Delving Deep in the Word Mines

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Delving Deep in the Word Mines

In early 2012 I was scrolling through the old twitter feed (something I don’t do nearly often enough) and happened upon a tweet by the indomitable Neil Gaiman—author of all things amazing. Gaiman had gone and tweeted a link to the Guardian and Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize (YWP), which I went on to win about a year later, in March 2013.

If not for that wonderful tweet, my writing career four years on now would be vastly and, dare I say it, woefully different.

The premise of the YWP was simple. Submit the first 4,000 words of a YA manuscript, wait six months, and if the wonderful readers at Hot Key liked it, submit the rest of the manuscript in September. As luck would have it, I’d started a rough sketch of an idea just a few weeks earlier. A story about a teenage escape artist, something of a conman with a heart of gold, who found himself locked up in the most secure prison on the planet—The Rig, a converted oil platform in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles from land, and overseen by a ruthless private corporation.

So I polished the first 2,000 words, all I had at the time, and wrote another 2,000, and sent it off for submission. I received the standard ‘thank you for submitting’ reply and then promptly put the YWP from my mind. I was working on a number of other stories at the time, as well as planning a move overseas, and after reading the comments section on the submission page I realised I was up against hundreds of other authors. A nice idea, I thought, but better keep writing.

The months slipped past and I moved to Canada, to Banff, up in the mountains. The cliché of a writer tapping away in a cabin on the mountain? Yeah, that was me. I occasionally thought on The Rig, and had some rough idea on where the plot was heading. The story was simmering in the shallow pot of my mind, yet I didn’t write another word beyond that initial 4,000 until around September, 2012, when I received an email from Hot Key stating my little story had been listed through to the next round and could I please submit the full manuscript in three weeks?

Oh dear.

I was about 70,000 words short of a full manuscript.

But, and here’s where luck and fortune smiled upon me, I was also about three weeks out from starting my job in Canada. I had the time. Hours upon hours of it. All I needed was to sit in front of the computer, park myself in the writin’ chair, and get the words on the page.

I wrote fourteen hours a day for the next eleven days. Before the sun rose, and long after it set, I sat in that little kitchen, in my little house in Banff. I have to say, as far as writing locations go, it was spectacular. Here, take a look:

Middle Springs, Banff

Middle Springs, Banff

 

Not a bad old view upon which to write a novel. In fact, I’ve found none better in the years since. I’m a firm believer that you can write anywhere, delve into the word mines, but some places provide richer veins of story than others.

Without going into too much detail, the story came together remarkably well, in my unbiased opinion. I submitted the manuscript, still in need of vast edits, off to Hot Key before the deadline and, wouldn’t you know it, the darn thing went on to win the YWP. The story was solid.

What this meant to me and my writing career is hard to put into words. I was shocked, awed, and more than a little proud. I started to see the story come together in a professional environment. Edits, and proofreads, and cover design, and a wonderful team of people at Hot Key. Before I knew it, the book hit shelves across several nations. I was on the playing field.

Since then, I’ve written a few more stories – Crystal Force, the second book in the Will Drake series – has hit shelves, and there’ll be at least a third story after that. This kind of success seemed far away and unlikely just a few short years ago, and then all of sudden I was playing the game for real.

I’ve still a ways to go, plenty of writing goals to achieve, but being awarded the YWP added a large amount of certainty to my writing. A much needed dose of self-confidence. If others believed in my words, maybe I could, too. All writers face doubt, but the trick is to outpace it, always be writing, and with any luck the certainty will follow.

 

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State of the Union

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State of the Union

Okay, time for some updates on the old writin' front. I know it's been awhile since I've been on my awesome and often release schedule (real life gets in the way, and I've been lazy) but I'm on track to release some quality words this year.

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New Websites and CRYSTAL FORCE!

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New Websites and CRYSTAL FORCE!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it has been some time since I updated the old blog, but here I am back in the saddle - and I've brought a whole new web page with me! Jumped from .net to .com, and we're looking a whole lot prettier. This is due in large part, about a 142%, to the fiercely clever and talented Kate Stone. You're too good to me, Kate.

Yes, yes. New year, new site, and a whole lot of new books on their merry little way. I was at the local pool hall down here in Joondalup (where Declan keeps his bookshop!), when I received news of the site's launch. This moment was captured and is now immortalised forever right here:

poolhallducks

Note: That may be the only picture of me smiling in existence. I was quite chuffed.

So all good things for 2015. 

In book news...

CRYSTAL FORCE

Yes - the next Will Drake book and the follow-up to my award winning novel, THE RIG, has been finalised and is off to the printers. Coming soon to bookshops across the United Kingdom and Australia. April 2nd - that soon! It's going to be a good one. Perhaps my most action packed book to date. We've got explosions and pizza and zombie dinosaurs and swivel chairs, as well as a whole lot more! Keep an eye out for that one, or give it a cheeky pre-order right here!

See the awesome cover below.

And that's all for now, folks.

Blog again soon.

-Joe Ducks

crystal force lo res

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Knight Fall Draft Finished!

Ladies and gentlemen, huzzah! Today, the 9th of August in the 2013, I did doth complete the draft for Knight Fall (RE3#)! This is cause for rampant celebration and merriment of the scotch'ed variety.

The novel is off to my editors late Sunday and I should have the second round, then two proofreads, sorted mid-September. Won't be too long after and it'll hit the shelves!

Here's the rough blurb until then:

“The Knights of Atlantis created the Infernal Clock, the Roseblades, and other weapons of celestial illusion. Yet today the Knights are less than a pale shadow of their former glory. A bonfire diminished to dying embers. None of the Order could wield Origin with enough conviction to even blemish the Everlasting.” Emily grinned and gave me a wink. “Well, save perhaps one shadowless fool.”

The peace forged by Declan Hale at the end of the Tome Wars was meant to last a hundred generations. Yet barely six years have passed and the drums of war echo once more across the thousands of worlds of the Story Thread.

With shadowed enemies loosed from the Void, the Knights Infernal again after his head, and the Everlasting wrapping him in their dark schemes, Declan will have to take the fight across worlds once more—or risk True Earth getting swept away in the maelstrom.

Cheers,

Joe

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On Keeping a Writing Log - Part Deux

 

‘Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will note; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

~Calvin Coolidge

I thought I’d take a break from my series of posts on time management to discuss the merits and wonders of the writing log—and what it can do for you in terms of productivity and accountability.

Here’s a link to my initial post regarding Writing Logs. I’ve come a long way since then, most definitely for the better.

A Law of Writing

We’re often bombarded with advice and ‘laws’ for writing that, when you break them down, can’t really be called laws if they only apply in some cases. ‘Don’t use adverbs in dialogue tags, mostly’, ‘Avoid prologues, now and again’, ‘Avoid overly detailed character descriptions’, and so on… No, no—something that doesn’t apply across the board always and in all ways is not a law or even a rule. It’s a guideline at best.

That said, if you’re aiming for publication and all the money and women that come with it, here’s one of the unbreakable laws of writing: Finish what you start.

I’ve no greater advice on writing than that. If you start something, see the darn thing through. No one ever published something half-written (arguable, I know, but you get my point). The trick is how to make whatever you start—be it novel, short story, research paper, PhD, letter—readable, consistent in theme, tone, voice, and all the other nitty gritty stuff. ‘Ware consistency without focus, as you’ll most likely end up writing yourself into a corner.

And speaking of consistency…

My Writing Log

Here it is in all its majesty:

Current Log

So what are we looking at here? An Excel spreadsheet full of formulas calculating away in the background, keeping score and holding me accountable to my daily word target—2000 words a day. Of what you see there, I’m responsible every day—whether I write a word or not—for filling in the following columns:

Story Title

Start Count

Finish Count

Time Started

Time Finished

Work of thirty seconds, as the formulas take care of everything else. Time well spent, too, as the data and information about my writing habits I can pull from this log is invaluable. No more vague notions of finishing a novel ‘someday’. With this, I know exactly how far along I am—to the minute and word.

As you can see, in days to come my total words column is a stark and vicious bright red. This is because I have yet to write on those days. The red is a streak I have to mine and pull chunks of story ore from, and the power of a streak is a wonderful thing. I don’t want that column to be all ugly and red. I want it to turn green. How does it turn green? The conditional formatting in the log will turn a box on any given day green if my total words written over the day exceed 2,000.

Note: 2,000 words a day is what I know my average to be, assuming I have about 2 hours of uninterrupted writing time. You’ll have a rough idea of your own average, which you should supplement in place of mine.

The column stays red if I don’t hit 1,000 words, and becomes a soothing yellow for every word between 1,000 and 2,000 a day. Yellow I consider a successful writing day. Green is golden.

I monitor the time started and time finished, plus any extra time, in order to breakdown how long it takes me to write a first draft. I can also use these figures to generate charts and figure out my optimal writing times on any given day of the week. If I write more at night, then I should be scheduling my writing time in the evening. If I churn out more by getting up an hour early, then perhaps my daily writing time is better served in the morning, you see?

So there you have an overview of how the writing log works. Let’s take a look at why, at least for me, this process has improved my writing over the last year.

Consistency is Key

Key to what? Key to life. Consistent, prepared effort—even if you’re crawling inch by inch across the page, and we all are—will unlock the dark and terrible novel you’ve been trying to hammer out for years.

Take a look at my writing log from half a year ago again:

Writing Log

And again what I’m using now:

Current Log

Note: Forgive the streak of red on the new log. I started a new job that sapped most of my day for the beginning of July. Back on form and hitting my stride again now!

You won’t always be consistent. Is that an oxymoron? Writers thriving through inconsistent consistency? Well, if the shoe fits. What I’m getting at is there will be days, maybe even a few in a row (but if that’s happen you’ll need to have a good long think about your endgame), where you don’t churn out word one.

I’ve written two successful enough novels and a third that was awarded the Hot Key Young Writers Prize earlier this year (due September 5th), and as you can see from my current log I have days of inconsistency. But on those days I step back, reassess and revaluate why I write at all, and then sit my ass down in front of the blank page.

Remember, inch-by-inch is the best any of us can write a novel. That’s how I write. Goddamn it, that’s how Stephen King writes. So the difference between people who want to write a novel and those that do?

Consistency.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Let’s take a look at what consistent, patient, prepared writing time can produce. You’ll know exactly how much your effort creates, because you’ll be keeping track of it in your shiny new writing log, won’t you?

Here’s the breakdown of my stats for this month (July, 2013). Again, not on form early in the month, but still a sizeable word count that didn’t exist two weeks ago:

Total Words Written: 15269

Time Spent Writing: 12 hours and 47 minutes

Average Words p/hour: 1145.4

Encouraging, even with a streak of ugly red at the beginning of the month. At my current pace I’ll have a first draft this time next month, around August 14th. There’s another benefit of the writing log—you can forecast how long it should take, given your current pace, to finish an average novel (which, in my genres of fantasy/sci-fi/YA, is about 70,000 words).

Let’s advance the numbers again, assuming across the board consistency every damn day of the year.

2,000 words p/day x 365 days = 730,000 words p/year

Holy smokes, if I maintained consistency every day I’d have ¾’s of a million words written in a year. Given our average novel length of 70,000 words, that’s the best part of 10 and ½ first drafts a year. A mindboggling output, but not beyond my ‘average’ capability, if I work on reaching and maintaining a streak of sweet, clear green.

How could I achieve 10 first drafts a year? You got it, consistency.

So that would be my optimal outcome. It’s unlikely, given life and all its many varied interruptions and responsibilities, but so long as I keep my writing log I’ll be able to monitor how close to optimal my progress has been.

Writing Log Template

Oh and if you’d like to give it a shot, here’s my template all formula’d up and ready to go:

Writing Log Template – click on the link and download the current version from Google Docs as an Excel spreadsheet.

Note: the conditional formatting in that template has set the threshold for turning a cell yellow between 1000 and 2000 words, and turning a cell green for 2000+ words. If you know your average is more or less a day, change the conditional formatting to reflect your targets.

And there we go—done and dusted for now. I’m going to keep using my log in the months to come, perhaps modifying the data to capture additional information. I’ll keep you posted.

What do you think of keeping a writing log? Useful? Intimidating? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email on how you keep score!

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Time Management Tricks for the Time-Impaired Writer: Part Two

Strong, swift openings draw a reader in. So here’s Time Management for the Time-Impaired Writer summed up strongly and swiftly:

There’s always time.

However busy or hectic a lifestyle you lead, there’s always time. Do well to remember that, because I know I forget those three little words quite often, trapped under an avalanche of responsibility and commitment. There’s always time and that time exists because of simple ordered priorities.

Good preparation across the board = identified and ordered priorities = awesome and effective time management.

Okay, so in PART ONE – TIME HARD we talked about preparation, keeping a writing log using Excel, automating tasks that sap our time, and carving out a slice of your day solely for writing. We saved some time through better preparation and time management. Now let’s have a look at how to save a bit more. After all, writer’s block is merely mismanaged time. It’s not that hard to make the words flow. You’ll see a lot of good writers talking about time management in various forms all over this crazy internet town.

I’m going to keep a runny tally of just how many hours and minutes these tips could save. I’ll lowball the averages, so as not to make it seem too good to be true, but even a few extra hours a week can make a story happen. In the last part of this series we talked about automation. Automation is king! Praise be his name. Personally, automating my finances and not having to manually pay my bills, or check balances (balance cheques?) every day, has saved me about 25 minutes a week.

So our tally of time saved through better time management currently stands at:

Weekly:

25 minutes

Monthly:

1 hour and 40 minutes

Yearly:

20 hours

See that? Do you see that and appreciate what it means? One task that only eats at a few minutes a day can, over a year, absorb an entire day of your life. That right there is why time management matters. And you pay bills for, what, fifty or sixty years as an adult? Think long-term, because it won’t matter when you’re dead, but do you think you’ll look back in sixty years, as you lie withered on your hover-deathbed, sipping apple flavoured Ultradyne Nutrient Paste™, just how awesome it was that you spent sixty days of your life paying the fucking phone bill?

A first draft is born in less than two months.

Well, no sense dwelling on it now, so let’s be about our sordid business once more.

PART TWO – TIME HARDER

Trick #4: Food for Thought

How often do you have to nip out to the shops for a pint of milk? A forgotten loaf of bread? Oh shit, you’re out of butter again! Two times a week? Three? Even if the shop is only down the road, that’s at least half an hour a week you could have been writing. Two hours a month – twenty-four hours a year. A day wasted spent popping out of an evening or morning for simple staples. And never mind a big grocery shop, which could take hours, and you forgot to get sugar again, didn’t you? Well, it’ll only take ten minutes there and back…

What’s that day of wasted time worth to you? $20? $10? $1000? I live in Perth, Western Australia, the most expensive place in Australia and the eleventh most expensive city in the world, but I can get my grocery shopping delivered straight to my door from one of the major supermarkets, Woolworths or Coles, for $8 per delivery.

If you spend some time compiling a comprehensive online grocery list with the supermarket, you can ensure that every month you have exactly what you need—no cheeky extras or impulse buying in the store—and spend that extra time, an hour or two a week, you would have spent mundanely picking up groceries forging some awesome word slush instead. You will carve pristine story from white marble pages whilst sipping your home-delivered milk and laughing like the diabolical time management genius you are.

Compile more than one list, as well, depending on how well stocked your larder looks. The user dashboards for my nearest supermarket lets you store the lists for the future and can even generate lists based on past use. Hell, it even reminds me if I haven’t ordered something basic in a while, like paprika. I have two key lists. I do a big shop once a month and replace things running low, such as meat and frozen vegetables. They keep in the freezer. This list also contains milk and bread and other items that can quickly expire. A second list could comprise things that you need to replace every two months—spices, say, and sauces. The cost, of course, is $8 a delivery, but I imagine having actually gone to the store I may have burned through that with impulse purchases, fuel, even parking costs. Swings and roundabouts, you ken?

When I run short of perishables, milk and fruit, within the week, only then will I call into my local shop on my way home from work. Absurd to pay $8 just to get a pint of milk delivered, after all.

Time saved (again, I’m going to keep it low so as not to inflate the process beyond reasonable and into absurd – your situation will vary) grocery shopping:

Weekly:

1 hour

Monthly:

4 hours

Yearly:

48 hours

Holy heck—two days? How much could you write if you had two days worth of extra time? Should we look at the figures from our deathbed again, over the average of sixty years from 20 to 80? Pretty simple math, yeah…

2 days per year x 60 years = 120 days.

Four months spent mindlessly pushing a trolley—and you know that fucker has a dodgy wheel—up and down the aisles of a supermarket looking for chopsticks and breadcrumbs because one week they’re in Kitchen and the next Asian Foods. Christ, that’s depressing.

Let’s also add—just to rub salt in the wound—our sixty days spent paying bills. We now sit, just from two tasks that we all have to do every week, at 180 days of lost time over a lifetime. Your lifetime. My lifetime. That’s 6 months. Do you have a new appreciation for time management yet? You can live an extra six months of your life by automating just two tasks. We live on the cusp of a new age, ladies and gentlemen, a golden age of automation—so ride the wave or be left regretting all the wasted hours when you hit the shore, as we all must.

Trick #5: The To-Do List – Or How I Learned to Embrace the Value of A Schedule

Disclaimer: Before we proceed, a word about the to-do list. The to-do list is one of the keenest and most useful non-writing weapons in the writer’s arsenal. That said, it’s also a double-edged sword. Treat the to-do list with the utmost caution and, indeed, respect. A well-maintained and sharpened to-do list will cut through reams of paper. A rusty and ill kept list will give you tetanus and the numb, modern, indifferent cancer of the soul that seems to permeate our civilisation. Dramatic, I know, but we are playing with the finite seconds of our lives here. Just something to keep in mind.

So here’s my average weekday, which I keep track of on my to-do list schedule. Most of us use a smart phone that can sync our calendar between different machines and that will notify us of upcoming events. I heartily suggest utilising Google Calendar for this task. Here’s what my working week looks like in snapshot:

Calendar Capture

And the breakdown:

0500 – Wake Up/Shower

0530 – Breakfast/Internet

0615 – Commute to work

0700 – Work

1500 – Commute to home

1600 – Exercise

1645 – General internet/emails/calls/messages

1730Write (aiming for 2000 words)

1930 – Game over.

Within those blocks of time I also have scheduled little reminders, little to-do’s along the lines of ‘Email Jim re: business cards’, ‘Hire gardener’, ‘Fix dodgy hinge on bedroom door’, ‘Call Sarah re: WHY WON’T YOU RETURN MY TIME-MANAGED LOVE!?’, and so on. Account for everything and remain accountable, disciplined, to yourself for completing these tasks. Don’t let them pile up, don’t let the trickle become a flood that sweeps you away from filling that blank page with uncut crystal word slush. Unless I’m being physically restrained (and even then…) or in an unexpected meeting or something, I’ll complete those little tasks as they arise, so help me God.

Now, at 1930 of an average evening I clock off and have some dinner. Even if I’ve only managed a handful of crappy words in the last two hours of my scheduled writing time, it’s time to relax and recharge on the slow wind down to bedtime. It’s scotch o’clock, ladies and gentlemen, and the scotching is good. The day may have been a failure writing-wise, but sitting there trying to force square-shaped words through circle-shaped holes is a fool’s game. And, indeed, a waste of time.

So from 1930 to 2300 I have time for anything that doesn’t actually work toward achieving my goals. Those goals broadly: write more novels/work toward financial freedom. All work and no play makes Joe a shitty writer. I recommend, if you can schedule it, to have your writing time earlier in the day before you have your block of free time. For me, at least, I enjoy the free hours far more knowing the day is behind me and that I don’t have a two-hour task coming up later in the evening.

Note: Some will look at my daily schedule and call it busy, while others will think I’ve got it easy. However you view my average daily breakdown, just know that either way there are days that I don’t stick to the plan, days where my apathy and keen sense of razor-sharp laziness overwhelm my discipline. The trick is to minimise those days as much as possible. Resist the resistance.

This writing game isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon through thickets of adverbs and adjectives, over mountains of ill prepared prose and plot, while wading across rivers of doubt and failure. Chin up, yeah? That’s the fun part.

Trick #6: GOOOAAALLL!

Now it’s all good and well having a vague and often fluid image of what you’re trying to achieve through better time management, but what’s your endgame? What are you striving toward? Do you even know? Does anyone?

There’s always time… until there isn’t. So pick a marker in the distance. It could be one year away or ten. Somewhere in between is nice – a five-year plan. What do you want to achieve by the time you reach this marker? I’m 25 heading toward 30. Whether I want them to or not, those five years between now and then are going to pass anyway. I want them to pass with purpose and resolve. I want to be goal-orientated and productive.

I want to be prepared and manage my time.

This is one of my tricks that doesn’t save you physical time like automating finances and groceries does, but it does provide clarity and sense of purpose, which empowers your writing and ties back to that numero uno tenet of effective time management:

Preparation.

A Summary of S(th)orts

Let’s review:

  • There’s always time. That time exists in preparation and prioritizing.
  • Automate, Automate, Automate. This part of the time management series explored cutting down time at the grocery store.
  • Organise your writing time as early in the day as possible, if you can. Time spent leading up to a task that you know will take some attention can often go to waste.
  • Try and create blocks of uninterrupted work. Group similar tasks.
  • Write in the time you have, be it half an hour a day or half a day! More work hours doesn’t necessarily mean greater productivity. Constraints on time do not have to be shackles!
  • Find a marker and set a goal.
  • Always prioritise.

Total Time Saved through Time-Management: 

Task

Weekly

Monthly

Annually

Automating Finances

25 mins

1 hour, 40 mins

20 hours

Grocery Shopping Delivery

1 hour

4 hours

48 hours

 

 

 

Total Time Saved:

1 hour, 25 mins

5 hours, 40 mins

68 hours

Just under 3 days a year saved through proper preparation and time management. How often have you wanted a few extra vacation days or time to write? Well, there you go, you’re looking at them.

And just because it adds much needed perspective…

Time Saved Lifetime: 2.9 days x 60 = 174 days

How many first drafts could you write given six spare months? I’ll leave Part Two here, but fear not, I’ve plenty more tips coming up. Would you leave me a comment or shoot me an email with your tips and tricks? Or what you’ve found helpful/impractical so far?

Cheers, you time-engineers,

Joe

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Time Management Tricks for the Time-Impaired Writer: Part One

Welcome to a new series of posts on this blog regarding an issue that lambasts writers like a horde of rampaging hooker-clocks on a street corner—finding the time to write!

I’m going to be covering a few tricks and tips over this series that I use to produce reams upon reams of pure, raw word slush. The good stuff, you know, that we can turn into proper story. Utilising these tips allowed me to write five novels since May of 2012, two of which are published, a third which won the Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize at the London Book Fair (due September 5th), and a fourth which should be released October. So let’s get underway with...

PART ONE - TIME HARD

Preparation is Key

Success doesn’t favour the talented or even the lucky. Get that nonsense out of your head and focus on the key disciplines of the successful writer. Namely: preparation!

Thinking you’re going to be the next ‘overnight’ success and at the top of the NYT Bestseller list come Christmas is a fine thing to think. But it’s a thought full of hope and smoke, you know? I guarantee you that anyone who actually does make that list doesn’t consider it dumb luck or any amount of raw talent. I read a quote once, I forget where and to who it’s attributed, but it read along the lines of this: We compare our own lives to everyone else’s highlight reel. True, no?

What I’m getting at is we’re exposed to these overnight successes—books from first-time authors that sell a million+ copies in the first year, rocketing the author to superstardom and fame. But what we don’t see are the years of hard work the author spent in obscurity, learning the craft of storytelling and actually producing word slush. Sure there are outliers in any industry, but for the most part success comes from discipline, hard work, and time management.

Being prepared to undertake such stringent management of your goals, being prepared to suffer the discipline of carving out chunks of precious, precious amber writing time, is the only sure path on the road to success. You will wade in the river Failure at times, you will want to take shortcuts that end up costing more time in the long run, and you’ll want to be lazy. But wouldn’t you rather be successful?

Oh, and I’m not defining success here as the NYT Bestseller lists. Sure, that’s a measure, but not a fair one. Success here is a completed novel, thus propelling you beyond 99% of people who consider themselves writers. Small steps that begin with proper, prepared time management!

Trick #1: The Life Log – Or How I Learned to Embrace the Spreadsheet

How are you with Microsoft Excel? Passing knowledge? Hard to avoid the program, really, and you shouldn’t—Excel has become my number one tool for time management. If you’re a little fuzzy on how to use Excel, here’s a bunch of free online courses.

A few months ago I wrote a post about keeping a writing log. I’m writing a follow-up post to that soon on how I expanded the initial spreadsheet to capture data such as time spent writing, words p/hour, average words p/month, and so on. I still stand by that writing log. Monitoring my productivity showed me just how simple the writing process could be—if you’re prepared for it. Here’s a screenshot of my writing log now:

Writing Log Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 2.07.04 PMNote: my spreadsheet uses the Australian financial year, July to June, to work out averages and what not. So it’s not looking too flash so far this year because it’s only been keeping track of the last 11 days. And at the beginning of July I started a new job, which meant a few days in the red. Back on form now!

But anyway: monitoring productivity. For example, I know it took me only 75 hours to write the first draft of Broken Quill, which came out at 72,000 words. Just over three days, you say? Yep. I know – I monitored. Those 75 hours were spread over 46 days, and as you can tell, I averaged a little over a 1,000 words an hour and wrote for just over an hour and a half a day. A month and a half isn’t too shabby for a novel-length first draft. Then came rewrites and edits, of course, but with the bones of a story on the page, a finished skeleton, the rest is easy. Well, not so much easy as… less hard.

Since using a writing log I’ve expanded the idea into other areas of my life. Most notably: finances. I keep a similar log monitoring my income/expenses. With a fortnightly salary, this is fairly straightforward. If you’re on writer’s money, which is to say irregular and often disappointing, then it can be a little harder to monitor, as monthly income can vary. Use an average or find out from your publisher (easy for those using KDP), what to expect royalty-wise. Again, this is being prepared—the key tenet of time management.

Keeping a log makes sure I know where and when, precisely, my income comes from, and where it’s going, on every day of the month or year. Which leads me to my next trick…

Trick# 2: Automate, Automate, and Automate

If you’ve sat down and spreadsheet’ed your income/expenses, then the next step is to anticipate and actively eliminate the time and some of the worry involved in keeping your finances in order, thus freeing you from stress and affording you time to write. Use your online banking to automatically transfer funds to an account to cover monthly costs such as phone, internet, and rent. Bills that are unavoidable but usually the same amount every month.

You set up a transfer from your cash account, say on the 1st of every month, for the bills and transfer the full amount into whatever account (and you should have a specified one) the relevant organisations direct debit. You know how much to spend, what’s left, and can rest easy knowing that everything is paid on time, always, and that you only have to spend a few minutes every month ensuring those companies are charging you correctly. Being prepared like this removes stress, the nagging feeling of not having enough funds to pay the bills, and leaves you with extra time to write.

Moreover, set and anticipate future expenses. One of the bills that used to take me by surprise was the car registration every six months. Usually about $300 for my particular vehicle. I always had a vague idea that six months was nearly up and then, sure enough, bam! $300 please pay in 21 days, Mr. Ducie.

I grew tired of such expensive surprises. So for the last few registrations, I’ve automated $50 a month into a ‘future expenses’ online account. An account where I specifically transfer a portion of my monthly income to paying bills I do not expect to see for months or even a year. Some examples of the transfers I’ve got scheduled every month:

Emergency Fund: $150 p/month x 12 months = $1800 (everyone should build an emergency fund).

Car Rego: $50 x 6 months = $300

Insurance: $70 p/month x 12 months = $840 (this one is particularly good and let’s me pay the year’s insurance bill all in one hit. Bonus: most insurance companies offer a discount for paying annually instead of by the month)

So as you can see, the funds are there, money set aside from my income over an entire year for an expense that I knew was on its merry way. Sure I’m still spending $300 when the time comes, but this way I’m certain I’ll have the money, all my dollars and cents are accounted for and put to work, so when I pay the bill I do so feeling in control and (slightly less) resentful.

If you can afford it, the real trick would be to save double what was needed, that way you’re always a year ahead on anticipated or expected expenses. Think about it – a whole year without the stress of those bills that seem so far away and yet always arrive too soon.

Although this has very little to do with actual writing – indeed, next to nothing – your mood and desire to write will be impacted for the better by automation.

Trick #3: Carve Out a Slice of Writing Pie

Okay, so we’ve looked briefly at relieving financial stress in your day—an overview, which we’ll explore more in future posts—now let’s go writing-specific for this last trick of Part One!

You have 24 hours in your day. We all do.

How many of those hours do you spend writing? How many should you spend writing?

If you look at my writing log spreadsheet again, you’ll see chunks of red, yellow, and green. The column turns green if I write 2000+ words on any given day, yellow on days between 1000 – 2000, and red for anything under 1000 words. I consider writing a responsibility, a proper job, and one where I must perform. Less than a 1000 words to me is not performing in my role (your average in two hours may be more or less, to each their own) and I know once I get underway I can write on average 2000 words in 2 hours. Find your average, which if you're keeping a writing log will be rather easy, and set traffic-light coded progress markers.

So of my pie cut into 24 slices, two of those slices are dedicated to writing. Preferably two in a row, as I get more done in one solid block than over say four half-hour sessions spaced throughout the day. Not to say you shouldn’t use a free half-hour. Indeed, that’s kind of the point.

Some quick calculations:

24 hours a day:

Work: 8 hours (average work day)

Travel time: 1 hour (varies, of course)

Writing: 2 hours

Sleep: 7 hours

Current total = 18 hours

That still leaves you 6 hours in the day for any other tasks. Kids to school and back home if you have them, meals, cleaning, laundry, bit of TV of an evening or a pint at the pub. You won't be wasting time paying bills, will you, because they're all automated now. Again, preparation and carving your pie into adequate and fair slices for the given task will increase productivity, guaranteed.

A Summary of Sorts

  • Success favours the prepared, so be prepared.
  • Monitoring your productivity can show where you can improve, what works, what doesn’t, and give a great sense of accomplishment.
  • Automate as much of your tasks as you can, particularly relating to finances. Not only will you see where your money is going, you can get ahead of the expenses and plan accordingly, leaving you stress-free during your writing time - then watch those royalty cheques begin to roll in!
  • Carve your day into manageable tasks and complete them in order of importance, not urgency.

So I’ll leave off here with Part One of this series.  Following posts will cover other aspects of time management, such as daily logs, budgeting every minute, make every minute count towards your future writing goals, write-smart, and a whole bunch more!

Now can you think of any others ways to automate your lifestyle? Increase productivity? What do you do to manage time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or an email.

Cheers,

Joe

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Hot Key Books - Young Writers Prize 2013

Good news, everyone! The wonderful people at Hot Key Books have announced the 2013 Young Writers Prize.

This is a competition near and dear to my heart, as my first YA novel The Rig was selected as a winner of the 2012 competition. Hot Key Books is an amazing publisher - any budding writers out there between 18 - 25 should seriously consider entering!

Cheers,

Joe

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New Release Mailing List

Hey, folks, So just a quick one today - if you'd like to get an automatic email and be the first to find out about my new releases and what not, click here:

AWESOME MAILING LIST!

You'll only ever get an email once or twice a year, once you're subscribed, and it'll be when a book is out and available! I also swear not to use your email address for nefarious purposes.

Long days and pleasant nights,

Joe

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Like Pulling Teeth

You'll have to bear with me on this one - I've just returned from the dentist with two less teeth than I left with. Blimey, it took two dentists and about four sets of dentist pliers (forceps?) to remove these stubborn teeth. Way to go molars, you let the whole team down. Funnily enough, it put me in a blogging mood.

Let's talk what's happening on the writing front.

  • The Rig is going through final edits now and is on track to be published September 5th, by Hot Key Books. Keep an eye out for that one, it's one of my finest works to date.
  • Knight Fall, RE#3, is floundering but persevering. Should be done in a month or two, then edits, then release.
  • I'm working on two brand new projects, as well. Young Adult fantasy and Young Adult... contemporary? I dunno, YA - dragons = project 2. One involves floating cities, fish and tree people, magical gauntlets, and an orphaned protagonist fallen on hard-but-magical times. The other doesn't have dragons, and remains a vague, somewhat vaguer than vague, blur in my mind. Only have about 10,000 useful words of that, but there's something there. Cider Promises.
  • And, happy days, I just signed with the wonderful Eugenie Furniss at Furniss & Lawton. Not only am I published, but I have a literary agent.

That about does it for now. Just gotta keep tip-tapping away in the word mines, searching for glittering story. There's plot in dem dar hills!

Long days and pleasant nights,

Joe

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In which Joe wins a prize...

Good news, everyone! I am pleased, humbled, rather giddy, and just generally excited to announce that I am a proud recipient of the Guardian and Hot Key Books Young Writer's Prize! Huzzah--huzzah indeed!

What does this mean, you ask? Well, along with a bit of a skip in my step, it means I'm stepping onto the clear, crystal shores of traditional publishing, with my first novel geared toward a Young Adult audience - The Rig!

Check out the cover and synopsis:

the-rig-300dpi

(click to make biggerer...est)

Catchy, no? The blue is blue and the hand rather handy. I love it. Here's a bit about the story:

Fifteen-year-old Will Drake has made a career of breaking out from high-security prisons. His talents have landed him at The Rig, a specialist juvenile holding facility in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. No one can escape from The Rig. No one except for Drake...

After making some escape plans and meeting the first real friends of his life, Drake quickly realises that all is not as it seems on The Rig. The Warden is obsessed with the mysterious Crystal-X - a blue, glowing substance that appears to give superpowers to the teens exposed to it. Drake, Tristan and Irene are banking on a bid for freedom - but can they survive long enough to make it? Drake is an action hero to rival Jason Bourne and the CHERUB team in this debut author's fantastically imagined sci-fi nightmare.

And then awesome things happen that you can read about in September - the 5th of, to be exact - when the story is released. Until then, here's the first chapter.

My story was selected out of hundreds, along with a story from my fellow winner Katie Coyle. The judging panel included YA author Will Hill, Julia Eccleshare, John Newman, Elen Caldecott and students from Evelyn Grace Academy and Thongsley Fields Primary School. I'm told they liked 'The Rig', so that's encouraging.

So my thanks to all involved, for choosing my story. It is a good story, if I can say so myself. One of those that came out on the page almost as clear as I saw it in my head. Rare, that. Coveted, even, among creative types.

Roll on September!

-Joe

 

 

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Broken Quill - Reminiscent Exile #2 Now Available!

Happy days, ladies and gentlemen! The follow-up to my immensely popular and universally loved urban fantasy story, Distant Star, is now available from Amazon. Check it out here.

Broken Quill - Titled"Broken Quill, the second volume of 'The Reminiscent Exile', is considered Outstanding in Genre (Urban Fantasy)." ~ Red Adept Select

*~*~*~*

Morpheus Renegade has fallen and Declan Hale, the Shadowless Arbiter, has returned from the dead.

But scores are still to be settled. A creature from Forget stalks Perth, taunting Declan, drawing him out of his bookshop and forcing him across worlds once again. The last time Declan broke his exile, it cost him his life. Worse, the Knights Infernal have done the unthinkable and withdrawn from True Earth—leaving humanity unprotected against the Void.

Among demonic serial killers, malevolent gods, old girlfriends, and pressure from the local cops, Declan stands at the heart of a conflict ten thousand years in the making.

The Knights may have abandoned Earth to enemies as old and as cruel as time, but Declan won’t let his world—or his favorite pub—fall without a fight.

*~*~*~*

Y'all go pick up a copy and tell me what you think!

-joe

 

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Shortlisted for the Hot Key Books & Guardian Young Writer's Prize

Some excellent and rather humbling news, everyone! My young adult novel, The Rig, has made the short list (top five out of hundreds) for the Guardian and Hot Key Books Writer's Prize next year at the London Book Fair. This is exciting on many levels.

But also deliciously validating.

My time spent in the word mines chopping away at this story was not in vain.

Now, unfortunately there's a bit of a wait to find out if I come out on top - around March, 2013 - but to have made it this far is simply wonderful, and taking a look at some of the competition, I fear I am in remarkable company. I am also the only dude in my category, which is somewhat intimidating on certain levels.

So yeah. Good news is good.

-Joe

 

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On QR Codes and Marketing Stories

These days, marketing and getting the word out about my stories feels kind of like cramming a book onto an overstuffed shelf and watching the whole thing collapse under the weight of a thousand other writers doing the same. On a shelf wrapped around the circumference of the earth. In a thunderstorm. I'm lost to the white noise of the infernal Internet machine. Marketing can be darned expensive, too. Sure, there are free and valuable options out there - such as blogging, interviews, blog tours, readers' forums, genre spamming, and what not - but paid advertising? Facebook ads? Things of that nature? Expensive, and not guaranteed to succeed. The cost can quickly rocket beyond the stratosphere, pinging off Felix Baumgartner, on its way to Elysium.

So here's one little thing I've been doing to spread the word - using QR code stickers. A scanned code that directs folk straight to my web site.

For those living under a rock for the past decade, this here be a QR code:

I'm sure you've seen them about, strewn haphazardly in everything from books, to street corners, to shops, to the arm rests on chairs at the airport (Note: all places I've left QR code stickers directing folk to my website). Using a smartphone equipped with a scanner app, the phone 'reads' the code and directs the phone to whatever is encoded in the image. In this case, my site.

I love QR codes, think they're great - hybridising the physical world with the digital horizon.

According to comscore, an average of 20 million Americans scanned a QR code every 3 months in 2011. Now, that's not HUGE in the grand scheme of things, but it does suggest a trend toward more and more folk utilising this technology. I think the trick is to leave the code somewhere unobtrusive but obvious. I don't just slap them down on a table at the pub, but I may leave one on a lamppost out front of a restaurant, or somewhere else where people queue and have nothing better to do than play with their phone.

I've only been at this a month, and it's hard to say whether anyone has scanned one of my codes. I'm currently living in Banff, Canada, and I walk past a half dozen of my codes everyday. On noticeboards, lampposts, and what have you. But I've left them all over Australia and a few cities in the U.S. Again, the stickers are unobtrusive but obvious, and most of them may have been removed, but not all.

For the next campaign, I'm creating a special 'QR Code' page, which can only be accessed directly through scanning a QR code out there in the world. The scanner will be directed to a page with promo codes and discounts for purchasing my stories, directly from this site. I'm excited to see just how many, if any, hits that page gets once I start dishing out those special stickers. Or whether my twitter followers increase, or whatever. I'm also working on designing a more appealing code, something literary themed, to catch the eye. We'll see. Using Google Analytics, I'll even be able to discern which hits can be attributed to a scanned code. Exciting.

The logical step from here, of course, is to get the code printed somewhere with a high volume of traffic. Location, location, location. Some ideas:

  • Print media (newspaper)
  • Billboard the code
  • Product packaging (imagine the hits if I could get my code printed on 10 million Coca-Cola cans! AND DAMN THE MILLIONS I'D HAVE TO SPEND!)
  • Accessories - t-shirts, jewellery.
  • Edible codes

All options that would cost, no doubt considerable, funds, probably better spent elsewhere, but I'm trying to think outside the box here. We'll see how far I can take this, while keeping costs well within the scope of the benefits.

All in all, this is a very small drop in the marketing ocean, but at around $19 for a hundred stickers from moo.com, I'm willing to give it a shot.

Back to the word mines,

joe

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Z-APOC: When John Met Sarah

Further good news, everyone! The first part of my serialised gruesome zombie story just went live on Amazon. Check it out:

Here's the rather gripping synopsis:

*~*~*~*

For John Allen, the end of the world began with a slutty pumpkin...

A year later, scavenging alone in the apocalyptic wastelands, John searches for a rumoured food distribution centre. In the the ruins of Wyong, a town just north of Sydney, he encounters Sarah Bell, another survivor - hiding a dark secret about the hordes of roaming dead, and holding the future of humanity in her hands.

Thrust together in a world gripped by horror and sickness, John and Sarah must make choices that could mean surviving another day - or falling to the endless waves of walking dead.

*~*~*~*

You can pick it up here.

Recently, and with the ever-increasing rise of the almighty e-book, the industry has seen a swing toward serialised stories. Z-APOC represents my humble contribution to this not unwelcome trend. I'm intending to release one part every five to six weeks, and then the whole thing as a collection further down the line.

Rather excited about this. An end of the world story with a twist!

Again, get yourself some awesome right here.

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On Keeping a Writing Log

One of the biggest problems I've found while playing this writing game is the actual writing bit. That is, sitting my ass down and blending some fine Irish word whisky. To that end, I've started keeping a writing log. A writing log, you say? What, oh you magnificent Shakespearean word smith, does this writing log entail? Well, I'll tell you. A spreadsheet.

The real benefit, I've found, of doing this is I actually get to see the progress being made, day by day. Or lack of progress, as the case may be. Regardless, my word count churn out has increased significantly since I started keeping track of just what I'm accomplishing each day. This all comes back to another key I've found that unlocks my awesome and devastating writing ability--set a word count target, and stick to that word count target come hell or high water.

Plan to a point - then just start writing. The best, most well thought out plan in the world does not a novel make. I enjoy having written, I don't so much enjoy the writing part. At least, not always, so have a solid target. Treat this like the work it is.

Commit to a daily word count based on your lifestyle/schedule. A 1,000 words a day is not unreasonable. If you have a solid enough plan, that could be hammered out in 30-60 minutes. Consider that at a 1,000 words a day, you'll have an average sized novel in two months. That's worth the commitment.

Or, if you can, 1,500 words a day. 2,000. Have a target, sit your ass down, and don't get up until you've met that target. Hardest part about writing a novel is finishing the damn thing.

You won't know if it's worth your time until it's done. What you produce may need scrapping. But it may not. Or some of those words may carry over into another, better story, which benefits from what you learned the first time.

You'll make mistakes, we all do. But finish - don't give up or switch projects. Finish. A bad finished novel is worth more to you than a dozen half-finished manuscripts.

And keep a log of your awesome progress.

-Joe

 

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