Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Productivity

A few new/revised ideas on getting more out of your writing time:

I know how much I harp on quota, but don't count or think about the number of words, pages or scenes you're getting down while you're in the process of writing. This can be as detrimental to your progress as backtracking and rewriting. Forget all about the numbers and simply write straight through your allotted writing time. You can get out your calculator and kick yourself (or pat yourself on the back) when you're done for the day.

Try using footnotes or comments as block tags. I've mentioned that when I can't find the words to describe something (usually setting), I tag it in the manuscript like this: [describe Central Park in mid-winter] and move on. Later I would do a search for the [] brackets and fill in what I didn't write. Recently I've instead tried using MS Word footnotes or highlighted comments to perform the same task. It seems to works better and faster for me than my old method, and I never miss a tag now.

Some potentially useful freeware* to make the most of your lunch hour at work (if your boss is okay with you using the company computer for personal stuff, naturally): Portable Scribus freeware is "a portable version of an open source page maker called Scribus, which is much like Adobe Pagemaker, which can help create professional looking documents, newsletters, magazines, etc. With Portable Scribus, you can put it on your USB drive, and plug it in to any computer, and leave not trace behind when you're done."

(A sidebar on Scribus: Author Jacques Centelles used Scribus to put together his lovely, photo-rich book on marine life, which you can read about it on the Scribus site here; there are also some notes on the site about another French author who actually published a book made with Scribus.)

Work out a scene timeline in your head or on paper before you write the actual scene. This is simply a way of sketching out the main events of a scene in sequence and in advance of the writing (organic writers may ignore this if it crowds them too much.) Example:

John takes Marcia home from Halloween party.

Marcia produces stolen, mystical diamond.

John informs Marcia that he is a cop.

Marcia attempts to run into her house.

John uses his half-demon powers to stop her.

Marcia gives John the diamond and insists it was planted on her.

John has precog vision and pulls Marcia into his arms.

Marcia's house explodes.


Finally, an interesting setting trick passed along from one of my high school students that can help those of us who struggle with fleshing out settings: you can furnish your character's house by cutting out bedroom, living room and diningroom sets from sale circulars in the Sunday paper or from furniture catalogs and taping them to pages in your novel notebook (historical writers may want to use images of period furniture taken off the internet.) If you don't like what's advertised, go to furniture stores and take photos of what you do like. If there's some element in the picture that you want to add or change, draw it in or tape in a replacement item. If you really want to get detailed, add paint, counter, rug and/or flooring chips from a home improvement store for each room. Now, how does all this save time? Before you write a scene in that room, look at the room pages in your notebook to refresh your memory about exactly how you planned it to look.

What have you found or invented recently that's helped you with your writing productivity? Let us know in comments.

*Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for the note on Scribus - I've been using it on Linux for a couple of years now and didn't spot the Windows port.

    The Gimp is another cross-platform tool (art, this time) and of course, OpenOffice is fantastic.

    By the way, Freemind is an excellent freeware mind mapping tool. I'm using it to plot the next Hal novel.

    I've mentioned it in my article on how to write a novel and added a couple of screenshots yesterday to explain how I use it.

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  2. John has precog vision and pulls Marcia into his arms.

    I hope he doesn't spend half an hour asking her if it's ok that he's going to touch her this time. :)

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  3. Anonymous4:40 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Work out a scene timeline in your head or on paper before you write the actual scene

    Exactly! That's how I write.

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  5. Above deleted comment was SPAM. It must be my week for getting them.

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  6. Writing productivity?
    There's always Fear.
    (If I don't get my rear in gear, I'll be 92 before anything sees print...)
    It works quite well...

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  7. It's strange, but with everything that's hit me SINCE the holidays (I was deliberately lazy through Christmas. We all need a sabbatical sooner or later), I've actually been getting more out of my writing time. I think it's because I have to take it when I can.

    That said, I'm hitting a hotel this weekend. Why? I'm back to working on a deadline.

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  8. SandyW10:25 AM

    I found a house listed on a local real estate web-site that had the feel of a house I was using as a setting. So I copied the description and saved the photos from the site. I ended up changing some things as I wrote, but it gave me a starting point and some great visuals. Easier than starting from scratch.

    Even better, I sometimes find myself spending too much time on names, especially for minor characters. My email has recently been clogged with ‘stock tips’ and ‘business advice’ spam, all of them from ‘real people.’ Just before I delete them, I copy the sender’s name into a text file. I currently have a list of over a hundred assorted names that I can quickly pick minor characters from. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it amuses me to actually get some practical use for spam.

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  9. I tag it in the manuscript like this: [describe Central Park in mid-winter] and move on. Later I would do a search for the [] brackets and fill in what I didn't write.

    I do the exact same thing, except I use parenthesis :-)

    My overall goal for each day is to make progress... even if I have to put such notes in there to make it through a scene, though I always try to get it all out the first time around. Whatever it takes!

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  10. I hope he doesn't spend half an hour asking her if it's ok that he's going to touch her this time. :)

    Geez, I hope so too otherwise there's going to be little left to touch.

    I'm going to have to try the [scene] thing, either with [] or with the MS word comments. I usually leave a ____ but I have a bad habit of forgetting them.

    Something that helps me plot out is thinking thru my book while i'm at the gym. i have to occupy my mind somehow while i'm on the frickin stair climber. evil machine. back to plotting, if I think things thru on the machine and work my way through the vague details of the book, it's easier when i sit down and write. plus it distracts from that evil machine.

    thinking about it and trying to plot out a little more has so far helped.

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  11. I use your visualization technique alot -- though not for the full novel -- usually it's just the current scene and the one following it.

    Also, I try to write whenever and wherever I can. I have a Palm Tungsten I use specifically for that. During slow periods at work, on the way to somewhere (I don't drive), at the doctor's office ... you name it, I've prolly done it. :) It helps the productivity immensely, but it also keeps me thinking about the story consistantly throughout my day. Sometimes I'll puzzle out plot problems while I'm doing really tedious stuff at work or at home. And that helps me move forward. :)

    Cheers,
    Erin K.

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  12. My tool for getting writing done: uh...you can get writing done? Hmm, maybe I should try that.

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  13. Fear and terror are great motivators, Bernita!

    Thanks, PBW! I find shutting my eyes and just typing helps when the going gets tough. It's good to have an arsenal of ideas to combat stalls. Then when one thing starts puttering to a halt, you can try another method.

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  14. I also watch tv (travel channel, food network, remodeling shows) for scenes to describe.

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  15. I tag it in the manuscript like this: [describe Central Park in mid-winter] and move on. Later I would do a search for the [] brackets and fill in what I didn't write.

    If I have to skip something altogether, I'll leave myself a comment in blue that says something like 'some type of black pants'. If I write something that just sounds crappy but I can't think of a way to write it better without disrupting my writing flow, or if I need to add more details after research, etc. I'll add a comment.

    I find this method gives me the best sense of the material in my read-throughs. This way I can hide all the comments to read the piece for rhythm, flow, etc. but I also know that I haven't completely forgotten to make the character wear pants.

    ...you can furnish your character's house by cutting out bedroom, living room and diningroom sets from sale circulars...

    I also used this technique during my plotting phase. I found that it really helped me get to know the characters and sometimes even gave me ideas for the characters that I might not have come upon another way. It's also something you can easily do anytime/place you have an internet connection (i.e. lunch break at work, etc.).

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