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 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 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 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 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.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Going On

Someone I care about passed away very recently. I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s not really my place to, and it’s pretty raw still. What I do want to say is, there will be times in your life when things happen. Things that hurt. Things that shock. Things that make you reconsider how you live your life, or the priorities you have. When these things happen it will be tempting to stop writing, because to write we necessarily have to have our emotions at the surface, and when we’re hurting this can be very hard.

Unfortunately, if we’re going to go forward as writers we need to keep writing. Just as if we wanted to be dentists or carpenters, we would need to keep showing up and doing our jobs. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t treat ourselves with care and compassion. We definitely should. But the flip side the creativity required to be a writer is the business of being a writer.

When things happen that make us pause with pain, life does go on. It goes on with hurt and grief, with sadness and regret, with loss keenly felt, but it goes on none the less. That is the nature of life. That is the nature of having a job and responsibilities and growing into an adult that others can look to for support and love. You may need to take a breath, but you must keep going.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Seeing What’s Important, Not What’s There

This morning I walked the kids to school and then kept walking up to the cafe at the local supermarket, with the idea that I would get a mocha and drink it as I walked home. Somewhere between the school and the cafe, the $50 note that I had stuffed in my jeans pocket (because, I didn’t want to carry my purse with me) fell out. When I got to the counter, I put my hand in my pocket and ta-da, it have vanished.

Why am I telling you this? Well, firstly because it’s really given me the irrits and I want to share that with you, but mainly (and most importantly) because it’s a great example of how we – and therefore so should our characters – focus on what’s important to us in the moment, not on everything that’s around us.

My walk up to the cafe was lovely. I noticed the grass, and the sky, the clouds rolling over which made me think about how it’s meant to rain this afternoon. I smiled at mums walking home from the school with toddlers and preschoolers. The walk home was different. I noticed every leaf and piece of rubbish that caught the light and could, at a distance, be mistaken for a shiny plastic note. I looked intently at corners and fences where a note, picked up by the wind, might have lodged.

None of us can take in all the visual information around us. If we did, how would there be room to think about, or do, anything else?

Instead, we take in what’s most important to us at the time. And that’s as true for our characters as it is for us. Let’s say your protagonist’s crush walks into the room with his/her best friend in tow. Chances are, all your character’s focus is going to be on that one person. They’re not going to notice what the best friend is wearing, or if they do it won’t be until they’ve taken every aspect of their crush. Hell, I know the guy I had a crush on in school had freckles on his ear-lobes, like little brown studs. Who else do you think noticed that?

Now, let’s say their crush walks in with an attractive stranger or their girlfriend/boyfriend. Your protagonist will definitely take note of that, won’t they? Maybe even before anything else. This person is a threat. A direct obstacle between them and the person they want to be with. They might never act to get rid of this threat, but they’ll still recognise it.

The point is, while you might want to describe how the clouds are wafting across the sky, or the meticulous detail on the birthday cake that’s being rolled out, you need to consider if that is actually what your character cares about in the moment. Because, if it’s not, your wasting your readers time, and a valuable chance to give insight into your character.

Just so you know, I’m still $50 down.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Making Mistakes

I wanted this post to be about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and maybe even taking a risk. I was so excited about the work I had done for the dPICTUS unpublished picturebook showcase, that I wanted to share that with you and talk about how taking a risk can be incredibly empowering. And then, I discovered that I’d submitted my book dummy with a typo.

Submitting work, as a writer, with typos or grammatical errors is a bit like turning up for an interview as a hairdresser with a hideously bad haircut. Or going for a job as an accountant and disclosing that you hadn’t filed your tax statement for ten years. Basically, if you want to be ‘hired’ to write, you want to show you can write. And, in a highly competitive industry, where everything else is equal, that typo can be your downfall.

So I did what any other self-respecting adult would do, I berated myself, did some panic googling, berated myself some more and then I cried. And then, I took a deep breath, got perspective and reminded myself that even mistakes are blessings (note, I didn’t start with silver-linings and perspective. I had to implode and become emotional mush first).

If you’re currently beating yourself up over a mistake (and if you’re not right now, let’s face it, you will make a mistake eventually) let me offer you some positivity.

Very Few Mistakes are Fatal

True, we’re starting with a big one but sometimes you really need to latch on to something. All mistakes are where there’s an unwanted consequence of our actions, but for the most part these consequences do not result in death and permanent injury. Thank God.

If you have made a mistake that has resulted in death or something equally significant and final, then that can be very hard to reconcile, precisely because there seems to be no way to come back from them. For most mistakes though, although they might seem horrendous at the time (and have you laying awake and midnight saying, “why? Why?”), chances are there will be other opportunities or at least a way to make amends.

Mistakes are Learning Opportunities

Don’t shoot the messenger. It might seem trite, but it’s true. It’s true of even our biggest mistakes. In my case I learnt to read my work out loud a final time before hitting the send button. Did I need time to pass before I could be open to this lesson. Hell yeah! But once I settled down, I could take the lesson on. Now, if you keep making the same mistake and not paying attention to the lesson, that’s just being stupid.

It is Your Fault – Let that Empower You

Why did I send my work off with a typo? I was tired – I’d been working solidly on it for for two weeks. I was complacent – I thought I’d read through it enough. I was impatient – it wasn’t due in until the next day but I couldn’t wait. These may be reasons, but they’re not excuses. What I should have done is waited until the next day and looked at it with fresh eyes before sending it off. It was within my power to do that, but I didn’t.

That might not sound very positive but it is, because I can do things differently next time. It’s no one else’s fault but mine, and I alone have full control over my actions and behaviours. I don’t need to repeat my mistakes, because I recognise what I did wrong and I can change that in the future. I might sound like Dr. Phil Lite but that doesn’t make it less true.

All human beings make mistakes. Me, you, our parents, teachers, politicians and religious leaders. None of us are immune. Once you’ve stopped beating yourself up or crying (both of which are fine and natural) try and remember that there is a positive spin to making mistakes. That you aren’t alone. And that you can do better next time.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Be Brave – Read Your Work to Others

Yesterday evening, I had to do something scary. Or, be brave – which is the same but makes me sound better. So, I was being brave. I went to a writing group meeting at my local library and everyone in attendance read out a five minute piece of work. In front of everyone else. I didn’t know anyone.

See how brave I am?

The thing is, even though I read too fast and half-way through was distracted by the thought that I hadn’t washed my teeth after dinner (I didn’t remember until the end that I hadn’t had dinner yet), it was great. I met nice people, with similar interests, who gave me some feedback on my work (and my reading speed). No one booed me off the stage or made me cry, no stood up and shouted, “you’re a fake!” and I managed to not spontaneously combust.

And if I can do it, you can too.

What’s more, chances are your library or neighbourhood house does something similar. And, if not, you my find that there’s a writers’ group in your community. From attending this one event, I’ve learnt about a group in a town ten minutes from mine and I’m going to visit next week. Maybe we’ll be a good fit for each other, maybe we won’t but I won’t lose anything by going and there really is so much to gain from having your work critiqued (fancy word for constructive feedback) by others.

Don’t be put off by your age, either. The librarian running last night’s even told me that she’s headed up a youth writing group in the main library for the past three years, so seek out something similar at your library or suggest it to your librarian. Or maybe you could encourage your English teacher to start one at school. It is definitely daunting sharing your work with others, but in a safe and respectful environment, it can also be really exhilarating

Do you already share your work with others? Or, do you have a writing group you go to? I’d love to hear about it.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Improve Your Dialogue Writing

Eaves dropping is rude. That’s what my mum taught me. But I do it all the time and, if you’re a writer, so should you.

I’m not saying this just to justify my own behaviour. Whenever you have more than one character in a story, you’re most likely going to have dialogue, and you want that dialogue to sound as natural as possible. In order to do that, you need to know how people speak.

Most of us speak with other people regularly. Our friends, family members, people we meet in the street or at the shops, but when we’re doing this, we’re thinking about the topic of conversation, not the way in which we’re speaking. That’s why listening to others speak is important for improving your dialogue writing.

What Should You Be Listening For?

  • Language choices: I guarantee that your mum speaks to her friends differently to how she speaks to you. And, that you speak differently to your friends to how you speak to your mum. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we make different language choices depending on who we’re speaking to, the situation we’re in, whether we’re drunk or sober (and thus our inhibitions are different) and what our emotional state is. Listen for these language choices next time you’re ‘listening in’.
  • Slang and Colloquialisms: Slang refers to language used by certain groups of people – teenagers, soldiers, nurses, people within the LGBTQI community. Colloquialisms refers to informal language, which may include slang, that most (if not all) native speakers from a particular country or area know. For example, ‘lit’ is teenage slang, ‘duffer’ is an Australian colloquialism for a someone who’s a bit of an idiot. By listening to the slang and/or colloquialisms someone uses, you can find out a lot about their age, profession and where they’re from. If they sound awkward when saying it (like I would saying something is ‘lit’) this might give you another clue about their personality.
  • Space fillers: We pepper our speech with lots of ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘like’, ‘so’. It gives us time to think. In this case you’re listening for things not to include in written dialogue. Written speech should sound natural, not be an exact replica of real-life speech, because adding in all those space fillers would just slow the pace and make reading the dialogue a grind. Used strategically, these space fillers can work well but don’t feel you should include them in every place a person might actually say them.

These are just some of the basics of speech to keep in mind. Start here, and see how you go. When you’ve got a moment to yourself, make a point of listening to how people speak. Just, don’t get caught.