What I Learned From Finishing The First Draft Of My Novel

Manilla Church Title

So I did it. Yeah yeah, it’s finished. It was painful, hilarious, testing, stressful, simple, complicated, disastrous and most importantly; fun!

Regardless of whether it goes on to be published or not, there’s a lot of lessons to take from the experience (some of them expected, some of them surprising).

It’s Easier Than I Thought

So when I started out on this journey, I didn’t know whether I’d actually be able to get to the end. I’ve started many a story before, and normally one of three things happens:

1. I didn’t have a large enough idea, and it turns into a short story / novella.

2. I have another idea half way through, and then switch all my attention to that one.

3. I lose interest / grow intimidated by my own idea, and give up.

The struggle is real. And yet, with this little nasty, I managed to keep going and finish it. I started it on the 5th of March, and it was finished by the 2nd of June. It sits at 102,508 words, so it needs work. But getting there was a lot easier than I had anticipated. How I got there was simple.

"It's not rocket science, honestly"

“It’s not rocket science, honestly”

Setting Targets Pushed Through My Procrastination

I started out small, forcing myself to write 500 words a day. Easy peasy, lemons are squeezy. Then, once my brain and fingers were on side, tricked by my awesome scheme into seeing how easy 500 words was, I upped the count to 700. ‘You call that a challenge’ they cried, drunk on word counts and punctuation.

I ended up banging out 1,000 words a day, averaging 1,150 words a day in April and May. I know this, because I made a spreadsheet that I could log my totals into every night. This seems geeky, I know. But hear me out. I’m a child of sandbox computer games, so my brain responds to simple stimuli like upgrades, xp, and stats. If I can develop this real world data to reflect the effort I’m putting into myself and one of my hobbies, it gives me personally, an extra level of satisfaction. Gone are the wasted days of thinking about wanting to write. In their place, a tangible, real-time record of every word I’ve written.

It might not be everyone’s flavour, but it certainly worked for me.

Nerd Alert

Nerd Alert

Write It, Warts and All

The only way I could realistically squeeze a thousand words into my day (taking me anywhere from 30-60 minutes) was to just write them out, knowing I’d be back at a later date to edit. Unrestricted word slamming, churning word-chunder onto the page without stopping to wipe it up. Groovy.

For the purists out there, I know this might sound like a nightmare. A friend of mine prefers to write the detail now, rather than know it will need to be returned to later. For me, this was too much of a start / stop approach, and I’d quickly be demotivated as the mammoth task facing me would seem like an overbearing mountain. Hence by doing it my way, each day felt like a tangible step in the right direction, even if I knew what I’d written might be dogshit.

Also, this gives you the chance to rant out key facts, feelings, scene setting or monologue and know it will be returned to and tidied up later.

Sure, if a single scene feels like it needs attention, or the desire to edit is so strong you can’t fight it, then there’s nothing to say you can’t do that. It’s flexible.

Just remember, a thousand words a day gets you to a novel in about three months. That’s decent. Then you’ve got three months to edit. At that pace, you could write 20 novels in your twenties alone!

It also helps break the story down into sections, instead of one long road. First draft done? OK. Now, on to draft two. Instead of stopping every few paces to check your laces are tied, you’re sprinting to the end and worrying about it then. Sure, you might have more blisters, and the laces will probably be frayed, but you got there. You did it.

"Wooo"

“Wooo”

Fail to Prepare and Prepare to Fail

I read a post recently on the wonderful Terrible Minds (Chuck Wendig’s personal writing blog) about the need to plan your story. The post is actually by another writer named Rob Hart, and he uses the analogy of building a house when talking about constructing a story. In his own words:

It was like if you’re building a house, but the blueprints are constantly getting changed, and the builders aren’t communicating, and suddenly there’s a toilet next to the fridge. And you have to figure out how to move it, but once you do, it screws with the plumbing lines… (read the original post here)

I can’t think of a more lovely way to put it; once you’ve set stuff up, moving characters, threads, plots, pivots, all of it can be disastrous if not thought about and juggled with sense and purpose. And both of these things come from a solid plan. Though it’s tempting to plan as you go, and write on the coat-tails of inspiration, you’ll hit trouble if you haven’t set out in advance, clearly, the threads and pathways your story will take.

When I started out writing the story, I had a brief idea, and a few characters in mind. I wrote these out in a notebook, then left them there. I then took a long train ride and pondered the greater story (with no writing) – my thinking being that I’d work through the gunk in the filter and get to the good stuff.

Then I slept on it, and thought over it some more. The gutsy stuff I’d come up with didn’t seem so necessary in the cold of the following morning. So I erased a few random details, and looked to string together the rest in a different way. Then again. And again.

I tried to explain the story to a friend, and realised it had no purpose, and no overall meaning. Ultimately, you should be able to sum up your story in one sentence. I went away again and pondered this, simplifying and removing and adding until I had it.

I ended up with a story that had a start, a middle, and an end. I planned this out by hand, then on my PC.

Finally, I was ready to start writing, and the rest took care of itself. It changed (a lot), but having a base, and an idea of what was going to happen, when, and why, meant I had the minerals to concoct and adapt. The elements were the story components, and once identified, it made this particular method of word alchemy that much easier. And crucially, the toilet never ended up in the kitchen!

There were other complications though...

There were other complications though…

90,000 Isn’t So Big

In fact, it’ll creep up on you in no time. I planned the story to fall into three clearly identified sections of 30,000 words each. Each of these sections was divided further into three 10,000 word portions. This really helped with the planning and staging, and mean’t I had clear signposts to measure my progress, and make sure I didn’t waffle on in certain parts.

In the end, this total disappeared into the rear-view mirror, and I know for sure I’ll need to cut it down once the editing begins.

Still, it’s nice to have too much and not enough.

"OK, no need to show off"

“OK, no need to show off”

It Came to Life

It really did. I’d sleep and dream about the characters, and wake up in the middle of the night with great ideas. I’d scramble through my bedside table finding my pens and paper to jot down these ideas, only to wake in the morning and realise it didn’t fit, or that I’d already written it out like that.

The ideas grew, and the story started to tell me what was happening. Ideas came to me seemingly from nowhere, ideas that slotted in perfectly and tied up loose ends I didn’t realise I had.

Once the ball was rolling, and I was regularly checking in with my characters, everything just seemed to gather its own head of steam.

Once you get going, you won't be able to stop

Once you get going, you won’t be able to stop

It’s Possible to Hate a Wordfile

By the end, I was dog tired, and completely and utterly ready to finish. It took more will power than at any other moment to finally finish it. I knew the ending, and knew exactly how I wanted it to end. So creativity wasn’t the issue. It was the effort. The effort of knowing that it needed finishing, even after all the energy and time I’d put into it. Like it was a spoiled child or something. I was just desperate to be able to say the words; I’ve finished. It’s done. It’s over.

The funny thing is, now it is over, I realise in reality it is actually only just beginning. Following the advice of Stephen King, it sits in a desk drawer at the moment, maturing and hopefully not stagnating and fermenting. My hope is I’ll open the draw in August and find a novel waiting for me that I can be proud of, and one I can work on through the next few months and finish.

I guess we’ll wait and see…

surasakiStock

I’d love to hear about your experiences writing, and the struggles, stories, or surprises you have encountered. Please comment below.

Special thanks to Anamwong, Marco Torresin, Marin, Stockimages, surasakiStock, and tiverylucky @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

The End Is NighTier Than The Words: A Few Ways To End Your Story

Sunset Title

All good things must come to an end. We learn that as kids. Whether it was your Summer Holidays, a massive bucket of ice cream, or living in a house and not having to pay rent; all of these wonderful things, at some point, have to finish.

Stories are no different. How many times have you been getting lost in a book, turning each page in desperate anticipation, only to find yourself die a little inside as you feel the pages in your right hand get thinner and thinner. It creeps up on you, and eventually you’ll start to ask yourself “how’s it going to end? It can’t end like that! Not to them! I must know. I muuust!”

Equally, how frustrating is it to get to the end of a story you’ve really enjoyed, and invested hard earned money and time into, only to find out that ‘it was all a dream’ or that the hero never actually went to the moon after all.

Bloody Off Pissing. That’s what!

And yet as writers, so many of us don’t give our stories the endings they deserve. This could be from ‘writer’s fatigue’, where we’re so desperate to just be finished with the damn thing that we’ll write any old dot-connector if it will mean we can go back to procrastinating. It might also be down to a feeling that the story only really needs to be finished, not completed. And that is another missed opportunity!

The ending is the grand finale, and as such is the culmination of everything that’s happened. Imagine if Lord of the Rings stopped when Frodo throws the ring in the lava of Mordor. OK, fine, he’s finished the quest. But where’s the sense of finality? Where’s the closure?

So what can be done about it? Fear not! There are myriad ways, and they’re all outside your window, trying to help you…

graur codrin

“Come Eeeeeen”

The Ol’ Switchemaroo

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading – Lao Tzu

Some stories make use of tropes and cliches to make a story easy to follow. Though these will achieve that (a real selling point for casual readers who may want to read and unwind, not face confusing or non-conforming alternative texts) it can also make them predictable or repetitive. So why not confound your genre and throw a twist or two in ther?

Books to check out for inspiration: The Other Hand by Chris Cleave or The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (we hope you like crying, ‘cos this book’ll give you a bout of the ol’ face leaks). I’d love to recommend Fight Club too but, by this point if you haven’t already heard about this one, then chances are you’ve been frozen at the North Pole since the end of WW2. And in that case, welcome back Captain America. I’m still team Stark, but whatevs…

artur84

We don’t have a budget for pictures of Hollywood films. So instead, enjoy this postbox. It’s made of iron, man! (and it’s red)

The Sequel Setter-Upper

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end – Seneca

Of course, closure isn’t for everyone (we’re looking at you Hollywood), and sometimes it’s nice to leave a story open, at a point we can always revisit later on; whether this be done as a cliffhanger, or more of the feeling of the end of a chapter setting us up with a taster of what’s coming next.

Maybe you’ve already thought about the next installment in your head, and want to establish a story but haven’t got the time / word count left to put it all into this story. No problemo! It may end up spawning a multi-book story (such as Harry Potter) or even a whole universe of linked stories (such as the Discworld series).

Books to check out for inspiration: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, or A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin are all a good start. For our younger readers, I recommend the Hunger Games trilogy.

photostock

Not those kinds of hunger games you pervert!

The Character Piece

Some people like you, some people don’t. In the end you just have to be yourself – Andres Iniesta

Often we’ll read a story where we just fall in love with the character. Perhaps we see ourselves in them, or perhaps we admire that they do what we wish we could do ourselves. Whatever the reason for our adoration or enjoyment, we connect with these characters. And more times than not, seeing them reach a conclusion that befits their personality or personal growth feels like the only way to end.

Books to check out for inspiration: Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Fancy something a little deeper? Give Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig a go.

vectorolie

Like your own children, some characters are easier to love than others…

The ‘Giving the Reader What They Want’

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end – Margaret Thatcher

Like Ramsey Bolton (formerly Snow) getting his face chewed off by his own hunting dogs (oh wait, umm, I meant to say SPOILERS there but, if we’re honest, anyone who cared about that GoT fact would already have seen it, right?), sometimes getting what we want from our books and stories is that much more delicious because we’ve had to wait for it, even if we saw it coming a mile off. This covers the ‘classic stories’ such as The Odyssey, but also more contemporary tales too.

Books to check out for inspiration: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. For something from the canon, the subtlety of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë has stood the test of time.

Graphics Mouse

How readers probably want to feel after a book. Or something…

The Journey

I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be – Douglas Adams

Concluding a story isn’t always about the characters, or even the plot, but sometimes it’s about the journey; both spiritual and physical. Whether it be from boy to man, border to border, or escaping Samsara, there’s plenty of places for our characters to end up.

Books to check out for inspiration: On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic for a reason, or The Alchemist gives you a taste of both the body and the mind’s journey through life.

For something a little different try Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Written in 1922, this books was ahead of it’s time and still rings true to this day. It’s a book I’ve read over and over when travelling through South East Asia.

khunaspix

Lead the way little man…

The Darkness

A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself – Gertrude Stein

All this talk of happy endings and completion has averted from the elephant in the room; the sad or at least the unhappy ending. Sometimes the emotional weight we carry through a story can overwhelm us when we reach its completion. And like life, it won’t always end with rainbows and butterflies, no matter how much we want it to.

I have a secret hunch that some people enjoy this feeling of loss and or emotional dejection. Me? Hell no. I’ve dated enough banshees to get my fill of emotional heaves and hos from the real world. But if this is your flavour, fill yourself up. There’s plenty of these particular barracuda in the literary sea…

Books to check out for inspiration: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next by Ken Kesey, or A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Theeradech Sanin

Lip up Fatty. It’s only a story (about real life. The long, painful, lonely, depressing march from the freedom of youth to the painful, aching loss of death). *sigh*

The Payoff

The end crowneth the work – Elizabeth I

This is no depressing novel, so let’s end on something a little more upbeat. That’s the stories that finish with a main character getting their just desserts! Whether it’s all the pieces of their plan falling into place at the right time, them figuring everything out and seeing the results, or just them getting what they’ve spent the whole story working so hard to achieve, these stories tend to leave a long lasting glow in the reader.

Books to check out for inspiration: Any of the Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler (or a lot of other detective / private eye novels, for that matter). Alternatively, give Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts a look. Though this book falls into many of the categories mentioned above, I feel it’s ultimately seeing the main character get to a point where it all pays off that is one of my favourite things about the story.

 

kittijaroon

“Who’s a good boy?”

 

Something missing from this list? Let me know your favourite type of ending in the comments below. Got a story to recommend too? I’m all ears!

 

Special thanks to artur 84, Graphics Mouse, graur codrin, khunaspix, kittijaroon, photostock, Theeradich Sanin and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog. Also, an extra special thanks to PC Chen for her photo too.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

1,2,3,Go! The Keys to Writing a Good Story Beginning

Beginning Title

Starting a new story is one of the best feelings you can have. It’s that wonderful moment before your insecurities and paranoia kick in and tear your creativity apart from within.

It’s also exciting not knowing where your characters are headed – at least, not finally. You may have some idea. But it’s not set in stone.

The scene is being set, the characters introduce themselves, and the world you have crafted launches into the imaginations of the reader on it’s maiden voyage. You cast them off into the abyss of your mind, the rough seas of your passions and noticings, and the wonderment you’ve constructed out of your skills with craft and narrative.

However, a poorly written introduction can quickly alienate a reader. It’s much easier to quit a book on page 1 than it is on page 100. As Kurt Vonnegut famously said:

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.“

No siree. This is very important. Reading is a commitment. It could take a few hours to read, or a few months. Either way, it’s going to be valuable time to someone. Cherish it, and respect it.

So, below are some tips to help craft a strong story introduction.

Of course, these should be taken as a guide, as you can’t use all of them at once. There is no definitive way to craft a perfect introduction, as you can’t please everyone. But, with a bit of thought and a lot for practice, utilising some of these will help push your story to the next level.

"Go on..."

“Go on…”

Get Straight To It

“As my cab pulled off FDR Drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out of lane and sloped in fast right across our bows.”

Money by Martin Amis

Get stuck in. Right away. Don’t worry about building up to something. If anything, get to the thing then build backwards. The mystery of being thrust into the action is much more compelling than “so he woke up and stretched. ‘Yawn’ he said, then made his way to the bathroom to blah, and blah, and blaaaahhh”.

Much better: “The gun went off. That sound of metal exploding, cracking the air like lightning, shook him. He’d never imagined he’d be shot.”

The longer you linger, the more of your precious words are wasted away and lost forever. Trust your reader, and reward them for taking the time to check you out. Jump in two footed, and go from there…

Chop them in the face if you have to

Chop them in the face if you have to

That Said, Don’t Rush Ahead

Obviously you don’t want to chuck them into a situation that will need certain aspects established. If you start off with something too confusing, it will be a struggle for the reader to invest in the story. If it’s too confusing, you may lose your reader.

That’s not to say you can’t leave breadcrumbs in your opening that will make more sense upon reading further, but a good opening will contain both elements for now, and elements for later.

"So that's why the dinosaur had the painting. He's Da Vinci's grandad. Of course!"

“So that’s why the famous dinosaur had the painting hidden on his spaceship. Now I get it!”

Draw the Reader In

“If you’re reading this on a screen, f**k off. I’ll only talk if I’m gripped with both hands.” Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers.

Yeah, so you don’t have to be as aggressive as the above example, but the point I’m trying to get across is that you want your reader to stand up and pay attention. One way of doing that is to engage with them directly, so long as it fits with the theme of your story.

For example, if you choose the above style of introduction, don’t then segue into a world of daisies and polka dots. It will feel forced and inappropriate, and the reader will likely feel alienated and confused. But if your character, or the tone of your story warrants it, there is no problem at all with using a little bit of fire and fury.

Of course, you don’t have to be rude. you could relate to the reader, or buddy up to them, or even flirt with them. Let the narrator’s voice gudie you.

"This narrator would like some tuna. Lot's of tuna."

“This narrator would like some tuna. Lot’s of tuna.”

 

Introduce Your Hero

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The above intro is a great example of a hero introducing themselves, and giving you plenty of evidence of their character. We all know that Holden Caulfield is a sour lad. We know this because from the very first sentence he utters, he sets himself up as thus.

Your audience want to know who to root for, and know why. If you introduce a character who isn’t very compelling, or don’t give them someone to cheer for, chances are you’ll lose the interest of a reader.

"Oh yeah, they loved your story"

“Oh yeah, they loved your story”

Create a Mini-Mystery

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984.

Unless you live under a rock (and apologies if you do), you should be well aware of the dystopian bleakness portrayed in George Orwell’s (arguably) most famous work, 1984. This opening line establishes right from the get go just how surreal this alternative future is, and the mystery of something we know so well being changed in this way creates all kinds of questions: Why not o’clock? Thirteen, like, bad luck thirteen? What time is thirteen? Is the day still the same length? How would this work with the Gregorian calendar? Does it? Why is there an extra hour in the day?

And it is these kinds of questions, often raised by a sense of unease, that can keep us reading on.

"What does it all mean!?"

“What does it all mean!?”

Set the Scene

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” — Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

This is one of my favourite opening paragraphs in all of literature. Raymond Chandler has a very distinct style, and was well regarded for his gritty tomes set in a crime-riddled LA. This establishes that world perfectly, giving you not only the place but the mood, the people, the atmosphere, and even the opinion of the narrator about all of these things.

See, a setting can be just as important as a character. Some would even argue that the setting is a kind of glorified character in its own right.

 

"Yeah, don't forget about me!"

“Yeah, don’t forget about me!”

Murder Mundanity

All this happened, more or less.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.

In the above quote from Mr Vonnegut, we are confronted with the fact the upcoming narrative is probably going to be unreliable. Those that have read the story will know that as the story progresses, this unreliability is what lends so much charm to the overall tale, and this in itself represents Vonnegut’s own ideas about the ridiculous and unreliable nature of wars, and the men who fight in them.

Many authors would be tempted to write an account of what they saw in a war with a solemn and powerfully intense manner. By not starting his story in this way, we already know we are in for something different, and this intrigue alone makes us want to read on.

By subverting convention, Vonnegut captivates the reader from the very first sentence.

If you haven’t read this classic, I absolutely recommend it. It was one of the first ‘adult books’ I read as a young boy, and it is still one of my favourites.

"It's great!"

“It’s great!”

 

Consider Forking

Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

There are a lot of different options above, so using this technique will help you figure out which work and which don’t work with your story.

There is more than one way to cross the ocean, and forking is the process of writing out several different ideas that all lead to the same point. So, you may choose to write three different story beginnings which all lead to the same ending, then show these to people who have opinions you trust, and ask them to choose their favourite.

This way, you can know that what you’ve written is something that has appeal, and that captured another person’s imagination (and didn’t just reflect your own). Obviously, make sure you choose people who will give you constructive and useful feedback. Not just flat criticism.

"I don't like any of your s**t"

“I don’t like any of your s**t”

A Word to the Wise

Of course, it’s not always as easy as what you should do. Sometimes, it’s as much about what to avoid. So, here are some quotes from industry insiders about things they don’t like to see in story beginnings:

I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
Dan Lazar, Writers House

I hate reading purple prose – describing something so beautifully that has nothing to do with the actual story.”
Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
Daniel Lazar, Writers House

Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
Adam Chromy, Movable Type Management

One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

 

All above quotes were taken from the article The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice From Literary Agents on thewriterslife.com

 

Of course, there are many different opinions on this argument, and (once again) as Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Learn how to use these tools to your advantage, but don’t let yourself be restricted by them.
Be different. Be brave. Be you.

 

ID-10092796

 

So what’s your favourite opening line in a story? Get the conversation going in the comments below.

 

Special thanks to Ambro, Carlos Porto, imagerymajestic, kanate, patrisyu, Photokanok, photostock and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

New Year, No Fear!

logo taxi

Happy New Year! 新年快樂! Feliz año nuevo!

Let’s all just take some time to reflect on 2015. It had its share of drama. Good things came and went. Terror and division became all too common in the headlines. Hopefully, yours was one to cherish, but if it was a bad year, at least it is over now. These barriers in our mind invisible yet so important, of the moving from one calendar to the next, can be an important psychological step. Move from the old into the new. Close the door on 2015, and try to take the lessons it offered with you on your journey into fresh moments.

Now we turn the page and begin a new chapter. What wonders does this coming term hold in store? Perhaps you are lucky to already have things to look forward to; a wedding, a holiday, a graduation, or a baby. Perhaps what’s coming up for you doesn’t fill such generic milestones, but slots into an alternative bucket list; first marathon, first solo skydive, getting your PADI, or climbing Everest.

Hell, it might just be you’ve decided to start eating crinkle cut instead of regular crisps with your Netflix sessions! It all counts!

A new year is a great opportunity to turn your gaze to new horizons. I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. With so many others basking in the positivity of a new beginning, the energy is all around you. Tap into it and exploit it for yourself. This is your time!

So for those of you still without an idea of what you might want to do over the coming year, here are some goals you may want to use. Or adapt. Or ignore. This is your year. Go out there and own it!

imagerymajestic

“Come here!”

Learn about a new topic

The internet is bloody marvellous. Not only does it offer 24/7 access to news, games, and other people, but it also connects you with the wealth of human knowledge, and the shared library of wisdom that humanity has assembled in the last 8,000 years.

Thanks to websites like coursera and Khan Academy, you can now sign up online for free learning!

Ok, I’ll let my inner nerd quieten down for a bit. But truly, this is something wonderful that should be celebrated and enjoyed.

You can find sites for everything, from guitar lessons to 6th grade maths, traditional Chinese to coding. Go ahead, Google it.

See this article from Observer Innovation for links to a variety of different courses to get you started.

For those of you interested in learning a new language, check out the Itchy Quill guide to the best sites and apps for language learning here.

 

nenetus

“Boom. Knowledge”

Learn a new skill

But life is not all about sitting in front of a computer now, is it? Some of us are handsy people, veritable artisans who respond much better to the kinaesthetic pleasure of holding and handling, not merely studying.

For those, there are plenty of things to try your hand at. Jewellery making, woodcraft, pottery, baking, fencing, knitting, painting, driving… the list goes on.

Most colleges run night schools that offer affordable courses in a whole range of vocational activities. There are also websites like meetup.com which offer you a chance to find similar minded people and talk about/establish events about your chosen area.

What’s stopping you?

 

David Castillo Dominici

You know, apart from the obvious stuff like commitments and generally being an adult

Start a new hobby

Or maybe you just want a new way to relax? You could look into a new sport, or another way of channelling your competitive streak.

How about another income stream? I’ve got good friends who make a healthy income from eBay. They trawl the charity shops and boot sales looking for gems. With the power of a smart phone in your hands, you’re seconds away from a valuation, and an idea of whether you can make money from something.

Of course, there are the classic hobbies such as stamp collecting and fishing out there to be tried too.

For more ideas, check out this list on the Art of Manliness.com – though these don’t have to be hobbies for men. They’re not gender specific, after all…

 

Bill Longshaw

… unlike some things

Pay it forward

Do something for someone else, like help out a friend or neighbour. Maybe someone is moving house, or they need a hand with their kid? It doesn’t have to be a massive task, but it’s always nice to help out someone without expecting something in return. You could make their day!

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, what about volunteering? Here in Taipei, it’s common for foreigners who cannot get pets in their own apartments to help out at local dog shelters by walking dogs after work. There are a lot of refugees kicking around in Europe at the moment, and I’m sure you can imagine that local authorities are swamped. Why not see if you can help out? Or start collecting old clothes together to be sent to displaced peoples.

Or, you know, just help old ladies across the road or up the stairs with their shopping…

 

graur razvan ionut

“Do I look like I need your help young man?”

Catch up with old friends or distant family

Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of time. I’ve been out in SE Asia now for over two years, and I’m not the best person at keeping in contact. Out of sight, out of mind.

But I know that for some, it really means a lot if you reach out to them. It lets them know you haven’t forgotten about them, and that you are thinking of them.

So call up grandma, or send an email to Judith and the kids, or just write a letter to your mate Shaggy Dave.

Who knows, you might be just the person they need right now…

 

Stuart Miles

“Come on dad, it shouldn’t take 15 years to get a pack of cigarettes”

Visit a new country

Bit of a no brainer this, but with the summer still a healthy half a year away, it can feel a little dull sat there in a cold apartment watching the mould climb up your walls. What better potion for your ills than warmer thoughts of a sunnier summer, and the chance to hop abroad?

Kamchatka? the ‘Stans? Timbuktu? Tuvalu?

Throw a dart at a map, and book your ticket now before the summer rush. Then you’ll know you’ve got a solid six months of saving time to scrape together some cash, some research, and all the bravery you’ll need to take the plunge into a new adventure.

Hell, I’m doing it myself right now…

 

Ambro

“See?”

Set yourself goals, and challenge yourself

I managed to read 33 books last year. For me, that was decent. I’m no Good Will Hunting, I need a bit of time to get through a book (though I love reading). This year, I wanted to read more. So, I set a target for 35 books. Nice enough, I thought. “Where’s the challenge in that?” said a friend. “If you really want to challenge yourself, put 40.”

So I did.

Lord knows how I’ll find the time. 33 was a struggle. But having that target, that goal, gives me something to drive for. If I fall short, I’ll still have probably done better. But if I achieve it, well, I’ll have done something awesome.

And this mentality applies to anything. Pick a local marathon, sign up, then train your nuts off to be ready for it. Even if you end up crawling over the finish line, the positive effects of trying to prepare and then actually doing it will be myriad.

What challenge will you set?

 

stockimages

“Fightin’. This year, I’ll do gooder at fightin’… and stares”

Cut out the negativity

Some people suck the life out of us, and similarly so do some situations and environments. Make this year the year you finally put some distance between yourself and those things that drag you down.

Have you got a negative habit perhaps, such as smoking, eating unhealthily or drinking more booze than a ship of sailors? Make this the year you take steps to make your life that little bit better.

I quit smoking at the end of 2014, and I’ve now gone a full year; no patches, no slips, no consequences. I’m just a year healthier than I was as a smoker.

Believe in yourself, and start thinking about what you can do.

satit_srihin

Make this the year you follow your dreams

You may have had something you’ve been putting off for ages. I did. Mine was a novel (and now it’s nearly done!)

No more excuses, let this be the year. You’ll make time for it if you really want it! And you want it, don’t you? Of course you do!

Go out and get it!

see god

Special thanks to Ambro, Bill Longshaw, David Castillo Dominici, graur razvan ionut, imagerymajestic, nenetus, satit_srihin, stockimages & Stuart Miles @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

Lesson From NaNoWriMo; Challenge is good. Fear is good too!

Wro Title

That’s it. The curtain falls on the last day of November, and with it comes the end of the great journey that is NaNoWriMo.

And some good news this end, as I managed to win! Wahoo! Finishing 88 words over the 50,000 target, a weighty tome of life, love and laughter (and rock n roll and travelling) awaits. Watch this space, it will be available to read after some editing and a bit of down time for the author.

When I started out 30 days ago, I had no idea how much I’d do, and how much I’d have to dig deep to get it done. 50,000 words seems like a pretty small amount (most stories are more like 60k+), especially when broken into daily chunks of about 1,660. But by the end of the first week, I already knew it was going to be a lot tougher than I anticipated.

Life has a habit of throwing things at you in bursts, and so it was for my November. I’ve been ducking and diving through my other commitments, and yet somehow I still managed to finish a novel. A god damn novel! It’s god awful, I’m not lying. But there’s something there. Something horribly unpolished and woefully rushed. But it’s there for me to look at and pat myself on the back for. It’s there to hold, to stare at, and to edit and re-edit.

Like any experience, it’s what you learn from the act of doing it, not just the feeling of it being done, that makes it special. And NaNoWriMo is no different.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to share the reasons why I found it so useful.

imagerymajestic

“Great!”

It’s nice to do something hard

Life isn’t easy. Then again, I’m not sure it is meant to be. Having something to focus on for the past thirty days has made me acutely aware of how much I can get done if I prioritize my time. I’ve not had to make huge sacrifices, and have missed out on little (I took a five day trip to Hong Kong and Macau in the middle of November), but I’ve managed to add to my out put for the month.

Could I do it every month? Woah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This was still hard work. But that was nice. I work hard all day in my job for someone else. It’s nice to work hard for myself when I get home too.

Ambro

“Workin’ hard, or hardly workin’?”

I’ve broken through Writer’s Block

Multiple times in fact. There were a few days when I sat staring at the empty page and felt more than a little despondent that ideas were not forthcoming. Especially when, through discussions with other NaNoWriMos, I realized this isn’t the case for everyone.

Yet I managed to dig deep and find my own ways through these veritable Mines of Moria, and that was refreshing to know. I’m sure I’ll come up against a void of inspiration again in the future, but hopefully I can be buoyed and spurred on by the thought of knowing I’ve overcome this particular demon before.

vectorolie

“God dammit, not again.”

I wrote… a lot

Not just the finished product, but a lot of other things to get me going, such as using Copy Work as a way of warming up (see an explanation of what Copy Work is here). It gave me the chance to delve back into some of my favourite writers, before switching into my own work (and seeing how far off the benchmark of quality they have set I am).

Not only that, I saw for myself how easy it is to adjust your daily routine to fit in some writing. After all, if you don’t make time for your passions, you’re selling yourself short. You can fail at something you hate, so why not give failing at something you love a try?

fantasista

Don’t ever let anyone tell you it can’t be done, or that you can’t be something

I fell into ‘the zone’

Writing everyday got me into a place where ideas, when they came, were coming thick and fast. From the past thirty days I’ve had enough bad ideas to keep me writing for the next decade, easy.

A few of those, with a little more thought and a little more focus, could grow into something. What, I don’t know, but something. I guess we’ll see, but it’s exciting, right?

Ambro

Ahem, moving on

I conquered fears

Sometimes the fear of starting gets in the way, but I replaced this with a fear of not finishing. One stops you beginning, the other propels you forward. Manipulating your fear, or rather ‘re-imagining it’, is one way of taking back the mind-space and energy fear requires and utilising it in a positive and productive way.

Fear Harnessed

What did you learn from your November? If you didn’t get a chance to do NaNoWriMo, what do you think you might gain from it? Have you challenged yourself to do something recently and taken something away from the whole experience? I’d love to hear about it…

NaNo Stats

Special thanks to Ambro, fantasista, imagerymajestic & vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

NaNoWriMo Now; Tips for Success in November’s Novel Writing Month

quill for logo black700 copy

Ok guys, I know. It’s been too long.

Where have we been?

It’s been one of those months.

But, look around the corner. NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

“Hey there”

NaNoWri… What?!

Some of you know it, some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with this wonderful portmanteau, it stands for

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth.

It started out in the July of 1999 in the San Francisco Bay Area; a friendly challenge amongst 21 pals. By the following year, it had grown to be a (partially) international event, with its own website! It was during this second year that most of the current rules were formed, based largely on the editing experience of the founder, Chris Baty.

By the third year, those running the event had assumed it was going to draw a healthy 150 participants, when in reality around 5,000 showed up! You can read the account of events by one journalist, Kara Platoni of the East Bay Express, here.

After a bumpy year adjusting to increased site traffic and a new found popularity, the fourth year brought harmonious relief in the shape of a more automated and therefore swifter system ready to accommodate the ever increasing number of participants. Of course, that wouldn’t last for long…

Since then it has grown year on year into the mighty beast it is today; represented in nearly every part of the world, from Estonia to Australia, and Seattle to Beijing. It’s had its fair share of challenges, trials and tribulations, but the result is a wonderful annual event for the professional and amateur writer.

The journey from its humble beginnings is one worth a read if you have the time, and demonstrates the power of one man’s dream. See the story in the words of the founder here.

“Dreamy”

OK, but how does that help me?

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, it cannot be denied that an event such as this will:

  • help you focus your writing by forcing you to regularly sit down and knock out some wordthings
  • enable you to see from within what the writing process involves, both the euphoric and disastrous
  • give you a sense of achievement if you actually finish the damned thing

So what’s stopping you?

“You know, besides the obvious”

But I don’t have the time

Which is kind of the point. A lot of people say they’ve got a great novel inside them, but they just don’t have the time to knock one out. NaNoWriMo forces you to engage with your inner word beast, and wrestle the behemoth onto the page. Knowing you only have to keep it going for 30 days means you are much more likely to give it your all; if you really don’t like it, you can count down the days until it’s over. In the meantime, you’ll be writing and writing, and barely have a chance to think about anything else.

Consider how many stories were written in the early hours before work, or late at night after the kids had gone to sleep. So many authors have to juggle full time work, marriage, children and other commitments with their writing. NaNoWriMo is a chance to try out re-adjusting your scheduling, and also a chance to see what you’re capable of if you put your mind to it.

On that note, it doesn’t just have to be for writers. The challenge itself could be for anyone.

“Anyone, you say?”

Sounds great! How do I get started?

Let’s imagine the fundamental elements of a story:

  • An outline = A beginning, a middle, and an end, including the key event that sets up the journey, and the final destination the story is building towards (the climax)
  • Some characters = A hero and a villain (in the classic set up)
  • Setting = The Nile river? London? Palau? Basque Country? The Moon? Once you decide the what and who, start to think about the where
  • The other bits = These can come organically, or prepared, but what will really grab people’s interest into your story is the how (things are going to happen) and the why (should the reader care).
i.e. Make sure it doesn't suck

i.e. Make sure it doesn’t suck

Let’s do it

Grab a pen, sketch out some ideas, and run with it. The goal here isn’t to write the best story of all time, or even of your generation. It’s about finishing something and being able to say “I did it!”

Those who hit the target word count of around 50,000 words are known as ‘winners’, and there’s all kind of memorabilia you can get to symbolize your wonderful achievement, from t-shirts to mugs!

That aside, it’s the personal feeling of completion that rocks hardest. How cool would it be to say ‘I wrote a novel’!?

Visit the NaNoWriMo website today and take a look around. You can set up an account in minutes, find your local writing community, and make a go of it. And the best part is it’s all completely FREE OF CHARGE!!

“Wahoo!”

Tips for Success

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Think about it in terms of daily goals of around 1666 words, not as one big daunting mountain of 50,000 words, to keep from becoming demotivated.
  • Write first thing when your will power is at it’s highest and your brain hasn’t been depleted by a day of work and life.
  • Don’t lost sight of where you want to end up. The story can take a million twists and turns, so long as it ends up at an ending that satisfies the questions that were raised on the way.
  • Try and have fun!

 

We at IQ will be taking part, and we’ll be updating our progress on this blog. If you are also taking part, let us know in the comments. Come along and join us on the journey!

Useful Links

The NaNoWriMo website

Writer’s-World writing tips

Writer’s Digest tips for writing a book in 30 days

The Storyist NaNoWriMo preparation help

Special thanks to Ambro, David Castillo Dominici, marin, stockimages and Stuart Miles,  @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Like Clockwork; How Routine Habits Can Change Your Life

routines title

What does the morning mean to you? Is it a long slog of repetitive alarm snoozes and chimes, ushering you violently from slumber into a world of cold air and heavy eye-lids? Perhaps you’re a peppy-pepster, buzzing from sunrise and bouncing about the house in giddy merriment? Or is the morning simply just the first in a series of common events, an inevitability of your daily slog, and a reminder that you are no longer dreaming?

“Morning, tiger”

Wherever you fit, I hear you.

A lot of fuss is made about mornings; the early bird catches the worm; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; the morning has gold in its mouth.

These are three sayings that stress the importance of an early morning, the last two coming from a certain Benjamin Franklin (and I’m sure he must have said the first one too at some point).

Are you a morning person? Statistically, only about 10% are. In fact, only another 20% are night owls. That puts about 70% of us right there in the middle, neither late sleepers nor early risers, conveniently non-spectacular.

“Speak for yourself”

Here comes the sun

But what if we could harness the power of the sun? Like a blooming flower opening up in all its glory to spread itself out and bask in the sun’s aura, we too can be so grand and wonderful, no?

I know, I know. ‘I have a job’, ‘I have kids’, ‘I have Netflix’. These are not excuses, they are just facts of life. Obstacles will always be in your path, no matter what you do or where you do it. Life cares not for smooth sailing and calm seas. It will throw grenades, barbed wire and tornadoes, and expect you to take it all!

Pictured: life

Pictured: life

So, how do you get around this?

A routine of course!

It’s simple. Regularity breeds an environment where your body and mind know what is expected of them in certain situations and at certain times. By scheduling yourself to be doing specific actions at designated times, you get yourself into a very productive habit that can lead to serious long term gains. It also removes the chance for dilly-dallying and general horseplay (unless, of course, you have made time for that in your routine. In which case, fantastic!), and replaces this with well planned, well utilised time and activity.

“Hmmm, I’m not so sure”

Why bother?

“”Habits help us get through the day with minimal stress and deliberation,” says social psychologist Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California whose research focuses on the effect of habits on behavior” (taken from the article The Blessings of Routine on ChicagoTribune.com).

Whether the routine is rising early and maximising your productivity in the morning (more on this to come), or structuring your movements and actions throughout the day so as to keep yourself maximising your time for your interests, your day can only get better.

Time is money, but time is arguably more important. They are two things that define and dictate our daily lives, and yet we have so much trouble emphasising to ourselves to need to manage our time as carefully if not more so than how we manage our finances. Are you spending your time on things you really want to? Whether it’s having more time to play laser tag with your kids, bake cakes with your grandma, sell stocks and close accounts, or write and read, we could all do with having a little extra time in our lives for these passions. Squandering time is as big a waste if not more so than throwing money down the drain!

“Aaargh!”

When can I routine?

This part is easy! For those of you interesting in making time at the beginning and end of your day, there is a great video here on The Art of Manliness that explains how you can book end your day with a structured routine aimed at prioritising your time and making the most of setting yourself up to succeed every day!

In the coming weeks we will also be looking into the daily routine of some great people from history, and seeing how their daily structures helped them to be the best they could be. We’ll also give you a breakdown of why making special care of using your mornings in an effective way can set you up for an even better day.

To, y'know, climb mountains and stuff

To, y’know, climb mountains and stuff

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself though. Life is busy, and some of us are truly swamped by the things we have to do, leaving us little time for the things we want to do. Small changes, even anything such as making time for ten minutes of reflective thought every morning, are a start.

Your task for this week? Go forth and add something to your daily life. It doesn’t have to be something big, but it has to be something noticeable, and something you are capable of doing every day. For the more competent among us, perhaps look to try something a little taxing that may take a little juggling to actually be possible to fit in.

Some ideas:

  • half an hour of reading before bed
  • fifteen minutes of emailing friends in the morning
  • 3o minutes of foreign language review before breakfast
  • a morning jog (15-30 minutes is sufficient!)
  • Keeping a journal, making time to write for at least 20 minutes every night (click here for the IQ breakdown of why journals are awesome)
or crocodile dentistry...

or crocodile dentistry…

Ultimately, the person who can control this is you. Don’t waste any more time thinking and yearning. With a planned routine, the thought process is removed and instead you only have moments for action! Knowing that every day you will be playing/practising/learning/growing can be a massive motivator, and a keen reminder that your life is moving in a fulfilling and enriching way.

What’s stopping you? Let us know in the comments what things you make a habit of doing routinely, and any tips you might have for others who are just starting to form routines of their own.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, Kookkai_nak, marin, stockimages, TeddyBear[Picnic] and Tuomas_Lehtinen @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015