- There are no hard rules to writing.
- Managing all the tasks associated with being a writer.
- Strategies for our writing productivity when we only have 20-30 free minutes per day.
It has an adventurous and hopeful feel, which fits my attitude to writing.
Welcome to the tenth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with short fiction writer, Adam Inglis, about how he focuses during his writing sessions.
Arthur: Your website is very well maintained. Do you run it yourself?
Adam: Thank you, it has taken quite a lot of work to get it looking the way it does. In short, yes I run it. I own the domain from one company (fasthosts) but the hosting and design tool comes from wix.com. They have a rather bold claim that “It all starts with your stunning website.” There is, however, some restrictions on what you can and can’t do. If you can live with that, then it’s a decent service. It took a while to accept that what I wanted was too complex. The website as it can be seen today is a happy compromise.
Arthur: How do you create the images on your site?
Adam: I created all the artwork using free-to-use images that I’ve either manipulated in an editor, or cropped and filtered. It is an obsessive compulsion to give every story, or poem, a sort of “cover page” even if I have no intention of it every being used or printed. I hope it makes the site more attractive for a visitor.
Arthur: What’s the inspiration behind the photo on your biography page? You in the woods?
Adam: This photo was taken at the foot of Mount Index, just a little East of Seattle, WA. To quote American artist, Bob Ross, it was a “Happy Accident” rather than something I deliberately posed for. The reason I use it on the bio page is purely a matter of composition. It gives the appearance of me looking up towards the text and menu bar and I suppose it has an adventurous and hopeful feel, which fits with my attitude to writing.
There is no hard and fast rule for how this can be done successfully. If there is? Well, people are keeping it a secret from me.
Arthur: You work in data management and are studying creative writing. I assume writing is not your full-time job. Do you have a family? What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance writing with all other things in life?
Adam: I’ve been married for nearly three years now, and we have a cat. So it’s a small family. I would struggle to stay motivated without the patience and support I get at home. Working full-time allows me to study part-time and get the degree I didn’t seek when I was younger. In terms of writing schedule, it’s not nearly as regimented as I would like. I tend to be a night owl, so I find I’m typing away quite late while Becky (my wife) sleeps. The balance is working, but I would be honoured to make writing my full-time occupation at some stage.
Arthur: As a writer, how do you manage all the tasks with being a writer – in a way, running your own writing business – such as hosting a website, writing content for a blog, marketing, and with the actual writing itself?
Adam: …Badly. There’s more than enough work involved in the content preparation, blogging, marketing, website design, and social networking to warrant hiring someone to do it. The trouble is, many of us are not earning from our writing (yet) and have to do this between full-time work and family. There is no hard and fast rule for how this can be done successfully. If there is? Well, people are keeping it a secret from me.
Focus is your best friend here, decide on a task, do it, and then move on. Try not to do too much at once, or let too many activities overlap.
Arthur: There’s a lot of “holistic” writing and editing advice out there, such as “Write 500 words per day.” In Interviews from the Void, I want to get more specific. For you as a writer, how do you focus on your craft during each writing session? Do you free yourself of distractions? How do you focus and produce content?
Adam: There is a lot of value in the ‘500 words per day’ approach, but even that can be daunting. What happens if you miss a day? You mentally start to build this “backlog” of missing words; this can allow stress and anxiety to propagate. Both of these things can be absolute killers of free thought.
I have one technique I stand by: “Free Writes.”
A free write is an uninterrupted flow of ideas produced over a set duration. I use 5 minutes, but anything between 1 minute and 10 minutes could be useful. No stopping, no correcting spelling, no editing, and no reading back over it.
If you want to write something new, choose any prompt you like the sound of, set the timer, start writing and don’t stop. If this means writing nonsense, that is okay, in fact, I encourage it. You might not be impressed with the first effort, but if you line up 3 or 4 of these in a row, without stopping, you will start to reveal ideas that will launch you into a new piece of work.
If you want to work on your work in progress (for this example I am going to use a novel about a killer clown), choose 3-4 prompts that have nothing to do with the WIP, but for the 5th prompt, make it about your WIP and make it specific. Set the timer and do all the Free Writes one after another. You will reveal details you have not considered and may even create the basis of a new chapter, character, or scene. So your prompts might look like this:
- 5 mins ‘A rainy day’
- 5 mins ‘Breaking the law’
- 5 mins ‘Microaggressions’
- 5 mins ‘My neighbours noisy music’ – and then for the final one –
- 5 mins ‘A killer clowns basement’
You have only used 25 mins, but you will have written a lot more than 500 words, and while it won’t all be gold, some of it certainly will be.
Anyone interested in the Free Write technique is welcome to get in touch, I am happy to show examples of mine, all of which could be developed into a longer, marketable, idea, and none of them would exist if it wasn’t for the technique.
Focus is your best friend here, decide on a task, do it, and then move on. Try not to do too much at once, or let too many activities overlap.
Arthur: On your blog, you state: “I often focus on the bleaker moments. […] But in that, like all things, there is a certain beauty to be uncovered.” Tell me more about this. What inspires you to write this type of content?
Adam: This almost certainly comes from my secondary inspiration to write, Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road”. I am borderline obsessed with the idea of an apocalypse that forces humankind to revert back to a basic hunter-gatherer type survival situation. It will likely be the subject of my first novel. What I am most interested in, though, is how a story like that can be told in a way that feels vivid and captivating. My short story ‘Blue’ essentially has a guy about to kill himself because of his wife’s infidelity. Cliché, right? It’s ok, you can say it. It is.
For me it wasn’t about writing a unique plot in a bland way. It was always about writing a bland plot, in a unique way.
It might be the subject of great debate, or even argument, but I think you can learn to plot well, I don’t think it is as easy to teach your eye to “see” the details in a way that is engaging to others. The main feedback I get from “Blue” is about the details, and in that I consider the story to be a success.
“Points” on the other hand, is a mixture of both. It has the feeling of cliche, but I think the story swerves away from being too “on the nose.”
I hope one day to master how the two work together and write something long-form that readers are unable to put down. Although, this is not the goal.
Arthur: What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers? What is your target audience?
Adam: This is a tough one, just as defining my genre is difficult. I am still finding my feet, and until I do, I am open to all audiences. I think I will end up writing something that appeals to readers who think they have read it all. Is that a bit of a grand statement? Maybe. I want the ultra-skeptical readers to pick up my work and be surprised by the content.
In terms of experience, it would be great for every reader to put a story down with a new way of looking at something. If a reader finishes a story and thinks “I’ve never considered that particular thing, in that way before,” I will be happy.
Arthur: How did you start writing? Do you think your study of creative writing has helped you become a better writer?
Adam: So, the primary reason why I started writing… I have to be honest on this. I read work by other writers and felt I could do better. That is how I started. I know that comment won’t win me any new friends, but it’s the truth, and there will be others who feel the same way. I imagine there are people who read my work and think the same, so my motivation is to keep improving until that is no longer the case.
I can’t credit studying as the only reason my writing improved, nor will I say that “just keep writing” works. Stephen king says the way to improve your writing is to read, a lot. I have to agree with that, but don’t swap one for the other, you need to engage both activities.
There is, sadly, no single rule to improving your work, only what works for you. In the beginning, my writing improved by joining www.scribophile.com, if you want to know more about this community, see my blog.
That might be a good start for any brand new writers, but avoid the forums.
I want the ultra-skeptical readers to pick up my work and be surprised by the content.
Arthur: Your short story, “The Last Meal of Longbarrow,” is amazing. I loved it. I was drawn in by your great prose. How did you learn to write like this? Lots of writing practice? Or was it taught to you during your creative writing studies?
Adam: Thanks, Arthur. I’m pleased you enjoyed it! “The Last Meal of Longbarrow” is the result of two separate writing motivations. On one hand I wanted to enter this year’s Mogford short story contest which calls for short stories with food and drink at the heart of the tale. On the other hand I needed to write a short story on any topic for a University assignment. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and submitted “Last Meal” to both the contest, and the Uni.
It didn’t place in the contest, but earned a high grade at Uni.
The story itself came together quite organically, and while the quality of the prose is okay, it doesn’t feel like my best work; I hope that is yet to come!
Arthur: I’ve spoken with many writers – some who have come to learn the writing craft on their own, and others, like you, who’ve had some education. Do you believe your creative writing studies have helped you improve your writing faster than if you would have tried to learn the craft on your own?
Adam: Further education has helped with the fundamentals. Scribophile taught me about showing vs. telling, and how to use (or rather not use) adverbs. It also taught me some humility, which is essential when you begin sharing your mad ideas with the world. Between those two things I believe I have enough of a grasp to find my own way. I am far from knowing it all, I don’t ever suspect I will get there, but I know enough to write a novel worthy of an airport terminal bookshop.
There will be other lessons, sure, especially when I come to finding an agent, or getting published, but for now I feel well armed to move forwards.
Arthur: After reading some of your work, such as “The Kringle” and “Points,” I’m reminded of Rod Serling’s the Twilight Zone and “Black Mirror.” Is Black Mirror popular in the UK? What other markets and genres are growing there?
Adam: Using my work and “Black Mirror” in the same sentence is a compliment of the highest degree. Thank you. The goal I mentioned earlier is to write something of this quality. “Black Mirror” does not do the “In all bleak things, there is beauty” that I adhere to, but what it does better than anyone else is show how truly bleak a story can go and remain engaging. It is hugely popular in the UK, but many still have not seen it. It took me two years to watch the episode “The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3) because it hit too close to home. For the writing – even on a TV show – to produce that kind of a response in me is truly magnificent and should be praised.
I think these short, self-contained, stories are on the upswing. I sincerely hope shows like “The Walking Dead” are on the way out. It has lived so long it has become a ridiculous chore to watch it. I loved it once, but all good things should end when they are still good. Leave your audience wanting, but don’t give it to them. I know, I know, it’s all about the dollar value.
I think speculative fiction will also see a boost, or work that is allegorical. For those chasing down the next big thing, you heard it here first.
The trick is to just write it and move forward, tell yourself the story first and leave the perfectionism to the editor.
Arthur: Do you think there is a future for horror and science-fiction the given that mystery and Thriller sell so much more? Do you think that story is lacking in the last 10 years? Do you think story has a place in the next 30 Years what kinds of stories will people be drawn to in the next 30 Years?
Adam: Is there a future for Horror and Sci-fi? Absolutely YES. Always. Horror and Science Fiction fans are among the most faithful in the business. Even poorly written horror has a fanbase, the genre will survive even if the quality diminishes (see above note about “The Walking Dead”), And Sci-fi? There will be science fiction until our final days, it is human nature to ask “what if” and there will always be someone willing to explore the ideas associated with that.
What do I think people will be drawn to in 30 years? Robo-Erotica Robotica?
Who knows, but when I do, I will still write whatever I like and largely ignore whatever the popular thing is. Not because I’m trying to be edgy, but because what I like writing doesn’t feel like it will ever be cool.
Arthur: What draws you to writing short fiction and flash fiction instead of longer works? Do you plan to write a longer piece?
Adam: I am plagued by the desire to rewrite anything I write. This keeps me in a sort of rewrite loop. I can just about manage short fiction because of this, but anything longer and I get stuck editing a chapter over and over again until its “perfect,” which never happens. I eventually burn out and move on to something else. I have begun to see improvement, though, the trick is to just write it and move forward, leave the perfectionism to the edit and tell yourself the story first.
I also believe there is value in mastering the art of the short story. If you can tell a story in a concise way you are a long way towards writing a novel that works. Principles are the same, you just have more room.
I’ve started my novel a few times, in a few different ways. I’ve used different characters points of view, different geographic locations, difference scenes. When one of these gains some traction, the story will begin in earnest.
I can’t wait.
Arthur: Thank you, Adam, for the incredible detail in this interview. Specifically your Free Writes process. I think this is a great process and can be helpful to many writers out there. Be sure to check out Adam’s blog and read his short fiction. We’re looking forward to reading more of your work.
Next week I chat with Benjamin Shelor about how his screenwriting helps his novel writing, and his upcoming stories “The Fractured Spheres.”