A few observations on time management

by Sarah Acton

Tree2

I’m reassessing the boundaries I’ve been living within regarding time management and writing practice. Most of all I’m thinking about how to root these within mythological, ecological and poetic dimensions rather than clock time.

I’m currently otherwise unemployed, so I’ve had all day to write for two weeks…so how come I was producing more work whilst juggling two part time jobs?

Time for a new approach to time, and this is what I have to share so far:

  • First I’ve been observing how I am spending my days. There’s a lot of constant movement: creating things to do here and there, none of them urgent. The framework is often hung around a task at the end of the day, and I work backwards from this, almost waiting to fulfill the final task rather than start something productive even half way through the day. There is confusion between what I need to do, and distraction.
  • Day dreaming, thinking, walking and time out on the land, beholding and listening to nature are not distractions, and should be prioritised, not permitted as mini-rewards. I give myself absolute joyful permission to study life in this way as often as possible.
  • Social media, looking for interesting courses, and wondering what to do next in life by looking at my friend’s online communities are huge distractions. Less screen time is good. I can write first drafts in manuscript, in fact I write differently in manuscript, I focus deeply when I’m away from the screen.
  • The concept of creative time is conditioned by clock time. Energy put into different small activities as the minutes pass by creates a groove and pattern that leads often into distraction. This is all in my control, I am not a passive bystander. This is happening and I’m making it happen by using my energy in this way.
  • Reclaiming my time has nothing to do with the amount of hours I can give to writing, and everything to do with how I mentally prepare and approach each session, and my attitude to my life on this earth each day. Embodying my life more fully is a conscious decision as are all of the small decisions I make as I take a seat at my desk to work. Everything is connected.
  • Working in less familiar surroundings, or in certain atmospheres from time to time can assist the quality of work and focus. As I sit here I’m remembering that I like to work in empty churches, the heavy stone cools my head and the dim stained glass light calms my eyes.
  • Exercise, and health are important to focus long term. No one gets to be the exception on this one.

Foolishness? No, It’s Not.

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count the leaves on a single tree. To do this I have to climb branch by branch and write down the numbers in a little book. So I suppose, from their point of view, it’s reasonable that my friends say: what foolishness! She’s got her head in the clouds again.

But it’s not. Of course I have to give up, but by then I’m half crazy with the wonder of it — the abundance of the leaves, the quietness of the branches, the hopelessness of my effort. And I am in that delicious and important place, roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise.” (Mary Oliver)

 

 

 

 

 

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Shamanism and the Short Story

I’m taking a chance here – another one. I have a character I need to get to know in order to write about him, i.e. give him his own series. His name is David Maratse, and he is a policeman from the east coast of Greenland.

It’s not like we don’t know each other, but I feel I need to get to know him better, before we can start a crime series together. Continue reading

Let me Live, Love and Say it Well

By Alexa Padgett

First, I want to mention a publishing truism. That’s how much I learn from my peers. I’m part of a contemporary romance boxed set that launches December 5. In the past month, I’ve learned of about 60 new Facebook groups. I’ve learned what PA’s do for some others and why others retain a PR firm. I’ve learned more about early-bird incentives and how (better) to use Bookbub ads—still not a pro at this! In this, The Author Lab, I learn more about the European market and sensibility. I learn about craft in the form of fine prose and genre-specific word-choice.

All in all, I’m a much better writer thanks to my collaborations. I’ve learned to say it well—or at least better than I used to. So, I wanted to be sure to say thank you.

The past two weeks have been humbling and affirming. That’s the reality of publishing: I never know what’ll come at me next. Best case scenario is I pivot quickly so that I don’t absorb the whole blow…or so I can bask in the sunshine. At least that’s true if I say it well. Continue reading

Lessons from a Construction Site

By Lu Anne Stewart

A new house is being built across the street from mine. When I sit at the computer in my second-floor office, I watch each day’s progress through the window. It has turned out to be not a distraction from my writing but, in an odd way, a source of wisdom about what it takes to get things done.

One day last week, before first light, I heard the grumble and whirr of machinery outside. Peering out the window, I could see massive pieces of equipment lumbering into position on the site. The week before, workmen had scrambled around the lot getting ready to begin laying the foundation. Now, the work had moved into a higher gear. A giant pumping apparatus, some three stories tall, stood on one side of the lot. On the other side was a cement mixer truck, and all around was a beehive of activity. Dozens of workers, pick-up trucks parked willy-nilly on the grassy lot next to the site, tractor-trailers and other delivery trucks lining the street.

All of these people, effort and logistics to lay the foundation for one house!

I’m not a total novice when it comes to the world of construction. My dad was a bricklayer, and one of my most vivid childhood memories was him showing me how to scoop just enough mortar onto the trowel and direct it into the space between the bricks with a certain flick of the wrist.  Years later, in one of my early jobs, I wrote newsletters for a construction company and became conversant in terms like rebar and critical path scheduling.

Still, seeing this feverish display of construction activity outside my window struck me as a thing of wonder. What hard work this was. The pre-planning, the organizing. Getting the right equipment in place. The physical labor. The sheer number of people involved.

As writers, we bemoan how difficult it is to write. The blank page and all of our inner demons defy us to come up with the right words. Yet, the scene that has been unfolding outside my window reminds me that most things worth doing are hard.  In fact, the lessons a writer can glean from watching the construction process turn out to be amazingly relevant. The importance of carefully preparing the foundation. Thinking through each stage of the process. Getting all of the players in their proper places and in the correct order to make the outcome turn out right.

The other day was the beginning of a three-day holiday weekend. But even on that Saturday, things were happening on the site across the street. Several trucks roared up, bearing hundreds of concrete blocks and bags of cement. Workers positioned the supplies in stacks all around the new foundation so that building can begin at first light on the next work day.

It was a good reminder to get back to my writing.

The essence of time

Much is written about writing.  If you are a fiction writer you could end up spending the equivalent of a working week – every week – garnering useful tips and critical guidance.  We are encouraged to focus on the story arc, on fleshing out our characters and ensuring we include exquisite detail to make our story come to life.  We learn the importance of plot and theme and setting, and how selecting the right point of view can make the difference between success and failure.

I have just completed a novel, entitled The Tapestry Bag, and I found all this advice immensely valuable.  However, I would like to add something else into the mix.  Whether you are a ‘plotter’ – setting out your detailed story board before writing a word – or a ‘pantser’ – someone who writes their first draft, by the ‘seat of their pants’ – there is one other element of preparation that I would highly recommend.

The timeline!

Of course, it is important to know the year your story is set in, but a detailed timeline is so much more than that.  When I read through an early draft of The Tapestry Bag I could see all the incidences of ‘yesterday’, ‘tomorrow,’ ‘next week’, and so on were progressing the story forward. However, when I worked through the complete manuscript I realised that I’d started my story at a point in the calendar that resulted in my protagonist, Janie, having to go to work in her mobile library van on Christmas Day!

Clearly, something needed to change.

I decided to set out a detailed timeline on an Excel spreadsheet.  The internet is a wonderful thing.  I was able to download a calendar for 1969, the year my story is set in.  I mapped out each chapter, noting the passage of time, making sure that my characters were not at work on a Sunday, and not having their lie-ins when they should have been at work.  Reflecting on the timeline also helped me to determine the likely weather pattern, so that Janie and her husband Greg were appropriately dressed for July sunshine, but prepared for autumn when September came around.

As well as the chapter breakdown, I’ve used Excel to keep a track of the year and month each of my main characters were born. This means I can see at a glance how old each of them is when the story starts and ends, but also how old they were when key events occurred – the Second World War, for example.

I am currently working on a sequel to The Tapestry Bag, so having this timeline is crucial.  As the new story unfolds my characters prepare not just for winter, but for the end of a decade; a decade that brought significant social change.

Tapestry PROMO 4v2

Each author will have their own approach to preparation.  As well as a detailed timeline, it’s important to know your characters inside out.  Completing character templates helps us to think about not just their physical attributes, but their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears.  I have brought each of my characters alive by selecting a photo that sums up the person I perceive them to be.  Just do an internet search for ‘middle-aged man 1960s’ for example, and you can browse through likely candidates.  The photo may even inspire you to add something into your story that you hadn’t anticipated, perhaps they wear glasses, or have a bald patch, or a straggly beard.  These visual prompts help to bring your characters alive as you plot and plan your way through the story.

And now, with my detailed timeline, I can keep a diary of events for my characters.  I’m certain that my Excel timeline has already made my writing life easier.  It’s another resource in my writer’s toolkit that I can adapt and develop.

Which resources have you found most helpful when writing fiction?  Share your favourite tips and techniques by adding a comment below.

Calaba Town

by Foday Mannah

As a school teacher who dabbles with creative writing, the summer holidays represent a fertile period, a time within which one can strive to produce the odd piece. This is especially relevant because I am a master of procrastination and as such struggle to write.

Within this context, I have come to realise that the only thing that compels me to write is the metaphorical gun to the head; a deadline. The task therefore became a case of finding deadlines against which to produce pieces. Cursory investigation online revealed a plethora of short story competitions which ran through the year. Of further convenience was the fact that said competitions had staggered deadlines which were perfect in the sense that they would ensure that I was constantly writing.

I realistically do not hope to win any of these competitions, but my thinking ran along the lines of producing a different short story for every competition would result in me having a collection of stories.

The foundation for these pieces predominantly seeks to draw on experiences from my childhood. My late parents who had studied in London, moved the family back home to Sierra Leone in 1979 as was the norm back then. We lived in a place called Calaba Town, a bustling settlement located approximately ten miles from the centre of the capital city, Freetown. I was six at the time and lived in Calaba Town till I was eleven, by which time my parents’ marriage had disintegrated.

Calaba Town though remains vivid and engrossing, a place of unforgettable personalities and riveting experiences. This location has provided inspiration for one short story which I submitted at the end of July. Since then I have taken to writing down random memories from that period in my life, stockpiling them in a manner mentioned in a previous blogpost. Below are a few random musings which may not necessarily flow since they are detached from the context of a wider experience:

 

Morton’s Puppies:

Care for Morton’s puppies became the responsibility of Amie Samba who would count them every morning in the kitchen where they lay before returning to her atlas under the tree. The relationship between the dogs and Amie was cemented after she boiled a couple of ripe paw-paws and squashed them into an orange paste which she fed to the mother and her offspring. As the puppies grew and Morton’s teats dried up, Amie would use the crumpled money she kept in her bra to occasionally buy teaspoons of dried non-fat milk which she would dilute in a knocked-in aluminium bowl. The puppies would slurp up the dull white mixture noisily, their tales wagging in appreciation. They had by this time graduated from their mother’s fastidious attention and instead spent days frolicking around Mama Fatu’s yard under the eyes of Amie who would reprimand them with sharp commands if they strayed or transgressed.

Mama Fatu’s second dog was named Tourist, a brown and white specimen who no one liked because she left dark splotches wherever she sat. With time, Tourist learnt to obey her name, and stayed wandering…

Bees on a Sunday

The bees had first attacked Amadu Palaver as he returned from church in his customary white safari suit.  I didn’t see the bees waylay Amadu Palaver, but heard it dripped down as one of the numerous anecdotes that were narrated with gusto after the bees had departed. Amadu Palaver was what we called a bluff-man, a strident show-off whose voice and opinions always had to dominate. In our time, he had fallen out with almost all the other adults of the area, hence the word “palaver” being appended to his name. The bees had alighted on Amadu Palaver who had fled down Alusine Street, one of his white shoes left abandoned upside down in the dust. Mama Fatu who had witnessed the attack on Amadu Palaver had likened his distressed movements to a frenetic gumbay dance, a description that everyone found hilarious. Then again everyone agreed that Amadu Palaver deserved to be served a dose of comeuppance by bees.

The resistance to the bees took the form of a giant bonfire that was lit in Mama Fatu’s yard. From the windows of our place we could see her five sons gathering large pieces of firewood and a couple of oversized cartoons that had once housed powdered Nido milk. Using a couple of slender cutlasses, Ali and Abdul sliced down thick sheaths of dried elephant grass which were added to the pile of wood. Soon, a ferocious fire was in full flow, acrid smoke climbing into the air. It was only then that us neighbourhood children ventured out, flocking to her yard, anxious to feed the fire with more grass, pieces of scrap paper and any other object considered fuel-worthy…

Having managed to get a few of these experiences down in short paragraphs, the plan is to see if I can perhaps build entire short stories around some of these individual memories. I have found writing in these short bursts quite fulfilling and rewarding. Inspiration usually takes the form of texting my older brother who currently lives in Ghana, bandying our memories of these experiences. Real life regularly conditions and influences creative writing, and reaching thirty-five years into the past has been fun!

Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Ta da! It’s my novel’s cover reveal

Until fairly recently, the whole idea of making a big deal of the unveiling of a novel’s cover was a new one on me. I appreciated that a cover was an important part of the overall package but I suppose I imagined that covers simply got uploaded, or went to print, along with the rest of the book. So, over the last few months I’ve watched with interest as publishers reveal covers on social media. I’ve found myself getting caught up in the excitement of being amongst the first to see the artwork and get a flavour of what the novel is all about. With my marketing head on, I began to see that it makes perfect sense to use the cover to build excitement and anticipation of the upcoming publication.

I’m really very taken with my cover, and I’ve found it a challenge to keep the artwork to myself. So for it to finally be ‘out there’ came as a relief. But the reveal was more than just a sharing exercise. It has helped me to begin the conversation with potential readers and book bloggers as well as other authors. There was plenty of chat and excitement about it on social media, admittedly a lot of it was mine, culminating in my phone overheating and presenting me with a blank screen at about 11pm. As I tried frantically to restart the phone, I began to wonder if it was pointing me towards a metaphor of some sort that I needed to interpret and heed. So, I went to bed and hoped that ‘get some sleep’ was the silent message being transmitted.

Waking up today it seemed as though the reveal had been a success and, I’m happy to report, my phone switched on at the first time of asking. Pre-orders had been placed and the Amazon ranking had risen, and most exciting of all, I could now hear the whir of the machinery; the countdown to the launch is underway. Next stop 2nd October.

And here it is….

The Lido Girls_FINAL

The Lido Girls is available to pre-order from Amazon.

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