Tag Archives: advice

I Need Some Advice

Questions and Questions

Hi there. I need to ask you a question.

Well, not so much a question as for some advice.

You see, I’ve got this situation I’m dealing with, and I don’t know what I should do. There’s all this emotional sub-text, and my head is telling me one thing, and my heart is telling me another, and… Can you tell me what you think I should do?

So, the situation is this. I’m…

Actually.

Before I explain, maybe I should find out a little more about you. I don’t want to waste your time. You know how sometimes someone gives you some advice, and you listen to it, and you think: Yeah, but you’re not really someone I trust to give me this kind of advice. You’ve got your own agenda here.

It’s like asking your employer for advice on how to pretend to be sick. Or asking your Dad for advice on which mini-skirt to wear on a first date.

And sometimes people just give you the wrong advice. I mean, you listen and all, and you say “thankyou” and “that’s a great idea”, but you know right away that they’re just plain wrong.

When I was a kid, my brother and sister and I would argue over what game we were going to play. So we developed a system where we’d each write five options on pieces of paper and put them in a hat and mix them up. We’d draw them out, one at a time, saying: “This is what we’re going to do first!”

And then we’d draw one and someone would say: “No…. I really don’t want to do that.” So we’d give ourselves a break and draw the next one. And in the end, we’d find what we all really wanted to do.

Which we could have done in the first place if we’d thought and talked about it a bit more, rather than relying on a system of luck and gut reactions .

But sometimes you think and think and think, and you just can’t work out what you want to do. And so you really need someone to give you some advice. To tell you what you should do. To lay it out in black and white and give you permission guidance to do the right thing.

And that’s where I’m at. So please, help me out. I need some advice.

So, the situation is this: I’m…

Wait.

Look, there are really only two options, and if you give me the wrong advice, I’m going to either (a) feel terrible, or (b) decide you’re wrong, and start questioning your intelligence. So just make sure you give me the right advice. Okay? Okay.

So, the situation is this: I’m…

Hold on.

I don’t really know what advice I’d like you to give me.

Let me think about this a bit more and get back to you.

And then I’ll really value your advice.

Do you ask for advice from people who are going to give you the advice you want, or the advice you need?

11 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

Writing Advice for a Younger Me

NotebookA member of an online writing group I’m involved in posed a question to the group yesterday. She’s 18 years old, and has spent the last 18 months studying at university, working in various industries, and volunteering in poor communities around the world. Now she’s got plenty of time up her sleeve and is ready to embark on her next adventure: WRITING. But it’s turning out to be harder than she expected.

“I open up a word document and nothing comes out. I kind of just stare, fingers ready, but with no real idea. I’m terrified of clichés, and every time I think of some remotely interesting story line, am blocked by fear or self-doubt. Has anyone felt this? Does it get easier?”

I read this question and was immediately transported back to various points in my own life.

…when I was 16, with five months off school, and the burning desire to write a novel.

…when I was 18, fresh out of high school, with the burning desire to write a novel.

…when I was 21, unemployed, with the burning desire to write a novel.

In each of those periods of my life, I found myself sitting in front of a blank screen feeling exactly the fear this young woman is feeling. In all three instances, I managed to overcome the fear enough to write something (although the quality of that ‘something’ was debatable). But I always felt I was alone, that I was the only wanna-be writer who experienced the knee-knocking, soul-freezing fear that comes with staring at a white screen and having no idea how to fill it with meaningful words.

So I answered the question. I have her the advice I wish I’d heard when I was young and enthusiastic and inexperienced. And then it occurred to me that it’s not advice that is best kept private, it’s advice that should be shared. Because everyone feels overwhelmed and out of their depth sometimes, regardless of age or experience.

So here goes. I hope you find it helpful.

  • Too much time is as much a motivation-killer as too-little time. Allocate a set amount of time each day to writing and then fill in the rest with LIFE. Life helps you write. It gives you things to write about. It lets you experience emotions and situations and setbacks that will make it into your writing in some way. Go outside your comfort zone and live.
  • What you’re feeling is normal. Normal for writers and artists and entertainers and just about every creative type out there. That doesn’t make it easier, but knowing you’re in good company helps.
  • Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you have to like it. And it doesn’t mean you should just sit back and let the feelings overwhelm you. Those feelings of fear (terror!) never go away. Never. What does happen is we learn how to overcome the fear and do it anyway. (To use one of those dreaded clichés.)
  • A best-selling, multi-published author once said to me, “In my head, before I start, [a novel] is a perfect thing. It stays perfect until the moment I start typing.” Accept that’s the truth of things, and then write anyway. 
  • Like I said, you’re in good company when it comes to feeling this way. So let yourself BE in good company. Online writing groups are great, because you’re surrounded by writers. But, you know what else is great? Writing groups in the real world. See if you can find one in your local area. Talk to the librarians at your local library (you’d be amazed what and who they know), ask your friends on FB (you’d be amazed how many people are secretly writers but are too afraid to share it with anyone), or loiter outside creative writing classes. When you find like-minded souls, TALK TO THEM. Regularly. About writing. About your struggles and successes and fears and inspirations. You’ll find you have more in common than you expected.
  • Most of all, live the Nike slogan. When you sit down and look at that blank page, tell yourself it’s your job to fill it. Fill it with anything. Write about how terrified you are, write about what you want to write about, write about which actor you’d like to play your main character, write about anything that comes to mind. And when the page is no longer white and scary, start telling your story. Starting is always the hardest part.
  • Finally, celebrate every success. Eat chocolate! Drink wine! Buy books! Share your writing successes with like-minded individuals! Celebrate however is meaningful to you. Just celebrate, no matter how big or small your accomplishment.

Do you have any additional advice to offer?

21 Comments

Filed under Writing

Writing about Sex, Religion and Politics

When I was a teenager, someone gave me the advice that I should never talk in public about sex, religion, or politics. I remember thinking, “But, why? They’re the most interesting things to talk about!”

Now that I’m older, I realise that I answered my own question. The reason we’re generally advised not to talk about these things (especially with strangers) is exactly because they’re interesting. They’re the topics that we all think about, care about, and have passionate and steadfast opinions on. They’re the things that start arguments, feuds, and wars.

And they’re exactly the things that, as fiction writers, we should be making sure we include in our books.

Possibly everyone else already knows this. Possibly I’m so late to this particular party that everyone else has already packed up and gone home, and there’s just a few scattered Solo cups left scattered around the furniture. Nevertheless.

Sex

Sex is one of the most fundamental of human needs. From the time puberty hits, we think about it on a regular (if not daily or even hourly) basis. I’m not suggesting we all need to embrace our inner E.L. James, rather that we need to remember that sex, and the search for it, is a driving force on human behaviour.

There’s a lot more to sex than the physical act, of course. There’s love, romance, intimacy, vulnerability, heartbreak, attraction, affection, unrequited feelings, and all the trials and tribulations that come with a relationship as it grows or falters. Regardless of what genre you’re writing, these are things to consider. In real life, we’re all influenced by these things every day — and our characters need to be influenced by them just as strongly.

Even my five year-old son wants to know the name of the girl he’s going to marry!

Religion

Religion is not just about a Church or a God, religion is about a system of beliefs. Your religion defines you in ways you don’t even realise. Your moral code is probably borrowed from your religion. Your values and priorities and prejudices are influenced by your religion. Your entire world-view is affected by your religion. So it’s important our character also have religion.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, or Protestant, or some other flavour of Christian. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or Muslim or Heathen or Buddhist or Pagan or Jedi. Whatever your religion, it colours your viewpoint and affects your life.

And to the first person to say, “I don’t have a religion, I’m an Atheist”, I have this to say: Your Atheism colours your viewpoint and affects your life.

Your characters should be affected by their religious beliefs. You never have to actually state what they are, or what religion they follow, or if they follow any kind of religion at all. But I can almost guarantee that if you don’t consciously consider your character’s religious beliefs, they will automatically take action based on your own religion. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of.

So while you may not specifically be writing about religion, the very fact you’re writing about people means that religion will feature — if only as background noise.

(As a note: religion may change significantly over time, but setting your novel in the far, far future doesn’t mean there is no religion. People want something to believe in. People need something to believe in. Perhaps in your world that isn’t a God or Gods. Perhaps it’s science or a system of government or a TV show. But it will be something. Better that you decide what that something is.)

Politics

Politics: Who gets what, when and how.

If you want to have an uncomfortable evening, try starting up a conversation about politics with someone who disagrees with your point of view. Or, for even more awkward moments, try sitting at a table where two people argue back and forth about the relative merits of political parties, policies, or procedures. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there and done that, and I’d prefer to avoid it in the future.

We all get passionate about some aspect of politics. For some of us, we’re passionate about who should be leading the country. For others, we’re passionate about how the government should be spending our tax money. For still others, our passions go into overdrive when we hear about school curriculum changes or healthcare reform. There’s something that hits you right in the passion-bone.

But in this context, I’m not just talking about the politics of governing a country. I’m talking about who gets what, when and how. Who gets to learn magic? When is a 3rd tier Septacorn permitted to try for a promotion to 2nd tier? How do you get an invitation to the coolest party ever so you can hit on the girl of your dreams?

Politics don’t just exist in the capital. There’s office politics, social politics, schoolyard politics, and in the case of spec fiction, often supernatural politics to consider.

Unless your character is in charge of the world, s/he will inevitably run up against politics. Someone else controls who gets what, when and how. That’s either going to help or hinder your character. Either way, it will play a part in their thoughts, feelings, passions, and story.

 

“Don’t talk about sex, religion or politics.”

It may be good advice for social settings, but it’s terrible advice for a writer.

Talk about it. Talk about it a lot.

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Filed under Writing

Are your Characters Reactive or Proactive?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been beta reading a YA novel for a good writer friend of mine. After reading the first few of chapters, I  come to the conclusion that I didn’t like the protagonist. In fact, my dislike was such that, if I were reading for enjoyment only, I would have put the book down. My first thought was that the character needed to be made more likeable. However, as I read on, I realised that my response was unfair. And by the time I reached the end of the book, I had come to the conclusion that I was wrong to suggest that the character should be changed in any way.

Did I come to love the character? No. Not at all.

But I did realise why I didn’t like the character.

The protagonist of this purposely unnamed book is purely reactive. The character at no point takes charge, develops a plan, or takes any action that isn’t directly prompted by another character. And, put simply, I don’t like purely reactive characters any more than I like purely reactive people. But that’s not to say that reactive characters are bad. There are plenty of stories with reactive (or even passive) protagonists, and the “passive character takes control of her own life” trope is a very familiar one. It’s just not one that I personally enjoy.

But my enjoyment, or lack thereof, is not a stain on the writing in this YA novel. The protagonist is consistent throughout the story, has a distinctive voice, and is so authentic that I’m pretty sure this person is living their own life in an alternate dimension somewhere. (Or possibly New Zealand.) And, really, isn’t that what we’re all aiming for with our characters: consistency, distinctiveness and authenticity?

My dislike of the character was purely subjective. It’s not up to the author to change the character to suit me.  The only reason the author should consider making any changes is if the intention was to have a proactive rather than reactive character. 

As a writer, sometimes it’s hard to see our characters the same way other people see them. To us, they’re perfect works of art, even more endearing for their faults and flaws. And it can be hard to tell whether they’re being proactive or reactive when there’s a mad slasher or serial killer hunting down all their friends and family (mwah ha ha ha ha!). So, here are some questions you may like to consider if you’d like to determine where in the reactive-proactive spectrum your character fits.

What is your character’s goal before the story starts?

We all know that we should start a story as close to the action as possible, right? But we also all know that if we start too close to the action (in media res, as it were), there’s a chance we’ll alienate readers who have no reason to care whether our young Jedi is captured and tortured by the Empire. So what is your character like in his normal life?

If he’s sitting around waiting to see what life throw at him, or he spends all his time following in the footsteps of his friends and family, or is drifting aimlessly through life without a goal or plan (apparently waiting for a story to begin), there’s a pretty good chance he’s more reactive than proactive.

But if the character is working to achieve a goal, whether or not it’s story-related, he’s more likely to be a proactive character.

Note: This goal doesn’t have to be something big like “to save the world” (or even “to destroy the world”). It could be something as simple as “to get good grades so I can get into college” or “to be the prettiest girl at the Prom” or “to hit the target at the firing range”. The key here is that the character is taking action to achieve his goal, not waiting for it to happen through divine intervention or good old-fashioned luck.

What does your character do during down-time?

Almost every novel has it: down-time. That moment between the adrenalin-fuelled car chase and the point where the slasher leaps out of the tree-line and drags the protagonist’s boyfriend into the undergrowth. It’s a chance for the characters (and the reader) to take a deep breath and process everything that’s just happened. It’s often the point where characters share information, or plot their next move, or take advantage of the lull in death-dealing to “celebrate the wonder of life”. (Cue the sleazy electric guitar.)

So, how does your character behave in the lull? If she takes the opportunity to sit quietly and cry, or goes along with someone else’s suggestion, or her entire plan revolves around waiting to see what happens next, she’s probably a reactive character.

A proactive character is likely to be the one leading the conversation, making plans that include the theme (if not the words) “the best defence is a good offense”, or even taking the opportunity to return to her pre-story goals: “Yes, I know there’s a mad slasher out there. But if I don’t cleanse and moisturise every day, Laura Pringle will look hotter than me at the dance and I’ll never live it down!”

How does your character make choices?

A good story always involves hard choices. Perhaps they don’t seem hard from the outside, but in the character’s mind, they’re huge: “Do I go to the D&D Convention with my friends like I do every year, or go to the Country Club with my cousin in the hopes that I’ll see the girl of my dreams?”  Sometimes the choices are life-altering. Sometimes they’re story-altering. And sometimes they seem to have no bearing on the story… until they do. “Wait, you mean if I’d chosen Strawberry topping, you wouldn’t have torched my car? Damn it! I don’t even like chocolate!” So, when faced with a decision, how does your character decide?

A reactive character is more likely to do what’s “easiest” or “more immediate”. If choosing between two love interests, the reactive character will go with the one in front of him right now. Or the one who tries the hardest to woo him. Or the one that his friends tell him he should go with. Alternately, he won’t make a choice at all — at least, not until he’s either forced to do so by outside events (“Declare your undying love for me, or I’ll start drowning kittens! “) or one of the options is removed (“Now that Laura is dead, you have to love me!”).

A proactive character will make a choice. It may not be the right choice (and often isn’t), but it’s a choice nonetheless: “I’ve considered my options and have decided that I’m really in love with the evil, but incredibly sexy, vampire, and not the sweet girl-next-door who’s always been there for me. How could anything possibly go wrong?”

How does your character resolve the story?

At the end of the book, the plot and character arcs should (ideally) all tie themselves up into a delightful little thing we call a “resolution”, leaving minimal loose threads hanging around for people to trip over. This generally comes straight after the final conflict (or climax) of the story. So, what’s your character’s role in all of this?

A) What do you mean “role”? She’s too busy hiding behind the cupboard desperately hoping the police arrived in time to save her from the pushy hat-salesman to actually do anything. 

B) Her role is to get captured so the antagonist can give his well-prepared monologue. Then she begs for her life, but the antagonist ignores her. Then her boyfriend/the police show up and save her, capturing the bad guy and high-fiving each other all the while. But it’s not really a plan, it’s just what happens.

C) It depends. What does everyone else think her role should be?

D) Fed up with being chased around the College Campus like a rat through a maze, she plots out a Scooby-Doo-esque trap, using herself as bait, and lures the bad guy into an abandoned warehouse where she drops a cage on him, coats him in honey, and releases the dogs with bees in their mouths. Sadly it all goes horribly wrong and the dogs end up being stung by honey-coated bees, but it’s the thought that counts. And then she confronts him mano-a-womano.

Hint: Only one of these is proactive. And it’s even better if you can tie in your proactive character’s starting goal with the final confrontation: “See, I am the prettiest girl here! Take that Magic Mirror!”

In Conclusion…

I’m not saying that proactive characters are better than reactive characters. (Although I am saying that I subjectively prefer proactive characters.) Just make sure that the character that ends up on paper is the same one that runs around screaming obscenities inside your head.

Oh… is that just me?

Leave me your comments, thoughts, or random abuse (if you disagree with me).

31 Comments

Filed under Writing

Moving House with Children (Without the Trauma)

 

I have a confession to make: I was an Air Force Brat.

Big Brother in Grandad's Air Force Hat

Back when I was a kid, my Dad was posted every 2 years (on average), which meant that we packed up and moved house, suburb, city, state and occasionally country on a regular basis. By the time I was 10 years old, I’d moved six times. By the time my Dad retired from the Air Force when I was 16, I’d lived in a total of ten places — including 2 countries, 5 states, and 7 cities (we lived in some more than once).

You may think that, after all this relocating as a child, I would have been happy to settle down and put down roots at that point. Well. If that’s the case, you probably didn’t spend the first 16 years of your life moving around. It gets to be a habit. You get bored after a while. Your feet start itching. And then you start weighing up the pros and cons of moving, even if only to the next suburb. 

At the time of writing this, I am 35 years old. I have lived in 26 different houses. Twenty-six. That means that I’ve moved house, on average, every 16 months of my life.

Having children didn’t slow me down, either.

Big Brother is almost 5, and has lived in 4 different houses — albeit, all within the same city region. He’s moved house, on average, every 18 months of his life.

We haven’t moved since Baby was born, but then he’s only 11 months old at the moment. So I’m not promising that things will be different for him.

As you can see, I’ve had plenty of experience with moving house, both as a child and with a child. So when Tracy (@nystoopmama) tweeted asking for any advice on moving with kids — specifically on how to make the process less terrifying for her 3 1/2-year-old — I figured that I’d throw my advice into the ring. Because with all this experience, you’d think I’d have learned something.

 And if you’ve got any other ideas, tips, or suggestions, please leave them in the comments. 

1. Give plenty of notice — but not too much.

It’s important not to surprise a child at the last minute. This is a Big Scary Thing. Your child needs time to prepare. But, on the other hand, too much notice is a Bad Thing.

If you’ve got a three year-old and you tell him you’re moving in six months, that’s 1/6th of his life. That would be like telling a 30 year-old that you’re moving house in 5 years. Initially, it’s a bit exciting and a bit scary. But excitement fades much quicker than fear, and soon you’ve got a child crying himself to sleep every night because he’s terrified of what’s going to happen.

While different children will react differently (depending on personality, experience, etc), I go with the following rule of thumb:

  • Minimum notice: 1 week per year old
  • Maximum notice: 1 month per year old
 So for a 3-year-old, you’d want to tell them the news at least 3 weeks before the big day and no more than 3 months before the big day. Whereas for a 12-year-old, you’d give a minimum of 3 months notice and a maximum of a year’s notice. 

2. Explain the Reasons and the Process as well as the End Result.

Children like to know what things mean, how things work, and why things happen. (That’s why they ask “why” at least 700 million gazillion times a day.) If they’re not given the hows and the whys, they make them up all by themselves. Sometimes that’s great. Sometimes that’s funny. But in the case of a Big Scary Thing, that just makes your experience much harder.

If your entire explanation consists of: Isn’t it great, we’re going to be moving house! … Well, it doesn’t really explain what’s happening or why. You may as well have just told them that you’re going to live on Mars, or that you aren’t going to let them play with their friends anymore.

It’s important that your child understands both the why and the how, and that you tell them as honestly as possible — as appropriate for their age. For the “why”, an older child is more likely to figure it out for herself, but a younger child will need help.Whatever your reasons, try to break it down to something your child will understand. (Even if it’s just: Daddy’s work says we have to move.) 

For example:

  • Do you remember how we had to buy you new shoes when you grew out of your ones? Your old shoes weren’t very comfortable anymore, were they? How did they feel? This house is starting to feel a bit tight too, isn’t it? We hardly have any room for all of your toys, and there’s nowhere for you to run around and play. How did it feel to wear nice, new shoes that fit? How do you think that will feel to live in a new house where everything fits and there’s lots of room to run and play?

As for the “how”, spell out the process in simple steps so it’s not so overwhelming. The amount of detail you give will depend on your child, but I’ve found that a more sensitive child usually needs more information, whereas a “go with the flow” child just wants the major points. 

3. Where possible, show don’t tell.

If at all possible, take your child to the new house and show him where he’s going to be living. A picture is worth a thousand words, and an experience is worth a thousand pictures.

I'm Going to Live Here!

If you’re moving far away, or it’s not possible for other reasons, show him pictures of your new house online. Or of the local area. Or of his new school. If you’re moving across the country and don’t know where you’ll be living (like me as a kid), then at least get out some maps and look at those together.

All of this helps your child to feel that he has a bit more understanding and control of what’s happening around him.

4. Focus on the positives. 

My Very Own Tree!

Find two or three positives that you’re going to focus on, and talk about them a LOT. Any more than that and it’s going to sound like everything is changing, and that makes the move seem even more scary. Pick your key items and talk them up. Is it the big yard? Or living closer to Grandma? Or a room that she doesn’t have to share with her sister? Or a cubby house? Or enough room for a pet? Or the excitement of living in the city?

Try to pick the things that you are personally excited about, because that way you don’t have to fake it.

5. …but remember to validate the negatives.

I’ve moved house 25 times in my life, but each time is still fraught with stress. How much will it cost? Will we like the new place? Will I still see my old friends? Is this really a good idea? What if I hate it there? What if the removalists crash their truck into a petrol station and all our things go up in a huge Hollywood-esque explosion? What if I forget to organise electricity? Or to forward the mail? Or to order enough boxes? Or to pack something?

All those worries are normal. If you told someone your fears and they answered you with, “But you’ll be closer to work!” you’d want to hit them. Or drink another bottle of wine. 

Your child has her own fears, many of which may be different to yours. Where will my dolly sleep? Will I find good hiding places for hide and seek? What if the cat hates it there? Will I ever see my teacher again?

If you ignore those fears and concentrate solely on the positives, your child will probably not hit you. Or drink alcohol. But she may withdraw into herself, or refuse to talk about the move, or start crying herself to sleep.

Validate her fears. Talk about the things she’s worried about. Tell her it’s okay that she loves your current house, and it’s okay that she’s a bit scared — you’re a bit scared too. But if you’re both brave together, it will be okay. And then go back to talking about the positives.

Note: Some children (especially the really sensitive ones) find it difficult to talk about their fears. If you sense that your child is upset or worried but she isn’t telling you what’s on her mind, talk to her about how her toys are feeling.

For example:

  • Moving house is very exciting, but it can seem a bit scary sometimes, too. I wonder if Teddy’s feeling a bit scared. What do you think? What do you think Teddy’s scared about the most? 

6. Explain what comes and what stays

As adults, we know which parts of our world are “house” and which parts are “stuff”. We know that the “house” stays here, and the “stuff” goes with us. But children aren’t as aware of the distinction — especially if they’ve never moved house before (that they remember). So make sure to explain which bits are coming and which bits are staying.

The first time Big Brother was old enough to realise we were moving house, he was two years old. I talked to him about what was happening, and he understood but was quite worried and scared. When we started talking about fears, he said he didn’t have any. But then he blurted out, “But who am I going to live with?”

In his mind, Mummy and Daddy were part of “home”. So going to a new home meant leaving Mummy and Daddy behind. (You should have seen the number of tears I shed over that misunderstanding!)

Not Without My Toys!

At the time of the next move, he was 3 1/2 years old. This time he was pretty cool with the whole family was moving. (I was 6 months pregnant with Baby at the time.) But his concern this time was just as serious. “But I don’t want to leave my toys behind!” 

When you’re explaining the process, make sure to talk about exactly what comes and what doesn’t. Are you taking the curtains? The bookcases? The books? The toys? His favourite chair? Be specific, because what’s obvious to us isn’t always obvious to them.

7. Remember: It’s supposed to be fun!

As we all know, actions speak louder than words. If you keep talking about how great it’s going to be, and then your child finds you crying, or acting stressed, or arguing with your partner in hushed tones, or yelling more often, the gig will be up. If you’re upset and stressed, your child will be upset and stressed.

Share your worries with your child (at an age appropriate level). Tell her if you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed today. Or frustrated. Or scared. Then give her a hug and ask how she’s feeling. And then find a way to make the day’s work fun.

A Better Use for Moving Boxes

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Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

Monday’s Top 5

My first link this week isn’t a new post. It’s been around for a while. (Since last June, actually.) I first came across it about a month ago, and have seen links to it in various places since then. But that doesn’t mean that (a) everyone’s seen it, and (b) I shouldn’t share it.

Right?

So, to all the writers out there: Ever wanted to find a way to write faster, while simultaneously increasing the quality of your writing? Then Rachel Aaron has the best info around. She shares the method that helped her go from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. Note: This is not really about writing a set number of words per day. It’s more about how to use some self-knowledge and research to dramatically increase the quality and quantity of your writing.

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Anthony Lee Collins posted a very interesting article on writing, re-reading, and the importance of having both something important to say and the capacity to say it well. Check out his post about Ellery Queen’s novel The Door Between, Writing in Balance.

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Ever heard of the idea of having a Totem Animal? As Howlin’ Mad Heather explains,  “for those who believe in such things, the totem(s) can serve as a companion through life, a symbol for one’s personality, a reflective spirit for time of trouble.” If I was going to choose a totem animal for myself, it would possibly be a tiger. Or a raven. Or… actually, that may require some more thought. Nevertheless, Heather has a great post on Prawn and Quartered talking about her totem animals and her Life as a Honey Badger.

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It’s not long ago that I discovered Jennifer of Kvetch Mom, and she made my Top 5 lists almost immediately. She continues to amazes me every week (sometimes every day) with her insightful and beautifully written prose. This week alone, she had three posts that could have made it into my list of favourites. But in choosing one, I couldn’t go past this sweet, tear-inducing story about her son. Here’s a brief excerpt from Everything Possible:

I asked if he still played with any of the boys he used to mention on occasion. He said, Not really. I’m different from them. Twisting my thumb gently, he buried his head against my shoulder. That’s okay, I said. I pretend like I’m friends with the boys so they won’t notice, he said softy. And then, Sometimes I like girly things. His breath warmed my chest as he waited for my response.

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Finally, I’d like to welcome Bridget of Twinisms to my Top 5 list. (Seriously — if you’re not following her blog yet, you’ve got absolutely no excuse.) As you may be aware, her husband deployed to Afghanistan a couple of months ago. She’s now counting down the days until he returns, with only her two sets of twins, her battle buddies, and a house full of boxed wine for company. When her Army-wife friend asked for her advice for a spouse dealing with their partner’s first deployment, Bridget whipped up a little something titled Deployment Advice.  This is not just great reading for Army wives — it should be essential reading for everyone. She’s got advice on Communication, Helping your Kids, Keeping your Sanity, and more.

Remember Murphy’s Law of Deployment. As soon as your soldier leaves, everything will break. The car, the dryer, the toilet. It happens to all of us. It’s not just you. The Gods aren’t  plotting against you, I promise.

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And I realise that’s my 5 already done, but I’d also like to leave you with this great clip. It’s so inspiring I could watch it over and over and over again.

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Yes, you DO have time!

Ever feel guilty that you don’t have time to write/exercise/paint/fulfill your lifelong ambition of visiting every shoe store in the state?

Ever wish you had just one more hour every day?

Fear not! Your worries are over! For the low, introductory price of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling), I can show you everything you need to know about finding time to achieve your heart’s desire!

Yes, you DO have time!

I’m just kidding about the money. (Unless you want to send me some. I am a poor, struggling artist after all.) But I do have the answer to my your our problems.

You’ve probably heard it said before that we all have the same amount of time — 24 hours in every day. So why does it seem like some people can work 12 hour days, write a novel every month, look after seven children, start a small business, and still have time to go shopping, where I you other people barely have time to write a couple of blog posts every week?

Is there some kind of time-turner on the market that I haven’t discovered?

Do these time-savvy people have a DeLorean in their garage?

No. Well, maybe. I don’t actually know. But what I do know is that I have a non-time travel-intensive way for me you us to find the time to write/exercise/paint/shop to our heart’s content. And I’m willing to share it with you for the low price of $19.95 free.

Let’s call it the PAE system.

Hold on, I think that deserves larger type.

The PAE System

Step 1: prioritize

I know, I know, prioritising doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Isn’t that what you do when you’ve written a list of Very Important (Boring) Tasks?

This may (or may not) surprise you, but you spend all day prioritising. All. Day. Would you like an example? Excellent.

Shall I watch TV or cook dinner?

Internalized questions: Which is most important right now? Am I hungry? Do I have to cook dinner for other people, or just myself? Is there something I particularly want to watch on TV? Is there a way I can do both?

If you’re not hungry and you don’t have the responsibility of cooking for someone else, watching TV is a higher priority than cooking dinner.

If you are hungry and you don’t have the responsibility og cooking for someone else, making dinner is a slightly higher priority, but could be over-ruled by TV if there’s something on that you particularly want to watch.

If you need to cook dinner for a family, it becomes a priority. Unless you can find a way to do both at once.

In that scenario, there are a number of listed variables that determine whether dinner or TV will be a higher priority right now. But there is also another variable, and that variable is you. Every person will prioritize slightly differently.

Let me make one thing clear: You CHOOSE to do everything you do. You CHOOSE to prioritize the way you spend your time.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “I don’t want to go to work. I’d rather stay at home and write/exercise/paint/shop all day! I have to go to work.”

No, you don’t. You really don’t. Check your hands and shoulders. Any strings attached? Have you turned into a marionette overnight? No?

You CHOOSE to go to work.

You make that choice because if you don’t, you don’t get paid. If you don’t get paid, you can’t pay your bills and put food on the table.

Like most of us, you PRIORITIZE the need for food and shelter above your need to purchase shoes.

And you do this every day, without giving it a second thought.

What else do you do with your 168 hours every week?

  • Sleep
  • Eat
  • Travel
  • Spend time with your partner, kids, parents, friends, dogs, houseplants, etc
  • Watch TV
  • Play computer games
  • Facebook
  • Tweet
  • The list goes on and on and on

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

Hold on, let me say that again:

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

You have the power. You have the control. Now, you need to learn how to wield it. Now, you need to learn how to actively prioritize.

Spend a few minutes thinking about the things that are most important to you. Your job, your family, your friends, your sleep, your food, your housework, your relaxation time (don’t kid yourself and think that relaxing isn’t important — whether you meditate, watch TV, play computer games or read a book, make sure you include time to chill out), writing, exercise, painting, shopping, whatever.

I’m not going to ask you to rank them in order of importance. That’s a fool’s game. All of them are important. If they weren’t you wouldn’t have listed them.

But when you’re prioritising, you’re not trying to replace one thing with another. You’re trying to take control of your time, and work out a more effective way of using it.

Is it okay to come home from a 15 hour work day and collapse in front of the TV for 4 hours instead of writing? Yes. You’ve just prioritized relaxation over writing for one night. That’s not a bad thing.

Is it okay to come home every night and collapse in front of the TV instead of writing? Yes. Absolutely. You’ve just prioritized relaxation over writing on a permanent basis. Also not a bad thing. Just realise that your job (financial solvency) and relaxation is a higher priority than your writing career at the moment. And that’s also okay.

Step 2: Act On It

Now that you’re aware that you have the power, act on it. Own it. Embrace it.

If you want to do more writing/exercise/painting/shopping, make it a higher priority.

All I want to do is relax in front of the TV. Hang on, is that what I really want? Is that my priority? I also want to get some writing done. Which is most important to me right now?

Again, this scenario has multiple variables and options. If you’re exhausted, maybe relaxation is a higher priority. Likewise if there’s a program on that you really want to watch. Maybe you want a break, but still want to prioritize writing. I’ll watch TV for half an hour, and then go and write for an hour. Or the other way around. I’ll do half an hour of writing, and then relax for the evening.

Don’t cut out everything you enjoy. Don’t replace one hobby with another. Just be mindful of your decisions and act on your priorities.

Step 3: Enjoy!

You’ve done it. You’ve worked out your priority, made a decision, and acted on. Now enjoy it.

If you want to prioritize your family over your writing, don’t sit around feeling guilty that you haven’t made your daily word count. Relax and revel in the fact that you OWN that decision.

If you want to prioritize sleep over exercise, don’t feel bad that you missed your morning run. Sit down and enjoy your breakfast, knowing that you CHOSE to do so.

If you want to prioritize watching American Idol re-runs over painting, go for it. Enjoy it. Tweet about. And know that you took control of your life.

If you want to go out and buy shoes instead of working, do it. You may end up living under a bridge, but damn your feet will look hot. And no-one can take that power away from you.

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

It’s as easy as P.A.E.

Let me give you an example from my own life. (Because I know you like to read about me almost as much as I like to talk about me.)

I used to say that I wished I had more time for writing. But with two small boys, a shift-working husband, and a house to look after, I rarely found time to sit and concentrate for long. I’m awake with my youngest boy before 5:00am every morning, and am kept busy with kids and housework until my eldest goes to sleep at 8:00pm. That gives me around 8 hours each night to fit in time with my husband, sleep, and anything I want to do on my own (ie. write).

I spent a good deal of time feeling frustrated because I didn’t have enough time to write. Then I started to think about the choices I was making, and the real priorities I had.

I could put the boys in child-care one or two days a week, and use those days for writing. Or I could stick the boys in front of the TV for 5 or 6 hours a day (ah, free child-care) and use that time for writing. But I chose not to. Why? Because I made the CHOICE every day to prioritize time with my children over time spent writing or time spent doing paid work.

I could ignore the dirty bathrooms, do the dishes once a day, buy pre-packaged baby food and snacks, and save a lot of time by doing minimal housework. But I made the CHOICE every day to be as close to the ideal of the “perfect housewife” as I could manage.

These were both choices I was making. I was made the choice to prioritize my kids and my role as housewife over my writing career. And I really didn’t want to change that. I wanted it all.

So I acted on it. I asked my husband to help out. I asked if he would prioritize child-care for 20 hours a month. And he said yes. So for 2.8% of every month, I get to be a “fulltime novelist” and lock myself away to work on my book.

Would I like more than 20 hours a month to write? Absolutely. But also: Absolutely not. Because having more time put aside for writing would mean prioritising writing above something else that’s important to me. So instead of complaining, I relax and enjoy the writing time that I’ve got, as well as the time to spend doing everything else. 

And I know that I’m in control of my time, not the other way around.

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