Recently, I got an email from one of my darling cousins about writing. She was asking about getting motivated to write, especially after having taken a break — in her words “get back on the ol’ writing horse” and how to complete projects and make writing a more integral part of her life. This comes up a lot with writer friends, so I thought I’d post my thoughts for you all (if you mainly read my blog to check on my health and are not a writer, I’m doing great, thanks! Feel free to skip this post).
I have to admit that I hardly feel like an expert in many areas of writing (as you can see by my random punctuation) and I’m always learning a lot from other writers and from my agent, but the one element of writing I feel I have managed to whup into shape in the past eight years or so is the Getting a Lot of Writing Done and Finishing Projects aspect of writing. Even and especially when I’m busy with a million other things.
The busiest year of my life, I was a full time grad student, had three jobs, made the movie The World’s Fastest Librarian, and belonged to loads of various groups and things (because, I’m embarrassed to say as it does nothing for my teen street cred, I am a “joiner” and can’t help signing up for things). I still wrote a novel that year and worked on revisions for an earlier one.
Different things work for different people and I will be the first to admit that my methods might not work for everyone as I march to the beat of a really crazy drummer who has quite possibly taken too much acid. But they work for me and maybe they will work for some of you (especially if your drummer has similar issues to mine).
This is a longer than usual post so we’ve created an audio recording of the following for those who can’t be bothered to read so much. Or for those who, for some reason, want to hear me reading to them.
My Sort of Naughty Methods For Getting Writing Done: Click here to listen.
1) I am a sneaky writer. I like to think of writing less as something that should be done (and done with a capital “W”) and more as something sort of naughty that I absolutely should not be doing because there are other capital letter (and lame) things to do like Cleaning.
I think it’s sort of like the Catholic school girls (like the one who raised me) sneaking out for a smoke. It just feels a bit bad and yet oh, so good. Writing when you shouldn’t is just like eating cake for no reason at all.
After a while, it seems like writing weaves itself into your life and you don’t realize that you are spending all of this time Writing with a capital “W”.
2) I write whatever crazy thing comes into my head — even sometimes when I’m revising something. Because, well, it’s fun to write scenes like that, but also that crazy thing might actually be good. If it’s REALLY crazy, the next time you try to write the scene, the pressure is off because nothing can be as off the wall as what you wrote last time and you’ll probably write just what you need to.
3) I never force myself to sit down at a desk. It feels naughtier and less like Writing to write in random places. I sometimes end up at a desk after a while, but I like to just “play around” and take my laptop or notebook wherever seems like the most fun at the time. Right now my favorite sneaky writing spot is at the table on the back porch with a big pot of tea (and a lot of cushions under me), but sometimes I write in bed with a cat cuddled up with me or on the couch (ignoring the dirty laundry) and I used to write all over Madison depending on when I had a little break between jobs, classes, etc.
4) Rewards. I am a huge huge huge believer in rewards. For big things, little things, in between things. If I write so much as one word a day, I get a reward. This sounds so impossibly inefficient and yet I can look back and say it must work because I’ve written quite a few novels with this method. Some days one word is enough. Usually, my reward for writing is to spend some time reading whatever novel I’m currently in love with. I get bigger rewards for finishing things. Like cake! (Reward Cake is not to be confused with No Special Reason and Feels a Bit Decadent Cake — both are good but you enjoy them differently).
5) Deadlines. This sounds anti-fun, but it’s kind of nice and can actually take the pressure off. Being in a writers’ group, you just have to get your behind in gear and get SOMETHING done before you meet. And if it’s a good group you get fired up to work on revisions after you leave.
Getting submissions ready for conferences is a nice deadline too.
I also make up arbitrary deadlines like how I currently want to finish the revisions of the novel I’m working on by mid-October. This is a pretty random deadline so I made up a reason. My birthday is November 2nd and I will want to lounge around and have parties on my birthday so I can’t write then. Also, the birthday extravaganza will take some planning so I better damn well be done two weeks before so that I can idle away time researching what cake I’m going to make (or buy or talk someone else into making) and what I’m going to wear.
6) I make separate time slots for the “business” part of writing. Right now I’m working on revisions for my agent so he can get on with business and spend my “business” time blogging but when I was querying I dedicated usually one day a week (more or less depending on what was going on) to work on queries, send queries, do industry research, create website content, update my submissions records, and log all of the kidlit books I’d read recently with notes on who published it etc.
Even if you aren’t looking to be a career writer and don’t really feel all that hot to get published, I think this is important. You learn a lot from the responses you get from editors and agents and I think it helps you want to write more because it’s a challenge — you keep going until your work is good enough to get an offer. And once you’ve found someone who wants to work with you then you have even more motivation because you’ll have feedback to work on.
I wish you all happy (and sneaky if you think it could be your thing) writing!