The thing about writing is you have to sit down and get it done. There are no shortcuts. Just you and the keyboard in harmony or despair – sometimes both in the same half an hour.
I have discovered the key to finding time to write is not to go looking for it in the first place. Your life will already be filled or else your natural instinct to want to relax will kick in. There is no free time to write. That is why you have to carve it out of your everyday routine. It is the only sustainable way to achieve your long term goals and call yourself a writer unless you have invented the ability to stretch time in which case call me.
I happen to be a morning person. I love mornings! I am an early riser, the earlier the better. I love the solitude the new day brings when it is just me, my dog and a cup of tea as the world wakes up around me. I find writing early in the morning easy. Mentally, I get out of the way and just let the words flow. I do keep one eye on the clock because I have a forty-five minute window to make the magic happen. The reason I have a wonderful forty-five minute window? I get up early just to write.
It’s no good asking an evening person to do what I do. It would be like asking me to write good stuff at ten o’clock at night. It’s not going to happen.
Once you know what suits your natural rhythms you will know the best time of day (or night) to write. Then you will need something to aim for – a set period of time or a word count target. I have both. I try for 1,000 words in my forty-five minute window.
If I have had a break from my morning routine I know that the first few mornings back in the saddle will take some adjusting to. I did this a couple of weeks ago – the first day I managed no more than 300 words, the second day it was 750. By the third day I had hit my stride. I didn’t beat myself up about not reaching the target on the first two days. I was simply pleased with the quality of what I wrote and the fact that I had SHOWED UP.
Sometimes writing is all about demonstrating your commitment to the project and in yourself as a writer. Showing up for a writing session, day after day, is what gets a book written. We can all hit a rich seam of creativity for a few hours at a time but it is the sheer slog that pushes a writer over the finish line.
So my tips for getting the writing done are simple:-
Find the time of day or night that suits the rhythms of your body best and carve out writing time from it.
Set yourself a realistic limit on time and/or word count for your writing sessions.
Show up, day after day, week after week.
Don’t beat yourself up if you fall short of your word count target, just be pleased you still showed up.
If you break the routine of showing up, get back to it as soon as you can.
When you reach a milestone in your work in progress choose a little treat for yourself.
Keep showing up until the book is finished.
Before you know where you are, you will be ticking milestones off your list and your writing sessions will be incorporated into your days as if they have always been there.
In January this year I had to say goodbye to my precious dachshund Sasha. We had spent 16½ happy years together. Sasha had led a long and full life but saying goodbye, as any pet owner will know, is never easy.
However large or small in stature the loss of a pet leaves a large hole in your heart. It can take a long time to adjust – you imagine you can still hear them and see them. You find yourself looking for them, may be even calling to them out of habit and then you remember and the tears flow once more.
I am a writer and one of Sasha’s favourite spots was in my study either on her rug or her chair – yes her chair, I rarely got a look in! She would settle down and snooze while I worked. Many is the time I happily wrote accompanied by the sound of contented snoring.
Sasha was a gorgeous dog. A bit of a diva and a tyrant who ruled me with an iron paw. There aren’t many dogs who given their night time treat go and hide it and then expect their human to find it nor many humans daft enough to take part. If I tried to spin the game out by deliberately looking in the wrong place, she would quickly grow exasperated with me and point with her nose to the correct hiding place. It was probably just as well that she couldn’t talk although she’d often give it a very good try.
It has taken me several months to begin to heal. I still miss her, of course. I always will, as I do all my Dachsies – I have been blessed to share my life with four of them over the years.
Slowly my thoughts began to turn to the future and whether or not I should get a new pet. The decision to get a pet should never be rushed. It is a huge commitment. Pets need a lot of care and attention and dogs, being pack animals, need the interaction of humans or other dogs around them. And the decision to take on a new pet gets harder as you get older because there is always the fear niggling at the back of your mind about what might happen to your furry friend should the worst ever happen to you. Charities like The Cinnamon Trust can take some of this worry away from you. If you are unfamiliar with the wonderful work the Trust does do check them out http://www.cinnamon.org.uk/cinnamon-trust/ and if you are able to volunteer for them, all the better.
For my own part, I wasn’t sure my battered heart could take any more heartache but with time I came to realise that whilst it is devastating when you lose your little companion, the joy they give you and you give them throughout their lives makes the pain worthwhile.
So I have decided to do it all again. Willow joined me last weekend to start our new journey together.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a puppy in the house so I expect to spend the rest of this year delighted and exhausted in equal measure.
Hopefully, once playtime is over she will settle down and soon I’ll be writing away to the sound of contented snores once again and all will be right with my little corner of the world. Wish me luck!
Really it’s the only way. Have a routine. If you can carve out a few precious minutes each day what you achieve will amaze you. I read that it takes a couple of weeks to establish a new habit so stick with it.
I try to write 5,000 words per week (not counting blog posts!). I know that target is doable alongside my other commitments. Don’t set your targets too high, however. If you constantly miss them you’ll wind up feeling depressed which will be counter-productive.
But your writing related activity needn’t only contribute towards the word count for your work in progress. In addition to that it could be catching up on a webinar on an aspect of the writing business you need guidance on. It could be researching a topic you need for your book. It could be choosing editors or cover designers if you are self-published.
If you are engaged in the business of writing and serious about what you are doing and have the commitment and the strength of will to keep going for longer than a few weeks you are a writer. Being a writer is not about having a deal or not having a deal. It is not about traditional publishing or self-publishing. It is about the commitment. You either write or you don’t. Simple as that.
Experiment with writing styles and genres until you find the one that suits you best.
You’ll be familiar with the need to ‘find your voice’. Unlike loose change and the TV remote control you can’t find your voice down the back of the sofa. If only it were that simple. It took me a long while to find mine. Years, in fact. It took so long that I despaired. I started to believe it would be easier to find a unicorn…in a top hat…on New Year’s Eve…in Trafalgar Square than ever locate my mythical voice. And then one day, out of the blue, it turned up. There it was in my new work in progress winking back at me from the computer screen. What had changed? Well, that’s something for another blog post but suffice it to say when at last it did arrive, writing in that style felt so natural that I wondered why it had taken me so long!
Some people are lucky enough to hit their stride early on and that’s great. But if you haven’t experienced that hand-in-glove feeling yet don’t despair. Just keep working and one day you’ll find a unicorn in a top hat winking back at you from your computer screen and all will be well with the world.
Until that happens, flash fiction is a great way to try out new styles to see if they suit.
Make contact with other writers.
I blogged a few weeks ago about the importance of Writers’ Groups https://goo.gl/muSwKV If you can find a writers’ group local to you ask if you can join. Facebook and Twitter are two more great ways to link up with other writers.
Writers hear voices in their heads. It’s a well known fact. It’s something good writers encourage. We let our characters out to play while we’re walking the kids to school or washing the car or preparing a meal. It’s all a dress rehearsal ready for when we are back in front of the keyboard and ready to let our imaginations off the leash. For writers this is perfectly normal behaviour. For most other people it is not.
Other writers get that. They don’t instinctively move away from you on learning the above. They move CLOSER. Other writers totally get the euphoric highs and maddening lows in a way non writer family and friends just can’t appreciate. Writing is a lonely business. Writers need other writers. It’s all very well to suffer for your art but don’t be noble about it. Reach out to other writers who can sympathise, encourage, discuss or celebrate with you. Writing is a tough road. You don’t have to walk it on your own every single day.
Ask for constructive criticism from fellow writers and well-read friends. Listen to what they have to say and learn from it.
This is essential. If you exist in a bubble without input from others you cannot grow unless (a) you are incredibly enlightened or (b) talented. The rest of us need feedback from others to understand where we are with our writing generally and our work in progress in particular.
Just remember, don’t ask the question if you’re not ready to deal with the answer. You want honesty but honesty can sometimes hurt which leads us to my last point.
Grow a thick skin.
Criticism hurts. Not all of it will be constructive. Your blood will boil. Your head will spin like a character out of a horror movie and while you are cutting up the veg for dinner you will be plotting ever more wild methods of revenge on whoever you feel has done you wrong. Work it out, suck it up and move on. Never give in to the desire to confront someone. You’ll regret it in the morning.
The same goes for rejection. No one likes to be rejected. For writers it’s a hazard of the trade and sometimes the rejections have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Who said life was fair?
I always think in this actors have the upper hand. At least when they go for an audition they might already know the physical characteristics of the character they are trying out for. If the director is looking for someone to play an athlete anyone who doesn’t measure up to that physical ideal is setting themselves up for rejection. Why did they bother? They didn’t stand a chance!
With writers, it’s not that easy. If you’re going down the traditionally published route you can research publishing houses and imprints and find one that suits your style but from then on you are in the dark. Writing trends come and go. Your book might be great but that particular editor really wants to find a happy Scandinavian detective and your book doesn’t have one. Of course it could have one after a swift re-write if they only told you what they are looking for but it doesn’t work like that. However good your book is it will be rejected on personal choice a lot of the time. It’s not you it’s them.
I know because it happened to me. An editor looked at one of my manuscripts once. The hero was called David. In her notes about why she was rejecting the book it soon became clear she didn’t like ‘Dave’ as she called him. She didn’t like him one little bit. In fact, she took against pretty much everything ‘Dave’ said, did or stood for. Her dislike of ‘Dave’ radiated out of every word. The other characters barely got a look in. Others editors had looked at the manuscript and whilst also rejecting it for a myriad reasons, poor old ‘Dave’ had not been one of them. As my hero was called David and nobody shortened his name anywhere in the book I concluded the editor had obviously had a very bad experience with someone called Dave and my book had touched a raw nerve. In her eyes Dave was most certainly not hero material. That was a deal I was never going to get through no fault of my own because two years before I had chosen my hero’s name and, I surmise, someone of the same name in real life had broken that editor’s heart. There is nothing you can do but shrug and move on.
If you are a writer, you will write. Nothing and no one will stop you. And whilst it can be painful and terrifying, isolating and heart breaking, it can also be uplifting, invigorating, entertaining and joyous. If you were born to write, you will. Serious writers don’t choose to be writers. Writing chooses us.
This post follows on from last week’s post about How [NOT] To Be A Writer. You can check that our here https://goo.gl/LcG7Ip
Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller Thursday collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my first novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June 2016 #FlowerSellerThursday
The Flower Seller Kindle edition is now available to pre-order from Amazon via my website http://goo.gl/0Gv8Jg