One of the most challenging aspects of becoming a writer is actually writing. It seems like it should be natural. We WANT to write, but actually writing is a whole ‘nother ball of string. Making writing a priority is a must because no matter how many classes you take and how many how-to books you read you can’t learn how to write unless you plant your butt in the chair and put your fingers to keyboard. That’s the big secret, by the way, the secret handshake that new writers want from published writers – you get to be published by writing.
It’s really that simple.
But lets consider that it’s often way more fun to talk about writing than it is to actually write. So in order to get to that writing habit, we have to trick ourselves. Offer incentives, set the stage, get yourself primed and ready, bribe yourself if you have to.
How many of you didn't set writing goals this year? And how many of you set goals, but had forgotten about them by the second week of February?
I think the problem with most goal-setting scenarios is that we're too kind with ourselves. I mean let's say you set a goal and then you don't achieve it. What happens to you? Um…nothing. I mean you probably aren't even that embarrassed because no one knows you set the goal. What would happen if you proclaimed to everyone you knew and saw on a daily basis that you were on a diet and you were going to exercise everyday and lose 50 pounds by the end of the year? I'll tell you what, those people would be pestering you and eyeing you while you pop that donut in your mouth.
With writing, there really isn't a lot of accountability when it comes to setting goals. We waffle a lot, we set airy-fairy goals that don't really mean much of anything and we're too forgiving of ourselves when we do fail to meet any goal we might have set. There are RWA members across this country who have been members for years and are still struggling to finish their first book – I know several of them. They're bright, intelligent, gifted women, but they just haven't been able to make that commitment.
Once you've written a few pages, you quickly realize that writing isn’t easy. For whatever reason we tend to expect it to be easy because we’re excited and because the idea is bursting in our imaginations. But when it comes to putting it on paper, it becomes painful and frankly not fun at all. And we do anything and everything to avoid writing. For me it was studying craft. I used that excuse for a long time…well, I can't write yet because I haven't mastered scene and sequel yet. Okay…well, here's a tip from me, you can read every book written on the craft of writing, but until you actually write you'll never master any of it.
Another reason…well, fear is a big one for a lot of us. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of exposing too much of our true selves to the general public. Writers are a neurotic bunch and we're afraid of a lot.
I could go on and list a few more and I'm sure some of you could make suggestions, but whatever your reason is, whatever excuse you have slinking through your mind that you think makes you special or excuses you, get over it. Are you ready for some tough love? How many of you want to make it in this business?
Now I'm not talking money I'm just talking about walking into your local bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf? Anybody want that? Okay, now I don't say this to be pious because it wasn't too long ago I sat where you are right now and I haven't forgotten where I came from. I also didn't get here overnight (in fact it too me seven years and five manuscripts before I sold). But I didn't get here making excuses either. It's time to let the excuses die. It's time to put your big-girl panties on and quit your whining.
What are you willing to do to make this dream happen? What are you willing to sacrifice? There will be some things you can do without (TV) and stuff you aren't willing to part with (time with your kids) and that's all okay, just know it now. Writing is a journey of self discovery and now's the time to get really acquainted with yourself, to find out what you are and aren't willing to do to see your dream of publication come to fruition. So I ask you now…how badly do you want it?
But you say, writing is hard. Well guess what, it's hard for all of us. Get on Twitter or Facebook and follow your favorite authors and you’ll eventually see them mention a struggle or two with their current manuscript. If anyone tells you writing is easy for them, they're either lying or they're not working hard enough. How badly do you want it?
You're busy, you say. Well, you're not the only person who's tried to balance writing with a full-time day job or a house full of kids or a sick parent or whatever if is that competes for your time. How badly do you want it?
You can't write unless you have it all plotted out/unless you have a 5-hour block of time/or unless its raining outside and approximately 56.7 degrees. Well, you need to either be writing literary fiction that affords you 5 years in between books or you need some yoga classes to teach you a little flexibility. How badly do you want it?
Okay so y'all get the picture. This is the year. No more excuses. Tack that up above your computer. I don't care what your excuse is, if you want to write, if you want to make a go at this, you'll get it done. You'll make the time, you'll learn your craft, you'll do what it takes to succeed.
Alright now that I've yelled at you ☺, I'll give you some quick tips on how to get it done. First of all you need to set big goals and then break them down into bite-sized pieces. Let's say you want to write a brand-new single-title this year. That's between 360-400 pages of writing, not including any prewriting or revision time. And let's say you have a full-time job and two kids at home. So you can really only get 15-20 new pages done a week (that's an average of 2-4 pages a day depending on if you write 5 or 7 days a week) that comes out to about 24-26 weeks to get your first draft done. Then if you revise 2-3 chapters a week you can be done revising in 6-10 weeks. That's a total of 36 weeks on the long end of things to write a 400 page book. That leaves you with 16 weeks left over to do whatever you want with.
So you see how that works? You find your big goal and you figure out what you need to do in pieces to get there. Just like a book is made up of chapters and chapters are made of scenes and scenes are made up of paragraphs and paragraphs are made up of words, goals work just that way. Start big and work down.
Okay you have your goals, write them down and then share them with someone. Designate someone to be your goals keeper, preferably someone mean and scary who will give you that look if you lag behind.
All right so here are some tools that I’ve found particularly helpful over the years.
Find a writing zone: not everyone can have an actual home office for our own writing so you might have to get creative. If you don’t have an established desk for your work, then perhaps you can get yourself a nice new lapdesk for your laptop. Or if you have a desktop, then you can get yourself a special mouse pad and pen holder, anything that can anchor your area and remind you that it’s your writing area.
Or maybe you write away from home, during lunch at your day job or at your local Starbucks. One of the things that I do when I’m writing, that I started out of necessity from writing at coffee shops, is wearing earbuds and listening to instrumental movie soundtracks. Putting those earbuds in puts me right in the “mood” for writing, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. Even when I’m at home now writing, I still put them in my ears, even if alone where I could play the music out loud, the earbuds go in and I can hit my stride.
Make a date: If finding a writing time is challenging for you, then put it on your schedule. Just like you would a lunch date with a friend or a doctor’s appointment, put down your writing time. You’ll be far more likely to keep it if it’s already established. And your family will be more understanding too. Remember your family and friends will take your writing only as serious as you do – they’ll use your attitude as a guide.
100 words/100 days: Way back before I had sold my first book when I was struggling to make writing a daily habit, I joined an on-line challenge. The goal was to write 100 words for 100 consecutive days. I learned several things about myself but primarily I learned that I could write anywhere. Before the challenge I had firmly believed that I could *only* write when I had large chunks of time or at a certain time of day or when it was completely quiet. But none of that was true. Sure those might be prime conditions for writing, but who has that all of the time. Not me. Some days all I did was write exactly 100 words, but more often than not I wrote more. The story would take hold of me and I’d rock along and get 1000 words or 2000 words and before I knew it that book was done. The other thing I learned was that because I was writing consistently the book wrote better. I won’t say easier because I don’t think writing is ever easy. But the writing flowed more because I was in the story, in the characters and it just seemed to work. And you know what? That’s the book of mine that sold, that went on to become Courting Claudia.
Setting deadlines: If you want to be a published author you might as well learn now what it’s like to work to a deadline. Set one for yourself. Figure out how many words you need to write to finish the book/story, then break it into smaller pieces. Now set a deadline for that ultimate goal and work daily to meet your smaller goals so you can achieve it. A writer should always know how quickly they can write. When you get those contracts, you pick your own deadlines so you need ot know what you’re capable of.