How to up Productivity

We’re busy. We’ve all been there and got the t-shirt. We have work, family, a 100 emails to answer, a blog to post to, and a WiP that won’t write itself. But even though we’re busy, running around like a chicken with no head, are we being productive? There’s a huge difference. So what can we do to cut distractions and interruptions and work smarter? Let’s take a look.

First, structure your time. This is two-fold. The first step is to pick the best time for you to write. This means a time when you are productive and not likely to get interrupted. This could be in the morning an hour or two before everyone wakes up. At night after the kids have gone to bed. An hour after work in a café before you go home. Or once the kids are in school for the day. The second part is actually structuring the time you write to be most productive. We can’t just pound out words for hours. It leads to burnout fast. Instead break writing time into sprints and breaks using the Pomodoro technique. Focus and write strong for twenty-five minutes, then take a five to ten minute break. Reward yourself for your work with a snack or checking Facebook. Then get back to work for another twenty-five minutes. Repeat until you’ve worked for an hour then take a longer half-hour break. These breaks give your brain a chance to rest and recharge in between these sprints to keep you fresh. Rewards are also great for positive reinforcement, training your brain to write.

The next important step is to prioritize your time and communicate your needs with others. This is the hardest part. Something can and will always come up demanding your time. But if you’re not writing, are you still a writer? What I mean is you have to prioritize your writing time or it won’t happen. This may mean sacrifices in other aspects of your life. It may mean you can’t socialize every single day. It may mean the dishes have to wait an hour or two before they get done and that laundry only happens once a week. Then, once you’ve scheduled your writing time, you need to communicate your needs. Tell friends and family you’ll be writing and won’t be available for that time. Then stick to it. Leave your phone in another room on silent with a promise to check it when you are done. Tell your spouse and kids they are not to knock or interrupt you unless it’s an emergency. And explain what a real emergency is. It’s not for mom to find something you lost in your room. That can wait. Your writing and life goals matter and your needs matter, so don’t feel bad asking for this time to yourself to work. You deserve it.

Close the door or go somewhere quiet to work. No one can ask you what’s for dinner if you’re not home (just saying). If you need to, put a note on the door and/or lock it, reminding your family not to interrupt.

Other small things that customize your writing routine will help with productivity. This includes things like noise and temperature to help you focus and feel comfortable. Ambient white noise can help you focus. Others need just the right playlist to get into their world. Set up your music beforehand so you can get straight to work. Keep a sweater or blanket with you if you get cold or make sure the A/C is on in the summer. You’ll be distracted if you’re hot or cold. Also have drinks and snacks nearby so you don’t feel the need to get up and go to the kitchen in the middle of a sentence.

These will help you to work smarter and not harder. It isn’t easy, this business of writing while having a life, but I know you can do it. What are tips you have for being more productive? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Find me on Twitter and Facebook for weekly prompts.

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Filler Words

Last time we talked about filler, so this week I thought we could cover a related subject, filler words. These are words that add to our word count, but detract from our story. These words are often vague, general, or redundant as well as being unnecessary. So let’s take a look at some common culprits.

  • This is a crutch word we rely on, but it takes away more than it adds. Instead of very, choose a stronger word. Instead of very tired, use exhausted. Instead of very hungry, use famished. Instead of very pretty, use gorgeous or exquisite. You get the picture.
  • So and really. Like very, so and really are meant to emphasize, but they don’t add much to a sentence. Use a stronger word instead.
  • Just. This word implies a lack of confidence in what you’re saying. Avoid.
  • Like, actually, basically, and other words that serve as verbal ticks. Just as we say “umm” when talking, these words can slip into our writing. But they don’t add anything, so cut the fat and delete them.
  • Most of the time that can be deleted from your sentences without changing the meaning. If that’s the case, keep it out. If not, like in the previous sentence, you can keep it in.
  • Almost and seemed. Don’t waffle in what you’re trying to say. Don’t be vague, be clear. Either it is something or it isn’t. Don’t use almost or seemed.
  • Same goes for maybe, somehow, and something. Be clear.
  • Redundant prepositions like up in stood up. You can only go up when you stand, so just say stood. Same for sat down. Keep an eye on these redundant words.

When you are editing, do a pass for these filler words. Use the control F feature to find and fix them. Do this in later passes when you’re closer to polishing your words rather than early on when you’re doing big revisions. As you fix them in edits, you’ll get better at catching them while you’re writing. What filler words are you guilty of using? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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Cutting Filler

Writing a great story isn’t just about having well-rounded characters and an amazing plot. Sometimes it’s just as important what you don’t put into your story. This goes for filler. So what is filler exactly? Filler is extraneous lines of passages in your story that don’t move the story forward or develop character. Even if you have a line you love, if it doesn’t add to your story, it’s filler and you need to cut it. Just like if you were painting a picture of a house, you wouldn’t draw the windows too big or paint one wall yellow when the rest are red. That would make the overall painting suffer. Filler is the same way.

So how can we cut filler to strengthen our stories? Let’s look at some tips.

  • Cut adjectives and adverbs. These are often extra words that don’t add much and can lead to purple prose. Use concrete nouns and stronger verbs instead.
  • Avoid clichés. Clichés are overused and don’t contribute to your writing. Instead they detract and take up space. And often times in descriptions they are vague and don’t really paint a good picture. Despite that cliché, it’s true. Craft stronger descriptions.
  • Show, don’t tell. You hear this everywhere for a reason. But remember not to travel into the realm of purple prose. It’s all about balance. For every couple of showing statements, it’s ok to have a telling statement to keep from waxing on.
  • Kill your darlings. Even if you love them. To make it easier, I keep a separate document called leftovers where I rehome anything I cut. It makes it easier to hit delete and sometimes I can rework lines into another WiP.

If you’re unsure whether something is filler or necessary, ask yourself whether it checks any of these boxes.

  • Character development. Does it add or build to your characters? And is this addition really adding to your development or just backstory? Remember it should serve the story at all times.
  • Does it develop the relationships between characters? Once again, make sure this moves the story forward and contributes to understanding.
  • Moves the plot forward. Does it create conflict and build up to the climax? If so, keep it.
  • We want to stay away from info dumps and adding too much backstory, but we also need to ground the story in a time and place. We also want our characters to interact with the world around them.
  • Is this a strong transition or just filler? Does the reader need this transition to go from one scene to the next? Quickly show passage of time or a change of location, but don’t go on too long for transitions, otherwise they become filler. Avoid paragraphs or whole scenes where nothing really happens. For example, driving to a location in a car or going through the character’s entire morning routine before a big event.

So those are some tips for cutting filler and deciding what is filler in the first place. What are your tips for cutting filler? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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How to Deal with Writer Burnout

I decided to write about something I have been struggling with lately for today’s post, writer burnout. We all know what writer’s block is, but did you know there’s something even more serious and debilitating? From feeling completely uninspired and empty to feeling like we never want to write again, writer’s burnout is a serious setback. It comes from overworking yourself and can affect you for weeks or even months, but there are some things you can do to overcome it. Let’s take a look at some now.

  • Recognize burnout. Recognizing the problem is the first step to fixing it. So if you feel overworked and depleted of words and ideas, admit that you are experiencing burnout.
  • Remind yourself why you write. We all started writing for a reason, but it can be easy to lose sight of that, especially when we’re burned out. Make a list of the reasons why you write and read it when you’re feeling like giving up forever.
  • You may feel uninspired, but that’s the perfect reason to read. Go with an old favorite to remind yourself what good writing is, or start a new book you’ve been dying to check out. It will give you a break from thinking about writing and spark some ideas as well.
  • It’s a good idea to take a break from your WiP that has you feeling burned out. Freewriting can be great to just get the words flowing or to do a brain dump.
  • Be creative. Draw, paint, sculpt, sew, or do something else that exercises the creative part of your brain. Work those muscles.
  • Try writing in a different location. Change your scenery and see if it inspires you. Try writing outside, or try writing at a local café where you can do a little people watching.
  • Listen to calming music, meditate, exercise, or get a massage. Relieve stress and unwind.
  • Self-care. Take care of yourself. That means eating right and eating regularly. It also means getting enough sleep. When we’re worn out, it’s easy to get burned out. Take care of yourself.
  • Replenish yourself. Do things that you enjoy and that fill you up. Listen to your favorite music, do that hobby you love, binge watch your favorite show. Refill yourself.

Do these things to help you get over writer burnout faster. Being aware of the problem and how to solve it will help you to recover sooner. Just remember, burnout doesn’t last forever. So remember why you write and don’t give up! Happy writing!

Julia

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Writing Fight Scenes

Fight scenes can be tricky to write. How do you keep it exciting while not giving a laundry list of blow by blows? How do we keep it clear? And what do we do if we know nothing about fighting? Let’s take a look.

  • Match your writing style to the rest of the novel. Yes, you want to use short, punchy sentences to speed up the action, but you don’t want your fight scenes to be discordant with the rest of your writing. If you have a more lyrical style of writing, match your descriptions of the fight scene to the rest of the story. You don’t want to drown your reader in descriptions, you just don’t notice that much in the middle of a fight regarding your surroundings. Think of the dueling scene in the Princess Bride. It’s full of dialogue, which there typically isn’t time for, and descriptions of the techniques they are employing. It works perfectly for that story, even if it’s not the typical fight scene. There isn’t a one size fits all fight scene.
  • Keep track of the players and where they are during the fight. Help your reader follow along with each action, each attack and block. But don’t devolve into a laundry list of blows.
  • Each fighter should fight differently and according to their training and personality. Maybe one character always goes on the offensive before the opponent has time to react. While another prefers to fight defensively so they can analyze their opponent before going on the attack. Stay true to character.
  • Unless this is the Princess Bride, fight scenes are not the place for dialogue. You are fighting after all. You’re going to be winded, or at least saving your breath, and you’re not going to want to give your opponent a chance to hit you while you’re talking. So no drawn out speeches.
  • Don’t get stuck on technical details or jargon. This isn’t the place to show off your research skills and you want to make it easy for the lay person to follow along. Especially avoid this if you’re not a fighting expert. You don’t want to give a hit by hit commentary on the fight. That’s boring and tedious. Be clear about what’s happening. If you don’t know much about fighting, give less details and go for a more lyrical description of the event. For instance, his sword danced between his two opponents as they hacked and sliced.
  • Keep in mind how much training your character has had. Don’t make them a natural. This leads to Mary Sue characters who are weak writing. If she just started training to fight, don’t be afraid to let her lose or get hurt to a more experienced fighter. It’s much more realistic.
  • Speaking of being realistic, don’t write like Hollywood. Don’t have someone get knocked out by one punch. Don’t have your character receive a grievous wound and keep fighting like nothing happened. Injuries matter and affect how your character keeps fighting, if they can even fight at all.
  • Real fighting is ugly. There’s blood, sweat, swelling bruises, and broken bones. Sometimes there’s worse things too. Include these concrete details to bring your scene to life.

So there are some tips on how to write fight scenes. Keep it realistic and clear. And keep it exciting. Build tension as the fight builds. What are your best tips for writing fight scenes? Share below and happy writing!

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Comma Rules

I took a small break from the blog with all the holiday stuff going on. But I got a request to address comma usage today, so that’s what we’ll focus on. Commas can be tricky for some. You might not be sure when you need one and when you don’t. Some people assume you need a comma anywhere you would pause when speaking, but this is not true. So when do we need a comma? Let’s look at some common rules.

  • For compound sentences. First let’s talk independent clauses. An independent clause has a subject and a verb and is a complete sentence in its own right. So, for example, “I went to the park today.” It’s a complete sentence. If you add on another independent clause using and, or, but, nor, for, yet, or so, use a comma before the conjunction. “I went to the park today, and I played with my dog.” If you remove the second subject (the I), it’s no longer two independent clauses and you wouldn’t need the comma. “I went to the park today and played with my dog.”
  • After a prepositional phrase. Prepositions are words like under, over, above, about, around, when, after, on, etc. You need a comma at the end of each prepositional phrase. “When I went to the park, I saw a friend.” “After breakfast, I went to the gym.”
  • Appositives are another word for renaming a phrase. For example, “My friend, Jenny, is good at math.” My friend and Jenny are the same, just renamed. Or “My mother, the pianist, is an artist.” This does not apply to “that” phrases.
  • After introductory phrases like finally or however.
  • For parenthetical phrases. If you have extra information that could be separated from the rest of the sentence by parentheses and still make sense, surround the phrase with commas. “Mary, who is my mother’s best friend, is a painter.”
  • To address someone. When you address someone or something, you surround the address with commas. “Jenny, did you finish yet?” Or, “How are you, Tim?”
  • Between two adjectives that modify the same noun where you could use and between them. “She was young and pretty. She was a young, pretty girl.”
  • In a series of three or more. This is also known as the Oxford comma. Use a comma before the conjunction in a list of three or more. “I want to thank my parents, Einstein, and God.” If you were to take out this comma, the sentence becomes “I want to thank my parents, Einstein and God,” which actually means Einstein and God are your parents thanks to the appositive rule. That’s why this comma should be used for clarification.
  • For “If” statements. “If you go, be sure to take the dog.” “If you don’t do it, I’ll take away your phone.”
  • In dialogue. Use a comma before the quote and at the end of the quote if you use any attributions like he said and she said.

She said, “How are you?”

“It’s late,” he said.

  • To offset negation. “She was young, not old.” “Instead of old, use ancient.”
  • Use commas around years in dates. You may know you need a comma before the year, but you also need one after the year if the sentence continues. “July 5, 1995, was an important day for him.”

These are the most common rules for comma usage. It may seem tricky at first, but once you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules, it will all make sense. Review this list regularly and happy writing!

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Tips for Writing Steampunk

So we’ve had an ongoing series on tips for writing different genres. Today, I’d like to close that series with a brief write-up for tips on writing steampunk. Steampunk is a newer genre compared to the others we’ve talked about, but is enjoying great popularity for its visual aesthetics and fun plots. Let’s look at some quick tips.

  • Read in the genre. As always, the best way to understand and emulate a genre is to read widely in it. There’s a ton of different things you can do with steampunk, it’s all about innovativeness and genre smashing, but that can make it tricky to figure out what, in fact, to do. Figure out what works and what doesn’t by reading steampunk novels. Discover the conventions and tropes and archetypal characters. And figure out how the technology works, so you can incorporate it seamlessly into your own work.
  • Worldbuilding and setting are super important for steampunk. The setting should be like a character unto itself. Spend time getting to know and crafting your story world. How does the technology work? Is it set in Wild West times or Victorian times? How do people dress? Travel? What do they do for fun? Discover the intricacies of your world and describe the details. Here are some tips for worldbuilding here.
  • Your setting will be in a different time period than modern day. Your technology will also be vastly different. Gone are combustible engines. Instead we imagine steam based and cog based technology. You’ll need to do research to get these details right and bring your story to life. Even though this is an imagining of the world, it still needs to be believable and realistic. Especially pay attention to the visual aesthetics of steampunk. The genre is known for it. So what do your characters’ dresses look like? Their airships? Nail this for a stronger story. Images will be your friend as you research.
  • Don’t info dump. You may need to know a bit to figure out how to get your airship to fly, but your reader doesn’t need to know all that technical jargon and facts. Same with the information regarding the time period your story is set in. Only include information that moves your story forward or develops your characters. Sprinkle in details to give yourself a rich setting and story world, but don’t go overboard. Serve the story, always.

This is a fun genre and I definitely encourage you to jump in and try it. Read a few books to get an idea of conventions and go wild. Happy writing!

Julia

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