I see this question float around a lot, and even ask it of myself quite often, usually when there’s a deadline looming, and my draft isn’t finished, and I still need to go pick up some milk, and I have the dentist at 2, and, oh my God, did Dad just fall off the ladder again?!
How do you write more? It’s a simple question. Unfortunately, it has no simple answer because everyone is different. In the flickering hope that some of you might find what I have to say useful however, here’s a brief rundown of what currently works for me.
So you grab your steaming beverage of choice, sit down at your desk, crack your knuckles, and open up a new document. But then the cursor starts blinking at you accusingly, and suddenly you lose the ability to entertain a thought in your head. Don’t panic, it happens to everyone. Ironically, getting words down is the elixir.
If you like to plot everything out (like myself), I recommend outlining your work before you even start writing. If I sit down, already knowing what scenes I’ll be writing and what each character wants, well, that’s half the battle won right there.
On the other hand, if you’re more of a free spirit who prefers to wing it, or maybe you’re just stuck for ideas, try a free write: let go of your filter and just spew out a stream of consciousness. When I’m stuck, I free write my little writer heart out. Before I know it, my fingers have unseized, I have a few hundred words down, and if I’m lucky, I even have some new ideas to play with. Once you realise how useful free writing is, it’ll quickly turn into a guilty pleasure.
What about when you’re not sat at a keyboard or pouring over a notebook? Well, I’ve found daydreaming to be a big help in crafting my worlds and stories. Next time your brain is idle, when you’re in the shower, or drifting into sleep, or stuck behind someone at the supermarket because apparently they don’t understand the concept of other people as they meander around with their carts, blocking off the ENTIRE AISLE… next time, instead of letting your mind wander aimlessly, try guiding it gently onto your story. Don’t force anything, just let it soak. When your unconscious brain has a chance to percolate over something, you’ll be surprised at the level of ideas and solutions it can create. If you want to take it to the next level, you can follow in the footsteps of Dali, Einstein, and Aristotle who all used the act of falling asleep to spark creativity.
Be consistent and schedule writing time every day.
People like to romanticise writing, as if you need to be touched by a bolt of inspiration to write something truly great. Well they’re wrong. You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to chase that elusive floozy down with a big stick and tell her you’ve turned up for work today, so you’ll be in your chair if she bloody well feels like helping out. And most days she won’t, which is why you need to discipline yourself to write anyway. Treat writing like any other craft — when you start moulding a lump of clay into a pot, you wouldn’t expect it to any good until you have a heaped pile of misshapen ashtrays in the corner behind you, would you? Quantity is what gets you to quality, so whether your goal is to reach a target word count like Stephen King, or just put in a certain number of hours, do your best to write every day.
As for what time of day, writing first thing in the morning seems to work for enough authors, myself included, that I think there’s something to it. When I have the opportunity, I like to wake up, make a cup of tea, and immediately drag myself over to the computer to start typing. I find that while my mind is still floating in that fuzzy space between dreaming and alert, it offers a lot less resistance and a lot more ideas.
The Writing Process
When it comes to actually getting the words down for the first time, you need to learn to stop editing yourself. You’ve probably heard this advice a thousand times, and that’s because it works. When I need to crank out an early draft of something, I turn off my inner editor and just let the rubbish fall where it may. I end up with a car crash of a draft that I would be embarrassed to show to my neighbour’s Cocker Spaniel, but you can always edit a bad page, you can’t edit something if it doesn’t exist outside your head.
Don’t try to multi-task. When I have a momentary lapse in concentration, or need to look up a word, or any one of a thousand reasons that draws my attention, my fingers automatically move to open up a browser or check my emails. It’s a bad habit I think everyone has developed in our age of information. Instead, if I need a quick break, I stretch, or pace around, or make a drink — anything that lets me keep focus; don’t fall into the trap of shooting your attention span in the back of the head with social media.
Speaking of distractions, I find it’s best to remove them all before I start writing — that includes everything from having my phone at hand to email being open in another tab. When I write, I try to keep it to just me and my document (unfortunately, we can’t all be like Karin Slaughter who disappears into her cabin in the woods for months at a time to write a new book). I’ve heard of many who disable their internet connection entirely to cut away any distractions. I’m too spoilt by automatic cloud saving to really stick to that idea, but I can’t deny the benefits.
Sometimes writing a large project like a novel can be daunting, so much so that I often feel completely overwhelmed just trying to juggle all the plot threads, characters, and world building in my head. My solution is to narrow my view, break everything down into smaller and smaller parts: chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words. I just focus on putting one word after another. Eventually, like building a wall brick by brick, I end up with something of value without being paralysed by fear.
New ideas always hit me at the most awkward times, often when I’m in the middle of writing, as if my brain is rebelling against the things it knows I need to work on right now. What I do is note the idea down and ignore it. Later when I have more time, I gather up my ideas and start examining them. Obviously no one can explore EVERY idea, there’s not enough time in the world, but not being afraid to run with new things has produced some of my most interesting stories. Not every idea will be great of course, in fact most will be awful, but it’s always worth putting the effort in, because who knows, that bonkers idea about creating an action franchise out of a theme park ride you had last Tuesday might just lead you to the best story you’ll ever write.
Using these methods lets me write 5,000-10,000 words a day, usually all hammered out before lunchtime. By that point, I’m often out of creative energy and spend the rest of the day editing, marketing, or doing the million other non-writing activities indie authors need to do to stay afloat (I’m currently setting up a newsletter and I’m not frustrated with the huge timesink at all, oh no).
So I hope you find some of these methods useful in your own writing adventures. If you do, or if you have a different process and think I’m going about it all backwards, let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you think.