“Every writer I know has trouble writing.”
— Joseph Heller
Previously in this series about writing, we’ve talked about ways to get story ideas as well as different approaches you can take to writing your story, novel, comic script, screenplay, or other related screed, tome, or pamphlet.
But what about the single most important aspect of the writing process? Yes, I’m talking about butt-in-chair time. How do you get yourself into a good schedule and motivated to write?
Very good question.
My answer? Below I’ve listed my top-ten list of tricks and techniques I’ve used that help me get more productive (and less annoyed with myself for not having gotten and writing done):
- Turn off the Internet for your entire writing session. No distractions, please. Do your writing first, then surf. If you need to look up something, make a note of it and keep on writing. The only app you should have open during your writing time is your word processing program, and maybe some tunes.
- Set a goal for each session. Just a rough goal, something to get you focused. That way when you hit it for the day, you have a nice buzz of accomplishment. And when you go beyond that goal, you’ll feel like the king or queen of the world. For a few minutes, at least.
- Set a time limit for each sessions. That way you’re not tempted to do anything else but write — the clock is always ticking. Deadlines are huge motivators for writers. Even if it’s just you setting those deadline (for now).
- Don’t get caught up in reading what you’ve already written so far on your novel or story. Skim over it, maybe, but if you catch yourself starting to make tweaks or rearrange words or sentences, STOP. The goal here is to get the words out, not fiddle with what’s already on the page. That can be done later, if needed.
- Put it all in the first draft. If you go into the drafting process thinking like an oral storyteller — you, in front of an audience, with no chance to go back and change something for fear your listeners will start throwing rotten fruit — you’ll pack all the details, descriptions, and tension into your first draft. Don’t say “I’ll add it later.” Put it in now.
- Have an outline if you must, but be prepared to diverge down side roads at times. (See “Three Paths to a Story” for more on this!) Sometimes the best plot twists or character insights come when you are in the flow of writing and you go off on a tangent. Trust yourself and go with it. You’ll get back to the main road eventually.
- Tell your loved ones your goals. Let the people in your life know when your writing time is, what you’re trying to accomplish, and by when. Then, if you try slacking, they’ll call you on it: “Why aren’t you writing?” They’ll also understand if you ask for an hour to finish up something, especially if your mood improves 100-fold when you’re done (um, speaking from experience here!).
- Track your wordage and the time you spend writing in a spreadsheet. I used to hate Excel. Hated it with a passion — all those blank cells, staring at me. And formulas? Forget about it! But now I track each day’s writing session in Excel, including when I wrote, how many words, how many pages, and notes about that writing session. I even taught myself how to make a formula that tallies up those numbers, so I can watch it all grow on a daily as well as monthly basis. You’d be surprised how rewarding this is.
- Reward yourself when you hit your marks! Whether it’s a daily word or page count, a weekly goal, a finished book, or whatever. Be good to yourself, and enjoy every step along the way of this marathon.
- Enjoy it! Have fun with the whole process. It shouldn’t feel like work. If it does, maybe you’re not doing it right. Maybe you’re being too critical of yourself in the middle of the creative process. Just jam out the words as best you can, create the best scenes full of sensory detail and emotion, and see where your writing session leads you.
So those are my tips for getting in the groove and staying there with your current work-in-progress. In the Comments section, please share some of your best tips. I’m always looking for more help staying on target!
Michael Jasper has published over four dozen short stories in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Polyphony, Writers of the Future, Interzone, and other fine venues, including Black Gate. His most recent novel is A Gathering of Doorways (Prime Books, 2009).