Friday, 14 August 2015

Write Wordmonkey, Write!

Time marches ever on and as the due date for my thesis submission (not-so-affectionately known as T-day) approaches, my mind is starting to turn to what might come after. And as usual get closer and closer to not being a student any more, I've realised that I don't really want a proper grown up job; increasingly I want to make a living from my writing somehow and as a result I've been reading lots of advice about writing. Particularly advice about having a successful fiction writing career.

I'm quite fond of reading Chuck Wendig's writing advice, mostly due to his irreverent and (often sweary) style, but I've also been devouring books by Rachel Aaron, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith as well as listening to podcasts like Writing Excuses and I Should Be Writing. There's a hell of a lot of advice out there for a budding fiction writer, almost too much I've come to realise. It makes sense to a degree, the fiction publishing business is in flux and there are a lot of new things to learn about having a successful career in a world with lots of options for traditional, small press and self publishing.

But as far as advice on the actual writing part is concerned I sometimes feel that there's a lot of over-thinking going on. I mean yeah, who am i to be judging these professional writers on the advice they're giving? Surely they know what they're talking about more than I do? Well I might not be making any money from my writing and the only place I've been published is on my blog, but I like to think I know a thing or two about writing despite a pretty busy life. I mean, I've somehow managed to rack up a word count in the region of 60,000 words so far this year while I've been writing up my thesis. And those are just the words I've been keeping track of. And I've managed to do that by following three simple steps:

1) Make yourself sit down and write (preferably every day) with a few distractions as possible.
2) Keep track of how much you're writing and when.
3) When you finish one piece move on the next as quickly as possible. Always be writing.

Seems simple doesn't it? And it is really, but it is also incredibly difficult. Number one in particular is a real belly ache at times when there's work and cleaning and food to cook and videogames to play and a billion other things demanding your attention.

And then there's the beast called writer's block to consider. The best way I've found to beat writer's block is to just sit down and make yourself write something, anything. Whether that's a stream of consciousness whinge about the fact you can't think of anything to write, just make yourself sit there and tap out some words. More often than not it'll get the ball rolling.

I'm also a big fan of word sprints as a method of getting stuff onto the page. 15 minute chunks seem to work best for me, and I can get 500-600 words written in that time, which I don't is too shabby.

Point number two has helped me more than I thought it would. At the moment I'm tracking word count and the date, along with a monthly total and a daily average. You could even track where and what time of day you're writing, or divided it up into genre or fiction and non fiction. Whatever is most useful for you. The point is if you known the number of words you've committed to paper (or screen) you have something definitive, something tangible. And watching that number go up is incredibly satisfying. Had a relatively unproductive week or month? Push yourself to get a higher number next time. A little bit of competition with yourself never hurt, just remember to be kind to yourself if your number goes down one week. Life is allowed to get in the way sometimes, the trick is to pick yourself back up again and try again.

Which leads quite nicely to number three; start a new piece as soon as you can after finishing your current piece. It can be tempting to sit back and revel in the victory of having finished a story or poem or article, whether it's a 100 word drabble or an epic novel. Very tempting, but you have to get back on the house and keep going. Writers write. Yes there's editing and proofreading and a million other things to do, especially if you're submitting something for publication, but that shouldn't get in the way of writing something new.

Just finished writing a 40,000 word novella and suffering a little from writing fatigue? Write something short and sweet to change it up. Found something in your craft that needs work? Write a coupled of short pieces focussing on that aspect to practice. But you need to move on and start writing again, even before you edit something you just finished. Always. Be. Writing.

Three simple rules. Not that hard on the face of it, but they definitely require a little self discipline. That's up to you. Follow these steps and you should seen your productivity increase. Once you're writing on a regular basis you can worry about other stuff. But whatever happens keep writing. And if you need a few more rules I've found Heinlein's rules to be useful too. But keep it simple. Maybe set yourself a word count. 500 words a day is eminently doable, and kept up over the course of a year adds up to enough words for two novels. Wouldn't that be cool? That's what I'm aiming for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have writing--I mean thesis to do.

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