Not long ago, we had a post discussing the biggest time wasters titled called Let’s Get Serious About Time Wasters, so this time we’ll talk about the less obvious ways we lose time. This is true for everyone, not just writers and artists.
One serious time robber is lack of routine. Having structure to our day helps improve efficiency and the fitting in of several tasks to make the most of our available time and let us spend it where it matters most. There’s nothing wrong with applying a little schedule to your days.
Another less obvious time sink is lack of organization. Again, organizing ourselves and streamlining repetitive tasks gives us back the gift of time. One obvious example (cliché but true) is selecting an outfit in the morning. How much time do we lose standing in our closet? One way to combat that time loss (which always meant I ended up skipping breakfast, which is bad to do) is to select your outfit the night before and put all the accessories with it. Voila, time for at least some toast. Applying organization to all areas of your life gives you time.
The same is true in other areas. Knowing where things go makes it easier to put them away and find them later. Knowing you will vacuum on Saturday frees up time on Friday.
(I once knew a lady who, on laundry day, did laundry and nothing else. No joke. She sat at the table until it was time to switch the load).
I’m a scatter-brained adult with ADD. Organization and routine are vital.
Another hidden time waster is over-commitment. If you are trying to establish a lifestyle that includes time to write, an over-packed calendar doesn’t help. I don’t make a secret of my advocacy for simple living because I learned lessons the hard way. If you are young, learn it now. Commit yourself to the things that matter most, whether that’s volunteering once a week or being active in your children’s school, but beware filling your schedule with things that don’t feed your soul or match your values. The same is true for your children. Studies in childhood stress indicate that a full schedule for kids is as hard on them as a full schedule is on adults.
In short, schedule “down time.” It’s good for your creativity.
The final less obvious time waster for today is the work commute. People have good reasons for living an hour or two away from their jobs, whether it’s affordability or wanting to be in a particular neighborhood. The key in that situation is to use the commute to benefit the writing. If you’re on a bus or train, jot notes in a notebook or tablet or plan and flesh out your scenes. If you drive, consider using a digital recorder and speak your material so you can type it up later (or send it out to be transcribed if you like). Another option is to move closer to work or find a job closer to where you live.
If you are serious about finding more time, keep a time log for two weeks. Write down what you are doing in every 15 minute increment of time. It will help you identify tasks that can be combined, times you are distracted, and time you might choose to spend differently.
What do you think are the hidden time wasters in your writing life?
At least once in every writer’s life the question “should I quit writing” has popped in his or her mind.
It may have flashed for a millisecond, a brief flicker of doubt, but it has been asked by each and everyone of you. Many laugh it off, knowing the insanity of the question. Come on! You would die if you went 2 hours without writing something down. While others struggle with the question and seriously contemplate it…
This isn’t a question that you should be ashamed to ever ask. In fact, I find it a healthy question. It guages your current commitment to the craft. Writing is a craft, for those who are committed, that will flow through your veins until the day you die. Author Chuck Wendig wrote a brilliant and energizing post about how to react when you find yourself asking the question on whether you should give up writing. I was riveted (and a bit terrified) by what he had to say, and wanted to share it with you today. If anything, his post is a swift kick in the ass for an honest answer when you find yourself asking “should I quit writing”.
To write your character’s story, you need to know them as well as, if not better than, you know yourself. This isn’t an easy ask. There are so many questions, so many things to learn. Where do you start? A chat over dinner and wine? A long, drawn out interview? I find actions speak louder than words.
The majority of my characters have been developed through short stories and, more recently, flash fiction. I like to put them through their paces, maybe torture them a little (a lot), and find out how they tick. Like a scientist (or just some kid with a bug in a jar), I immerse them in scenarios and study their reactions. You’d be amazed by how much you can learn and, if nothing else, it’s a whole heap of fun…
Backstory tells you a lot about your characters. Experience and past encounters shape who they are and what they’re capable of. Living through those experiences, alongside your character, is the perfect way to understand their motivations, goals and abilities. Flash and short fiction are the ideal media for this. They allow you to focus on individual events that had the biggest impact. They also allows you to gauge the condition of relationships in the character’s immediate circle. For example, does a loving husband find the relationship with his wife strained when they argue, or is he certain they’ll come out fine? What about their friends? Do they speak kindly of them when they are not around? Write the scene, learn from it.
Exercise: Choose three key moments in your character’s past and relive them in three flash/short stories. Be sure to pay attention to how your character reacts in the heat of the moment.
2. Test of time
When done correctly, character development takes an incredible investment of time. This is doubly so if you intend to use them as the main character in your novel. Ask yourself, are they worth all this effort? Often, it’s hard to tell. We might start writing and soon find they are not all they appear to be.
When I get an idea for a character, I write them into a short story, either as the main character or as supporting cast. There are two benefits to this:
- I’ve already started to test them in conflict; and
- I get a good idea if their story is the right one to tell.
Sometimes the person you think is right to tell the story is more of a supporting character, at best. Likewise, the character you gave a bit part to sometimes has the stronger voice and the better story.
Exercise: Choose a character you haven’t fully developed and write a story involving them. Do they come across as a strong character? Do they entice you to explore them further?
3. Trial by fire
Knowing how a character will react to a given crisis…situation is half the battle. The only real way to do this is to test their reaction, both external and internal, to conflict by throwing them to the proverbial, and sometimes literal, wolves. When you write with your characters in mind, you’ll find that they have a habit of steering the story down their own paths and in ways you never expected. This is a great indication of the extent that you know your characters, that you have started to adopt their mindset. It’s also as frustrating as it gets.
If you really want to find out how the character will react to conflict, write the conflict and, while you’re doing it, listen to what they’re telling you. It pays to listen to their thoughts and emotions too.
Exercise: pick an intense scene, one filled with conflict, and then throw your character into the thick of it. Do they sink, or swim? Do they react how you expected? If not, are they likely to react like that again?
Short fiction, especially that written in the first-person, is the perfect way to explore and develop your character’s voice. Writing from their perspective puts them in the driving seat and gives you a unique opportunity to discover the way they communicate with each other and with their audience. This is exceptionally useful for secondary characters, ones that play a significant part in your story but are not main characters. It’s all too easy to give these characters a generic, even stereotypical, voice. Don’t let that happen, coax it out of them with flash.
Exercise: Take a secondary character and write a scene, or short story, from their perspective. How do they talk? What mannerisms do they have? Do they seem educated? To what level? Do they favour slang and jargon, or do they avoid it?
5. Day in the life
Day to day activities are not the kind of thing that makes it into novels and stories. It’s not often that a character will have a typical day in a novel (these things are, and should, be edited out). You’ll never go into detail about their paperclip collection (unless you’re setting them up to be The Paperclip Killer, or his patsy), what they had for lunch, or give the blow by blow on their lunchtime meeting (Le Carré-esque spy thriller, anyone?). How a person lives tells a lot about who the person is. Short stories and flash allow you to live a day in their lives. It won’t make for exciting reading, but it will reveal all sorts of juicy secrets about them and their ‘ordinary’ life.
Exercise: write the story of your character’s typical day. What does it reveal about them? About their family and support network? How do they feel about their job?
Has anybody out there just short stories to learn about their characters? How has it worked out? Comments below please.