What would Neil Gaiman do?

Procrastination. Most of us do it sometimes. I have a sneaky suspicion that people who never procrastinate are actually robots. Sometimes you put things off because you don’t have enough information to move forward, and a bit of work or time will do the trick. Sometimes though the problem is internal, it’s about how we feel about our work and the stories we’re telling ourselves about how rubbish we are and how we’ll never do xyz. I’ve got a new game to help with this, and it’s called What Would Neil Gaiman Do?* You can probably guess how it goes. When you’re curled up in a ball in the corner of your bedroom rocking and wailing that you caaaaaaaant write! (this counts if you’re doing it mentally too), stop for a moment and just notice what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Take a breath. Then ask, what would Neil Gaiman do? My imaginary Neil Gaiman does sometimes wail and clutch at his hair in a comedy manner. Sometimes he even sulks and watches bad films for the rest of the day. Mostly though, he has a quiet word with himself, along the lines of, ‘This is silly, Neil. You know you can do this. Look, here’s a biscuit. Eat it at the desk. Sit down. Good boy.’ Or he goes for a long walk and mulls over the tricky plot point and comes back ready to go. Or he wonders what might make this more fun and adds a dinosaur scientist to the story. Rooooaaaaaaaar! He knows that it’s just his head getting temporarily in the way, that none...

Stop feeling guilty about wanting to write

A lot of us seem to feel that we shouldn’t be wasting our time on writing and that it’s selfish. We feel bad because of all the other things we should be doing with our time, more worthy things. This is particularly a problem when we start to feel like our work will never go anywhere anyway, that we’re only justified in wanting to write if there’s the certainty of publication at the end. Well, I have a couple of questions about that way of thinking…   Let’s stop feeling guilty and just enjoy...

Setting writing goals isn’t enough. What do you need to actually reach them?

If you’ve known me a while you’ll know I love a good goal (2015 writing planner anyone?). Actually I think they’re essential if you want to live a fulfilling life. You can just drift about waiting for interesting stuff to happen to you and end up wondering where the years went, or you can work out what you really want to do/have/be next and take steps to get there. There’s just one problem. A goal alone won’t get you very far. The existence of the goal doesn’t magically mean that book will get completed, that you’ll be a better writer at the end of the year, or that you’ll make hundreds of sales. So what makes the difference between achieving your goals (or making good progress at least) and that sinking feeling of failure at the end of the year? Habits.   It’s not that you shouldn’t have big goals (you absolutely should), but even when they’re broken down into small steps the scale of the task ahead can be overwhelming. What would happen if, knowing that you had a goal of writing a novel this year, you put that aside entirely and focused all of your energy on writing 500 words (or doing equivalent work) every day? We have a tendency to think that we need to make big progress every time we pick something up to make it worthwhile, but if you were to sit and write just 500 words every day Monday to Saturday, you wouldn’t have written enough words for a novel draft by the end of the year. You’d have enough for two. The...

Be the hero of your own novel (and by novel I mean life)

I’ve been thinking recently about how the roller coaster of writing is a little like the ups and downs a novel’s protagonist goes through. So what can you learn from storytelling about being the hero of your own journey, whether that’s writing your novel or, well, living your life fully?   1. Be proactive Writing a passive protagonist (Hi, Fanny Price, I’m looking at you) is a great shortcut to a boring novel that it’s pretty hard to care about. We’re told to write active characters, to have them actually do something that affects the story’s outcome, but sometime’s we’re rubbish heroes in real life and act more like the dowdy friend who just sits in the corner. Want to write a novel? Want to move to Australia? Want to find love? Guess what, you have go out there and do it. It’s easier to float along and let things happen to you, but you’re the one in charge of your own life. Don’t be a Fanny (sorry, I couldn’t resist). You get to decide what happens… so what are you going to do?   2. It’s okay not to be perfect Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you’re flawless. FAR FROM IT. It would be lovely if you got up an hour early every day and knocked 1,000 words out, exercised, then arrived at work feeling all cheerful and fulfilled. Hahahahahahahhaha. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t written for six months, don’t have a creative writing MA, aren’t going to writing events, that most of what you write feels like utter nonsense and that you’re kind of crabby in the morning. You don’t have to be perfect (heroes rarely are), you just need to...

Beat procrastination with one simple question

Sometimes I put off writing (I don’t have the answer to something, my room is too cold, I don’t like my main character, doing a synopsis is EVIL, any reason big or small), and then time passes and another week has gone by and I’ve still done nothing. You know you’ve done it too. Then a coach asked me a very simple question: what would it take to make this feel delicious? Because, she said, if it feels awful you’ll keep putting it off, but if you look for ways of making it feel better it will, er, be nicer to do. The woman is a genius.     The thing that would make your current writing problem feel better might be something practical like buy myself a better chair or more vague, perhaps know where my story is going. What you’re aiming for is something that’s do-able and specific, so I’ve asked two bonus questions designed to get you from, ooh that sounds lovely to practical steps you can take right now that will help things feel easier and better. Sometimes it’s little things that will shake things out and let us move forward again, but if you’ll need much bigger changes then at least you know what it will take and how to get there. Then you can get on with your writing and the world will be a happier place. So. What would make your writing feel amazing? And what can you do today to get a little bit of that feeling?   For me? I needed to let go of the big picture and let myself doodle with words, ask questions and find...

What kind of writer are you?

Do you frolic, freely but aimlessly, in the flowered meadows of your imagination? Or are you sobbing into your pillows after yet again failing to find the Muse in the dark caverns of your soul?   Find out what type of writer you are with this highly scientific* quiz. *totally and utterly made-up. No scientists were harmed in the making of this quiz.   How do you approach planning? A) Planning? What’s that? B) Well, I do a lot of thinking and dreaming, and I kind of know what’s going to happen. In fact I’m sure I wrote some notes somewhere *rummages under chair* C) Colour-coded story arcs, chapters mapped out, character sheets completed before a word goes on the page, check!   When do you tend to write? A) Whenever inspiration strikes, often late into the night B) When I can face sitting down and doing it, much less often than I’d like to C) At consistent times of the day with reasonable regularity   What’s your writing style? A) Lots of dialogue and action B) Plenty of description – this is literature, I want people to feel it, to see it! C) A bit of a mix   What’s your biggest problem with writing? A) I run out of steam part way through the story B) I’m constantly struggling with feelings of inadequacy and continually edit or re-start what I’ve written C) Actually starting to write   How do you feel about other people?: A) I’m pretty sociable B) *hides in corner* C) I like them a lot but I couldn’t eat a whole one   Scroll...