Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Tip: How to Write Every Day

Most aspiring writers have come across the sage advice "Write Every Day." It goes along with the almost-as-often given adage about "if you write one page a day, in a year you'll have a novel." One hears it often enough that one sort of wants to rebel. It sounds so simple. If writing were that easy, wouldn't everyone do it?

Simple, yes. Easy, no.

The problem with writing every day is that it requires a huge amount of discipline, which is something most people are sorely lacking. We all have busy lives, and squeezing in an extra hour or whatever in every day can seem almost impossible.

No one method works for everyone. Experimentation is required to find the method or methods that will work for you. But if writing is important enough to you, you can find ways of making time to write every day.

Why should you? Because the adages are true. If you write every day, and write to the purpose, you will get things done.

First, set a daily or weekly goal. (Make sure it's reasonable and achievable!) Some people do better with a time limit, others with a word count. If you know you can work for the entire time limit, great. If you know you are apt to spend a lot of time thinking and not actually writing, the word count may be the best choice.

Here are some methods for making time to achieve your goal:

  • Set a timer for 30 minutes. Do not allow anything to distract you during your 30 minutes if you can at all help it. Try to get in at least one 30 minute session a day, but you can do more than one session a day if your schedule allows.
  • Have a special time during the day that is purely for you to write. Make sure your family/friends know this and are supportive of it so they won't distract you. This could be early in the morning before you start your normal day, or during your lunch break, or after you get home from work, or late at night after the kids are in bed.
  • Reward yourself for writing. Some writers won't let themselves read for pleasure until they've gotten their writing done for the day. Others deny themselves TV or favorite foods. Find what motivates you and use it to your advantage.
  • Set a deadline. Some writers do much better if they have a deadline. Some can get away with self-imposed deadlines, and some can't. If you have trouble with self-imposed deadlines, try having a friend or family member act as your deadline coach. Make sure they know about your deadline and how important it is to you. You don't want to have to tell them you didn't make it, do you?
  • Have a place to write if at all possible. This will help you get in the zone. If your place to write is the kitchen table, try having a few "muses" that you put around you during your writing time. This could be specific music, or inspirational phrases on cards, or knick-knacks that help you focus.
  • Plan your time. If you tend to let yourself get distracted by chores, make a list such as "I will start the laundry, load the dishwasher, and then sit down to write for 30 minutes. Then I will check the laundry and make lunch, and then I will write for another 30 minutes."
  • Keep track of your writing time. Make a spreadsheet that shows what you accomplished each day in time and word count. Try to do better every week.

Figure out what you think you can reasonably do and set your goals accordingly. Nothing will derail you faster than never achieving your goals because you set them too high.

Here is an example of how this can work:
Last year I had an idea for a non-fiction book. I pitched it to the publisher. They liked it and asked me how long I needed to write it. Panic! Suddenly I had to commit! I had absolutely no idea how long I would need. I was working full time and our busiest season was just starting. Finally, I came to my senses. I sat down and figured I could commit to 500 words a day, roughly half a page. I needed 32,000 words. That's sixty-four days, but I already had a good start, so I gave myself two months for the actual writing, and another month for revision and holiday delays. By sticking to my word count goal (and exceeding it when I could), I was able to turn in my first draft two weeks early. For me, that concrete deadline was motivation enough--I would have been mortified if I had been late.

I used a similar motivator to finish revising my novel--I signed up for a pitch session at a writing conference a month away. I was determined that I would have a finished novel that I could pitch with confidence, and I succeeded. (Of course, I've made more revisions since then, but really, when do you ever stop tinkering with an unpublished piece?)

For me, word count goal plus external deadline equals productivity. Find out what your formula for success is, and get writing!

1 comment:

  1. Definitely, reward yourself. You are honing your craft. At a corporate job, you don't always have the benefit of being rewarded for hard work. When you're your own boss, you can make sure that your hard work pays off.