Tower of London Tour

It’s Halloween week, so talking about places that have a bloody history goes hand-in-hand with the calendar right now. When the place in question is also one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited, and that the history of the locale extends far past the gorier events, well, that’s just the Cracker Jack prize to it all.Good profile shot of Tower Bridge

One of the best things about being a writer is that every trip, trap, or researching technique in my life can color my writing in a positive way. Another good thing about doing that kind of all-encompassing life experience is I know a little bit about a lot of things, so when I hear about a terrific documentary on television, I have a pretty good idea if I’m interested.

Case in point is the PBS documentary on the Tower of London that first aired earlier this week. Because of the joys of digital channels, it was repeated in my area, and I’ve already watched it twice. The hour-long program is still available on the PBS.org website at  http://video.pbs.org/video/2365105126/ . If you haven’t seen it yet, please check it out.

While the Tower conjures up horror images of how Henry VIII rid himself of excess queens and his inner court advisers when they no longer served his purpose, the Tower is so much more.

PTDC0115This is a structure more than a 1000 years old, and still standing strong. It takes sixty years for a crew to complete one round of the never-ending regular maintenance–from cleaning the gargoyles’ mouths with toothbrushes, to doing all roof and drain work.

The tower wardens–better known as the Beefeaters–keep the peace in their resplendent uniforms. The documentary explained one possible reason for their nickname came from being the king’s guard, and getting to eat all the meat they wanted. Keeping the compound safe is also the job of the six ravens that live on site per royal decree. Legend has it if the ravens leave the Tower, the structure will fall, so the ravenkeeper’s job is to clip wings and keep count. To date, only one raven left for a short foray into non-Tower lands, but it was recovered in Greenwich a couple of days later when an eagle-eyed resident spotted the famous bird.

Inside the tower it’s like walking back 500 years or more. On display is one of the first indoor toilets–with waste going directly into the Thames River. The Hall of Kings shows the banners and war armor of England’s warrior rulers, lined up so each step takes a visitor farther back into the millennium.PTDC0118

And the biggest draw of all? The Crown Jewels are housed here in all their glittering wonder. There has only been one nearly successful heist, and today no one is allowed to snap photos while viewing the jewels. Yet, though it’s been several years since I rolled through the halls on the conveyor belt (yes, visitors have no hope of stopping to take a long look at any jewel or its associated security) those lovely crowns and parure jewelry stay polished and brilliant in my mind.

PTDC0116The PBS program simply made the memory fresh and bright. Do you have favorite memories of a trip? Or a favorite travel show or documentary?

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7 Ways to Find Time to Write

Counterfeit_Conspiracies_final_cover

I have a limited attention span—not because I can’t focus, but because there are so many things around vying for my attention. I have dings and rings and buttons and bells. The one thing I don’t have much of anymore are actual wall calendars showing me how much of the year has already flown by. It’s October people! We tend to have these epiphany moments about the time the back-to-school stuff hit the clearance tables and the Halloween frights fill the store aisles. But for writers, learning to schedule our time, ahead of the “OMG it’s the end of the year” slap, is key to success. I’m currently brainstorming the sequel to Counterfeit Conspiracies and actually writing the second book in my Organized for Mystery series. I look for time to write everywhere, and to make sure not to miss any opportunities in the day’s schedule. Here are a few tips to try:            

1) Make daily coupons that offer writing time—with expiration dates in bold type.

We’ve become a coupon society, we honor coupons, we make sure we utilize coupons whenever we buy anything or go to any event. Writers are notorious for giving up their writing time for the needs of others, but a coupon with an expiration date at the end of each 24-hour period reminds each of us that time is valuable, our writing is valuable, and if we don’t utilize this time—and the coupon expires—that writing day expires as well.            

2) Build in a visual daily reminder that proves your personal success.

We learned about gold star charts in kindergarten for a reason—visuals that fill in every square work give us a successful feeling. These kinds of charts show us in cheap but powerful form what we’ve accomplished on a regular basis. Maybe you’d rather have a jar of pennies you add to each day you write. Or, like JessicaFletcher, you want to put the day’s writings into an inscribed folder that visually proves what you’ve produced. Whatever you choose, pick a method that works for you, that shows every day’s progress, step-by-step and word-by-word, and watch how it helps your progress improve.            

3) Change methods if something feels more comfortable.

Yes, comfort is everything for writers. I love to start my drafts by handwriting, usually switching over to the laptop after a page or so. I’ve found my brain is more easily jump-started when begin by putting pen to paper. Even better, I’ve found that since I have to type in what I’ve already written, I never see the blank computer page—I start typing and it’s that much easier to keep going once the handwritten notes come to an end.

Comfort is key. A writer I know started complaining to me one day about her desk chair. It was a hand-me-down replacement for another she’d had to recently discard. I empathized about the cost of office supplies when she brought up how she’d wanted to buy new, but didn’t when this option became available. Then halfway through lunch, we were talking about our daily writing goals, and she mentioned how difficult she’d suddenly found it to go into her office and write each day. She feared she was getting writers block, but couldn’t figure out why since she still had a million ideas—she just couldn’t get up the energy to go in and write them down. I asked if it could be the new chair, since she hadn’t been thrilled when we discussed it earlier. The AHA! moment was like a light went off above her head. Yes, sometimes it is that easy, but we’re too close to the problem to see it for ourselves.            

4) Find a writing-schedule method that works for you.

Everyone has a different schedule. Just because one works for your writer-friend ‘Sally’, and helped her finish a book in six weeks, that doesn’t mean it will work for you. Trying to meet someone else’s writing expectations sets you up for potential failure. I personally write to an extensive schedule that has me working on several projects at the same time. Without this kind of a schedule I waste too much time figuring out where I am each day. But that’s me—and no matter how detailed the schedule there are always going to be changes. Writers have to be flexible. Find your comfortable writing fit and then you can be more flexible with your schedule and still get the best word count each day.            

5) Use small time slots to create big progress.

If you haven’t already heard the story of the tortoise and the hare, please Google it. The major message of that story is “slow and steady wins the race” – and for writers that also flexes to “small and steady builds the manuscript.” Let’s say you only have 15 minutes a day to write. Say that 15 minutes lets you produce half a page of a manuscript per day. On a single half-page, single spaced, that averages 250 words. So what does that do? Well, 250 words written each day means by yearend you’ll have produced 91,250 words. Not bad, huh? Even given for editing and revision, that 15 minutes a day could produce a novel in 12 months. Are you game?            

6) Carry writing materials everywhere you go.

You never know when a stray 15 minutes will open up to allow you to sketch out a quick scene or jot down a bit of dialogue. But don’t just count on pencil and paper. I’ve used my Kindle keyboard to write while waiting to pick up my daughter at the airport. I’ve heard of writers composing most of their manuscripts on their phones while commuting into the city on trains or buses each day. And we seem to have to wait all the time—everyone wants you to show up early for appointments, but those same appointments always run 15 minutes behind. I even saw a friend recently using her check register to write down a bit of her WIP while waiting in the grocery check-out line, using her check register when she couldn’t find anything else in her purse.            

7) Look for new ways to create writing time in your day.

This point ties back to how I started this blog, since it hinges on eliminating distracters, things like Facebook, email, television, and on and on and on. Leaving Facebook, Twitter, and email up guarantees distraction because they ding to let you know every new contact that hits your box—whether the incoming is something you’re interested in or not. The same with cell phones. Think about how you can create new writing time for yourself by taking a brief break from things that call you. Don’t log in, don’t turn on. Check email three times a day instead of thirty. During your short writing time, give yourself permission to keep your writing time sacred. Let voicemail pick up your calls. Let the online services keep their messages to themselves. You will write more, and write more quickly—then you can get back to checking the dings and rings and bells and whistles later.  

These are just a few tips I’ve used to complete my upcoming release Counterfeit Conspiracies, released by Gemma Halliday Publishing in December 2013. What are some ways you’ve found extra writing time? Please share your thoughts.