I’ve Been Kondo’d!

Studying martial arts from a young age taught me not underestimate the small person – for most of the time I was that small person. 

Lifestyle, tidying, de-cluttering guru, Marie Kondo is definitely one of those opponents you should be wary of. I was gentlemanly and didn’t look up her personal information but from watching just one of her tv episodes she seems tiny!

I will confess that I had read one of her books before – and that I acted upon none of it.

I read and understood the principles, I could visualise the end result, but the anxiety of being in the process left everything the way it was with just the occasional ‘putting away’ more effectively of too much stuff.

Switching study’s with my wife brought me back around to tackling clothes and other paraphernalia which needed sifting. 

Surprisingly, after the main furniture move between the two rooms, I was taking a break and looking for something to mindlessly watch for half an hour with a cup of coffee, and a well known online tv supplier highlighted Kondo’s tv series to me.

I watched. The methods detailed in her book were refreshed in my mind. I was convinced sufficiently this time to give it a go.

What did I have to lose, I already had more stuff out of the wardrobe than in it now, so I couldn’t close the doors and pretend everything was fine.

I’m not sure that I selected clothes on whether they gave me joy – except all of my rugby jerseys, of course! – but I was far more realistic, or ruthless, in getting rid of items I really hadn’t worn for a good length of time.

Then came the folding!

If it was a competition I wouldn’t have won on either speed or consistency, but the satisfaction of being able to see all of my clothes and, therefore, not just pulling out what ever was on the top was greater than I expected. Shirts on hangers, suits and dress coats in one half of the wardrobe, general outdoor jackets and gillets on the other side. I even had space left to put hats, scarves, and gloves inside, instead of in another storage unit.

Books I had already sorted, but there are items I will thin out further, just from glancing across the shelves.

Pens, pencils, cables, notebooks, paperwork, all sifted and thinned.

The numerous ‘miscellaneous’ drawers and boxes quickly became the throwaway/recycle drawers and boxes.

The final result?

The admission that I should have done all of this when I read Marie Kondo’s book to begin with!

Once the trauma of dealing with everything you have drawn into your home has been overcome, the product of less but more effective ‘stuff’ in your life is like a weight being lifted.

Once you engage with the process the ease with which you can maintain the system makes you wonder why you didn’t do this years ago.

One of the biggest lessons is the realisation that you are actually creating a system which then needs maintaining. 

It’s a flow-system like any other.

Maintain the system and enjoy the flow.

It has been a couple of months now but all is ‘flow’ still.

Plus, I am discovering the mindset is seeping in to other areas of my life.

My phone now has less apps – a lot less. I am even looking at it less. Use, as well as functionality, is a key driver now.

If there was a sticker out there declaring ‘I’ve been Kondo’d’ I would gladly display it!

Where Do The Ideas Come From?

This is the unanswerable question.

How do I know?

I will wager that you can remember where you came up with an idea, maybe even some of the elements which went into the brew, but exactly why you thought that particular idea will allude you.

That is until you come up with a very plausible answer when it is time to do the publicity rounds.

We do that all the time with our characters – backfill – we have had plenty of practice.

So here is my thread for the day:

  • A David Hockney quote about how Japanese artists would paint a walk that they had taken during the day. There were no shadows in the painting because the time line was the length of a day, which meant the shadow would have constantly been moving in the picture.
  • The name Kenneth Gilbert.
  • Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway which takes place over one day.
  • There are two Kenneth Gilberts – one of them maybe the shadow of the other one (for publicity purposes this is very Haruki Murakami, and I was trying to draw kanji earlier for a painting which must have had an impact on my imagining of the idea).

Think of one of your ideas – explain it – publicity round or exactly why you came up with it?

Writing A Character Series.

Check out this excellent Guardian newspaper article interviewing a host of essential authors writing in the detective genre.

Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Val McDermaid, Ann Cleeves, and others talk about how they came to write their series and the impact of doing so.

www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/27/me-and-my-detective-by-lee-child-attica-locke-sara-paretsky-jo-nesb-and-more

Chase Jarvis – Creative Calling – Pt.2

Last week I shared some takeaways from the first session of Chase Jarvis’ Creative Calling Bookclub – if you missed it then click here!

Week 2 was about focusing on the I.

  • I – Imagine what you want
  • D – Design a system to do it
  • E – execute the plan
  • A – Amplify

So Imagine what you want.

Then be creative and take it further – take it as far as it will go. Push the envelope. What does the want look like now?

As a writer my want might be to get book(s) published. I can push this further to, publish enough books to mean I can write full time. Plus, I want to publish a fiction book one year and a non-fiction book the next year.

Let’s keep being creative!

The fiction books I want to write will be a series and some stand alones. The non-fiction books I want to write will be sport based, focused on the teams I follow, spending a season with each. Other creative arts as well.

More creative!

Let’s not worry about bestsellers but add in a podcast and still sharing writer’s knowledge to help others on the journey. I’m pretty keen on music as well – and art – so maybe the odd book or the podcast can cover these subjects?

Where does this all leave me?

Planning!

I might not be a full time writer yet, but I can sure plan as if I was!

I can set out a three, five, or ten year plan – or all of them.

What books do I plan to write first? Fiction series – more chance of catching a book deal when there is the easy sell, several more similar to the one an editor/publisher might like. I want the fourth book I write to be non-fiction.

I’m going to develop a podcast alongside those first few books – writer’s craft and the other creative arts I’m interested in. Part of this development is to start talking with other creatives in these different fields. This is preparing the way for the non-fiction books.

All the time I’m developing and adding to the blog/website.

The timeline is the guide for me to get my butt in the seat researching and writing! It all might be completed slightly sooner or later. It almost doesn’t matter. I can adapt and adjust, so long as I keep researching and writing.

Whilst doing all of this I need to keep learning and take on board new stuff.

For this Chase Jarvis recommends the following – DEAR.

  • D – Deconstruct
  • E – Emulate
  • A – Action
  • R – Review

In all of the areas I have identified I need to Deconstruct – Look at the best in craft in the type of fiction and non-fiction I want to write. Listen to the best podcasts similar to what I want to produce.

Then I need to Emulate – I need to practice all of those good things I deconstructed from the best in the business.

I need to take Action – by analysing what I have produced and checking it against the guides and teachers from that original deconstructing.

Finally, Review – go back to the beginning and start all over again, with the new writers/podcasters who have risen to the top since I last looked.

Now it’s your turn!

What’s your 3 or 5 of 10 year plan?

Embracing the Void.

Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

This is another post from the Archive. I’ve hit a point in my current working project where I’ve had to take stock of what is there and what isn’t there in the story so far. This post came to mind as a guide for me as I am reviewing the almost 80,000 words I’ve already written.

I’ve just read a great article by Gwenna Laithland advising writers to use ‘white noise’.

Basically, white noise is the void – the bits you leave out which the reader then projects their own thoughts and imagination onto.

Laithland uses the example of a Harry Potter stage show casting Hermione Grainger with a black actress. J.K. Rowling admits that she never specified her heroine’s skin colour.

I often get caught up in feeling the need to give more detail in description and narration – partly because I write dialogue much more easily and my pages can quickly resemble a play script.

I like writers at both ends of the spectrum. The very precise and detailed, and the void.

So which is best?

I suppose the answer is write with detail when you need to manouveur the reader into a specific place and embrace the void where it really doesn’t matter.

I am still working on this.

I’ve come to realise that the Void can also be used in the plotting of a story also.

What you need to reveal to the reader and what they can deduce for themselves.

The trick seems to be letting go of your own imagined, or fixed, view of the story and allowing the reader the space to become properly involved themselves.

The void allows them to bring their imagination to the story, even if you plot line turns out not to be what they imagined – Jack Reacher creator Lee Child is very good at this, giving you lots of room to try and work out what the ‘bad guys’ are really up to.

So good luck with Embracing the Void!

From the Archives – Write Like the Mechanical Hound is After You!

http://Photo by Neel on Unsplash

Audi Version on HerbieWriter.Podbean.com

Another previous post, which seemed right to put out again after the last one on Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. This post concentrates on the writing of the original story from which the book developed.

Okay, so Ray Bradbury didn’t say directly to ‘write like the Mechanical Hound is after you’, but I am sure that is what he meant.

In 2006, he wrote a letter to Shauna Thorup, the Assistant Director of Fayetteville Public Library, with details of how he had produced the first draft of what would become Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury explained that one day he was wandering around the library of UCLA, when he discovered a bank of typewriters down in the basement. These could be ‘hired’ for thirty minutes at a time, by inserting a dime into a timer.

Nine days later, $9.80 produced 25,000 words, which constituted the ‘The Fireman’.

Time and money were literally ticking away.

So he wrote fast.

Constantly aware that the ‘Mechanical Hound’ was getting closer and closer, only to be held at bay by throwing more dimes, like toffees, to keep the jaws preoccupied.

For the next thirty minutes, at least.

So, grab yourself some loose change and start the timer. (Check out my own experiences of using a timer here.)

25,000 words in $9.80, anyone?

If my calculations are correct then the rate of words per hour is 510, which doesn’t seem like much, but let’s give credit for working on a type writer rather than a modern keyboard.

Why not try it?

Ninety-eight lots of thirty minutes and see what you’ve got?

You may have to ignore the limit of nine days Bradbury took, if you are not a full time writer.

And ‘no pressure’ to end up with a story which you will then need to develop into a novel which won all of the awards which Fahrenhiet 451 went on to!

A Tale of Two Writers – Michael Connelly and John Grisham

To begin at the beginning, this is not an exhaustive comparison of Connelly and Grisham. There will be plenty of writers/journalists out there who have already done this better than I can.

These are my thoughts and notes from a great interview with the two authors by the bookseller Waterstones, earlier this evening.

Connelly and Grisham have been writing for a similar length of time, around the thirty year mark. Both are bestseller authors.

Connelly writes novels with a number of repeating characters. Detective Harry Bosch is his mainstay, but then there is the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, journalist James McAvoy, and his latest detective Renee Ballard.

The majority of Grisham’s novels are stand alone, with only the recent ‘Camino’ stories being based on the same protagonist.

So, should you write serial characters as a new writer, or have a constantly refreshed cast? The success of both authors would seem to suggest its a tie on that score.

Connelly and Grisham both have work schedules which begin on January 1st.

They are both full-time writers and their writing habits reflect this.

Newer writers may have to work their writing in around other jobs, but there is a key point which is be disciplined. Whether you have all the time to write or practically no time, you have to sit down and write.

Connelly and Grisham both write in areas that they are very familiar with.

Connelly’s stories are very much based in Los Angeles and his previous career as a journalist covering crime clearly still has an influence on his work.

Grisham was a lawyer and most of his books are legal thrillers, with his latest ‘Camino’ books straying from that to a roguish bookseller.

I’m not a fan of the old adage ‘write what you know’, but both authors very much are of the opinion that you should write in areas which you are knowledgable.

What you know the best might not be your current career area. Your interest in sports or politics, cars or mental health, may be what you know best?

Whatever your key area of interest, make sure you keep up to date, read and watch everything you can find and look out for those story ideas.

Ploter or Pantser?

Connelly and Grisham both know what the end scenes are before they begin writing the first scene.

Grisham tends to be more heavily plotted than Connelly.

For you as a writer, plot or pants, but make sure you know where the end is before you start at the beginning.

Connelly and Grisham generally stay within their ‘genre’. Success probably has a part to play here, but they know the lay of the land and they find plenty of stories there.

Grisham has written non-fiction and sport-based stories.

As a writer you can jump around the genres but you will probably find more success in those areas of your knowledge and expertise.

Connelly and Grisham are both fans of Ian Rankin.

Connelly has had his Bosch stories made into a very successful Amazon TV series and a movie made of The Lincoln Lawyer.

Grisham has had a number of his books made into big movies, such as The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, and The Firm.

Both writers still see themselves as novelists and TV/Film are interesting side-tracks.

Writers write!

So what’s keeping you – get writing!

Connelly and Grisham could do with some competition!

Writer’s Routine – Recommended!

 

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Writer’s Routine with Dan Simpson.

 

This is a recommendation.

Dan doesn’t know me and I’m not getting any kickbacks.

This is just a really great podcast and you should check it out.

This is the first thing I listen to on a Saturday morning when I’m fixing breakfast.

The format quickly becomes familiar and I defy you not to shout out ‘I do that’ at a similarity in routine, like you would shouting out ‘snap’ in the card game.

He starts by getting the writer to describe their writing place surroundings and then ask for clues about their current projects.

– standing desk, books, posters/paintings, pantser so all plotting in my head, notebook, music, and a timer . . .

This is followed up, generally, by a revealing of their working day.

– lots of promises of a better routine but generally write during the evening, use of a timer, minimum word count, lots of dog interruptions . . .

Plotting, characterisation, ideas, and all sorts of other nuggets – like the business of writing – come out of their conversation.

– pantser so often the characters know before the plot before me . . .ideas will be a character  or piece of dialogue or a mood from a piece of music . . .

There is quite a back catalogue of episodes now, so plenty to get yourself into.

I don’t believe that copying another writer’s routine will ‘channel’ their success, but I definitely come away from these episodes with a sense of ‘maybe I’m not doing too badly after all’.

When you share a number of habits with writer’s you admire, or even have never heard of before, you gain that sense of community which often is missing in what is, on the whole, still a fairly solitary profession. Especially, if you aren’t even published yet.

 

 

 

It is okay not to finish (at the moment).

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I am sure I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes you just can’t finish a project.

You hit a wall. You lose the thread. A character doesn’t follow the plot line you have carefully constructed for them.

I’m sure it happens to artists and musicians also.

As a writer you normally do two things.

First, you give up; thus proving that you probably aren’t really good enough to be a writer after all. Second, you become belligerent and try and force the character, or plot, into fitting into the shape you created for it.

I’ve done both.

But, more recently, I’ve been learning there is a third way.

And it is easier than the other two.

You just close the notebook or electronic file and open up a new one.

Then, every now and again, let your creative mind wander back to the project and see if anything new occurs to you.

Let me give you an example.

I will call the project White Ladder.

White Ladder started with an image of two old men talking in a room one evening. They see a news clip of a new movie actress wowing audiences. It turns out that one of the men knew her mother.

That image and about 400 words, of mostly dialogue, was over 20 years ago.

It just never got past that initial stage.

A couple of years ago I heard a radio programme which focused on particular musicians and their defining albums. They played some of the songs and talked about the inspirations and processes of making the albums.

The one I listened to was David Gray, talking about his album White Ladder.

Suddenly that image of the two men talking came back to me and a variation on the theme started to form, energised by the words and mood of David Gray’s album.

The plot line was now dictated by the titles of each of the tracks on the album and the mood set by, often, just one line of the lyrics.

I don’t usually plan. I am a pantser by trade.

A couple of weeks of looking back at the plot line then led me to open up a project on Scrivener and start putting words on the page.

74,428 words later I stalled. I was at the three-quarters finished stage.

The two main characters had not followed the plot line and were all out refusing to do so.

I huffed and puffed and threatened to delete them, but they knew I was bluffing. So I gave them the cold shoulder for about six weeks. It turned out they were more patient than me.

So I took a key idea from within the project and tried to write the story from that perspective instead.

That was good for 34,149 words. Then the plot line decided not to follow the original plot I had carefully conceived. The two main characters waited patiently on the street they were walking, looking at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

I now had the word count of a full length novel, but three-quarters and one-quarter of the same story in two versions.

Dust gathered on both versions. Apart from reworking the whole plot into a series of ten short stories, telling the story from the perspectives of different characters.

I think I got that idea from Patrick Gale and his fantastic book Notes from an Exhibition.

Dust still gathers.

I know this story will be finished, because it keeps tapping on the door of my creative studio, reminding me that it is still there.

But in not finishing White Ladder (yet!) I have learnt a lot.

I have learnt that one simple scene will eventually become a full story if you wait long enough.

I have devised a story plot three different ways.

I have 108,000+ words of writing practice, which will eventually be a finished novel.

I have learnt to be patient with myself.

I haven’t failed because the book isn’t completed.

It’s okay not to finish – for the moment!

 

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)