Category Archives: Motivation

More about getting into a writing frame of mind

I’m still having a rest from writing the novel – and still feeling vaguely guilty about it. It’s made me think a lot more about the writing process: why I want to write, and also why sometimes I find it so hard.

Being ‘in the mood’ for writing is definitely a key thing for me – but as writing is a large part of my work as well as something I do for myself, I don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the mood hits me.

So how come I can churn out press releases and brochures to order, but not the next few chapters of my novel? They key is preparation or warming up. At work there are things I always do as preparation – but because they are things that I do at work, I haven’t been applying them to myself at home when I feel as if I should just be able to leap straight in. Here are a couple of techniques that I’m going to try to transfer from work to home:

The friendly Martian

At work, I often have to spend time explaining what it is that I’m going to write about to other people, usually to elicit information from them. But often the act of explaining is just as useful to me as the information that I get out of it because it makes me think it through carefully and maybe look at the project from other angles.

Of course, to apply it to my novel, I’ll either have to find a willing victim or perhaps write questions and answers.

Word association or clustering

This is like mental doodling – letting your mind wander and think through the problem. (It makes you look more efficient than staring aimlessly out of the window when at work, too.)


Clustering (a technique I picked up from Gabrielle Rico’s book Writing the Natural Way) also helps to organise ideas. It’s similar to mind mapping, but I enjoy the action of circling words and phrases, then joining them up to form a huge web of ideas.

It helps me to organise ideas as well as find new connections; I’ve already been clustering to help me organise the sections of the novel. But I’ve also noticed that my writing comes easier after clustering so I’m going to work through some of the exercises in Rico’s book, especially those on modelling and re-creating.

Know the subject

When I get stuck writing something at work, it’s usually because I don’t know what I’m really writing about. Some people can work their way round that and make the best of what they do know – I’m not like that. My writing is like an iceberg: what appears on the page is only part of what goes on to create it.

One of the hang-ups of the book at the moment is the uncertainty of what is going to happen next. The characters are moving towards a pivotal point in the book, and none of us know what is going to happen next. And I’m getting twitchy about not knowing enough about the court system in early medieval England. It’s in danger of becoming too much of an episode of The Bill or Inspector Morse because that’s more or less the sum total of my knowledge of criminal law…

Obviously research and asking questions is going to be the answer for this – but I’m also going to explore visualisation techniques too. The passages of writing that have been easiest and turned out best were where I had a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. All I had to do was describe what I saw in my head, and so it follows that if I can train my mind to rehearse parts of the novel in my head, writing it will be easier.




Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Middle ages, Motivation, Research, Writing

Creative U-turn or recharging?

I’ve decided to stop pushing myself so hard to get the first draft finished. Although I’m worried that this could be a bit of a creative u-turn.

On one hand, I’ve got a lot going on in my life. I’m a single mother (to an incredibly engergetic and sparky six-year-old boy) and I work full time. I have a house that needs cleaning and decorating along the lines of the Forth Bridge. And then on top of that, I’m writing a novel, trying to keep posting in a blog – not to mention attempting to keep up with my professional development and fit in a little social life.

I’m beginning to think that somewhere along the line, I need to fit in a little bit of relaxing!

So I’ve decided to ease up with the novel and let my batteries re-charge. I’m not going to be giving it up, though – just not punishing myself to get it finished. I don’t think that forcing myself to try to meet deadlines is helping me in my writing. I’m getting bits done, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I should be.

Having said all that, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me that I should keep going and not stop. That I’m giving up and I will regret it later.


Filed under Anxiety, Children, Housework, Motivation, Self sabotage, Time, Writing

Too busy to blog

It’s been mad the last few days. I had planned to write a post on Tuesday, and suddenly it’s Thursday. How did that happen?

I’ve been sticking to my two nights for writing and it works well – except for when I can’t concentrate, then it feels like I’ve wasted a whole time-slot.

However, I’ve not done too badly. On both Monday and Wednesday I wrote over 1000 words and I’m working through the story. As I’ve already said, my idea to just get the book written (no matter how) and then work on getting it right and refining it.

The concentration issues are easy to explain: I’m tired. There’s a lot going on at work, so I’m continually on the go, Josh is quite excitable in the evenings so I’m busy from early morning to quite late in the evening. It’s not really that surprising that I find it hard to concentrate on writing! In fact, looking at it that way, the thousand words a night are a positive victory!

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Filed under Children, Motivation, Sleep, Writing

More elements of style

Had a good day yesterday, just writing whatever and however but slowly working my way through the plan. I’ve found that it even works better for me if I leave spaces where I feel a bit bored or de-motivated – like today when I found I just couldn’t face going through a bit of dialogue. Instead of getting stuck in a rut, I just moved on to the next bit (which I really wanted to write) knowing that I can work on that bit of dialogue later.

My strategy for dealing with the chaos of my first draft is going to be based on what I found from the books I looked through on Friday.

I’m going to aim for:

Directness. Instead of telling readers  how something happened, or what someone felt, I’m going show it through actions and dialogue – or at least aim to do that 90% of the time.

Simplicity. Next to being direct is being simple. Just tell it how it is – leave out anything that’s not completely necessary. And not to overdo things – I’ve got a tendency to want to ram stuff home, when it detracts from the story.

Readability. What really annoys me is not being able to read something aloud – sentences that seem ok when you scan them with your eyes suddenly trip you up when you try to read them out loud.

Of course, all this is going to be much easier in theory than in practice! But at least knowing that I’ve got some idea of how I’m going to fix the chaos at the end is keeping my interal critic quiet (so far) and actually letting me get on with writing.

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Filed under Anxiety, Language, Motivation, Writing

Elements of Style

My internal editor (you know, that annoying little voice that criticises everything you write, as you write it) has been getting too bolshy recently.

Instead of getting on with my draft, I’ve been getting myself bogged down with style. I don’t like the way I’m writing. The draft doesn’t have the right ‘voice’ – not even a tiny hint of it. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m not really sure what the right ‘voice’ will sound like; it’s a case of ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.

I can tell my self over and over that it’s more important at first to get the words written than it is to get them right, but my little internal editor is sitting on my shoulder tutting into my ear all the same.

So tonight I turned the tables and put him in the spot. ‘Think you know about good writing, do you? Well, go on and tell me what it’s like, then.’ I pulled a load of books into a pile on the floor of the living room and began to go through them – what’s good in this? I like that bit – why? What makes me cringe at that bit?

(NB. This is one of the things that I like about being single. I can do mad(dening) things like that without getting into an argument or needing to explain myself. Of course, if I wasn’t single then I might have something better to do on a Friday night…)

Looking through the books I discovered one great and obvious truth: it’s far easier to pick holes in something than it is to pinpoint what it is that makes something work. There was always that ‘je ne sais quois’ to all the really good passages – the rightness just dissolved as I tried to get to grips with it.

But then looking for passages I didn’t like was fun – my little editor was in its element. So although I didn’t manage to find the holy grail of ‘how to write good’ I picked up a few tips about what I should try to avoid, and I feel more confident about being able to go back to my first draft at the editing stage and make it better (or more to my liking at least). By looking at someone else’s writing I could be more objective about what it was I didn’t like – and so (my theory is) I’ll be able to see these traits in my own writing and sort them out, rather than just get upset that my first draft is rubbish.

Now I’d better go and get those books packed away!


Filed under Language, Motivation, Self sabotage, Writing

Fuzzy brain

Tried to write tonight, but just couldn’t. My mind felt fuzzy and unfocused – probably something to do with spending a day at work then coming home to an overtired and grouchy Josh. Not really conducive to getting into the right frame of mind for writing.

I don’t suppose the glass of wine in the evening that’s become a habit since my holiday has really helped either…

But I got some more words down, and better luck next time!

Talking about fuzzy brain – I just noticed that I saved my last post as a draft instead of publishing it. Doh!

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Filed under Children, Motivation, Self sabotage, Sleep, Time

Back to it!

I really wanted to get a good start back to writing after my break, but it was hard to get into writing again. Some of the distractions were external – Josh couldn’t sleep (I think he was thinking about going back to school) and the cat was still annoyed with me for putting her into kennels for a week.

But to be honest most of the distractions were created by me: I’d be sitting down to write quite happily, and then get this amazing urge to check on something completely random, like how much milk have I got left? Are there any more potatoes? Has anyone emailed me? Hey, I could grow runner beans in the garden next year. I wonder when I need to plant them? You get the idea…

I’m a great procrastinator, so I just jump at the chance to follow that internal voice that takes me away from what I’m supposed to be doing. A certain amount of procrastination is normal, but I do worry sometimes that I take it to extremes – especially when it comes to the Internet. (I mean, I’m at work at the moment, but there’s the Internet just a mouse-click away. Hey, why not write a blog post? Ahem.)

So I’ve decided to do my writing on my old laptop. This is because it won’t connect to the Internet, it’s too slow to run any interesting programs and the CD drive is broken so I can’t install anything else. It does recognise my memory stick, so I can just save my work onto that as I go (I don’t trust it enough to rely on having anything stored on its hard drive!)

Now all I need is an isolation tank and/or a will of iron to ignore all the other forms of displacement activity at my disposal.

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Filed under Children, Motivation, Self sabotage, Writing