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Looking back at how much you've written this year or the response to what you wrote may leave you feeling disappointed or disheartened.
People who dare to dream big are more likely to encounter setbacks and disappointments than those who dream small. Is that enough reason to give up? (Hint: No.)
Seldom is the road to success straight and smooth. For example:
The first novel of the late, great Elmore Leonard was rejected 84 times.
Every major publisher turned down the first novel of Wilbur Smith and he nearly gave up writing. His books have sold 84 million copies.
Record-breaking yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur sent out 2500 requests for sponsorship. Number of replies: 2.
The parting words of J. K. Rowling's publisher to her after their first lunch meeting: "You'll never make any money out of children's books, Jo."
Maybe this year life got in your way or you got in your own way. No matter. A new year approaches, another chance to get it right or at least better. And perhaps there is truth in the saying that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.
(If writing a book is part of your plan for 2014, the journey can be made easier by my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
First, unless you have a very poor imagination almost nothing turns out to be as good as you imagine it will be when you first think of it. I remember a line from an old move called Morgan: "Reality never quite lives up to my best fantasies."
Second, it takes lots of trial and error to get to the point where you can even get close. That's where the drunken baby comes in. It's not actualliy drunken but when it's learning to walk it sure seems like it. It staggers, falls over, gets up, takes a few more steps, falls over again, and on and on. At first it has to hold on to something, then it takes a few independent steps, and eventually it's racing around the house.
The baby doesn't think, "Hmm, I've fallen over a dozen times, I guess I'm no good at this walking thing. I'll just stick to crawling." It keeps going until it has mastered walking.
Of course this is a strong instinct, not a conscious decision. I think the desire to express ourselves is also a strong instinct and to learn to do it well we have to fall over a lot and get up again and again.
Even when a kid has mastered walking, it still stumbles from time to time. That happens even when it has became an adult (at which point alcohol may indeed play a role).
Even when you are an experienced writer, some projects will not work. You'll feel disappointed in yourself or the world, or both.
Then you'll remember to stand up and keep going.
If you don't have time to write, that doesn't mean you have to ignore your book or screenplay. Here are a few things you can do to keep the project alive in your mind (this is for works of fiction, but I bet you can think of similar things you can do if you write non-fiction):
* Imagine one of your characters is with you as you go through your day. How would he or she react to all the things that happen? You'll get to know the characters better and when you do sit down to write again you'll find it much easier to know what they'll do and say.
* At the start of your day, decide on one scene or part of the story to think about, and then just get on with your day. You will find that your subconscious mind keeps working on it anyway and new ideas will pop out at unexpected times.
* Take five minutes a day to think about the project and jot down any new ideas. Don't try to force it, some days you'll have lots of ideas, other days you may not have any. That's fine, just make it a habit and I think you'll find it useful.
As well as producing ideas you can use when you have time to get back to writing, these will banish guilt about not writing every day.
HOW TO FIND MORE TIME TO WRITE
Along with using these methods, you may want to try to find some more time to write. A few ideas:
* If you normally eat lunch at your desk, once or more a week go to nearby coffee shop where you won't be disturbed.
* If you regularly watch some TV series, give up one of them.
* One or two days a week get up an hour early (or stay up an hour late).
* If you have kids, swap babysitting times with a friend or neighbor so each of you gets a couple of hours at a time undisturbed.
(Do you think you might profit from having Mark Twain, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a hundred other classic and modern masters of writing giving you their advice about writing? You can find it in my book, Your Creative Writing Masterclass, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite book seller.)
"It sometimes depends on deadlines, but I've found that the most efficient thing is to write what you want to write."
Great! Permission to have dessert first.
Of course the only rule is to do what works for you. If at first you don't succeed, try something different.
(Want to find out what writing advice was given by the great authors--like Dickens, Austen, and Stevenson, as well as modern masters? Get a copy of "Your Creative Writing Masterclass," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
Get moving. Aerobic exercise helps the brain. The most effective (also great for weight loss) is interval training, in which you go almost all-out for a short period (start with 10 or 15 seconds), then slow until you recover your breath, then fast again, and so on. This can be done with running, rowing, using a cross-trainer, a bike. Even ten minutes can bring great results. However, if you're not already pretty fit, check with your doctor first and then work your way up gradually.
Even just walking for half an hour a few times a week helps. A group of previously sedentary people over sixty years old showed improved recall and brain connectivity after six months of this gentle regime.
Go green. Studies have confirmed that getting into nature helps people overcome depression and other maladies. Even just looking out onto trees allowed people in hospital to get out more quickly. You don't have to travel far--a walk in your nearest park will help. Especially if you leave your phone off (or even better, leave it behind). Also get some plants for your office and your bedroom. They improve air quality and mood.
Let a cup of java boost your memory. According to researchers at Innsbruck University 100 mg of caffeine (= 2 cups of coffee) activated the part of the brain that relates to memory, managing tasks, and prioritizing information. Naturally there comes a point of diminishing returns. If the room starts to vibrate, you've had enough.
Everybody needs a break, even your brain. No need to do anything special (although meditation, yoga, etc. are all good). Just sitting for 5 to 10 minutes, eyes shut, in a quiet place is enough. A short nap works, too, although more of a challenge to fit in at work. "I was just resting my eyes" doesn't work if you've been snoring.
Easy on the sugar. Watch out for the so-called "energy bars." That energy is coming from sugar and will lead to a crash eventually. One brand of these bars has 50% sugar, more than a Krispy Kreme donut! Check the labels, you may be surprised at how unhealthy these and other supposed health foods are.
(Want a guide for how to manage your time and life more easily? Check out "Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done." It's published by Pearson and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
Studies show that people are better able to solve problems that were shown on a computer screen if they leaned back. They were also better able to make a decision if they leaned back.
It's no coincidence that people sometimes are advised to step back from the problem. The physical movement seems to be connected to having psychological distance as well.
The next time you have a problem that's hard to resolve, first lean back and think about it again. If that doesn't work, imagine seeing the problem represented on a movie screen and that you're sitting in the last row. Now what possible solutions come to mind?
(There are many methods for being more creative in my book, Creativity Now. It's published by Pearson and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
"We tell stories because we have a hollow place in our heart.
You don't fill that with success.
You fill it by finding yourself in the stories you tell.
They can be viewed by 10 people, or they can be viewed by 10 million people."
Director Guillermo del Toro at Fastcreate.com
You've heard it many times before: keep a notebook. But do you? If not, maybe you will after hearing why director Guillermo del Toro keeps a sketchbook:
"What's great about a sketch book is, you put drawings in it and then they're there. You carry them with you and consult them and thieve from yourself. There's something about that guy at 28 or 35: he's smarter or fresher than you are at 40 but he's somebody who understands you perfectly, because it's you.
In a sketch book you can distill your compulsions, because I believe every artist is just the sum of his or her compulsions. Keeping a catalog of those obsessions through the years, you steal from someone who is almost electrically alive with those same compulsions at age 21. That makes the dialogue very fluid. I revisit the books before every project."
The same thing applies to a writer's notebook. Of course these days smart phones make it easier to write or record or photograph anything you want to add to your collection.
Michael Morpurgo has written many acclaimed children's books, most notably War Horse which of course led to the play and movie. In this nine minute long video he talks about how voyages have influenced his writing.
YouTube videos now include transcripts. In this case for some reason around 1minute 14 seconds the transcript descends into a kind of poetic gibberish. Here's a little sample with just a few bits of punctuation added:
And the man said "Yeah I thought it was a thought!"
It was, but back to chairman said light
"With this International Space Station the airline says bo,
be nice to talk to them crew,"
announced as emailed back to accordance: it is a look
good luck to all those guys!
And back in Sydney a savant well as nasa
like Nelson space agency in them,
"America we want to talk those astronauts!"
These two old Australian gets out in the ocean
sipping nakedness ;
Want to talk to those
and so nasa you phoned astral.
Maybe I should submit that to some poetry magazines...
Think you're too old to start writing? Here are the words of 90-year-old writer Babette Hughes, as reported in an interview in the Huffington Post:
"The creative richness and energy of the unconscious mind doesn't care how old we are. We are as young and as old as the characters we make up...Confessions Of An Unpublished Writer is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago -- namely, that it is the writing itself that gives us pleasure -- not publication. Which is why we write. And by writing how we get to be better writers. Getting published is the icing on the cake."
As to the secret of her longevity and enduring creativity:
"You know, life comes in a bundle. The good, the bad, the disappointing and even the tragedies are all of a piece. It's all or nothing. When we accept the whole bundle with a quality of moral nerve and a certain toughness, we choose life. When we choose life, it chooses us. In other words, accepting the lot instead of the chair and the TV makes us emotionally and spiritually better able to survive the hits that life can dish out, including old age."
I've met a lot of writers, from 12 years old to well into their 8os. What they have in common is a passion for telling stories. They understand what Babette Hughes does: "The truth about the human condition resides in fiction."
Maybe too scared, too lazy, too confused--but never too young or too old!
(Need some friendly support and guidance? My book, Your Writing Coach, takes you from the idea all the way through to publication. Published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
The Premise: Small changes in your behaviour can make big changes in your life.
Three Key Ideas from the Book:
The Verdict: This is a great little book that has stood the test of time for practical techniques for improving any part of your life.
(If managing your time better is one of the changes you'd like to make, get my book, "Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done," published by Pearson and available from Amazon or your other favortie bookseller.)
Society and common sense say you should choose the one who is at the absolute pinnacle, but research suggests that may be wrong.
The reason, according to researchers at Oxford and the Warwick Business School, is that extreme success relies a lot on luck and the ability to call on initial advantages as well as talent.
Science Daily summarizes it this way: “A rational learner should realise that it is more useful to draw lessons from the less exceptional performers, the second best, because their circumstances are likely to be less extreme, implying their performances are more informative and offer more evidence for skill.”
The writing world bears this out. Without taking anything away from J. K. Rowling’s ability as an author, is she ten times more talented than authors who make one-tenth of her income (still a very substantial amount)? I don’t think so.
The Disney Mistake
Another issue is whether you are copying the right thing. When Walt Disney passed away, for a long time the people who ran his organization selected projects based on “what Walt would do.” They overlooked the fact that when he was alive, what Walt did changed all the time. He was constantly taking risks (and had the advantage of a brother who put on the brakes when Walt went too far). Rather than continuing on the path he was on before he died, they should have been imitating his openness to new ideas and his pioneering spirit. That mistake nearly killed the company until control was handed to different people.
In the business world often the most successful people are also risk-takers who fail more often than they succeed, but when they do succeed hit it big.
This was not mentioned in the study, but in the world of big business (but not in the arts) there’s an unwritten code that they will protect each other from the usual consequences of massive failure. That’s why the top people behind the calamitous financial transgressions of the last decade are still running companies, and why executives fired after leading their companies into huge losses get a pay-off of millions of dollars or pounds and soon another chance at another company.
Despite all the books lauding the practices of top businesspeople, using them as a model could be dangerous if you’re not part of their golden circle.
Perhaps the closest analogy to this in the writing world is that if an author is already successful, publishers will spend a lot of money publicizing their latest book, a version of “the rich get richer.” Although self-publishing offers a way in, it takes luck as well as talent and perseverance to break out in that crowded marketplace in a big way.
(You won't go wrong following the best practices suggested in my book, "Your Writing Coach." It takes you from the original idea all the way through to publication. You can get it from Amazon or your other favorite book seller.)
On the Writing Teen Novels blog, author Beth Revis (“Across the Universe”) confessed that she analyzed the market and then sat down to write a book that would definitely get published:
“…I was clever. Too clever.
That was the book I wrote with the intent of doing everything right–and the result was that I did it all wrong. That book had no soul…And it was rejected soundly. So I sat down and decided to write something else. Something different. I didn’t care AT ALL about whether it was right or wrong. I only wanted to write the thing that I cared about writing.
…That was the book that sold.”
She also revealed she wrote ten novels before the one that started her career and became a New York Times best-seller.
Here's the moral of the story:
"If I can only say one thing to you, it’s this: make mistakes. Do the things you fear. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Care more about the story than the market. Okay, that’s a lot of things. But it all comes down to this: be true to yourself."
(for friendly guidance in writing your own book, get "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)