Here’s this week’s article, hot of the press!
Writing a long work is really about turning a whim into a compulsion.
There’s no other way around it. You have to decide, early on, that you will finish your novel – at least the first draft – and you will keep going until it’s done.
That’s the trick – the easy answer – DECIDE. Commitment follows a firm decision.
Personally I give myself time limits – deadlines.
Having an end-date seems to be the only way I can visualize completion.
Sometimes I go past my deadlines – who doesn’t? – but at least I’m aware of that and I use the previously desired end-date and the time stretching beyond it as a way to chastise myself into doing more work.
I think you need to create a compulsive attitude in yourself because, let’s face it, there’s no real reason to keep writing novels.
Your family and friends don’t really care if you write another one – even your publisher is not really that fussed: there’s plenty of other writers out there to publish.
Your agent might be concerned – he or she has a vested interest in your productivity – but I’ve never known an agent, given a blocked writer, who doesn’t just move on and find another writer who’s completed their magnum opus and try and sell that instead.
As Dorothea Brande once said in her great little book “Becoming a Writer””, you have to create your own ‘sense of emergency’, and use it to motivate yourself.
But how do you do that?
I think the most pain free way is to absorb yourself completely in your work.
Get to know your characters as though they are your best friends.
Care about them.
Cultivate in yourself a desire to see their stories told, and told well.
Write and, as you write, be aware that you are the only person that can tell the story you want to relate.
No-one else can do it. You’re alone – and the fate of your characters’ world rests in your hands.
Without you, they will cease to exist, their world will crumble.
To them, you are God. What kind of god lets his creations, his stories, suffer, fade away and go unresolved?
It’s okay for you to take your time, as long as you keep returning.
As long as, word by word, you keep creating the work that will one day soon become your novel.
In much the same way as you set long-term deadlines, you need to aim at a daily word count.
Believe me, if you don’t set yourself a regular daily target, you probably won’t find the motivation to keep going.
It’s that simple.
Promising yourself you’ll catch up doesn’t cut it. You have to force yourself to produce at least your minimum count every day, even if it’s just a sentence or three. It’s the only way to stay on top of the business of writing a novel.
Most professionals, I would say, want to write at least 500 to 1000 words a day.
Less than that and you’re not really getting things done.
Write around 2000 to 3000 words a day and you’ll be up there with the big boys in no time.
Don’t see it as penance, see it as your life.
Writing is what you do – it’s how you occupy your time.
It’s not hard.
It may be draining sometimes but it doesn’t have to be exhausting.
I work around tea breaks and meal breaks – and the naughty afternoon Judge Judy break.
I will get up and make tea or coffee every three quarters of an hour or so.
During these breaks I’ll stop writing for a while.
I make lunch every day at noon and that provides a chance for me to catch my breath.
I’m sure you get the idea that writing is about rhythm – and not pushing yourself too hard.
If you’re writing full-time, you need regular breaks to punctuate your writing day.
If I’m stuck for ideas or in between projects, I’ll often get up to walk around the garden
I take the dog for a ramble twice a day.
I’ll use that time to think of reasons to continue with my writing projects.
This helps build enthusiasm for the next piece of writing – and is a good example of what you need to do to reinforce the writing habit.
Consciously give yourself lots of reasons to write your novel.
Give your reasons weight by imagining the positive outcomes that will be achieved.
Let the anticipation of those future events get you excited – and let that excitement brew in you and spur you on.
Till next week.