Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On Writing: Finish What You Start

One of my biggest problems as a writer is finishing what I’ve started. I always have lots of different ideas in

my head at the same time, so I have a hard time committing to one project. Perhaps you’re like me and you have folders full of abandoned novels and short stories on your computer? Or maybe you started a few blogs, but gave up on updating them as often as you wanted to? 

Sometimes, an idea comes to me and I rush to my laptop or to start working on it. Or maybe I’m out and I only have my notebook to jot in but the idea gets me excited and I can't wait to start. But somehow, I get distracted or run out of steam. And then I abandon that project and start another one. 

Perhaps someone else has that same problem? You’ve got plenty of great ideas, but unfortunately, your motivation disappears just as the inspiration fizzles out and you’re left with a bunch of outlines and first drafts that aren’t going anywhere. Here are some tips I’ve come across that have helped me with finishing my projects: 

1) Don't Start Random New Projects:  It’s extremely tempting to start working on a new idea when it first pops into your mind. But you must resist the urge to begin anything new when you’re already swamped with unfinished work. You have to put a stop to that habit to break it. Otherwise, you’ll keep repeating the pattern and all new projects will lose its appeal and end up in the unfinished heap along with everything else. 
Instead, find a notebook, or create a document on your computer, to store ideas. Whenever you have a new idea, put it in this “idea bank” while you’re working on something else. When you’re ready, you can always come back to the ideas in that bank. 

2) Assess Your Current Projects:  Go through all your current works-in-progress. Make a list of the ones you feel are most valuable; then separate them from the ones you may come back to later, and the ones that don’t have any merit. Be realistic with each project. Is there anything that’s just not worth completing? Are those characters so clichéd that they’re not worth holding on to? Is the plot of that novel so weak that it would not hold up an 80,000 word story? Rather than keeping old projects hanging around, clear the useless ones out, and free up some space in your head and your laptop for new and worthy ones. 

3) Choose One Project to Focus On:  Now look through your list of useful ideas, and pick one to work on. You have to make one project your priority. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on anything else, but it does mean that your “priority project” (whether it’s a novel, a blog or a newsletter), is the one that’s going to take most of your time and energy. You might have different criteria for choosing which project is your priority. You could choose to start with: the shortest project (for example a 3,000 word short story, not a 100,000 word novel). Or you may want to pick up the project that you’ve already put the most time into, so that’s probably getting close to finished.Whichever project you choose, commit to seeing it to the end, before choosing another one to prioritise.

4) Set Some Targets:
If you’re working on a blog, you can decide to set an hour every two days to work on your posts, and schedule them for publishing. Some small writing projects could be finished in a weekend, for example a short story. Most writing projects, though take more time to complete and you won’t be able to finish them in a day, or a week. You’ll need to set some targets to keep you on track. For example: completing a major section of a novel, writing a set number of words every day, finishing a first draft of a novel in six months, or scheduling a certain number of posts for your blog each week. Make sure you hold yourself accountable and reward yourself when you achieve your targets. 

5) What do you do with your “finished” project? It’s worth thinking about the goal for your finished project. If you’re working on a short story, what do you plan to do with it when you finish it? Would you save it for an anthology? Submit it to a magazine? Or enter it into a competition? If you’re working on an ebook, would you publish and sell it on the Kindle store? Would you offer it for free on your website? What about the novel, what’s it going to do for your writing career when it’s finished? Picture the end result that you want to achieve and work towards it.

Remember, half-finished projects are not going to do anything for you. Nobody will buy an incomplete novel. You cannot submit an unfinished short story. Whether your writing ambitions involve hitting the New York Times bestseller list or living from the income from your books, you do have to finish writing what you start so that they can add value to your career.

(c) Tolulope Popoola

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Flash Fiction: My Discovery

I had to know the truth. They had lied to me. A simple enquiry before a routine blood test had revealed that I wasn’t who I assumed I was. 

My best friend had been in an accident and I wanted to help her by giving blood. I knew the hospital where the ambulance had taken her, my family used the same one. It was the first time I went alone, and when I informed the nurse in reception about my mission, she went to retrieve our family’s file. That was when I saw it. 

I stormed out of the hospital and raced home as fast as I could. The wind rushing past me on my scooter echoed the thoughts in my head. I should have known; I’ve been so blind and stupid! How could I not see it? My parents, no they were not my parents or were they? I called them Mum and Dad. They looked after me, taught me all I know and told me I was their precious daughter. But look, as it turns out, they’ve been keeping secrets all my life. 

No wait, since I was two years old when they brought me home. They had kept the truth away from me for fourteen years. 

I tore through the open gate, flung the scooter aside, raced up the stairs and in through the front door. Mum, or should I still call her that, was setting the table for dinner. 

She looked up, smiled and was about to say something when I blurted out: 

“Am I adopted?”

(c) Tolulope Popoola

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

On Writing: Having a Mentor

When I first decided I was going to be a writer, there was a whole new uncharted territory ahead of me. I’d gone through school, university and the early part of my working life doing subjects in Accounting, Economics, Business and Finance. I knew very little about creative writing as a job so I really had a lot to learn. I’ll always be grateful to the people who encouraged me along by patiently teaching me things I needed to know. They are my writing mentors. 

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In any new venture or endeavour we want to take, it’s always helpful when we have someone who has been there, to teach us. This is very true in the writing business as well. It can be a lonely job, sitting at your desk for hours working on something, but you don’t know if it’s any good. It can be frustrating trying to learn about a new industry but you just can’t seem to get the hang of it. Or you get bombarded with so much information that it’s simply easier to get discouraged and give up. Here’s where a mentor can step in to keep you on the right track, and help you feel like you’re not alone. 

Benefits of having a writing mentor 

1) Getting impartial feedback on your work - A writing mentor is someone who can read your work and tell you what they really think about it. They can help you by giving constructive criticism. It’s easy for anybody to say your work is nice, but it’s not really helpful feedback. A writing mentor would be able to tell you what’s good about your work and what needs improving. This type of good feedback is exactly what you need to grow as a writer. 

2) Inspiration - A writing mentor should be someone who has achieved some goals that you’re aiming for. That way, they can encourage and inspire you to do the same. They can help you clarify your dreams, give you realistic ways of doing things and motivate you to keep going when you feel it’s too difficult. 

3) Avoid mistakes they’ve made - We all make mistakes when we’re learning something new, that’s very normal. But you can learn from the mistakes that someone else has made so you don’t have to repeat them. A writing mentor can show you what pitfalls to avoid, so you don’t waste time and effort (or even money) doing things that will not benefit you. 

4) Increase your confidence - A mentor would give your confidence a boost when you need it. It’s very encouraging when you get great feedback from somebody you admire and trust. 

5) Connections and Opening doors - A mentor could be someone who has built good relationships with other people in the writing and publishing industry. That could be useful if you need an introduction to certain people. 

6) Help you achieve your dreams - If you’re attempting something new, there will be lots of people who won’t understand it and would criticise or even tell you that it’s impossible. However, a mentor will be someone who will tell you that it is possible to achieve your dreams. He or she would be proof that you can follow your dreams and make them come true. 

7) A mentor may open your eyes to possibilities -  A mentor could show you ideas and opportunities that you may not have been aware of. They might be able to push you beyond your own knowledge, give you ideas to boost your skills and help you match your strengths to new tasks. 

So how do you choose a mentor? 
For me, I started by reading the blogs of writers I admired, and I set up a Facebook group to meet writers like me. Soon, I developed friendships with some of the people I followed and it grew from there. You can of course, have more than one mentor if you want. 

If you need help with writing and crafting stories, find someone that you admire their style of writing. If you need help with getting connections in the industry, look for someone who is well established and popular. Bear in mind though, that a mentor like that would be quite busy so they might have limited interaction with you. 

You can start online. Look for writers on Facebook or Twitter. Check their bio and read their blogs. There is no harm in asking – the worst they can do is say no. Don’t be a stalker, if they don’t respond to you, move on and find someone else. 

Every mentoring relationship is different. Try to have something useful to offer your mentor too, so that it is mutually beneficial relationship. You may decide to meet in person, or not. Nowadays you can interact with people in many different ways, so while it is great, you may not need to meet your mentor in person. I've made friends with so many people who have been helpful to me in my work, even though we've never met in person.

And of course, being friendly and polite goes a long way!

(c) Tolulope Popoola