Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

How Can I Find Time to Write?

For most writers, writing is something that has to be done alongside work and family commitments, and finding time can be challenging. It’s too easy for the evening to draw in towards bedtime without having written anything creative that day.

I’m lucky because my time is more flexible than many people’s, but my writing is still juggled with a PhD and accompanying career-development activities, running and gym visits, plus regular trips to Germany to see my husband who’s working there (my work patterns fit around Ryanair schedules better than his do). There’s a huge temptation to put things off until a never-arriving tomorrow.

I’ve managed to pass the 80,000 word hurdle on my novel, so it seemed appropriate to reflect on how I’ve done it. It’s taken a year and a half in total, including an initial rough draft, honing, editing and rewriting. While it is possible to write a lot of basic draft material very quickly, the same can’t be said for well-crafted, quality writing that I’d be happy to put in front of other people. It’s been a case of doing a little most days – I’d love to say every day, but I can’t! Some days writing isn’t a viable activity, while other days I seem to have a block. When that happens, I’ve found the best plan is to change tack and read the novel, from the beginning, using a print-out or an iPod. Every reading reveals more opportunities for improvement, and the time isn’t wasted. Instead, I start spotting the inconsistencies that could only be achieved if my protagonist had four arms, a doppelganger and an Imelda Marcos shoe collection in her pocket.

When it comes to getting the novel written – and all the other daily tasks too – I confess I’m an app fiend. Here are my favourites:

  • Day Planner: divide your day into blocks, with alarms if you like, and allocate tasks accordingly. Colour-code! Add pictures! This might sound a bit of a time-waster, but an initial investment reaps rewards. I always know what I shouldbe doing…
  • Firetask:project management using in-trays, today lists and all kinds of other fun gadgetry. I have tasks on daily and weekly repeat, and currently there are 17 projects on there, ranging from PhD experiments to improving general quality of life, and including novelling. If you ever forget vital tasks as your mind is on something else, this app is perfect.
  • My Writing Spot: a useful app to make sure you never lose a writing project, and handy for reading your work on an iPod. It’s not so great as an editing tool for anything more than small tweaks and correcting typos, but once you’ve synced the app with your latest updates, you don’t need internet access to read your novel – very handy for airport queues!

Allocating time to writing has been central to getting this far. Sometimes I feel guilty dropping another project in favour of novelling, but a ‘write some novel’ alarm seems to counteract that. If the writing alarm goes off, I feel guilty if I don’t get stuck in. But a novel is not just about getting the words down on the page; it’s also about feeling their effect, understanding them, playing with them and bending them to my will. When, reading through my novel, I find that time slips by and I become engrossed, I know it’s coming together.

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Writers’ Groups: Stepping outside the comfort zone

In her 1934 classic, ‘Becoming a Writer’, Dorothea Brande suggests that writers should cultivate ‘two persons’ within themselves: one should be practical and objective, the other sensitive and creative. We are often so caught up with the latter as we write that the pragmatist side – which is far more use for getting our work improved and noticed – is neglected.

One way of addressing that is to join a writers’ group. It’s tempting to hone, edit and generally tweak writing around for years, but constructive feedback from a critical audience is vital to help make the finished work as good as it can be. More fundamentally, if you are serious about getting your writing read by others, you need to be used to negative as well as positive feedback. You can’t be to everyone’s taste, however good a writer you are.

I admit that my instinct has always been to go it alone (I still have the school report from when I was 9, which said I preferred my own ideas to those of others, and never was a truer word spoken…). I’d lasted a couple of weeks on a 10-week creative writing course some years back, largely because it felt like being back at school; disciplined, rigorous and, as a newbie writer, I struggled to engage with the highly critical environment (or, to be more accurate, the highly critical tutor). Ever since then, I’ve avoided anything combining writing and groups, but my New Year’s Resolution was to start going outside my comfort zone, and the writing group had to be done. I went online to the Meetup website, found this group http://www.meetup.com/Writers-Connect-Manchester/ and went along to a meeting.

It wasn’t like school. We sat in easy chairs in Costa, and I wasn’t the only first-timer, and nor was I the only one worrying about what might be coming next. We started off with a writing exercise, then went round the group, reading out our efforts. Mine was OK – some of the writing was better than mine, but I still felt I could hold my own. We critiqued another member’s poem (rather good, and written in her second language). I came away wondering how a prepared extract of my writing would fare. The next meeting, I took a few pages of my novel along.

Altogether, I had four pages of writing. I thought it might be a little long, but at the end of the first page, they were happy for me to keep going, so I did. As I finished the last sentence, there was a long silence. That was the worst moment: I wondered if I was about to be taken down a few pegs and put firmly in my place as a beginner. But that wasn’t the case. I think it may just have been that general reluctance we often have to be the first one to speak, and once we started discussing the passage, I got some really helpful feedback on adding some detail and taking a little away. We talked about the kind of market it would appeal to – perhaps a little narrower than I’d first hoped, but realistic, and, as I said earlier, you aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. There were some positive comments too, regarding the way I’d used the characters to create a sense of awkwardness. It’s one thing to feel a particular mood as you write a scene, but quite another thing to be sure that others can also sense the same atmosphere, so feedback was important here.

I came home feeling pleased I’d had the guts to have my work dissected, and still more pleased that it had generated such useful critiques. I revised the passage, and you can read it here http://www.rachelhallettwriter.co.uk/page_2629079.html. Stepping outside your comfort zone is easily avoided, but once you’ve done it, you see the rewards. I’m trying to more of it in everyday life – to say yes when my instinct is to say “Aaargh!”, and I’m having a lot of fun.

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