Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Using Your Time Effectively: Eagles don't catch flies

Aquilae Non Capiunt Muscas - Eagles Don't Catch Flies

Knowing What You Have To Do Is Half The Battle

Studies show us that we have a limited amount of decision making power every day. Once we use it up, our self control goes down. This is why a lot of top executives automat simple decisions, using meal delivery services (so they only have to decide what to eat once a month when ordering) and wearing the same outfit every day (think Steve Jobs). This is why I suggest writing first, if it is a priority. However there are plenty of people who write late and do well, so I wouldn't call it a hard and fast rule. Regardless, if you have to make a lot of hard decisions in the morning, you're more likely to decide to have pizza and an entire cake for dinner. Your will power and decision making is all used up.

Because the power to make decisions is a depleting resource, and writing is basically an exercise in making decisions over and over again, it is quite taxing mentally. Don't believe me? How often have you sat down to write and stalled mid scene, because you don't know what should happen next?

What happens next is a decision. Your heroine walks into a building, is it a bar? A house? what does it look like? What is the atmosphere? How do you want the readers to feel about the setting? Threatened? Comfortable? Nostalgic? Now she's confronting the villain who beat her mother into a coma. What does she say to him? How does she feel? How do you want the readers to feel? Every scene comes with dozens of decisions, which can be very mentally taxing.

(This is also why working with a co-author can be a lot faster than writing alone. If you trust them, they are taking over 50% of the decisions, allowing you both to write faster.)

If you're not organised, much of your writing time is going to be spent making decisions instead of writing. But what if the decisions were made before you started writing?

Plan The Goddamn Novel

I am a big believer in plotting over pantsing. For those who don't know, plotting is when you plan out the novel, usually in bullet form, before you begin writing. Pantsing is when you sit down to write 'by the seat of your pants' with no idea what is going to happen. Obviously this is a sliding scale and a lot people are somewhere between those two extremes.

If you can only write pantsing, that's fine. But if you can only write pansting and you still keep whining about your shitty word count, I'm going to judge you. A lot.

At the very least, you should plot out the scenes you want to write before you start writing. Be very explicit about the details, you should just be able to write the scenes without making any decisions during the process.

For example, don't say: "Kate breaks into the house and stops Pete from stabbing Sarah."

Say: "Kate enters the house by smashing the rear kitchen window and finds Pete about to stab Sarah in the living room. Kate throws the hammer Sarah was using to hang up picture frames and strikes Pete on the shoulder. When he turns toward her, stepping away from Sarah, Kate shoots him in the chest."

Otherwise, you will reach this scene and have to decide: how Kate gets in the house, where Sarah and Pete are in the house and how Kate stops Pete. With proper planning before you write the scene, those decisions are already made.

You may also want to note how the character relationships are developing and what beats you want to hit. (Beats are what you want the reader to feel when they read and correspond with genres. EG: Scared/horror, love/romance, wonder/fantasy.)

In the case of Kate, Pete and Sarah, you might want to note that Sarah's feelings toward Kate are not changed and maybe the first thing she says when Kate cuts her free is: "Don't think this changes anything, you're still a fucking cow."

The Best Use Of Time

If you don't want to spent a week plotting every scene of your novel start to finish, but you are sensible enough to plot the scenes you want to write before you write them, I suggest doing the plotting for next session at the end of your current session.

Say you want to write two scenes each writing session, you've just finished two you planned yesterday, so plan the two scenes you are going to write tomorrow as the last thing you do in any given writing session.

Every line you wrote is a decision. They are just smaller decisions than big plot points. And if you want to write effectively, its best to start writing with as much decision power as possible. If you start the session by planning the session, your mind will already feel fatigued when you start writing.

Writing will be a lot more fun when its easy and effortless, which will, in turn, make you more eager to write the next day, and so on.

Remember you want to use your writing time to WRITE not to THINK.

Two Hours For The Price Of One!

There is a lot of learning involved in writing. I think its sensible for every writer to read marketing books, writing style books, listen to podcasts about writing and attending lectures run by publishers. Maybe you're already exasperated at me, saying: "I don't have time!"


Also youtube videos can be downloaded, as can university lectures and many workshops. There are more podcasts on writing than you could listen to in your lifetime. Why is this helpful? Whenever you are cleaning or travelling, put on audio books/podcasts instead of music. You can listen to them while shopping, while walking, while in any sort of line or waiting room. Always have an audio book on you and whenever you are bored, put it on.

Never waste time in the car in silence, unless you really need that silence.

Don't let not knowing how limit you. It only takes a few minutes to learn. Google: 'downloading youtube videos' and 'converting mp4s to mp3s with vlc' to get you started. As much as possible, I do my learning while doing other things, time is too precious not to.


We all waste time on a lot of bullshit. Don't spend your day putting out fires when you could be putting in place systems to stop fires before they start. Don't waste your time on shows and websites that do nothing but mindlessly distract you. They're not making your life better, they're just wasting the limited time you have in a day. Read books, but donate the crappy ones to charity, don't finish them. If you're going to watch TV shows, watch amazing ones, not re-runs or trash because 'it's on'.

If you need to relax, meditation will clear the mind and refresh you 100x faster than browsing tumblr. Set yourself limits on websites like facebook. Unfollow (you don't have to unfriend) people  you don't care about so only people who are interesting to you show up on your feed. Emails only need to be checked twice a day--at most.

My phone is on silent all the time. Maybe you can't do this, but it makes life significantly better if people sms you and you can call them back at your leisure.

Cut out the shit that distracts you and takes up mental real estate.

Cut out the crap you know isn't making your life better. That priority list I had you write? Memes isn't on it. No one writes: 'Spend more time browsing facebook' on their priority list.

Sometimes you might write 'connect with people more' or 'develop a social media presence' and then these websites become a tool to help you achieve targeted goals. Which is great, it's what they were designed to do. Mindlessly scrolling isn't 'connecting' or 'developing an online presence'. Use websites with intent and purpose. Not just to let your mind shut down.

Eagles don't catch flies.

Stay tuned for the last post in this five part series:

Part 5: Alternatives Ways To Write: Other people use crazy methods to write, now you can too.

And if you like me, buy and review my books, because that will inspire other people to buy them too. Keep an eye out, because every Monday one title will be free on my kindle page:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Right Project: Write something you actually want to write.

Blow That Motherfucker Up.

You know how in thriller movies, there is always a time limit? A bomb is going to go off or someone is going to run out of air if the hero doesn't get there in time. It's what gives the story urgency. It drives the hero forward.

I strongly recommend you put some dynamite and a timer under your novel for the same reason.

If you had to write 1000 words on your manuscript today, or you had to delete it, do you think you would get it done?

If the answer is no, just go right ahead and delete it. Or, at least, back it up somewhere and delete it off your computer. If it's not worth doing 1000 words right now to save, why are you trying to finish it at all?

I don't recommend setting the bar too high on this one. But I DO recommend setting some kind of bar. Particularly if when you sit down to write, you find yourself procrastinating. So what is a fair bar? It depends on when you want to write, and how much you want to achieve in each writing session. If you're aiming to write every single day and you don't write for five days in a row, particularly if nothing unusual happened in those days, maybe you aren't very excited about that project. If you plan to write on weekends and do 5k each day, but three weeks have passed and you've only managed 2k all up, you have to stop and ask yourself: 'Do I have a good reason or the passion to finishing this project?'

When the project is under real, genuine threat of deletion, suddenly we find ourselves VERY excited about finishing it. All the love comes pouring back in, and we're willing to fight (AKA write) to save it.

That said, I am not recommending you start a project, get bored of it, then start a new project. Quite the contrary. I believe you should finish everything or DELETE IT. Dead, gone, no more. And that goes for everything in your 'to write' list too.


Let's say you write every day, from 5am to 6am and you have committed to the idea that if you don't work on your book for five days in a row, you burn it to a CD, toss the CD in the back of a wardrobe and delete all traces of it from dropbox and your computer. Maybe you still write slowly and it takes you a while but you finish it. Celebration all around.

Now go to the folder with all the other half finished stuff and go through alphabetically. The first project is old and you like it, but it's not what you're excited about. The characters seem lame now and you hadn't done as much work on the plot as you remembered. You work on it for two mornings, then a few weeks pass without any progress.

Same rules apply. Finish or bin forever.

Keep doing this until you either have a lot of finished projects, or you have binned a lot of projects that were never worth your time. Cleaning out the mental clutter is a huge part of focus, and smart use of time. Wasting time on projects you don't want to write on is pointless. Its time you could spend on projects you do want to write.

Three Folder Rule:

Organise your writing folder with three sub folders:

1. Finished projects.
2. In progress.
3. Unstarted/Ideas.

There should only ever be two things in 'in progress'. One project you are editing and one project in first draft stage. If you are just beginning the craft, stick to one thing. However when you are published and working with an editor, you will need to be working on a new project while waiting for edits from your publisher, and need to switch back and forth between them as required.

You may also want to write a draft, then have a break from it while you write another book, before going back to editing, so your brain has time to disengage. Which is what I do.

If you have multiple pen names, you may want to have these three folders as a sub folder to each pen name. However that is for much further down the track. If you are unpublished, work on one project at a time.

Just Can't Quite Put My Finger On It...

There is an exception to this rule. It is a small one and it has to be applied with tact and discretion. Sometimes we struggle to finish a project because we lack the skills we need. In those cases, a project can be put aside and a new project may be started and finished. HOWEVER, I am going to suggest rules for this too.

1. You have to complete (write and edit) a second project before you can go back to the first one.
2. Only one project can be 'put aside' at a time. You have to finish or bin the next project.
3. You have to wait an entire year AT LEAST before going back to the first one. Learning new skills takes time.

Learn. Grow. CREATE. Don't stop creating.


Remember, any time spent on a project you didn't finish is time poorly spent. You probably learned something in the process of writing it, but it's much more efficient to learn AND finish projects at the same time. An unfinished project can never be sold. Never be enjoyed by readers you don't know. Never become a part of your portfolio or legacy. It's just dead words.

Commit yourself today to finishing or binning everything. There is no in between, only finished or dead.

Stay tuned for the next two posts in this five part series:

Part 4: Using Your Time Effectively: Eagles don't catch flies.
Part 5: Alternatives Ways To Write: Other people use crazy methods to write, now you can too.

And if you like me, buy and review my books, because that will inspire other people to buy them too:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Time Hygiene: Planning, tracking, habits and time equality

Time Hygiene Matters (As Much As Personal Hygiene)

Hopefully last week you wrote your priority list and now place your book ahead of, let’s say, doing things your family members should do for themselves. However when we put aside a chunk of time to do something that requires a lot of mental focus, our brain sometimes tries to trick us to use less mental focus. Thinking actually requires a lot of calories. A leading theory in evolutionary science is that cooking (which makes calories in food more accessible) is probably what prompted our mental development and capacity for speech. You need a lot of calories to be able to think and speak. Our brain, as much as possible, tries to find ways around using calories. It doesn’t really care that you are trying to write a novel. You will survive just as well watching youtube videos as writing.

However in modern day we are not starved and have plenty of food to thrive, reproduce and write novels. Unless you are on a foolish starvation diet, in which case you will find it almost impossible to focus on high cognitive tasks. Now you know why.

As such, we have to overcome these base instincts and have the self discipline not to waste time on unnecessary things. Even if those things SEEM productive, like reading publishing articles, or listening to TED talks or watching fantastic TV shows ‘to study the plot’.

Stalk Yourself

The best way to see where your time goes is to spend a week tracking what you do all day. I suggest buying a cheap day planner and every half hour, jot down everything you did. Be honest. Including pooping, staring off into space, and anything you wish you hadn’t done, like checking your ex’s facebook page and watching cat videos.

You’re probably going to learn a lot of uncomfortable things about yourself. Like that you should stop taking your phone into the toilet because no healthy person spends 20 minutes in there three times a day.

Highlight the parts you are pleased with in one colour. Highlight the parts you wish you had done differently in another colour. Look for patterns. What bad habits keep coming up again and again? Is there are certain time of day you are really productive?

Good Habits and Bad Habits

You can’t get rid of a bad habit, you can only replace it with a new habit. If you have identified bad habits—such as that you check your email first thing, then spend two hours browsing other websites—you can’t just decide to stop. You have to think of something you will replace that habit with. This is why people who quit smoking often suddenly get fat. They want to remove the oral habit of smoking, so they subconsciously replace it with the oral habit of snacking.

If you want to replace a bad habit, you have to consciously decide what you are going to replace it with, or you will pick up an equal or worse habit.

My worst habit is opening facebook and youtube. All the time. Often, I will close them and just open them up again automatically. Or worse, I’ll try to focus, move on and realise I’ve just opened them again in other tabs. I’ll end up with three instances of facebook open while I am trying to work.

Logging out is the first thing I do to stop myself. I also use a program like antisocial that will block certain websites for certain periods. Or just putting my computer on airplane mode—but when I discuss alternative writing practises, you will see why this isn’t always practical for me.

A good alternative habit is either using something like ‘write or die’ to do a 15 minute writing sprint whenever you try and do an undesirable thing. Or, my preferred method, an enforced two minute sit and do nothing to clear the head. Since I have usually become distracted because my mind needs a break, and I hate doing nothing, this two minutes of nothing is very effective for me. It refreshes my brain and makes me eager to write (or do anything really) again.

Effort Is Not Equal: The 80/20 Rule

There are many success and productivity books floating around that tote the 80/20 rule. Which is that 80% of your results come from just 20% of your efforts. So, you should focus your energies on that thing. It’s very important that you take the time to discover what is going to have the most impact on your goals and be the best use of your time.

If you are writing fiction, the most important things is always writing. Or editing. Depending on which stage of the process you are at. I don’t read a lot of blog posts by my favourite authors. What I want is for them to produce another book. And another book. And so on. What they do with the rest of their time doesn’t interest me all that much. Many of your fans will feel the same.

If you are writing nonfiction, establishing a platform is also important—maybe as important as writing. There are much better places to go to learn about nonfiction than this blog though. Go, be free and find someone better qualified to mentor you.

That said, fiction writers still need to be aware of marketing and promotion, because they need to be able to put 20% of their effort into the marketing strategy that is going to get them 80% of their results. Marketing is for a whole other blog series though.

My Favourite Part: Planning Your Day!

Now, hopefully, you have a list of your priorities in life and a week of tracking your time. You know what matters to you and you know where your time is being wasted on trivial things. Believe it or not, this really is my favourite part of my day: sitting down first thing in the morning and writing my ‘to do’ list and appointments.

Typically scheduled appointments (doctors, seeing friends, etc) are first. That is followed by the one or two most important things I have to do that day relating to my writing. Usually it is just the name of my current project and I will fill in my total word count at the end of the day.

Then are my daily chores (showering, feeding pets, dishes, etc). Then are things I would like to get done, but only after everything else is crossed off. Things like weeding, washing the dogs, baking, art, etc. A lot of these things are important—for example, Aurealis Reading always goes here. It has to be done, but it is further down the priority list. Certainly after my own writing, and caring for myself and my dependants.

I always start the day with writing, because I am most focused and mentally alert in the morning. Then I tackle the basic care needs, then the biggest, most difficult task (assuming it wasn’t writing). Because of my poor health, I am usually too sick to move most of the afternoon, which is when I do things like reading, checking emails and most of my learning and research, assuming I can do anything at all.

I tend to have very full ‘to do’ lists, but I also have to get everything on them done by midday. Maybe you think it would be awesome to spend all afternoon lying around. It’s not. It’s horrible and humiliating and disheartening. However I still manage to get a lot done—a lot more than my friends who have more free time, because I am organised and driven.

I know what I want to do, and how to achieve it, and I focus on achieving those goals first every morning. I wouldn’t say I have mastered my bad habits, but I am aware of them and I do work constantly on replacing them with good habits.

It’s not an overnight process. It can involve a massive shift in mentality and structure in a single day, but then you have to keep reassessing and making corrections frequently after that. We change, our lives change, our priorities change. And some of us have bigger challenges than others. So:

Stay tuned for the next three posts in this five part series:

Part 3: The Right Project: Write something you actually want to write.
Part 4: Using Your Time Effectively: Eagles don't catch flies.
Part 5: Alternatives Ways To Write: Other people use crazy methods to write, now you can too.

If you like me, buy and review my books, because that will inspire other people to buy them too: