Think first, write later

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 “Poirot,” I said. “I have been thinking.”
“An admirable exercise my friend. Continue it.”
 
― Agatha ChristiePeril at End House

Have you ever responded to an offensive or distressing email without thinking first?  “WHAT?!” you say to yourself, as your fingers agitatedly skim over the keys and, without a second thought…Send. Moments later, you could kick yourself for having been so impulsive.

This has surely happened to all of us, at one time or another.

Or perhaps, as a student, you were seated for your mid-term essay exam and you skimmed the questions quickly, then proceeded to write feverishly because the clock was ticking and you wanted to make sure that you had enough time to answer all the questions. It was only after you handed in the test, that you realized you missed the second part of the question because you didn’t take the time read carefully and organize your thoughts.

Mea culpa, mea culpa.

In the writing world, however, the process varies from writer to writer.  Not everyone likes to adhere to the “think first, write later” principle. Many writers just sit down at the computer (or, if they’re traditionalists, with pen and paper), and write. Then they edit. Stream of consciousness writing works for many and these are the writers who, when at home, probably don’t write shopping lists or who prefer not to structure their time rigidly. They are the free thinkers.  Write first, think while writing, and then edit later.

However, there are just as many writers (myself included) who prefer to organize their thoughts, prior to writing them down.  They do this by notes, index cards, outlines and also by just thinking (or daydreaming) it out in their minds. 

I am a great proponent of outlines.  My book writing process always commences with quiet contemplation… to think carefully about what I want to say and why, who will my readership be and how will I engage their attention. From there, I craft an initial Table of Contents which serves as my starting point and basic outline.  I then begin the initial research process (when research is required for the book) and the results of my initial research prompts me to write a more detailed outline which helps dictate the overall flow of the book. At that point. I move to a more advanced stage of research, finetune the outline further and then I am ready to sit down and write. I prefer to think first, write later. I carry a small  Moleskine reporter’s notebook with me wherever I go, to jot down thoughts. The challenge is being able to read my own messy handwriting later!

There really is no right or wrong process. Ultimately, the objective is to write.  How you get to that point is subject to whatever works for you.

So, think on the fly or  think in advance, but just make sure to carefully review your writing first before pressing that “Send” button!

 

Image via everydaygyaan.com.

How to Resist the Lure of Summer Distractions

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Summer is a temptress. She dazzles us with bright colors and hot sun. Every year, we impatiently await her arrival.  For many, she is a welcome respite after a long, cold winter.  She exudes a sense of lightness and freedom and her flamboyance and playfulness is infectious.  School is out and children suddenly find themselves with loads of time… to play!  And they don’t waste a minute.  With the rigor of school schedules and extracurricular activities set  aside, parents reconnect with their children.  Men and women start to loosen up a bit and their busy lives begin to take a back seat to weekend barbecues, picnics and summertime activities.  That glorious smell of barbecue grilling wafts from house to house.

Yes, summer is a temptress.  But, as a writer who is working on multiple book projects while trying to promote her newly published book, it is difficult to resist the lure of summertime distractions.   Am I up for the challenge?  Can I muster enough will and discipline? 

I’ll let you know at the end of the summer.

In the meantime, I am going to try out some of these tips.  Maybe they can help you, as well.

1. Channel your inner Gumby

gumbyThe key is flexibility.  Summer schedules need to be flexible, not rigid.  Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to fail.  “Fail” is perhaps too strong a word, but I’m sure you understand my meaning.

2. Move like an inchworm

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Take it one steady, small step at a time. Break up your day into increments of time – time to research, time to write, time to relax and time for eating and sleeping. Set smaller, more frequent goals and milestones for yourself and this will encourage you to keep moving forward and ultimately fill you with a sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, if you flit like a butterfly – from task to task – nothing will ever get completed.

3. Set your boundaries

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Let your family and friends know when you’re in the writing zone, so that they can respect your space and privacy for the time that you’ve allocated. Afterwards, they can have your full attention.

4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

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It’s summertime. Focus on the most important  and enjoyable projects, then make a plan to tackle the rest in the Autumn months.

5. Bring it outside

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You don’t have write behind closed doors on a beautiful summer’s day.  Take your laptop or notepad, a pot of tea or coffee, and do your writing (and thinking) outside.  If you live in an apartment and don’t have a yard, pack yourself some refreshments and go to your nearest park.  If you live near water, sit on the beach or by the lake. Maybe the sights and sounds all around you will bring you some interesting perspective or inspiration.

Enjoy your summer and happy writing!

Images via anordinarywomn.net, gumbyworld.com, piedmontwildlifecenter.org, writingforward.com,  dorrys.com and cloudsandchecks.com.

New Year’s Revelation No. 3 of 7: Resist the Mañana Syndrome

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“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it.  No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
~ Lord Chesterfield 

In theory, I completely concur with Lord Chesterfield.  In practice, however, I’ve been known to occasionally follow Scarlett O’Hara’s logic (from Gone with the Wind):  “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow …… After all, tomorrow is another day.” 

Putting things off until tomorrow — or, as I like to call it, The Mañana Syndrome …. has been a challenge for me throughout my life — not because I’m lazy, but because I always have so many concurrent projects and so many lists-upon-lists-upon-lists, that it becomes overwhelming sometimes.  And then I completely detach.  But, something changed for me last summer.  It wasn’t any specific event or drama.  I was just sitting at my computer, with Janis Joplin rasping in the background.  The song was Ball and Chain and the lyrics that spoke to me were:

“That’s what it is, man. If you got it today you don’t wear it tomorrow, man. ‘Cause you don’t need it. ‘Cause as a matter of fact, as we discovered on the train, tomorrow never happens, man. It’s all the same fxxxxxx day, man.”

And, right there and then, I thought to myself  “What if tomorrow never happens?”  I would not want to leave this world without having done the things I needed and wanted to do.  Now, I know that I’m taking the meaning of Janis’ lyrics out of context … but it just triggered something in my head.  So, then I thought “How can I complete what I need to complete?”   And the answers came to me in short staccato words and phrases:  You’re not Superwoman.  Be reasonable.  Prioritize.   Compartmentalize.  Streamline.  Keep it simple.  Stop writing lists.  Take a breath. 

Let’s be real, here.  This is not a Mensa puzzle.  I just needed to tweak my thinking and my process of multitasking.  And so I did. 

It worked. My book, Casualties of the Recession Depression, is written and currently in the editing phase.  The launch is set for the 26th of February, barring any glitches. And, I’ll soon pick up where I left off on my next book, When the Child Becomes the Parent. Everything is on track and on schedule. 

Yet, each day I make time to read a book while enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of my garden.

Speaking of thought processes, I’ll leave you with another very loosely related anecdote.  One evening, my husband and I were gazing up at the stars.  I asked him “What do you see when you look up in the sky?”  He looked at me quizzically and said “Well, there’s Orion’s Belt   ….”   He saw the starry sky in a structured, compartmentalized way.  I said, “When I look up, I see a sea of stars in an endless array of different sizes and formations …. too many to count, or even discern.  I just love to soak in the beauty of it all.”  And so I wondered whether the stark difference in the way we saw the night sky was a function of gender (i.e. ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’) or  was it simply that our personalities are such that he see things in black and white and I, in every shade of grey in between.

Which is why I tended  (note the past tense) to bite off more than I could chew. 

Lesson learned.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” 
Mother Teresa

Image via donnamoderna.com (Photo credit:  Inga Ivanova)