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For writers: Motivation

I know a lot of people have found it hard to get motivated in the last couple of years, with the pandemic and other issues weighing them down. 

I was watching this little video by an Aussie guy whose advice I really like, and it made me recall a story told to me by a US author friend some years ago. She and another friend in her writing group, both multi-published with major publishers, had lost their writing mojo and hadn’t written anything for over a year.

Month after month, they’d turn up to their writers’ group meeting and watch everyone else produce some writing to be read and discussed, and each month as they muttered “pass” their shame would increase. And they’d go home determined that next month they’d have some writing to share.

But still, they couldn’t write.

Eventually they decided to make a writing pact. It wasn’t the first time they’d tried this, but they’d failed so often it had to be something they couldn’t possibly fail at.  So they came up with this: Write one sentence of their story a day.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? One sentence. But after so long failing at writing—and these were published authors, remember, beating themselves up again and again—any success, no matter how small and apparently insignificant, was important.

Of course they didn’t tell anyone else they were doing this. They knew people would laugh at such a small daily goal, not understanding or empathizing with the shame and agony of being unable to write.

So they began their pact, and every day they wrote one sentence. And after they’d written that one sentence, they were free for the rest of the day.

Free from what? you wonder. The thing is, the longer you put something off, the more you fail to do something you know you need to do, the heavier it weighs on you. For writers, this can mean a whole day worrying and fretting and being ashamed and not-writing. Yes, that’s a verb — not-writing.

But one sentence a day set them free. 

Some days they wrote more than one sentence —  at first a couple of sentences, then a paragraph, and even occasionally a page or more. But for more than a year they kept to their pact — a new sentence every day. And of course, soon they were back, writing, bringing pieces to their writing group, and finishing books and being published again.

The video I referred to above has several nuggets of gold advice in it. You need to listen to the whole 10 minutes—it’s all good — but in particular the bit about lowering the barrier to entry, as well as his observations about motivation are gold. If you can’t see the video below, click here.

Writing Retreat

I’ve recently returned from my annual writing retreat — that’s a time away (in our case almost a week) with a group of writer friends, working. We’re all multi-published writers, but even so there’s an emphasis on professional development as well as producing words on the page.

This is our tenth anniversary as a writing retreat (I reported on the first one here  and over the years we’ve refined the process into one that works for us. Here’s the post I wrote while I was away on our 10th retreat.

I’ve had enquiries from time to time asking for more detail about how we run ours, so here’s my view of things.

Location
The first retreat, and all but one of our retreats have been beside the sea. There’s something about the sea and the salt air, the interface of land and water and sky, the constantly changing view and the endless rhythmic pounding of the waves, hypnotic and soothing and inspiring — it feeds our muse.

Another requirement for us is a range of affordable and varied places to eat nearby. We can cook our own meals, but a lot of people prefer to grab take-aways — Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Greek etc — or eat out in a group.

A room of our own
From the very first retreat, we decided this was important, as each of us needed a private space to write in. That’s not actually true for all of us, we’ve discovered — some write in bed, some in cafes, but for some a table and a private space is vital, so that was a priority.

Planning
In the weeks leading up to the retreat we start to toss around ideas for professional development. From craft-of-writing exercises (because we can all do with refreshing and honing our craft) to “the state-of-publishing” discussions, to discussions of books or movies, and the sharing of good writing books — we brainstorm ideas, come up with a schedule, and assign people to lead each session.  The leader doesn’t have to be an expert — just do a little preparation and lead the discussion.

Schedule
On the first night together we grab fish and chips and champagne (it’s now a tradition), and we plan the week.

Mornings are the most creative time for most of us, so the majority of us stay in our rooms, writing until lunchtime. Some go out for breakfast, some make it in their room (we have cooking facilities), some go for an early morning swim or a dawn walk, but we don’t meet as a group until lunchtime. And if anyone wants to keep working, they skip the lunchtime meeting.

We bring our own lunch to the meeting room and the first professional development session takes place.

Then it’s back to our rooms for more writing — or in some cases, shopping, swimming, walks, naps, whatever. 

In the evening we meet again for dinner — sometimes we go out as a group, but mostly we bring take-away or home-cooked and there’s another professional development session. And after that there’s wine and chocolate and lots of fun.

Some sessions/discussions we’ve had — in no particular order:
*  The changing face of publishing — always something new to discuss there.
*  Contracts and business matters
*  Theme
*  Subtext 
*  E-publishing
*  Movie watching and discussion
*  Plotting — sharing and discussing individual methods
*  Book discussions — of fiction, and of non-fiction writing books
*  Story collage
*  Our processes — how we each approach writing, and deal with problems that arise
*  Brainstorming – we brainstorm plots, story problems, and titles
*  Dealing with revisions —the approaches vary considerably.
*  Keeping the magic alive
*  Paramedic, medical and midwifery advice for use in books
*  How to keep the muse fresh and bubbling
*  Writing the back cover blurb
*  Tips for writing faster/better
*  Dealing with perfectionism
*  Dealing with editors
*  Visibility
*  Learning Styles
*  Meditation and exercises for writing health
*  Promotion and publicity — what works what doesn’t, what we like/hate
*  Planning a series
*  To blog or not?
And much more . . . .

We came together as an experiment — at the first retreat half of us had never met — but now we’re all good friends. We’ve gone down different pathways in publishing and it’s a constant journey of discovery and rediscovery.
We’ve already booked for next year’s retreat. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

PS — I would have included more photos, but for some reason WordPress won’t let me upload them, even though they’re all under 30kbs. sigh.

Considering Characters

Considering your characters

When thinking about characters, the tendency for many is to start with an archetype — the strong silent soldier/cowboy,  the remote, buttoned up duke/billionaire businessman, the wild, unpredictable bad boy etc.

Archetypes can be useful as a starting point, but unless you go deeper, there is a risk of your characters being a bit too clichéd for comfort.

You need to twist the cliché, go deeper into your character’s personality and back story, find out his secrets and his deeply buried fears/hopes/vulnerabilities.

Consider this poem, by the Russian poet, Yevtushenko.

People, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

No people are uninteresting.
Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

Nothing in them in not particular, 
and planet is dissimilar from planet.

And if a man lived in obscurity
making his friends in that obscurity
obscurity is not uninteresting.

To each his world is private
and in that world one excellent minute.
And in that world one tragic minute

These are private.
In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight
it goes with him.
                                                    (Read the rest of the poem here)

At a distance, your characters might fit an archetype, but the closer and deeper you go, the more individual and particular they become. Think of your character’s ‘one excellent minute’, and ‘one tragic minute’,  their ‘first snow, and kiss and fight’ — or your versions of those— the events that contributed to the formation of their character and personality, gave them their hangups and their strengths and their blind spots. 

Consider the ways in which they might be “stuck” in their current life.

Then brainstorm events and challenges in your plot that might cause them—force them!—to change.

And finally, consider this quote from Vicki Hinze: “Find your character’s Achille’s heel — their greatest fear or weakness or vulnerability.  Then stomp on it.”