Motivation and Time Management

Often I hear my fellow writers lament the lack of opportunity to write. Or write as much as they desire. The issue isn’t lack of motivation (but I’ll get to that, since it's in the blog title), but where to squeeze writing in with all the daily demands on their time. Family should come first, I'm on board with that. Neglect family and you might end up with none to neglect.

Recently, I returned from a year-and-a-half of 2 ½ day work weeks in my 'other' career (the scientific one what pays the bills) to a 4 day week. Yikes. My first reaction was (in the words of Ward), holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods, I've got this novel to write, this novel to rewrite, this novel to polish and this novel to market. How the hell am I going to maintain my productivity goals when my writing week no longer runs from Wednesday noon to Sunday evening? (just to note, my second reaction was, I appreciate the additional cash flow). I realized I could no longer 'relax' my writing goals for Mondays and Tuesdays, since I couldn't make it up on Wednesday and Thursday. I had to improve my efficiency and exploit all of my potential writing windows.

My plan became, what can I do during my morning and evening public transit commute and my lunch hour on the days I worked? I can carry printed pages of chapters to edit by hand; I can write by hand from scratch; I can read and make scene summaries for outline revision and future drafts. I can then word process the changes at noon or weekends in a binge. I never deny that the slower pace of writing in longhand can often result in superior prose—my brain has more time to think of the right word or phrase.
So how does motivation play into this? For me, using visualization techniques gives me the incentive to establish the above routine. I've finished the 2nd draft of a novel in 3 weeks in January and completed a scene by scene go forward action plan for another. Before I mount the bus each morning and afternoon, I'm already visualizing 'Al the author', hard at work on his next literary masterpiece. Dave Darrigo created a wonderful comic book series called Wordsmith, the story of Clay Washburn, a depression era pulp writer. When I'm really lacking the oomph to pick away, I become Clay, or Lester Dent, or Frank Gruber, writing because I have to.

I'm not a 'binge' writer. I find it difficult to pull a 3 or 4 day sprint, then be drained for a week or a month after. Here's my tip, as much to remind me as to offer advice to anyone else, you can't finish a story or novel by writing zero words per day. You can by writing 100 words a day. It may take longer than you envisioned when these marvelous characters/plots/scenes presented themselves, but you will establish the work/reward routine which will become your motivation.

Writerly Routines

A recent link from a friend to this: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/20/daily-routines-writers/ reaffirmed Kipling’s notion that when it comes to processes, including writing, 'there are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays. And every single one of them is right!'
I would often approach professional, productive authors with the question, "What is your routine?", hoping for the secret to applying seat of pants to chair and fingertips to keyboard. The magic 'routine' for starting, continuing and finishing the next opus didn't pop out in any consistent method. The common answer usually contains the phrase 'whatever you find which works for you'.

What worked for me when it came to short fiction, was a binge approach. I would note ideas for stories: plot, character and setting kernels. The next step involved the percolation in the subconscious or fringe of consciousness of the ideas until sometime later, the vision and arc of the complete story would manifest in my brain. Then, I couldn't wait to get the story onto paper in a weekend or week-long frenzy. Sitting down every day with no ready ideas seemed unreachable or at the very least, if I did attempt the daily routine, a series of unremarkable stories.

Novels were begun but often the momentum ceased between 20 and 30 thousand words. I wrote a number of marketable short stories but never satisfactorily finished longer works.
The opportunity to change the routine came with cutting back in my professional career to a 2 ½ day work week. My writing week now begins Wednesday at noon. Novel writing became the goal and I had to find a process which worked. I have. The energy to write every day either comes out of the process or drives it, I'm still unsure which. The key for me is to set writing as priority-one Wednesday noon thru Sunday. It's the hard duty but the correct one. Chores, internet and email distractions are all easier; I let those be my reward.

So, write first. I make a daily list, not too specific but the general form might be: write, exercise, lunch, write more, shop/household stuff/motorcycle ride, etc. Solving plot issues while running often happens in the temporary 'down time'. Creating first draft novels by visiting them every day surprises me with ideas which spring forth while I'm typing. I don't over-outline; I begin with pretty detailed arcs and an overall plot. The interesting subplots appear as I write though no doubt the subconscious processing is at work. The key for me is not to spend eight hours in a day in the first-draft creative process as I'd run out of the neat surprises. Write, reward, write, reward. If I get 3 to 4 hours per day of initial draft completed, I'm happy and still creative the next day. I don't go back and revise during this stage. I will read earlier scenes for reference and note where I need to make changes to set up later new ideas. I retro-outline scenes each day which become my second draft revision guidelines. Each scene outline has a summary of events, POV character noted, other characters involved and how it ties to overall arcs and theme. I leave space for revision notes to one side. Second drafts are heavily laden with the same creative process because I'm still adding new things. The 3 to 4 hour days with reward breaks continue. Third and subsequent passes are less creative and more editing focussed so the daily hours can be stretched without losing spark.

Short stories still fit into the routine, though I try write them in the gaps between novel drafts.
As an almost-full-time-writer, the distractions of the profession linger: website maintenance, marketing and publicity, submissions, blurbs and synopses, critiquing fellow writers' work, research. Add these to normal life duties and it's little wonder that I tell people I'm semi-retired and working 7 days a week.
I love it.

Edmund Scientific – The Heyday of Science DIY

In various bio sketches, I've mentioned my early discovery of science. It began with an older brother's microscope when I was in elementary, followed by a Porter Chemistry set (#608, if anyone's keeping notes) acquired when I was 10, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on summer vacation (my saved allowance over the previous many months).

The big expansion came in grade 7, Junior high School, when, golly-bob-howdy, SCIENCE was a stand-alone subject from Mr. Anderson (don't let his one wonky eye fool ya, the man saw everything). We captured protozoa from pond scum and watched them twitch and move under a microscope; we learned about osmosis with a hollowed-out half potato and maple syrup; we marveled at the explosive wonder of spontaneous combustion courtesy of flour, a drinking straw and a candle: I built dry-cleaner bag and birthday candle hot-air balloon UFO's. Reading Popular Science Magazine led to those great advertisements from Edmund Scientific. "Space Conqueror Telescope" for the lofty (to me) price of $29.95. Unobtanium. But the catalogs were free.

Digest-sized, 100+ pulp pages of optics, science toys, chemistry and lab equipment, electrical gizmos of all descriptions, war surplus componentry, the singular Spilhaus Space Clock and more, it was the burgeoning mad scientist's one-stop shopping venue.

The semi-annual catalog changed in small increments. The first task each six months was to determine what was new, and what had gone up in price.

The telescope pages were the highlight for me. The 3" Space Conqueror reflector; the 4 1/4" Palomar; the 6" Space Challenger with choice of manual or clock drive equatorial mount. The refractors, elegant in their classic design.

By the summer between grade 10 and 11, I'd saved enough from my paper route for my first motorbike (Honda S65, used) and the mighty F/10 3" Space Conqueror. I'll give to Edmund, they may have skimped a bit on the wobbly wooden tripod 'semi-equatorial' mount (if you lived on the 40th parallel) and the 3X finder scope, but they tossed in a whack of literature. A wheeled star-finder, a paperback copy of The Handbook of the Heavens, various how to use your telescope booklets. And the telescope worked. My first backyard explorations of lunar craters, Saturn's rings, Jupiter and its 4 most visible moons, Venus' changing disc to crescent, M31, M15, M57, double stars in the Big Dipper, Orion's nebula. My sense of wonder never went away, even after moving on to bigger scopes (Edmund supplied the mirror kit and Foucault tester I used to grind, polish and perfect an 8" F/8 mirror. With the help of their literature, old Mechanix Illustrated Amateur Telescope Makers' pages and ideas of my own, built a very usable 'scope).

As all things from our youth, Edmund Scientific changed from that cornucopia of evil genius delights to laser shows for would-be rock concert promoters. The company founded by Norman Edmund in the 1940's and carried forward by son Robert, still exists under the Scientificsonline website. Ordering from Canada became complicated in the 1980's by the emergence of an associated company, Efston Science, based in Toronto. Canadians had to order from them (at much higher cost, I believe), rather than the New Jersey home.

I wish I'd kept some of those old catalogs of wonder (last time I checked on Ebay, they go for outrageous sums), but they went in the recycler with the Estes and Centuri model rocketry catalogs, the Autoworld model catalogs, and the gum cards.
Norman W. Edmund passed away in 2012 at 95. Pretty neat combination of entrepreneur, science educator and inquiring mind.

Some links:
http://www.edmundoptics.com/company/timeline/
http://www.edmundoptics.com/company/press-releases/press-article.cfm?id=359
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Scientific_Corporation

Writing What I Like To Read

This is a guest post I did for The Fictorian Blog. http://www.fictorians.com/

“Write what you know.” One of those pieces of advice intended to get you focused. Or, to keep you from writing. I mainly write speculative fiction, so in my case, it’s “write what you don’t know, but wish.” Then add another layer. I write what I like to read. Sounds simple; but what do I like to read?

What draws me in and what authors do I return to and why? How do I know the experience and invested time will be worthwhile?

I like to be immersed in a world which the author has taken time to know. It doesn’t have to be detailed excruciatingly but one can tell if the author has worked it all out so that the setting, (physical, economic, social, political, etc.) works, in the background. This provides the stimuli for the characters to act and react realistically.

So we begin with a consistent, believable setting. The effort to create this in mystery and even conventional horror genres is different than SF or fantasy. The setting must be no less contradictory to what the reader knows or expects. Now, I’m immersed in the author’s world, my disbelief is suspended, what’s next?

Character and plot arcs which intersect, in conflict. Goals which matter; inaction will be fatal. Big points for originality.

I desire characters who exhibit psychological realism. The protagonist may be flawed, may be damaged beyond retrieval, but I want to see their actions and motivations portrayed believably. Their flaws are often the main reason they are in conflict with their environment. They find themselves in conflict willingly or not, but inevitably. Now the writer shows his or her talent by solving the issue through exploiting the character’s weaknesses but building on their strengths as well. And I believe the protagonist should have some strength, otherwise why should I care about them? Making me care about them is the tough art. Put them in a familiar quandary, something universal for the reader to identify with (broken relationship, loss of a loved one or thing, financial hardship, disease, injury, injustice).

I read for entertainment. I write to entertain. I read to learn, not to be converted. I write to teach, not preach. The best writers let me take away their interpretation of an issue of importance. Not necessarily to convince me, but to stimulate my own thoughts on the subject.

The other lure for me is the book containing a ‘big idea’. Hard to define in absolutes but some authors consistently produce a concept and character(s) which transcend the genre; epic in design and originality. Think “The City and The City” by China Mieville.

So much for ‘critical reading’. Sometimes I read for sheer brain candy. Reading to decompress from life. These are the books with no hidden message but I still have my standards. Natural storytellers (Robert E. Howard, William Campbell Gault, Lester Dent, Walter Gibson) can create a setting and characters in conflict in a dozen strokes of their writer’s brush; like a pen artist creating a portrait or landscape in the simplest of lines. They make it look easy but like the artist, it took many false strokes and many wrong words before it became ‘natural’. They apprenticed under the gun of a penny or less per word in the pulps. They learned quickly because they had to eat. I don’t read them critically, as I would the aforementioned China Mieville, William Gibson or Peter Watts (three of the more consistent and original writers working in spec fic) but I do analyze passages which work well. Again the fewest strokes of the brush technique to paint the picture before getting on with the action, which is why I dropped by in the first place.

Summarizing, I appreciate and look for: a consistent background which functions almost as another character, widening the options for the protagonist’s conflict; psychological realism where the characters behave consistently within their limitations and strengths and use both to resolve the conflicts; and originality. I hope I succeed at some level incorporating these attributes in my own writing.