Productivity....Say What? 5 Tips to Help You Focus on your Writing

Photo credit: ashley.adcox

Here's the situation: you have an hour to write. You go to your office, or your writing spot, or wherever you can carve out a niche for yourself, and promptly begin to write. 

What's that? No? You didn't start writing right away? Oh, you say you got on the Internet? You say you answered that inopportune text? You say you just had to vacuum the house? You say your son fell and had to be taken to the ER? Okay, well, except for the last one, it seems like you're making excuses.

We've all been there.

It's so easy to give yourself an hour to write and end up spending that hour playing catch up or "relaxing" in front of the TV or on the Internet. After all, as writers, we're naturally curious people, determined to observe the world and immortalize it in writing. If we ever get in front of the computer and manage to avoid the Internet long enough to write.

So how can you avoid the temptations of distractions and focus on the writing task at hand?

Here are a few tips that help me.

1. Keep your workspace clear of clutter. If you know that you cannot write until you clean out your office, make sure you keep it clean or give it a quick once-over before sitting down to write. You'll feel better about that status of your working environment and no longer have that hovering in the back of your mind.

If you know that you absolutely cannot spend only five minutes sprucing up your office before beginning, try freewriting for a few minutes before beginning on your true writing task, and clear your (mental) space that way. If all else fails, find a different spot to write until you can return to your preferred niche and clean it.

2. Whatever you do, avoid the Internet. If you feel you must check your email before writing--if you're waiting for that one special email that will make or break your day--try disconnecting your computer from the Internet. Unplug your router, if need be, and take your laptop outside or away from the room with the router. The further you are from the Internet router, the more likely you are to focus on your task at hand. And if you need to research a fact, make a note or highlight that passage in your manuscript and continue to write. Avoid the Internet until your writing time is over and your daily goal is met (see #5).

3. Keep a list. I find I'm more productive when I know what's expected of me. I'm a visual person as well, so that means keeping a physical, hand-written list works best for me. (Electronic notes tend to get shuffled around and lost in the midst of all other computer files/iPhone apps/etc.) Whether this is a list of scenes you need to finish, changes to make to a manuscript while editing, ideas you've had that you want to weave into the story, or a list of characters you need to focus on, keep it handy and check items off as you accomplish them.

4. Stick to a schedule. If you're lucky enough to have a lot of time on your hand, it still helps to be deliberate about your writing and schedule time for yourself to write. Schedule your time (it helps make good habits to stick to a schedule anyways) and keep track of the time you actually spend writing. It's amazing how much you can see your novel progressing when you keep track of the time you're spending on your manuscript and how many scenes you're getting through.

5. Make goals. It's hard to visualize how far you've gotten if you don't know where you began. It's hard to know where you need to get to today if you don't know how much work you need to do per day to meet a deadline. So keep your goals handy (like in a list, see #3) and check them off as you go. Don't be afraid to make large goals (e.g. getting published), but break those large goals down into small steps that you can accomplish daily. E.g. finish scene one, write query letter, write one hundred words, etc.

Now these tips work for me, but everyone is different and may find some of these don't work. It really all boils down to:

Know thyself. 

So experiment on what works for you and, when you find something that works, stick with it.


Voice in Writing

Photo credit: mrehan
Voice is something that I rarely think about when writing. And, to some extent, I think that is okay. For voice is not something that can be forced, but is something that is naturally developed over time. Of course, I speak of writing fiction, where a voice can be anything you want it to be.

When I say "voice", I mean the myriad of personality, tone and story which is conveyed through your writing. If non-fiction, you'd probably want something matter-of-fact, informational. Fiction, however, is full of opportunity to develop voice to its fullest extent. Voice is what makes a reader come back to the same author over and over again. Voice draws the reader in and helps make a connection between character, reader and author.

So how do you find your voice?

Voice can vary from one piece to the next. The voice of a character may overshadow the voice of the author in fiction. In some cases, it should (think of close first person narrative, Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games). In others, it may not (think third person omniscient, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities). However, there is always a voice in piece of writing. If The Hunger Games were written in third person omniscient, it would have an entirely different voice, even if still written by Suzanne Collins. If A Tale of Two Cities were written in first person narrative from one (or many) of the character's perspectives, the novel would read quite differently. Not necessarily worse, not necessarily better. Just different. Point of view shifts can affect voice, and that's something to keep in mind for your novel.

To find my voice for a novel, I like to take the main character I'm working with and freewrite from that character's perspective. Ask the character a question and have them start to talk. Don't interrupt them, just write what they tell you. It sounds crazy, but you'll discover a lot of useful things about them and the direction your story can go. Their voice will bleed through, mingle with yours and you will discover a possible voice for that novel. This voice is at once yours and the character's.

And that's what you want--a voice that is specific to both you as an author, and the character you've created.


Romanus Eunt Domus? No...Romani Ite Domum. Or, the Importance of Grammar in Novels

This video was posted today by a bookstore I follow on Facebook in Snohomish, Washington, Uppercase Bookshop. As I enjoy studying Latin (not that I'm remarkably talented in it, but have more a stubborn determination to learn the language), I got a laugh out of it.

But another post on Facebook made me writhe. 

Can anyone tell me why?

Call it the grammar Nazi in me, but "your" and "you're" mistakes drive me absolutely MAD. I don't always get the grammar rules correct either, and I'm sure I make a lot more grammar mistakes than I say I do or think I do, but "your" and "you're" is really not that difficult. And I don't say that to sound condescending, but there's such an easy way to check whether "your" is being used correctly or incorrectly. 

If you can substitute "you are" for "your", then you're using "your" INCORRECTLY.

(That was a lot of yours.) 

So, the Monty Python video really made me laugh because Latin grammar is difficult in the best of times for me, but at swordpoint? Hilarious.

But this video also made me wish that we had Roman/some-type-of soldiers in the country/world that went around correcting bad grammar when they saw it--regardless of what was said. We let bad grammar go for so long, that when good grammar is needed, it's become an unrealistic expectation.

Call me a snob, but I cannot read a book with poor grammar. If the sentence reads awkwardly, I find myself mentally correcting it as I read. And this, in turn, removes me from the story no matter how much I'm enjoying it. When there are typos or a word is used incorrectly, I shudder. If it happens too often in a book, I can't continue to read it, regardless of the plot. 

Bad grammar is too distracting. 

I think it's sad that published writers are allowed to publish poor grammar. And I find it equally sad that some of these books sell reasonably well. It's indicative of how readers settle for mediocre writing because the story is interesting enough. Is it too much to ask that writers abide by the *laws of grammar? That writers use a dictionary when they don't know for sure what a word means? That typos in one edition be corrected for the next? That writers be expected to NOT violate point of view rules? (Okay, maybe that last one isn't really a grammar issue.)

I know my expectations for the written word are high. I rarely find a book that satisfies me, and that's the price I pay for having such high expectations all around. I want a provocative plot, compulsive characters, and great grammar. I don't want to have to settle--and when I do, I always walk away with a bitter taste in my mouth, thinking to myself, "That was an okay book, but it could have been much better."

*I'm well aware of the philosophy of knowing the rules so that you can break them. But there are rules for a reason, and you can only break the rules when you know them well and know how to break them. But that's really a discussion for another post.