How to be Creatively Productive

The holiday is over and now it’s time to get back to work. At the start of the month I stepped down from my role as Secretary to Huddersfield Literature Festival. It wasn’t an easy choice, but I recognised that it had become the ‘reason’ I wasn’t writing; I was prioritising the work for the Festival over my own desire for a writing career. As such, it was time to let go of the excuses and commit to making this dream I have into a reality. The start of which was to self-publish my short story collection – The Memorial Tree. Now I need to figure out what’s next, and to do that I need organisation, good habits and some accountability.

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Time to take this writer-business seriously: one of my recent buys…

From today onward I will have at least ONE dedicated writing day every week, during which I will concentrate on the business of writing – because one of things I’ve realised recently is that writing is a business, and you have to treat it like such if you want to succeed in it. So much so that I wrote myself my own ‘job description’ for being the author I want to be: read it here if you’re interested.

So, here’s my plan for being a productive writer and fulfilling that job description. Much of this is adapted from the fabulous Jo Bendle, Productivity Coach extraordinaire, whose Wildly Successful Society I am a part of (and as a result of this amazing community I committed to publishing The Memorial Tree and other short stories).

Set Realistic Targets
I will get more specific when I’m deciding what it is I’m aiming for. Rather than just ‘enter that competition’, I will break down the tasks involved and work back from the deadline to ensure that I know exactly what is involved in accomplishing it.
I will commit to one or two things per month – not three or five, or some other insurmountable figure. It’s time to allow myself some easy wins and set some goals that I know I can achieve. Success breeds success, so why not let myself have some?
These things will be what will move me forward in my dream, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do other tasks – like blog writing, or tweeting, or reading. But it shall be these key monthly goals that will be the focus of my efforts, though I allow myself permission to change them if they’re not working for me.

Schedule my Writing Time
Every Sunday I will sit down and identify when I am going to achieve these goals. Based on the tasks that I’ve already broken them down into, I should be able to identify the best places to slot them into my week. Probably, most will happen on my dedicated writing day – but there’s enough wiggle room in my week to build in some extra time here and there.
I will prioritise the key goals I’ve set for the month. No distracting myself with blog posts or reading material. I’ll schedule in these tasks and commit to them, making sure that I allow time for other things later.

Do The Work
Seriously. I will sit down and do the work. I’ve had plenty of excuses ready over the past few months and it’s time to ditch these and simply put my bum in the seat and get stuff done.

Review the Process
It’s all well and good doing all of this, but I will also spend some time each Saturday reviewing how the week went and where I could have done better and when I smashed my goals.
I will also reflect on why certain things worked and others did not. This will provide me with the knowledge I need to improve my productivity and continue moving forward with my goals.

Finally…
I will let you know how it goes. In a month’s time I’ll report back; submission figures, reading stats, words written, and lessons learned.
Wish me luck.


How do you make sure your writing goals are accomplished?
Tweet Me and send me your top tips!


 

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Tackling the Competition

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Writing competitions. If you write and want to get your work published this is one of the first routes into authorship. There are some writers who excel at applying their material to the various competition topics out there, others still who tend to focus on particular genres or types, and then there’s me. I’m great at identifying opportunities that different competitions offer, in fact, I have a list of the ones I’d like to enter for the next six months sat above my desk as I type this. Yet, despite my superb organisation skill I still struggle to ever write something that I can submit.

But, not anymore. I’m determined to write at least something for as many of them as I can. My target is 50%, and considering there are an impressive twenty-eight competitions listed and I haven’t yet got a solid entry for any, I’d better get started! Here are a few of the techniques I’m going to use to help prompt my efforts:

Take it from the top
          If ever I’m struggling with a competition theme I know all I really need is a first line to help start me off. Problem is, I usually don’t have one. So I’ve got a nifty way to negotiate a way around this issue: I borrow someone else’s line.  Photo by Thijs van der Weide on Pexels.com
It’s simple enough – just go to a book on a shelf and pick any line from any page. Usually I’ve determined a page number and line number already, so I don’t end up in the land of procrastination by searching for the perfect line for a story I have no idea for. But, if you’re so indecisive and can’t even decide on a page or line number, choose the date – page 11, line 6 for example; or the year – page 20, line 18. So long as you pick a different book every time, you’ll have a unique first line.
After that it’s just a case of matching it to the competition theme. With a first line and a genre, I usually find the story is already there waiting and it’s just a case of teasing it out. Often my mind automatically link these things together and, suddenly, a narrative appears.
Tip: Don’t keep it as the first line, it’s just a prompt. Make sure to edit it out if you submit; you’ll likely find the resulting story needs a new opener anyway.

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Read all about it
          One thing I like to do is to find a news story that fascinates me and think of a character who might have been influenced by it. What was their part in it? How did it impact their lives? What if they’d reacted differently – would it result in a different news story?
The great thing about this is being able to delve into a character that already has a story written. I know what happened, now I just have to figure out what this character’s part was in it and how they felt about it. This leads to a really strong character piece that often has a believable quality in the story because it’s taken directly from life.
Sometimes I try to limit myself to stories that link with the competition theme: so if it’s travel story I look in the travel section of the newspaper, or a story about weather I search for storm related news. But, you don’t have to do it this way: sometimes the most interesting stories comes from the unexpected places.

Start with a secret
Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.comI love a story with a secret. Even better if it’s one I never saw coming. So if I have a particular competition theme that’s troubling me I brainstorm what secrets I can associate with it. Summer Garden? What if it’s a hidden garden, only certain people can access or see? Or is it a location for some illicit liaisons? Even more worrying, what if someone is planting poisonous plants in this garden to commit a murder?
All of a sudden there are lots of stories to tell, and plenty of ways to tell them – do you tell it from the point of view of the gardener, or the lover, the murderer or the victim? What if you could tell it from the perspective of one of plants?

Just jump in
          Finally, if I think that I’ve got enough time I just put my butt in the chair and write. Usually it’s only loosely related to the competition theme, and typically if it is related it’s probably something that a hundred other writers have already tackled. But, if I keep writing and follow the thread that each word and sentence produce I’ll eventually come up with something that makes me raise an eyebrow and think, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.
Once I’ve got that tiny germ of an idea I run with it and see how far I can get. It takes up the most time, but it’s produced some of my favourite pieces of writing and ones that I’ve been praised on by some of the readers. Sometimes, though, I can forget how fruitful this method is. I just need to trust my own imagination and let myself explore the possibilities before I settle on a story idea I can be really proud of.

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Do you have some techniques or methods for tackling competition themes? Share below in the comments, or tweet me

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