rewarding your efforts as the success, you’ll create a positive environment to nurture further writing goals. You never know, perhaps this will lead to you attempting things you never thought possible…and yet, somehow, you’ll discover they are.


Now Try This!

postit scrabble to do todo

  • Identify some easy wins and practice phrasing them in ways that will excite your writer’s spirit.
    • Don’t say ‘I will write everyday’ – try ‘I want to be the writer who loves to write every single day’.
    • Make it fun, tap into why you write and use that.
  • Now, decide on some rewards.
    • If you write something everyday, what will you do to celebrate?
    • If you write everyday for a whole week, then what?
    • And imagine what amazing reward you could have if you make it a full month with an unbroken chain of writing?
  • Once you’re accomplishing these regularly, add in a single stretch goal.
    • Don’t overload yourself.
    • Make sure you’re rewarding efforts not results here.

 

What’s your Writing Purpose?

I have to admit, sometimes fall out of love with my writing. Maybe I’ve been hard at it for a few weeks and I’ve just run out of steam, or perhaps I’ve sat down one day and just felt stuck. I used to find myself losing my passion one day, and then avoiding my WIP for days, sometimes weeks, because I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’. What I’ve discovered, though, is that the reason I procrastinate and delay is because I’ve forgotten why I’m writing. I have become so focused on the characters, or story line, in my WIP that I’ve neglected my own purpose; my writing purpose.  

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboardWhy do I write?
I could argue, quite successfully, that I write because I want 
to tell a story. But that’s not my only motivation. I write because I have something to share with the world. I’ve acknowledged before that the relationship between a writer and a reader is important, and how by tapping into my desire to understand what I want my reader to feel, I become more aware of the key themes within my stories. When I write, I need to know what it is I’m trying to achieve. What is this story really about? Who am I writing it for? What do I hope it will achieve? 

Knowing what drives me as a writer means that whenever I do start flagging with my writing goals, I know to go back to basics and remind myself why I’m doing it. 

What do I want to achieve by writing? 
I write because I want to understand the world, and seek to explore it through multiple sets of eyes (let’s face it, that’s why I’m also such a voracious reader).  My stories typically tend to have people discovering things about themselves they didn’t know to begin with – whether that is a new sense of resilience; a secret that is revealed; or a surprising emotion. Not surprisingly one of my core values happens to be personal growth. This is what I am doing when I write: I am teaching my characters how to grow, and hopefully, by extension demonstrating to readers that they have these capabilities too. I write to inspire; to help people see that change is possible and how positive it can be.

How do I know if I’ve been successful? 
So, when I look back over a piece of writing – perhaps one that I am ambivalent about – this is what I look for; does it deal with change? Will it help people who are afraid of change see that it can be a good thing? In the end, will it leave a reader reflecting on my character’s development and compare it to their own?

banking business checklist commerce

Usually, if I’m missing these elements, that why I don’t feel the writing. It doesn’t fit with my writing purpose. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad piece of writing, but rather than it’s not a piece that I am in love with, not one that I could spend time developing and still enjoy the process despite the many hours I spend in it.  

With a better comprehension of why I write, I’m more capable of determining what drives me to write. Without this acknowledgement of my writing purpose, I used to try and write anything and everything that I thought of; I’d spend hours on a short story that wasn’t true to what I believed; I’d write whole novels and then feel bad for stuffing them into a drawer without realising that the reason I wasn’t passionate about them was because they weren’t the type of novels I wanted to write.  

Reinvigorate your writing!
I’ve never been more in love with my writing than I am now. And that’s because I am working on things that fulfil me as a writer – that speak about the stories I want to tell, that share with a reader a message I want them to understand.  But be aware, that it takes time to find your purpose. So, if you’re not sure you’ve found it, experiment, observe, be mindful of your response to your writing, and it will slowly emerge and become clearer. 

The great thing about understanding all of this is that when you do find yourself lagging, you can tap back into this writing purpose and feel reinvigorated. You’re reminded that your writing has a purpose, a greater one than just telling a story. You can feel when it’s happening and know that’s why the words are flowing. It is your raison d’etre, and knowing it can drive you forward and fuel your writing passion.
 


Now try this!

postit scrabble to do todo

To help identify your writing purpose try these tips:

What do you most love reading?
Generally, this can give you a nod in the right direction as to what it is you want a reader to experience – because you want to experience it too. Look for common themes, the satisfaction you get at the end of the story – what has it been about for you? What will you take away?

What do you most love writing?
Identify a piece of writing that you loved working on – that perhaps you still love working on. What is it about the piece that speaks to you? What is it really about? Why does it excite you as a reader?
 

Troublesome Piece?
Now, e
xamine a piece of writing you’ve perhaps fallen out of love with; does it achieve what you want? What’s missing? How could you add a little bit of what you’ve found in the two exercises above to this story? Does this encourage you to keep working on it?


 

Understand Your Writing Habits

I don’t know about you, but my dream is to have a little ‘Plotting Shed’ out at the end of my garden where, every morning, after walking the dog and thinking about characters and story ideas, I spend an hour writing; blissfully free from distractions. Then, after lunch I spend another hour or so in the ‘Shed’, editing and blogging and generally getting stuff done, after which it’s another walk with the dog to signal the end of the ‘working’ day.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

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My Writing Corner (with view)

Well, currently I don’t have a shed. I write on my writing desk in the corner of our bedroom where it’s cluttered (though it does have an excellent view across to Manchester).  I also don’t write in the morning. Why? Because on what would be my writing days I generally spend an extra hour in bed recovering from a busy day at the ‘regular’ job.

But, I know I CAN write in the morning. Sometimes I set my alarm, take a cup of tea back to bed, and open up my WIP before I even get dressed. That works for me. So, I know if I’ve got a writing goal then this is the best time to commit to it. Editing, however, is most definitely an afternoon task.

What’s the Ideal Writing Schedule?
Imagine for a moment, your own ideal writing environment. Close your eyes for a second and just picture it. Are you at a desk, in bed, or in the garden? Do you have pen and paper, or a laptop, or even an audio-recorder? Is it in the morning, the afternoon, or late at night? If there were no obstacles, or chores, jobs, children, or spouses; how would you choose to write?

If you can figure out what you believe would make you the happiest writer you can be, then you can start to work toward building that ideal.

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Personally, I love this advice…!

Understanding your own writing schedule – not just what it is now, but what it would be if you had the choice – is significant when it comes to productivity as a writer. Knowing that I do better ‘creating’ in the morning, versus the afternoon slump when I focus on what’s already on the page so I don’t have to use my imagination, means that I get more done. So, I don’t sit at my desk trying to conjure up the muse at 3pm when she’s gone for a nap.

Permission to Experiment
Sometimes, the key to finding that ideal writing schedule is to experiment. Try writing in different places at different times. Notice when the words flow and determine what it is about the environment that is supporting that burst of creativity. Do the same for different aspects of your writing.

  • When is the best time to create versus editing?
  • How long can you work for before needing a break?
  • Where do you switch off and concentrate on you writing?
  • How can you support the process? Pen and paper for exploring ideas, or open Word document for typing?

When finding it a challenge to write, I always have a ‘low-energy’ task on hand – like scheduling social media posts – so that precious time at my desk isn’t wasted. As I write this, I’m in a local cafe drinking a Caramel Latte because I know that at home, blogging will always fall to the bottom of the list.

Failure is Good
Give yourself permission to experiment with these tasks for a month, and allow yourself the guilt-free pass if these don’t work out as intended. Failure isn’t a bad thing – it gifts us valuable insight into how we can move forward. So many people are afraid of failure, yet we should embrace it as a part of our personal development process. Provided you reflect on it and take learning away from it, effort – irregardless of result –  is never wasted. And, you might find that the ideal you dreamed of, really isn’t all that ideal in practice. I surprised myself when I discovered I could write ten minutes after waking up; and the glow it gave me for the rest of the day was entirely unexpected. But it works, for me.

Arm yourself with the knowledge about how you write, and you’ll feel empowered and motivated to use this to your advantage. Then, whatever time you have available for your writing you know that you’re giving it your best.


Now Try This!


Identify all the different types of writing tasks that you might have and determine what type of energy you need to complete them. Are they high-energy, high-creative tasks, or low-energy, low-creative tasks?

Next mark out all the time you have for completing these tasks – consider time available, place, distractions, and time of day.

Then, play with this schedule and see how each of the tasks fit with the natural rhythms of your day/week/month. Try and determine what type of task works best when, and with this information schedule your ideal week!


 

What’s your Writing Mindset?

analysis blackboard board bubbleHave you ever thought about the way you think? Most of the time we’re on autopilot, letting our thoughts come and go as our minds wander during our day-to-day lives. But, have you ever stopped to notice these thoughts and how they can influence your writing practice? Maybe you don’t believe they do; or perhaps you have noticed, but just don’t know how to change this.

True thoughts?
I know for a long time I accepted my thoughts as truth. And that’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. Every time I had a thought about how I wasn’t good enough, or that what I wrote was terrible, or even that I didn’t work hard enough to deserve to be published – I believed I was thinking the truth. It wasn’t until much later I learned that thoughts are pliable, and I am the one in control of them. In other words: I can choose what thoughts to listen to, and I can even mindfully think different ones to change my approach to anything – including my writing!

What’s a mindset anyway?
When it comes down to it, our mindset is simply the way we think. It includes our opinions, our attitudes, and even the way we approach tasks and set goals.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, imagine if I’m writing a short story for a competition I want to enter but it’s on a topic I don’t usually write about. I could sit here and think ‘this isn’t my thing’ or ‘I’m going to struggle with this’. But how do you think that this affects my ability to face the blank page? Alternatively, I could say ‘This is going to be a fun experiment’, or ‘I can apply my skills to this’. With this attitude, I typically find my approach to the task changes; meaning I feel confident to give it a try, and end up with something surprising on the page, instead of staring at the blinking cursor because I don’t feel I’m up to the task.

These ways of thinking are related to the type of mindset we each have: either a closed/fixed mindset, or an open/growth mindset.

Grow your Mind…
But what is it about a growth
 mindset that means it’s better for our writing? Well, it’s been shown that people with more open mindsets tend to achieve more, have better resilience in challenging situations (a.k.a. rejections!), and have a deeper desire for learning. Whereas, those with closed mindsets tend to look for an external need for approval, set expectations (instead of goals), and don’t cope well with failure.

Check out this video on how a growth mindset leads to higher achievement

As you can see, with a growth mindset failure is simply part of the learning process, and so it’s easier to move onward and upward: I try something; it doesn’t work, but I learn from it and try again. 

Identify the negative.
Now, when I’m stuck on a particular plot point in my novel and am struggling to find a solution I tend to just stop and monitor my mindset for a second. Am I worried that I won’t find an answer? Will I feel like a failure if I can’t figure it out? Or, can I tell myself this is a challenge that I could potentially enjoy because it’s developing my problem-solving skills? What about if I test out different options by exploring them in a ‘choose your own adventure’ style?

Suddenly, because I’ve modified my thinking, I could have lots of possible options to help solve my plot point, rather than a crippling fear that being unable to figure it out means I’m not good enough, or not really a writer.

See it in practice!
The easiest way to support the development of a growth mindset is to find some people who already have this attitude in life and spend time with them. They’re usually easy to spot; they’re reflective, positive individuals who won’t let opportunities go to waste, and rarely let excuses get in the way of their dreams. Learn from others by seeing how they approach challenges, and see if you can adopt the same. 

group hand fist bump

I was lucky enough to discover this by being a member of a group of amazing female entrepreneurs called the Wildly Successful Society. Here we build one another up, set exciting goals with positive projections of how we will succeed, and constantly review our progress to learn from things that don’t always go to plan.

Having a positive and reflective mindset can help us set better goals, commit to these in a strong, productive way, and help us get through the challenges of writing and editing our work. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who can lift us up when we recognise the negative thoughts spiralling can have an immense effect on our ability to pull ourselves back up and stand strong again. 


Now try this:

Notice Your Thoughts
Remember that you can’t change anything unless you notice your thoughts first. Don’t worry if this is hard to do to begin with; it takes time. Try this simple tip to increase your awareness: 

Set an alarm on your phone a few times a day to remind you to examine your thoughts and jot down whatever is on your mind. If you notice some of them are negative things: how could you re-frame these to alter your mindset?
(This is also great fodder for character development!)

The first step is always noticing what you’re thinking. Start there, and with practice and encouraging support, the rest is likely to come. In the end it should support the development of more constructive attitude toward those writing challenges we all face.


Let me know how you get on in the comments,
or Tweet Me @Cat_Lumb


Copy of logo 3Want more practical advice and helpful tips to help motivate you on your journey to becoming the writer you dream of?

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Come and join us!


Challenging start to the year? Change that, now.

January is a harsh month. Not just because here in the UK it’s cold, usually wet, and seemingly always so dark, but it’s also a long month – payday is a long way away, the majority of funds have been spent at Christmas, or for Christmas, and now it’s back to work with the next opportunity for Bank Holiday relaxation in April, for Easter.

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One of my January snaps: a chill as the sun goes down.

It’s also this time of year that we try and install new habits and approaches in our lives, and inevitably fail! So as the end of the month finally arrives, we tend to feel broke, weary, and deflated. It’s ‘just another year’, and we fall back to our default position, and our usual internal monologues that encourage us to do those things we ‘should’ do, way before those things we dream we want to do.

I have to admit, if you read those previous paragraphs with a heavy heart and nodding head, I’m there with you. I had so many ambitious plans for the month, and almost every single one of them have been obliterated in the fog of procrastination, avoidance, and sometimes laziness.

But, and this is a big BUT, this does not define my year. We all know January is a hard month. It is an annual refrain! Yet, one of the many things I dedicated myself to this year was to read for at least twenty minutes a day. You know what? I’ve read a total of six books so far this year…This I am pleased with (and I still might have time to sneak another one in!).

Still. No, I didn’t manage to commit to my stretches every other day. And no, my outline for the novel and character arcs for each of the main characters hasn’t been completed. No, I haven’t touched that list of independent publishers I put together in the first week of the year to investigate submissions. And, sorry, no I didn’t quite manage to own it at work everyday and push through some of the tasks I promised myself would get done by the end of this week.

I did, however, try.

For the first four years, this blog’s tagline was – I would much prefer to say ‘I tried and failed’ rather than ‘I didn’t even bother’This is just as true today as it was then. As my friend and mentor Jo Bendle would say – Reward effort, not results. Because sometimes you can’t control the results, but what you can do is take ownership of your efforts.

I know what didn’t get done. In some cases, I know why it didn’t happen. Which means I’m now much better equipped to tackle it in the coming weeks. I don’t even have to wait until February to review my month and make a plan. I can start right now.

And I did: by writing this blog post.

One more thing off my January goal list.


 

IMG_20190105_130248899Did you see my short story in February’s Writing Magazine? So pleased to be a winner for their competition based on the theme of ‘hate’. Really pushed me to create a character with a complex personality and situation.
One more piece on my way to the dream of becoming a novelist.


Purchase my short story collection: azon.co.uk/Memorial-Tree-other-short-stories-ebook/dp/B07F1T7H98


 

How to start the best year yet

Ah, so that’s another year gone. Once upon a time I would lament all the things I had not managed to achieve – not getting an agent for the novel, not being published, or winning no competitions; hell, sometimes it was even not bothering to enter those competitions. Always the focus was on the things I didn’t do.

achievement confident free freedom

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Now, it’s different. Now I focus on the positives, the tasks I did get done, the accolades I have collected. Self-publishing my short story collection, being published in a Comma Press anthology, being shortlisted in a competition…Whatever the things I didn’t do, it doesn’t really matter. Do you know why? Because I still have chance to do all of those things in 2019.

Most of the things we regret are the things we didn’t do, and that’s fine. But there is a balance to be had. You don’t think about all the amazing stuff you did because you did it and it’s in the past, all of those tasks left undone those are the ones that bubble to surface instead. However, this new year I challenge you to flip this and make a huge, great list of everything you did do. Not just the successes, but the efforts too. It all counts. If you entered competitions and didn’t win, or submitted to an agent or three and heard nothing but rejections back – these tiny little slivers of effort demonstrates how you committed to your goals.

It should also be remembered that sometimes, we have no direct control over the outcomes. You can’t force an agent to sign you as a client, or make a judge choose your story as the winning entry – not really. So you shouldn’t be focusing on those types of ‘have nots’ anyway. If you submitted anything, that’s a win. That’s a clear sign of progress. Perhaps you didn’t submit at all, perhaps all you did was write more words, or manage to finish a story, or even just put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards for the very first time. Celebrate these things. Even a small step forward is still the right direction. You only have control over your own actions, so all you can do is try your best and make it count.

Start 2019 with your head held high for all the positive action you took in 2018. Forget about the regrets, or the ‘should have done’ tasks, because they don’t really count. What matters is you made it. And if you should have any lingering regrets then write them down, figure out an action plan, and stick to it in the new year. Let’s face it, you don’t want to end 2019 with the same regret; right?

But the key thing is to remind yourself of all the good you did, and take that with you into the new year. That’s all you need; the truth of it is, starting the year with a positive mantra of all you have achieved will give you that much more confidence, and perhaps a pinch of bravery. And who knows what might come out of that…