The number one question that I am asked is this: “How do I get the words written?” This is usually followed by a lengthy explanation about why the words are not being written and may include some or all of the following:
d) writers’ block
e) [insert your particular explanation of choice].
What it mostly comes down to is TIME.
I get it. It’s not easy to fit writing into your day and, make no mistake about it, the words will not write themselves while you are doing other things. I have days where I’m so incredibly frustrated by the fact that I can’t get to the writing that it makes me as cranky as all get out and not fit for much at all.
And, you know what, that’s okay (not the cranky bit, but the fact that I don’t always get to the writing). I have learned over many years of juggling that tomorrow is another day and if I don’t get words written today, I will write them tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t do something today that will help me tomorrow.
Here are my top 10 tips for getting the words written. Some of them link to other, much lengthier, posts, so if you’re looking for a good reason to procrastinate, please venture down that rabbit hole. If you’re just looking for take-homes though, here they are. And, yes, you have heard me banging on about all of this stuff before – and for good reason. There are no magic bullets when it comes to writing. No ultra-secret secrets that writers know. There is just the same old information over and over again, because that’s inherently what writing is. It’s sitting down and doing the same old thing over and over again – putting one word in front of the other.
But I digress. Here are the tips.
1. You will never find the time to write – you have to make the time. Start with 10 minutes a day if that’s all you can find. You will be amazed at how much you can get down in ten minutes when you have convinced your brain that you only have to do ten minutes. Get up ten minutes earlier. Stay up ten minutes later. Use Evernote to tap out 100 words on the train. Whatever it takes. Usually I find that if I start, I want to write more, so you will find that the time you set aside stretches out.
2. Use the time you have, not the time you wish you had. I cannot stress how important this point is. So many people say to me ‘Oh, if I could just set aside one day to write, I would totally write that novel’. Here’s the thing: I have never in my life set aside an entire day to write. I don’t think I’d know what to do with myself, and would probably spend six hours faffing on social media and one hour actually writing. So I don’t do it. I write for one hour in the midst of everything else. If you have 30 minutes while you’re waiting for the kids to do their swimming lessons, use that 30 minutes. Ask yourself if you really need to watch The Bachelor.
3. Writing is not convenient. Writing requires you to spend time alone with your thoughts. Families, in particular, do not always understand the wonder and joy of this, and this can stop a lot of people from actually doing the writing. My answer to that is to make time for yourself. I stay up late, when everyone else is sleeping and I feel not one iota of guilt about disappearing into another world. You may prefer to get up early. Or wedge it in at lunchtime. I know this sounds incredibly dull, but this is how it happens.
4. Don’t underestimate the thinking time. I spend a lot of time inside my head. I walk my dog. I weed my garden. I wash the dishes. I vacuum the house. I’m doing useful, practical things. But inside my head I am wrestling with plot points and dreaming up worlds and talking to characters. Then, when my time is my own, I sit down at the computer and it all pours out. You can do a lot of the heavy lifting of writing while you’re doing other things – just as long as you do get to that point where you sit down and get the words down.
5. Stop waiting for the perfect place. Too many people tell me they have no place to write. They need a [insert writing venue of choice]. Stephen King wrote his first novel at the kitchen table. Being somewhere else won’t make you write – it will just give you somewhere else not to write. Write now, where you are.
6. Set yourself a goal – but be realistic. When the writing is not going well, it’s all too easy to avoid it. But if you have written yourself into a hole, the only way out is to write your way out. Set yourself a realistic goal. Aim for 200 words a day. Or 500 words a day. Again, it’s about tricking your brain because 200-500 words feels like nothing – but once you start, you’ll probably find you can go on. Or not. If you wrote just 200 words a day for one year, you’d have 73,000 words, which is a reasonable length for a commercial novel. If you only did it five days a week, you’d have 52,000 – and it might take you 18 months to finish your novel, but … 18 months later, you have a complete first draft.
7. Find a friend. When I first started writing fiction, I joined an online critique group through RWA. The main thing that I got from this group (several members of which remain firm friends today) was accountability. We set a word goal for each month and these were uploaded to be read. Whether we got nothing else done on our manuscripts all month, we’d get that word count, because we knew that someone was waiting to read them. The knowledge that someone is waiting is incredibly motivating.
8. Stop editing. I can’t reiterate this enough. If you are still polishing your first three chapters, making them shine, but you have not finished writing the entire manuscript, you are wasting your time. Get the first draft down. Explore your story all the way to the end and then go back and edit from start to finish. There are several reasons for this but the most potent one I can think of is the fact that, when editing, I have lopped at least the first chapter, if not the first three, from every manuscript I’ve ever written. Why? Because I realised that I had started my story in the wrong place. This may not necessarily happen if you are a ‘spreadsheet plotter’, but even so, there will be changes to be made in the structural edit. Finish the book. You don’t even know what you have until you type The End.
9. Something is going to have to give. If you are going to make the time to write a novel, you need to concede that sacrifices will have to be made. Until my lobbying for the 25th hour in the day pays off, we are stuck with the standard 24. So I suggest you start with a time audit. Write down every single thing you do for one week. Every. Thing. Then work out what you can do without. In my case, it’s usually television. Plus, it’s true, I don’t go out much. But the thing to remember is that when you actually sit down and do it, writing a novel does not actually take forever. It might be three months. It might be six months. It might be one year. But you will get there if you sit down and write. So you’re not giving up your TV or whatever forever. Just for a while.
10. Stop reading blog posts about how to make time to write. The only way to write the book is to, you know, write. So off you go.
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