Over the past year, my written output has roughly tripled compared to last year, and it’s only August. I’ve written and released short stories, entered more competitions and – probably more importantly – really felt happy with what I was doing, that I was making progress as a writer. To me that’s more valuable than anything.
What stopped me before? It wasn’t lack of ideas or time – so below are some of the ways that I’ve been overcoming the ‘inability’ to sit down and write. I don’t think it is an inability. Lee Child said something similar recently:
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writing is a job. Do nurses get nurse’s block? Truck drivers? You just have to show up and do the work.”
Part of what held me back was fear (am I any good? What if I write a load of rubbish?) and lack of planning (what am I writing next? how does this story work?). I think most writers would agree that it’s not genuinely lack of time that stops them writing, nor is it the ‘inability’ to get off Facebook or out of the Youtube vortex. Browsing meaningless stuff on the internet is a symptom of the fact that you don’t know what to do or are afraid to put it onto paper. It’s not the cause of your lack of writing.
1. Schedule a time to write
I write from 6.30-7.30pm every day. Everything I do in that hour has to be do to do with writing. Currently, that involves research, editing and so on but my goal is that by the end of the year I will be using that time just to produce new writing.
You have to be able to stick to it. It’s no good setting yourself up to fail – it’ll just make you feel terrible, and you’ll have a harder time motivating yourself in future because the voice in your head will remind you how you didn’t do it last time. So if you need to, start small – get up twenty minutes earlier and write. Stay at your desk from 5-5.30pm and write (added bonus – rush hour might start to die down giving you a shorter commute!) There’s research that says it takes 66 days to form a habit – how brilliant is that? Just two months, and you’ll have a habit which means you’ll actually feel a little odd if you DON’T sit down to write at your scheduled time!!
2. Set yourself goals
I wanted to release a novella onto kindle, and to enter six writing competitions through the year. I’ve achieved the first one, and have entered four so far.
Start with the big goals, then break it down into smaller steps. Every goal needs to have a deadline to give it some more weight but again, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve it. A common thing with writers is to set a word count goal, say 1000 words a day. That’s great, but if you’re anything like me you need to have those words edited and polished as well! If your initial goal is over ambitious, you’ll either miss it when doing the editing or not edit and therefore not feel like it’s polished enough to send out. Goals also need deadlines and numbers – too vague, and you’re left not knowing how to achieve them. Write a novel is on most people’s lists – the ones who say ‘Write an 80,000 word novel by the end of the year by writing 600 words a day and editing the previous day’s 600 before I start on the new stuff’ are more likely to achieve it, because they have a plan as well as a dream.
3. Know what you’re writing next
I started planning each scene before I wrote it – there’s a lot more detail on Rachel Aaron’s site and I used her book From 2k to 10k as the model for this.
Essentially, when you sit down to write – fiction, non-fiction, whatever – there’s two different decisions to be made. The first is what happens. The second is how it’s written. Rachel’s argument is that by trying to do those at the same time, you’re making life a lot more difficult for yourself. It works on both a whole-novel and scene basis. Planning a novel, knowing what scenes happen when and who’s involved, means that you can fix any problems with pacing and action before you even start to write. Powerful stuff. Then, when I got to a scene, I would do what she recommended and write a description of it before starting. It took usually about ten minutes, and was simply as if I was describing it to someone. “A character goes across the room and opens the door, where she finds an unexpected parcel. She brings it inside and opens it (curious). Inside is a teddy bear with a letter.” By knowing when the character goes across the room and why, you can then start to focus on how to get that across to the reader using language. The two-step process made my writing of Balancing Act not only quicker and more interesting, but far less frustrating and difficult because any problems were solved at that earlier stage.
4. Timed writing
Set a timer – while it’s running you absolutely cannot do anything else, but must write continuously.
If you’re really having trouble with focusing, then do timed writing. It’s a great kick starter, and I often do it just to start a session or when I’m struggling with the ‘don’t know how to phrase it’ stage. With the insistence on writing continuously, it’s often enough to just edge you into the writing frame of mind, and when the timer goes I’m usually in full flow. If not, set another one and move on.
Start with ten minutes – every adult is capable of focusing on one task for ten minutes!! – and do nothing but write. If you’re addicted to the internet, then write on paper. You can always transfer it later during the editing process. Or – shock horror – turn off your laptop’s wireless for ten minutes and put word into full screen mode. As you get more used to single-tasking, increase the timer by increments of three or five minutes.
5. Enjoy what you’re writing.
This should be self-evident, but I think a lot of writers get caught up in expectation or trying to anticipate a market. Writers should write what they love. They’ll enjoy writing it more, and therefore they’ll write more, and what they write will be better. You can’t write for someone else. It takes time and confidence to come to that conclusion – after my MA in Creative Writing I barely wrote for over two years because my confidence in what I wanted to write was shot, but when I started writing what I genuinely was interested in rather than what someone had said I should be writing, my writing improved. I had more fun, I loved doing it, and isn’t that the point?
What other techniques or tactics do you have for increasing your productivity as a writer?
- I Want To Write (aspiringwriter22.wordpress.com)
- Notebook Routines (twowritingteachers.wordpress.com)
- A Real Writer Writes (screensnacks.wordpress.com)