Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>
This is a topic I touched on a couple of years ago
and I must confess, my thoughts on getting the words down haven’t changed much in that time. I have a full-time day job and an active social and family life, so simply getting the time
to write is tricky, let alone writing something of worth. The ten “rules” of the way I write are not a one-size fits all, nor are they set in stone, but they are what works for me.
Terry Pratchett habitually wrote at least 400 words a day, and he published 71 books. That’s an astounding number, proving, I think, that regular writing sessions do more for progress than anything else. Now, hoping to be as prolific (and successful) as Terry, I tried the 400 words-a-day thing – and it didn’t work for me. But regular writing sessions and having a specific goal do work for me, my measures are just different. This is why I have two writing “sprints” per working week, plus at least two hours of focused writing time at the weekend. Sometimes my writing partner joins me for these, and we use the app “Forest” to ensure our minds are on task. So, if your target is to write for ten minutes a week, or 3k per day, set your writing time and stick to it.
Most of my stories are written on the move. I commute a lot, so I tend to sketch out scenes and chapters sitting on the train. Some days I bring my mini-laptop, other times I use my phone or my notebook. I have literally written a 40k novella entirely using this method.
But it’s not just commuting that’s wasted time. If you’re prepared to write anywhere, you can jot a few sentences whilst you wait for your friend to turn up to lunch, or your partner to come out of the loo, or for that bus to turn up. It all makes a huge difference.
This doesn’t work for everyone. I know writers who have to be in the same place, in complete silence, for their muse to start speaking to them. That’s fine too. But if you can write on the move, do, because your productivity will go through the roof.
OK. Perhaps I’ve taken this advice a bit too much to heart, as I’ve taken nearly a year to finish my final edits of Elder Throne. NEVER MIND. That’s my prerogative because I’m actually in the editing stages. I didn’t edit at all when I was in my drafting stage, and I feel this is important for productivity and authenticity of words. First drafts, for me, should be like spilling paint on the floor and telling your three-year-old to finger-paint a picture of you with it: messy, fun, and resulting in something that’s vaguely recognisable as the finished product. Yes, it might take a while to clean up, but the experience will be memorable and heartfelt. If you spend your life cleaning up every time someone drops a literary crumb on the floor, you’ll never enjoy yourself.
Always carry a notebook and pen
Be prepared. Inspiration can strike at any time and it’s much easier to act on it in the moment rather than try to remember it later. Note: Make sure the pen doesn’t leak.
Use Evernote (or similar)
If pen and paper isn’t your thing, I recommend Evernote. It’s an online memory bank, accessible by computer and by phone, and syncs up all your notes for your never-ending convenience. Seriously, give it a go.
As important as getting the words down is, it’s also mightily important to know when NOT to write. We’re not machines, we need time to recharge. So go see that film, go hang out with friends, cuddle your bowling ball, throw your cat down the alley, etc etc. And, most importantly, don’t feel guilty for taking a break. You deserve it and, when you do come back to your story, you’ll have the benefit of fresh eyes and renewed energy.
An old piece of advice but a true one. As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Plus, who doesn’t love a good book?
Writers are an ambitious lot and everyone works toward and achieves their ambition at a different rate. Looking at what someone else is doing is rarely helpful and won’t help your own progress.
So don’t look at how many words someone else has written and think you need to write more. Don’t watch that 15 year old accept a 6-figure publishing deal and tell yourself you’re past it and it’s too late to achieve your goal.
Work at your own pace, with your eyes on your own stories. You can’t see where you’re going if you’re looking at someone else and, if there’s anything television has taught me, it’s that people who don’t look where they’re going tend to walk into lampposts.
Akin to blowing off steam, this one focuses more on health choices. A healthy body means a healthy mind, and I know I focus a lot better if I’ve drunk enough water or exercised that day. Writers are typically sedentary souls and I’m no exception. What with writing being my hobby and my day job being chained to a desk, I spend most of my life sitting. Eventually, this makes me grumpy and I act out by eating junk food, which just compounds the problem.
I know not everyone is like me. Some people are completely on it: they have gym cards that aren’t thick with dust, and a fridge full of healthy nibbles. But if you are like me, make sure to get up out of that desk chair and / or occasionally not opt for the burger and chips for lunch. You only get one body, and you need it to write all those stories for you.
I think this is the most important one. Write for yourself. Write for the fun of it. Laugh at your own jokes, get swept up in your own plot and, most of all, enjoy the process of creating.