Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Take the time to share a story

On Sunday night, my children, my husband and I sat down at the dining table to play a game of Cluedo. We try to make a point of having a family board game most weekends. Sometimes it might be Scrabble, other times Monopoly. It doesn't really matter what we play. The main value of the experience is in coming together, away from gadgets and TV, to concentrate on spending time with each other. Most of the conversation will be centred around the game but we'll also swap stories about the week that has just passed and discuss what might be coming up in the days ahead.

As a child, board games, card games, and family gatherings were a regular event. Sometimes it would just be me and my parents (I'm an only child). On other occasions, the neighbours would come in, or for a special night like New Year's Eve, there'd be a party of friends and family filling the house with laughter and chat.

Whether there were few of us or many, the gathering would always lead to the telling of stories. My father would discuss his childhood in the countryside surrounding Loch Lomond in Scotland. The photo is of a working horse called Rosie with my father when he was a boy. He would help take Rosie home to the farm after her working day was done.

My mother would discuss family members and tales of childhood (normally involving her being naughty) with her cousins and sister. She spun a wonderful tale of a girlhood spent running riot in rhurbarb patches and sliding on a tray down muddy hills.

In my own life, I do my best to share stories of my own childhood, my parents and life in general with my children but there is a constant battle against gadgets, TV and computers. As a society, we seem to rely on these outside devices to supply us with stories, rather than looking in, to our friends and families, to share stories in a more traditional, oral way.

There is something very comforting about coming together to share a story, especially when it's a story of a shared heritage, but looking people you care about in the eye as you recount a tale of whatever can be a wonderful experience too.

I think it's time we learned to turn off the gadgets, even if only for a while, and return to the concept of gatherings simply for the purpose of communication. Play cards or a board game by all means, but take the time to look the other members of your party in the eye and talk.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

7 ways to stay motivated (or get motivated in the first place)

Are you a self-motivator or do you need a nudge or a carrot to keep going? I'm a bit of both depending on the task at hand but over the years, I've come up with a number of ways to motivate myself.

1. Treat Yourself

This is the 'carrot' I mentioned above. Promise yourself that when (not if) you complete the task, you'll treat yourself to something. What that 'thing' is depends of course on you. You might choose simply to have a cup of tea and sit down to read a book. You might decide to go out somewhere. You might even take yourself shopping for a new bag, book or other item. You know what kind of treat will keep you going (plus what you can afford in the case of a shopping trip) but make it something that really delights you and raises a smile.

2. Visualise the end result

This is not to be confused with day dreaming. That way, only procrastination lies. You can visualise the end result in your mind, have an image on your computer screen or go the whole hog and put together a dream board (see comment above about day dreaming and procrastination - don't spend all your time on simply putting together the dream board and not getting the actual task done). When you feel bogged down in the amount of work you have to do, return to that image.

3. Break the task down into smaller chunks

Sometimes, the tasks we have to complete seem so immense that we're too scared to even start. With every house move I've gone through (and there have been many of them), the experience of shutting the door after the delivery of our  things and facing the mountain of boxes to unpack has reduced me to tears. There was so much to do that I didn't know where to start, but on each occasion I broke the 'mountain' down into rooms. I would tackle the kitchen first, and so on. This allowed me to chip away at the multitude of boxes in a way that didn't paralyse me with fear.

4. Leave it to the last minute

I can feel many of you shaking your heads at this particular piece of advice but for some people (I'm raising my hand) and with certain tasks, this can work. For some reason, flying round my house like a demented tornado while I clean in the run up to a visit by family tends to motivate me more than having a daily cleaning routine. It's probably best not to leave everything until the last minute but it can work as a way to motivate on occasion.

5. Have everything you need to hand

There's something very satisfying about being prepared. I use this method when I'm writing. Whether, I'm camped on the sofa with a pad and a pen, or working on my laptop in my study, I ensure that I have everything that I need to hand so there is no reason for me to stop midway to go in search of something. Having everything prepared and laid out means that I can focus on the task at hand. 

6. Have a plan

Now, this very much comes down to the kind of person you are. There's a phrase in the writing world - plotter or pantser - which means that either you prepare a plot line before you write and stick to it, or you don't and therefore you are 'flying by the seat of your pants' when you write. Most of my life has been spent doing the latter but there are occasions when having a plan shows me the way forward and motivates me to keep going. I plan my murder mystery plays, for instance, from initial notes and customer query, to character list and what I need to reveal in the play, to the final script delivered to the customer within their time frame. I've tried to plan other tasks (like cleaning the house) and failed to keep to the plan because, well, I'm just naughty like that. 

7. Set a timer

When I'm in the flow of my writing, I can happily carry on for hours, but when the words refuse to come and have to be dragged into existence, I set myself twenty minute slots (using the alarm on my mobile phone). I agree with myself to write for that twenty minutes and then, if I'm still struggling, to stop. If I'm not struggling, then I can just carry on. It's similar to breaking the task down into smaller chunks. If you are facing a difficult task, then knowing that you only have to do twenty minutes or one hour of it before you can stop, can be a real motivator.

How do you motivate yourself?

Monday, 16 November 2015

The die are cast

This morning I did something that I've been longing to do for years. I submitted my novel to a literary agent. Actually, I submitted it to three.

I'm lucky to write my plays for a living but to be a novelist has always been my number one dream. I've written and honed, and rearranged, and edited my manuscript for the past few years. I've sought professional advice and assessments on my writing. I've turned to my favourite writers for advice and inspiration. I've even put together a cast list of actors for my characters. I've taken my novel as far as I can.

Submitting my manuscript today made it all feel very real, and quite terrifying. I read each agent's submission requirements, located the correct person to submit to at each agency and nervously emailed off my novel.

I'm hoping for a good response from at least one of them. I know that I may not hear anything until the new year. Let's be honest. If they're not interested, I may not hear anything at all. That's always a possibility.

I have four other agents lined up to submit my novel to if the initial three say no. I'm hoping for feedback if they decide that my novel isn't for them but I'm also aware that there are many factors involved in their decision, not simply the quality of writing.

So, I'm on the proverbial tenterhooks and I daresay that'll continue for a couple of months at least. I'll keep an eye on the websites of the three agents I've submitted to. My emails pop up on my mobile phone so there's no chance of missing one. I have a murder mystery play to write and the next novel in my trilogy to start on too (or rather pick up from what I wrote of it in last year's NanoWrimo).

I hope the agents love Steve and Hartley and Blessing as much as I do. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Something Useful for 2015 - Exercise No. 16

Around this time every year, I compile a set of family photographs, one for each month, to create a calendar for the following year. December is a shot from the previous year. It's always a pleasure to look back over the last twelve months and remember.

Looking back over my photographs for this year, along with the family shots are images that I took that don't show my family. They're shots of the garden or landscapes or other things that took my fancy. They tell a story in themselves.

Choose twelve photos, one for each month of the year (November and December can be from past years if that's easier). Now, looking at the photos as a group, weave them together into a story.

Here are mine.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Choice Words for November

There is so much advice and opinion out there about how to write a novel (or how to write anything, for that matter) that after a while it can all turn into a blah shade of grey, the same thoughts, techniques and scenarios repeated over and over again. For me, the most informative advice is the kind that comes from a writer's personal experience, illustrated with their own 'story'.

Nathan Filer's TEDx talk, How to write an award winning bestselling first novel, is just such a lesson. If you can spare fifteen minutes, then it's well worth watching.

Nathan Filer