Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Alternatives Ways To Write: Other people use crazy methods to write, now you can too.

Alternatives to Butt Glue

The previous posts in this series have been about time management and understanding how to best use your time. This one is a little different and is probably the post you have been waiting for. This post is focusing on weird and alternative ways to write.

I have not used all of these to complete a novel myself, so I am relying heavily on articles, pod cast and books by other people. However there are people who use all of these methods successfully who are currently published and best sellers in some capacity, so it is possible for all of them to work and work well.

It is also a perfect example of the fact that there is no one right way to do anything. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of 'right ways' and every individual can tweak those methods to suit themselves and their needs.

One thing you must consider though, is a lot of people are very adamant about 'their way' and 'what works for them', but if 'your way' and 'what works for you' isn't getting you the word count you want, then it isn't actually the right way for you.

Let me say that again.


My 'way' of writing is constantly evolving. And if I hear of a new method or technique, I like to give it a try. Sometimes I only try it once or twice before deciding it doesn't work for me. I might get no words, or the words I get are terrible. I suffer TMJ and for that reason any writing methods that involve speaking out loud don't work well for me. I get a terrible headache and swollen jaw. However in most cases I would not suggest giving up on a method because it is 'uncomfortable'. Most new skills are difficult or uncomfortable to begin with. And these methods are all skills. They will take time, but hopefully only a week or so, to master.

Holidays and Rabbit Holes

Rabbit Holes, for the uninitiated, are events where writers gather in a location for several days in a row attempting to get a specific word count. Usually 10k each day. Over three days, that is 30k in total. The durations of rabbit holes and the desired word count can vary.

Writing holidays or writing retreats often work in the same way, except instead of going somewhere (a library, cafe, event room) you are at a location other than your house. Some writing retreats are very focused, with a mentor and exercises and feedback. However I've always preferred the writers retreats where a bunch of mates and I hire a cabin, drink, eat too much and write for three days.

I know some authors who have booked a cabin or caravan for a week or fortnight, gone alone, and written and entire 100k novel in that time. If you do that twice a year, that's a career. Go you.

I think it's an excellent alternative for people who can't write on a day to day basis. However you have to be the sort of person who can sit down and write 10k in a day. Writing from dawn to dusk (or dusk to dawn, if you are that way inclined) requires a lot of stamina. I have done it a few times in my life and it is HARD.  However it is equally AWESOME, so don't let the hard part turn you off.

I think having a detailed synopsis is a must--though some people may be able to disprove this theory. Still, at the very least, a detailed synopsis and a lot of planning are more likely to help you succeed. And by planning, I mean, having four or five small, easy meals for each day, heat packs ready for cramps from sitting so long and anything else you need to keep you comfortable.

If you have to go out in the middle of the day to pick something up you forgot, it's going to derail the whole day. 10k a day essentially means writing 1k an hour, every hour, all day. However it can be an excellent way to bang out a novel if you find you just can't focus at home or around other commitments.

Plus, finishing an entire novel in a week is one of the best feelings in the world.

Dictation, Dictation, Dictation

Dictation is one of the fastest growing ways of writing a novel. This is because recent developments online have made it much easier. Sadly, voice to text software is still balls. However what has made voice to text viable is our access to other countries and lots of skilled labour.

There are numerous websites now that offer virtual assistants. Many for as little as $3 or $4 an hour. Recording yourself digitally, then sending the audio file to a virtual assistant to have them type it up can be a huge time saver and much cheaper than it was ten years ago when outsourcing was impossible for the small vendor.

The work will, of course, still need to be edited and you will have to be very clear with your virtual assistant what you want from them. Give them a style guide to work with and be sure to give a reasonable time frame and a time limit that is within your budget.

Depending on what you receive back, it may also be worth finding a virtual assistant editor. But that will depend on your own time and budget.

The benefits of the dictation method is that you can write while doing other things. For example, you can write while driving to work by simply recording yourself speaking in the car. You can also write while exercising, regardless of if you are walking the dog around the block, or using exercise equipment. You can write while doing housework and cooking. You might even be able to write at work, depending on what your job is. Speaking is much faster than typing and when you develop the skills to speak your novels instead of writing them, you can easily write 10k-20k a day.

However this is a matter of skill. From what I have heard, it takes a while for the brain to switch from 'telling' mode into the 'showing' prose that is favoured by readers and publishers. It can also feel very unnatural at first.

To speed up the learning process, read books out loud for a few hours each week. Also, listen to audio books, so your brain can move easily between 'words on a page' and 'words coming out of your mouth'.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

This is my preferred high word count method. It's how I get 50k most months very easily and sometimes 5k in a single day. It's very different to what I see suggested in a lot of time management and productivity books, but it works for me. By golly, does it work for me.

The idea is reasonably simple. Every 15-30 minutes, take no more than five minutes to write 100 words. Between writing time, you can do other things. Housework, cooking, your primary job. 100 words is equal to a short email. In fact, you can easily write your 100 words in an email and send them to yourself, then collate them at the end of the day.

If you're awake sixteen hours in a day and you write 100 words every half hour, you have written 3200 words. If you write 100 words every 15 minutes, you would write 6400 words in a day. The three paragraphs in this section 'death by a thousand cuts' are already 180 words. Almost double what I am suggesting you write.

The benefit of writing for a minute or two, then going away and doing something else for the next 20 minutes, is that by the time you write your next 100 words, you've had time to think about exactly what they will be. Quickly type them in, and you're off again.

This method is great for people who are:

1. Not able to look at screens for long periods.
2. Supervising children.
3. At work and can't just sit and write all day.
4. Busy with a lot of other tasks.

However the downside is that you have to develop a skill, whereby you are able to snap your attention quickly and easily between different things. And, you have to always been thinking about your novel in the back of your mind, ready to quickly jot down those next 100 words.

If you don't have a great memory, and instantly forget what your last 100 words says, this will also be hard for you. However these are skills that can be developed and that will become easier the more often you do it. Memory and attention are not static things that you either have or don't have. Like lifting weights or running long distances, they are muscles you develop with training.

If you are doing housework I recommend setting up a laptop somewhere you can reach it standing. Or you can use the mobile phone method I discuss later. Death by a thousand cuts is also very suitable for pantsers, as it allows thinking time that is also productive between paragraphs. If you are at work, have a document open (google docs is good) that you can just casually flip back and forth between during tasks. Something you can close on short notice is good, in case you are interrupted.

Death By A Thousand Cuts is arguably the most productive writing method, after dictation.

Word wars

Word wars are when a group (or pair) of writers set a timer and write for the same period. The person with the highest word count at the end 'wins'. What they win is up for debate. Usually just bragging rights. Word wars were popularised by nanowrimo and can be done online or in person. It is great for people who tend to have time to write, but just bum around or can't focus.

Having other people holding you accountable in the moment you are writing is EXTREMELY motivating.

Usually word wars last between 15 and 30 minutes. I prefer 15 minute sprints and I would usually get about 700 words each sprint. As you can see, four fifteen minute sprints can net me around 2800 words. I know people who get a lot more. In fact, I rarely, if ever, win Word Wars.

The time limit and the accountability really free up those mental blocks and allow you to just get stuff down. Remember, you can edit a bad page, but you can't edit a blank one.

If you have a set Word War time every day and even just do one or two sprints, 15-30 minutes can land you 500-2000 words, which is better than zero words by 500-2000%.

Organised Writing Groups

Like Word Wars, or often in conjunction with Word Wars, are writing groups that meet up on weeknights or weekends to sit together in cafes or living rooms to write. Again, many of these form around nanowrimo and often continue throughout the year. The Brisbane nanowrimo group does Write Ins at a coffee shop most Saturdays. It works for the same reason Word Wars work, plus it gets out you out of the house and away from distractions.

If you do it weekly, it also becomes a routine and a positive habit. Plus, you have the social support of other writers and you have the chance to become well entrenched in a writing community. Which will, in turn, encourage you to write more.

Look for positive, friendly people who match your needs and a time that suits you, then make a commitment to go to every session for a few months until it becomes habit.

Mobile Phone Novels

Mobile Phone Novels are both a genre and a method for writing. In this case, I am talking about the method, but google the genre for a really interesting journey into an emerging literary culture.

While you're there, google Peter V Brett, who wrote 'a significant portion' of his epic fantasy novel on his mobile phone riding the subway to and from work. Peter is not an outlier, as both my co-author Meg, and another friend of mine, have done significant amounts of writing on their phone. Meg has probably done about 150k words on her phone this year alone, co authoring with me using our 'death by a thousand cuts' method.

Another friend of mine ended up writing and editing his novel on his phone for a few months after his laptop died a tragic death.

If you are going to write on your phone, use dropbox, google docs, or something similar and BACK UP YOUR FILES at the end of every day. Trust me, you do not want to take chances here. However most phones can read rtf, so paired with dropbox, that is a great option.

Because of my poor vision, this is not something I do personally. Text needs to be huge for me to read it. However you always have your phone with you. So if you have dropbox and a rtf ready, you can write anywhere, any time. Waiting rooms, grocery shopping, if you are the passenger in a car, bus or train, on your lunch break at work, at church during the sermon (I only do that sometimes, I know it makes me a terrible person), during commercial breaks.

Again, paired with 'death by a thousand cuts' you can really rack up the words if you are vigilant when looking for a few spare minutes to get another dozen words. Or it can allow you to turn your daily bus/train commute into writing time.

Set it up on your phone, even if it's just for taking notes or brainstorming when you're out. Every word counts.

And that is the complete five part series on time management:

If you like me, buy and review my books, because that will inspire other people to buy them too:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Using Your Time Effectively: Eagles don't catch flies

Aquilae Non Capiunt Muscas - Eagles Don't Catch Flies

Knowing What You Have To Do Is Half The Battle

Studies show us that we have a limited amount of decision making power every day. Once we use it up, our self control goes down. This is why a lot of top executives automat simple decisions, using meal delivery services (so they only have to decide what to eat once a month when ordering) and wearing the same outfit every day (think Steve Jobs). This is why I suggest writing first, if it is a priority. However there are plenty of people who write late and do well, so I wouldn't call it a hard and fast rule. Regardless, if you have to make a lot of hard decisions in the morning, you're more likely to decide to have pizza and an entire cake for dinner. Your will power and decision making is all used up.

Because the power to make decisions is a depleting resource, and writing is basically an exercise in making decisions over and over again, it is quite taxing mentally. Don't believe me? How often have you sat down to write and stalled mid scene, because you don't know what should happen next?

What happens next is a decision. Your heroine walks into a building, is it a bar? A house? what does it look like? What is the atmosphere? How do you want the readers to feel about the setting? Threatened? Comfortable? Nostalgic? Now she's confronting the villain who beat her mother into a coma. What does she say to him? How does she feel? How do you want the readers to feel? Every scene comes with dozens of decisions, which can be very mentally taxing.

(This is also why working with a co-author can be a lot faster than writing alone. If you trust them, they are taking over 50% of the decisions, allowing you both to write faster.)

If you're not organised, much of your writing time is going to be spent making decisions instead of writing. But what if the decisions were made before you started writing?

Plan The Goddamn Novel

I am a big believer in plotting over pantsing. For those who don't know, plotting is when you plan out the novel, usually in bullet form, before you begin writing. Pantsing is when you sit down to write 'by the seat of your pants' with no idea what is going to happen. Obviously this is a sliding scale and a lot people are somewhere between those two extremes.

If you can only write pantsing, that's fine. But if you can only write pansting and you still keep whining about your shitty word count, I'm going to judge you. A lot.

At the very least, you should plot out the scenes you want to write before you start writing. Be very explicit about the details, you should just be able to write the scenes without making any decisions during the process.

For example, don't say: "Kate breaks into the house and stops Pete from stabbing Sarah."

Say: "Kate enters the house by smashing the rear kitchen window and finds Pete about to stab Sarah in the living room. Kate throws the hammer Sarah was using to hang up picture frames and strikes Pete on the shoulder. When he turns toward her, stepping away from Sarah, Kate shoots him in the chest."

Otherwise, you will reach this scene and have to decide: how Kate gets in the house, where Sarah and Pete are in the house and how Kate stops Pete. With proper planning before you write the scene, those decisions are already made.

You may also want to note how the character relationships are developing and what beats you want to hit. (Beats are what you want the reader to feel when they read and correspond with genres. EG: Scared/horror, love/romance, wonder/fantasy.)

In the case of Kate, Pete and Sarah, you might want to note that Sarah's feelings toward Kate are not changed and maybe the first thing she says when Kate cuts her free is: "Don't think this changes anything, you're still a fucking cow."

The Best Use Of Time

If you don't want to spent a week plotting every scene of your novel start to finish, but you are sensible enough to plot the scenes you want to write before you write them, I suggest doing the plotting for next session at the end of your current session.

Say you want to write two scenes each writing session, you've just finished two you planned yesterday, so plan the two scenes you are going to write tomorrow as the last thing you do in any given writing session.

Every line you wrote is a decision. They are just smaller decisions than big plot points. And if you want to write effectively, its best to start writing with as much decision power as possible. If you start the session by planning the session, your mind will already feel fatigued when you start writing.

Writing will be a lot more fun when its easy and effortless, which will, in turn, make you more eager to write the next day, and so on.

Remember you want to use your writing time to WRITE not to THINK.

Two Hours For The Price Of One!

There is a lot of learning involved in writing. I think its sensible for every writer to read marketing books, writing style books, listen to podcasts about writing and attending lectures run by publishers. Maybe you're already exasperated at me, saying: "I don't have time!"


Also youtube videos can be downloaded, as can university lectures and many workshops. There are more podcasts on writing than you could listen to in your lifetime. Why is this helpful? Whenever you are cleaning or travelling, put on audio books/podcasts instead of music. You can listen to them while shopping, while walking, while in any sort of line or waiting room. Always have an audio book on you and whenever you are bored, put it on.

Never waste time in the car in silence, unless you really need that silence.

Don't let not knowing how limit you. It only takes a few minutes to learn. Google: 'downloading youtube videos' and 'converting mp4s to mp3s with vlc' to get you started. As much as possible, I do my learning while doing other things, time is too precious not to.


We all waste time on a lot of bullshit. Don't spend your day putting out fires when you could be putting in place systems to stop fires before they start. Don't waste your time on shows and websites that do nothing but mindlessly distract you. They're not making your life better, they're just wasting the limited time you have in a day. Read books, but donate the crappy ones to charity, don't finish them. If you're going to watch TV shows, watch amazing ones, not re-runs or trash because 'it's on'.

If you need to relax, meditation will clear the mind and refresh you 100x faster than browsing tumblr. Set yourself limits on websites like facebook. Unfollow (you don't have to unfriend) people  you don't care about so only people who are interesting to you show up on your feed. Emails only need to be checked twice a day--at most.

My phone is on silent all the time. Maybe you can't do this, but it makes life significantly better if people sms you and you can call them back at your leisure.

Cut out the shit that distracts you and takes up mental real estate.

Cut out the crap you know isn't making your life better. That priority list I had you write? Memes isn't on it. No one writes: 'Spend more time browsing facebook' on their priority list.

Sometimes you might write 'connect with people more' or 'develop a social media presence' and then these websites become a tool to help you achieve targeted goals. Which is great, it's what they were designed to do. Mindlessly scrolling isn't 'connecting' or 'developing an online presence'. Use websites with intent and purpose. Not just to let your mind shut down.

Eagles don't catch flies.

Stay tuned for the last post in this five part series:

Part 5: Alternatives Ways To Write: Other people use crazy methods to write, now you can too.

And if you like me, buy and review my books, because that will inspire other people to buy them too. Keep an eye out, because every Monday one title will be free on my kindle page: