Author Chris Gray: Tips for the Love Shy Guy

(Christopher Gray is the author of From Shy to Social, which offers confidence-boosting tips, insights and exercises for “love shy” men)

Interviewed by Nate Hendley

What motivates you to write? Is it the promise of money, fame, power, recognition, self-fulfillment or something else?

Ideally, I would like to make a living by writing. I’ve had a few different careers so far in my professional life, ranging from technical writing to sales, to project management. Up to now my writing has usually been somewhat sporadic, and I’ve reached a point where I would rather it be front and centre. So to answer your question, I’d say that it is a career choice. Also, should any of my work help or inspire people I would get a strong sense of satisfaction from that. And a little recognition along the way would be a nice bonus.

Do you have any “tricks of the trade” that help you kick-start the creative process?

When starting a new project I always sit in front of the computer in ‘brainstorming mode,’ where I don’t worry about writing, but I jot down any one-word ideas or sentences related to the subject. Every twenty or thirty minutes I’ll get up from my desk and pace the house, while saying aloud any thoughts related to those initial ideas (even when a project is well under way), which helps me come up with new ideas. As soon as I hit on an interesting concept I return to the computer and work it into the project.

What is your book, From Shy to Social, all about? Who is it aimed at?

From Shy to Social: The Shy Man’s Guide to Personal & Dating Success is the kind of book I could have used fifteen years ago, when I was extremely reserved and wasn’t having much luck with women. A lot of guys, of any age, have trouble talking to women or have general social anxiety and don’t socialize much. My book is based on some of the successful things I did to turn my life around and gain a much more satisfying dating and social life. It’s aimed at any guy from college age on, who might be at a loss as how to successfully interact with women, to older divorced men who may be intimidated at starting over.

Have you published before? What made you decide to write a book?

Outside of a few articles I wrote for my University newspaper, my first published work was shortly after graduation when I wrote a couple of software and hardware product reviews for Canadian and British computer magazines. After writing a few pieces for these magazines I found full time work as a technical writer, and my freelance work lay dormant for a few years. But over the next decade and a half, as a reserved person unsatisfied with the direction my life was going, I decided to look for a solution. I talked to dating experts and psychologists, took acting classes to get over my fear of public speaking, and became active in my local constituency, among other things. Once I reached a certain point in my progress I realized my journey had the makings of a good story, and so I wrote From Shy to Social.

What are your “de-motivators” (i.e. things that take away your drive to write or steer it to an unproductive place)? How do you cope with these de-motivators?

The biggest de-motivator is nice weather, when I’d rather be outside walking and enjoying the city. Sometimes on those days I write in the morning and evening, leaving some time for me to go out in the afternoon. However if you do this too much you will become unproductive, so I compensate by writing in the evening, and on weekends if I have no other plans.

Do you have any role models who inspire you in your personal and professional life?

I admire people with a good work ethic, and who are adept at public speaking, because I know how hard it can be. I also admire those who have attained success, in any field.

In your opinion, is talent overrated? Does society put too much emphasis on skill and not enough on will?

Will power is the key. Even extremely talented people can sabotage themselves by not devoting the energy required to do good work. If you aren’t particularly talented at something, you can usually get better through dedication and effort.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)

Are You Motivated Enough to be a Freelance Writer?

By Nate Hendley

Motivation can involve a significant degree of challenge or sacrifice. Being motivated to run a marathon for example, entails a willingness to endure pain, fatigue and discomfort. In a similar fashion, the motivated freelance writer is someone who is willing to go the extra mile to complete an assignment.

With this in mind, here’s another checklist to gauge your motivation:

Which sounds most like you?

-when given a task, I am willing to work at it however long it takes

OR

-only a fool would work overtime if there was no incentive (extra money, praise from the boss) involved

Which sounds most like you?

-weekends are for relaxing

OR

-weekends are for getting things done that you didn’t have time to complete during the week

Which sounds most like you?

-“home” and “office” are two totally separate places

OR

-I would be happy to work from home

 Which sounds most like you?

 -if I buy something from a store and can’t figure out how to put it together, I will return it and buy a less complex product

 OR

 -it I buy something from the store and can’t figure out how to put it together, I will keep working on it until I arrive at a solution

COMMENT: It should be pretty self-evident which answers are indicative of a healthy level of professional motivation. For those who are still unsure, be it known that freelance writers work strange hours—sometimes right through Saturday and Sunday, then off for two days, then back to work. You will most likely work out of home. You will be largely on your own to address any challenges that might arise from your labours.

Do this sound appealing? If it does, then I would suggest you have sufficient zeal and fortitude to freelance. If not, well, there’s no shame in admitting that you’re not particularly attracted to the freelance writer’s lifestyle.

Photo from Flickr, creative commons — http://www.flickr.com/photos/colouredinks/3497298832/

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)

Two Questions for Dr. Robert Runté

(Dr. Robert Runté is a university professor, freelance development editor, and SF critic. In addition to dozens of conference papers, journal articles, book chapters, essays, reviews and half a dozen entries in the Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, he has published over 150 issues of various small press zines. His website is SFeditor.ca. He is also an editor with Five Rivers Publishing.)

Interviewed by Nate Hendley

What motivates you to write? Is it the promise of money, fame, power, recognition, self-fulfillment or something else?

I’d have to say that in my case, it’s “something else”.

As a reviewer and critic, it’s mostly a sort of proselytizing zeal. I’ve spent much of the last 30 years trying to get people to recognize that there is a distinct Canadian genre of science fiction (SF), and that it’s pretty interesting. I’m expecting fame or self-fulfillment—and there is certainly no money—it’s simply about bringing books I love (or sometimes the opposite) to the attention of others. Maybe “nationalistic fervour” would come close?

Similarly, as a development editor, fame and fortune is not available. Indeed, most of the authors I edit freelance desire me to keep the arrangement strictly confidential, and the pay is not even remotely comparable with my day job. It’s strictly a subsidized hobby. But I love teaching and I love helping people refine their skills. It’s very satisfying to work with words and to help people.

In terms of my own writing, my motivation can be largely summed up as the Zen of Comedy: The principle that nothing so bad can happen to one that it can’t later be turned into a funny anecdote. As a writer, everything that happens to me becomes fodder for my writing.  Even the most mundane visit to the dentist or annoying encounter with a bureaucratic clerk can be magically transmuted (thanks to judicious editing) into heroic journeys, righteous battles, and gleeful victories, the better to entertain my readers.  Consequently, whereas others often seem to go through life as mere sleepwalkers, the writer remains sharply attuned to his/her environment, ever alert to the detail of plot and character, the possibilities of imagery and metaphor, as we seek to turn our lives into life stories.  In imposing a narrative structure on our lives, we heighten our attention to foreshadowing and significance, and in so doing, are often able to anticipate decisions and to find meaning in situations that others may experience as unexpected or soul-destroying. Just as a reader I can almost always see that next plot twist coming, as I write my life, a lot of things become clearer than might otherwise have been the case.

Second, knowing that whatever happens I’m going to get a good story out of it often helps to place my current difficulties into perspective.  I learned this principle from Karl Johanson, the editor of Neo-opsis magazine.  Listening to his hilarious account of traveling through the mountains to attend the convention where I first met him, I interrupted to ask him why his misadventures hadn’t led him to turn back.  “Are you kidding?” he asked. “Even as I watched our van roll down the hill and over the cliff, I knew it would make a great story, and I’d be able to come here and keep you lot in stitches for an hour.  And nobody was hurt, so what the hell?  And when you stop to think about it, the way it happened, it really was very funny!”

That’s the point, of course.  As a writer, one always does stop to think about it, to see the humour in any situation, more or less as it is happening.  Karl is one of the most laid back and together people I know, and I can’t help thinking that this is due at least in part to his also being one of the best satirists publishing today.  Ever since meeting Karl, I’ve realized that the bastards could never get me down again, because as a humorist, sweet revenge is always but a pen stroke away.

Third, in editing one’s autobiography one is in large measure editing one’s real life.  This is hard to explain to someone who isn’t a humorist, but the thing of it is, once one has written up some troublesome incident as an amusing anecdote, there is a strong tendency to remember the anecdote rather than the actual incident.  Remember that boring job that sucked the life out of you for the eighteen months you stood it? Out of that whole period there were maybe two funny things that happened—but if those were the two incidents you wrote up in your novel, ten years from now, that’s what you’d remember about that job. And since one is one’s memories, one can effectively edit one’s life to make it way better than it actually was.

Thus, as a writer I’m able to find meaning in the meaningless day-to-day trivia of modern life; can adopt the stance of ironic observer where others would cast themselves as victim; and instead of the alienation that has become the norm in our society, I am afforded a Zen-like detachment.

And all that comes out of the act of writing itself. With the subsequent publication and distribution of my essays to an audience, I collect the added bonus of being able to create a community of readers and correspondents.  Who doesn’t feel better about their life when given a sympathetic ear?  As a zine publisher, I had a ready-made audience, a veritable convention of barmen to listen patiently and perhaps offer the occasional “Got that right, buddy!”  As five or 10 or 50 of my readers responded with relevant anecdotes of their own, and as I excerpted the best of these for publication in the next issue of my zine, we together created the community, identity, and meaning that might otherwise have been lacking in our everyday lives.

I suppose that could be mistaken for seeking fame or reputation, but I was writing for a relatively small readership, so it’s really not the same. It’s not so much seeking fame, of wanting to be a household name, as of just having an audience. I think everyone needs an audience, someone who is interested in what they have to say, even if it’s only their dog. Otherwise, what’s the point of getting up in the morning if no one notices you’re there? Having a loyal readership goes a long way to filling that need.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)

Quick Quotes from a Super Scribe: Interview with New Author Michell Plested

Michell Plested is a writer and podcaster whose first book, Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero has recently been released by Five Rivers Publishing. He manages a podcast called Get Published, a science fiction/comedy podcast called GalaxyBillies and a website at http://www.michellplested.com.

Interviewed by Nate Hendley

What motivates you to write? Is it the promise of money, fame, power, recognition, self-fulfillment or something else?

There are several reasons I write. It has been my dream to be a published author for several years (self-fulfillment). I enjoy telling stories and I enjoy seeing (and hearing about) people enjoying my stories. Money is not a strong motivator but I do hope to make enough money to supplement my retirement savings after I retire.

Do you have any “tricks of the trade” that help you kick-start the creative process?

Deadlines. Knowing what I have to do and having a plan to do it is how I force myself to move on my work. I also like to collaborate with others; the sharing of ideas helps make the final product that much better.

What are your “de-motivators” (i.e. things that take away your drive to write or steer it to an unproductive place)? How do you cope with these de-motivators?

Errands. Having to go out and do other things, while a good break, interrupts my workflow.

Do you have any role models who inspire you in your personal and professional life?

There are several writers and podcasters who inspire me. Anne McCaffrey, Scott Sigler, Philippa Ballantine, and Tee Morris.

In your opinion, is talent overrated? Does society put too much emphasis on skill and not enough on will?

I think talent alone is not enough. A person can have a great deal of talent in a specific area but without the self-motivation and will to achieve something, talent is wasted.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)

Not a Space Cadet: Interview with Speculative Fiction Writer Susan J. Forest

Interviewed by Nate Hendley

Susan J. Forest is a Prix Aurora Award finalist (“Back,” Analog, June 2008) and winner of The Galaxy Project adjudicated by Robert Silverberg, David Drake and Barry Malzberg (“Lucy,” Rosetta Books, 2011). Susan works as a fiction editor for Edge. Her stories have appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, OnSpec, AE Science Fiction Review and Tesseracts and her collection, Immunity to Strange Tales is forthcoming from Five Rivers Publishing. Her website is located at www.speculative-fiction.ca

What motivates you to write? Is it the promise of money, fame, power, recognition, self-fulfillment or something else?

Money or getting my name on the cover of Analog, as I did in April, is a thrill, for sure, but it isn’t–and can’t be–the driving force behind writing. Those external acknowledgements of merit are reaffirming, but there are too many days facing the blank page or uncooperative characters, discouraging critiques and publishers’ rejections for such kudos to support my drive to write. I love being “in the moment” with my characters, feeling out what they facing and what they’ll do next, and why. Timothy Findley once said, the reason writers write is the same reason readers read: to find out what happens! That is so, for me.

Do you have any “tricks of the trade” that help you kick-start the creative process?

Absolutely. I find I am more creative when I rise to a challenge, so looking for the improbable is helpful. Starting the story at a point somewhat distant from where I want to go, and finding the route through obstacles to get to my ending is one technique. Lots of thinking–in the shower, as I wash the floor or run the treadmill–and recording my ideas on a mini-tape recorder is helpful: when I transcribe the tape, I not only get the ideas in their original form, but with the passion in my voice that re-creates the mood.

What are your “de-motivators” (i.e. things that take away your drive to write or steer it to an unproductive place)? How do you cope with these de-motivators?

Ensuring I don’t “jinx” the story by telling it to someone before I am prepared, keeps the story-writing tension built up and ready to spill onto the page. Nothing is worse than trying to explain a partially-developed idea and realizing it sounds silly.

Do you have any role models who inspire you in your personal and professional life?

Robert J. Sawyer has been a great friend and mentor who is very generous with his writing tips–and after 20 books and all the major awards, he has a great store of useful information. I have also had the great opportunity to work with very inspiring writers who are also insightful teachers, such as Nancy Kress, James Alan Gardner and James Van Pelt, to name a few.

In your opinion, is talent overrated? Does society put too much emphasis on skill and not enough on will?

Rob Sawyer says a writer needs three things: talent, persistence and luck. I believe that, whether through genetics, environment, learning or practice, there is such a thing as talent and a degree of talent is critical to success as a writer. One must have an ear for language, because writing is an art and can’t be merely assembled from basic principles. Having said that, plenty of talented people never achieve writing success. A writer has to develop talent by being exposed to the best (i.e. through reading), learning what others have to teach, practice and persistence and self-reflection. And to become published, a writer needs all of that, plus opportunities, some of which he or she can work toward arranging, and some of which are serendipitous.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)

Writers: How to Keep it Fresh and Avoid Crunch

By Angela West

(Angela West provides copywriting, social media and web design services through her company, Working Web Copy and runs the website, Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs. She is a proud member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and encourages anyone who writes for a living to join the organization.)

My work week usually consists of writing blog posts and website copy for clients, most of whom are regulars. While I work faster when deadlines draw near, my creativity suffers when I’m in “crunch writing” mode, even if the subject is one that I enjoy.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid falling into “crunch writing” mode:

1.Set Your Own Deadlines
Sometimes, clients will set short deadlines in order to give themselves some “wiggle room” to review the work. While the client’s word is usually law, consider your workload before agreeing to a deadline. Can you honestly fit it in without getting into the “crunch writing” zone? If the answer is yes, then go ahead and accept the project. If the answer is no, ask the client for more time to complete the project. Don’t be afraid of losing the client; they will respect the fact that you have an actual workload just like they do.

2. Use Scheduling Software
I currently use Google Calendar to plan out my time. It gives me a reminder on my Android phone when I have to begin a task, which can keep me from dropping any of the balls I have in the air on any given day. While there are more robust GTD (Getting Things Done) suites like OmniFocus, Google Calendar has served me very well so far. I also keep a running list of assignments I’ve completed so I don’t forget to invoice at the end of the month in Basecamp, my project management and file-sharing software.

3. Make an Editorial Calendar
My editorial calendar, which I maintain in Google Calendar as a part of my schedule, contains all my regular clients and the number of posts that each of them requires per month. If I enter a post per week on my schedule rather than jamming everything in at the start of the month, I feel less stressed and better able to tackle my workload.

4. Plan “Crunch Writing” Time
Even with planning, there will be a couple of times a month when I am crunched anyway. When the time comes, I find it helps to prioritize. There are some projects that require more creativity than others. I’ll start researching these projects first so my thoughts have time to percolate while I am working on other items. Simple news stories can typically be banged out quickly, even if you’re not “in the creative flow”, whereas some website copy and blog posts require more thought and inspiration.

5. Exit Home Office Stage Left
When I really need to get something done and focus, I do the opposite of what most people do. I go somewhere where I can hear a lot of noise around me. This usually means hoofing it into town and having a long lunch at a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi (my nearest Starbucks is a two hour drive away—the humanity!). Feeling like part of human race for a while rather than working in my own idyllic corner of the world speeds up my work and thought process.

What do you do to avoid the creative oppression of deadlines? Let me know in the comments section.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle, and the content manager of this blog. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)

Interview with Freelance Writing Sage Paul Lima

Interviewed by Nate Hendley

Paul Lima (www.paullima.com) is a Toronto-based freelance writer, trainer and author of 14 books and reports on business writing, the business of freelance writing, how to write a non-fiction book, etc.

Read about his books at www.paullima.com/books. Read his blog, The Six-Figure Freelancer, at www.paullima.com/blog. And read about his new collection of short stories, “Rebel in the Back Seat”, at www.paullima.com/cw.

What motivates you to write? Is it the promise of money, fame, power, recognition, self-fulfillment or something else?

I was seven years old when I published my first magazine. Using a stubby pencil, I meticulously printed articles about members of my family and illustrated the articles with crayon art. I produced only one copy of the magazine, but my entire family read “The Lima News”. I had great fun doing it and words have been an important part of my life ever since. There is no denying it: there was both a recognition factor and a self-fulfillment factor involved. But I also learned, since that first foray into writing, that I could make a living doing something I enjoy, and that’s cool too. Recently, though, I published my first collection of short stories, Rebel in the Back Seat. You don’t publish short stories for the money, so I guess I’m back to trying to gain a bit of recognition and self-fulfillment, while having fun with fiction.

Do you have any “tricks of the trade” that help you kick-start the creative process?

Darn good question. I know a lot of writers who admit they procrastinate. I can’t afford to do so. I’ve been earning my living as a fulltime freelance writer and writing trainer for over 20 years. If I want to get paid, I have to work and meet my deadlines. That keeps me motivated! At the same time, there are some mornings when I have to find ways to kick start my engine. I sometimes start work before I have breakfast. The deal is that I don’t eat until I accomplish a particular goal. Don’t know if it’s healthy, but it works for me—because I love to eat!

When it comes to my creative writing, I listen to my gut. When an idea starts to percolate, I use several creative techniques to develop it, including freefall and clustering. I’ve taught these techniques in creative writing workshops and put them, and a number of other techniques, in a book called (re)Discover the Joy of Creative Writing. Sometimes you just have to play with writing until you get this feeling that you are on to something—then you run with it. So learning how to be patient, while inching forward, is something I advocate. After all, Rome was not built in a day.

What are your “de-motivators” (i.e. things that take away your drive to write or steer it to an unproductive place)? How do you cope with these de-motivators?

I think de-motivators have changed over the decades. I remember in the early days, I’d stop writing to check and see if the mail had arrived. Would do that several times an hour, and then be peeved when the mail arrived because I’d have no excuse to stop writing.

Then it was email and web surfing. Now it’s that plus social media. They can be very distracting. So what I do is treat my distractions as rewards for reaching goals: No personal email or social media until … (I’ve achieved whatever goal has been set). Once the goal is achieved, I’ll give myself a set time to goof off, and make sure I have something work-related to come back to. But if I have a pressing deadline, it has to be met before I allow myself to have fun.

The problem freelance writers sometimes face is the lack of deadline. In other words, there are times when you have no work to do. At times like that—infrequent, thank goodness—I set marketing goals. I have a list of marketing tasks that I keep handy. If work ebbs, I turn to the list and try to complete several tasks before I take time off. No fooling around until I send out two queries, follow up on several sales pitches, find and email several potential clients, update my website.

Do you have any role models who inspire you in your personal and professional life?

I don’t have any one role model, but I have known a number of successful freelancers. What they have in common is that they devote x-number of hours a day to their business. They are either writing or working on landing writing gigs, be it corporate, periodical or book work. They also reward themselves with set breaks, after they accomplish a particular goal, and build in time to socialize with other writers. Writing is a solitary task and getting out of the house to meet with people once in a while is important.

In your opinion, is talent overrated? Does society put too much emphasis on skill and not enough on will?

I’ve said on more than one occasion, “There are writers out there who can write circles around me.” Some of them (certainly not all, by any stretch) are struggling. Writing takes a degree of skill or “talent”, no doubt about it. But to succeed as a freelancer, you have to combine your writing talent with business of freelance writing discipline.

I write and/or train daily. I’ve also written 14 books and detailed reports in the last six years. You don’t do that without desire and working to fulfill your desire in a dedicated and disciplined manner. In other words, you have to put your butt in your seat and work if you want to be a successful freelancer. I didn’t write my first book of short stories until I felt the desire to do so. But once I felt that desire, I acted on it—dedicating time in a disciplined manner to writing my book. There is no denying it though: sometimes the decision to act is the hardest part of any act.

As long as you are moving towards your goals, though, it’s fine to take some down time. That means you have to know what your goal, or business vision is, and you have to have landmarks that demonstrate you are moving in the right—or should I say ‘write’—direction. That will help keep you on track and honest, with yourself. Because when you work on your own, you don’t report to a boss. You only report to yourself, so you have to learn how to be upfront and honest with yourself.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kobo. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)