The Longest Writer’s Journey

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” –Matsuo Basho

When I started writing I often wondered how anyone managed to write a novel. They’re typically anything from seventy to a hundred and fifty thousand words and that’s a lot of words even on the short end. As it turned out the first thing I wrote was novel length and although it’s never been published (I’m saving it to be “discovered” by my fans after I’m dead!) it turned out that it wasn’t as hard as it seemed. Just keep putting in the time, day after day and you get there eventually.

More Than A Word count

Then I started to question the plot and structure. How could I make sure that what I was writing was actually interesting and made sense. That was harder than achieving a word count and I started to realize that writing is about more than just accumulating words. So I started reading various books and articles on how to write. I studied fiction I’d already read to work out how they did things. I started redrafting pieces I’d already done; polishing and tweaking bit by bit until I was happier with them.

Beat Your Characters Into Submission

Then I started to obsess about characters. How could I make them feel real, make them engaging, self-consistent, motivated and a natural fit for the story? Back to the research. I looked at character archetypes, the hero’s journey, psychology, quirks and internal and external motivations. Characters are funny things. I find they have a habit of trying to take control of the story and move it their own way, so you have to keep beating them into submission.  I suggest a bullwhip, or at the very least a cat o’nine tails.

The Nitty-gritty

After that I started to worry about details. Was my dialog working for the character; was it fulfilling the right need for the plot? Was my world self-consistent, logical, and rich? These took much longer to get to grips with. For one thing they’re highly subjective, so the advice I found was often contradicted by other well-intentioned and plausible advice. But again I’ve worked on it. I now have a redrafting procedure with built-in checkpoints designed to pinpoint my weak areas.

Never Let It Go

I’ve been working on all of this for over ten years now. Sometimes I’ve felt lost, sometimes overwhelmed. I’ve often not felt like a writer (something many writers seem to suffer from) and I’ve wondered sometimes if I really know how to be a writer. One thing I can honestly say though, is that I’ve never stopped enjoying it. I love writing and even if I won the lottery tomorrow I’d never stop not even if no one ever read what I wrote. Deep inside I know that I have something to say, and at some point, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon and for the rest of your life.”(hmm that sounds kinda familiar…) someone will connect and a special kind of magic will happen, the way it for me did when I read my favorite authors.

Good things take time, whether it’s writing or anything else. Billy Gibbons once said that ZZ Top were an overnight success – it just took fifteen years to get there. There will always be people who will try to tell you that you can’t accomplish something, that you’re no good, have no talent or worse – but they’re wrong; it just takes effort, dedication and love. It takes time to develop skills and become accomplished at anything worthwhile. If you love something, don’t let it go – keep doing it and do it the best that you possibly can

Some of the resources that helped me:

  • Plot and Structure – James Scott Bell
  • Conflict and Suspense – James Scott Bell
  • Revision and Self-editing – James Scott Bell
  • The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman
  • Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass
  • The Craft Of Writing Science Fiction That Sells – Ben Bova
  • How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy – Orson Scott Card
  • Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint – Orson Scott Card
  • The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – Chrispher Vogler

Taming technology to help focus your day

Although technology can be very empowering, it can also be a huge time sink. Anyone who’s been sucked into that black hole of “just a little web research,” only to emerge dark eyed,  emaciated and unshaven (especially the ladies…) several days later will attest to the eon-gulping world of the web/social media. Einstein’s theories say that time slows down near a an extremely large mass or when traveling close to the speed of light – but he didn’t mention internet time dilation!

The problem is that there’s just so much to look at. Like the tale of “The Elephant’s Child” many of us are filled with that “satiable curiosity” and find it hard to resist that urge to click. Just.One.More.Link. Hell it’s like peanuts, only worse. The ultimate in “got the nibbles” syndrome, the Satan Mekratrig of time-sucks.

So what do you do?

Well, you could try determination and plenty o’spit, but sometimes focus needs a little help.

So, first thing. Switch off the TV, radio, phone, cellphone  or anything else that can lead to distraction. Then switch off the internet.

OMG!!! I can hear the gasps already. Switch.It.Off? But I NEED it.

Okay, you have a choice – do you want to write distraction free or spend the next thirteen zillion hours looking at cute pictures of babies dancing with cats? Take a deep breath. You probably don’t need to actually switch it off, but rather control it. Here’s how I do it.

If you’re running a “modern” operating system on your computer like Windows/OSX/Linux. Then you can almost certainly set up a new user account. Set one up now and call it something creative like “Writing” or “The Muse” or “Mighty-Lord-Asheronix-Who-Smites-The-Distracted.”

Doing this gives you a completely fresh desktop with its own settings, wallpaper, style etc. When you set up this account make sure you give it no password (or at least a very simple one). Also set your regular account to have a password that’s complex enough that you have to think a little to get it right.

Once you’ve done that, delete all the shortcut icons on your desktop leaving only the ones directly related to writing. Mine, for example, has just six icons. Scrivener, SmartEdit, Calibre, Firefox and a couple of custom pieces of software I wrote to help me. (Tip: if you’re in your “writing” account, you may need to switch back to your regular account temporarily to get rid of some icons).

So what you’ve done is created a distraction-free environment especially set up for your writing needs. Also, because the writing account has no password and your regular account has a complex one, you’re less likely to be tempted to switch back.

Now take control of the internet itself. There are many ways of doing this, from installing apps to control when and where you can access other programs to browser plugins. How you do this will depend on what level of distraction you suffer from. For me a simple browser based-block was enough.

I use Firefox as my browser and found a free add-on called Leechblock. This allows you to control what sites you can access and when. On my writing account I blocked all sites except a short “permissio” list. If I type in the URL for anything else like Twitter or Facebook it blocks the request and takes me to my writing website as a reminder. Importantly, set a complicated password for accessing the blocker too; I recommend a random one that’s almost impossible to remember. This way you won’t feel tempted to switch it off “just for a minute.”

Other browsers have the same features available, either by default or through addons/plugins. Do a search for “how to block websites” or “web access control” and the name of your browser and you should find them pretty easily. Note also that blocking the sites on your “writing” account won’t block them on your regular account, so when you switch back you’ll have full access again.

Now, pour a big steaming cup o’coffee. Sit down and start writing in distraction-free bliss.

Links:

Create a new user account (Windows): http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/create-user-account#create-user-account=windows-7

Firefox: http://www.firefox.com

Leechblock: http://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/leechblock/

Block site (Chrome): https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/block-site/

How to block (Internet Explorer): http://www.guidingtech.com/3274/block-certain-websites-internet-explorer/

Although I talk about focusing on writing here, the same ideas can be used for other activities. If you have any tips of your own, please leave a comment.

 

 

Asteroids, planets and (of course!) Ceres

My new novel is set around a hundred years into the future, with human colonies established in space within the solar system. I want to make the space travel plausible ,so I’ve been researching interplanetary travel times, planetary and asteroid orbits. It’s taken quite a lot of work as I haven’t been able to find any good resources that allow me to easily see how things “fit together”. It’s a bit like writing a thriller set in New York and not being able to find a decent street map.

What makes it worse is that everything in space moves in three dimensions and not only that the relative positions change with time. Imagine writing about New York in ten years time and Grand Central Station isn’t next door to the Hyatt Hotel any more, or that Brooklyn is now in Florida!

NASA’s Jet propulsion laboratory provides a huge amount of this type of information through its databases, but the interface is a little slow and cumbersome (you can only see one orbital track at a time) making it a bit of a trudge to find everything; so much so that I’ve actually been contemplating creating my own 3D visualization tool. But after several days poring through numerous orbital tracks I’ve found what I need.

Much of what I’ve researched won’t make it into the novel. It;s just to ensure that it’s (reasonably) realistic. I’m assuming certain extrapolations on propulsion technologies but other than that it will reflect reality.

It would be a lot easier to write fantasy (anything goes), and even much of today’s science fiction seems to be more “fiction” than “science” (let’s just assume pigs can fly). It would also be a lot more straightforward to write present day thrillers where you know where everything is and it doesn’t really change much.

Although this research is for my next novel, I’ve realized that it’s also relevant to the first one in the series that I’m currently editing. Book one is Earth-based but there are a couple of details that the newer research impacts on albeit only slightly so I ‘ll correct these in my revisions.

My research week has happened in the shadow of the NASA Dawn probe reaching orbit around Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. This is a historic achievement (the probe, not my research!) being the first time anything has been placed in orbit around a dwarf planet and also the first time a space probe has orbited two extraterrestrial objects – first asteroid Vesta and now Ceres itself. Although not central to my writing, it’s still thrilling to know that as I’m working these real life events things are unfolding, providing me with even more inspiration to “get things right”.

Author interview

An author interview? Gulp. Please be gentle with me, it’s my first time.

Kat at Pukah Works invited me to do an author interview on her website after we chatted a few times on Twitter and Facebook. We initially met through the indie writer section on Goodreads and she has been a great friend, passing on numerous tips on how to better approach social media – something that’s really not my forté.

The interview is full of insights and hidden secrets about my writer’s life; deep, dark secrets that should never be revealed except in private over a warm cup of coffee heavily laced with Baileys.

Author Interview – David M Kelly http://wp.me/p4Uq5a-jg

Thank you Kat!

Reboot – free today!

My science fiction short story, Reboot,  is free today on Amazon. Enjoy!

Reboot-Cover-webWith global systems under attack from cyber-terrorists, public protests rising, and his job under threat, Commissioner Bellarbi needs answers fast…

Mayrum Casteneda, the legendary founder of the Authority, is a relic from a bygone age who definitely doesn’t suffer fools. She might just be the only person who can help, but is the solution buried too deep?