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How to get the words written: 10 tips for writers

Posted on July 30, 2015

HOW TO GET THE WORDS WRITTEN- 10 TIPS (4)The number one question that I am asked is this: “How do I get the words written?”, AKA “How do I make time to write?”

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:

a) work

b) kids

c) procrastination

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.

Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

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 Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here.

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26 Comments

  1. Liliana Battle

    Ha ha – that bit about ‘stop reading blogs about how to write’ struck a chord with me. I’m a constant student – always researching, studying, reading – not enough writing!

  2. Md Sakil Ansari

    Hi Allison, I agree with your point of view. And there is no perfect time and place for writing articles. So you have to create your own. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Rhonda

    Oh goodness, yes: make the time. MAKE the time. And I so appreciate reading here that writing is not convenient. I’ve never seen that put into such direct words; writing sure feels less convenient than many other tasks.

    • Allison Tait

      It sure is Rhonda – but worth sticking with!

  4. Brandon Cox

    I’m an Editor, by trade, so you can guess which of those is my biggest hangup. Great thoughts! I could write more and better if I just did less backspacing.

    • Allison Tait

      Good luck with it Brandon – it’s a hard habit to break but worth it!

  5. Jo Carter

    I can’t set myself a day to write either! I get too, distracted? Or tired out? from writing straight for hours on end. When I reach 2,000 words (which can be anywhere between 1 1/2 hours or 3) I seem to peak and can’t do anymore without having a break for a few hours – but generally I won’t write again until the next day. If I ever do “writing” days they’re filled with social media, editing, critiquing other work for other writers, reading. I have to do a variety.

    I also certainly agree with the thinking part! Two of my favourite parts of my day job are setting up for functions and getting the club open for trade in the morning. They involve tasks that I don’t have to think about too much and I can let my mind wander to my next scene, or one that needs rewriting!

    Awesome post, especially since you shared it again close to NaNoWriMo! 🙂

  6. Amina Berg

    Great post! Thank you for some great advice and tips. I can relate with nr. 2, as that seem to stop me from writting; especially juggling a full-time job, family life and whatnot.

  7. Karen

    Thanks, Allison. I really appreciate your generosity in sharing all your thoughts and links. This is so timely – I’m about to start a new book and I’m in the middle of a few editing jobs and the kids have a day off school and I have a cold – BUT I promise I will find ten minutes today to write! When you talk about the thinking time – are you actively/consciously working out new scenes, writing dialogue in your head while you vacuum, garden, walk etc or are you deliberately not thinking about your book so that your subconscious mind can come up with the answers?

    • Allison Tait

      I work both ways, Karen, depending on where I’m up to in my writing – if it’s going well, I’ll be actively plotting out in my head what might happen next. BUT if I’ve hit a road block in my writing, I put it in the back of my mind and do something else – walking and weeding work well – while my subconscious processes whatever it is that’s holding me up. Good luck!

      • Karen

        Thanks, Allison, that’s really useful. I can see how both ways of thinking can move you along with your writing. (And I’m proud to report I did my ten minutes of writing!)

  8. Lana

    These are great tips. I totally agree with the thinking time. I try and tee up my thinking to happen while doing the dishes or something else equally menial so that my writing time straight after is charged.

    • Allison Tait

      Yep! Gives a whole new perspective to the washing up!

  9. Marcus

    Great post Allison! It’s the editing one that kills me – it’s like an impossible mission to pick up where i left and continue. If i had a dollar for every time i go back to the opening paragaph and begin editing my way through i’d have at least $154 thx! 🙂

    • Allison Tait

      Repeat after me: You Can Fix It Later. It doesn’t need to be perfect today. 🙂

  10. Leanne Carr

    This is wonderful Allison. I like the (insert your particular explanation of choice). How about (thanks for your tips but…..)……

    • Allison Tait

      Oh yes, I do hear that quite a lot… BUT can be a very big problem for getting started. 🙂

  11. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    Every one of these are bang on Allison, as usual. Right now, I should be writing. I have one final page of webcopy to draft for a client, then I can get onto my manuscript which seriously needs editing. I’ve gone from 82,000 words to 93,000 in the past few days! Eeek! Wish me luck.

  12. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    Gosh it’s funny as I’ve been considering FINALLY starting my book, but I have so much other paid work that I don’t ‘have the time’ but after reading this – maybe I do – or I just have to make the time. Strike while the iron is hot maybe. Thanks Allison!

  13. Helen K

    No more reading of your blog, Allison 🙂 And yes, I think I get a lot of what you are saying, and I’ve been happy I’ve stuck to my ‘at least one post’ a week personal commitment for nearly nine months now. I’m working out now what the next target and purpose is – I know I need to set myself a date to commit to that (which I am procrastinating on, because then I will have to follow through!)

    • Allison Tait

      🙂 Don’t set a date, just set a goal.

  14. Rebecca Bowyer

    My 500-1000 words 3-4 days per week on the train to and from work is growing my manuscript slowly but surely. 38,000 words and counting.

    • Allison Tait

      Fantastic Rebecca! Hang in there. One word in front of the other, up the mountain you go! A

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