Monday, December 3, 2012

Tips for writing a book for those who find it hard to stay motivated

Since I began this blog, I have written three full-length books, am virtually finished with another, and about halfway through yet another.  All of this I have done, over time, while struggling with depression and through various med changes, which can really kill the motivation to finish something as involved as writing a book or long story.

Recently, I received an email from someone who reads my short stories who told me that they wanted to bounce some ideas off of me because they "always seem to run out of steam before I get to the end."  I ended up writing a fairly long explanation as to the process that I developed, which has helped me to actually finish what I start, when it comes to writing.  I figured I'd put it up here, as well, so that others could possibly benefit.

I write in five phases:

Phase 1 - The VERY Rough Draft:  Commit yourself to writing the ENTIRE story down before you go back, even once.  Don't go back to add detail, don't go back to proofread, just get the whole thing down, as quickly as possible.  Set a word count goal every time you go to write, and just get it out of your head and onto paper (digital or otherwise).  Write down every thing you can think of for that story as quickly as possible, first day, if you can.  Don't worry about readability, don't worry about if it would make sense to anyone but yourself.  Don't worry about grammar, about using the same words too closely together, or anything like that.  It's imperative to get the whole story down on paper before you lose interest.

Phase 2 - Explaining Yourself:  Go back to the beginning and add detail and explanation.  Flesh it out.  Make it understandable to those that aren't in your head.  Again, go from beginning to end without restarting, if possible.  If you have to take a break from the story (longer than a few days), try to do it between phases, not in the middle of one.  I find this phase to be surprisingly easy, compared to the first.

Phase 3 - Proofreading:  After that, go back to the beginning again and proofread.  Commit yourself to not adding detail or story on this phase unless it's absolutely necessary to get your point across.  This keeps you from rewriting the story infinitely.  Read it out loud, if possible.  If not, develop a "reading voice" in your head, and have it read it to you.  It's slower, but a lot more effective than simply reading the text.  Try to have different voices for different characters in your head.  If you've never listened to an audio book that works like this, try it, it'll help you envision the different voices. 

Phase 4 - Someone Else's Problem:  For the fourth phase, get someone else to read the story, if you can.  Make a separate copy for them if you're doing this on a computer.  Get them to highlight anything that isn't ABSOLUTELY clear, as well as anything grammatically incorrect or just plain awkward.  Tell them to err on the side of caution.  If they understand something, but it seems a bit off, tell them to highlight it and explain as such in parenthesis to the side.  Encourage them to explain what's wrong, whenever possible.  It'll give you some insight into your own story from the perspective of someone else.

Try to let it sit for some time at this point.  Maybe a week or so, or however long it takes your proofreader to finish.  If you can, work on another project in the meantime.  If you plan to churn books out in number, get another book past phase 4 before you go back to this one.  It'll help you see your errors from the point of view of someone who has no idea what you're talking about, which is important.

Phase 5 - Fixing The Obvious:  Go back, clarify, fix any errors.  Fix them only on your original, then strike-through the highlighted parts on the editor version and copy-paste the fix.  Have your proofreader check the fixes and repeat as necessary.  After all that, you should have a nice, polished story.

I hope this helps someone finish their own book or story.  After the first one, it gets easier.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Depression Malfunction

One of the weirdest things about depression (to me, anyway) is where the mental malfunctions occur.  The way I see it, with a normal human mind, this is how most things get done.

  • First, there's the need to do a thing.  This is optional. 
    • Example: I need to take the trash out. (keeping it simple, stick with me)
  • What follows is the want to do a thing.  If there is a need, then one usually wants to do the thing BECAUSE they need to do the thing.  Alternatively, they may want to do the thing so that, in the end, they no longer need to do the thing, and can strike that off their list of things that they need to do.  People also have their own wants that are not based on needs, even if they sometimes think they are, so it's possible for an action to start in the want phase.
    • I want to take the trash out because I know I need to, and once I'm done, I can move on to other, less taking-trash-out-like things.  
  • Then there's the actual action - actually getting into gear and DOing the thing, whatever it is.  
I'll refer to these three phases as the need, the want, and the do.  Suggestions at euphemisms are totally welcome in the comments.   

Most people seem to be under the impression that a clinically depressed person stops at that second part, the want.  They assume that a depressed person recognizes the need to do something (take the trash out, shower, whatever), but just doesn't want to.  Even those that are empathetic towards those with depression seem to believe that they lack the want, but that there is a medical reason as opposed to sheer laziness.  

More often than not, that is not the case.  

Instead, the failure generally happens sometime after the want phase.  I know I need to take the trash out.  I want to take the trash out, because I'm sick of knowing that it's something I need to do, and it'll take me all of five minutes to get that out of the way which is far better than being annoyed by it for hours.  Even if it doesn't stink, I'm still aware that it needs to be done and that I'm not doing it, and that annoys me.  

And then...that's it.  Whatever impetus there is supposed to be to push from the want to the actual action is just missing.  I know it's missing.  I can feel that there's something wrong, and that it used to be there, but it's just not.  I know I need to, and therefore I want to, but it just doesn't go past that.  There's a connection missing, a bridge burned, a path not available.  You can almost feel an error code, even if you can't read it because no one has built a scanner for that, at least not yet.  

Sometimes, and this is really bizarre, the failure actually comes in the middle of the action, whatever it is.  Now, I'm not talking about deciding you don't like doing something, or simply getting bored with something tedious, or putting something down and just never picking it back up.  That's normal stuff, and we all do that, to some degree.   No, what I'm talking about is far weirder, and has given me some insight into why so many people are homeless.

Let's go back to the trash example.  I need to take the trash out, therefore I want to take the trash out, therefore I do take the trash out.  My "Doing Mechanism" is working, in this case.  Then, suddenly, it inexplicably goes out, mid-action.  I'm halfway to the dumpster, trash bag in hand, and out nowhere, there's this quiet urge to just set the trash bag down and stop.  Maybe take a nap in the middle of the parking lot.

There's no reason for this urge, no feeling that it suddenly makes sense or is something that normal people should do.  But, nonetheless, it's there, and every single step toward the dumpster, from that point on, requires an individual mental prodding, a conscious push to keep going.  

Sometimes it happens while I'm in the shower.  I'll simply lose the will to finish.  I DO finish, because I don't want to have to explain why I didn't to my family, and because I recognize that not finishing would just be more irritating than finishing but, really, why would that even be a thing?  Why would I have to tell myself "No, really, I have to rinse the soap off and wash my hair.  I have to finish now that I've started."  I wonder if anyone has found their clinically depressed family member laying in the bed (or floor), shampoo in hair and still soaking wet.  Not even necessarily sleeping, just...stopped.

This makes me wonder how many homeless people are homeless because, at some point, they just stopped, and it was at one of those crucial moments in life where you absolutely have to keep going.  Hell, I could've easily ended up homeless in recent years if not for the need to take care of things for my family.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012