Write Tip: 10 Tips For Finding Time To Write

One issue writers who work around dayjobs face is finding time to write. From job demands to family demands to everything else, it can be a real challenge. So how do you do it? Here’s some suggestions:

1) Write When You Can. Carry your laptop or notebook with you and write whenever you get a free moment. Whether it’s five or fifteen, such moments can add up and you’ll get more words than if you wait for the elusive big chunk of writing time which may never come.

2) Set Goals. It seems obvious but if you just write when you feel like it, you’re unlikely to be as productive as when you actually set goals. If you have a word count to meet, you have motivation to write. So set goals and work hard to accomplish them.

3) Treat Your Writing Like A Job. Can’t find time to write? What if you tried telling your boss that? If you’re serious about writing, you have to treat it like a job. Especially if you aspire to a career as a writer. That means setting aside time somehow and sticking to a schedule. It means being disciplined. It may require you to get family members on board so they won’t interrupt you during this time or will at least respect your goals for it. It will certainly require you to act like that time is work time and be productive.

4) Make A Time Budget. A time budget is a spreadsheet of your entire week, 24 hours a day, where you record all the ways you use your time. Some items have set times, like work hours, which must be blocked off. Others are more flexible. Start by blocking out what you absolutely must do, then see how much time is left and start blocking in other things you’d like to accomplish. If writing and reading are important, make time for them, then stick to it. Even if writing time isn’t an issue for you right now, making a time budget might be a good exercise. You’ll be surprised how much time you waste every week which could be put to better use.

5) Write With Others. Google+ has reminded many writers how productive peer group writing can be. You not only get to network and fellowship a bit, but the pressure of hearing clicking keys during writing time is a great motivator. Even greater is the encouraging support when you check in about word counts. Writing in a group setting like this can really be quality time.

6) Submit Your Work. Okay, you have to write it first yet, but the greatest way to encourage yourself to keep writing is to get positive feedback, especially when you sell a story. When someone else actually thinks what you’re doing is good enough to publish, it’s a huge motivation to set aside time so you can write more.

7) Use Beta Readers or Critique Groups. Unlike submitting your work, where you might get form rejections instead of feedback, working with beta readers and critique groups gets you guaranteed feedback. Some may be negative, but inevitably some will be positive too, and just knowing someone enjoyed what you did tells you you’re on the right track and motivates you to keep going. Finding time to write is easier when you know someone appreciates the results.

8 ) Hang Out With Writers. Even hanging out with writer friends without any specific writing time group goals is a great motivator to write. Hearing about their projects and accomplishments makes you want to have some of your own. After all, who wants to be the only one without a great new brag to share?

9) Learn To Say ‘No!’ One of the biggest obstacles to writing time is overcommitting yourself. Don’t do it. Learn to say ‘no,’ one of the first words most babies learn. If you don’t leave time for your writing, you can’t write. Set priorities and make writing one of them.

10) Reward Yourself For Success. If you meet your word count goal or writing time goal, reward yourself. It may be an ice cream cone or buying that special book you’ve been craving after a period of success. Whatever the prize, find ways to reward yourself as positive reinforcement for sticking to your goals. Ultimately, the greatest reward will come in other ways but you have to finish the book or story first. 

There they are, 10 Tips For Finding Writing Time. I hope these help you with your writing goals. What are some ways you find time to write? Please add to the list in the comments below.

F0r what it’s worth…

Write Tip: 7 Tips For Being A Good Beta Reader

One of the things I’ve learned in the past year from working with editors and beta readers is how important a role these folks play in the creative success of any published product. Now there are good editors and bad editors, good beta readers and bad beta readers. I’ve been lucky with my editors so far but had a few beta readers who left things to be desired. (Actually my current crop are fantastic but took a while to find them.)

What you need to understand as a beta reader is that the author needs your focus and honesty to make a good book or story. In fact, without you, the story can’t be all it can be, so you’re actually participating in the creative process and can have huge influence over the final product. If it’s good–and even better because of your thoughtful attention–you can proudly brag about that, and I’m sure the author will credit you in the Acknowledgements as well.

So what does it take to be a good beta reader? Here’s Seven Tips:

1. Pay Attention. You need to read with focused care. Note everything that engenders a response in you. You don’t necessarily have to report them all in your notes, but pay attention, nonetheless, and analyze how that works as you assess the story. Because the author needs to know what works, what doesn’t, etc. This requires you to read with more effort and thought than you might be used to. So it may challenge you. But it will also enrich your reading life in later efforts by teaching you to look at things more deeply in ways you hadn’t imagined.

2. Ask Questions And Seek Answers. If you have unanswered questions or are confused, those are the first notes the author needs. Often we’re so wrapped up in our story with all its details, we don’t realize we’ve underexplained things or done so in a convoluted way. We desperately need you to point it out to us. And we’re thankful when you do. Sometimes what seems perfectly clear to us won’t be to you. This has happened many times editing my novel, and I’m always grateful for those chances to make it better.

3. If You Get Annoyed, Let Me Know. If I over explain or over foreshadow and ruin the surprise, I need to know. I need to know what bores or annoys you. You’re smart enough to realize when it was unintentional, so tell me, because I need to know.

4. Offer Me A Little Praise Too. I’m nervous and excited to put my work out into the world. I need to know the bad stuff, yes. But it’s also helpful to know what you liked. What made you laugh or smile? What surprised you in a good way? What made you want to shout and read it to someone else? Those things matter, and hey, the process is so long, I need the encouragement to keep going. Please let me know.

5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Hurting My Feelings. If I ask you to beta, I am giving you carte blanche to be honest. I need it to make my work all it can be. If I asked, you’re probably someone I trust or at least whose opinion I value enough to believe you can help. And although some of your notes may frustrate me, I won’t take it personally or hold it against you because I need your help. And in the long run, my writing will be better for it not just with this project, but every project to follow.

6. Take good notes. Either on the manuscript itself or via comments in Microsoft Word or on paper. Whatever the case note page and paragraph numbers and be as detailed as you can. The more you give the author, the more helpful your notes will be and the more impressed and grateful the author will be for your time and effort.

7. Check your political, religious and other opinions at the door. You should do this any time you read if you want to actually be informed by the experience. If you are only reading to reinforce existing opinions, your goal is not to grow. Being a beta reader is a challenge, growth is inherent for both you and the writer. It is liberating to set aside preconceived ideas and look at things in a new light, through someone else’s eyes. Reading it fairly doesn’t mean you have to agree or change your mind. But if you intend to help the author, you cannot operate under your own prejudices. Writers are human, our own biases do shape how we see the world and how we project it in our writing, no matter how hard we try to avoid it or how often some deny it. But it’s not your book. The beta reader’s responsibility is fair feedback, untouched by bias, to help the author make his or her book the best of theirs that it can be.

Well those are my seven. No list is perfect. But if you take my advice, you’ll have good success as a beta reader and probably get lots of chances to read stuff before anyone else. How cool is that?

For what it’s worth…

Call For Beta Readers: The Returning

After learning from other novelists about how they do beta reading, I’ve decided to try and recruit beta readers to read as I write. The novel in question is the sequel to my forthcoming first novel, “The Worker Prince.” This book, titled “The Returning” is a space opera epic with a touch of thriller, murder mystery and political intrigue.

The basic premise is that after the workers (Vertullians) achieve citizenship and freedom from years of slavery, someone is killing them off, one at a time and stirring up questions amongst both workers and their former enemies, the Borali Alliance about whether they can all live together in peace. Our hero, Davi Rhii, former Borali prince, now a Captain in the Borali military, is sent to investigate the murders and report back to the Council of Lords. In the meantime, he faces a personal challenge in his developing relationship with Tela as their parents pressure them to marry and Tela resists his attempts to keep her safe. Aron, the first ex-worker to serve on the Council of Lords, has proposed making the worker religious holiday, The Returning, an official Alliance holiday to encourage a sense of unity, but now that plan is stirring up controversy. Meanwhile, Davi’s exhiled Uncle Xalivar is content on regaining his power as High Lord Councilor of the Borali Alliance.

Beta readers will recieve a chapter at a time. I am using the system developed by AJ Hartley at www.magicalwords.net. Readers will read the chapter on either Word file or paper and mark passages using the following system:

A=Awesome. Something about this just blew me away. Excellent.
B=Bored now.
C=Confused. He said what? The people of Anth believed in what? He can get out of the rabbit burrow because…? Huh?
D=Don’t care. Ten pages on minor character’s lineage? So what? Yeah, I’m sure it’s really clever and all but… I’ve got QVC to watch.
You only need to mark the passages which evoke one of the four responses listed. Total honesty is requested. Don’t worry about offending me. It’s first draft–a lot of work will be needed before it ever sees a publisher’s desk. And detailed explanations won’t be demanded, although they can be helpful when offered. This allows me to get a sense of how you respond to the manuscript. I prefer people who have not read book 1 because I need a sense of how well I am trickling out the back story. Is it too much, too little?
I am writing about a chapter a week (22 pages on average). I would hope you could read each chapter within 2-3 weeks and get back to me. I can’t pay you except to say I will acknowledge you in the book when it’s published and I can offer you a free copy. 
If anyone’s willing, please get in touch. My beta readers on the first book said it captured the feel of “Star Wars: A New Hope” and really liked it. I hope you’ll enjoy this as well. You’ll be helping me write a better book and I’ll also throw in a free e-copy of book 1 when you’re done if you want.
Thanks for taking time to consider it and for your support of my work and this blog!

Critiquing Protocols

Criticism is a part of life. It’s even more so a part of the writer’s life. From readers to editors to agents, opinions are everywhere, and sometimes it can be hard to process them and keep from having a part of yourself crushed under all that weight. Even worse, so many times you never get to hear those opinions. They just reject your work, that’s all you know. That’s one reason why critique groups are invaluable. First, they help you polish your work. Second, they help you test reader reactions. Third, you can learn by critiquing and reading as well and see what other writers are doing. Fourth, networking.

However, there is a certain protocol involved and some people seem to have a hard time learning it.

1) In offering critiques, keep the sarcasm to yourself. Comments like “Oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding me! You expect me to buy that?” are not appropriate (actually heard that one once). They are not supportive or encouraging, and they add nothing of value to help the writer improve their work. Be honest, would you like it if you got a response like that?

2) Be careful to avoid applying your own assumptions and bias too heavily to another writer’s work, especially when they are writing from a culture or perspective far different from your own. For example, I researched and wrote a short story about illegals crossing the US-Mexico border who deal with the Border Patrol and aliens. Because of my concern for accurate portrayals, I had the story read by a friend in the Border Patrol, Mexican friends, even an illegal. They helped me ensure I was fair and unbiased and got the facts right. But I had several critiquers (white) who suggested it was racist. And they also said the Border Patrol stuff was unrealistic. None live on the Border. None had any connection to Mexico or immigrants. They just read into it with their own assumptions and called me out. It was annoying, unhelpful and frustrating.

For example, I don’t like stories with a lot of foul language or graphic sex of any kind. I have to read them in my secular critique group, and if I think it will limit salability, I mention that. But beyond that, I leave it be. I would never write that. In fact, I think it shows a lack of creative effort. Shock tactics have been so over done, people are numb. If you can’t use your creativity to find more colorful words to tell your story than four letter ones, you’re not trying hard enough. But I don’t penalize writers for that opinion. I just apply it to my own work and my purchasing choices at the book store.

It’s okay to say, this bothered me because… It’s okay to suggest something was unclear… It’s okay to say you’re worried something might come off negatively which wasn’t intended… But give the writer the benefit of the doubt and be helpful. Don’t insult their intelligence by implying you know more when you don’t know what experience or research they have to back it up.

3) Find as many good things to say as bad if at all possible. I always point out things I liked from creative descriptions or snippets of dialogue that stand out to characterizations, etc. And if I think the story has potential for development, I tell them so. If it doesn’t I don’t, but I want to at least leave them feeling I appreciate something about their work.

4) Critique others’ work if you expect them to critique yours. Don’t join the group, submit a bunch of work, then sit back and wait for people to edit it for you. Get your hands dirty and read theirs. Offer them feedback. And do it in a way you’d want someone to critique yours (per the protocols listed above).

There’s probably more I could get into but I think these are the essentials, and, if followed, will enable you to have a good and productive critique group experience for all involved. After all, the purpose of critique groups is to help each other improve and grow. If it doesn’t accomplish that, it’s not worth investing the time.

For what it’s worth…