Write every day. Write when you can. Just write. Plan first. It’s so contradictory. Who should you listen to?
Years ago, I took the ‘just write’ advice to heart. I was stuck, full of self-doubt, so ‘just write’ struck a chord in me.
Here’s what happened:
- Woohoo, yeah! I’m writing!
- Never mind those things, I’ll fix ‘em later
- But wait, if he’s a magician, why doesn’t he just kill the guy from afar with his magic chainsaw?
- Also, if she’s so clever, she’d see through that feeble decoy milkmaid
- *abandons novel six chapters in*
It wasn’t exactly wasted. It was all good practice in putting words together. But it taught me that I don’t work that way. I’m more of a planner. I’m not one of those people with file cards and a cross-referencing system, but I do need to think about stuff beforehand. ‘Just write’ isn’t terrible advice for me – but it has to come later, after the planning and thinking.
But what about you?
I think experimentation is the answer. It’s a bit like lovers. A few people marry their high school sweetheart, but not very many. Most of us play the field, try different types of love, different ways of being together, different kinds of lives.
- Try planning, but if it means you never get started, try just going for it.
- Try writing every day, but if the idea gives you hives because it’s so impractical, just write when you can.
- If word counts motivate you, then yay! If they feel off-putting, read this, and stop counting.
- If novels aren’t working out for you, try essays, or short stories. You can always go back to novels. No writing practice is ever wasted.
- If you’re feeling precious, tell yourself you’ll write ten books. This is just the first. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. Your fifth book will be amazing!
- If the idea of finishing even ONE book is overwhelming, break it down. Could you write 500 words every other day for a year? Or, if that sounds too much, what about 1,500 words a week? Either way, if you did that, this time next year, you’d have the first draft of novel.
- Try writing what you know. But if that bores you, try tackling the writing project that scares you most. But if that paralyses you (because you have good reason to be afraid), try writing something you would love to read.
And my bonus ‘I wish someone had told me this’ tip: You’re allowed to do anything (nothing mean, obviously) to get the book written.
If you want to buy a different notebook for each character, do it.
If you want to stick post-it notes all over your bedroom wall, do it.
If you want to read nothing but old-fashioned crime novels – even though you’re writing sci-fi – because somehow they’re inspiring, do it.
If you want to base a character on someone you know, do it. You can always lie about later.
If you have your best ideas in bed, go to bed.
Don’t worry about what other people say. No matter how silly or lazy or pointless your ‘thing’ may look to other people – it doesn’t matter. It’s none of their business. Follow your process.
What do you honestly think you should do next? What feels like it would be worth a try? And if you honestly don’t know, just pick an approach you haven’t tried before and go for that.
Until you start trying, you’ll never know.
What’s the best/worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? What happened when you followed it? I promise to exult/commiserate in the comments below: