I hope that you have been enjoying my series on the lessons I learnt writing my first novel for NaNoWriMo 2011. At the end of this article you will find the list of previous articles published in this series. For those of you who do not know what NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month is, do yourself a favour – go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up to join one of the most exciting writing events on the global calendar.
You most likely have heard the answer to the following question: “What should I do to become a writer?”…Write! You may also have seen the slogan of a well-known sports gear company – JUST DO IT! This sums up the job of the writer, which is to deliver the result by doing the work.
In 2008 I took a month off to make a successful attempt at NaNoWriMo of that year. The project I was working on was particularly challenging (in hindsight) in that I was combining non-fiction and fiction, which requires two brains that do not work well at the same time. It soon became apparent that the type of project was not the reason I was not getting anywhere. The real reason was far worse and much simpler – I was just not getting the words down. It was then that I realised just how much discipline you need as a writer. The romantic ideal we have of words spilling down onto paper when a creative urge strikes is simply not a reality. As the saying goes: 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. And the muse only really seems to appear when we are sweating to get it done.
Knowing that the job of a writer requires effort, focus and discipline, the real issue then is to work within these parameters and find a way to structure “how” you work.
Your first consideration is passion and energy. If you are passionate about what you are writing and why, you already have a huge impetus of energy and drive behind you. If the reason is important to you it will save you in those many moments of doubt and lethargy that strike when you least expect. So the question you need to ask yourself is “Why do I write?” In your quiet, reflective time, make a few notes on what your bigger reason is. Remember that for some people, writing is the only way of getting your feelings and thoughts out of yourself and into some kind of clear picture. Perhaps for you the bigger reason is to do this. Be wary of thinking your reason has to be grandiose to count – it just needs to be important to you.
Next you need a plan. I remember spending countless hours at school and university plotting out my study time tables which were abandoned on Day Two. Yet my working life showed me just how important it is to plan. Set yourself a daily target of word count and outcome. I have often read how it is better to write a smaller amount every day than to do a marathon session in one go. The hare approach results in a lot of energy being required to get back into the flow / story / concept that you have been working on, whereas the tortoise keeps on plodding, making steady yet sure progress.
Another aspect of this planning process is ritual. I will share some insights with you in a later article on your place where you write, yet for now it is important to consider the structure of your day that supports you getting the words down. This includes finding the right time of day to write and creating for yourself the habit of setting the scene for work and then doing it. Stephen King has just such a ritual. Every day, even on public holidays and birthdays, he sits down at his desk at the same time and does not leave until he has finished his daily quota of 2000 words. Every day. Only once he is finished does he allow himself to have lunch. If he has a quick day then it is an early break, yet on slow days he gets hungry. This is the kind of habit and discipline that makes him successful. Talent is of course part of it, yet sometimes we undervalue the role of disciplined action in becoming a genius!
Do you have a special routine that really works for you? Please share it with us.