Showing posts with label Elizabeth Spann Craig. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elizabeth Spann Craig. Show all posts

Monday, May 19

4 Time Management Tips For Writers

4 Time Management Tips For Writers
Have you ever sat down to write and gotten up hours later ... and accomplished nothing?

I have.

Where does the time go? Yes, spending time on social media can be a time sink but--for myself at least--I think most of the time the problem is as simple as not being focused.

1. Be prepared.

The first step to getting things done is to know what it is you want to do.

The day before yesterday I sat down and wrote close to 5,000 words in three hours. I know there are oodles of folks who could do more with less, but I was pretty happy!

The next day I got next to nothing done. 

Why? What was the difference? 

On my productive day I focused. I knew what I wanted to write. I had mapped out the structure. On my unproductive day I didn't take the time to prepare; to figure out in advance exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

Think of all the time you could save if you never again had to stop and puzzle: Now, what was it I had to do?

How I apply this:

I need to make a list of the writing related tasks that:

a. Must be done today.
b. I would like to get done today.
c. I need to do at some point.

If a task needs to get done by a particular date I write down that date. (I find Google Tasks is great for this!)

Writing Lists

I've already talked about general-things-I-need-to-get-done lists, but now I'd like to talk about writing-related lists. (See: Time Management Tips For Writers.)

Elizabeth Spann Craig gives examples of lists she uses in her article Tips for Writing in Short Blocks of Time:

“5 ways to describe my protagonist,” 
“7 ways to describe the main setting,” 
“5 potential subplots involving secondary characters,”  
“5 possible endings for this book,” 
“7 ways my protagonist can grow,” 
“5 things my protagonist fears more than anything,”  
“my protagonist’s biggest goals”…you get the idea. [The quotations are all from ESC's article, Tips]

2. Find the place and time that works best for you.

I think it's a great idea to keep a writing log. You can do this with a program or just go Old School and enter the data into a spreadsheet program like Excel--or even a textfile! 

When I did this I used the following categories:

- Place (home office, couch, coffee shop, park, and so on)
- Date
- Day of the week
- Time started writing
- Time finished writing
- Number of words written

After a few weeks you'll be able to see where and when are the best times and places for you to write.

3. Every sliver of time counts.

Here's the power of lists. 

Remember those lists we talked about in the first step, "Be prepared?" Let's say you're standing in line at the market; the fellow in front of you is trying to buy something the cashier never knew existed and a bevy of tall, gangly, teenagers are scouring the shelves trying to figure out what it is and how much it costs.

So--if you decide to remain in line--you've got 10 minutes or so of nothing much to do. This doesn't have to be dead time. Pull out a list!

Here's the list I would work on: Come up with names for five characters in your WIP.

When I begin a story--this is true for my zero draft--I don't want to halt the creative flow by trying to puzzle out names, so I use whatever comes to mind or call them by their role. But, eventually, all my characters have to end up with names, names that suit their personalities.

If I'm stuck in line at a checkout, I'll look around at the contents of the shopping carts around me. If I saw a jar of Bick's pickles (my favorite) I might be inspired to name one of my pseudo-people "Bickerson" or "Bickers" or "Bicksly," and so on.

Another way I come up with names while waiting in line is by picking up a magazine and looking at the credits section. Often a name written there will suggest an idea. If not, then I might start combining part of one name with a part of another. For example, if I saw the name, "Edward Robinson," and "Jeremy Hall" I might write down, "Robin Hall" which might suggest the name "Hallingsworth," and so on.

You get the idea. Do whatever works for you.

4. Reward yourself.

This is a step I think folks skip all too often. We let the cares of the day, the hour, the minute, carry us away and it is effortless to let oneself be swept up in them, and swept away.

But when you accomplish something significant--even if it's just that you did everything on your to-do-list for the day--celebrate!

For myself, sometimes this celebration is as humdrum as getting up from my chair, stretching, and taking a walk among the unfamiliar and somewhat shocking abundance of colorful plants in our newly established community gardens.

Or--a less healthy alternative--I'll get another coffee. (grin)

What do you do to keep your writing schedule on track?

Good writing!

Photo credit: "L1410411" by Savara under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, December 20

Time Management Tips For Writers

Keeping up with my writing during the holidays has been, in a word, maddening! Another word would be: impossible.

Sometimes I feel like giving in and wading into the sea of social media and losing myself in LOL Cats and miscellaneous weird, and weirdly entertaining, facts. (Did you know that Google bought eight companies working on robotic technology in the last eight months?)

But Elizabeth Spann Craig has saved me from that fate with her post, "Tips for Writing in Short Blocks of Time." 

I know I often say, "Folks, this post is a must read," but, honestly, if you've ever wondered how some writers can turn out three or four books a year while working in 20 or 30 minute sprints (and, believe me, I have!) Elizabeth's post is one you'll want to read.

I've given you a link to Elizabeth Craig's original article, but here are the points that resonated with me and that now hang above my desk:

Two Time Management Rules For Writers

Rule 1

"You have to actively look for these pockets of time or else they disappear while we check email on our cell phones."

Rule 2

"You have to be prepared for writing…with writing materials and your writing mindset."

How To Prepare

Elizabeth Craig doesn't leave us hanging, she gives practical--helpful!--advice about how to prepare for these writing jags:

Ways to prepare for any size block of writing time:

1. Prepare an outline

"Have an outline or a mini-outline (for that writing day only and what you want to accomplish with the upcoming scene [...])."

"Either have a full outline or at least know what you want to write for the day (a mini-outline) and a brief summary of where you left off the day before."

2. Create a list of writing tasks

"Maintain a to-do list of writing-related tasks to accomplish. Mine may have anything from 'brainstorm more character names/last names' to 'write descriptions of Lulu’s house' to 'research Destroying Angel mushrooms'.”

I have an errand to run in a few minutes time so I've just jotted down a few things I need to accomplish today because I just know I'm going to have at least 5 minutes in a long lineup. Why not be productive rather than bored? (Or, even worse, bored and grumpy because I haven't written. Bah humbug!)

3. Make your outline and your lists ACCESSIBLE

Lists and outlines are great but they won't do us much good if we can't access them when we can snatch a few minutes of time for ourselves. Like, for instance, while waiting in line at the supermarket.

Elizabeth Craig writes:

"Make sure your writing to-do list is available to you for the shortest periods of free time that you might encounter.  I like to upload mine to my online calendar so it’s on my phone if I need it. You could also upload it to SkyDrive or Google Drive. Or just copy that sheet of paper and keep copies in your car or laptop bag or purse."

I use Dropbox. These days everything I write, or need to remember, gets saved to Dropbox or iCloud. For the first time in ... forever! ... I'm not panicked at the loss of my journal or iPad or laptop. (Though, don't misunderstand, I'd miss them! But, unlike my work, they can be replaced.)

4. The magic of lists

If you only have five minutes to do something, have several lists on hand that need populating.

As an example, Elizabeth gives the headings of lists she might work on:

“5 ways to describe my protagonist,” 
“7 ways to describe the main setting,” 
“5 potential subplots involving secondary characters,”  
“5 possible endings for this book,” 
“7 ways my protagonist can grow,” 
“5 things my protagonist fears more than anything,”  
“my protagonist’s biggest goals”…you get the idea.

When I read this part of Elizabeth Spann's post a light went off. I've been re-(re-re-re-) reading Donald Maass' marvellous (I-can't-recommend-it-highly-enough) book: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, focusing on the questions he asks at the end of each chapter. 

I'm going to make a list of all Maass' questions relevant to my character and try to answer them in whatever odd moments I have during the day.

Stalled? Here's Elizabeth's tip:

"If you’re stalling and don’t want to write the next scene:  Skip the next scene and go on to the following one… the idea is to keep pushing through.  Or make a list of ways to approach the scene and pick the best one from the list in your short block of writing time."

Tomorrow I'm going to spend a few minutes getting organized so that I'll have something writing related to do when five, or ten, or fifteen minutes unexpectedly opens up.

What is your strategy to keep writing--to preserve your writing momentum--through the holidays?

Photo credit: "Spitfire" by Daniel Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution.

Tuesday, May 22

Elizabeth S. Craig's Tips For Developing A Story Idea

Ask yourself ...
What works best for your genra?
First of all, we have to know our genre. We should be a fan of our genre and read a lot of it. What story elements satisfy us most when we read our favorite genre? Do we like more action, more humor, really strong characters, flawed main characters, lots of internal conflict?

What do our readers like? 
This is where I read over my Word file where I’ve compiled both complaints and compliments for my past books. I provide more of what was successful (particular characters, particular situations, etc.) and less of what readers disliked or complained about in reviews.

Is this a big enough idea that you can develop it for at least 75,000 words? 
Can this idea carry a full-length plot?

Is the plot too derivative? 
If it’s too much like a hundred other books in your genre, what fresh take can you give it? Can you provide your character with a unique voice? Think of some fresh spin on the old plot? 

How much trouble/tension/conflict can your story engender? 
Can you think of ways to add more? Will there be enough natural conflict to keep a fast pace?
Specific to mysteries:
For me it all starts with the victim—they’re the catalyst for everything. Why would someone want to kill this person?

Why would my sleuth (I’ve got an amateur, so this is an important question for me that wouldn’t be if you’re writing a police procedural or private eye story) get involved in this murder?

Who are the suspects? 
This question ties in very closely to the victim question since these are the characters who wanted to kill the victim. But this is where I decide if they’re male or female and how they all knew the victim.

What do these people have to hide? 
What are they trying to cover up?

What different kinds of motives could these suspects have? Again, this one ties into the victim question, but I actually list the motives out. My editors aren’t real crazy about having three different people who all wanted to seek revenge on the victim, for instance. Better to have a variety of motives: personal gain, jealousy, ambition, revenge, rage, etc. 

How is the victim going to die? 
Who discovers the body? Who seems to have an alibi? Motive/means/opportunity.

Who is my second victim? 
How does this change the investigation?

Who did it? 
(And I do change this a lot. But for the purpose of handing in a proposal, I name a killer in the outline. Sometimes I’m asked to change the murderer…I changed it by editor request for the book I just finished May 1.)

And really, that’s all I need to know for this proposal/outline. And it’s all I need to know to write the book.
I always like getting writing tips from my favorite authors. Read her entire article here: Developing a Story Idea