I get asked a lot how I managed to write an entire novel. The world is full of would-be bloggers, penning 400 word posts. There are fewer professional writers online who crank out a lot more. Heck, some of my favorite pieces are the ones by Shawn Blanc that get into the four-digit word counts. But 100,000 words? That’s like a marathon. How do I do it?
Now, before you write me off as stuck on myself, or arrogant, work with me. I did complete a book. Most figures I’ve seen say that about 5% of those who start writing a book actually finish. And I’m fully aware that finishing has no bearing on quality. But before you can even get to the quality conversation, you have to get to the end.
So how do I stay focused and get ‘er done? I’ve gathered a bit of my own personal advice together and thought I’d share it with you. There’s a bit of psychology in here, a bit of GTD (getting things done) methodology, and a bit of Crap Aaron Made Up For Himself. Take it all with a grain of salt, but also print it out and memorize it. And then forget everything I said.
When a Plan Comes Together
The most important key to starting, and staying with, my writing is having a plan. I wander aimlessly and stop caring when I don’t know where I’m going with a story. I realize we are all hypnotized by the romantic notion of Tolkien crafting the Lord of the Rings without knowing where he was going, but that’s bull. The man was probably one of the best-read scholars of his generation, and understood the pure essence of myth and legend better than almost anyone in history. When we claimed to “wing it”, he was still subconsciously drawing on decades of experience and knowledge. Nothing us Mortals can hope to equal.
So when I write, I plan. I take my story idea and write it down, even if it’s just a couple sentences. Then, I digest the idea and write a larger summary, more elaborate and with a few more details. Note: I’m not writing my book; I’m writing a summary. And I do that a few times, expanding and growing the details. Eventually, what I end up with is a 2-4 page document with paragraph summaries of each chapter. And those summaries are what guide my chapter writing.
See, what I do is take away the power of “inspiration” as a requirement. Now, I can sit down, look over the new chapter’s summary, and then start writing. No need to wait for the “mood” to guide me in a direction I like.
More people suffer from some level of depression than any poll or study could ever shed light on. And that makes writing hard. because if you are feeling depressed then you are feeling sluggish, unmotivated and afraid of failure. But there are things you can do to help. Get out in the sun every day. Drink tons of water (seriously, attempt to make peeing your new hobby). And put on some positive music (yeah, Evanescence is great for an epic soundtrack, but they’re depressing as hell!). Happy writers are productive writers.
You have to commit to actually wanting to write in the first place, and then once you start to craft a story, you have to commit to sticking with it even when the plot just doesn’t seem to want to solve itself. and you have to commit to writing on the days when you just don’t “feel it”. Screw that. Sit down, open the file up, and touch the keyboard.
Pound. It. Out.
You’re heard me beat this horse a thousand times before, I’m sure. But the thing that keeps people from doing anything in life is what I call friction. It stops your momentum, keeps you from moving forward, and gives you that “stuck” feeling.
So remove the friction that exists between you and writing. If your current setup requires that you jump on a computer, launch 3 apps, and have to move stuff around all the time, then you’re doing it wrong. Write in a simple word processor, avoid formatting, and save often. While you’re at it, grab a simple $0.99 notebook and a golf pencil, and keep them in your back pocket all the time to capture ideas that happen when you’re out and about.
Take Long Walks On the Beach
Well, not the beach. But go for walks. If you have an hour to kill, go walk. You’d be amazed at how much material I’ve come up with by disconnecting from my internet, my house, my phone and my family and just going for a quiet walk. I know writers who call them “plot walks” because they have a tendency to solve difficult plot issues on their walks. Get out. Walk. Talk to yourself.
And of course, this is just my advice. I’m an introvert, so I’m sure extroverts would need different tricks to manage their creativity. I’m married and have two wonderful daughters, so I’m guessing a single gal would have to build different systems to guide her writing. But there’s a spirit behind my advice that I hope can escape our individual uniqueness and simply offer a better way.
Happy writing. I know you can do it.