Part One was all about prep. Here’s how I laugh in the face of procrastination when I’m doing the actual writing/editing.
By the way, in case you think I’m one of those people who never had any trouble in this area, I can assure you I have dozens of half-finished novels and stories languishing on my hard-drive. So, I feel your need to watch trashy TV and drink wine, but there are ways to ignore the temptation and keep going with your novel.
- Set a deadline
I reckon for an 80,000 word novel, I’ll have a decent first draft in six – nine months (not counting research/planning time). A deadline gives me a concrete goal to aim for and that helps with motivation.
- Make writing the default activity
When I’m writing a book, I spend almost ALL my free time writing. I don’t go walking, or shopping, or meet friends very often. I treat writing the book as if it was paid work.
I expect that if I’m not at my actual paid job, or looking after the kids, then I will be writing. All the time. But it doesn’t feel like a chore, because writing is what I want to be doing. I get tired, but I’m content.
- Trust whims
Sometimes, I do the opposite of everything I’m telling you here. For example, sometimes, during the planning/thinking stage, I write a scene because it’s burning in my mind.
I’ve learned to listen to my whims when they feel like part of the creative process. This isn’t the same as ‘waiting to be in the mood to write’ or ‘waiting for inspiration’. Writing is already my default activity. I trust myself. I know I will write. So, if I have an urge to re-watch a particular movie or spend an hour in the garden, I do, because it’s my brain trying to help me with something. There’ll be something in that movie that inspires the next scene, or something about pulling weeds that makes me understand something about a character.
I tell you, it was the greatest, most joyous surprise to me, to learn that if you put in the hours and really try your best, your psyche will HELP you in all these unexpected ways. It really will. Like magic. I promise.
- Get angry
If I get stuck, I think of my premise – which I worked out in the prep stage – and which is the underlying simple idea I believe in. At its core, my story is saying ‘true love will set you free’ or ‘love is stronger than hate’ – or whatever. If I’m lost with a scene or a character, I think: what action best expresses the premise? Sometimes that makes it clear what needs to happen next.
Also, I want to sock it to those idiots who write stories based, apparently, on premises such as ‘true love is jealous and possessive’ or ‘ignore tradition at your peril’. I disagree. Vehemently. My anger at these other books/movies gives me energy – and I channel that into writing a book which says something I believe in.
- Aim to finish, not for perfection
Everyone says this, because it’s true. Your story will never be perfect, so just bash it out: good bits, questionable bits, and all.
This is where they say to quash your inner editor, and I think that’s true, within reason. I don’t get hung up on individual words. But I do re-write as I go, especially if I realise that actually, Marjorie wouldn’t be delighted if Earnest gave her flowers. She’d be bloody pissed off, because, given everything else that’s happened, she was expecting an engagement ring. That’s crucial, because suddenly Marjorie has a reason not to go to the ball that night, and it changes everything for the next three chapters while poor, shy Earnest tries to work out why she’s so cross with him.
But anyway. Go, go, go! Write, write, write!
- Uh oh
And then, one day, I realise the whole thing is crap. It’s been done before. The characters are dumb. That bit I thought was so clever/touching/exciting is lame. By implying X, I’ve inadvertently suggested Y. No-one will ever want to read this.
- Take an evening off. Avoid well-written novels. Avoid Twitter.
I drink beer and eat crisps for an evening. This will feel like a treat, because normally, I’m writing. I might read another research-related book, but I avoid other people’s novels at this point because they’ll be so much better than my work in progress. And then I’ll want to die.
I also avoid Twitter. Because someone will say ‘I’ll scream if I read another book with a dragon-mage as the protagonist. FFS writers, don’t you get it? We’re sick of dragon-mages.’ And they’ll get 100 likes.
To them, it’s a throw-away comment. To me…?
Because, of course, my main character is a dragon-mage. And even though I’ve taken pains to make him unlike all other dragon-mages and I have a really original plot, that one comment will give me a week of self-doubting hell.
- Might read some crap, though
Once, I was in a writing trough and I read a really, really terrible novel. It was so much worse than my half-finished one that I ran back to my computer to prove I could do better. Great motivation!
- Take a week off – then re-read
If I’ve really lost my way, I take a few days off. Then I re-read what I’ve written. Generally, I think ‘hey, this is actually pretty good!’. I can see how far I’ve come, and that’s a great feeling. Often, my brain’s had time to figure out some solution to the problem, and I can see immediately what needs to change or happen next.
- But don’t take too long off
But once I’ve had my evening off, or my week, I go back to it. I try not to get precious. It’s only a book. People write them all the time. If I’m still stuck, I take the next crappy idea my brain throws at me and I write it anyway. Quite often something better occurs to me as I write it. I tell myself that even if this book really is terrible, it’s all good practice and the next book will be so much better for it.
I don’t have to enjoy it all. Some bits of writing will just be damn hard. Write anyway.
I share my work in progress with people I trust. I’ll get feedback and some praise too. The feedback will hurt sometimes, but it will also help me get better.
The praise is like manna from heaven. It’s like a crackling fire on a stormy night. It’s like a lover’s kiss. It’s like seeing the face of a friend in a hostile or indifferent crowd. Writing is a solitary activity and it’s easy to lose heart. One encouraging comment can keep me going to the end.
Hopefully, all that will get you through. Then you collapse, or get drunk, or go and celebrate with your neglected friends/partner.
What motivates you? What helps you maintain momentum and sit down at your computer again, and again, and again? Do you have some tips for me? I’d love to hear them…