Monday 29 February 2016

Delays, Distractions and Downright Displacement - Don't Say I didn't Warn You ...

by Addy Farmer et al

I know that children's writers are a determined bunch with nerves of steel and the thick wrinkly skins of rhinos (hmmm, nice) and nothing will swerve us from our laser-like determination to work ... BUT there are occasions when we have to polish the skirting board in the back bedroom or feel the need to micromanage the inside of a fridge or crave a look at cute furry animals. Why? Why?  BECAUSE WE'VE GOT WRITING TO GET ON WITH AND IT'S SOMETIMES A BIT TRICKY.

Well, I'm here to help and after extensive research I have the cat's pyjamas of all things procrastinatoryish. Ooo - I'd better look that up ...  Let's begin with some serious animal cuteness.

Uber cute and uber stylish - who can resist?
I can't stop staring at this kitten
If you want more of this delightfulness then try Emergency Kittens for those times when only a cute cat will do - thankyou, mad-cat-lady, Teri Terry. Got a hankering for kittens and guinea pigs? Try this ...

Like your cute animals super-furry, so that you're not even sure what sort of animal they are? Try Bored Panda for some super examples. 
It's a rabbit, in case you're wondering
OK - enough sweetness? I'm the sort of person who finds cats incredibly good value. Not only are they cute, they are also amusing. They do not seem to care about where they sleep. This site has some great ridiculously distracting cat curl-ups.

My Cat Likes to Sleep in Boxes

Not distracting enough? Then try animal selfies.
This is my favourite (yes, I have a favourite) unintentional animal selfie but there is a man called Allan Dixon who travels the world taking selfies with animals and they are BRILLIANTLY DIVERTING

You little cutie
Need to do some reading to while away the time you should be writing? 
Buzzfeed Quizzes are a great source of actual facts about yourself that you never knew until you took the time away from writing to actually find out. Most of them are pure science so you can tell yourself that this is an education. It's even relevant for goodness sake because there's loads of stuff on children's books or reading or which fairy you are or which country you are most suited to (OK, maybe this IS totally irrelevant). So, you can, for example, determine which Harry Potter character you are and if you don't get the right answer the first time you can just keep going until you do. Wow - I'm Harry Potter, hurrah! (4th try)

smoking a pipe and doing the dishes is proven to help your brain Not Write Words 
Not enough? How about buying stuff you don't really need? 
It's like going round IKEA when you only want 6 wine glasses and a bag of tea-lights and you come out with a sofa and a rather lovely ice cube tray. You can even more easily find any number of things you don't need online without trying terribly hard ...

Who would be without one of these - writers are fuelled by tea and coffee
Look! A t-shirt with a book thing on it! And there's loads more here ...

Nothing says procrastination like a  t-shirt 
Or this! Guinea pig jewellery! So useless and yet so necessary!

Getting desperate? Dangerous sports could be the way to go - call it research

I'm with her ....

I'm just out of shot
It turns out that I Am Not Alone in my determination to find many ways to Not Write. What follows are top tips for delays, distractions and displacement activities:

George Kirk Writing lists of what I'm 'going' to do. And volunteering tbh
Kathryn Evans making powerpoints for school visits, shopping, cleaning, budgeting for the farm - READING- walking the dog...googlign myself - I know I know - THE SHAME
Addy Farmer I love dog googling!

Dawn Treacher Crocheting, thinking of my characters but then yes crocheting a bit more instead of writing them.

Emma Craig Jobling Baking. And lying in the bath.
Addy Farmer Glad they are separate sentences

Sarah Broadley Bizarrely enough, I'm working on a social media handout for a SCBWI event. Irony at its best.

Candy Gourlay Ha ha SCBWI is my displacement activity too.

Catriona Tippin Mine too! Rarely finish anything unless it's for Words & Pictures...

Jo Thomas Anything else! I usually hate cleaning but I've been known to bleach the grout between the bathroom tiles if I know I've got a difficult bit of writing/editing to do.

Amanda George I'll just quickly check my emails then Facebook then the forums then... lol It's just the getting started for me, when I've got myself going I can write thousands of words a day, it's just the planning/remembering that I have difficulty with because of the brain damage!

Nicola Keller Er... don't don't do what I did! On a cold Monday when the words wouldn't come I googled animal shelters. By Saturday we had a new dog. Oops! Now I've got dog walks to fit iinto school hours as well as trying to find time to write/cook/shop/clean etc.

Teri Terry ha! I do kitten/cat googling. I hate how they have those links for adopting cats on facebook - I've spent hours looking at all the cats that need homes do kitten/cat googling. I hate how they have those links for adopting cats on facebook - I've spent hours looking at all the cats that need homes

Nicola Keller How could we resist?

Linda Nicklin well there's the chocolate route, the bleaching route, the googling route, the games completed in better than previous best route, the my dog is deprived if it doesn't get a walk on the beach today route....

Teri Terry Polishing my ducks. No, this is not a euphemism - we have a lot of ducks!
oh - and blogging, of course!

Candy Gourlay Blogging is a great procrastination device.

Sarah Broadley *whispers whoever says they don't need to look that up is lying* Lovely ducks! Edinburgh has a duck race every year to raise money, it's great fun. Just in case you're up here at the same time. Dates for this years race tbc though.

Debbie Edwards Constantly checking my phone just in case I miss an important (?) email/facebook alert/tweet. Also, cleaning the toilets, making more coffee and hunting for sweet things in the cupboard. smile emoticon

Lindsay Littleson Making cups of tea, scrolling through Facebook looking for cats doing funny things, checking out art and craft ideas for school on Pinterest.

Francesca Rosenberg Baking. Eating. Building lego mansions with my eldest son. Building train tracks....endless...

Helen Clark Jones I cleaned the conservatory windows inside and out to escape from my synopsis. It took all day!

Carmel Waldron Online shopping, my accounts, FB, writing inf
Robbie Donaldson Well that's been 10 minutes to read all of these with a five minute gap near the end to contemplate the art of duck polishing. I was thinking "what can be polished on a duck other than its bill and wouldn't any self-respecting duck object..." when I saw the photo of the duck collection. Sigh , it's back to work then.

THANKYOU SCBWI-ers. You are all the bee's knees, the sardines's whiskers, the pig's wings - must find out more ...

I'd like to dedicate this post to that great philosopher-pig and world-class distracting furry facebook friend, Mista Pig.

Monday 22 February 2016

Making things up: writing all the right words – but not necessarily in the right order

a.k.a. The Eric and Ern Guide to Writing
a.k.a. Conquering the Crap Mountain

by Teri Terry
Part 3 in Making Things up: a blog series about the creative process.  

So, you're a writer, and you've decided to take it seriously (part 1). 

You've got an idea, and you've got started (part 2). 

How do you keep going when the going gets tough?

Don't we all live for the days when inspiration hits and words flow? Actually, saying 'days'
is misleading. So would be hours. How about...minutes? 

Let's face it: for me, anyhow, moments of pure joy and inspiration and muse love are rare. How do you keep going when the rest of the time it feels more like pulling your finger nails off slowly with pliers? On days when you'd rather hang from a tower in a cage like this unfortunate chap than face another blank page?

We're supposed to love writing. We're doing it because we want to, right? So why does it feel this way sometimes? Maybe this is it:

Does your internal critic rate your work according to a crap mountain? 

If the best you can hope for is ‘getting closer, but still crap’ – and only a tiny percentage of your work can scale this dizzying height – why would you go on? I wouldn’t. I’d develop ever more creative modes of procrastination (duck polishing, anyone?), and look for chocolate.

This is something I have to remind myself of over and over again:
The first draft of everything is shite. Hemingway
If Hemingway's first drafts were shite, I'm guessing it's OK if mine are, too.

Do you remember this Eric & Ern moment of comedy gold history? Eric Morecambe’s line in answer to the complaints of Conductor Previn about his piano playing:

‘I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order.’ 

And that is what a first draft is all about. Getting the words out, in whatever form they may take. 

Whether your critics are external, like Ern's, or internal, like mine usually are, if you’re frozen by fear – fear of not being good enough, of what you’re writing on the page not measuring up to what is in your head, and what you are writing and what is in your head not measuring up to some perceived standard you want to attain or you feel others want or expect you to attain – well. Nothing you can put on paper will ever be good enough if you feel that way. 

Even if your internal critic is more reasonable, you still need to shut them up to get on with things. I’d suggest a crap mountain Hill of Hoorays that is more like this:

When things seem beyond impossible, some days it is enough to get words on the page - making the words the goal in and of themselves. They can be as messy and convoluted and misspelled and disordered as the worst writing in the history of the world, but that’s ok. Because they’ve better than crap. You can rewrite them, delete them, rewrite them and delete them again and again, but that’s still ok. They’re still better than crap.

It’s a modest goal, but one that helps keep me go on the rough days.

A few specifics that I find also help:

1. Keep your story warm. Even when you're insanely busy, even if you only tinker with a few lines for a few minutes on crazy days, it helps. The longer it has been since you've dived in, the harder the diving gets. The colder the water and you just don't want to get in there, and if it has frozen over completely...well. That's a nightmare.
Brrrr...a total head cracker
Lovely! Warm! Your toes so *want* to dip in, and the rest to follow

2. Know where to stop. Say you've just finished a scene you're really happy with, and you're knackered and deserve some nice treats, maybe a glass of wine and half a bar of chocolate and some mindless TV, and that is quite enough for today...DON'T STOP THERE. 
Don't stop at the end of a scene, the end of a chapter. Even if you only make a few notes or write a paragraph, start the next bit. It makes starting the next day SO much easier. Even better is to stop when you're in the middle of whatever it is you love to write, so you're desperate to start again - with me, that's usually dialogue or action. If I'm half way through an action scene the next day begins like a dream.
Likewise, if you're writing a series and you've just finished book 1 and sent it off to your editor and deserve the holiday of a lifetime, right now....DON'T let anyone sleep on your laptop just yet, no matter how cute.
While it is all in your head, write just a little of book 2 - a few chapters, some notes. Otherwise by the time you get edits back on book 1 and deal with those, starting book 2 will become a Thing. Like Things that live under the bed or the stairs, and only come out in nightmares. Or so you hope...

3. Do other things with the story without actually writing it. OK, that might sound a bit wrong when you're trying to get going with your writing...but sometimes I find editing a bit I've already written or drawing some nice plot flow charts or filling in a bit of a plot summary is a good way of sneaking up on what I have to do. It gets my mind in the story, and then it is easier to get going. Plus it takes the pressure off thinking I have to start writing as soon as I open my laptop.

The bottom middle notebook is the one for my current WIP.
4. Pen and Paper. I'm really happy writing direct on my laptop most of the time, but sometimes having that physical feel of a pen in my hand, running across paper, really helps the words come. Of course, it is vitally important to regularly update your stationery supplies so you're ready for these emergencies.

5. Deadlines. Like 'em or loathe 'em, sometimes they help to focus the mind. Even if you don't have an agent or an editor waiting for you to get on with it, setting deadlines and targets can really help. Also try mini deadlines along the way - say, to hit a certain page number or word count by a certain date. This is especially helpful if the big overall Book Must Be Done By Date is too scary to contemplate. Only make sure they are reasonably achievable, or it's just another crap mountain.

Self control App - and large mug of tea - in action
6. Get Self Control. The app, I mean. There are lots of versions of internet blocking apps that let you get on with it without being led astray by interesting blogs, shopping for notebooks or hearing the latest on FaceTwit. This is my favourite one; it only blocks what you want it to block, so you can block your distractions but still be able to do bits of research if you need to. You set it for whatever time period you want. I usually do 45 minute blocks. That's about as long as I can go without FaceTwit.

6. Keep the Faith.
Keep the faith: the right words will be there, somewhere in the mess.You can put them in the right order when the editing begins.

7. And if all else fails...? 
I have a post-it note for these moments.
A weird thing I've found out about writing as I've gone along is that what works when you are writing one story won't necessarily work when you are writing another one. 
Sometimes you just have to find your way as you go.

Now...for ANYONE WHO DOESN'T KNOW WHO ERIC AND ERN ARE  *shocked voice* (and I mean you, Candy), here is a snippet! All worth watching, but the famous line is at about 2:25.

A few last words confessions
Just in case you were thinking my Hill of Hoorays and helpful hints and deadline and faith keeping and Eric and Ern and all that have me all sorted out....well...

I did the right thing; I started book 2 before I edited book 1; I even like the started bit, and it even doesn't need to change after editing book 1. I've made lots of notes by hand and drawn things with arrows and made some tables. But oh my: it is so, so COLD, even looking sidewise at the file minimised at the bottom of the computer screen is giving me chills. I love the story, I want to write it, I can write it, I've got faith in all these things...but it's going to take an ice pick at least. 
It is Weds 17 Feb right now and this blog post is going up on Monday 22 Feb. I've been trying to start for days, and getting nowhere.
So here is my mini deadline: I WILL break through the ice before then, and report back in the comments.
Now: where's the chocolate?

Addendum - added 26 Feb 16: 
Sometimes the problem is...that I haven't a clue what the problem is. Isn't writing like that?
In this case I was near the beginning of book 2 and starting a new POV character - a character who has been in the story all through book 1, who I thought I knew inside and out (and I do, pretty much). So what's the problem?? Why couldn't I write the first chapter that was to be from his POV? 
The answer, Einstein (I'm a bit slow sometimes), is it didn't matter how well I knew him - I didn't have his voice.
I've found it now, and all is good with the muse.

About the Author
Teri Terry is the author of the Slated trilogy, Mind Games, and Dangerous Games. She should be writing book 2 of the Dark Matter trilogy (coming in 2017) right now, but was hoping writing a blog post about keeping going would give her the kick to, you know, actually get on with it. Until then, here is one she prepared earlier: Book of Lies, out on 24th March.

p.s. sorry about the gratuitous kittens - I couldn't help myself.

Monday 15 February 2016

Seven Fascinating Films about Writers

By Nick Cross

I like films. I like writing. So perhaps it was inevitable that I would like films about writers. And once you scratch the surface, there are quite a few of them. Of course, most films start as a screenplay which has to be written by one or (more commonly) several people, so perhaps it’s not surprising that those writers occasionally turn inwards for inspiration. What is surprising about it is that writing as an activity is just about the least filmic thing ever invented, with its furrowed concentration over a keyboard, unintelligible muttering or pacing around with a half-smoked cigarette. I have never in my life pulled a sheet of paper from a typewriter, screwed it into a ball and thrown it in the bin. Yet this motion is one of the great clich├ęs of writing in the movies.

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