Why it’s good to get bored

During the day you’re always busy doing something; working, running errands, cooking etc. And when you’re writing, your mind is also active. You’re thinking about plot line and characters, how the story should develop, how to market your book…

It’s hard to be bored nowadays. When there’s nothing to do, you still reach for your phone or tablet, or distract yourself by doing something. You don’t really ever sit down and look out the window to let your mind wander. And that means on the one hand you can organize your time, always increase your productivity and utilize your time at the optimum level. Even when you relax, you watch tv or read a book or have a conversation, but you don’t stare outside and see where your mind goes. On the other hand, by always doing something with your time, you don’t let your brain entertain itself by forcing you to be bored.

I believe that being bored is important. I believe we should take the time to stare into the air and wait for our minds to wander. And the reason for this is creativity. Because when you’re bored, that’s when your creativity switches on. Connections are formed that you wouldn’t have predicted otherwise and you can have brilliant ideas.

So even if it looks like you’re wasting your time, you’re actually letting your mind work in the background. And there’s a way you can potentially influence in which direction your mind wanders. When I was studying in school I used to quickly revise one last time before going to bed on the evening before a test, so it would be the last thing on my mind before sleeping and I would hopefully remember it better in the morning. It meant that I would dream about the subject as well. Using this, when I effectively force myself to get bored, I always start by thinking about the books I’m writing. And as time passes, my mind wanders in random directions, but at least I’ve started with my books so hopefully I can then trigger some great ideas.

Have you tried this as well? Do you get bored? And how do you “use” your time when you’re bored?

What is the hardest part in the writing process?

Every part of the the writing process has different challenges. Some come to me more naturally than others. Editing for example takes me a long time, but comes to me more easily than writing a first draft.

For me, the hardest part is coming up with the plot line, and I don’t mean just the initial idea, but the complete description/action in the book. If I take the example of When Colour Became Grey then the initial idea is described in the blurb. That’s the overall direction of travel, but what happens on those 300 pages needs to be much more precise and make sense. You can’t make something happen that wouldn’t fit the character’s personality or come up with “easy solutions” or over-dramatization (I’m thinking here of a particular action movie where the main character almost dies 7 times but somehow is always saved in the last second. After the third time I couldn’t take it seriously anymore). As the author you can write exactly what you want, but readers need to accept where you’re taking them and it needs to be somewhat plausible.

To me writing is like creating an intricate tapestry. You start off with just the overall idea and you add in layers of color, pattern, use different material to give the story a different feel as you move on. The reader only sees a small portion of the threads, as if they’re going over the tapestry with a magnifying glass. But as they read on, more and more of the tapestry is revealed until they see the whole piece, and ideally you write in a way that the reader understands “insiders” from earlier in the story that they only discover once they’ve finished the story.

Initially when writing a detailed plot line, I write what the story is about looking at it solely from the main character’s perspective. Then I think about the role of the secondary characters and how they interact with the plot line of the main character (so I’m still looking at it with a view on how it will influence the main character only); are they always helping the plot advance and how do they advance the plot line, or do they interfere and force the plot line of the main character to change? After this, I question whether it makes sense for the secondary characters to act the way I’ve described it; does it fit with their personality?

I leave room for spontaneity and for the story to take control over me; just like I’ve written in my post on how to bring characters to life I let my imagination take over and take me where it wants to go. It often leads to great ideas and scenes.

Why you’re never too young to start writing

You may be told you’re too young to write, the argument being you haven’t lived enough so how can you possibly capture the essence of life and pour it into a book that’s meaningful and engaging?

I started at a very young, and when I read what I’ve written back then, most of it is complete garbage. It’s infantile, naive, too quickly paced, too easy, too… too young! But I would never discourage anyone from starting at a young age, nor do I regret starting at a young age. While you may not find anything you’ve written in previous years useful (and conclude it was a waste of time), you still wrote. You thought about plot and characters. You took the time to think about why you want to write and what kind of story you want to write. You let your imagination run free. Maybe you even thought about your competition and read books in your genre to understand what makes a great novel. You’re never too young to start pursuing something you’re interested in, whether it’s writing, acting, directing film, sports or something else.

Even if what you’ve written in your early years turns out to be useless, it is still good practice and you force yourself to establish a routine. It takes a lot of dedication and time to pursue something, and there is no perfect age to start at.

Another important aspect that I realize now, is that when you’re young you have a lot more time available. Even with school, homework and extra-curricular activities, you have a lot of time to explore a creative path. Furthermore, the fact that you live with family means you don’t have expenses to pay for. You don’t have to get a job to pay your rent and food, so you’re freed from obligations you have as an adult.

Writing a book can teach you a lot of valuable skills. It requires not only creativity, but also focus, perseverance, establishing and adhering to a routine, excellent level of grammar & language skills, communication skills, thinking outside the box, research, attention to details, sense or commercialization and entrepreneurship, and many other skills… All qualities that can be useful in many aspects of life. So I would always encourage anyone to write, regardless of age.

Why I visualize most things from my fantasy worlds

After starting a new story, when part of the story is somewhat fleshed out, when I have a few characters, a few important locations that will occur throughout the story, I visualize it. Not only in my head, but in pictures and drawings.

For characters I always have a picture of their faces. It may be a random person, or a fusion of several people, but I like to visualize them. It makes it easier for me to spend time with them and learn how they interact with others, what drives them, why they are the way they are. Some are based on real people, or I draw a sketch of their face, but I always have an image of some sort for all main characters.

I draw out the building plans of places that are recurring in the story like an apartment or a police precinct. This is to help me understand where the characters live and interact with others. If you write a crime story and the detective catches his colleague behaving suspiciously, it implies that he/she can see the other person from their desk. It doesn’t work if in another scene you describe he/she tucked away in a corner and discreetly drinking whisky from a flask.

I found that if I have it visually available, it allows me to be consistent, and also gives me freedom to describe the same place throughout the book instead of giving a detailed description at the beginning of the book when the police officer walks into the precinct in the morning. It can also give you more meat for your story; maybe you need that officer to switch desk because he/she can’t observe the suspicious colleague from their corner, so maybe another cop is fired from the police force and the main character is switching desk and can now observe the suspicious colleague. You can even give the fired cop a greater role and have them interact somehow in the story with the suspicious colleague, or the main character. You can communicate the tension of the story also in the description of a place, and by visualizing your characters you can give them ticks and facial expressions that may be otherwise difficult to imagine or left out completely.

Why I chose to write fantasy

It wasn’t really a choice, it was more of an attraction. I’ve always been more intrigued and drawn to fantasy. Escaping into a world of superheroes, where you can disconnect from your daily problems and root for the main protagonist to succeed in their quest to defeat the evil forces…

I have always had a lot of imagination and I spent a considerable about of time daydreaming especially during my teenage years. I didn’t really fit in school among the other students and disappearing into one of my fantasy worlds would be a temporary escape for me. I remember sitting in an overly hot class (the air conditioning had broken years ago) trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying, and I found myself imagining a handsome young man in military clothing bursting through the door in the middle of class and telling me I had to come with him. And the teacher and students would all be surprised at what the guy wanted from me, and I had to explain that I had to go with him because I had some special powers and was working with the military to protect the country against some threat [I’m deliberately not giving out too many details 😉 ]. I could imagine a whole story within 3 minutes, while stuck in a classroom. And I could imagine things out of any situation, there was always a way for me to escape. The door to my imagination was always wide open.

When I wrote When Colour Became Grey I wanted to create a hero story with a female lead. I was tired of reading superhero stories with a male lead and I wanted to show that a woman could also be the hero. The idea was born in a dream and initially was written with a male lead, but I switched it to a female lead after realizing that what I had written was too similar to what was already available. And when I rewrote it with a female lead, I saw other opportunities to make the story different from other mainstream fantasy stories.

I’m also intrigued by other genres like horror, thriller, science fiction… but I’ve spent so much time in various fantasy worlds that I naturally fell into fantasy when I decided to pursue writing more seriously. My very first story was actually an epic fantasy story that I haven’t finished writing, but I plan to pick up again at some point. I would also like to explore other genres, but at the moment I’m focusing in the sequel to When Colour Became Grey.

Writing a book is more than just… writing

Obviously you can’t publish anything if you haven’t written the words down. But writing a book, especially a fantasy novel, is not only writing words on a blank piece of paper.

  1. Thinking

There is a lot of thinking involved. You need to spend time with your characters and get to know them. Some may do this also through writing; by writing scenes they know will not be in the book, but they simply serve as getting to know the characters and figuring out how they behave and talk. Others may choose to play with their imagination, have arguments with the characters in their head.

Then you need to do world building, which is when you create the fantasy world and invent the “laws of physics” the world adheres to. If you have demons running around, then the question becomes where do they come from and how did they get here? And if you want to write something original, it may take even more time to figure out how it all works.

2. Research

Another aspect is research. If your main character is a police officer, understanding how police investigations are done can help you build a good crime story. Sometimes you may want to experience the things you’re writing about, such as shooting a gun or parachuting out of plane instead of simply imagining what it feels like. [Obviously, without hurting yourself or others.]

All along the story you do research; to take the example again of shooting, how many bullets can the gun shoot? How accurate is it at great distance? If a character gets shot in their leg for example, how much blood leaves the body? How long until they pass out? Do they pass out or does something else happen? How long until someone goes into shock?

3. Inspiration

Writers get stuck a lot. At least that’s my case. Sometimes it’s a big block and I can’t write at all, other times it’s a small open question I need to remember to resolve within the next few chapters. What helps is distraction and inspiration. Watching movies or series, listening to music, and reading books can stimulate your inspiration. It doesn’t mean you copy someone else’s work, but maybe you realize your book doesn’t have enough tension. Or you would like to have more characters in your book. Maybe you love the dynamic between two characters in a series, but you would have given them a different twist. You can draw inspiration from many (even unlikely) places.

4. Post production

After you’ve written the story, there is a lot editing and re-writing involved. But even after the book is done, you still need to figure out book cover, title, series name if it’s a series, dedication, acknowledgements, book format, launch date/time, marketing platform & social media use, self-publishing or traditional publishing, pen name or real name, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others.

Writing a book is more complex than it seems from the outside, but it’s a challenge worth taking on.

Setting realistic goals

It can be frustrating to write a book. When I started writing I used to constantly compare myself to the big names and be annoyed I wasn’t writing at their level. Or the plot is just not going in the direction you had anticipated. Or your characters are so annoying and you can’t make them likable in your story, but you need them for the plot development.

First of all, don’t put yourself under so much pressure. You should compare yourself to the great names in your craft, but do it with the outlook to learn from them, understand their way of working and making it your own.

[DO NOT COPY other people’s work and slap your name on it. A copy of something is generally a shitty version of the original one and you deserve to show your own talent. And if you get caught you will forever be a fraud, and possibly have to pay huge indemnities, etc. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it.]

And if this is your first book, then make it the best it can be, but don’t be saddened that it’s not immediately a bestseller. Not only does it take time to sell books, but it also takes practice to be the best in the field.

Don’t pressure yourself to finish your project in a given time frame, especially if you’re self-publishing. Time frames are fluid and you cannot always ‘force’ the imagination out onto a page. To take a famous example, George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished the last two books for his ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ series and has repeatedly missed deadlines. Try to have a schedule of when you’re working on your book, but don’t arbitrarily decide on June 16th it has to be finished, potentially releasing it with errors or a flimsy conclusion because you didn’t have time to finish it properly. Your name is on that work so make sure it’s the best version it can be.

This brings me to my last point; don’t set high expectations and then be disappointed and hate yourself when you don’t meet them. Don’t pretend you’ll write 20 hours a week when you can realistically only manage 5 hours. Then aim for 6 or 7 hours and be happy even if you only managed 5 hours. There is a difference between motivating yourself to sit down and do the work, and setting yourself up for failure by setting the bar way too high. And note that I said ‘way too high’. It’s healthy to set the bar a bit higher and encourage yourself to improve, but if you set it too high and you’re constantly disappointed you may give up on your craft altogether, which is also not the goal.

What to do when you have writer’s block

First of all, I believe writer’s block is much more common than we think. There were many moments where I suddenly blocked while writing When Colour Became Grey and I was staring at the last sentence I had written, reading it over and over again, unable to come up with the next part.

For me, writer’s block most typically comes after I’ve finished writing a scene and I don’t know what should happen next. I usually know what should happen further down the line, but I can’t seem to formulate the bridge in my mind bringing me from point A to point B. I will usually start to get the creative juices flowing by re-reading the last pages I’ve written, or jump to a different section of the book I’ve already written.

If reading parts of the story I’ve written doesn’t work, then I’ll imagine a completely new scene, unrelated to where I’m stuck, and start writing it. I love writing fight scenes so I will start thinking of a way a character would enter a fight, or maybe they are hiding from someone but they get discovered, or maybe it’s set right after a battle and the character is wounded.

If I’m still stuck, I will read what I call “The Red Thread”. When I write a book, I have a separate document where I make bullet points of the overall plot line and where I want the story to go (i.e. the Red Thread). I also write down ideas for characters, plot development, scenes I want to include, as well as plot holes I haven’t figured out yet or things I still need to develop or that currently don’t make sense but I want to keep in the book.

If that still doesn’t work, I then take a break for a few days and don’t think about the story at all. Sometimes disconnecting from your written work and looking at it with fresh eyes can give you a completely new perspective and brand new ideas.

To avoid getting stuck in writer’s block, I write out the scene in a few sentences before writing the scene in full. I have that short description below the rest of the text I’m working on, so I can always re-read what my idea was. That way I can keep track of where I want to go. When I stop writing, I try to not stop right at the end of a scene, but rather keep writing and lead into a new situation. Once I’m done I will also write a couple of sentences where I think the story should go next so I can pick my idea back up.

I used to often forget what I was leading up to or why I had started writing a particular scene. Now I write down all my ideas, even ideas I later discard I will leave in my Red Thread document as they can always inspire other ideas, or can be used in another story.

How long does it take to write a book?

Depends.

That’s the short answer. Some write very quickly, some writing genres come more easily than others. I would argue that fantasy writing is harder than some other categories and can take significantly more time. The reason for this is because you have to invent a lot of what you take for granted in other types of writings such as crime or thrillers, depending on how much you make up in the story.

In fantasy you have to invent a whole new world and you will inevitably come across massive plot holes simply because you forget things that aren’t possible. You have to re-write the Laws of Physics about the sun, gravity, time travelling, magic, nourishment, social norms, etc. It can be incredibly time consuming and you will often realize half-way into writing something that suddenly something doesn’t make sense anymore or is impossible because they don’t adhere to the rules you have defined.

In my case it took me 7 years to write When Colour Became Grey. As I advanced in the plot I wanted to include more characters or change the way the story evolved, the tone of the story, what the focus should be on, etc.

You should always have a rough time frame in mind and work towards it, but you should also not beat yourself up if you don’t meet your deadline. In my case my book became so much better because I took the time to re-write it, and re-write it, and re-write, and then re-write it some more, touch-up and check common plot hole mistakes, and finalize.

I have only written in various fantasy sub-genres so far (urban fantasy, epic fantasy, low fantasy) so my opinion is solely based on writing that type of story.

What was your experience? How long did it take you to write your first book? Did it take you more or less time to write afterwards? Drop a comment in the comment section below.