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Off the Clock: On Preparation, Inspiration, & Time Management

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Guest Post

By Joseph Bates,

Author of The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time


There’s a wonderful quote from Toni Morrison that gets to the heart, I think, of how writers manage the too-many responsibilities of adult life while keeping their creative work on track:  “I type in one place, but I write all over the house. I never go to the paper to create. The meat and juice and all that I work out while doing something else. . . “
The Something Else Morrison refers to, of course, is doing the dishes.  Or taking care of the pets.  Managing a household.  Working a day job.  Standing in line at the grocery store.  Getting an oil change.  You know what I mean: the Something Else that comprises the majority of a person’s – -and a writer’s – -day, and which seems to conspire to keep you from writing.

Call it writing vs. Something Else.

Or call it what it really feels like: writing vs. Everything Else.  For the writer juggling real-world responsibilities, the good news is that the two aren’t really as separate as that.  In fact, the Something Else, as Morrison says, is the time when much of the important work gets done:  Figuring out what your character wants, and why he’s behaving the way he is.  Considering what possible course(s) of action he might take and why, and what the consequences of those actions might be.   Weighing the possible outcomes in order to find the one that seems most interesting to you, and which suggests the most potential for what might happen next.

Part of this is good old fashioned daydreaming – -asking What If?, letting the mind wander – -but the larger part is testing the possibilities that arise, not just resolving whatever current story problem you’re facing but anticipating, and hopefully avoiding, the next.  Making sure your protagonist acts within the boundaries of consistency and logic, according to the rules you’ve set out, while still being able to surprise the reader (and you).  Making sure the story as a whole builds with consistency and logic and with a growing sense of urgency and inevitability.

The proper time to consider all of this isn’t when you’ve sat down to write.  If so, you’ll find yourself running into brick walls, and by the time you’ve finally broken through, it’s time to stop for the night.  Even worse, when you relegate writing time to such problem-solving – -fretting over what to do next, figuring out why things aren’t working, rushing to Be Creative as the clock ticks down – -the writing time eventually becomes something you dread, just one more chore for the day.

But when you use the time away from the keyboard to consider the possibilities, and to work through problems with equal parts inspiration and intelligence, then the time in front of the keyboard is devoted to testing what you’ve come up with, seeing how it plays out even allowing for unanticipated moments and surprise, because you’re proceeding from a solid baseline.  In other words, the writing time feels, as it should, like play.  And instead of watching the clock tick down while trying to create, you’ll find yourself watching the clock the rest of the day, excited to get back to work because the story has taken on a life of its own, and you can’t wait to be in front of the keyboard to get it all down.  This is the ultimate secret of Time Management for Writers: not about finding more hours in the day – -and if you find some, please tell me where you got them – -but about working smarter, using the time you have to its best advantage.  Making those creative moments count.

More to the point, this isn’t just about making the most of your time but also your energy, focus, and talent.  A boxer who enters the ring thinking, I wonder if I should throw a left jab today, or maybe a right hook? That boxer is going to get flattened.  But the one who’s put in the work beforehand – -not just the physical but the mental work, visualizing what needs to be done – -that boxer doesn’t enter the ring fretting about what comes next.  He comes out swinging and the last thing he’s thinking about is the bell.

© 2010 Joseph Bates, author of The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time


Author Bio
Joseph Bates’s, author of The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time, published in 2010 by Writer’s Digest Books. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such places as The South Carolina Review, Identity Theory, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the University of Cincinnati and teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

For more information please visit www.nighttimenovelist.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

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Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle Service

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Does the Amazon Kindle look less appealing to anyone else lately?  I’m amazed that they had the foresight to include a feature to remotely erase books you’ve purchased from your device.  But, yes folks – seems somewhere in the fine print it says, “we own you baby, and we own everything you own.”

Check out this fascinatingly sad tidbit!

Amazon erases Orwell books from Kindle service

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Author releases novel — 140 characters at a time on Twitter

So, you consider yourself uber tech savvy.  You’ve got this social network thing down to a science.  Your facebook page and blog are up and running, your website is a masterpiece of html and css engineering and of course you are a twitter pro.  What aren’t you doing to promote your writing?

Well, you could always take it a step further. Or a few thousand steps further like first time novelist Matt Stewart who is releasing his novel…that’s right…140 characters at a time on twitter.

“In an online missive, Stewart called the project a ‘social experiment’ aimed at seeing how people respond to a novel revealed in snippets.

“’I wanted to get my novel out fast and in a way that’ll resonate with the hyperconnected 2009 way of life,’ wrote Stewart, who lives in San Francisco and is a professional marketer.”

Has the world gone to twitter? Not likely.  But it’s an interesting construct on exploring new media publishing and marketing techniques.

And there’s more to this story than a simple social experiment.

Read the full article online at Computer World and let us know what you think of this undertaking.

Author Interview & Contest

EyesLikeStars

“Publishing a book is a little bit like standing in a spotlight, waiting to see if the performance will receive applause or a barrage of rotten fruit. But I feel lucky to be standing here at all, even if I do get pelted with oranges.”

– Lisa Manchev

There’s another fantastic contest going on over at Reviewer X.  Author Lisa Manchev talks about her upcoming book Eyes Like Stars and her road to publication in this week’s Pub Story.  Did I mention, she’s giving a copy away!

Breathe slowly.  Walk, do not run on over to ReviewerX and enjoy!

Catch This Article! Sarah Rees Brennan on Inspiration

The fabulous gals at Book Smugglers have an amazing author chat online now with the adorable Sarah Rees Brennan , author of the highly acclaimed Demon’s Lexicon.

“And yet, even now, those heroes are compelling. The Big Three started a Tall Dark and Handsomely Withdrawn movement that shows no sign of faltering more than a century later. I wanted to portray a guy like that unflinchingly, taking him apart from the inside out, and still… with luck… create a character who compelled readers.”

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Run on over there and check it out now…I promise you won’t be sorry!

Oh, and did I mention she’s giving away Demon book swag along with great writing advice?

That’s right another contest, this time one you’ll actually enjoy the process of entering!

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes, by Stephen King

I. The First Introduction

THAT’S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

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II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write

When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the downright cruel.

Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put my name on it (a fault, some critics argue, of which I have still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office. The sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and wondering if he was going to get a suspension … what we called “a three-day vacation” in those dim days of 1964.

I wasn’t suspended. I was forced to make a number of apologies – they were warranted, but they still tasted like dog-dirt in my mouth – and spent a week in detention hall. And the guidance counselor arranged what he no doubt thought of as a more constructive channel for my talents. This was a job – contingent upon the editor’s approval – writing sports for the Lisbon Enterprise, a twelve-page weekly of the sort with which any small-town resident will be familiar. This editor was the man who taught me everything I know about writing in ten minutes. His name was John Gould – not the famed New England humorist or the novelist who wrote The Greenleaf Fires, but a relative of both, I believe. (more…)

Catch this Article! Decluttering & Creativity by Mary McNeil

Intuitively the link between decluttering and creativity makes sense doesn’t it? Creativity thrives in the land of new ideas and open thinking, while clutter tends to be characterised by clinging on to old ideas, attitudes, habits and possessions. In order to free yourself up to be fabulously creative, you often need to be prepared to let go of the clutter first. Inspiration is unlikely to emerge unless you’ve created a space for it.

Clutter generally builds up quietly and imperceptibly over time. The reason for this is that not all clutter starts out its existence as clutter. If you think about the clutter in your life at the moment, you can probably recognise that much of it was originally useful and meaningful. It’s the passing of time and the moving on to different phases of your life that convert many of your once-wonderful ideas, items and relationships into life clutter.clutter

You’ll probably find that, strangely enough, some of your old clutter consists of items and ideas that were once your creative playground. Many of yesterday’s creative sparks evolve into today’s clutter. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t creative at the time or that they had no worth, simply that time has passed and they are no longer current. I like to imagine them as the creative stepping stones that have brought me to where I am now – I couldn’t have got here without them, but their value is now in the past and by clinging on to them, I prevent myself from moving forwards.

That’s why decluttering has to be a way of life, a state of mind and an ongoing activity. Particularly during the times when you want to produce creative output. (more…)

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