Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Time Management

I’ve written about time management before. There’s no end of ideas out there about how to get more out of your time. So many in fact that I know in writing this I’m adding to the din, but I’ve been trying something new and it’s been working for me. Really, honestly, working for me.

A month ago, I decided that I needed to up my game. Not just in my writing career but in my personal life. In classic Wendy style I headed to the library and picked up a few books. I read them all and settled on the one that really stood out for me, The Five Choices of Extraordinary Productivity from Franklin Covey. I mean the name says it all. Five choices. I make a load of choices every day, I can add another five.

The five choices are:

  1. Act on the important, don’t react to the urgent
  2. Go for the extraordinary, don’t settle for the ordinary
  3. Schedule the big rocks, don’t sort the gravel
  4. Rule your technology, don’t let it rule you
  5. Fuel your fire, don’t burn out

I’m not going to summarise the entire book because there’s so much in it. I do encourage you to check it out, because time management can make a huge difference to finding time to write.

For me, acting on the important (writing, spending time with my kids, calling a friend) rather than being distracted by the urgent (what Jennifer Aniston looks like now, reorganising the spice-rack) has being really helpful. I’m very much a ‘oh, shiny’ sort of person and while that means I notice things that others don’t, it also means that I’m pulled away from meaningful tasks more than I like.

Scheduling those things that are important and getting them done, rather than drowning in the mess of things that “need” doing has also really helped me. In the book they say the first step is to identify if something is important or meaningful, and then to put it into one of four categories – either it’s a task (and goes on a list), an appointment (and goes in your diary), a contact (and is added to your contacts) or a note (and is filed with other notes for easy access).

I’m still working on getting a handle on my technology, but I have to say that I’ve managed to organise my inbox which is really the modern-day equivalent of climbing Everest (I bet all those mountain climbers have overflowing inboxes).

I’m certainly not saying this is the only or best system out there, but it’s a system that I’ve found easy to implement. As with all time-management systems, there is an element of discipline at play. While I’ schedule a walk at 11:30, it’s still up to me to make sure I take it. That said, if you’re finding it difficult to find time to write, it might be worth looking into. And it’s a fairly easy read, so you could probably read it and watch TV at the same time.

Don’t be fooled. There’s always time for TV.

Posted in Blog

Good-bye for Now

Today is exactly one month before Christmas. As always at this time of year I’m taking a break from Pieces of String but I will return in 2020 and, if you follow me on Instagram, I’m sure I’ll still be adding things there (probably in the sporadic way I do now).

I want to take this time to wish you a safe and love-filled end to the year, whatever your faith and wherever you are in the world. So many wonderful things have happened during 2019, but I also feel it’s been a year of conflict, many of them conflicts about how people feel we should act now, for the future of our world and species. I’m hoping that next year we are all able to find more common ground, peace and co-operation.

I hope Pieces of String has helped in some small way to encourage you with your writing. An art like ours truly helps people make sense of the crazy world we live in, as well as giving us a voice, and it’s worth pursuing even if it’s only for our own wellbeing.

If you are Christian, I wish you a very happy and safe Christmas. If not, I wish you a very happy and safe end to your year. Thank you to everyone who has joined me here at Pieces of String. There will be a couple more posts this week but otherwise, see you in 2020.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

The Doubt Demon

Doubt. Everyone, in every job, experiences it. In some jobs doubt can be fatal – ideally your brain surgeon won’t be in the clutches of the Doubt Demon when she looks down on your grey-matter – but in writing it’s only fatal to your confidence.

That’s fine, you know doubt isn’t going to kill you, but it still keeps you up at night and makes your stomach roll over when you approach your keyboard. So, what do you do?

The first thing I do is google such heart-warming phrases as, ‘when should you pull the plug on your dream’ and ‘how long does it take to become a dental nurse’. This is a waste of time but at least I feel like I have options. I can walk away from writing; the world won’t end. There are options out there for me, I’m a capable and multi-skilled person.

Then, I do the useful stuff. I reach out to my critique partners, writers on FB groups I’m a part of and chat with my husband (who gives the best advice). I step away from what I’m working on (which is usually what’s raising the doubts) and look at my other work. Writing both young adult and picture books helps because they’re so different. Young adult tends to be very issue based, where as picture books are across the spectrum from deep issues to light and fun. Swapping from one to the other can help to break the conflict going on in my brain.

You won’t be the first person to doubt their ability, drive or ideas. Doubt is a part of life. God knows I don’t just have doubts about my writing career. I have doubts about everything from parenting to adulting to driving. But it is possible to work through our doubts and, when we do, we’re one step closer to success.

Posted in Blog

NYC Midnight

I’m a big fan of flash fiction. I love writing the stories for Two-Sentence Tuesday (if you’d like to contribute your own two-sentence story, contact me) and I recently took part in the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge. I had never done a writing challenge before, but I saw an ad for the NYC challenge on Instagram and thought, “Why not give it a go?”

The NYC challenge is broken into four rounds, with each entrant guaranteed to participate in the first two. Entrants are divided into groups and at a specified time (midnight US time) and date you’re sent a genre, location and object that you must include in your 1000-word story, then you have 48 hours to write and submit that story. The top fifteen stories in each group are awarded points – 15 points for first, 1 point for fifteenth. After the first two rounds, the top five entrants for each group move on to round three, while the others are finished for the competition.

I didn’t move on to round three but I did make it into the top fifteen for my group in both rounds, which I was so excited about (and genuinely not expecting). The real prize from participating was the detailed feedback on my writing from three different judges. Although it’s unlikely that I would return to those stories, they highlighted strengths and weaknesses that I see time and again in my longer work.

I don’t know a lot about NYC Midnight, but they seem to offer a variety of competitions throughout the year. I would definitely give it another go, and if you’ve been thinking about entering more competitions, I would recommend looking out for one of theirs.

After all, there’s nothing like a tight deadline to get those creative juices flowing.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Gadget-Man (or Woman)

As modern writers we are incredibly lucky to have a wide range of programs and gadgets designed to help us get our stories from our brains and onto the page. No hand cramp for us. Or messy type-writer ribbon. If writing a 90,000-word novel by hand doesn’t make you shiver, imagine editing it by hand. Yikes.

The downside of having all these writing gadgets is know which one to choose, if you choose any at all. There are still plenty of authors who go the pen and paper route all the time.

While I haven’t used all the available writing tools out there, I use WriteWay and Word myself, I do have some tips on things to keep in mind when considering a new writing tool.

1.Ease of Use

Is it user-friendly? Can you get the basic idea of how to use it without having to go through long tutorials? Is it intuitive? Does it use those basic short-cut keys that you’ve grown used to in other apps (ctrl+c, ctrl+v for example)? Is it easy to move text, scenes or even whole chapters, around?

2. Back-up

Does it allow you to easily back your work up either in the cloud or to external storage, or both, quickly and easily? There’s nothing quite like the feeling of realising you’ve just lost half your novel and there’s no way to retrieve it.

3. Cross-Compatibility

Can you export your work to other apps quickly and easily? For example, from Word to Google Docs, or from your particular app to Word.

5. Is it Affordable

Personally, I much prefer to pay a one-off price than a monthly or yearly subscription, but that’s just me. What’s important is that you choose a program or tool that sits comfortably within your budget – writing is one of those fields where the expense of a tool doesn’t directly affect the quality of the work.

6.Does it Address a Problem You Have?

There’s no point getting an app that promises you a distraction free environment, when you don’t have a problem with distractions. Or allows you to divide your work into Acts, when you exclusively write poetry. Apps and gadgets need to make your life easier, otherwise what’s the point?

As I mentioned, I use WriteWay (which my husband bought me right at the beginning of my writing journey) and Word. I’m not endorsing them over any other program, they’re just the apps that work for me and make it easier for me to create. And that’s the most important thing. There’s no point having a whizz-bang app if you’re not sitting down and creating with it.

Posted in Blog

Kindness Matters

I’ve been feeling low lately. Really low. Being low the way I feel at the moment is different to how I feel when my anti-depressants need altering. It’s a low based on real things, real events and fears and sadness, as opposed to the chemicals in my brain being out of kilter which can be completely unaffected by external things. It’s not great but I know it will pass.

The other difference between, I guess, situational lowness (not a word, but stay with me) and chemical lowness (I know, I’m asking a lot here but I can’t think of another way to describe it) is that external things can give you a real lift. One of those happened to me this morning.

I was heading back to my car at the supermarket and I had to wait for a lady to close her door. I noticed she had a little doll attached to her purse and complemented her on it. Turns out it was based on Japanese anime and she had lived in Japan for ten years. I told her we were visiting Japan next year and she gave me her card in case I wanted to ask any questions.

How nice is that?

That sort of generosity and kindness can change your day. She didn’t have to do that. In fact, she didn’t have to say anything. She could have just said, “thanks” and gone on her way. But she went out of her way to be kind.

And I my world got a little bit brighter.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Early Bird or Night Owl – Use it to Your Advantage

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m a morning person. I have always been a morning person, even when I was a moody teenager. In fact, when I was completing my last year at school I got up at 5am, six days a week, to study.

My mum on the other hand refers to herself as a night owl. For years she had to drag herself out of bed early to get us ready for the day and off to school but, once we grew up, she was able to slip into her natural rhythm. She may get up later than me, but she is still good to go when I’m dying to curl up and go to sleep.

What’s this got to do with you?

Working out where you fit on the ‘early-bird-nigh-owl’ continuum can make a huge difference to getting the most out of your writing. Especially if you’re trying to balance writing with other aspects of your life like school, university or work. If you have no issues with bouncing out of bed at 5am, you might as well use that to your advantage. Equally, if you get your second wind around 7pm, why wouldn’t you put some hours into your passion?

Don’t get sucked into the idea that one way of working is inherently better than the other. While we might have built ‘morning people’ up (the early bird gets the worm or early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise), there’s nothing ‘better’ about being able to function well in the morning as opposed to the evening. What’s important is that we play to our strengths, not force ourselves into someone else’s idea of ‘good’.

Why not have a think about when you function best and put it to work for you, and your writing.

Posted in Blog

The Countdown Has Begun

Oo, the Christmas countdown has begun. In my part of the word the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, the days are heating up and it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas (of course, depending on who you are it could also be feeling a lot like Hanukkah).

Christmas is, without doubt, my favourite time of year. Everything is prettier, the sun shines brighter and the kids are off school for six whole weeks! Everyone and everything feels just that little bit happier around Christmas time and, right now, that’s a feeling that I grabbing with both hands.

So, let the games begin!

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Grammar Woes

On Monday I revealed that I sprinkle commas through my work like Peter Pan sprinkled around pixie dust. Today I’m going to talk about that a little more. I am not, however, going to give you a grammar lesson. Why? Because I am BAD at grammar and punctuation.

Despite being an Indonesian language teacher.

Despite having taught English in the past.

Despite being a professional writer.

We all need to know our strengths and weaknesses. Grammar and punctuation is not one of my strengths. But, I still have four tips to share when it comes to this confusing and aggravating, but essential, element of writing.

  • Study up

I struggle with grammar and punctuation, but some people live for it. I’m not talking about your friend who corrects you while your speaking to her. I’m talking about people who run blogs full of helpful, thoughtful and clear explanations of not only when to use certain punctuation but why you would use it then. For example, did you know that you need a ‘comma’ when you use a conjunction to join to complete sentences? I didn’t, but heaps of other lovely people did so now I do.

  • Treat the spelling and grammar check in your word processor with suspicion

It’s no surprise to anyone that technology is fallible. That’s why we back everything up to the cloud now-a-days (and a floppy disk when I was young. About a thousand years ago). Don’t just accept Word (or your writing tool of choice’s) suggestions. Read them, consider if you think they’re correct and, if in doubt, google that grammar or punctuation rule. A computer cannot tell the difference between ‘right’ and ‘write’ or between ‘grammar is fun.’ and ‘grammar is fun?’.

  • Grammar and punctuation only count when someone else is going to read your work

If you’re not handing your work into a teacher, passing it along to a beta-reader, or sending it to a publisher then don’t get bogged down in the details. Write your story, round out your characters, create a climax to die for THEN worry about where your full-stops and commas go.

  • Voice is more important than correct grammar.

Others might disagree with me, but I believe it’s more important for your character to have an authentic voice then be grammatically correct. For example, I find it hard to believe that many adults, let alone a teenage boy or girl, would say, “Whom are you going to believe?” rather than, “Who are you going to believe?”. How we speak is often a clue to our upbringing, social-economic status and level of education. The truth is, we don’t all speak proper and we don’t all speak proper all of the time.

I hate grammar and punctuation, but it’s something I just have to put up with. If you’re like me, I hope my few tips of how I survive it helps ease your journey a little. And if you’re a grammar pedant, keep your corrections to yourself.