[Podcast] Writing – Making the Most of Self-Isolation

Coronavirus craziness has gripped the globe. How can writers make the most of all this free time?

In this episode, I discuss a few ways writers can help people in this time of great need, as well as a few ways you can make the most of this abundance of time.

I mention a few books you may find helpful, which are:

The Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri

Stein on Writing – Sol Stein

The Art of Fiction – John Gardner

Letters to a Young Writer – Colum McCann

The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman

On Writing – Stephen King

A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook – Richie Billing

As always, we want to hear from you! If you have any topics or questions you want us to tackle, drop us an email at thefantasywriterstoolshed@gmail.com.

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[Transcript]

I’ve seen some crazy and saddening things in this past week or so. Things that belong in the world of fiction. People rushing to supermarkets to stockpile pasta, toilet paper, beans and all manner of junk food. Aggressive mothers with trolleys stacked high, elbowing and kicking anyone who happens to glance in their direction. The shelves wiped clear, leaving a few foul-flavoured pot noodles for the old lady already horrified and afraid of what she’s hearing and reading every day. The leader of her country telling the nation that loved ones will die. That the vulnerable, indeed her very self, will bear the brunt of what’s to come. No reassurance offered. No compassion. No help, nor love. Not from her leader, nor from anybody else in our self-centred society.

Within a matter of days, it feels as if the entire world has gone into a frenzied shutdown. Collectively, humanity has retreated into a shell. Gossip and fake news are rifer than the virus itself. This cures it. This keeps it at bay. It’s actually killed this many people. They’re not telling us the truth.

When panic and fear become the norm, the innate instinct to survive kicks in. Survival of the fittest. Dog eat dog. The whole stockpiling fiasco is evidence enough of that.

Covid-19, or whatever it’ called today, poses a threat to us all, but the greater threat to humanity is still itself. The gun still hovers over the temple, finger stroking the trigger. Humanity will destroy itself before any virus does. And what we’re seeing now is the very worst in people. All we can do is hope—indeed hope is all we have left—that we learn as a species from this coronavirus craziness. But if history has taught us anything, humanity is somewhat lacking when it comes to learning from the past.

But there have been a lot of inadvertent benefits from this global lockdown. The environment is benefitting from the pause in industry and travel. Look at Venice, where a dolphin appeared in its waters for the first time in sixty years. And another benefit is that a lot of people now have a lot more time on their hands. I’ve heard people who I’ve never heard talk about books saying they’re stockpiling them like toilet rolls for their weeks of self-isolation. What else can you do to while away the lonely hours? Write, of course!

So in this episode, I wanted to talk about a few things you could do to make the most of all this free time.

 

Help Others

In this bizarre and crazy period of our lives, it’s easy to allow helplessness to consume you. Everybody has the ability to help someone else in some way or another, and as writers, what do we have? Books and stories—entertainment!

This week I made the decision to give away eBook versions of my two books, Flying on the Ground and A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook, to help those people stuck in isolation. Like I said before, I’ve heard people say they’re stocking up on books for the long hours indoors. Well, if you’re looking for something to read, have these. If they can help you take your mind off this madness even just for a little while, then it’s worth it.

Why not try something similar? I ran mine as a special offer through Amazon. I had to enlist my books in Kindle Unlimited for three months to get access to the offer, but it’s been worth it. I’ve had so many positive comments from people saying how they’re helping them cure their boredom. That alone makes it worthwhile. An added bonus is that I’ve been able to shift over two hundred copies and my books have shot to the top of the bestseller lists. So thank you everyone who’s downloaded so far.

You could also email out copies of your books to your mailing list, serialise stories or novels on your blog or social media pages, release audio recording, make videos. You have so much more time to experiment and find new ways of reaching your audience.

 

Finish projects

This week I got a message from one of our regular listeners, Keith. Shout out to Keith. Hope you’re well and virus-free. Keith’s query is about developing ideas. I have an idea and a scene. But I don’t know where to take it.

It’s a good query Keith. One I struggled with for a long time. I’d get ideas for a scene, would get super excited about using it in a story, but quickly lost momentum when I couldn’t find a way of building a story.

I think the problem I ran into with this approach was that I was looking at the story from the wrong angle. Plot I used to regard as king. But though it’s important, I’ve learned that a couple other things need to be considered first. Bear in mind this is just my approach. It works for me, it may not work for you. Number one is the premise. The purpose of the story. What is it about? In other words, the theme. What point are you trying to make? Personally, I take more of a laid-back approach to premise. Sometimes I have a vague idea of what the story is about, but don’t settle completely on a premise. Though Lajos Egri would argue differently. The Hungarian playwright regarded premise as the foundation of any story. How do you know which way to go if you do not know your destination?

The second key consideration is character. Who are they? What makes them interesting? Why should we care about them? What do they want in their lives, their goals, their aims, objectives? What is preventing them from achieving that? In other words, what are the conflicts in their lives? The obstacles to their success. And now, thirdly, we move into the realms of plot. Character and plot are intrinsically linked. In order to create a compelling plot, we must first know our characters, what their wants are and what obstacles stand in their path. The plot is born from this conflict.

So Keith, in short, I’d say have a think about how that idea fits in with a premise. Then consider the possible characters you could feature to explore that premise and populate your scene. This way, you can build up the jigsaw puzzle of your story and hopefully find the place where your scene slots in.

Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t get to use those ideas right away. But write them down. They’ll always be there in the back of our minds, waiting for their moment.

 

Reading

Other than filling all this free time with writing, I also intend to do something I don’t get as much time to do as I’d like—reading. I’m always one for a good fiction book, but when I find myself with a few extra hours I love to delve into books on the craft of writing. I learn something new every day and long may it last. A sense of continuous self-improvement is a good arsenal to have in your writers toolbox. You won’t get complacent, and it’ll keep you grounded. A question always pops into my mind when I’m reading over my work: How can I say this better?

I have a few books on writing that I always keep close to hand. The Art of Dramatic Fiction by Lajos Egri, the chap I mentioned before. That book in particular changed my understanding of writing in so many ways. Couldn’t recommend it more highly. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein is another excellently helpful read, with a cracking little section on writing non-fiction too. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner is another excellent book, and Gardner’s writing style is quite hypnotic too. Lots can be learned from him. I’m always a big fan of The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, which provides a detailed and cutting view on writing from the editor’s perspective. Letters to a Young Writer by Irish writer Colum McCann is a good book if you’re looking for inspiration. On Writing by Stephen King is probably the most famous book on writing and it’s good too, so worth a read. And of course you’ve got A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook, which someone described as the seminal work on the subject, so y’know. Make of that what you will, Stephen King.

 

Planning

As a serial procrastinator myself, I know the joys of being faced with free time. I invariably take my foot off the gas and find myself spinning round in my chair two hours later having done nothing but check Facebook and emails a few times. Not everyone is the same, but I find it helpful to set targets, or goals. I will get to page 10 by the end of the day. I will finish that short story by Sunday. It keeps your mind focused and naturally you end of wasting less hours. I like to keep to-do lists. The visible reminder helps. There’s a windows app called Sticky Notes you can download for free which are good for keeping check lists. It might help, it might not. Give it a whirl and see.

 

That’s all from me. Keeping washing your hands, if you’ve still got any skin left on them. Stay safe and look after each other.

With all this free time I think JM and I will be doing a few more episodes. I’ll be back in a couple weeks time with Charles Remington, a writer, book reviewer for Reader’s Favorite, and editor of a new book of two sentence horror stories called Nano Nightmares.

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