No More Excuses About Writing. Fire The Muse And Go To Work.

At Harrogate Crime Festival last year, I heard Lee Child being interviewed on his incredibly successful Jack Reacher series.

hard hat area

When asked about his writing process, Lee mentioned being like a trucker. A trucker doesn’t get up in the morning and wonder whether or not to get in the truck and do his job. He just does, and off he drives. So, Lee said, he just gets in his version of the truck and writes. It’s a job, just do it.

This workman attitude also resonates through Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Turning Pro,’ which sits on my desk and which I re-read every new year.

In today’s guest post, author Anthony St Clair expounds on this theme, opening with a casual chat that sparked the idea.

“So, you what, sit down and wait for the muse?”

My father-in-law’s question made sense. A master electrician and project manager, he heads up the installation of massive industrial electrical systems. But when he asked me about how I write and work, something clicked.

“No,” I replied. “When you get down to it, my job actually has a lot more in common with yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“I view writing as less of an art and more of a craft or trade,” I said. “The ‘electrician muse’ doesn’t need to show up so you can do your job. You get up every day, put on your hard hat, and get it done.”

“I always thought writers need to be inspired.”

“Not anymore than you do, really,” I replied. “You plan out big projects and work on them piece by piece, day by day, until the larger whole is done. It’s the same for me. I plan out a project in advance. Then in the moment I deal with what’s happening on the page in a scene. I don’t wait for the muse. I don’t need a muse. I know what I need to do, so I work at it every day until the book is done.

This small chat between me and my father-in-law evolved my understanding of my writing and of my role as an author entrepreneur. Over the past year I’ve published 2 books and have a third coming out later this year. All my stories are based in an ongoing, non-sequential series that already has more material than I could write in one lifetime. And 5-6 days a week I get up, put on my metaphorical hard hat, and go to work.

It’s easy to think of fields like electrical work or plumbing as being inferior to writing. They’re not.

As John W. Gardner, former president of the Carnegie Corporation, once said:

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

The same holds for writing. So today I’m going to share four things that help me get my writing done. My goal here is to help you kick the habit of the muse and inspiration, and to motivate you to show up, write, and get it done, every day, in the manner that works best for you.

Put on your hard hat and go to work

Authors have an ongoing destructive love affair with the idea of the solitary, spontaneous creative binge. Our media love it too. You know how it goes:

OMG. Jane McWriterpants had this brilliant idea, locked herself in her room, drank 4 bottles of scotch and 20 pots of coffee, didn’t eat for 3 days, and came out Monday morning with a finished book. And did you see how many zeroes were on the check a publisher had sent her as an advance by lunchtime?

Isn’t that a great story? It’s something else: nonsense.

Architects don’t design buildings overnight. New houses aren’t built over a long weekend because the carpenter had a brilliant dream about lumber. Writers are no different.

At best, the spontaneous creative binge is an outlier. Mostly it’s just a lie.

It’s like the muse, which trips up many writers. The muse is counterproductive. You don’t need one. If the muse doesn’t show up to work every day, then fire the muse and keep showing up yourself.

Getting your book done means making it happen every day. Just like a building, there’s a lot to do. Part of your job is breaking down a massive project like a book into smaller pieces that you can work on every day, according to your needs and schedule, until you arrive at the end of the story.

Plan

Another lie of the spontaneous creative binge is that no planning is required. Some authors can pull this off. One of the best modern examples is Tom Robbins, who famously writes with no plan, but word by word follows the story until he’s done. You can just about typeset his first draft.

You are not him.

At least, I know I’m not. I’ve tried to just sit down and write. I fail. Most writers fail. Then they think they can’t write at all.

All that matters in writing is understanding—and applying—what works for you. What works for me is meticulous planning, but it’s also the planning that helps me be creative, find insights, and take new directions.

Planning a book does not mean an inflexible, unwieldy outline. Nor does it mean you have to know every minor character’s first job and second cousin. Planning a book means you have enough of an idea of what your book is about, who is part of the story, and why the story needs to be told, so that you can get up every day and keep making the book happen.

Believe it or not, planning also means being flexible.

Deal with what comes up on the job

Planning is important, but things don’t always go according to plan.

This is similar to working through problems on a construction site. You can have all the blueprints and meetings in creation, but until you’re actually working on the site with the real materials, you don’t know how things are going to go. You have a plan to rely on, but you also have to expect changes, be flexible, and adapt.

Each of my three books had points in the manuscript where what the story needed to do was not what I originally planned. I had to make changes not only to what I was working on, but sometimes to parts already written and parts I hadn’t written yet

Changes make me grateful for all the planning I’ve done. When I get to something that needs to change from what I originally planned, I can roll with it, adjust other parts of the story as needed, and keep going. By knowing in advance where I think the story will go, I can adapt when the story turns in a different direction.

Get it done

As Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “Real artists ship.” Here’s what he meant: you can tweak and rework forever unless you stop yourself and decide you have reached a point where the book is good enough to release.

Or to put it another way, popular in American culture, “Get it done.”

We can wring our hands forever about a piece having flaws. Then an old journalism adage reminds us: “Done is better than perfect.”

It’s true.

Our job is to tell our stories truly and wholly, and to the best of our ability. If we can say confidently that we’ve done that, then it’s time to write “THE END” and celebrate.

Then it’s time to go through the next steps of getting the story into the world—beta readers, editors, designers, you name it. But for now, fire the muse.

Make your book part of your every day. Get it done.

Do this, and you stand a far greater chance of getting your flawed but finished story out into the world.

You can always do a better job on the next book.

And you will.

How do you get your writing work done when inspiration doesn’t strike? Please share your thoughts below in the comments and join the conversation.

home sweet roadGlobetrotter, homebrewer and writer Anthony St. Clair has walked with hairy coos in the Scottish Highlands, choked on seafood in Australia, and watched the full moon rise over Mt. Everest in Tibet. Anthony’s travels have also taken him around the sights and beers of Thailand, Japan, India, Canada, Ireland, the USA, Cambodia, China and Nepal. He and his wife live in Oregon and gave their son a passport for his first birthday. His latest book is Home Sweet Road, out now on Amazon and other ebook stores.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons hard hat area by Jason Eppink

Writing Fiction: 5 Lessons From Game Of Thrones

Game of Thrones fever is at its peak as Season 4 finally hits the screens.

game of thronesWe haven’t had a TV for years now, but in the last few months, we’ve watched the whole series, glued to the drama of Westeros and the battle for the Iron Throne.

As a viewer, I have been addicted to the story, and as a writer, I bow my head to a master story creator and world builder. It must be the ambition of every creative to see their work loved as widely as Game of Thrones now is. The adaptation to screen is fantastic, creating new fans outside the realms of the fantasy genre and drawing more into the books.

Even if you haven’t watched it, here are my lessons learned from the fantastic books and TV series.

(1) High stakes = excitement, anticipation and addiction in your audience

The stakes can’t get much higher than those fought over in this saga, and it keeps viewers hooked as the plot ratchets up all men must dieeach episode. The stakes include:

  • Control of the Iron Throne which guides all the battles. Who will rule the Seven Kingdoms?
  • Life and death. The body count is truly incredible, with no character safe from the executioner’s axe. Each character is fighting for survival – against the other families, against the cold and the supernatural forces of the north, against their own kind. Favorite characters are killed off all the time, and the shock of their deaths makes the uncertainty of existence ever more real.
  • Family honor. What use is your life if you haven’t upheld the honor of the family?
  • Religion. As the Lord of Light seems nascent, the followers of the Seven, as well as the Old Gods still fight for their believers.

(2) Take the audience out of their lives for a time

Life is hard, and in Westeros, life is even harder. To watch, or to read, is to live vicariously in a world where most die by the sword, or by the hand of famine, or war. To be immersed in this story is to leave behind a mundane commute, a row with a partner or child, a hated job and financial worries, even for just an hour.

Adding a supernatural element enhances this ‘other-worldliness.’ Who doesn’t like dragons? and particularly cute baby ones daeneryswho emerge from the flames on the beautiful naked body of Daenerys?

How about a demon shadow assassin born from the body of the Red Woman? Or the White Walkers, the undead?

(3) Give everyone a character to root for

There’s a character for everyone in Game of Thrones, whatever your gender, age or sexual appetite.

I write about kick-ass women in my own fiction, so I was thrilled to find lots of strong women in the saga. Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, is much more than a pretty blonde. ‘Drakarys,’ she says, and men are burned to dust. Arya Stark and Brianne of Tarth, feisty women who fight. I even find Ceisei Lannister, the evil Queen, fascinating, unflinching from murder, incest and lust.

There are interesting characters like Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, a dwarf whose arc moves from being a lecherous drunk into running the kingdom, loving and being hurt. I’ve read more of the books, so I won’t say where he ends up …

(4) Create humorous breaks in the carnage

The audience needs time to breathe, a moment of calm and a smile in between the bloodshed. Shakespeare did this so well in his tragedies, and George RR Martin does the same, creating funny interludes when things are getting too dark. The jokes often come out of Tyrion’s mouth in the TV adaptation, with Bron as a sidekick, although I have noted in the book tyrion lannisterthat there are fewer quips. One such moment is the squire Poderick’s sexual prowess, despite his innocence in bed.

 (5) Evoke emotion

Game of Thrones has it all.

The loving father murdered in front of his daughters; the girl who loses her beloved pet; the beaten and abused wife; the mother whose sons are murdered; the fighter who loses his sword hand and his whole reason to be; the mocked outsider.

The emotional roller-coaster of the series hooks you in – and the TV show more than the book because it tightens the action and enhances it, cutting out the long lists of tourneys and the conquest of knights. The theme music even evokes a Pavlovian response in devotees. At least it certainly does for me now! I heard it played recently in the London Underground by a busker with an electric guitar, and I gave him some money because my heart swelled and I wanted more!

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? What have you learned from either the books or the TV series? Please join the conversation in the comments below.

The Intentional Writer: Finding the Time, Space, and Inspiration You Need to Write

We all get overwhelmed with how much we have to do – especially now many of us are writers, publishers and marketers.

running shoesAs well as parents, spouses, friends and people living in the real world! But it’s important to remember what we are doing this for, our definition of success, and whether we are willing to pay the price for that future.

In today’s article, Erin Bartels talks about how to be intentional about your writing practice.

The power of intention

I live about two minutes away from Michigan State University. For nine months of the year, nearly everyone around me is talking football or basketball. It’s a performance-obsessed city.

Practice makes perfect, and you can bet that the many young men and women involved in collegiate sports just down the road know how much practice it takes to be great, to be champions. Day in, day out, early in the morning or late into the night, they are honing their skills, pushing their bodies, and slowly but surely becoming incredible athletes. They are intentional about their chosen sport.

Become a writing champion

What about us as writers? Are we being intentional enough about our writing?

Are we giving our art the kind of dedication a gymnast gives to the uneven bars?

Are we practicing our craft day in and day out like the tight end who never misses a lifting session? Or are we giving in to our excuses? I don’t have enough time. I don’t have the right space. I don’t know what to write about.

We’ve all done it. But if we want to be great writers, writers who finish and publish our books, writers who attract readers and fans, writers who win contests and awards, then we need to treat our writing like the athlete treats the practice field.

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8 Ways Scrivener Will Help You Become A Proficient Writer Overnight

Using Scrivener for writing and publishing has changed my life as an author.
Scrivener for writing

For my first book, I used MS Word and it was a nightmare to cut and paste everything, as I’m not a linear writer. When I discovered Scrivener, the world became a better place! Then I discovered I could use it to publish in Kindle and ePub formats. Wow! I now recommend it to everyone.

In this article, Joseph Michael, from LearnScrivenerFast, explains how Scrivener can help you. I also highly recommend Joe’s training course, which will help you utilize the software faster, saving you time and also money if you use it for ebook formatting.

Webster’s dictionary defines Proficient as:

“Well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge.”

Now that sounds pretty good right? Since we are talking about writing let’s take a look at a few synonyms for proficient:

  • Skilled
  • Experienced
  • Accomplished

I particularly like the sound of accomplished. How about you?

So how do you become a proficient or accomplished writer?

Well first let’s start by taking a look at those who are where we want to be, those who have “mastered their craft.” One thing I think you will notice is that they all agree that it takes lot’s of time, persistence, and practice. But there is also another key ingredient that is often overlooked.

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Why Authors Should Consider Graphic Novel Adaptations With Nathan Massengill

Today’s podcast episode will get you super excited about the possibilities of adapting your work into a graphic novel. It’s definitely become one of my goals after talking with Nathan.

In the intro I mention the expansion of Nook into the UK and other European countries, some of the lessons learned from hitting the NY Times & USA Today lists with the Deadly Dozen box-set, an update on my own writing, and I mention the brilliant LearnScrivenerFast training.

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

nathan massengillNathan Massengill is the author and artist for the Viscera graphic novel series. His comic credits include Wolverine, X-Men, Batman and other New York Times best-selling comics. He’s also collaborated with notable creatives, including Joss Whedon on Buffy and also with Christopher Nolan.

You can watch the video of the interview here on YouTube, or listen to the audio podcast above, or by subscribing here. You can read the full transcription below. Highlights of the conversation include:

  • Nathan’s background in comics and how the fans of comics really are super-fans
  • Why strong female characters are so interesting (and rare) in comics, and why Nathan chose to write one in Visceraviscera
  • Why we love superheroes and action violence
  • How Nathan actually creates comics
  • How the distribution works with comics including Amazon’s new Kindle ComicCreator tool
  • Why authors should adapt their books into graphic novels
  • How to find and work with graphic novelists
  • On crowdfunding for graphic novels

You can find Nathan at NathanMassengill.com and Viscera comic at RingRunning.com. Nathan is also on twitter @NAMartist.  You can read the full transcription below, and please leave a comment if you have experience with graphic novels or have any questions for Nathan.

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