Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Dealing With Distraction

We live in a connected world. Once you've sat down in front of your computer, you've got access to it all.

connected-world

Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, email, blogs. They're all popping up notifications or beckoning you to check for new comments or to see what's new. Even blogging comes with its own set of distractions.

But what if you're at your computer with the intention of getting some real work done? "Real work" for purposes of this blog is writing, so let's focus on that.

Start by asking yourself a simple question: Am I a creator or a consumer?

Chances are, you're both. But spend too much time on one and other suffers.

Jennifer Murphy Romig, a legal writing and research instructor at Emory University School of Law, notes that interference with writing has always been present. A few years ago, it was computer solitaire, she said, and before that it was the old-fashioned crossword puzzle. But she describes today's distractions -- including texting, e-mail, BlackBerry messages and online news alerts -- as "more aggressive."

Agatha Christie once said, "I enjoy writing in the desert. There are no distractions such as telephones, theaters, opera houses and gardens."

Distraction. It is the bane of those who want to get "stuff" done.

I'm as guilty as the next person. Digsby pops up a new twitter. Or I see that there's some new blog entries to read through. What began as anticipation of a good solid hour of writing becomes an hour wasted.

So how do we keep from being distracted?

You can go old school: turn the computer and cell phone/blackberry off, and go find yourself some nice white paper and a pencil. But there are diminishing returns for such an approach, as in you're giving up your word processor. I don't know about you, but I can't write without my word processing software, not to mention all the outlines, notes, and other reference material I keep on my laptop. I'd be lost without it.

Instead, try something a little less radical:

  • Close your email application.
  • Shut down your IM client.
  • Turn off your cell phone or other device.
  • Stay away from your browser or RSS feed reader.
  • If you want to go a little more extreme, unplug your network connection.

All of this requires self-discipline, of course. Stay focused on what's important--getting your work done. The other stuff isn't going anywhere.

What do F/SF writers read?

What do writers of f/sf read?

It's not surprising to me that they sometimes read out of their field:

  • Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates and The Skies Discrowned) recommends Robert Heinlein's 1941 short story, "By His Bootstraps": "I couldn't have written 'The Anubis Gates' if I hadn't read this. Anyone who has written a time travel story in the past 50 years could say the same."
  • Rebecca Moesta (Young Jedi Knights Series) chooses Isaac Asimov's 1951 short story, "The Fun They Had": "It was cautionary for me. I highly recommend it."
  • Anne McCaffrey (Pern Series) looks ahead to new author Andrea Kail's short story, 'The Sun God At Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom" in the anthology L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume XIII: "The story is a fascinating glimpse of a reborn young King Tut and his emotional development as he comes to realize his plight as a political pawn."

I say "not surprising" because I read out of the fantasy field a bit myself: Patrick O'Brian, C.S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell, Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft (the latter two sort of overlap into fantasy, but I'm considering them more of the horror vein for my purposes here).

Why is it a good thing to read outside your field as a writer?

Because you want to see how other writers use their tools. You want to study their style, see how they develop their characters, learn how they structure their story. If you read O'Brian, you're looking at the manner in which he represents setting--the authenticity of the time period is crucial to transporting the reader to the story's world. For Cornwell, more of the same, but also how he tempers suspense and action, how he raises the reader's interest and holds it through one harrowing experience after another. King--how he creates undeniably believable characters that suck you in from the first moment you encounter them.

I know you have your own favorite authors outside of the field in which you've chosen to write. Make sure you're studying their work as much as you're enjoying it.

Galaxy Press :: Top Speculative Fiction Writers Pick Favorite Stories

How Much Time Should Writers Spend Blogging?

IMG20002There was a pretty good take on the Vigorous Writing blog (which apparently, as of 11/28/08, has disappeared) concerning the question of how much time one should spend blogging.

Of note:

"Newer writers still trying to build their credibility and client list might protest that they have much more free time than Bly has and they need to find a way to market themselves so blogging is a great, forward-thinking way of doing it. There's something to that, but honestly, I think it's an easy way out, the path of least resistance--what new writers should probably be doing, instead of blogging and reading other blogs and commenting on other blogs and brain-storming ideas for their latest blog post, is what many writers hate doing--cold-calling for leads non-stop."

Of course, this applies to people like me--mostly unpublished, 'new', if you will, and looking for a way to promote my name and my work. First and foremost, this blog is a marketing tool. It's all about increasing exposure. But it's also about connecting with like-minded individuals and sharing information.

According to one referenced blogger, one shouldn't spend more than 10 minutes/day or an hour/week blogging. How in the world are you supposed to have any quality posts with such time constraints? Geez. The guy is really saying that blogging isn't really work, and that time spent blogging is time not spent working.

Another blogger says to blog in moderation--only post every 4-6 days. That way each post has time to stew, be read, and garner comments.

Robin Hobb weighed in on the issue in a decidedly negative (but productive) way. Her reasoning is that time spent blogging is time NOT spent writing. In a way, blogging is a distraction, and we all know that distraction is the enemy. Another way to look at is this: ask yourself if you are a creator or a consumer?

What it really boils down to is finding a happy medium between the two. For some that medium might be more of one and less of the other, or it might be both in equal portions. It's up to the individual and, ultimately, one's goals. If you are or want to become a writer, though, best to heed Hobb's words: "Don’t blog. Write."

Why Cutting Cliches From Your Copy is as Easy as Pie

I don't think I have a problem with using clichés in my own writing, mostly because such phrases as "easy as pie" don't usually fit within the context of my fantasy world. Perhaps in dialog, where really anything goes (with exceptions, of course), but not in the text in general.

Despite the need to avoid clichés, the author of the post suggests letting "the clichés come", at least at first. Trying to avoid them is a potential roadblock, and you don't want any impediments keeping you from making progress.

However, once you've got that first draft completed, "equip yourself with the right armory, and snipe at them clichés one by one!" I'm not sure what "snipe at them" means, but I get the gist of it: get rid of them!

Why Cutting Clichés From Your Copy is as Easy as Pie | Copyblogger