Ideally writing time should be such a normal part of your life you simply get on with it without thinking, like brushing your teeth before bed, or having breakfast. For some people this comes naturally, others (me) need to work to establish useful habits.
My first book took ten years to write. I kept stopping, I hadn’t made writing part of my routine. A month would go by and I’d come back to it and hardly recognise the story or the characters I was writing about. I had to read through, get my mind back into that world, finally I could start writing again. I was making things hard for myself. Since then I’ve found out a few things that work to make life easier.
Keep a Word Count. It might sound trivial but lots of people, myself included, find it surprisingly motivating. Simply setting targets and achieving them makes you feel good. A daily or weekly word count shows you your cumulative progress, and helps you reach the next target. Writing two thousand words every week gives you 100,000 words a year. That’s not so bad. Here’s a link to my Word Count spreadsheet. It’s quite simple.
Writing is a Marathon, not a sprint. You need to pace yourself. Find your own way. I’m tempted to say the once a week 5,000 word epic session is not the way to go but now I’m also thinking Rule #2. Writing like this was doesn’t work for me*, but if it’s good for you, fill your boots. Just be aware that long term there might be a better way.
Stop Halfway Through. There’s only one day in any project when you’ll write the wonderful words The End. If today’s not that day there’s no point trying to get there. Quit while you’re ahead and leave some energy for tomorrow.
Some people like to stop mid-sentence, others when they are about to enter a scene when they know exactly what is going to happen. However you do it, the idea is to leave the flywheel still spinning so all that built-up momentum is waiting for you the next time you can write. Stopping at the end of a chapter or a major scene feels good at the time. If you reach a major break point in the story carry on for a short while, even if it’s just a few sentences or a paragraph. It will be easier to get going next time.
Write in Company A little bit of peer-pressure works wonders. Million Monkeys, the group I co-founded and ran with some fellow writers was a revelation. Even if there are only two or three of you, having other people sitting next to you and writing is a goad and an inspiration. After a few minutes you’ll start writing too. Those other busy writers don’t want to be interrupted – they’re writing. What else are you going to do but join them?
Pick Your Moment. I like to write early, one of my friends tells me he does his best work after midnight. If life does give you a choice when to write order the day around your writing session and do it when it’s best for the words, not for you. If early is best don’t do the weekly food shopping on Saturday morning ‘just to get it out the way’. Write first and buy your groceries when you’re at a lower creative ebb. That way you’ll achieve more, the satisfaction will build, and so will the habit. Both jobs need to be done, one benefits from a specific time more than the other.
Try Harder. You can always try harder. If it’s not working, back off, think about it, try something new. If it’s not working, it’s not working. Going at it in the same way again and again won’t make it work.
Good luck! Nobody is making you do this (only you and those characters that want their stories told). Fiction – keep it real.
Next Week: The Road Goes Ever On
* That’s not to say if it was my only option I wouldn’t do my best to make the most of it.