Category Archives: writing advice

How to Write – a manual for distractible writers

Step 1. Check email, in case you have won some nationwide competition or had a world-renowned journal accept one of your stories.

Step 2. Check Facebook. There could be a writing opportunity on a page you’ve liked. Or a cute puppy video.

Step 3. Check Twitter. You may hear some interesting news that prompts you to write a brilliant new piece of fiction. Or creative non-fiction. Or a cool sort of limerick.

Step 4. Check Instagram. You may get good ideas for a snack.

Step 5. Get a snack. And a drink while you’re at it.

Step 6. Sit back down. Open your document. Yes, just go to the toilet. Be quick.

Step 7. Write. Stay there. Do not access the internet, ring people or text people. Write.

Step 8. Briefly congratulate self. You’re writing!

Step 9. Keep writing.

 

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Work it, baby

This is not a post about high intensity interval training. I walk the dog and take the odd yoga class, but I’m no fitness guru. In fact, I’m not a guru of anything. However, my friend Jen* has achieved guru status in my eyes.

I met with her this morning for coffee and a catch-up. We talked about books we’d read, our own writing progress, our ‘day jobs’, our kids. And then we hit the topic of procrastination. Otherwise known as The Writers Curse. We both admitted that the internet is a distraction, and I bemoaned my tendency to avoid writing by doing household chores, snacking, phoning people and patting the dog. (I claim to love writing, but I think the truth is I mostly love having written. Sure, I love writing when the words are flowing thick and fast, but honestly, that’s pretty rare. Often it’s a hard, bloody slog. So what I really enjoy is when I’m done.)

When I’d finished complaining, Jen looked at me with her clear, steady eyes and said, “What I do is put a timer on. For thirty minutes, I have to sit there and work. I can’t get up and do anything else. Then, when I’m done, I set the timer for a ten minute break.”

How fantastic is that? None of this ‘I’ll work till midday now’ when it’s only nine a.m. and within five minutes you’ve checked email, followed a link and are reading about dogs who sense seizures. Oh no, you only commit to thirty minutes of work. An achievable goal. A sweet, approachable, friendly sort of goal.

I tried this plan today, and guess what? Over the two hours available to me, I did three 30/10 sessions, which is (embarrassingly) waaaay more than I’ve been getting done lately. I was focussed and calm. There was no other option but to write, yet I knew I’d get a break in a matter of minutes.

I suppose the 30/10 approach is nothing new, but I hadn’t thought to apply it to writing. So if, like me, you find yourself faffing when you want to be writing, it might be worth a try. And Jen, if you happen to read this before I tell you in person … thank you, thank you, thank you!

*Name changed to protect the guru.

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comfort for writers

If you haven’t yet read The Writer’s Room, a series of interviews with well-known Australian writers by Charlotte Wood, I can highly recommend it. I seem to be one of the last to the party here, as other writing friends have been reading these interviews in an e-magazine, and telling me how inspiring they are, for ages. But for whatever reason, I hadn’t read these amazing interviews until I bought the book (released August 2016).

If you procrastinate terribly, you’ll read about other writers who do, too. If you doubt yourself constantly, you’ll find authors who feel just the same. If you’d like a sneak peek into how published writers go about their work – the actual nitty gritties of when they start, when they stop, how much cake they eat (okay I made that part up) – it’s all here.

If you want to read more, here’s an interview that Charlotte Wood gave about how the insights she gained changed her approach to writing her most recent book, The Natural Way of Things, at this link.

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Dogged Persistence

Tilly 25:11:14

My sister-in-law sent me a link the other day. It was an article about the research of a well-known psychologist, Anders Ericsson, who believes that given a certain basic level of talent, the main difference between people being ordinary or high-achievers in almost any field – music, chess, writing, even athletics – is the hours of learning and practice they put in. Talent doesn’t figure nearly as highly as you would think, according to the large studies he has analysed. The key to success is persistence. Not just mindless repetition though. The time has to be used for learning, finding ways to improve, taking new information on board, mastering each new skill. Spending hours and hours, week after week, year after year.

I found this quite cheering. Not so much the fact that I’ve obviously still got years to go before I might become a terrific writer. More that it’s potentially possible – I could become really good. Success is not just for those special writers who were born gifted, it’s not necessarily out of my reach. According to this scientist, unless I genuinely have zero aptitude for writing, I can be good at this. If I just put in the hard work, if I keep going despite all the rejection emails and the temptation of Facebook and the constant desire to bake chocolate chip cookies, I have a great chance of becoming a skilled writer. We all do – all of us who love words, the hapless scribblers of the world. Woo hoo!

When I worked as a GP, I was painfully aware that I wasn’t the smartest doctor in town. I didn’t know the causes of raised calcium off by heart and I had to look up drugs sometimes because I couldn’t remember which was which. I don’t know if I ever fully understood how the kidneys worked, but luckily that wasn’t really relevant to day-to-day practice. I did know how to work hard, though. How to read around patient cases, and call pathologists for advice. How to badger hospital outpatient departments to get my patients seen promptly. How to spend time with my patients and examine them fully and not rush them out the door. I knew how to put in the time required.

Now, trying to establish myself as a writer, that same determination is still with me. It flags sometimes, especially when it’s been a long time since any positive news (Like right now. Around ten months. Not that I’m counting). But I remind myself that the writers who don’t succeed aren’t necessarily the ones without the requisite talent – they’re also the ones who stopped writing. The ones who quit.

So after each ‘thanks but no thanks’ email I take a deep breath, make a cup of tea, and go back to putting words on the page. One foot in front of the other. Woof.

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Reasons to write (by Charlotte Wood)

I came across an article in Friday’s The Australian in which author Charlotte Wood shared the contents of an email she sent to a couple of close friends when she was writing her novel, The Natural Order of Things. She’d begun to lose faith in her project and wondered how it could possibly benefit the world. This is part of that email.

But I have bucked myself up a little bit, by writing a list of reasons to keep going. Here’s what I came up with. Reasons to write:

To make something beautiful. Beauty does not have to mean prettiness, but can emerge from the scope of one’s imagination, the precision of one’s words, the steadiness and honesty of one’s gaze.

To make something truthful. ‘Truth is beauty, beauty truth.’

To make use of what you have and who you are. Even a limited talent brings with it an obligation to explore it, develop it, exercise it, be grateful for it.

To make, at all. To create is to defy emptiness. It is generous, it affirms. To make is to add to the world, not subtract from it. It enlarges, does not diminish.

Because as Iris Murdoch said, paying attention is a moral act. To write truthfully is to honour the luck and the intricate detail of being alive.

I read this section intently and as I read it the words blurred with tears. I realised Charlotte’s words were a balm to my heart, because it is my secret fear that in writing stories I’m wasting time. Wasting the time of others and wasting my own time. Whiling away hours in fictitious worlds when I could be doing something concrete and helpful. Maybe having a medical degree makes this feeling more acute (even though I still work as a surgical assistant, it’s not the same level of ‘helping’ as being a GP). But I suspect a lot of writers have this same fear, at least until they write a bestseller and get hundreds of emails about how the book changed the correspondent’s life. 🙂

So to any writers out there who get doubts, feel uncertain, lose faith … you’re definitely not alone. And this post is for you.

 

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