Tag Archives: motivation

The Slow Accumulation of Words


There are many times I feel like I’m not getting anywhere with my writing. Or, to be more specific, that I’m not getting anywhere fast enough. Like writing a novel is some kind of race, and I’m forever having to stop to tie my shoe.

This feeling came over me a couple of days ago. I’ve been struggling lately. Three and a half weeks of school holidays meant I was exhausted by the end of the day, falling into bed with a grateful thought to the teachers who somehow manage to entertain and teach 21 six-year-olds every single day without, apparently, resorting to alcohol.

Then school started and I fell sick. For eight days.

Then six-year-old Big Brother developed a crazy high fever and was sick for four days.

And through all this, my writing suffered. I’d sit down at night, for my hour of creative time, and I’d have nothing. I was too drained to think, let alone create interesting and comical scenes for an increasingly complex story.

At the end of July, I missed my monthly writing goal by almost 10,000 words. And all those feelings of insecurity and guilt and why-do-I-do-this-anyway-ness crept over me like a thick, woolly blanket. Comfortable and familiar and stifling.

So I took a deep breath, and looked back over the my writing calendar.

You see, at the end of every day I feel in a calendar with how many words I wrote for the day, how many words I’ve written for the month so far, and my updated daily word count goal. It looks something like this:


At first glance, it looks pretty dismal. The green highlights are the days I hit my target. There’s not a lot of them some months. 

But then I got to thinking. And to adding. And to working out some stats.

And suddenly, the world didn’t seem quite so bleak.

In the last six months, from the 1st of January to the 31st of July, I have written a total of 103,000 new words.

Over a hundred thousand words.

That astounds me.

And some more stats:

  • On average, I’ve written 5 out of every 7 days.
  • I’ve written an average of 670 words per writing day.
  • Those words have been written on a combination of two novel manuscripts (one finished, one >< close to being finished), and a short story.

Over the last six months, I’ve really developed my style and my voice, and I’ve turned writing from something I want to do, into something I do do. Plus, I’ve discovered a secret love of outlines. (Shhh!)

And do you know what the most amazing thing about all that is?

I’ve done it all in one hour a day.



Filed under Writing

One Hour a Day


It’s just after 7:00pm, and I’m in a hurry.

“Mummy, can you read me a story before bed?” six-year-old Big Brother asks.

“Of course,” I say. Then I amend, “As long as you’re in bed before I count to twenty.”

A mad dash ensues, with Big Brother racing to the bathroom, into his bedroom, and finding his current favourite book.

“Nineteen and a half,” I call. I’ve spent the closer-to-two-minutes stacking dishes and wiping down benches. I won’t have time to wash the dishes until later, but I like the kitchen to be neat and tidy.

“I’m already in bed!” Big Brother calls. “I beat you!”

“So you did,” I call back. “Have you got your book?”

I pick up a couple of stray toys and drop them in their appropriate toy boxes.

“Yes! Are you coming?”


I make it into his room and look at the book he’s chosen. It’s a long one. I consider. “I can read this one, but we’ll have to be quick,” I say. “We’re running a bit late tonight.”

“Okay,” Big Brother says.

I read the book. Quickly. (But not so quickly I can’t do the voices and get him to chime in with the parts he knows.) Then I say goodnight.

Big Brother grabs me arm. “Now you’re trapped and you have to stay!”

I look at the time, look at him, and give him another kiss. “It’s time for sleep,” I say. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

He nods and releases my hand. “Is it nearly Creative Time?”


“Okay,” he says. He gives me a beautiful big smile, another kiss and cuddle, and then grabs a book to read on his own.

I head out and check on Little Brother. I give him a kiss, make sure he’s comfy, and move on.

It’s 7:25. I have five minutes left.

“Are you nearly ready?” I ask my husband.

“Just getting set up.”

Great. I do a quick check of the house, make sure all toys are away, all dishes are stacked, and all children are still where they’re supposed to be. Then I head into the office. It’s 7:29. I’m a minute early.

“Let’s do this thing,” I say.

And we do. My husband draws, either on a sketch pad or on the tablet connected to his computer, and I sit at the purposefully-not-internet-capable laptop and write.

For one hour, we focus on our creative pursuits.

For one hour, we lock the rest of the world out of our minds, and we focus on our creative passions.

For one hour, we are artists first.

The clock ticks over to 8:30. My husband stands up and stretches, and I finish the word I’m typing (the word, not the sentence, and certainly not the paragraph) and hit CTRL+S. Then we talk. He shows me what he’s working on, and talks about the process he’s using. I tell him how many words I wrote, and how I’m feeling about my story and characters. We’re relaxed — more relaxed than at any other time in the day.

And then we step back to the real world. We check on the children, fire up Facebook, and wash the dishes. But the world looks different; brighter. Our conversation is more lively. We smile more readily. We feel fulfilled. Connected. Alive.

This is not something we do every now and then. This is something we do every night.*



Every night, we spend an hour being creative. And it’s amazing how productive that hour is.

When I’m working on a first draft, I average around 900 words a day. My record is 1700 words in an hour of Creative Time.

To put that in perspective, consider that I’m writing an 80,000 word novel. At 900 words a day, that’s 89 days of writing. Just less than three months.

The idea of writing the first draft of a novel in three months, while investing a mere hour a day, is ludicrous to me. Ludicrous. I mean, it took me 18 months to write the first 35,000 words of my last manuscript.

But I finished the last 55,000 words in two months after we started our daily Creative Time habit.

Not so ludicrous after all, it would seem.

( After all, I’ve written 8500 words over the last 7 days.)

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Yeah, it may work for you, but I can’t do that.”

I don’t work that way.”

I can’t write in short blocks of time.”

I’m too busy.”

I don’t have a spare hour every day.”

I have to be in the mood to write. I can’t just switch my creativity on and off at will.”

The thing is, I said every one of those things at one time or another. Every single one of them. But I tried this system because… well, what did I have to lose? It’s not like I was getting any real writing done anyway. I mean, 2000 words a month isn’t exactly something to write home about. (Assuming I found the time to write home.) “Besides,” I said to myself. “When it doesn’t work, I’ll just stop.”

But it did work.

The first few days were hard. It felt alien and unnatural to be sitting down to write at the end of the day, and I picked away at the keys like I’d never seen a keyboard before. I wrote maybe 100 words. I wasn’t in a routine. My creative mind wasn’t ready. It was all over the place. It was out of practice.

It took until day four for my creativity to really kick in.

On day four, I wrote 1100 words in an hour. And I was hooked.

Now, six months down the track, I’m still busy. Busier. Not only am I writing every day, I’ve also taken on a paying part-time job that I do from home, and extra volunteer work. I drive two hours every weekday getting Big Brother to and from school. I bake and organise birthday parties and do housework and raise children. I’m busy. I have no spare time.

But, you know what?

I have no idea what I used to do in the one hour time-slot that became Creative Time.

Whatever it was, it can’t have been that important.

Certainly not as important as this.

*     *     *     *     *

If you’re struggling to find time to write and want to organise your own Creative Time, here’s a few tips that might help:

  • Talk to your family and get their support. Even better, get them to pick a project and join in.
  • Tell people what you’re doing. Let people know you’ll be unavailable for phone calls, internet chats, and other things during that one hour — and stick by your guns.
  • Choose a time that suits you and your family. An evening time-slot works for us, but maybe an early morning or an afternoon time-slot would work for you.
  • Set up your work area before your Creative Time starts. Turn on your computer, load your file, get out your notes, whatever you need to do.
  • Stick to it, with no excuses, for at least two weeks. Even when you don’t feel like it or you’re not inspired. Your creative mind needs to get into a routine.
  • Record how you go. Track word count, or pages written, or whatever progress you’ve made on your creative project. Being able to look back at a diary and see written proof of your success is an amazing motivator.
  • Once you’re in a routine, and you’re confident with it, give yourself a break when you need it. But not for more than one night at a time. You don’t want to get out of routine.

Good luck!

*     *     *     *     *

* Yes, including the mad rush to be ready on time.


Filed under Writing

Smart Phones: Novocaine for the Creative Mind

There’s a table out front of the cafe. It’s a square, low-set thing surrounded by comfy couches and it’s always in use. Today, it’s occupied by a group of friends drinking coffee. At least, I assume they’re friends. It’s hard to tell because they’ve all got their phones in their hands, too busy texting and tweeting and Instagramming their cheesecake to talk to each other.

Nearby, a young couple talk about their plans for the weekend. In the middle of their conversation, a phone beeps. The woman doesn’t hesitate. She whips her phone from her bag and swipes across the screen while her partner continues talking about restaurants and movies. “What?” she says when he pauses for breath. “I wasn’t listening. Sarah wanted to ask me about Fiji, so I told her I’d call her later.”

At another table, a couple my age eat their croissants in silence. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Before she’s even picked up her bag, he’s pulled his phone out and is tapping away at it, completely oblivious to the world around him.

Everywhere I look, people are on their phones. Not talking on them, just tap-tap-tapping away. Who knows what they’re doing. Maybe they’re texting directions to a friend. Maybe they’re shopping. Maybe they’re flinging righteously angry birds at towers. I don’t know. But what I do know is what they’re not doing. They’re not looking at the world around them. They’re not communicating with their friends. They’re not communicating with themselves.

It’s that last statement that bothers me the most.

For so many people, the idea of being forced to sit and do nothing — to be trapped with nothing but their own thoughts for company — is the worst kind of Hell imaginable. A wait of two minutes is unendurable without the benefit of a phone to relieve the instantaneous boredom. And the thought of being stuck without that mindless entertainment for half an hour? Or an hour? Or a whole day?

I’ve heard it said. “What did you expect me to do, just sit here and do nothing for five minutes?”

Yeah, I kinda did. Because that time when you sit and “do nothing”? That time is valuable. That time is important for your mental and emotional wellbeing. Without that kind of downtime, when do you listen to your own thoughts? When do you truly think and reflect and consolidate everything you’ve seen and done? When do you just be you?

I worry. I do. The modern world is designed for entertainment. From Angry Birds to LOL Cats, World of Warcraft to Bachelor Pad, there are endless opportunities for us to immerse ourselves in electronic Novocaine. And our Smart phones make that possible even when we’re on the go.

Do you know what happens when you spend all your time immersed in electronic media? When you rely on your TV, computer, iPod, and phone to entertain you every minute of free time?

Nor do I.

But do you know what happens when you don’t?

Creativity. Passion. Inspiration.

All those things that require an open, quiet mind.

Think about what you’re doing when you get your best, most crazy exciting ideas. Chances are, it’s either when you’re asleep (or near sleep), when you’re exercising, or when you’re in the shower. When was the last time you had a crazy, exciting, inspired idea playing Angry Birds?

I don’t have a smart phone. I don’t have games on my dumb phone. But even I sometimes fall into the trap. Even I sometimes find myself thinking I’ve got five minutes to wait. I’ll just check my email…

Do me a favour. Next time you’ve got to sit and wait for five minutes, just sit and wait. Leave your phone in your pocket or your purse or your bag or your car or (gasp!) back at your house. Sit. Wait. Look at the world around you. Let your thoughts wander and see where they end up.

You know, the way you used to back in the olden days .



Filed under Opinion

Five Reasons to Stop Procrastinating (and Start Writing)

You know how it is. There’s always something that needs to be done before you can work on your novel.

Cook dinner, wash the clothes, stack the dishwasher, sweep the floor, dry the clothes, bath the kids, do the ironing, rearrange your sock drawer, paint the house, knit a scarf, do some more research, buy Scrivener, create a storyboard for your novel, write an outline for your novel, colour it in with fancy colours, buy new pens, clean your desk, backup your hard drive, write a blog post, buy groceries, level your WoW character, read a book, plant a vegie garden, hand-make Christmas cards (all 300 of them), scrapbook your photos (from the last 40 years), clean out the attic/basement/garage, build an extension on the back of the house for your very own writing room…. The list goes on.

Some of these things are actually important. (Feeding your children, for example.)

Some of these things actually help you write your novel. (Writing an outline, researching, or cleaning your desk.)

But many of the things we prioritize above novel-writing are merely clever ways to procrastinate.

There are a lot of reasons we procrastinate. I’m not going to try to cover them all here. Instead, I’m just going to give you five reasons to STOP.

1. It won’t get better if you pick it.

Writers are imaginative people. It kind of comes with the territory. The upside to this is… well, you know the upside. The downside is that it’s all too easy to imagine things going badly.

What if I suck as a writer? What if everything I write is terrible? What if I’m not good enough to write a whole novel? What if I write a book and it sucks? What if my friends read it and they think it’s terrible? What if I never get any better? What if I do, but I can’t get an agent? What if I get an agent and can’t get a publishing contract? What if I get published, but no one buys my book? Or what if I self-publish but no one buys my book? What if people buy my book and they hate it? What if people hate my book and they write scathing one-star reviews everywhere about how awful I am?

What if I’m a failure at the only thing I’ve ever really, really wanted to do?

Woah, Nelly. Hang on a minute. Before you start relegating yourself to the “I Failed as a Writer so My Life Is Worthless” club, how about you actually sit down and write something?

Fear is natural. Fear of the unknown. Fear that you won’t succeed. Fear that you will, but it won’t live up to your imagination. But that fear will never go away if you feed it. Instead, practice overcoming it. And there’s no better way to do that than to keep writing. 

2. It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.

 You know the most fun part of writing a novel? The first chapter.

Hands up if you’ve got half a dozen files labelled “Chapter One” somewhere on your computer. Keep your hand raised if you’ve got more than a dozen. It’s a little known fact* that one of the easiest ways to procrastinate when you’re writing a novel is to… get this… start a new novel.

The thing about writing is that the fun bits are fun, but the hard bits are hard. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that applies to everything in life.) So we start our new novel feeling fresh-faced and bushy-tailed, bounding into the fun part of introducing characters and having everything go horribly, terrible, disturbingly wrong. And then…

Well, then writing seems a bit more like work. We can’t figure out the next plot point. Or we realise our characters can’t possibly escape from the situation they’re in. Or it suddenly occurs to us that the entire story is one clichéd mess of overdone tropes and Mary Sue characters. And it’s not fun anymore. So you go back and edit what you’ve written. Repeatedly.

But let’s be honest here. How many people want to read an awesome first chapter, followed by a one paragraph summary that goes something like this:

…and then the hero finds a heap of clues, and eventually realises it was his BEST FRIEND ALL ALONG! There’s some fighting and stuff, and in the end the hero kills his best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend falls in love with him, and they live happily ever after. Oh, and he’s also gets all his best friend’s stuff. The end.

If your story feels like it’s not working, take some time out to plan, plot, outline, create colour-coded maps of your novel, and anything else that appeals to you. But don’t do it forever. Don’t do it as a means of procrastination. And don’t start a new novel. Work out what happens next in your story, and then get back to writing it.

* This is not actually a little known fact. We’ve all done it.

3. Tomorrow never comes.

As I said above, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why you don’t get any novel-writing done. There’s your day job, for a start. And you need to spend time with your Significant Other and your children. There’s that pesky need for food, drink and sleep. And society frowns on you if you don’t adhere to at least some measure of cleanliness.

But let me fill you in on a little secret: It never gets any better.

You will always have legitimate drains on your time. Always. The trick is to find a way to fit writing into your schedule even when you’re busy. Maybe you legitimately don’t have time to write every day. Or even every week. But there’s a very fine line between not writing because you don’t have time, and not writing because you’re procrastinating.

Did you know that over 85% of diets start on a Monday? And the main reason they fail? Because when the dieter has a piece of cake on Wednesday, she says to herself, “Well, I’ve blown it for this week. I may as well call this week a wash and start again on Monday.” Then they binge on whatever-they-like for the rest of the week.

Don’t be the writer who says, “Well, I was supposed to write on Wednesday afternoon but I was too tired and too busy. I’ve already blown my weekly target, so I may as well call this week a wash and start again next week.”

Don’t write tomorrow. Write today. 

4. It’s written in the stars (but you don’t have a telescope).

 Next month you could walk out of your house and get hit by a bus. And when you’re lying there on the street, the world getting dimmer and dimmer around you, which thought would you prefer to go through your head:

  1. Thank goodness I spent all that time cleaning the cornices and cataloguing my fourth grade stamp collection!
  2. Thank goodness I finished writing my novel!

Yes, I know this is entirely unrealistic. (Because who keeps their fourth grade stamp collection?) But it illustrates a point.

Anyone who has had a near-death experience will tell you they spent a lot of time re-evaluating their life, really looking at what’s important and how they can follow their dreams. Because they’re suddenly aware of their own mortality. Suddenly aware that maybe they can’t put off their dreams until after Christmas, after the kids are at school, after their finances are secure, after they retire, after anything at all.

Because “after” may not come. All you really have is “now”.

5. No one else can do it.

Do you know how many people can write the novel you’ve got in your head? Only one. You.

No one else in the world can tell your story as well as you can.

And you have a responsibility to tell it. You have a responsibility to yourself, to the people who will be your readers, and to the world at large. Because, in this one thing, you are completely and utterly irreplaceable.

So don’t deny the world your story. You are the only one who can make your dream a reality. Sit down, start writing and stop procrastinating.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my novel. (As long as I don’t get distracted on the way.)

Are you a procrastinator? Any words of wisdom for us all?


Filed under Writing

Five Reasons to Write Flash Fiction

My Work In Progress is an Urban Fantasy novel that I’ve been writing for over a year, and I struggle to find enough time every week to work on it. And yet every week I spend two to three hours writing a 1000 word short story, a piece of flash fiction, to post on my site.

Isn’t that somewhat counter-productive?

Wouldn’t I be better off working on my novel for those hours?

Possibly. But here are five reasons I choose to write flash fiction each week.

1) Variety is the Spice of Life

My novel is awesome. If you know me in the meat-world and have ever made the mistake of asking, “So, what’s your novel about?” I’ve probably talked your ear off about how awesome it is. But here’s the thing: it’s a very specific kind of awesome. I love my world and my characters, but sometimes I want to write about someone different. Call me shallow, but I like to play the field. I want to write about vampires or wish fairies or zombies or something else that doesn’t feature in the world of my novel. So when a creepy, arrogant, domineering vampire wanders through my imagination, I don’t ignore him or tell him to go play with someone else. I get down and dirty with him in a thousands words or fewer and then return to my novel. 

2) Creativity Begets Creativity

The great thing about creativity is that it’s a bottomless resource. There’s no Great Creativity Shortage of the 21st Century to worry about. In fact, creativity in one thing often leads to creativity in another. If you’re struggling with your writing, go bake a cake. Or draw a picture. Or do some finger-painting. (Seriously, if you haven’t finger-painted since you were a kid, you have no idea what you’re missing out on.) It’s like jump-starting your creativity-mobile. Or setting a match to your creativity-powder. And other exciting metaphors. But you don’t have to wait until you feel your creativity starting to wane to take advantage of this. Writing  flash fiction that is unrelated to my novel helps keep my creative mind ticking over and means that when I get the time to work on my novel, I spend much less time staring at the screen wondering what I should write next.

3) Experiments are Fun

Ever wonder what it would be like to write a story from the point of view of the bad guy? Or how it would feel to live inside the head of a psychopath? Ever read a book and think, “I wish I could write like that!” or wonder just how many rhetorical questions you could put in a single paragraph? Flash fiction is a way to explore those things! For example, I have no desire to write a novel-length horror story but I quite enjoy experimenting with the edges of the horror genre in my flash fiction. It’s also a good way to practice storytelling techniques that you aren’t currently using in your longer work. Experiment with first person, close third person, distant third person, or omniscient Point Of View. Get a feel for the difference between past tense and present tense. Feeling adventurous and experimental? Try writing a whole story in future tense. Write a protagonist of the opposite gender than you usually write, or of a different age group, or tell the story as a computer program or a series of Tweets or Facebook updates. Build your craft and broaden your experience without committing yourself to something long-term.

4) Shopping in the Ideas Factory

Once upon a time, I thought I had a brain in my head. Then one day I realised I actually live in an Ideas Factory. Like most writers, the question “Where do you get your ideas?” is best answered with another question: “How do you get the ideas to stop?!” Every news story, overheard snippet of conversation, and everyday item spotted in an unusual place prompts a flurry of ideas and What Ifs to go careening through my head. What if the phone number displayed outside the vacant building is really the number visiting vampires have to call before they’re allowed to hunt in this suburb? What if the tree really did get up and walk in front of the moving car? What if the child is right and one day she turns into a shooting star watching over the Earth and protecting it from monsters? They never stop! If I was going to turn every one of my story ideas into a novel, I’d have to live to at least two hundred. Except, of course, I’d keep having more ideas. So I guess I’d need to live forever… Or I can go shopping in the Ideas Factory once a week and bring one of those ideas to life.

5) Basking in the Afterglow

Working on a novel is a long process. Even those people (who I’m secretly jealous of) who can whip out a first draft in ten days have to go back and revise and rewrite their work. And I’m not one of those people. Still, I get an amazing sense of satisfaction when I complete part of my novel. Writing one thousand words in a sitting makes me cheer and pat myself on the back. Finishing a chapter makes me want to dance around the room. There are milestones that can be celebrated. But…. It’s not like you’re really finished, is it? Especially when you’re still working on your first draft. But a couple of hours spent on a piece of flash fiction and POW. Finished. Smug sense of satisfaction enabled. It feels really, really good to hit that ‘Publish’ button. And every time, the warm feeling of writing afterglow reminds me how I’ll feel when I finally get my novel finished and back I go to the grindstone, motivated and feeling like a writer.


Filed under Writing

Getting Motivated is the Easy Part. How do you Stay That Way?

If you’re a writer, it’s likely that you know all about obscure poisons starting fires mythological creatures motivation.Specifically, how hard it can be to keep your motivation strong throughout a whole project — from Chapter 1 to The End. It’s all too common that we get a little way into the story and then– oooh! Shiny!

What was I saying?

Right, this post is not about keeping your motivation going strong. This post is.

I’m pleased to say that I’m guest blogging over at Andrea S. Michaels’s writing-focused blog today. If you’re a writer*, please click through and read my post: Staying Focused from Page 1 to The End. And while you’re there, check out the rest of Andrea’s blog. It’s well worth the visit.

* If you’re not a writer but you think everything I write is like gold dipped in honey, you’re also welcome to click through. I’m sure these motivational techniques can be applied to non-writing activities as well.

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Filed under Writing