Where is my Muse? – Motivation for bloggers and writers

Another ridiculously hot day here in the south of England, once again hitting 30°C – bordering on assault for my pasty Scottish skin!

It’s tough to concentrate and lethargy has definitely set in. It got me thinking about how I manage to find the motivation to actually pick up a pen or tap away on the keyboard. I’ve come up with a few and it would be interesting to hear what others might add to this far from finite list.

  1. Setting aside a specific and recurrent period of time: Sounds obvious but it works for me. If I know my witching hours are between 8 and 10, I tend not to procrastinate so much and get down to the serious job of creating content. If I sit down ad hoc, I tend to play about on Twitter, Facebook or the like and eventually the time drips away with little to show for my efforts.
  2. The right time: This sort of relates to the above and is personal to the individual. The muse in my head seems to perform better late at night so my creative time has adjusted accordingly. If there’s a time when you’re more alert, make this your daily writing time.
  3. A comfortable space: Again this is personal but I always feel I need a clean and comfortable environment to work in. If my space isn’t just right I go a little bit OCD and clean up everything in the vicinity. I don’t want anything on show past the bare minimum! I suppose the opposite may be true of others and clutter may invoke your muse but the space should and will inevitably match your personality and fit the creative you.
  4. A blank canvas. Switch off your phone. E-mail, smart phones, tablets, and any other electronics-are the enemies of writing. They are the Devil when it comes to distraction and eating away precious writing time. Every notification will pull you into a zone incompatible with creativity. I’m not suggesting doing this if you’re a doctor on call but other than that turn then off – maybe even lock them away! Any messages will still be there when your period of creativity is over.
  5. Ritual: I’m not saying you should be chalking a pentagon into your carpet and chanting at its centre – well unless that floats your boat – but a ritual of sorts might help get you in the grove. I have a set of Star Wars models that must always be arranged in a certain order before I start, but I guess a hat or lucky pants might also do the trick!
  6. A daily quota of words: Back to a familiar one – simply setting a target. I may set aside two hours a day but the word count is the motivation within that period. 1000 words tends to be my minimum and once achieved I can relax. Sometimes I use all my dedicated time to its full and in other instances I finish early but either way having a target quota is essential. If nothing else it is proof you have achieved a tangible result for your efforts that day.
  7. Record and set your targets: I keep an A4 calendar on my desk with daily targets and actual results registered. It gives me an enormous sense of well-being (to quote Blur). It’s nice to see progression and gives you an idea of time frames (first draft will be complete in June – for example).

So that’s me. I’m sure there are many more examples out there and please feel free to share. It would be nice to engage with one or two of you out there in the internet ether.

I hope this has been of benefit and I would appreciate it if you could like or share the post.

I am still actively seeking pledges for my latest novel, ‘The Atlantis Deception’ which is on the road to being published by the crowdfunding publisher, Unbound. If you like Michael Crichton with a little Clive Cussler on the side, please check out the project at https://unbound.com/books/the-atlantis-deception/ and perhaps consider becoming a patron of the creative arts.

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Self Editing and Pro Writing Aid

A few years ago, after fiddling around for the umpteenth time with my first novel I happened across a conversation on one of the various boards I’m affiliated with. The discussion concerned professional editing, the huge cost and what one might do to mitigate such cost. A larger than life contributor started by informing me (without reading any of my work) that no one should publish their first novel. Apparently all first novels are only good for one thing, the slush pile and learning how not to find oneself in the slush pile again. Having spent hundreds of hours honing my characters and plot, this wasn’t quite what I’d hoped to hear. With a sigh I could almost hear through my router, the lady in question pointed me in the direction of two online editing tools; Autocrit and Pro Writing Aid.

“Log in, upload your work and either of them will tell you how far you are behind the curve.”

With a, ’I’ll show you,’ attitude, I dutifully did as I was told. I’ve been hooked ever since.

The entirety of my 105,000 word tome has now passed through Pro Writing Aid and I feel I can comment with a degree of expertise on its functionality. I have tried Autocrit but the price held me back from engaging fully.

For the purpose of this blog however, I’ve decided to give them a side by side test using a few paragraphs from my latest novel, ‘The First Shot Fired, Rosewell.’ Although a PWA user, I will attempt to approach this as a neutral.

(Ten minutes later) I’ve just attempted to elicit the free analysis from Autocrit and stumbled into a slight problem – Autocrit no longer provides a ‘free’ analysis, but rather a very generic report (https://www.autocrit.com/). The Autocrit team then require a payment of $30 before I can proceed to see the detail. The interface itself is impressive and the slaes pitch certainly says all the right things. However, given the free version of PWA exists I can’t really see the benefit of paying so much (I bought a two year licence to the premium version of PWA for $40).

Glancing through their sales pitch I have noticed something new – advertised as follows:

‘Want to know how your writing stacks up against other published works of fiction? AutoCrit compares words and sentence constructions from your manuscript to successful published fiction, including mass-market paperbacks and bestsellers.’

It might be a gimmick, but it sounds interesting! I’m still not convinced though; as far as I can see the free version of PWA does virtually everything AutoCrit does, and in my opinion, a little more. I know more is not always necessarily better, but when it comes to free, it’s hard to beat.

To give an idea of what the PWA software can do I uploaded a few hundred words into the programme and received the following comprehensive report:

Key Actions

  1. A high “glue index” suggests you’re using lots of filler words. Try reducing these. Look at the sticky sentences section below for more specific guidance.

Document Statistics (The key statistics about your document)

594 Word Count

95 Sentences

61 Paragraphs

2,568 Characters

No Spaces

3,396 Characters

With Spaces

Vocabulary

318 Unique Words

291 Word Families

Most Unusual Words

  1. yup
  2. granddad
  3. nappies
  4. refocusing
  5. smirked

Most Used Words

the 37
and 14
of 13
to 10
on 9
a 9
in 9
John 8
‘s 8
Major 8

Your vocabulary was more dynamic (unique words/total) than 52% of ProWritingAid users

Readability Measures (Your text analyzed using common readability measures)

Tip! Readability scores are calculated using a combination of words per sentence and syllables per word. Grade Scores correspond to US school grades. i.e. 5th Grade is very easy to read and easily understood by an average 11-year-old student. To improve readability use shorter words and sentences.

84 Flesch Reading Ease

Target > 60

Grade Level Measures

Flesch-Kincaid Grade 3.1
Coleman-Liau 4.9
Automated Readability Index 2.1
Dale-Chall Grade 7 – 8

Other Measures

Flesch Reading Ease 84.1
Dale-Chall 6.6

Readability by Paragraph

 

22 Easy-to-Read Paragraphs

1 Slightly Difficult-to-Read Paragraph

2 Very Difficult-to-Read Paragraphs

Overused Words (Words and phrases that are overused compared to published books)

Tip! We compare your document to published writing in the same genre to show overused words and constructs. Identifying and reducing these will improve your writing. Note: Often this requires more than substituting a different word.

1 Overused Words

generic descriptions (watch/notice/observe/very) 3 Reduce by 1

14 Not Overused

have 4 Not overused
just/then 4 Not overused
could 2 Not overused
feel/feels/feeling/felt 1 Not overused
believe/think 1 Not overused

Sentence Structure

Tip! Varying your sentence length keeps the reader engaged. Too many long sentences are hard to read.

5.9 Sentence Variety

Target > 3

6.3 Sentence Length

Target between 11 and 18

0 Long Sentences

Your sentence variety was higher than 30% of ProWritingAid users

Your sentence length was higher than 12% of ProWritingAid users

Sentence Lengths (The length of all the sentences in your document. Varying your sentence length engages your reader.)

Tip! Look for areas where all your sentences are around the same length. These areas will benefit from more variety to maintain the reader’s interest.

 

Writing Style

Tip! Highlights common style issues such as passive voice, hidden verbs and adverb usage.

4 Passive Index

Target < 25

0 Hidden Verbs

Target 0

3 Adverbs

2 outside Dialogue

Most Used Adverbs

Surely 1
exceptionally 1
instantaneously 1

0 Repeated Sentence Starts

Target 0

4 Style Suggestions

Top Style Suggestions

You have to let Let 1
began pointing – pointed 1
in turn (omit) 1
Alright – All right 1

Your readability was better (suggestions/sentences) than 78% of ProWritingAid users

Grammar & Spelling

29 Grammar Issues

Top Grammar Suggestions

15
‘Because I still have an ounce of 1
‘What more can there be? We’re stood 1
‘Dr Hunter, what you know is just 1
‘Yup,’ said the Major. ‘Look at Nazi Germany. If 1

1 Spelling Issues

Top Spelling Suggestions

iPhone – orphan|earphone|oven|affine|avenue 1

Your grammar was better (mistakes/sentences) than 67% of ProWritingAid users

Sticky Sentences (Sticky Sentences contain too many common words. They slow your reader down.)

Tip! Sticky sentences are ones containing a high percentage of glue words. Glue words are the 200 or so most common words in English (excluding the personal pronouns). You can think of the glue words as the empty space in your writing. The more of them there are the more empty space your readers have to pass through to get to the actual meaning. By cutting down the amount of glue words in your sentences you help expose the true meaning and make the reader’s job easier.

8 Sticky Sentences

Target 0

46.5% Glue Index

Target < 40%

Your glue index was better (glue words/total) than 30% of ProWritingAid users

Dialogue

13.6% Dialogue

52.9% Dialogue Tagged

Top Dialogue Tags

say 7
ask 1
retort 1

Your use of dialogue tags was higher than 73% of ProWritingAid users

Pacing (Shows areas of slower pacing by looking at verb tenses.)

Tip! Dark areas in the chart indicate areas of slow pacing (backstory in creative writing). Where you have large chunks of slower pacing, try to add some faster pacing to keep the reader more engaged.

1.4% Slow Pacing

Transitions (Looks at words and phrases that link your writing together)

Tip! Transitions are useful when you’re trying to structure an argument. They link your sentences together forming a flowing and cohesive structure.

3.2% Transitions

Target > 25%

Top Transitions

since 2
Surely 1

Repeated Phrases

Top 3-word phrases

let us help 2
to the next 2
the Major pulled 2

Top 2-word phrases

the Major 8
said John 3
Got it 2
the door 2
his body 2

Top 1-word phrases

said 8
John 6
door 4
just 4
Solomon 3

Cliches & Redundancies (Cliches can make your writing sound tired)

0 Cliches

1 Redundancies

Top Redundancies Found

hurry it up 1

Consistency (Checks for consistent spelling, hyphenation and capitalization.)

1 Inconsistent Spelling

Target 0

0 Inconsistent Hyphenation

Target 0

2 Inconsistent Capitalization

Target 0

Usage Consistency

Curls/Smart Double Quotes 2
Straight Double Quotes 0
Curly/Smart Single Quotes 73
Straight Single Quotes 0
Ellipsis characters 1 Fix
Three dots 1 Fix
Hyphens 3
En-dash 0
Em-dash 0

Other Items

Diction

up 3 Avoid using prepositions such as “up” as the last word in a sentence
of 2 Avoid using prepositions such as “of” as the last word in a sentence
about 1 Avoid using prepositions such as “about” as the last word in a sentence
as 1 Avoid using prepositions such as “as” as the last word in a sentence
at 1 Avoid using prepositions such as “at” as the last word in a sentence

Vague & Abstract Words

all 2 Vague
like 2 Vague
cold 1 Vague
about 1 Vague
would 1 Vague

Corporate Wording

exceptionally 1 Try to use a simpler wording. Examples: only when; in this case

 

As you can see the report is very comprehensive and will certainly give even the most pedantic of writers something to think about. Although I must admit to ignoring at least half the reports, the grammar/spelling, repeated words, consistency, and adverb reports have been a godsend.

I’m currently in the middle of crowdfunding my first novel, The Atlantis Deception, via Unbound.com. I firmly believe they would have rejected it had the novel not been edited via PWA before submission. With any luck the copy editing process will also be less traumatic!

In summary, if you are considering using an online editing tool, and have sufficient funds, I’d suggest comparing the two yourself. If not just go with Pro Writing Aid and see how you get on. It is free and good free stuff is hard to pass up.

If you have found this blog useful I would really appreciate your support in pledging to publish, ‘The Atlantis Deception.’ The £10 pledge is currently half price with promo code atlantis5. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

https://unbound.com/books/the-atlantis-deception/

Best wishes, Mark

(I should add I’m not affiliated to either programme in any way – just though it would make an interesting blog!)