Time and Motion

These past couple of weeks I’ve been at home all day and able to dedicate some full-time effort to writing. I found the quantity of work I was doing fell short of my expectations and decided to investigate why.

The plan had been to work from 9am to 6pm – that’s 7 hours of hard work with 2 hours to be used for everything else. For two weeks I kept note of how every minute was spent between those two times using Daytum – a fairly clean and basic metric tracking website. This graph was the result. (Made with GoogleDocs, not Daytum).

These are the main things I took away from this exercise:

  • Good – I spend a third of my time writing fiction
  • Bad – I slack off an awful lot. Slacking consists of watching TV, laying around in the sunny garden, reading stuff that isn’t research or review material.
  • Good – if I cut out the slacking I can up the fiction writing portion of my time to half, approximately 4.5 hours a day.
  • Bad – I don’t get as much exercise as I should do. So little that it didn’t warrant its own section. It got lumped in with ‘other’, which also includes eating and travel.
  • Good – The ‘housewifing’ portion of my time is much smaller than I expected. I think I expected it to take longer because there’s a lot of tasks that fall under that heading – shopping, cleaning, tidying, chores, cooking. But each of these tasks tends to be quite small, generally less than half an hour.

There were a couple of other things, but I wanted to end on a ‘good’ and the rest is just me beating myself up over picky things, like the amount of time I spend on the internet and how long it seems to take me to compose even short blog posts.

This week’s goal is to cut the slacking time down  and get the fiction writing time up to 50%.

Wish me luck.

Negative space

In art, negative space is the space around the subject of the image. It is the shapes created by absence.

In Art class at high school I was rubbish at negative space. I was all about drawing what was there, not seeing what wasn’t there. In reading and writing I feel like my attitude is the exact opposite: I’m all about what’s missing; I don’t see what is there.

As a reader and fledgling reviewer of novels, I find that this focus on the negative space can often lead to negatively-skewed reviews, even for books I enjoy. In a novel, when something is done right it is transparent to the reader. The writing becomes a window straight through onto the story as it plays out in the reader’s imagination. Nobody notices the window. I don’t see the good stuff – I take it for granted. I do see the negative space around the good stuff. I see what’s missing, be it characterisation, clarity, plausibility, or that final proofread.

As a writer I have the same negative-space tendency. When I finished writing the first novel I’d considered fit for self-publishing it was only 39000 words. My goal had been over 50000. I gave my self fifty-thousand-times more kickings over the 11000 words I didn’t write than I gave myself kudos for the 39000 I did write. All this despite the fact I had told the tale I wanted to tell within that word count, the way I wanted to tell it. To get the 50000 words I would have had to write a novel that was 20% padding. This carries over into the process of writing too. If my goal for the day was three scenes and I write only two scenes, that one unwritten scene follows me around all evening and reproaches me.  It is a black hole sucking away my good opinion of myself. It is the negative space that I live in.

Thank <deity_of_choice> for chocolate.

Hydra of Creativity

The hydra was a seven headed creature of legend. Its most notable feature was when you cut off one of its heads, three more sprouted in its place.

Creativity is like that hydra; ideas are its heads. Vanquish one idea – by giving it form – and three more sprout in its place. Creativity cannot be exhausted. The more you use, the more you have.

Creativity doesn’t limit itself to one form or medium. To switch my metaphor: once creativity starts flowing freely it spills over into many channels.

A novel idea can lead to a dress design.

An art project suggests a short story.

Sometimes the link between the original idea and the new ideas that sprout can’t be clearly seen, but the ideas just keep on coming.

My main frustration as a creative personused to be that I didn’t have enough time to dedicate tomy creative endeavours. So I made more time. I create more than ever, but that just makes the ideas flow faster. And I still haven’t enough time.

Once the tide of ideas and possibilities pours forth it cannot be quenched. I can’t drink that ocean, but I can swim in it.

Accidental Life

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

A good quote from a fun movie. It’s especially applicable at the moment, because lately I’ve been looking around at my life and thinking “Wow, I got here in a hurry” and “This isn’t remotely where I intended to be or really want to be”.

Life moves faster and faster as you get older. School flows into college, which flows into university, which flows into a graduate job. With the latter two I was just so grateful that they wanted me that I didn’t deeply consider whether I really wanted them.

Going to uni and getting the job I did seemed like correct steps along the path to… something. Meanwhile I was dreaming dreams and using phrases like ‘when I grow up’ or ‘when I start my real life’.

Now I’m almost 30 and I’ve realised that every step I’ve progressed through my life so far has been, if not accidental, haphazard. I’ve accidentally ended up in a career that I have no investment in. Of course, now that I’ve realised this, remaining in the job I hate ceases to be an accident. If I stay it becomes a choice.

Time to make a change. Time to start again, to retrain, to rediscover what excites me and pursue it. Life moves pretty fast, but I’ve got the will and the moves to chase down and capture the life I want.


Research Obsessions

My mind is a greedy, hungry beast and it craves knowledge about all sorts of things. I can get obsessed with learning about certain things and can spend months just hunting down books and webpages on a single subject.

Nominally these research obsessions are in service of books yet unwritten: ideas in the formative stage that need to be fed on the genuine texture of peoples and places and times in order to come to fruition. However this excuse doesn’t justify the myriad and varied tangents that by research takes me down. In truth I love knowledge for its own sake. I’m an addict.

My current research obsession is 1930s Paris. The city of lights in a dark, dark time – between the Wall Street Crash and the Second World War. It is a time and place filled with interesting (and controversial) people, and a lot of them are women: Elsa Schiaparelli, Wallis Simpson, Coco Chanel, Anais Nin, Josephine Baker. I get the feeling that this current obsession will last quite a bit longer.

Etched Offerings

This week was a good week. I went from being an unpublished author to being twice published (OK – the second of these was self publishing, but still exciting).

More exciting is having been chosen to be published alongside many other talented fiction writers in Etched Offerings, an anthology of pagan-flavoured fiction.

The anthology is available on Amazon.com and Smashwords.

There are some awesome stories in this collection. Read as a group it is interesting to see the threads and themes that run between stories. One theme that I noticed in quite a few of the stories was the theme of ‘searching’, most often for answers, sometimes for love or for a killer. In most cases the search is rewarded, though not always in the way you’d expect.

My favourite stories in the anthology are the two that lean most heavily towards a specific genre.

Wolves, by Cory Thomas Hutcheson, is an out and out ghost story. The lights go out, a blizzard closes in, strange things start to happen.

Worst Place to Be, by Trevor Curtis, feels like pure noir. The hard-drinking paranormal PI is recruited onto a case by an ice-cold, well-dressed dame – he just knows it’s going to mean trouble.

My own story, Empty Places, is a story of a contemporary family going through a sad time, but it ends with hope.

Hurry to Smashwords and get yourself a copy. It’s worth the price to sample all of those talented writers.