Kevin’s Eleven: Eleven Tips to Increase....

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Kevin’s Eleven: Eleven Tips to Increase....

Post by Yan » Mon Feb 19, 2007 2:22 pm

Нещо за четене :)

Kevin’s Eleven: Eleven Tips to Increase Your Writing Productivity

by Kevin J. Anderson

In this series, I'll share suggestions for how any writer can increase productivity.

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Starting in the 1920s, pulp magazine writers tried to make a living with stories that paid at most half a cent per word. By necessity, their unspoken motto was "Be prolific or starve." Armed with manual typewriters and carbon paper, the best writers managed to crank out entire novels in only a few days, stories and novelettes in a single sitting.
Today, with an arsenal that includes word processors, email, scanners, and lightning-fast printers, it must be easy for modern authors to be even more prolific, right?

Life is crazy and hectic for most of us. We've got personal and family obligations, jobs, fitness programs, mountains of correspondence by snail and email, video games, TiVo, cell phones, Blackberries, and a million things to check out on MySpace. In other words, countless distractions. How does an aspiring author find the time to write? And when you do find the time, how do you make the most of it?

From my own experience, as well as discussions with other prolific writers, I've compiled eleven tips to help you keep going a bit longer or squeeze out a few more words each time you write. These suggestions aren't all applicable to every situation -- in fact, some are even contradictory -- but try the techniques. Some may work well for you.


TIP #1. SHUT UP AND WRITE!

A writer's Muse is supposed to be a delicate, ethereal woman with a gentle voice who drops hints and ideas that might eventually find their way into a story or a novel. Right? I, on the other hand, have been blessed (or cursed) with a muse who's more like a bristle-headed, gravel-voiced drill sergeant who says, "Quit dinking around, Anderson! Sit down, shut up, and WRITE!"

This means that writing takes priority over reading every page of the morning paper, talking to a friend on the phone, watching game shows on TV, checking email the moment it shows up in the in-box (boy, that's a tough one!), going to a movie, making scrapbooks, playing with the cats (or dogs, or fish, as your particular case may be), or going shopping.

Procrastination is the writer's deadliest enemy. Learn how to spot when you're finding excuses when you should be writing. Or -- to use a technical term -- dinking around.

Writers are the only people in the world who would rather be cleaning the bathroom than doing their job. When you do get a spare moment to do some writing, whether it be late at night, at lunch, or early in the morning, don't find excuses and waste time for "just one little thing." Put your butt in the chair and apply your fingertips to the keyboard.

If this means keeping a regular writing schedule, do it -- and make sure that you *write* during those times (i.e., produce words that line up into sentences that are stacked in paragraphs). Don't stare out the window -- get to work. Everybody else has to go to a job and put in their time. If you aim to be a professional writer, you have to do the same.

Be tough on yourself and on the people around you. Make sure that your chatty friends know that you are not to be disturbed during your writing time. If you don't take your own work seriously, you can't expect others to.

TIP #2. DEFY THE EMPTY PAGE
In any project, the most difficult word to type is often the first one. Staring at the empty page, or the blank screen, of a new story or a novel can be an intimidating experience. But if you figure out how to facilitate getting the first word (and then the first sentence) typed, you'll start the whole story rolling.

In the movie THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN -- a writer's movie if there ever was one! -- the writer character played by Billy Crystal spends hours producing mounds of torn and crumpled sheets of paper in his efforts to complete his first sentence.

"The night was . . . "

His agonizing struggle for inspiration provides great laughs as he paces the floor and stares at his typewriter. He thinks he's got to get the first sentence absolutely perfect before he moves on to the next one. After all, didn't Mark Twain claim that the difference between the right word and almost the right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug? However, no one will ever be struck by an author's brilliant "lightning" if he never finishes his book!

Struggling to get your first sentence down can be a silly, but serious, hang-up. The first sentence has to be a hook, the all-important line that captures our reader. But worrying overmuch about getting it Just Right can cause a kind of paralysis to set in. You've GOT to start your fingers typing, or your pen writing, or your tape-recorder recording.

Here's an idea. If the "perfect first sentence" eludes you, then write the second sentence, the next paragraph, and start telling your story. As you really get into your scene, you'll be more in tune with what makes the best opening line. Then come back and add it. Just get the words moving.

If starting your new project still seems intimidating, try writing a memo or a short letter or two beforehand, just to get the fingers warmed up and your brain in gear. Some writers start by retyping the page they left off with the last time, or a random paragraph out of a nearby book, simply as a mechanical exercise. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you start writing. Once the page isn't empty anymore, you're over that psychological speed bump, and before you know it, you're off and running.

TIP #3. DARE TO BE BAD (AT FIRST)

Repeat after me: It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be *finished.*

This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give to any struggling writer. It's easier to FIX existing prose than it is to write perfect prose in the first place. The crucial step is to get it down on paper!

Your words or descriptions might be redundant. So what? They can be fixed later.

You might make grammatical mistakes. So what? Promise yourself you'll fix them later -- AFTER you've got the story written.

I wrote my award-winning, #1 bestselling X-FILES novel GROUND ZERO in six weeks, start-to-finish: 300 published pages, 90,000 words. The publisher had already scheduled it for a breakneck production pace, and everyone was counting on me to deliver the manuscript. I could not be late. I had to turn in an acceptable novel on time. The only way I could do this was just to tell my story, get it down on the page, and trust to my writing skills.

I managed to write 25–30 pages a day on that book, seven days a week. Although this isn't an exercise I recommend for most writers, it did increase my writing speed and, I believe, my writing quality as well. By writing straight through, one scene after another after another without wandering back to earlier chapters to tweak the prose, I built up a "story momentum" that propelled the book along at a breakneck pace.

Now, once the draft was done, I had allocated as much time as possible to polish the words, editing the manuscript again and again until the last second. However, when I went back to the initial pages, fully intending to spend weeks doing major editing and rewriting, I was surprised to find that the constant, intense practice had taught me to produce writing as good as it would have been had I spent hours agonizing over each page.
Giving yourself permission to be "bad" initially frees you up just to create. This time around, don't worry about how good it is or how you can fix it. Just do the writing.

When you dare to be bad, you don't have to *be* bad. It's a completely false assumption -- often pushed upon students by stuffy English professors -- that anything written quickly can't possibly be good. That's total BS.

Some of the greatest writers (writers who are taught as 'literature' by those same stuffy professors) wrote quickly and in first-draft form. Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, and Charles Dickens were amazingly prolific, and their works have remained on bookshelves for more than a century. Dickens wrote A CHRISTMAS CAROL, one of the best-loved novels of all time, in a feverish frenzy that lasted about six weeks. William Faulkner supposedly wrote his classic AS I LAY DYING in the same amount of time and claimed to have published his first draft "without changing a word." If Dickens and Faulkner had agonized over every single word, we might *still* be waiting for them to finish.

TIP #4. WORK ON DIFFERENT PROJECTS AT THE SAME TIME

This one works best for people with ADD, or low boredom thresholds! (And it doesn't work for everybody.)

Each writing project has many phases: research, plotting, first draft, polishing, proofreading, and the marketing and business. Since some of these tasks are more onerous than others (I love the plotting and first draft, but don't enjoy the first major edit or the last proofread), I keep several different projects on the creative burner at all times. That way I can switch from one process to another, while charging along at full-steam. The variety also makes the tedious parts more palatable.

Okay, I admit I'm a restless Type-A person. Switching projects is like a guy with a TV remote bouncing from channel to channel. But this method keeps me fully productive at all times.

As I write this, I have recently delivered a 22-page detailed proposal for a new fantasy trilogy (which has just been accepted by a major publisher). I am editing the fleshed-out outline for "Seven Suns #7" -- 146 chapters, each one summarized in a paragraph or two, and I'll begin writing the draft of that novel in the next few days. Last week, I received the copy-edited manuscript for SANDWORMS OF DUNE, and I just finished reading through the whole book again, almost 600 pages, for the twelfth time; the typeset galleys of the UK edition of Seven Suns #6: METAL SWARM arrived, so I'll be spending the next few days proofreading the entire book (NOT the most exciting part of the writing process!); yesterday, I finished proofing the galleys of SLAN HUNTER. Since I've delivered the draft of THE LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON to my editors at DC Comics and HarperCollins, I'll receive their editorial comments and suggestions for revisions any day now. And I'm still doing a fair amount of promotion, book-signings, and interviews for last August's HUNTERS OF DUNE. All of these things get juggled into the daily writing schedule, and I switch from one, to the next, to the next, always keeping the brain moving.

I spend a few hours on each project during the day, so that when I grow weary of one type of work (say, proofreading) I can switch to another (outlining, or first-draft writing). I find that after working on the same project for a while, it begins to lose its freshness and becomes more tedious. And when I'm not enjoying myself, the process of writing becomes a chore instead of a joy. I try not to let that happen, because I *love* writing.

So far, I haven't gotten any of my stories mixed up.

TIP ..5. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WRITING AND EDITING

Even though both activities have a writer at the keyboard staring at the screen, Writing and Editing are two very different processes. They require a separate set of skills and talents; they each use a different part of your brain, the creative part and the analytical part. Learn to recognize the difference, and teach yourself to focus only on WRITING during the writing stage, and EDITING during the editing stage.

"Writing" is the creative part of the process. When you're writing, creating, let yourself be caught up in your story. Get swept away by the characters, the situation, the events taking place as the plot unfolds. Don't worry about the commas. Write the story first. Tell what happens, where it happens, and who it happens to, without getting hung up on fixing that last paragraph, polishing one bit of dialogue, rearranging the sentences, researching subtle rules of usage, or finding the proper punctuation. No need to get every spelling or grammar guideline right at this stage.

Once the creative part is done, then you can switch on the more analytical part of your brain. Change hats and become an editor instead of a writer. Now you can look at the sentence structure, cull out the redundant phrases, correct the grammar, add the appropriate punctuation if you didn't get it right the first time, run your spell check. As I'll describe in Tip ..8, I have two totally separate methods for writing and editing. I do my writing with a tape recorder while out hiking (thus, making it impossible for me to see or worry about cosmetic nuances of grammar or punctuation), and afterward I do my editing on the computer.

You can always go back and make changes -- always. Remember Tip ..3, Dare to be bad (at first). If you allow self-doubt (or the lack of the "perfect" word or phrase) to keep you from moving on to the next sentence, then you'll never finish that paragraph -- which means you'll never finish that chapter, which means you'll never finish that novel.

Too many times I've seen writers derail their creative process by stopping the action to tweak a word or a sentence. If you write a few paragraphs, then feel the need to go back and play with them, you destroy all forward momentum you had. It's like shifting gears again and again, and you could burn out your transmission.

Save the criticism for the second draft. That way you'll actually finish writing and have something to polish. As far as I know, no one has ever published a "perfect" but half-completed novel.

TIP #6. USE EVERY MINUTE

"I could be a writer, if only I had the time." Yeah, right. I've heard that one too often. If you think you need large blocks of time to accomplish any writing, then you're just kidding yourself.

Sure, we'd all love extended, uninterrupted hours to do nothing but sit and think, but that's a luxury most of us don't have. In the real world, the majority of writers -- even successful, published writers -- still have full-time jobs and need to fit in their writing around other duties. Writers have families, obligations, even -- surprise! -- personal lives.

I didn't actually quit my day job until I'd published eleven bestsellers. It was a 40+ hour per week job with heavy responsibilities, involving frequent travel, as well as constant pressures and distractions. Even so, by using my weekends and evenings and a spare lunch hour or two, I managed to write two or three novels per year.

If you have only a few minutes here and there, then learn how to do something productive in those brief bursts. You can plot a story in the shower, while waiting in the dentist's office, before drifting off to sleep at night, during the five or ten minutes of dimness in the theater before the movie starts, while cooking dinner, or while doing tedious household tasks. While riding the bus or vanpool, you can write down notes, scribble outlines, even mark up a printout of an earlier chapter.

Too often I've heard the lame excuse, "I don't have enough time to do a serious amount of writing, so I'll just look at a magazine instead." (Or any other form of procrastination.) Science fiction writer Roger Zelazny used to advise other authors to "write two sentences." You may only have time to write two sentences; other times, those two sentences will lead to two more, and then two paragraphs; ten minutes later you'll have a page done. Ten minutes is ten minutes you could be writing. Two sentences is two sentences closer to finishing the manuscript.

If you find yourself in a place where you really can't jot down notes (in the gym, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc.) use every little snatch of time to ponder *what* you're going to write the next time you get a few minutes at your keyboard. Do your thinking ahead of time, so that when you have a few spare moments to actually sit with your fingers on the keys, you can jump right in and get down to actual writing (instead of mulling over what you mean to say).

When you have a bit of time to write, use it to WRITE! Get as much written as you can. This takes a lot of discipline, and it's easy to get distracted, but set your priorities. Do you want to be a writer, or would you rather complain about not having enough time to write?

TIP #7. SET GOALS FOR YOURSELF -- AND STICK TO THEM

I'm a goal-oriented person. Give me a target, or a list, and I'll diligently set out to accomplish the task, milestone by milestone. I live in Colorado, a state with 54 mountain peaks over 14,000 ft high (called the Fourteeners). When I received a guidebook with hiking or climbing routes to the top of each one, I immediately made up my mind to climb all of them. And I did.

Similarly, if you set yourself a writing objective, you have a target to shoot for, and a greater chance of achieving it. Obviously, the most desirable form of "goal" would be to have a publisher issue a contract and set a deadline. A publication date and an acceptance check waiting for you should be all the incentive you need to get a project done.

In the absence of such enticements, however, you can set your own goals. For instance, make up your mind to set aside one hour per day of dedicated writing, or produce four pages a day, or complete a new story each month. Know yourself well enough to set realistic targets, rather than ridiculous ones. Challenge yourself to produce 1000 words a day, or to write for an hour without stopping. Once you learn how to meet your own goals, then try to up the stakes to 1500 words a day, to two hours of solid writing.

If you make too many excuses to yourself, you might need a more clear-cut goal. A writer's workshop may provide you with incentive to get new writing done. There are many online and local writers' workshops, or you can form or join a support/competition group of your own. Groups can set goals for their members (e.g., each member must have a piece of writing to submit at each meeting for the other group members to look at/critique).

Writers can be very mutually supportive in this way. The writers in a highly successful group in Oregon regularly engage in competitions among themselves. These writers challenge each other to produce a novel or an equivalent number of short stories in a single weekend -- and they regularly succeed at doing it. They have "the Race," in which they compete with each other to see who has the most submissions in the mail at any one time. The reward has been to dramatically increase their writing output, as a group. The penalty? The loser buys the others dinner. But no one is the loser, really, because even the one with the lowest output is more productive than he or she would have been without the inspiration of those fellow writers.

Try entering writing contests, such as those listed in Writers Digest or WRITERS MARKET. All of these contests have deadlines which force you to complete your entry by a certain date. In the science fiction and fantasy field, one particularly successful contest is the Writers of the Future; it's been around for more than two decades, and my wife and I are both judges, along with many of the most respected writers in the genre. We highly recommend it. Also, every year there's "national novel writing month," which encourages people to, yes, write a whole novel in a month (click Here for details).

There are plenty of contests you can track down on the web, and the prospect of winning, as well as a set deadline for entries, may give you the nudge you need. (Caution: Beware of contests that claim all publication rights to submissions. You shouldn't have to give up your story, no matter how good the contest sounds.) If any of you know of other contests, I welcome you to post information here as comments to this blog.

TIP #8. CREATE THE BEST WRITING ENVIRONMENT FOR YOURSELF

Now that you have your goals set and you've learned how to carve out time to write, take a few moments to create the best writing environment possible for yourself. Is your "office" (whether it's a spare bedroom, a corner of the kitchen table, or an old desk in the job) conducive to productivity? Don't just accept your environment as it is.

Where do you have your computer or laptop set up? Is it on a TV tray in the middle of the living room with chaos and clutter all around? Probably not the best spot. Try to create a "haven" for yourself, a place you can call a writing office, so that when you're working there, you -- and everyone else -- regard it as your real workplace.

Now, look at your writing surface and your chair. See that they're adjusted at the proper height: your bent arms should form a loose "L" to reach the keyboard. If you hunch over or have to reach up for the keyboard or mouse, you could end up with sore arms, wrists, shoulders. This can lead to serious repetitive-stress injuries such as pinched nerves, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, or cubital tunnel syndrome, to name a few. Sit on a pillow if you have to, or install a keyboard shelf.

Next, consider your personal habits and schedules. These will be different for each writer. Some people write best at home in familiar surroundings. Some find themselves stimulated to write in a coffee shop with constant comings and goings and background chatter. Others prefer to get away from the distractions of a home environment by renting a separate room to be used specifically as an outside office.

I'm most productive when writing or editing with loud music playing; my wife works best in total silence (which means we have our offices on opposite ends of the house). I'm a morning person and I get the most work done first thing in the day with fresh coffee running through my bloodstream. My wife, who is a lot slower to get moving, doesn't do much creative work until later in the day, but then she stays up beyond the time when my sleepy brain is shutting down.

As an experiment, try writing under different circumstances, at various times, and in a variety of places, then determine the best environment for you. You may be surprised. Once you've figured out how and where you can be most productive, arrange your schedule and your office environment to accommodate that.

TIP #9. THINK OUTSIDE THE KEYBOARD

Now that you're accustomed to sitting in your established writing spot with your trusty laptop or desktop computer, it's time for me to remind you that this is not the ONLY way you can write. Your keyboard isn't the only tool you have.

This tip is one of the most obvious and effective, though least-often attempted, means of increasing writing productivity. THINK OUTSIDE THE KEYBOARD. If you learn different ways to write, with different tools -- like a talented musician learning to play several instruments -- you can take advantage of nearly any situation in which you find yourself.

I have a desktop computer in my office, where I spend most of my time editing. My laptop allows me to continue writing or editing anywhere away from home: in restaurants, at hotels, on airplanes. But it doesn't stop there.

Remember the old pad and pencil? For those times you find yourself alone in a coffee shop, or riding the bus, or sitting outdoors, you can jot down notes, outline a story, write a rough draft.

My wife and I once plotted and outlined an entire Star Wars "Junior Jedi Knights" trilogy using crayons on the butcher paper that covered our table in an Italian restaurant. Then we tore off the wide chunk of paper tablecloth, folded it, and took it with us as our "notes."

For myself, I prefer to do my initial writing with a hand-held recorder. I love to go out hiking on beautiful trails, take inspiration from the scenery around me -- and get away from all the interruptions at home. Writing by tape recorder allows me to make an already enjoyable outdoor activity productive at the same time. Sometimes I just talk myself through plot snags, letting my imagination roam as I develop imaginary biographies for characters or histories for my fictional worlds. Most of the time I dictate finished prose. My record (so far) has been dictating 45 pages of finished prose in a single, very long, hike.

Speaking finished prose out loud into a voice recorder may be difficult until you get used to the idea. Some writers have tried and couldn't quite get the hang of it. Several told me they felt self-conscious walking along and talking to themselves -- yet I see people with cell-phones doing it all the time. At first, I used the recorder just to capture ideas when I went out for a walk. (Before I learned to bring the recorder along, I would come up with snatches of brilliant prose, but by the time I hurried back to my keyboard, I'd forgotten it.) With practice, though, I now write finished text off the top of my head. Face it, nobody learns to type 200 words a minute the first time they touch a keyboard either. The drawback with a recorder is that someone has to transcribe your words, but if you don't want to do it yourself, there are typing services to do this for a reasonable fee, even voice-recognition software. Because of my writing output (thanks to these productivity tips), I keep an employee busy almost full-time just with transcribing duties.

Other people have developed their own unique alternatives to sitting-at-the-typewriter writing. Find some for yourself.

TIP #10. GET INSPIRED!

Every creative writing teacher repeats the classic axiom, "Write about what you know." Therefore, it stands to reason that the MORE you know, the more THINGS you'll be able to write about.

Every experience, class, interesting acquaintance, or place you visit goes into your pantry of "ingredients" for new material. Part of your job as a writer is to get out of the house and collect these ingredients so that you can use them.

Strictly to broaden my knowledge-base of experiences over the years, I've taken a hot-air balloon ride, gone white-water rafting and mountain climbing, traveled to various cities and countries, been a guest backstage at rock concerts, attended a world-class symphony, and taken extensive tours of high-tech scientific research installations, visited a giant aircraft carrier, been on the floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange, and toured behind the scenes at FBI Headquarters. You'll be surprised at how many doors will open for a writer doing research.

Feeling less adventurous? Then do other things to get inspired. Read extensively, research esoteric topics, take a class about a subject you know nothing about.
In your daily life, open your eyes and observe what is around you. Every experience is filled with details to absorb and use at some later time. Watch people. See what they do, observe how they act, listen to how they talk, try to understand who they are and make up biographies for them.

In short, exercise your creative muscles. Stock up your mental pantry with ingredients so that you'll have a lot to cook with.

TIP #11. KNOW WHEN TO STOP

Endless polishing and editing and revising and polishing again and then rewriting and then editing does not make a story perfect. It just makes a story ENDLESS. Science fiction master Robert Heinlein proposed a set of rules for writers. His first two are "You must write" and "You must finish what you write."

I've known writers who seem to have a love affair with a particular story. They set out with a promising draft, then they begin polishing. And the story vanishes into a black hole of neverending polishing and rewriting. Ironically, after a certain point, there's really no noticeable improvement. It's stuck in an infinite loop.

Don't misunderstand: You can't turn in a sloppy manuscript, and each submission should be as good as you can make it, but remember from Tip 3, "It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be finished." There comes a point of diminishing returns in editing your prose. Are you becoming obsessive about rewriting and polishing? Are you doing things that no longer improve the story but simply give you an excuse to put off finishing it? It's done! Mail out the manuscript to an editor and move on to the next story.

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I hope these eleven tips have given you some practical ideas on how to be more productive. Not every technique will work for every writer, but try them out, see if they give you some ideas. Are they pointing out some bad habits you have? See if a light bulb goes on over your head, and you suddenly find a way to finish that novel in snippets of time you never thought you had. All writers work differently, but don't subscribe to the myth that fast writing must produce sloppy writing.

The response to this series has been overwhelming and gratifying. I am inspired to write other pieces of "general wisdom" and advice, which I'll share here as I get time, but it won't be every day as this series has been. (You might want to subscribe to the blog, so you know when I post a new entry.) I have to use my own tecniques to work my way through several heavy deadlines in the meantime.

Now, what are you still reading this blog for? You're supposed to be writing!

KJA
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Post by Daggerstab » Tue Feb 20, 2007 4:38 pm

:lol: :lol: :lol:
Точка пета е причината всичките ми "творби" да са на ниво "незавършена чернова" или по-ниско... К'во да се прави, професионално изкривяване ми е докато пиша да се замислям за ненужните детайли. :)
Дагърстаб. Точка.

Предупреждение: Имам лошия навик да споря. Освен това страдам от черен хумор и изблици на сарказъм.

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