Tiny Tales: Why Small Projects Are So Important

Writing a book is BIG.

It’s a big investment of time, energy, money, and caffeine, but don’t let that put you off trying. We have a tendency to think that the bigger the book the better, but if you’re just starting out or if you’d like to engage with a creative project minus the pressure, then starting small may be the better option for you.

Instead of sitting down to write a multi-generational family saga, try writing a tiny story about a child and their toy, an unexpected encounter, an uninvited guest or a mysterious package in the mail. 

Set a tiny word count between 10-500 words. 

You can be as precious or as un-precious as you like; you can scribble something out in five minutes, or you can spend an afternoon perfecting a single paragraph stuffed with ornate description.

Then, and here’s the kicker, publish it.

Post it on one or all of your social media pages. Stick it on your blog. Submit it to a short story or flash fiction competition.

If you really can’t stomach the idea of publishing it online, then read it to your partner, your parents, or best friend. Hell, read it to your dog! 

Learn how to engage intensely with your writing and then learn how to release it. The exercise will show you a number of things:

1) Your writing didn’t change the world, but it made some people happy
2) Your writing didn’t change the world, but it made some people unhappy
3) These people were mostly unhappy because your post had a typo

3) The world didn’t stop because you published something with a typo.

It takes a long time to write a novel. It’s an exercise in discipline and delayed gratification. These are good skills for a writer to have, but sometimes you want your cookie now, not after lunch.

Instead of writing an epic fantasy consider writing a tiny book.

This tiny book could be a collection of tiny stories, or it could be one beautiful tiny story. 

Your tiny book can be 30 pages long or 120 pages long. Don’t stress over the page count, the story will tell you what it needs. 

You could write a tiny story from the perspective of your cat. You could write a tiny story about a boy wandering lots in the city, then flip it and write it from the parents’ point of view! You could write about a segment of the population relocating to mars or about a girl who travels back in time to meet David Bowie — Oh wait, I already did that. 🙂

When you’ve finished your tiny book, make a book cover or hire someone to do it for you and then publish your beautiful little book through Amazon or Ingramspark. 

If technology ain’t your jam, then print your story and leave it on your partner’s bedside table, or slip it beneath the front door of your best friend’s house, or between the covers of a book in your local library or independent bookstore … You wild writer devil you. 

Writing can be VERY SERIOUS, but it can also be a teeny bit magical. You can write a long book or a very short book, but remember that the length of a book is not reflective of its quality or the joy experienced by the author when they were creating it.

Write long books, but write tiny books too. 

I look forward to reading what you come up with.

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How Do You Know When A Project Is Finished?

One could argue that creative projects are never really done. Like any skill, our creative processes and practices improve over time. You are a better writer today than you were yesterday, and you’re definitely a better writer now than you were three years ago. Because our skills are constantly improving, it can be difficult to recognise when a creative project is finished.

You may finish revising chapter twenty-six and decided on a whim to look back at chapter three. Then your heart sinks. The chapter is crap. Well, maybe not crap, but you know that you can do better. You know that you can lift chapter three to the level of chapter twenty-six. One of the trickiest things about writing a novel is learning how to maintain a consistent voice across three-hundred-plus pages while your technical abilities as a writer constantly improve.

The desire to constantly tweak, lift and better your work never goes away.

If you love words, if you believe in the power of storytelling, and if you respect the craft of writing, then chances are you will have very high expectations when drafting your own novel.

Dani Shapiro once said that it would be an insightful experiment to have an author re-write the same book every ten years because it wouldn’t be the same book. An additional decade of life experience and craft development would ultimately result in a book that may have a similar premise to the earlier edition, but the quality and content of the updated copy would be entirely different.

So, how do you know when a novel or project is finished? Below are a few signposts that may indicate when a creative work has resolved itself.

You’re Kind of Over It

Resentment and boredom are good indicators that the cake is baked. If your eyes glaze over while revising chapter three—again—or if you feel irritated, frustrated or angry every time you sit down for another writing session … perhaps it’s time to hit the pause button and do some evaluating.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I having a bad week or am I truly done with this project?
  • What would it feel like to ‘hit publish’?
    (This could mean publishing a blog, sending a manuscript to an agent or publishing house or submitting a pitch or article to a magazine)
  • Am I done or am I quitting?
    (Remember: quitting feels great in the short terms, but lousy in the long term)
  • Can someone (other than Mum) read my work and provide some feedback?
  • Have I given this project all that I have?
  • Am I still in love with this project?
  • Does working on this project make me feel excited or drained?
  • If I were still working on this project in a month’s time, would I be okay with that?

The answer to these questions may help you decide whether this project requires more time or if it’s actually “complete.”

Pushing vs Perfectionism

Pushing yourself and perfectionism are similar, yet there is a subtle difference.

When we challenge ourselves, we are extending ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We are awake and alert. We feel focussed and excited. The obstacle course we find ourselves on may be tough, but we know that we are capable of finishing it. Even if we’ve never done anything like this before, we know that it’s possible to leap over hurdles, weave between obstructions and cross the finish line!

Here’s the difference: pushing has an endpoint; perfectionism doesn’t.

An obstacle course of this vain doesn’t have a finish line. Instead, the course is a loop that you climb, jump and run through, over and over again until your feet give out and you vomit from dizziness.

Are you challenging yourself to make your novel (or any work of art) the best that it can be or are you reaching for an ideal? Because, dear friend, there is no there, there.

There is no such thing as a perfect novel.

Don’t believe me, let’s consult some experts.

“Near enough is good enough.” Elizabeth Gilbert.

“The novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.” Randall Jarrell.

Deviation from Original Concept

Another indicated that it may be time to wrap things up is if the project is starting to deviate from the original concept. If you continue to work on, develop and revise your novel for too long, there is a very good chance that it will move away from your initial intentions. It’s good to push yourself and to allow projects to develop and change over time, but you also need to recognise when your constant need to tinker with the work has morphed into unproductive meddling.

There is a difference between tweaking a story in order to strengthen/improve it and changing a story so much that it is unrecognisable. Embedding new ideas, cutting out and adding characters, deleting scenes and writing new ones are part of the creative process but are you doing these things in order to excavate the story buried deep inside your soul, or are you simply fucking around?

Do not ignore the voice of your subconscious in favour of what you think the story should be about.

Finish the story you set out to write and reserve any sparkly new ideas for future projects.

Books are never really done. A writer could spend their entire life trying to making a manuscript match the ideal version they envisage in their mind. At the end of the day, you have two options. You can spend years/decades/a lifetime tweaking and ‘perfecting’ a single manuscript or you can do the work, make it presentable, hit publish and move on to the next project.

The choice is yours, so choose wisely.


Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 3.51.18 pmWhile you’re here, be sure to join my email newsletter and gain instant access to your FREE downloadable copy of the Writer Kickstarter Pack: How to Start a Blog and Get Published. Plus, you’ll receive my weekly newsletter straight to your inbox every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog/vlog, updates and other exclusive content that I ONLY share via email.

 


 

Creating a Writing Tribe

If you’re a writer, it’s likely that you spend a lot of time by yourself. While you can talk about your writing process, current WIP or latest bout of writers’ block with your friends and family, it is a vastly different experience to have those conversations with other writers because they actually understand what you’re saying!

A writing tribe has many benefits, both creatively and professionally. Depending on the level of experience held by each member of your group, a writing tribe can support you through the editing and revising of your novel, offer encouragement or suggestions when issues arise during the writing or publishing stages, and they can even introduce you to other writers or professionals in the publishing industry.

Typically, writers are a friendly bunch—despite our preference for isolation!

Most writers are happy to help others and to provide advice from their own lived experience. If you don’t have an existing writing club in your community, you can always make one. Most libraries are happy to provide a space for a writing club to host their meetings. You could post an ad on your local community Facebook page, gumtree or you could create a group page on the site ‘Meet Up’ to see if there are any other writers in your area interested in creating a club.

There is also a host of online communities you can join via Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube and Instagram.

However, building real-life relationships with writers in your own town and region is far more powerful and rewarding.

Attending workshops hosted by your state’s Writing Centre is another great way to meet people, same goes for attending writing festivals and conferences. Being on a budget is no excuse as most of these events are desperate for volunteers. Volunteering at a conference and festival is not only a great way to give back to your community and support the organisation running the event, but it is also a great way to meet other volunteers, committee members, staff and guests. The bonus here is that you all have something in common: a deep love for writing and reading.

As a writer and lover of books, you may consider yourself an introvert and therefore incapable of introducing yourself to a stranger.

Dear friend, if you are at a writing festival, workshop or conference, you are already among your people.

You are surrounded by introverts who are just as nervous, anxious, and worried about saying something weird/stupid/foolish as you are. Also, everyone attending such as event expects to be approached by strangers. That is the whole damn point! To make new friends and contacts. So, don’t be shy. If you need a few introductory phrases to break the ice, here are some conversation starters to get the ball rolling:

  • Are you a writer? What are you working on right now?

  • What are you reading at the moment?

  • Are there any speakers you’re looking forward to seeing?

  • Is this the first time you have volunteered? Are you enjoying it?

Part of being a writer is spending a lot of time alone.

The gift of creating a writing tribe is that you can meet other people who also express their inner thoughts, their observations about the world and the bizarreness of our human lives through the act of storytelling.

Writers need time alone, but we also need to be around other writers.

How to Make Working from Home Work

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If you are self-employed and work from home, then you are largely in charge of your schedule. People around you (family and friends) may misinterpret this control as meaning that you work “whenever you feel like it.”


(Watch the video version here)

Creating an ideal writing routine takes time. We have to figure out whether we work best in the morning, afternoon or night. We trial different creative processes such as outlining, discovery writing or a combination of both. We test out different cafes and libraries to see which ones have the best lighting, non-invasive music and relaxed staff. We learn whether we are disciplined enough to check email and social media before we start writing, or whether our Wi-Fi has to stay off until the session is over.

The writing routine is often fetishized, but the reality is it takes a long time and a lot of experimentation to develop a routine that supports our creative practice and goals.

When we find something that works, we stick to it.

Unfortunately, these routines are also very fragile.

We need to set aside a reasonable chunk of time—preferably during our optimal working hours—in order to do the deep work our novels/short stories/articles/essays require. A knock on the door, a text message or email can be enough to throw us off our game. For every interruption that occurs, it takes fifteen minutes to get back into the ‘zone.’

A friend may call or text to invite you out for a morning coffee or to go see a midday movie. Because you work from home they just assume you’ll make up those lost hours later.

The problem is, you only have so many good hours in a day.

If you spend three of your optimal morning hours having coffee with a friend, you are not going to get those hours back. Of course, you can push yourself to make up those lost hours later, but the quality of that work will not be equal to what you could have produced during your optimal working hours.

There is only one way to negotiate your work schedules with loves one: communication.

That means you need to tell your family and friends what your non-negotiable work hours are. If you consider yourself a morning person, get yourself into your office as early as reasonably possible and firmly close the door. You can even put up a nifty sign if you like. Tell your family that you will be unavailable between 9am-12pm. You can then reserve less urgent tasks such as administration and email for the afternoon. Though it may still be undesirable to be interrupted during this time, you can let your family know that they can come to see you between 1-5pm.

If you have adult children, teenagers or friends that you connect with on a daily basis via text message, tell them not to text you during your dedicated writing time. You can also switch your phone to flight mode or leave it in another room, but some people prefer to keep their phones handy in case of emergency.

That being said, there is no reason to keep your inbox or social media pages open during your writing time. You need to make it MORE difficult for people to interrupt you, not easier!

And no-one is going to contact you about an emergency situation via email or social. If the house is on fire—metaphorically speaking—people will call you.

Being self-employed and working from home is a dream scenario for many people. The downside is some people see home-based businesses as less serious then brick and mortar businesses. As though the money earned through writing articles is less real than that earned through an employer.

Being a full-time writer who works from home is a privilege, but it is also a job. A job that you need to dedicate time to. A job that requires a schedule and that requires you to stick to that schedule. Family and friends may never see your work in this way, or they may forget when your non-negotiable work hours are, but there are so many distractions you do have control over. You have the power to say no to invitations and requests. To switch off your devices. To close your web browser.

You can’t stop life from happening, but you can minimise its ability to distract you. And don’t worry, all those requests, invitations and interruptions will still be there when you open the door and emerge from your writing cave. At least you will be more generous in dealing with them because you’ve already tended to one of your highest priorities: writing.

 

 

The Downside to Being a Precrastinator

We’re all familiar with the term procrastination – and some of us may have even experienced it! – but have you heard of the term precrastination? When I first heard this term, I thought it was a cheeky way to describe ‘doers,’ but the more I read about it, the more I realised how perfectly this term describes the way that I manage my to-do list.

Basically, a precrastinator is someone who prefers to complete a task as soon as possible. They like to get things done well in advance. This approach is particularly relevant to short term tasks such as email, errands and minor requests*.

Many of us have long term goals that may include writing a novel, completing a degree, or increasing our fitness. Intellectually, we understand that these goals take a lot of time and a lot of energy to achieve.

If we are chugging along on one of our long term goals and a short term tasks suddenly pops up on our to-do list, a precrastinator will rush to complete that task in order to get on with their ‘real work’. Many of these tasks are lopped onto our already full plates through the evil channels of email, social media and our mobile phones. Ah, the joys of being constantly contactable…

Maybe you’re in the middle of a writing session when you receive an email from a colleague requesting you to edit a journal article, or a friend texts asking for your lasagne recipe, or you duck into the kitchen for a cup of tea and the kettle croaks it.

Working on your masterpiece has now become impossible because all you can think about is that your colleague needs that article to be edited, your friend needs that recipe and someone has to buy a new kettle. How can you possibly write another chapter with these pesky demands nipping at your heels?

There is a couple of things at play here. Firstly, there is a belief that these short term tasks are urgent. We spin ourselves into a frenzy as we tend to these tasks in an attempt to get them off our to-do list as quickly as possible. Of course, we should also take a moment to acknowledge the dopamine hit that happens when we complete these short term tasks. Ah, instant gratification. Progress has been made! Or has it?

This habit can have two consequences. If you allow yourself to be constantly distracted and interrupted by short term tasks, this will drag out the completion of your long term goals. Alternatively, if you continue to focus solely on short term tasks, then you may never reach your long term goal. In which case, your precrastinating has turned into procrastinating.

If you indulge in this form of procrastinating too much, you may develop a habit of rushing through ALL the tasks on your to-do list. Instead of taking the time to complete a task properly, you may find yourself in a vicious cyclic pattern as you hurry to complete one task then another and another. Who wants to live their life as though it were one big to-do list?

Obviously, some tasks can be completed quickly, but if you rush to complete the edits your colleague request, if you shot off an email to your friend, or if you hurry out the door to buy a new kettle – you may find yourself in a sea of regret!

What if you miss a bunch of typos? What if you email your friend a confidential file instead of a recipe? What if you buy a full-price kettle instead of one on sale because you were too busy to look?

When you rush through a task you may fail to give the time, attention or consideration that it truly needs. The result? Your colleague doesn’t ask you to edit another paper. Your friend reads that confidential material. You regret your quick purchase.

Precrastinating isn’t necessarily a problem. There is something good about clearing the decks so that you can give your full attention to your long term goals, but you need to be honest with yourself, are you simply tending to minor tasks or are you procrastinating under the guise of being efficient? You need to ask yourself questions like:

  • is my procrastinating leading to mediocre work?
  • Is it harming my reputation?
  • Is it causing me to rush through long term goals instead of giving them the time and energy they actually need?

It’s not very often that I EVER defend procrastinating, but there can be benefits to completing tasks at the last minute or at least delaying your starting of them. If you have a month to prepare a paper and you rush to write, revise and submit it in a week, you’ve just lost three weeks of ‘marinating’ time. Procrastinating isn’t (always) a dressed-up form of laziness or resistance, SOMETIMES, it is a way to allow deeper reflections, thoughts, insights and connections to occur. A person who does not write a paper until a few days before the deadline may wind up writing a better paper because they’ve allowed themselves to really think through their argument and to find some stellar sources.

There’s nothing wrong with being either a precrastinator or a procrastinator. The only times these behaviours do becoming troublesome is when they start interfering with your long terms goals.

*Of course, precrastinating also extend to medium sized tasks like re-planting a garden bed, servicing your car or building a website.