Category Archives: Writing

Writing specific resources and behind the scenes

NaNoWriMo Prep: 30 days of staying healthy

As a significant number of people are about to launch into the writing insanity of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I would do a post not on writing, but on health.

As someone who has been doing NaNoWriMo for a long time (over fifteen years!), I’ve learnt some hard lessons along the way. So I thought I’d wrap them up into a single post so you can learn from my mistakes rather than making them yourselves.

Preparation

 

The best way to have a comfortable and healthy month is to prepare for it. Take the time to plan your novel (if you’re a planner rather than a pantser) but also take the time to prepare your writing environment. Your wrists and neck are going to be under some strain during November, so make your set up as ergonomic as possible. If you’ve only ever written 300 words a day before, then don’t expect to write 3000 and not feel a twinge or two the following day.

Clear your calendar of other events if you can, so you don’t end up with too many competing priorities.

Diet

Writing can be an absorbing pastime. You get lost in the world you’re creating. It can be fun to get to know your characters. So much fun that you look up and it’s a lot later than you realised. Time to grab a coffee and a quick snack and keep going, right?

Wrong.

Eating a proper diet and avoiding quick and easy junk food will give you enough energy to keep going long term. Don’t make November the month of sugar highs and carb crashes. Simple, healthy meals can be planned for in advance so they don’t cut into you writing time.

Hydration

No, I don’t mean drinking endless pots of coffee. Much as I love the stuff, don’t chug it to get you through that all night writing session. Drink plenty of water and other uncaffeinated, sugar-free beverages to stay sufficiently hydrated. I’ve found this is especially important if you’re doing an early morning session as it clears the fog of sleepiness very effectively.

Sleep

Talking of sleep, make sure you get some. Finding the time to write 50,000 words means finding a lot more hours during your day. Sacrifice TV and Facebook time, not sleep. Tiredness will make the whole process of writing slower and begin a vicious cycle of struggling to hit your daily word count. Try not to deviate too much from your existing pattern and if you know that’s currently a terrible one, then don’t allow NaNo to make it worse.

Exercise and rest breaks

As well as sleep, make sure to build in some exercise time and rest breaks. Not only will your wrists appreciate it, but your eyes will too. There have also been several studies highlighting the dangers of prolonged sitting, so make sure you get up and walk around. Set a timer or alarm if you have to. It might not seem easy to stop mid-flow, but it’s better than sitting for an extended period and risking blood clots and heart attacks in later life (a bit dramatic, I know).

Mental health

Doing NaNo can be hard on your physical health, but it’s not a walk in the park for your mental health either. The pressure to finish (often self-inflicted) can lead to some serious burn out. This is often exacerbated if you haven’t done the things above to work on your physical well-being. Remember, at the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is meant to be a fun and inspiring writing experience. It’s not meant to be soul destroying. Don’t win the month, only to never want to write again.

If you start to feel upset, frustrated or unhappy, then step away from the computer. Take a break. You can come back tomorrow, the next day or not at all. It doesn’t matter. Life is too short to be made miserable by an internet competition where the only prize is to be able to say you’ve done it…

Advertisements

Books for writers: Shadows Beneath (Writing Excuses Anthology) review

With NaNoWriMo only a week away, instead of my usual ‘book for entrepreneurs’ review, I thought I would focus specifically on a book for writers.

Most writers (aspiring and published) have read Stephen King’s On Writing. I love that book, but most of the engaging content is the autobiographical stuff, rather than the writing parts. So I thought I would take a look at a much more hands on, practical book: Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology.

The book was released in 2014 and often gets overlooked as being a short story anthology, rather than a practical guide to writing. It follows the writing process of the four main Writing Excuses hosts from story concept to finished work. Side note, if you’re a writer and haven’t checked out the Writing Excuses Podcast then go there now. It’s one of the best ‘craft’ podcasts out there in a realm of marketing ones.

The first part of the book contains the completed short stories. This means that those who aren’t interested in the writing process can just enjoy reading some quality fiction. For writers, it is the second part that is interesting: the ‘making of’ section.

For each of the stories, we can read a transcript of the Writing Excuses episode where they brainstormed ideas. For people who wonder where ideas come from, this is gold in itself. Then there is the first draft of the story, transcripts of workshopping discussions and intermittent drafts and commentaries from the authors. Finally, there is a version showing all the edits from the first draft to the published edition, full of cuts and additions.

So why read this book?

During NaNoWriMo, the idea is to take an idea and write. Write each day and get 50,000 words down by the end of the month. Editing has no place here. Often at the end, we are left with 50,000 words that need some pretty serious work. Shadows Beneath is a great way to see that even without these crazy time pressures, the first draft is never perfect. It can be hard to imagine that our favourite, successful authors struggle to write a first draft and that it often doesn’t work. It can be hard to believe they reach out to others and say ‘hey, I’m struggling with this and could use some help’. This book will teach lessons in craft and development, but it also shows the spirit of community and encouragement.

Which, when you think about it, has always been at the heart of NaNoWriMo.

You can buy Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology here. If you can, I’d recommend getting the print edition, as it allows you to flip back and forth much easier when following the revision process.

Writer Tools: Field Notes Dime Edition Review

One of the most difficult parts of being self-employed is constant self-motivation. As a writer, the easiest way for me to do this is to use tools that inspire me to pick them up. I’ve done some of my best work when I’m having the most fun just playing with my toys.

Field Notes Dime Novel Edition

The Field Notes Dime Novel Edition is a perfect, quirky writer’s tool. Inspired by the American Dime Novel (much like the British Penny Dreadfuls back in the day), it is a departure from the standard pocket notebook Field Notes is known for. I love that, despite being iconic in the notebook world, they continue to mix it up with their quarterly releases and not play it safe.

Instead of the usual 48 pages, there are 72 plain pages bound as three signatures. This creates a completely different look and feel to the standard ones, as well as giving more space to write:

Interestingly, the Dime Novel Edition has numbered pages, another departure from the usual Field Notes functionality:

Given the explosion of Bullet Journaling, more and more companies are incorporating the numbered pages into their notebooks. Even though I’ve been using a modified bullet journal method for years and would normally be super excited about this feature, for once it isn’t important because…

What will I be doing with mine?

I’ll be doing exactly what it says on the tin. There’s not quite enough space for a novel, but I intend to write out a short story in each of them. In one, I intend to use my coveted Blackwing 24 (The Steinbeck Edition). In the other, I plan to use one of my fountain pens loaded with J. Herbin Lie De Thé – a beautiful sepia toned ink that fits the aged theme perfectly.

As much as I appreciate the opportunities that the world of self-publishing has given me, it’s nice to be reminded that writing doesn’t always need to have an audience. It doesn’t have to be a book churn efficiency. Writing can be – and should be – fun first. I can’t wait to pen these stories for myself, written by hand in the cold winter mornings.

Main images in the post are courtesy of Field Notes Brand. Check them out.

Subtle discomforts

I haven’t posted here for a while. As well as being very busy, there was a strange discomfort that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

This morning, I realised what it was. I’d probably known all along, but I finally acknowledged it.

When I published my Sugar Free book, I decided to give Facebook a go, despite disliking it as a concept for years. Obviously, if you’re going to use it for marketing purposes, then it made sense to link my blogposts to it.

I still hated it. More importantly, its open door policy and spooky algorithm meant that everyone I may have ever known was being suggested to me in other places, such as my Instagram. Even people who I don’t want to be part of my life. It was like a sledgehammer of suggestions that kept poking sore spots.

So this morning I deleted my Facebook account. I’m under no illusions that it will make all the problems instantly go away. But I realised I don’t want the downsides it brings, no matter what the upsides might be.

It feels good. If something bothers you, then get rid of it, even if other people tell you it’s a ‘must have’ item. Trust your own instincts. They’re probably right about things more times than you realise.

Floating: why it is beneficial to my physical and mental health

Everyone who knows me understands that I inhabit a strange place between logical efficiency and unconstrained creativity. Essentially, this:

venn

In reality, I try to be efficient so I can get the things I must do out of the way as quickly as possible, so that I can enjoy the things I want to do. Like a lot of people, I frequently seem to slide down the slippery slope towards getting more done, rather than getting the right things done.

Luckily for me, just under a year ago, Time To Float opened up nearby. Before, I had travelled to London to float, but for anyone in the centre of the England, this is infinitely more convenient. So, why did I try it and why do I keep doing it?

1. Sleep

I’ve put this first, because it is the one I can actively measure. I’ve always ‘felt’ like I slept better after floating, but having recently started wearing a fitbit, I was interested to see if my gut feel actually resembled reality.

Apparently, it does:

img_1531  img_1530
I selected two nights, one from the week before floating and the second from the week after. Both had a similar amount of ‘total’ sleep. But you can see the quality of that sleep was markedly different. After floating I had prolonged periods of sleep without restlessness (the light blue bars that make the first picture look more like a barcode). This was really interesting to see and I’m glad it’s not just all in my head.

2. Physical Relaxation

The physical effect of floating is a strange one. At first, I find that it is like lying down on a really comfortable bed. Then I start to become aware of areas such as my neck and shoulders relaxing, letting go of a tension that I’ve simply become used to feeling. I try to use a standing desk at home, because prolonged periods of sitting during my workday makes the problem so much worse. Even doing that, I still find my shoulders tensing in response to any stressful scenario. Feeling that tension disappear is amazing.

Finally, when the session is over, trying to stand is almost hilarious. My body gets used to being weightless very quickly, so when my feet get back on the earth it feels like my limbs are made of lead. For a few moments you are aware of gravity in a way that can be achieved by little else. I tend to be a little zoned out for a while after and have to take advantage of the chill out area.

3. Creative/Strategic Thinking

Unlike sleep, this can’t be quantified with a chart. But I notice it every time, depending on what phase of life I am in. If I’ve been juggling multiple projects and can feel the beginnings of burnout and poor decision making, then floating allows me the clarity to get to the higher levels. Most people don’t apply strategic thinking to their daily lives, but I have no intention of getting to 80 and wondering how I ended up in a place I never wanted to be. The sensory deprivation may be a part of it. But it certainly works.

Alternatively, there are times when I just want to come up with new ideas. They may be for my writing, or they may be for other side projects. Sometimes I go into the session with a problem already in mind, giving myself a chance to really think about it in the silence. The aha! moment usually comes a few hours later, seemingly out of nowhere, but really from the freed up depths of my subconscious. Other times I am open to whatever my brain comes up with when it is allowed to do nothing but think. I’ve recently been reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and I can see how floating provides me with a fast track to getting that clarity. Although it is easy to understand the physical effects, the psychological ones are as profound.

So those are the key benefits of floating for me. There are many more that are important for other people, but these are the ones that have had a positive impact on my own life. If you think that could work for you, then definitely check it out.

 

How I Did It: The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free

After almost a year of being sugar-free, I’ve finally written a book about it. You see, despite being stubborn and competitive (mostly with myself), living a life without sugar was hard. Really hard. Despite understanding all the associated health risks, I still struggled to give it up and then remain virtuous in the face of temptation.

Let me tell you something about myself: I don’t like failing.

Every self help book will tell you failure is necessary. Trying and failing is how you learn what works and what does’t. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. So despite several epic failures that resulted in a large tub of ice and a spoon, I have been determined to find a way to remove sugar from my diet, yet still live in the real world. Along the way I’ve been keeping track and it is the results of my journey that I’ve put into this book.

therealistsguidetosugarfree-2

This is not a cook book. It is not a detox plan. It is a step by step programme of strategies to help you eliminate sugar in the face of the temptations life will throw at you. Knowing how to cook a delicious four course sugar-free meal won’t help you at all if you don’t actually find the motivation to do it on a daily basis. Most people I know are too busy working or chasing after small children to be able to put that kind of time into planning and prepping a meal. It’s a nice idea, but it just doesn’t work for most of us.

So if you want a humorous and honest guide to eliminating sugar from your life, then this is the book for you. Even if you’re not sure you want to quit sugar completely, the easy to understand information will still help you make better choices when faced with the temptation and sweet food marketing you’ll encounter every day.

Blurb:

A humorous and honest guide to eliminating sugar from your diet. For good.

Quitting sugar in the real world is hard. Sugar is everywhere and your friends think you’re mad for not eating cake. You’ve done the 8 week detox plan and part of you still craves chocolate so much that you develop a mild twitch when you see a brightly coloured wrapper on the shelves in front of you.

Deeply addictive, sugar is everywhere. Even added to the most unlikely foods, the majority of us exceed the recommended daily intake without even realising it. Instead of teaching you how to cook fake cake, or pretending that quinoa really is an exciting grain that will revolutionise your view on salads, this book guides you through the myths about sugar in our food and through the realities of addiction. The 9 step action plan then helps you make the change and really stick to it.
Even if you’re not quite ready to eliminate all sugar from your life, this book contains practical tips to help you shop wisely, create good habits and sustain better lifestyle choices.

Available at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Game Changer: Scrivener for iOS

I am actually drafting this blogpost in the waiting room of a mechanic shop while they fit two new tyres. Why? Well, because they needed changing. And because I now have Scrivener for iOS. Yes, finally, there is a Scrivener app. I’m not going to lie; I did a little squee when it was released.

ios-feature-get_writing

I have done all my outlining and drafting in Scrivener for years now. I only use MS Word for final formatting to submit to the rest of the world, who seem to enjoy the sweet misery that it brings.  What writer doesn’t die a little inside when they see that (not responding) banner?

Anyway, my main problem with Scrivener – in fact, my only problem with it – was portability. I am often travelling for work and do not want the additional hassle of taking my MacBook with me. One laptop is enough for anyone. I have, at times, come up with an almost alternative workflow whereby I email myself the next part of the story. Clunky at best. It is also reliant on having written down the details of the next writing point, rather than just flicking to the handy outliner view. feature-corkboard

It also doesn’t take into account that some of the things I write really should not be jotted down onto a work laptop. Ever.

EVER.

So whilst the difficulty was never enough to make me stop using Scrivener, it did hamper my ability to get work done consistently each week. I am a creature of routine. I like to be able to write each weekday morning and if I lose two of those mornings because of a massive commute, my writing productivity gets slashed almost in half.

For the sake of complete transparency, I will confess that I have really struggled with this for two years now, since moving to my current employer. I have questioned many times whether this inability to bring balance to the one area of my life that I love so much could actually be a deal breaker. Perhaps that is a level of honesty that some would label career-limiting, but it is the truth.

Enter Scrivener for iOS. In my daily life, that means I can now write away from home using only the iPad. This is considerably more convenient than having a MacBook with me. It also means at times like this, when I have unexpected time on my hands, I can pick up my phone and do short bursts of bonus work.

It is a game changer. I don’t say that lightly.

So far, I managed to write every day last week, despite being away from home at 6am two out of the five mornings. This week is turning out much the same. After some really simple setup, I tested the sync option with caution. I’ve tested software that syncs across devices before and if it is not implemented correctly, it is nothing short of a nightmare.

Not a single issue. Mind blown.

The functionality was my next test. Apps seldom have the full functionality of a desktop product. Yet everything I need is here. Despite bemoaning the fact it hasn’t existed for years, I am really happy that Literature and Latte apparently took the time because they were getting it right. I’ve yet to encounter a single feature where I’ve been frustrated because my mobile experience does not reflect the desktop one. That is a fantastic place to be in.

A very unusual place to be in.

16200851-scrivener_ios-main_shot

I frequently mix with other writers, both aspiring and best-selling. It doesn’t matter who they are or what level of experience, I’ve never hesitated in recommending Scrivener as my writing tool of choice. Especially if they are a planner rather than a pantser, there is nothing better for collating all your research material into a single place.

So, now my tyres are changed and I am going to wrap this up. I’m sure I’ll do some minor edits on my main machine before posting, but the bulk of it has been completed on my phone with ease.

So thank you Scrivener, for changing the way I can integrate the dream of writing into the much more harsh reality of a daily life, with its travel and to do lists and not enough hours.

 

images courtesy of Literature & Latte