Is Your Phone Keeping You from Writing? Here are 2 Ways to Solve the Problem.

I love writing. I really do. But, I find my writing time is often interrupted by my need to do unnecessary research and check my email multiple times a day. Not to mention the large number of phone calls, messages, and app notifications I receive during my scheduled writing time.

I know checking my email every twenty to thirty minutes isn’t healthy. Neither is Googling every question that pops into my head.

“What is the capital of Rhode Island?”

“When is the best time to schedule a book launch?”

“What is another word for obsessive?”

I know spending too much time doing research and checking email is an issue for me and each day I promise myself I won’t allow my fact-finding expeditions and my desire to see if someone wants to make a movie out of my last novel (I wish) to slow down the progress I am making on my current project.

And each day I let myself down.

Even if the questions that pop into my head are relevant to my novel, putting an end to the writing flow to go find the answer is insane! I know I should just make a note of the pesky interruptions and move on.

But I don’t.

I dive into the research. I open a web browser and Google whatever is on my mind.

That search leads to another. And another. Which then leads to checking email, Twitter, and Facebook. Until I’m no longer writing. I’m no longer a writer. I’m a researcher, a procrastinator, a digital junkie! Just yesterday, I opened Netflix so I could play an episode of Arrow and prove to my son that Laurel Lance had dark hair in season one, as opposed to the blond hair she has in season four.

Why? Because I could.

So, what do I do? How do I get rid of all these distractions and concentrate on my writing?

Ironically, with a little help from my smartphone. Here are two things I do to stay focused:

  1. I activate the Do Not Disturb feature so all phone calls, messages, and notifications are silenced. I don’t have to worry about missing calls or messages from important people, like my family and a few close friends, since I can add them as exceptions.
  2. I use an app called AppDetox (a very appropriate name) to place limits on the apps I just can’t seem to stay away from – email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. All I have to do is decide what kind of limit I want to place on each app. Among the options are: setting times of the day when I’m not allowed to access the app; limiting the number of times I can launch the app each day; or setting a time limit for using the app.

If I try to access an app when I should be working, I will get a cute message like, “No dose of LinkedIn for you!” or “You shall not pass to Email.”

Because I will have to do some research during the day, I have limited the number of times I can open Google Chrome to five. This has effectively cut down the amount of time I spend on frivolous web surfing.

So far, these two little tricks are helping me stay focused on my writing. If I can stick with it, I should have my third book completed by the end of the year.

Which raises a question – Is there an app that will do the writing for me? Excuse me while I go Google that.

Using Pinterest for Character Development

I admit, I have been slow to jump on the Pinterest wagon. With all the social media sites out there, this one just didn’t resonate with me.

Until now.

Until just a few days ago, to get a feel for what my characters looked like, where they lived, and what kind of vehicle they drove, I would either picture it in my mind or I would create a rough sketch on paper.

And, I do mean a rough sketch.

Sketches helped, especially with the layout of homes and other settings in my books. But, with a growing desire to add more detail and depth to my stories and characters, I realized my usual practice of conjuring up the images in my head and sketching those that seemed useful would be too time consuming. I needed to take a different approach.

So, to get a feel for the homes my new characters will live in, I decided to take a shortcut and went online and searched for home blueprints.

Jackpot!

It took a little searching but I found layouts that seemed to fit the personalities of my main characters.

Then, it happened.

While hovering over a blueprint image, the Pinterest icon appeared.

Lightbulb on! I can save all the images that inspire not only my characters’ habitats, but their hobbies, shape of their eyes, and the vehicles they drive – all on one Pinterest board! Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

We can so easily get stuck doing things the way we have always done them that it’s difficult to see another and possibly better way of performing everyday tasks. Not that my old system was bad. I’m organized and can quickly find items I have researched or created for my books. Plus, I try not to use too many tools to make it easier to locate and update items, as needed. But, when you have a tool available that requires only a simple click or two of the mouse, why not use it?

But, it doesn’t end there.

Pinterest boards and pins are for ideas, discovery, and inspiration. So, just because I am now saving character traits and home blueprints to a Pinterest board, that doesn’t mean my work is done. I will continue to create sketches – using either Photoshop or Illustrator, or doing them by hand – taking the ideas and images I have saved and working them into the details and personal aspects of my new characters. Pinterest is just a new tool to help me get to the desired result in less time and with fewer frustrations.

Right now, the board for my next novel is private. But, I may create another board – a public board – to share little snippets about my characters and where they live and work.

Follow me on Pinterest to see how this project unfolds. Just don’t forget I’m new at this. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment on my blog. I would love to hear from you.

I’m Excited! And a Bit Scared.

Within the next day or two, I will be releasing my second novel on Amazon. I’m excited. And a bit scared.

I’m excited to have finished a project I started about twenty years ago. Yes, it took me that long to get through this one. Not that it’s a novel of epic proportions, it’s just a novel I started back when I first thought about writing. Then, life happened and the story was shoved in a drawer, forgotten for many years.

After I completed my first novel, I found the partial manuscript and thought I would give it another try. It was a project I had started and I couldn’t leave it unfinished, although there were many times when I thought I should abandon it and move on to something else.

Then…finally…it hit me what was wrong with the story and what I could do to make it better. Or, at the very least, reignite my interest in it so I could finish the writing, revising, and editing stages and move on to the self-publishing piece. The realization caused a complete overhaul of the story but I think it was worth it.

Now, it’s ready to be published and I’m scared about sending my book out into the world. Is it ready? Did I do all I could do to make it an interesting story? While I don’t know the answers to these questions, I realize I need to have faith that I have done my best and the logical next step is to send my creation on its way to meet its fate…and hope for the best.

Which leads to the most exciting part. It’s done! I can now move on to my third novel. A story that is fresh and new and allows me to do what I love. Writing. No revising (yet). No editing (yet). Just writing. Just putting words to paper and seeing where the characters will take me. They never fail to amaze me.

While I’m excited and scared at the same time, there is nothing about this journey that I would change. Well…maybe just a few revisions here and there.

Bad Reviews? Smile and Move On.

Don’t let anyone tell you your creation is bad.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to someone’s advice or constructive criticism. What it does mean is you shouldn’t let bad reviews get you down.

When I was in graphic design school and working on my final portfolio, one of my instructors was assigned to approve the pieces I had chosen. I had put a great deal of thought into which projects would be included, choosing only those items I felt showcased my best work, the ones I would be proud to say I created. I remember my instructor looking at one item for just a few seconds before saying, “I don’t like this one,” and tossing it aside.

Since I was still in school, and wanted to learn all I could about the creative process, I asked him why. What was it about the piece he didn’t like? How could I make it better?

He picked it up, looked at it for less than a minute, and said, “I guess it’s okay,” and put it back with the other portfolio pieces. I let that response derail me for a bit. I languished over what might be wrong with that one piece of artwork.

It took a while, but I was finally able to look at it differently. I liked the piece. I had chosen it. My instructor’s evaluation of my work was based on his personal preference. He couldn’t tell me what I could do to make it better because, from a technical perspective, there was nothing wrong with it. I had met all the requirements for the project. He just didn’t like it. And, that’s okay. Not everyone is going to like what we create.

I recently read an excellent article posted on The Write Life (Real Writers Get Bad Book Reviews. Here’s Why That’s OK.). My favorite part of the article, written by Michael Alvear, reminds us that not everyone likes chocolate. It’s crazy, I know! And, if there are people who don’t like chocolate, there will be people who won’t like what we have created. It’s that simple. We do not live in a one-size-fits-all society. What one person hates, another will love. We, as creatives, must be okay with that.

So, ask for the advice. Ask for feedback. But, if it doesn’t feel right to make changes to your work, whether it’s a book or a painting, don’t do it. In the end, you are the creator. You need to create what feels right to you. You need to create what you will be proud to call your own. Bad (and good) reviews will be there no matter what you do.

 

Do You Need an Outline?

Should you create an outline for your story?

This is not a post telling you to outline your story. It’s also not a post telling you not to outline your story. My thought on this subject is everyone should do what works best for them. My suggestion is to try both. Write a story using an outline. Write one without using an outline. Then determine which one works best for you.

While I won’t tell you to use, or not use, an outline, I will tell you whichever option you choose, it may not work for you on every project. Sometimes, it will make sense to use an outline. There may be times where an entire story manifests itself and the best way to capture all its components is to do a rough sketch – an outline.

Then, there are times when you’re staring at a blank page with a story nowhere to be found. In this case, I would pick a character, a point of view, and just start writing. Write anything. Let the character take you wherever he or she wants to take you. It could lead to a wonderful story, if you let it.

One more thought on using an outline. If you decide this is the best option for you and your story, don’t hold onto it so tight that you are unwilling to let your characters take you down a different path.

I’ve done this before and ended up with characters that were flat. They weren’t interesting and they behaved in ways that were unnatural, doing things they would never do based on what they had done earlier in the story. There have been times when I had to go back to the beginning of the story and make changes so it would flow into the new direction a character has taken me. But, in the long run, it was worth the extra effort. It made for a better story. Sometimes, your characters will know better than you where the story should take your readers. Don’t fight it. After all, you created the characters. Trust them to do your bidding, even if it is unintentional. They are inside your head. They can read your mind. Let them.

Just make sure you can keep track of where the characters are heading. Too much freedom and the path will wind and twist until you have a story even you as the writer will have trouble untangling. Give your characters some room to roam but pull them back in when it feels like they are starting to tell a different story. This would be a good time to do that rough sketch – an outline – for your next book.

So, should you create an outline? The answer is yes, if you find it to be a useful tool and it will help you finish your project. But, the answer is no, if it will be a hindrance to the creative process.

Trust yourself. Trust your characters. Trust whichever process you choose.

Ignoring My Own Advice

There is a writing tip on my website about the necessity of writing every day. My exact words were “Write daily – even when you don’t feel like it.”

Unfortunately, I broke my own rule. I didn’t write daily. I didn’t feel like it. Most days were spent writing or rewriting my second novel, but not all. The rest were spent proofreading the book and preparing it for publication – an all-consuming, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating process. Taking time away to write something new, something different, probably would have done wonders for my state of mind. Too bad I didn’t listen to my own advice.

I was driven to complete the book at all costs. At times, I was getting nowhere, unable to fix problems with the book and unable to tear myself away. Most days my sanity was hanging by a thread. I told myself I could work on other projects once the book was finished. That it would only take a couple more days. Those couple of days turned into a couple of weeks. Weeks turned into months.

Writing about what I was going through would have helped, I’m sure. Getting my mind off the work that still needed to be done on the book would have given me a much needed break. I’m my own worst enemy.

The good news is, my book (Murder by Fire) will be released next month. We’ll see if I learned anything from writing my second novel when I get bogged down in writing the third.

Any bets? What are your challenges? Write a comment and let’s discuss.