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  • Ashley Boolell

The mindset of a novelist


Welcome dear reader! This is my first blog post. Does that sound exciting? Well, it clearly is the case for me since, despite being a novelist, I rarely have the opportunity to share my thoughts with readers. Considering that there are millions of blogs scattered across the world wide web, I am very grateful for the time that you will spend reading my post. Let's get on with it then.

After scratching my head a few times, trying to find a subject to write on, I remembered a question that readers frequently ask me: 'how do you find time to write books?' Initially, I thought that this could be a good title for the post, but then I found it too limited when it comes to describing the challenge of being a novelist or anything that requires significant levels of commitment. You will most definitely find hundreds of good articles on various websites that provide great advice on time management. It would therefore be pointless for me to add another one that is exclusively focused on this subject. I find it more interesting, and valuable, to provide a more complete insight on the mindset of a novelist. If you are looking to write your first book or if you feel that the hurdles are becoming too big after your first two chapters, then this blog post might help. Before you read any further, keep in mind that I am only sharing what I think works. It is up to you to decide if my insights are useful since every writer is unique in terms of personality and circumstances. I have yet to find two novels from two different writers that are exactly the same. If you did, please let me know about your discovery.

If you apply the Define function of Google to the word 'Mindset', you will come across the following definition: 'the established set of attitudes held by someone'. The critical word here is 'attitude'. What attitude do you need to be a novelist? Can this be acquired? I will answer a resounding 'yes' to the second question. There is no doubt in my mind that anyone can develop the right mindset to become a writer. This confidence stems from the belief that it is a skill, and therefore can be learned and developed, instead of being a special gift or talent. But let's be clear: it will take time as does anything that is worthwhile.

Simply put, an attitude is how you think and act in a given situation. You will have a range of attitudes in your life that differ from one another. One that is appropriate in a specific case will probably not be as good in a different one. So how do you adjust your attitude when it comes to writing? The following equation might help: Attitude to writing = Thoughts + Actions + Outlook.

If we imagine the attitude to be a vehicle, then each element of the equation would be a separate engine that powers it. The more efficient each engine becomes, the easier it is to pilot the vehicle. The journey will be more enjoyable and the risk of a breakdown is greatly decreased, meaning that you stand an excellent chance of reaching your destination. In this case, it would be completing your novel.

Thoughts are the primary fuel of any writer. I would expand this to artists in general. Without thoughts it is impossible to create. However, it is important to classify these thoughts since not all of them will be useful in the creative process. I tend to believe that thoughts tend to operate in either a routine or expansive context. A classic routine context would be the following: wake up, go to work, execute tasks, get back home, eat, deal with the family and sleep. Repeat the next day. While there is nothing wrong with that, it is important to highlight how mind numbing this can be. Sure, you will become more efficient at managing your responsibilities but if you are looking to tap into your creative potential then understand that routine contexts act as limitations. By the way, by 'mind numbing' I would add anything that does not fall under the 'production' umbrella. Case in point: I once encountered a guy who thought he was a god because he played Fantasy Football online everyday at work. He would walk up to people and brag about his strategies. Everyone nodded and then wondered why he was so obsessed with this game. This reaction had nothing to do with whether Fantasy Football is good or bad but was rather because the guy in question thought that he was doing something artistic.

Unlocking your creativity entails that you must regularly break free from routine contexts in order to step into expansive ones. This is not as complicated as it seems. I am not suggesting that you travel to four different countries within six months (although it would definitely be an interesting adventure). An expansive context is any situation that leads you to see and understand things from a different and often wider perspective. It could be about meeting people that are not present in your usual social circles, reading several books that are completely unrelated to one another, trying to understand a work of art exhibited in a gallery, taking a different view on media stories instead of soaking everything in...you get the picture.

As a writer, your most valuable ideas will come from thoughts originated within expansive contexts. Whether you act on them or not is entirely up to you since not every idea will be useful when developing a novel, but it is important that you keep generating them regularly. If you are looking to create something, ask yourself to what extent you can suppress your current routines to fuel your imagination.

Actions are the second part of the equation. Beyond the obvious act of writing, they are mostly about building the framework that will support your effort to complete your novel. This framework is built on repetition. It will probably seem a bit a odd since I wrote about breaking away from routines in the previous paragraph. However, in this case, you will look to achieve two things: 1) establish writing as a necessary task in your weekly, if not daily, schedule and 2) eliminate needless distractions that take away time that could be allocated to writing. That's it really. It sounds very simple but, as you can imagine, it is more complicated to implement than it seems. However, just as for any task that is difficult initially, the more you do it the easier it gets. As an example, I want you to think about the time you spend watching YouTube videos for no other purpose than killing time. One YouTube video usually lasts at least three minutes. Ten videos later, you have lost thirty minutes that could have been devoted to writing or other productive tasks. Does that mean that you should ban YouTube from your laptop and mobile? Of course not. It serves as much an entertainment as an educational purpose but you should be mindful to spend your best energies writing instead of watching videos that you can easily go through by being half asleep and / or completely drunk. If you extend the YouTube example to other similar activities that suck time away from you, then I guarantee that you will find more than enough time to write.

One easy way to become more efficient in managing your writing time is to be aware of your weekly hour budget. Let me explain. Regardless of the amount of money that you make, you have 168 hours per week at your disposal. Just take 24 hours and multiply them by 7 to get that figure. Most people look at their bank accounts but fail to monitor their time accounts. The critical difference between the two is that your time account is permanently being debited. Even if you won millions at the national lottery, your time account would remain exactly the same. You may be able to slow down the process but you cannot reverse it. Eliminating or drastically reducing the unproductive activities that are chipping away at you weekly time account is a massive game changer. The great majority of people think of time on a day to day basis. Very few will consider managing 168 hours over a week.

Let's make a realistic calculation.

You start the week with 168 hours.

8 hours of sleep per day = 56 hours per week

12 hours of work per day for 5 days = 60 hours per week

3 hours of family time per day = 21 hours per week

Gym time of 1 hour everyday = 7 hours per week

Travel and errands take 2 hours per day = 14 hours per week

Socialising and hobbies = 7 hours per week

At this stage, you are left with 3 hours. That's the sum of thirty minutes per day over six days.

Let's assume that you are not facing any emergency, then these remaining hours can be used to write provided that you do not waste them on unproductive activities.

Those weekly 3 hours mean 12 over a month and 156 over the 52 weeks of which a full year is comprised. Imagine how many pages you can fill in 156 hours. A lot right? It took me 10 months to complete my latest novel called 'Killed In' by devoting 7 hours on average every week to the project. If I did not have a firm grasp of my time account, I would still be writing this book. Of course, every situation is different but if you are serious about completing a novel while, at the same time, going along with your usual schedule, then you must have a serious command of the time that is available to you and get rid of leaks.

'Outlook' is the final component of the equation. Let's use the Google Define function once again. This is what appears on my screen: 'a person's point of view or general attitude to life'. I'll keep it simple. Your outlook as a novelist should be to view writing from a long term perspective. What's long term? Anything that's beyond one year. In most cases, it will take at least a year to complete a novel, at least a year for it to reach enough readers and probably even more time for it to secure a reader base that will eagerly wait for your next novel. And for your own sake, don't try to compete against Stephen King or JK Rowling right off your first novel. If you can do it then, by all means, go for it. But would you think about fighting Anthony Joshua, the current boxing heavyweight champion, after only one year of training even if it was intense? Exactly.

So that's it folks. After five years of writing, out of which came one novel in English and three in French, this is my understanding of the mindset of a novelist. Have I covered everything? Definitely not. It will take me more than a lifetime to grasp every aspect of writing but, well, we all have to start somewhere. I hope you enjoyed the post. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Kind Regards,

Ashley Boolell


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