Making and/or Finding Time To Write – It’s Called Prioritizing

Some of the best novels ever imagined were never written. The would-be author had a fantastic idea, a vivid set of characters, interactions, conflicts, worlds to explore … and the would-be author never found the time to write. One of the keys to writing, of course, is the actual writing. Yes, interaction is key, living is key. People who tend to closet themselves in a, well, closet, don’t tend to write the most believable characters nor do they write stories most of us can relate to. Why? Because they aren’t out there interacting with the rest of the human race to determine what interests us.

And so the challenge, of course, is finding the time or making the time. Almost every author you run across will tell you this simple recipe: “Write.” They will follow that up with “Write write write write write write” because, quite simply, to get from that blank page staring at you to the last period on the last page takes quite a bit of energy. You can do it, but it’s going to be like the caterpillar turning into a butterfly. There’s a transformation that takes place when the images in your head become words on a page, and when those words begin to flow of their own volition and begin to create new images you hadn’t originally imagined, it’s something that will transform you. 

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first shot at it or your nth, the process begins anew each time you start with that blank page one.

One of the biggest challenges is time. The magic words will be “find the time to write” or “make the time to write.” While we could work with Neil deGrasse Tyson to try and slow the Earth’s rotation to add a couple hours to each day, what this boils down to is “stop doing something else you’re doing and write instead.” Because, let’s face it, life is busy.

For instance: I have a job. A full-time-get-up-at-6:30-don’t-get-home-til-after-5pm job. And it can be exhausting. I’ve had days where I’ll have 14 or 15 meetings strung together like Christmas lights: a green meeting where everything is good followed by a red one where everything is in the ditch. I also have a renewed interest in getting back into shape. I have two teenage boys who regularly need homework attention. We like to have dinner together. We like to do all sorts of things together. My wife and I like to watch a little TV to unwind before we go to bed.

By the time Friday morning’s alarm wakes me, I’m pretty much toast.

So, let’s pull out the recipe book and make some time. Or don our Indiana Jones hat and whip and find some.

Bottom line: there’s no magic pill to take to find or make time. There’s no amount of preaching a writer can do to you or you can do to yourself to “just write.” It comes down to prioritizing. 

Do you want to write?

Then do less of something else. 

There are writers who carve out the same schedule every week to write. Three hours every Saturday morning is writing time. That won’t work for everyone, because there will be times when you stare at the screen for three hours and it stares back. Not everyone can schedule inspiration. But you do need to determine what works best for you and then stick to it. 

Trust me: getting your novel written is just step one. You need to get feedback on it. You need to incorporate feedback. There will be moments when you’ll want to drag the entire thing to the trash bin, hit the empty button and go watch Game of Thrones. There might be tears. There will undoubtedly be arguments. 

But what this comes down to is you. Not making time, but making the decision to write. I can promise you this: the journey from blank page to last period is a daunting one, a quest that will push you, break you, build you back up again, and ultimately fulfill you. But only you can make that journey. 

If you prioritize it as part of your life.

Now, I could write tonight… but I’m going to watch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals with my family. And that’s my decision, my choice on how to prioritize my time tonight.

Advice to Writers – Do More Than Write… Live

I follow quite a few authors on Twitter, and I read quite a few blogs on writing advice. The one thing it boils down to, what is repeated over and over, is that writers write. Write, the tweets say. Write! the blogs say. Write write write. Just write.

And I thought about this advice, and while I’m not going to say it’s wrong, I think the advice is making an assumption. That assumption is that you have something to write about. And finding that requires more than just sitting down at the writing device of your choice and just writing. 

Writing requires living first. And then writing about it.

The old adage, of course, is to write what you know. That’s why so many writers are more experienced; they know more. Or at least the assumption is that they do. I resemble this remark. I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started, some thirty years ago. When I started, I sat down and I wrote. I just wrote and wrote and wrote. 

But I hadn’t really lived yet. Hell, I hadn’t even done much reading, so I was just putting words to page.

So – things to do if you plan to write. Let’s make a list:

  1. Read. Read as much as you can. Read in the genre you want to write in, read in the genres you don’t want to write in, read novels, short stories, blogs, news articles, screenplays, poetry, etc. Why? Because it helps you construct. Reading what others write can inspire you and will most certainly influence you. So read.
  2. Interact. Get out and talk with people. People older than you, people younger than you. Talk with a child. Talk with a grandparent. Dialog can be one of the most difficult things to get right when you’re writing. The best way to make it work? Talk to people. And not on Twitter. The other great thing about dialog is what people are saying with their eyes, with the slope of their shoulders, with their hands. Does the smile reach their eyes? Do they look tired, worn? Does that come through in what they’re saying to you? This is all critically important as you sit down to write, because it gives your characters depth.

  3. Act it out. Does your character like to cook? Try your hand at cooking. Does he swing a sword? Find one or something of similar weight and swing it around for a while. I have a sword. It’s heavy. It gives me a better appreciation for my characters who lug it around sheathed on their backs or drag it from a scabbard and start fighting with it. Have you ever been in a fight? I’m not suggesting you get into a fracas for the sake of your art, but if you’re like almost anyone else these days, you’ve either been in a scrap at some point in your life or played a contact sport where it feels like you have. Get to the gym and lift some weights, do some cardio… and remember how sore you are, because if your characters are active or need to push their limits, they might also be sore. In short, if your characters is doing it, try it out for yourself (without doing anything illegal, obviously).

Writing is more about just writing. It’s about the characters who are going to experience a conflict, which is the basis for a story. Those characters need to be recognizable to the reader. A writer who just writes is possibly not as skilled at making that character recognizable. 

So my advice to writers? Read, talk, laugh, drink, argue, smile, jump, run, cook, love, hate, play, eat, shop, frown, care for a pet.

In short: live.

And then write about it.

Spritz – The Future of Reading? How Should Writers React?

Web and social media sites have been abuzz about Spritz (http://www.spritzinc.com/), a new app that allows readers to read words at a phenomenal rate and is akin to a technology called RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation). When I saw this, I thought, “Wow! It’s going to revolutionize reading.” We’ve been reading the same way (tracking words across page be it left-to-right, right-to-left or other) for thousands of years. But the digital age is full of amazing advances, and Spritz appears set to provide another. 

Obviously, for those of us who have a monstrous reading backlog, the first impression is that this is a good thing. Personally, I’ve whittled away at my hardcover and paperbacks to the point that they fit in one set of shelves, and in the process I’ve amassed a library of e-books that I can carry around wherever I go. Along with a hefty wish list and the ever-present list of upcoming titles. So, imagine being able to hum right on through this library with this handy-dandy app! 

But hold on. Critics argue that comprehension goes down the tubes the more words you try to jam into your brain all at once. Spritz gives you the option to slow things down or speed them up, from 250 words/minute all the way up to an eye-blistering 600. But can your brain actually grasp what is going on at those speeds? And perhaps more importantly: would you want it to?

One of my favorite authors is Guy Gavriel Kay. I don’t often re-read books (see backlog + lists above) but I’ve re-read Tigana and A Song for Arbonne several times. Two of my favorite books ever. But one of the things I love most about Kay’s books is his style. Truly, reading one of his books feels as though I’m at the feet of a bard. I never blast through a Kay book. I digest them, piece by piece, enjoying the nuance, the language, the absolute splendor in his voice. I simply cannot imagine capturing all of that by cramming it into my brain at lightning speeds.

Let’s then take the occasional arresting moment. I’m currently reading Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns. I came across a passage (and I don’t want to share it because of mild spoilers) that made me stop. The sentence was fantastic. I re-read it. I tweeted the author about it. It was really that good. Had I whizzed by it at 300 words per minute I might never have given it a second thought nor the author his due.

But to the point. Let’s assume that this catches on with readers. To assume it won’t is to make the same mistake many publishers did when they claimed digital distribution would be a fad. The world is all about speed. Technology changes at a rapid pace. You get your news moments after it happens; you tweet with your friends about what you’re doing right now; and you carry tomes of books on devices that weigh a few ounces. So let’s assume that a few years from now a good portion of the reading world is flying through books using this or some other speed reading app.

Should writers think about that when they sit down to write?

The answer could very well be yes. 

Certainly as a writer of speculative fiction, I’m already considering what my reader can envision in his head. For many speculative fiction authors, world-building is part of the art. Can you see the world I’m trying to build? Is the magic system (if there is one) complex enough that I need to describe it in detail? Setting becomes so critical, because when I say “Athynea falls” … I need to describe Athynea to you, why it was important to the characters who defended it. On the other hand, if I say “New York falls” then you have a picture of New York in your head. 

So the art of world-building, of telling a tale in an otherworld, becomes one of imparting the vision of that world to the reader. Think of Lord of the Rings. Would Tolkien have needed to spend more time describing Minas Tirith if he’d known you were pulling a fly-by? He might have. Because to me, the need for you to comprehend my world, to grasp its rules, is critical to the tale. So in a world where readers are reading at 500 wpm but perhaps not comprehending at 500 wpm, I need to describe my world and my rules in simpler terms or in even more detail. 

And let’s just throw in a brief mention of names. I’m used to creating worlds with strange names: Athynea, Darramor, Logenbressa, Elryssen. To a reader catching these strange names for the first time as they fly by, the import of their name and their place in the world could very well be missed. And if so, what should I do, as an author, to fix that name and that place in the reader’s mind, regardless of whether they’re reading at normal speed or high speed? More description, simpler terms. 

Reading comprehension is obviously critical regardless of what you’re reading. But there are layers to it in speculative fiction that demand the author be precise. If the law of physics is being changed, if the world I’m building is not the one the reader is already familiar with, then I am already concerned about imparting comprehension.

But in the near future, how closely I impart it may need to change with how quickly the reader is reading it.