In 2016, I attended a two-day workshop run by an author and psychologist. Its purpose was to give writers the necessary tools to finish their project, focusing on how to get in the right head space and plan properly.
Many attendees, including authors who’d published multiple books, were stuck. I was bored and had almost stalled because the drafting process felt endless.
At the end of weekend, I came away with a solid, realistic plan to finish my novel. I exceeded my goals and finished drafting well before my deadline. I’m using the same tools now to help me finish my redraft before Christmas.
Here are a some helpful points that came out of the workshop.
The optimal mindset for creativity involves being a little excited, optimistic and seeking pleasure. You might have to fake it til you make it, but don’t give in to negative thoughts.
There are ways to help you create this mindset. Close your eyes and imagine a welcoming, mental place you can travel to before you begin work. For me, this was a deserted beach with wild waves on a cool days. For someone else it was a brightly coloured circus tent. You might also like to do a bit of relaxation, meditation, repeat some affirmations, go for a walk or do some breathing exercises before you work.
If you have a bad writing day, and we all do, separate yourself from your work. Don’t judge yourself and create fear and anxiety, which will be counterproductive the next time you write. The work simply didn’t go well — it wasn’t your entire being the failed.
Develop strategies to push through fears and doubts. There are many books on this, or read a piece by an author you admire about how they achieve this? The are loads on the Internet.
Be prepared to go beyond your comfort zone into new creative territory. Play, have fun. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Not a lot when you think about it. Trust yourself! You can always adjust your words later. Just get something down on the page.
This is about creating the optimum writing environment for you. When, where and how are you most productive? The aim is to find regular times to write and the best physical space in which to do that with the technology and other resources you need.
Write down your answers and create a plan. Diarise these times and build strong boundaries around them to ensure nothing gets in the way of your writing.
Set your intentions
Write down your long, medium and short-term goals. Be specific.
- Specificity = measurement = accountability (to yourself).
Measure your progress daily, weekly and monthly. Small achievements over time add up and are motivating.
I keep a diary of my daily weekday word limit because that’s how I’ve decided to monitor my redrafting. But word count is only one possible way. You could set goals for outlines, chapters or a manuscript end date. For example:
- I will finish redrafting my novel by 21 December. My MS is x words long, there are x weeks until then, which means I must draft x words 5 days per week.
- I will have a first draft completed in 12 months i.e. by 24 October 2018. The average book is 80,000 words long and I plan to take 3 weeks holiday in which I won’t draft. This means I will draft 1,630 words over 49 weeks. I will write 3 days per week.
- I will write 1,500 words, 4 days per week.
- I will write for 1 hour, 5 days per week before work.
In your plan, make sure you have the following elements:
- Specific, measurable goals
- Creative mindset strategies
- A creative environment you go to each time you write
- A diarised writing schedule.
For more hints on creating a writing routine, see this post here.
Now go for it!
Some of mine off the top of my head include:
- Write even when you don’t feel like it. Often you can turn that around
- Write regularly
- Trust YOUR writing process, no one else’s
- Sometimes down time is writing too e.g. problem solving, fermenting characters, problem solving
- Writer’s block means something is wrong. Listen, learn and overcome
- Constantly challenge yourself to improve
- Get feedback for your work from supportive people, experts perhaps or a writers’ group
- Read, read, read good writers inside and outside your genre as well as writing books. INVALUABLE!
- Write for you, not for anyone else or fame or money and so on
- That said, your drafts should move from writing to get things out of your system out to considering your reader
- Enjoy writing. Again, if you’re not, look for what’s going wrong and change that.
Should you write multiple books at the same time? Perhaps you have ideas and characters bursting out of you. Or you have two or more stories of equal importance.
I believe it’s possible under some circumstances to write two manuscripts at the same time, but with some clear boundaries.
That said, there are circumstances where your writing energy would be better spent getting one project to a certain finished point first. How do you know?
If you can’t stop yourself from writing more than one book at a time, here are some guidelines:
- Your manuscripts must be very different. Perhaps one could be non-fiction and one fiction. Perhaps one could be crime and the other literary fiction. This way it will be easier not to diffuse your writing energy.
- Your manuscripts must also be at different stages. For example, you could be having a break from a first draft manuscript while your beta readers are looking at it or you’ve put in the drawer to get some distance. Alternatively, one could be at the plotting or first draft stage with one and on your third rewrite with the other.
- Make sure you have the energy for each story. If not, then go back to your priority story and let the other sit for a while. Trust that it will be developing in your head as you work on your priority manuscript.
- Your stories are part of a series. In this situation, you might find it natural to work on more than one part in the series, as long as you have a clear idea where they’re going and one doesn’t constrain the other.
But if like many people working on two manuscripts means you’re diffusing your energy, there are ways you can keep your non-priority project alive.
- Keep an ideas book and jot down your ideas so you don’t lose them. Keeping them on the back burner doesn’t mean you can’t develop them. Often they are stronger for this.
- You can even develop your plot and characters so that when it’s time to write this story you have a lot of preliminary work completed.
- You could also do research while you’re working on your priority manuscript. Again, more work will be done so you hoe straight in to the next book when the time is right.
Good luck fellow writers. Remember, never never never give in. Keep on learning and improving.
I had an amazing writing day the other day. Words flowed out of me in a way I’d been working towards for a while.
What did I do differently that day? I asked myself. It took me a while to work out what it was, but I’d spent the morning doing physical work and listening to music – my Best Songs Eva playlist. I’ve been experimenting since then with listening to music before and during writing. This is what I found:
- Music inspires
Art feeds art, and music can inspire you to write in a new way. Choose the right playlist to arouse, impel, exalt, animate, fill you (you get the idea) with feeling, openness and receptivity and let it flow out of you onto the page.
- Music enhances mood and creativity
There’s something about listening to the right kind of music to get your neurons and synapses firing. I had to write about something based in personal pain, which I hadn’t been looking forward to. But it flowed out of me with an honesty I was flawed by, and surprisingly it was less painful than I’d expected. My word combinations were also new and exciting. I came up with language I didn’t know I had in me. Some of it needed paring back, but it was a great start. Music seemed to be my muse.
- Great lyrics help language
Music with great lyrics – by that I mean words combined in a new way to create meaning and impact greater than their sum – can make you think about language in a new way, just like reading a classic book by a great author. It’s about looking at language through someone else’s eyes to spark new ways of using it yourself. It’s also about absorbing compelling language in an unconscious way that will hopefully show up on the page.
- Music can block distractions and create focus
Some people use music to block out other distractions. I didn’t find this myself, but it definitely gave me greater focus and single-mindedness.
- Write while listening to music?
This is OK for me, but not ideal. I found it interfered with the music of my words, sentences and paragraphs. That said many people swear by it so experiment to work out what’s best for you.
- Or listen to music before you write?
This works best for me and it’s how I plan to go on using music. I’m working on creating playlists for certain moods I want to create in my writing. But really, anything that moves me seems to inspire. What works best for you?
I’ve been tussling with this one for a while. Some people are happy writing when the mood takes them and produce plenty of work they’re satisfied with. Others find weekly word quotas work for them. I thought I was one of those people. But if that’s the case, why did I struggle to get back into my manuscript after a weekend break?
Over the last two weeks I’ve attempted to write every day, which I largely managed except for one day. Here are the things I discovered:
- Writing is a committed relationship
When writing a story, whether fiction or creative non-fiction, it’s as though you’re in a long-term relationship with your characters and story. By dedicating daily time to spend with your work you’re remaining connected. That means it’s easier to pick up where you left off the previous day. Your work is fresh, alive and growing, like a plant you have to water daily for it to thrive. Also, the characters and story stay with you, which means you’re more likely to be working on them at a subconscious level. It’s all about maximising your flow.
The other point about writing being a committed relationship is that if you treat it well like you would a loved partner, your writing becomes less like work and more like fun. With your story and character connection strong, you’re happier to nurture and spend time with them. This has to be a productive thing.
- Set time aside, even if you don’t write
By setting time aside every day, be it half an hour or two, you’re allowing the possibility of writing to happen. You’re receptive and open to the possibility, like you’ve put the kettle on or wine bottle in the fridge in anticipation of a good friend’s visit. This is about giving your characters permission to speak and allowing your story to move forward as it needs. Perhaps they don’t turn up on the day, but by creating the space you’re extending a welcoming hand. You never know what might happen.
- Form the habit
There are loads of myths out there about how many days of repeating something it takes become you form a habit, but my research showed the correct number is sixty-six. If writing becomes a habit, you’re more likely to do it regardless of your mood or circumstances or other forms of resistance. Do first, think later.
- Write little and often
You’ve probably heard the maxim that goes something like, ‘Don’t write a lot, but write often’. I’ve been doing a lot of this—an hour’s writing, half and hour of something else, another half an hour of writing and so on. For me it takes the pressure off having to sit down for hours, taking on large chunks of work, big themes and major events etc.. I can attack my work in bite-sized pieces and come back refreshed and willing to write the next bit.
- It feels better
Writing is an outlet and a purpose, and on the days I write I simply feel better. I feel more me, more grounded, more satisfied. I’m not sure I’ll write every day, but most days seems to work well for me at the moment. Try it for yourself.