Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Writer

As a full time writer, people often ask me what it is I do all day. Looking around my house, it’s clear I don’t spend all my time cleaning.

So what does a typical writing day look like for Ash Oldfield?

I just want to preface this by saying that I make up my income via teaching Science at evening school. This means I do not get to bed until late. Please keep that in mind when I tell you that I wake up at any time between 10am to 11am (alarms are for the masses, not for me!). When I first quit full time work I was made to feel guilty about my late starting hour, but I have since come to realise that I don’t live the same schedule as everyone else, so of course my sleeping patterns are different.

I often lie in bed and have ‘imagination time’. In the first half hour after waking I have been known to plot out an entire scene, sometimes even a chapter, word-for-word. Once I have done with daydreaming I roll out of bed, fix myself a cup of tea, and sit for a bit with my cats. In Winter I put the heater on and wait for the house to heat up, huddled under a blanket. This is the time, in between waking and lunch that I devote to social media. My brain struggles to word properly, so I avoid writing unless I am truly desperate to put words down on a page. Once it hits around 12 or so I make myself some lunch.

After lunch I really get stuck in to my writing. I can sit for 5 or 6 hours on a good day, 1 or 2 hours on a bad day. How many words I get down depends on where I am in the writing process – planning, rough draft, rewrites or editing. Where I sit also depends on my mood – generally this is anywhere you can image other than a desk. I have even, on occasion, written whilst in the bath! If there is any sun out I take a chair outside and write from there, otherwise I huddle over my stable-table in all manner of places.

I try to finish writing by 4 or 5 o’clock. As I said, I teach in the evenings and find it impossible to have my students understand what I am saying when I am still in writing mode. I feed the dog, the guinea pigs and the rabbit, read for half an hour or so, then head off to work in the evenings.

Of course, this schedule is often mixed up a bit. Some days I catch a bus or train somewhere to work from a library, a cafe or my husband’s office. Other days I head off to see my Mum or my girlfriends. I believe it is vital for writers to leave their nests every once and a while. I have noticed that, if I have not socialised recently, my writing becomes stilted and staid. I also play indoor soccer (futsal) twice a week, and go for walks when I can be bothered. My bad back requires the exercise, and I find I can plot out some tricky scenes or dialogue when I’m walking. Unless I take my dog with me, in which case every stranger wants to stop me so they can say hello to the adorable little fluff ball (okay, so he’s a big fluff ball).

Am I being entirely honest here? Am I really that productive over all, every day of the week? Well, no, to be honest. Some days I spend my time researching topics for new ideas, studying online courses in history and the like. Some days the words just won’t come and I loll about on the couch in utter frustration. Sometimes I spend days, weeks on end doing nothing but reading. Some (very rare) days I clean the house from top to bottom, cook gourmet meals or even dance around the house like I’ve lost my mind. Some days I think I have lost my mind.

I am truly lucky with my lifestyle. It is varied and interesting. I can dictate how my days happen, if at all (pyjama day, anyone?) and I really, truly appreciate the opportunity.

So tell me: Is this what you thought a day in the life of a writer would be like? Did you somehow think it would be more exotic? Less exotic? Leave your thoughts in the comments below :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

5 Steps for Researching Story Ideas

Whenever I meet new people, and they find out that I am a writer, one of the first things they ask me is: "Where do you get your ideas from?"

I often don't know what to tell them. I mean, ideas are cheap, it's the execution of them that's the hard work, so I never really think about it.

Sometimes I get my ideas from weird dreams I have. I'll be honest with you, though, these never really amount to much because there isn't any substance to them.

I suppose most of my ideas, usually unconsciously, comes from spending many happy hours researching topics that pique my interest. I have been known to get lost in an infinite Wikipedia loop of fascinating information.

I am actually on the lookout for a new story idea as we speak. I am writing book 3 of a series (which I hope to release in one go), and when I am finished I want something that I can move on to straight away. Rachaya is about dragons, and I have probably spent around 10 years on and off researching these mythological creatures. The thought of moving on to a topic that I have not got as much in-depth knowledge of scares the bajeebuz out of me. So I have begun research on a whole new area.

But how do you do that without getting mired down in the unimportant?

Here are the basic 5 steps I follow whenever I am researching a new topic of interest:

1) Pick a topic that is of interest to you. What have you always wished you knew more about? What sorts of ideas are always click-bait for you?

2) Narrow down your field of interest into a simple, answerable question. The question I started with most recently was: "How did religion shape ancient civilizations and vice versa?"

3) Gather a whole heap of resources around you that can help you answer this question. I prefer to start with reference books such as encyclopedias before I head to the internet, but that's just personal preference.

4) Take detailed notes in an organised log-book (whether this is pen and paper or online).

5) Allow yourself to be taken along divergent threads of interest. I give myself boundaries with this; for me I only allow myself to diverge down paths that are relevant to the original topic of interest.

Following these steps should give you a whole heap of ideas to work from. In one week of research I have far too many ideas to pursue. One word of caution - never use this research as an info-dump in your story. It is for you and you alone to know.

How do you come up with your story ideas? Do you prefer more or less research before you begin planning and writing?