Writing is not easy.
Remember that old adage, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it’? Well, I take issue with that statement. It…just…ain’t…true. Working to complete a manuscript is one of the most challenging, time-consuming, nerve-wracking and socially isolating experiences, a person can willingly put themselves through. I contend, if it was easy, a lot of folks still wouldn’t do it. Most people I know, don’t have that kind of time…most people I know, have lives.
Into my book, ‘The Sons of Mil’, I’ve poured hundreds of hours. I can go days without speaking to another human being and sometimes, even longer than that. My neighbors will periodically knock on the door, just to make sure I’m not dead. Writing this book, has been an incredibly rewarding experience but it has also been lonely, stressful and restrictive. I’m an outdoorsy gal. I’m a landscape photographer, an avid hiker, runner and watersports enthusiast. To complete this manuscript, I’ve had to push everything else I enjoy to the side…and so might you, if you’re aiming to publish in the near future.
If you’re a writer getting serious about your own work, you know how it is. You wear the same clothes for an indeterminable amount of days. You wash your hair less and less. You have to forgo movies, books, your favorite shows and social outings with friends. You become a sad parody of the fun-loving extrovert you used to be. A hermit in old band tee-shirts, flannel and sweat-pants. The sun, seems a vague, hypothetical entity…
If you can relate, I dub thee ‘an artist’. Writing is not a dash n’grab affair. It’s a process. A long, lonesome trek you take in your pajamas. As with any journey, you invariably want it to end someday, don’t you? You want to go outside and experience the world again…Netflix is calling…you have a whole shelf full of books you’ve been dying to read…you want to be a person again, by god! Well, relax. My fuzzy slippers and I have suffered through the wrong way through this stuff, to bring you a better one. How do you shave some time and pints of Haagen Daas out of your creative experience? I’ll tell you how; nail down your process.
1. GET ORGANIZED– I can’t tell you how many years I wasted writing incomplete chapters. I’d start one, write what I thought was a clever scene, then dump it for four months. Into my ‘to do’ pile of junk, it would go. Note: DON’T DO THIS.
Always…I repeat, ALWAYS; nail down your story first! Set up your general scenario, character lists, chapters logs (more on this below), themes and a get general idea of word count and length before you get to writing the story. Why do all of this first? Let me put it in photographic terms…know what you want to include in your frame before you shoot. Free-flow and zeitgeist writing can be a blast. They can also be rewarding and beneficial to an author. However, only .4% of the successful writers you’ve ever heard of manage to write whole books and serials this way. The rest of us, need a road map.
How do you get going? Well, start with the theme. What do you want to say? Where does it take place? Who lives there? Who are your characters? What do they love, hate or want to do? Are they good guys or bad guys? What challenges do they face? How can they grow in this world you’ve created?
How many chapters you think it will take to work through your characters’ issues? How long do you think it will take for your protagonist to get from point A. to point B. in your story?
How do I figure all of this out? Old school. Grab a large white poster board. On one side, write your central theme and the characters and places you plan to explore. Use bubbles, graphs, whatever works for you. On the other side, starting with Chapter One; mark down your theme, your protagonist/antagonist; where they are, what they’re doing and what they want at the moment, in this world you’re creating. Include any pertinent details, like a timeline and any challenges that arise for those characters, within that chapter. Once you manage all of this, congratulate yourself. You now have a basic outline to work with!
When you figure out where you want to go from the first chapter, repeat the process with the second, the third…you get the idea! Now an added trick I’ve taught myself to keep from rambling on in my text; I set a word count limit for each chapter. That way, when I’m free-writing; I can differentiate between pertinent and impertinent details. Also, try to drill story structure into your outline. Every story has a ‘Beginning, A Middle and an End‘. This is fiction law, no matter what the Tarantinos of the world have to say about it. Nail these tips down, and see how fast your story comes together. Try it. What do you have to lose?
2. MANAGE YOUR TIME WISELY– I am the ABSOLUTE WORST at managing my time wisely, so believe me when I say this statement is not coming from a place of judgment. Rather the opposite…it’s coming from a fountain bubbling with sympathy. I get it. We’re all busy little bees. We have jobs to get to. Groceries that need buying. Laundry that needs washing. Kids that need raising. Spouses that need attention.
The world is a frenetic place and it’s not about to stop twirling, just because you have a story burning in your gut that needs to be told. I get it. Every author the world over, gets it. Still, in order to make your dreams come true- you have to figure out a way to make your work a priority. This is an imperative. No matter how many hours I’ve spent crying in the shower in frustration; I’ve as yet been unable to master writing stories in my sleep.
I don’t have a bulletproof blanket solution for everyone here, because I am as guilty as the next procrastinator. However, I have come up with a few Writing Hacks to make it all a little less horrible.
- Write On A Schedule, in which you can be alone and get some work done. Literally. I set my alarm for 8am, every morning and drag my butt out of bed to the coffeemaker. The house is quiet. Other humans and animals are still asleep. The phone does not ring. Basically, no distractions. Whatever time of day suits you best, is up to you…but STICK TO IT. I would like to tell you that all authors are inspired every time they sit down at the computer… but that would be a big fat lie. I had to teach myself to write, even when I didn’t feel ‘ready’ to. After a while, your brain will rewire itself to accommodate you. I promise. I look at it this way, all habits need time to establish, and writing is no different.
- Set A Time Limit. Only have an hour before work? Write for 30. You get the idea.
- Stephen King That Sh*t. The master himself makes it an IMPERATIVE to write at least 1k words a day. Writers Write. If you’ve only got 500 words in you a day…so be it. The important thing is to add those up at the end of every week and marvel at the progress you’ve made. You won’t get anywhere by TALKING about writing. Trust me, I’ve tried.
- Baby Steps. Don’t stress out if you get behind. We’re all human here. Things happen. The important thing is to never stop trying. Had a bad day? Start fresh tomorrow. Don’t let one rotten string of events, prevent you from sticking to your routine.
3. EDIT LATER, FOR CRIPES’ SAKE! This is the most important advice I can offer any new writer. DO NOT EDIT UNTIL YOU ARE DONE WITH THE FIRST DRAFT. I am also an editor and I can’t tell you how many chapters I’ve had to chuck into the bin, because I couldn’t get past a wonky sentence or paragraph. Let it go for now! Get your story down and rounded out, BEFORE you start picking it apart. If you’ve already established your story map, your characters and your themes…you have a general idea how long the story will be, what twists you want to include, the arcs you want to explore…AND YOU HAVE AN ENDING, CLEARLY IN MIND. Once you get there, by golly, you have a draft ready for editing. Not before. Not in the middle. AFTER.
4. READ, READ, READ. Once you have a draft, read the whole thing BEFORE you edit…then read it again. Take notes. Read it a third time. Take notes. Go and read something else. In fact read as many books as you can digest in a short period of time. Take notes. THEN READ YOUR STORY AGAIN.
After you’ve practically memorized every chapter….you’re ready to edit the bejesus out of this sucker, aren’t you? You have a clearly defined plot. Established characters. Rounded themes. General word count and length. THIS is when you should sit down and edit. When you’re really, truly, not foolin’ READY to.
Editing, like writing, is its own process. If you start too soon, you can lose a grip on the point you were trying to make. If you start in the middle, you’ll find yourself prematurely trying to course-correct. Editing is a polish to be applied ONLY when your story is complete; when it’s vivid and fleshed out. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by editing before you’re finished.
I spent FAR more time editing than I do writing; and FAR LESS time editing than I do reading and taking notes. Why? Because in fiction, the way you say a thing, tends to be far less important than what you are actually saying. Develop your story first. Tell it in the best possible way you can. Love your characters. Make your dialogue sing. Give your story a unique, functional voice…THEN sit down and pick it to pieces. Remember, no one will want to read your story, if you don’t enjoy reading it first.
Are you writing a novel? A short-story? A graphic novel? Tell me about your process! I want to hear from you. Discuss your thoughts on the creative process in the comments or sign up for my newsletter below!
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