Friday, April 29, 2011

Research - How Much Is Too Much?

Most writers know the feeling. They have an idea for an article or story and begin to do the necessary research. Soon, they find that Robert Pirsig's book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' can also refer to research. They go down a path that looks invitingly narrow and find that there are multiple pathways leading to other equally interesting bits of knowledge. They fear that if they do not follow the links then maybe they would miss a vital piece of information. This could become a problem for a writer because he spends too much time on research and not enough time on writing. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to curb the tendency to excessive research.

Set a Goal

One of the first things you should do before starting your browser is to decide on your research goal. This goal should be concrete enough and focused enough so that you would be able to stay on course. If you're writing a historical novel and you need information about the battle of Thermopylae, for example, you should only look for data such as dates and forces. While it may be interesting to read all about the opposing sides and the political climate that led to the battle, this information does not have any bearing on your topic.

Have You Reached Your Goal?

The tricky part of setting a research goal is to know when you have reached it. You may think that you now have enough information to start writing, but later you find that a vital piece of information is missing. One thing you can do so as not to stop your momentum is to highlight the place where you need to put the information and keep on writing. You can return to it later after doing the research. To prevent the missing information syndrome, you could do a mental rehearsal with your protagonist before starting to write. Imagine your protagonist looking at his enemies and identifying the leaders, their forces, their weapons, and any other piece of concrete information that is pertinent to that instant. If you find that you are unable to answer the questions fully, you would know that you need to do more research.

Getting Down To Work

Once the research has been done, you need to start writing at once. The information is still fresh in your mind and you have already made links to other information in your brain. This is the ideal time to write and you'll find that the words will flow smoothly.

The writer Humphry Ward once wrote to his wife, also a writer, "Anyone can read! Anybody of decent wits can accumulate notes and references; the difficulty is to write... to make something.” This is a sound observation that can be applied to all writers.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Writing Tips From Trollope

Anthony Trollope was one of the most notable writers of the nineteenth century. His Chronicles of Barsetshire novels were followed by people from all walks of life in all English-speaking countries. His other novels were also equally well-received and went through numerous editions. One aspect of his work that could be of interest to many writers is his writing technique. How he wrote his novels, and how he was able to be so productive, are two things that could interest today's writers as well, since the problems he faced and the solutions he found are applicable to all writers.

1. Write in You Spare Time

Trollope said that when he decided to become a writer, he also decided to let his writing take second place to his job in the postal service. He did not want to be too dependent on the uncertain income from his writing and therefore made a conscious decision to continue in his job. Furthermore, as a part-time writer, he needed to find a way of using the time available to him to the fullest extent.

2. Get it Done Early

One solution he found was to do his writing before he went to his job in the postal service. He would wake up around five thirty in the morning and, after a light breakfast, would begin to write. At nine o'clock, when his family was just beginning to start their morning routines, he would leave for his office. He would therefore have had almost four hours to write, with no interruptions either from his sleeping family or external sources.

3. Track Your Progress

Since he needed to use the little time available to him efficiently, he created a way of keeping track of his daily progress. His goal was to write a certain number of words during each fifteen minute interval so as to produce a given word and page count each day. Each page of his notebooks had a margin indicating the number of words written. By keeping track of time as he wrote, he knew when he was behind in his word count and when he had time to spare. In this way, by maintaining a tight control of his word and page count, he was able to chart his progress and reach his daily writing quota.

Trollope was able to write over 47 novels, as well as many stories and articles, by following this method. The fact that his books are still read indicates that he was able to maintain quality while following a system that suited his particular circumstance. While his technique may not be suitable to many writers, it still has some advantages that could benefit today's writers. Having a day job and writing part-time is still the route followed by many beginning and seasoned writers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Silencing The Internal Editor

The Internal Editor is that inner voice that accompanies us all day, scolding, criticizing, but rarely praising us. It constantly tells us that what we are writing is not up to par and that there is another way of saying the same thing. Like all critics, its forte is criticism, not constructive advice. As writers, we need to be able to drown out our inner voice sometimes, so that our creative juices could flow uninterrupted. There are several methods we can use to quiet our inner voice for a while. Even though some may not work for you, there are others that could be of use.

1. Write Fast

This is probably one of the best ways to lower your internal voice, and it is the one I use. You need to write by hand for this technique to be effective, because typing could introduce an additional source of distraction. Instead of carefully formulating what you wish to say and how you are going to say it, you should just write the words down as fast as they come to you. The idea is to convert the image in your mind into words and on paper as quickly as you can. These words may not be the best but they can be improved and corrected later on in draft number two or three. Maupassant's advice to get in black and white as soon as possible comes to mind. From out of the jumble of ill-formed phrases you can later extract a better image. One of the prerequisites for writing fast is that you should be completely familiar with your theme. You should have read your research notes and made a complete outline beforehand so that you would not be forced to stop and think of plot lines as you write.

2. Write Slowly

Technique Number Two for silencing your Internal Editor is just the opposite of number one. Instead of writing as fast as you can, you should write as slowly as you can, tracing each letter carefully as you form each word. In this way, the Internal Editor becomes too busy with the letters of each word and does not have time to comment on your performance.

3. Write To Loud Music

Another way of drowning out the voice of the Internal Editor is by writing to loud music. Though this may sound contrary to what a creative worker should do, it is based on the principle that our inner voice will listen to the music and will become distracted. This is why instrumental music is preferred, with no lyrics that can catch the Editor's attention. Stephen King once mentioned that he wrote to loud instrumental rock music and, judging by his production, we can only assume that it works for him.

Silencing the Internal Editor is one of the main preoccupations of any writer who wants to give full rein to his creativity. When the inner voice is silenced, the writer can find his voice and begin to write as only he can.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing Tips From Balzac

Today's writers can learn a lot from Balzac. His fame as a writer is due to the many novels, stories, and commentary he produced during his short lifetime. His "Human Comedy" is breathtaking in scope, even though unfinished. One wonders how the final product would have looked if he had lived long enough to complete his masterpiece. The great care he took in gathering all the information available on a topic and then digesting it to produce his great social commentaries in fiction cannot be easily repeated. Here are a few writing tips that are based on the life and activities of this literary genius.

1. Choose a Good Writing Environment

Balzac's writing habits can only be described as extreme. He used to start his working day at around midnight. Clad in a long white gown, similar to that of a monk, and wearing a long gold chain around his neck, he would begin his daily writing. He would continue to write for the next twelve hours, pausing only to drink cups of black coffee, the same beverage that would ultimately lead to his early death. He probably chose the dark hours of the night because of the quiet and the freedom from interruptions at that hour. At around noon on the following day, he would finally call it a day. Many writers would benefit from writing under such conditions.

2. Rest Is Important

His ability to work for such a long period of time was probably because of the regularity of his habits. He took great care to go to sleep at the same hour each day. Even when he was entertaining his friends, or taking part in social engagements, he would return to his home whenever his bedtime approached. At six o'clock he would go to bed and wake up six hours later to begin his working day. He knew that a writer needed mental and physical rest even more than a worker whose job did not entail such hard mental labor. All writers should ensure that they get the amount of sleep that their constitution requires.

3. Think Big

Balzac is remembered for, among other things, the sweeping panorama of French society that is the "Human Comedy." His intention was to draw a word picture of all aspects of France and its inhabitants. He would draw his characters from the high and the low, the strong and the weak, the good and the bad. Unfortunately, he was only able to complete a few of the books planned, before his untimely end. A writer should be able to make plans just as the one envisioned by
Balzac. He should be able to go beyond the novel he is writing and think of it as a part of something greater, something that would live long after he has ceased to exist.

4. Networking

Even though Balzac concentrated almost exclusively on his writing, he did not ignore the social interaction that is needed for good mental health. When his working day was over, he would join his friends and participate actively in the social life of his peers. His quick wit and power of repartee were greatly appreciated by the salons that he frequented. A writer should be a part of society as well, observing and making note of anything that could serve as grist for his mill. Only after long hours of studying life would it be possible to make a concrete observation that has a solid basis of fact.

Balzac can be described as one of the masters of French literature. His contributions were many, and his place in the literary pantheon is assured. His dedication to his craft and his ability to conceive great projects can teach writers to love their profession and to go beyond their comfort zones.

Monday, April 25, 2011

3 Writing Tips to Make You a Better Writer

If you’re a writer, you’ll know that one of the hardest things for a writer is to get down to work. Most of us waste valuable time and procrastinate before getting to work. We all know that our livelihood depends on our production of articles, stories, scripts or books. In other words, if we don’t write, we do not earn. We need to develop a fool-proof method that will enable us to sit down and write, impervious to external stimuli and free of stress. Here are three tips that can help you to be a more productive writer and to achieve whatever you propose in the way of words.

1. Set an alarm

One of the ways in which you can accustom yourself to sit down and start writing is to set an alarm. If you would like to start writing at 9:00 in the evening, you should set your alarm to go off at that hour. When the alarm sounds, you should at first consciously, through self-discipline, force yourself to sit down and begin the day’s work. After a few days, possibly a week or so, you will begin to associate the sound of the alarm with your writing desk and the work you need to do. Pavlov’s discovery is not only for the dogs, after all. You can use this simple technique to drill into your consciousness that you are a writer and that you need to write.

2. Prepare The Terrain

Another thing you should also do is to get everything ready before you sit down and write. When the alarm sounds, you should not have to deal with anything that can interrupt your train of thoughts. You would probably say to yourself “Maybe I should first see if I have any new or urgent e-mails waiting for me before I get down to write.” Interruptions of this type can quickly lead you away from your writing mindset. To prevent this from happening, you should have everything you’ll need on your writing desk beforehand. If you write like me, with pen and paper, you should have your favorite pen and writing pad on the desk, with a hardcopy of the previous day’s work beside it. An outline of the article or book chapter should also be available if needed.

3. No Interruptions

You should also make sure that there are no interruptions when you are writing. If possible, switch off your Internet connection or lower the volume of your speakers so that only visual reminders or notifications are visible. Your family should also respect your writing hours. They will know that after 9:00 o’clock you would not be available except for dire emergencies. This would enable you to keep your mind on your article or story and not on anything else.

I have followed these three writing tips for some time and, even though they appear simple, they have a quiet power. You’ll find that when 9:00 o’clock or whatever time you choose comes around, you’ll go to your desk and begin writing. Please share your comments on this article, along with any tips that could be of use to other writers.