Mind Mapping my organised mess – working well for less

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My desk is a mess, a collection of memos, letters, reports and print-outs. My organized mess of work. You sure can’t lose anything when you throw it on top of all that and somehow I like it that way.

To a certain degree, my thoughts are often jumbled up like that. Meshed together in a mess, that at times may not be organized. And it is this chaotic string of thoughts that I plan to organize in the coming weeks.

In my search for Mind-Mapping tools, I came across Get-It-Done’s article “Manage Life with a Personal Dashboard” and it struck me with its simplicity and ability to organize chaos.

I’ve been using mind-mapping to map out ideas and minute meetings but I’ve yet to use it to manage my life by organizing thoughts and events and tasks. In my initial mind-map, I found that putting down my tasks and everyday work items into a visual form is fantastic. It allows me to see the amount of work, the number of tasks and relationship the tasks have with each other. Anything can be thrown into this mix and then organized into its own section or category. For now, I am trying hard not to complicate my current mind-map with unneccessary nonsense. Most projects start off well but get swallowed up in un-needed complexity that it grinds to a halt and ends up dead in the water.

Give this a try and see where it takes you. Free mind-mapping tools you can use are FreeMind (Mac OS X, Windows) or MindNode (Mac OS X) or iMindMap (iPhone) or VUE.

Cheers!.

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Talent is crucial to good writing…sorry PERFECT writing.

I’ve met a lot of people who have express their desires to write. Their eyes light up when I tell them I write in my spare time, have a book out and regularly get my articles published on online newspapers and political opinionated websites in Malaysia. Glossy eye and spunky about the idea that people would read their writings they pursue the road I took. But not all roads are meant to be travelled by a bandwagon of wannabe writers.

My path to writing is unique to me. For everyday I spend writing, I had several years of practice. I did not get here by mere chance. I had to sweat it out and develop my own style and voice. I took to blogging in 2003 to better my writing skills. I needed to learn how to connect with an audience, write in words that inspire and move people and what better way than through blogging. From there I joined a writing group and practiced my writing there. I’ve written a short play and it was produced during my college days, written some really bad songs that are only worthy for my shower, poetry has been a dabble of mine since school days and only in the last two years have I seriously written short stories and full length features.

It took time and that is something all writers (good writers) have to go through. It takes time to polish one’s skills. There’s no shortcuts to being a good writer but if you want to be a PERFECT writer than you need Talent.

Let me say this over and over again. You need Talent to begin with. Some have it, some may not and this means not everyone is cut out to be a writer. Yes, you may have good writing skills but are you a storyteller? Can you capture the attention of an audience?

I learnt the traits of capturing the attention of the audience in my college days when I was part of the theatre group. I took to the stage and was a natural at it. From there I move on to writing for stage and essentially that’s where I learnt my strong point when it comes to writing stories – dialogue. The scene plays in my head like a play and I’m the omnipresent observer jotting down the details that I see. That’s my Talent. This is why I can write.

I met this wannabe writer who wrote a management book and he wanted to branch out into fiction. I read his draft and I told him to stick to writing management books. And he had the knack to tell me he lack creativity. How can you write fiction without being creative?

Talent is inherent in all writers. They write because that is the only thing they can do. We write because the moment you put a pen/keyboard before us, we start fidgeting and all rile up. We want to express ourselves, we want to tell the world what we see in our minds eye. We are picky about words and sentences and prose and how someone would say something. We listen in on conversations at coffee shops and watch people go about life, taking notes of what’s going on. We are loners and thinkers and philosophers and emotional wrecks (after a good movie) and all the while we want to write it down.

Talent is crucial to PERFECT writing. You either have it or not. I hate to bust your bubble but clearly, if your friends tell you your writing is like S*#T then please take up another hobby. Fishing or kite flying or planting roses. Anything else except writing a novel and thinking you’ll make a million out of it. Honestly, I don;t write for the money. I write because all my life I knew I would write and I just want people to hear what I have to say.

Have a reality check and ask yourself whether you’ve got TALENT to write.

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Stick to what you know best – 3 Tips for writers.

I am of the opinion that it is always best for one-self to understand their strengths and play to them to the fullest. In writing this translate to the fact, authors need to write within the sphere of their understanding. Meaning, choose your genre, choose your market and understand your own reading taste.

Choose Your Genre
There are a hundred and one different genres to choose from and I bet you will find one that suit your writing style. Each genre has a style of it own, reading Nicholas Evans and Nicholas Sparks tell me that both have a way of tugging at your heart strings and both write in the same genre. Take Stephen King and you see he writes in his genre and his style is suited to it. I cannot imagine Stephen King writing in the same genre as Nicholas Sparks but I reckon it is possible but really weird. Stephen King would be too crude and too direct in showing the movement of emotions and feelings. I would bet most of his characters would be deemed angry people with little feelings of affection towards one another. So look at your style and choose your genre. Not everyone can write a novel, so maybe your genre falls in the motivational writing section rather than romance. Give it a thought.

Choose Your Market
If you’re writing for money then aim for the market that sells. Self-help books, children’s book, educational books, billboard advertising, etc…whichever would draw in the money. But if you’re writing for writing sake than you can pick out the one’s with least competition but with potential to be your own private niche. My friends asked me why write in English when the market is so small (almost non-existent) in Malaysia. Why not write in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia? Firstly, I only think in English and though I can write in Bahasa Malaysia, it will probably turn out to be so formal and with enough emotion as a dry prune. I rather write in english and be among the select few who publish in english in Malaysia and the key thing is…I may be the only one publishing in my genre. Yes, I am in direct competition with imported titles but somewhere along the line, national pride will kick in and people would support their local writers.

Understand Your Reading Taste
We write what we like to read. Repeat that with me, “I write what I like to read.” Yes, we mimic those that have gone before us and we do it well. Let’s be honest, somewhere along the road; you told yourself, “I can write like this.” So, you pulled up your sleeves and bit your lips and pounded away a story about a fly that irritated this girl so much, she burnt down the fire-station much in the same way Carrie did in Stephen King’s – Carrie, when she burnt down the school and wreck half the town. We write what we read. So read as much as you want but know that your writing WILL BE influence by what you like best. Even if that means reading billboards for a living.

So stick to what you know best. If you know how to sharpen pencils to the max than write about sharpening pencils or sharping chopsticks into weapons of mass destruction ala a Ian Fleming – James Bond thriller. I’m floating this idea of red and black fingernails in my head, you never know it could turn out into the next best seller (in my wildest dreams).

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The Root of Passionate Writing

I read Vroom’s comment to my article “The 3 Essential Things Never Taught at Writing Workshops” and I appreciate the raw honesty in it and the question posed caused me to think. Here’s the comment in full:

what if, just what if.. i had the passion to write couple of years ago.. and it disappeared one day, in which i am unable to write like i used to, the passion ‘ran away..’ is there anyway i can help myself get over this phase? cause seriously i love writing i love writing more than playing basketball or watch soccer/football! even though the poems i written were depressing because of how i used to feel and i kind of got over the depressing days i didn’t like how depressing they were.. any suggestions?

Passion grows from within and different people exhibit passion towards different things whether in-material or material, an object, a person or even an idea. People are naturally passionate beings, we are hardwired by the Creator in such a manner. I believe the passion never ‘ran away’, I believe the passion is still there but you have put a cap on it and boxed it.

I asked myself this question, as I was writing my first book and even when I’m working on my second one now, “Why are you doing this?” in crude words, “Why write?”

Why write in the first place? Why bother? Why slave away in the wee moments just to get a sentence right? Why spend all that effort if you are not sure people want to read it? Why push on when you get “rejection letters” to your manuscript? Why would someone like me, trained in Information Technology, who hates romance books yet I write about love, heartaches, human struggles and finding one’s place in the world?

Because writing is the ONLY thing I KNOW.

Take away everything from me, all my skills, all my academic training, everything and strip me to my core – writing is still there. I’m a story-teller and writing is the tool I use to tell my story. This is where my passion springs from – the knowledge that I know nothing else except writing.

If you ‘feel’ the passion running away, take time off to ask yourself why you are doing it. What are your motivations?

Another thing, you can do is to simply find passionate writers and sit with them. Have a cup of tea, talk about writing and read each other’s work. Writers just need to be heard even if only one person reads their work, they are elated. After pouring out so much from your emotional tank into your writing, you’ll need to fill it up that tank again. Pass the Passion and absorb the Passion.

I found my muse in someone who took the time to read my work and tell me it was great. I’ve always wanted to write but I never had the courage to pursue it. In my mind, I thought it was merely a little hobby I just fiddled with in my spare time but then I met people who looked at my writing and told me there was something there. They enjoyed my thoughts, tit-bits of conventional wisdom that seemed to connect with them. I had an audience willing to hear what I had to say. My Passion for writing was ignited by encouragement from readers and then the Passion found focus when I met my muse and my writings were motivated by the pure essence of friendship and love. So my Passion was focused on writing about the pain and joys of love.

My Passion was ignited and focused.

Herein lies the key, we all have passion but it needs encouragement and focus. No matter what style you write in, whether it is depressing or uplifting, focusing your Passion will drive you on. If you find yourself ‘lost’ then take time to find your focus. Maybe it is time for you to find a new focus? Maybe it’s time to try a new style? Maybe it’s time to take a risk and write a full novel? Why not?

Passion never ‘runs away’. It’s still there. It just needs to be ignited and focused and before I forget, writers write with their emotions strapped to their foreheads. But I’ll keep that for another post.

To Vroom, keep writing. To get yourself out of that rut…pass your writing to someone to read. In his book On Writing, Stephen King tells us that he writes in order to make his wife laugh. What about you? Vroom, will your poems make someone cry because they understand the pain you write about? If they do cry, then you’ve managed to pass your passion onto to another soul via your writing.

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The 3 essential things never taught at writing workshops

I’ve been invited countless times to join writing workshops and as tempting as it seems, I’ve refrain from them for the very reason that I know I may not learn much from them. Partly due to the fact that almost everything you want to learn about writing can be gleamed from the internet or talking to fellow writers or merely hanging out with very opinionated people.

I believe there are several things that writing workshops fail to teach good meaning people who want to jump-start their writing career and I’ll list them here as I think of them. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a workshop basher, heck I run workshops to teach educators how to use technology in their teaching learning practices, but I just want you to think deeply on the need for you to spill out money on a writing workshop when at the end of the day, you gain nothing.

The Passion to write
Passion to write is not a skill. You either have it or don’t. Passion cannot be bought neither can it be given to you in a manual or guidebook. It is birth from within a person’s soul and springs forth in actions that pulsates with the energy from that passion. You look at your book as if it was a new born babe, learning to talk and walk. You want to see it to adulthood, to bring joy to the millions or the few that read it. Such enthusiasm cannot be taught, it exists. Passion can be passed on from another passionate person to another, provided that the other person shares the same passion.

The Art of the Lonely Walk
Writing is a lonely affair and as you embark on it, you will find that for long periods you are essentially on you own. Alone. Alone with your creation as it unfolds and the only person who truly sees the significance of what you write is you. No-one else sees or knows what that gem of a book will be like. The Lonely Walk of a writer is primarily that – lonely. Occasionally, you may meet other pilgrims on that lonely road and you may share a thought or two but then its back to being alone. They don’t teach this at writing workshop 101.

Breaking the Rules
After spending a week at a workshop that taught you every trick in the book to make money writing, you’ll realize that merely applying the rules or laws of writing would not generate that next best-seller. After telling you about the rules did they mention that you can break the rules? Or even better; make your own rules? As an author, the book you write is an extension of your personality. It’s you speaking to the masses. Can rules be put in place to govern personality? Can you box your voice in a particular shape and still be true to yourself? They teach you so much yet at the end of the day, the ones that make it big actually break every rule written and invent their own rules.

So there you have it, the three (3) that I can think of when it comes to Writing Workshop that teach you nothing. Any model that you adopt is merely that- a model. It may help you shape your book but it can never birth the book into existence. The book still rest in the mind of the writer and only the writer holds the key to unlocking the dormant book.

Personally, I read a book by Robert McKee – Story ; given to me by best friend (thanks Sam) and read Nicholas Sparks comments on his website and just wing it from there when writing my first book. Mind you I was writing while learning the art of the craft. Once the draft was done, I sent query emails to 38 literary agents (some turned me down, others never got any reply). Eventually, I emailed a local publisher and sent my manuscript in for review and got accepted. Hard work, dumb luck and shooting in the dark kind of paid off for me. I hope you had better luck then me.

Cheers!

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