Fantasy Writers Week and handling stress

We are already three months into the new year. The weeks seem to pass at break-neck speed. And while some might argue that is a good thing, I’m not quite sure about that myself. Especially when I feel my weeks mostly consist of work for a living and recuperating from said work. To be honest I have not been putting the hours into my book I intended to. The last couple of weeks have been quite exhausting at work, which limited the time I spent working on a computer screen off work. As you can imagine this is a real issue when trying to work towards a finished book. An issue I realized I needed to address.

How to handle stress

When under stress I tend to procrastinate even more than usual, sleep longer hours and don’t feel like doing anything. Though I am aware of the steps I can take to alleviate that stress I am not fully consistent in taking all of them. The things that I tend to do consistently are taking walks and keeping up with my chores at home. The thing I am not doing consistently is writing. And I’m quite sure I mentioned in a different blog that if it is one thing which counters that feeling of stress is writing, because it gives me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Fantasy writers week

How fortunate it was I enrolled myself in Fantasy Writers Week. A lovely way to increase my knowledge in the craft and invigorate my writing. Unfortunately due to the time difference I wasn’t able to catch any of the talks live but I watched all the replays, even those I did not intend to watch in the first place. And it helped to get some new ideas flowing and gain new knowledge and insight. As expected not all talks were as useful to me, but I made quite a few notes, even on the talks that were less usefull overall. I found that the Worldbuilding Write-in was the most fun. The live viewers could participate in three writing sprints and then share via chat what they wrote. Especially the last sprint was eye-opening to me. For 10 minutes we had to “Describe the opening scene of your novel. Take the described history (created in the previous sprints) and use the five senses.” 

Just because I already have a draft of a novel didn’t mean I had to set it in that world and rewrite my existing opening scene. No, I chose to go with a different story concept I’m working on. Note that I wrote it on paper so there are a lot less words than when I would type. And while the result is not where it eventually will be, it surely does not disappoint. It showed me (again) that I can create something interesting for others to read, and that I can create it basically from scratch in a short amount of time. Especially since this world is not really fleshed out yet. This was completely new.

Taking action

Before I leave you with the words I wrote in ten minutes, I would like to talk about the actions I am taking now to get me going. Put me further on the part to complete my current book before the year ends. First, I bought a laptop so I am not as stuck behind my desk at home as I am at work.

Second, I started posting writing updates on Youtube. It will be biweekly video where I show what progress I’ve made. This serves two purposes: First to keep you informed on the book should you be interested. I also gives me the oppertunity to blog about other subjects here. Second it is a way to remind myself I need to continue working so I can finish within the earlier mentioned deadline. Doing this indirectly leads me to constantly blow off steam so I don’t feel that I do not procrastinate after my work hours while I could do something very, very cool like creating stories for other people to read.

I will see you next month.

The 10 minute opening scene

Jack pinched his nose while he waded through the crowd of bums and dressed up office workers. He did not understand why people would want to stay and watch them investigating a murder, especially in the pouring rain. He sighed and tried to catch a sniff of fresh air, but the closer he got to the crime scene the more overwhelming the scent of the dead shadowrunner became. When he stepped onto the crime scene he stopped in his tracks. He understood. This one wasn’t killed, he was mangled, broken and probably thrown off the nearby apartment complex. The remains of the once human lay all around, and the blood on the alley walls already told him this would not be an easy case. 

First drafting progress: Prose (& Procrastination)

Prose: the crafting of sentences that seem spoken by a real person. It is what writers do to make the reader think they are watching a conversation take place in front of them. But: “prose is hard”, said probably every writer ever. And while some authors still intentionally go with a more flowery prose, I think it is off-putting for the general public who want to read something which reflects our modern use of language.* I am (currently) one of them.

Should you bother?

There are many aspects to the writing process that are difficult, especially when first drafting a first book. So should you bother with prose when you’re at this stage of writing? 

Probably not, but this is easier said than done. Especially if you’re somewhat like me and have experienced words flowing from your fingers. It is hinting at something greater, and it can very be frustrating when you don’t reach that level.

What I’ve learned from people talking about prose that it is something you learn over time. When you have written more and integrated the more basic parts of the writing process into your system, other aspects will receive more attention in the earlier drafts. This is part of the learning curve, were patience and experience will become visible over time. You cannot pay attention to all the details at once, but it will get easier over time.

It is frustrating when the sentences look more like a summary of events then an actual story, while simultaneously your characters are having difficult and jarring conversations. How can you not look at the parts that seem to shine because they were created in a flash of creativity, a moment of flow state that is mostly desired but often not achieved.

Expert tip

I really liked this interview with author Joe Abercrombie who mentions (around 28:55) that he really spent a lot of time on improving the first chapters of his book just to get it up to a satisfactory level before continuing on with later chapters. A very good tip, though not something I am aiming to do now. It is still my goal to finish the first draft this year. I want the experience of finishing a first draft. However I also realise that my last month has been one of procrastination and limited time and energy spent on writing. The realisation that my prose wasn’t very good really did a number on my determination. Combined with the increasing stress of ‘normal’ life picking up I just didn’t feel like writing. It was a slog just to get through the one scene I was working on with the knowledge that the next scene had even less content prepared… I just couldn’t push myself to it and spent my time the worst way: Not writing!

How I (mentally) fixed it

I did some reflecting on the situation and came to the realisation I was thinking and judging my work too seriously. It took some time but I’ve dealt with it and feel mentally refreshed. It is clear what I must do: finish the first draft. And not worry too much about the prose and the other, more advanced stuff. While I already find myself correcting written sentences, it is not a necessary thing to do right now. There is so much to take into account when writing that it can be overwhelming. The proven path is to take one (baby) step at a time and trust the process. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I am still very much in learning mode and I want to further dig in on the theory when time allows, but I’m realizing that it will take a lot of time before I integrate a lot of the more challenging aspects I’m dealing with right now. I’m hoping that next year, things will become more clear when I can work my way through a finished draft. 

With that goal set, please excuse me while I start writing again. For November, please enjoy this song which lyrics talk about that spot on the horizon. And yes, it is also a teaser for its subject.

*I understand the applicability with races or characters in a specific setting. But in my opinion it can decrease the reading experience if not done correctly.

Untitled until I get creative

Date of writing: Wednesday October 16th

Congratulations to me: I have tricked my mind into sitting down and writing something. Although I’m currently a week of from work I have yet to seriously continue on my book. Procrastination is a thing, yes. I’m an experienced procrastinator and I know it. 

I can talk all day long about other interesting things that are going on or that are on my ‘to do list’, but the fact is that I had planned yesterday (Tuesday) to work on my book today. And it did not happen.

Funny how that didn’t work out. It seems I had found something more easier to keep my attention. And with that dopamine influx my afternoon was gone before I knew it. 

A little bummed by this I had the brilliant idea just before dinner to search the internet on how to bend my motivation to the the correct subject. How to easily move into action. But I quickly realized I already know the answer. Without finding what I eventually found. It happens to us all…

Just as an FYI: Because I am a master procrastinator 
I need to have someone else telling me thing I know already; 
so my mind can get affirmation and lose 30 minutes while doing it…… 

Do Something!

Now what I found is a theoretical frame. It’s called the Do something principle (by Mark Manson). 

The funny thing is this principle is a circular three-step framework where I can and want to add in a step 0 which I know will help me sometimes. Other times its just start with step 1. So here we go.

Step 0: if you’re doing something that doesn’t suit your needs, take a small break. Go to the toilet or take a walk. Just to break away from the situation or flow you are in. It helps to close off anything your doing. So if you’re gaming, close the game. This way, when you return to your workspace it’s ‘clean’. I usually have the issue that I start my PC, open the related programme but get distracted by something else. Stop what you’re doing and take a (small) break.

The Do Something Principle itself is as mentioned a circular framework were it does not matter where you start. You can enter the circle on any of the three positions. But in my specific case I have numbered the thing that I need to do as step 1.

Step 1: Action/Do something. In my case: write a paragraph or a sentence. It doesn’t matter the quality but write something. If the thing you’re aiming for is big (like writing a book), make it smaller so it can be done in one or two minutes. And if you find yourself staring at a piece of paper just write a word. You got to start somewhere, right?

This blog started with the word procrastination.

The strange thing is that step 2 and 3 usually follow naturally after you made your start.  Step 2: Inspiration. Even if the goal is to write one sentence, what usually happens is that we can and will do a little bit more.  And before you know it you’ve arrived at Step 3: Motivation. Cheers, you’ve motivated yourself to take further action. A round circle.

Out of sight, out of mind

The way I experience working on (bigger) projects is: the longer we are separate from one the tougher it gets to start anew or continue with it. So my plan for tomorrow is not to first post this on my website, but to open the book project file and write a sentence in the first chapter of the book.

To help myself I will now pull the internet cable from my machine so that is also not available tomorrow. 

I will let you know what happened in a couple weeks 🙂