As it came up in a conversation last week, here are some of the ways I keep my writing going:
Keep arse in the chair, said many writers, Colum McCann here. As in, sit down and do the work. Actually do it. This might not involve a chair and ideally your brain would get to participate a bit in the process but you get the point.
As Austin Kleon said, don’t identify with the label. This is not about being a writer, this is about writing. You don’t need a mac or a notebook with handmade paper or a fancy coworking space with a beer tap you can instagram yourself in. You need a way to capture your thoughts and if that’s an eyebrow pencil on a crumpled receipt when a sentence wants out, that is also OK (other implements might be better as a default for bigger pieces but you do you).
Block time and keep it like the important appointment it is. I’m writing books because I have something that wants out and I assume it will help people. This is a part of my present and I want it to be a bigger part of my future. I take it seriously, so I am keeping the time. Like I would for an exercise routine, or the prep for something important at work or any other very important future focused thing. You run your show. If you want writing or *gasp* published stuff to be in that future you have to find time to write in the present.
Find best time to write and try to write then (around day job or other commitments). If you don’t have optimal times available, write anyway. Modify what you can but don’t make your circumstances an excuse to not do anything at all because it doesn’t feel optimal. Writing is a lot of work and has grueling periods. It will rarely feel optimal, particularly not if the topic resonates with your own life or the current ongoings. Write anyway. Take breaks if you have to if it gets momentarily upsetting, but find ways to come back.
Focus on getting it down on paper. The shitty first draft is real, this isn’t and doesn’t have to be final. Good lord it won’t be final. But write it down. You can write at bad times and edit/refine in better times if you’re time constrained.
Have a plan. As I write nonfiction, I spend a lot of time on structure and what the key points are I want to make. The big picture. Then I break it down into chunks with approximate word counts.
Manage the writing chunks a bit like a kanban board. Have 30 min? Pick a small chunk and write. Have more time? Pick a bigger chunk. When I have a half-day or (luxury!) full day, I focus on the bigger arc, on revisiting if structure still makes sense, on anything bigger picture. A lot less actual writing happens on the writing days. That’s OK.
Ditch the plan if the writing really wants to go elsewhere. I need to schedule a few days off in one chunk and sort out the big book. It needs major structural surgery and the focus has shifted. That’s OK. Can’t say I’m happy at the prospect but it’s gotta be done. I think best by writing so some of this is bound to evolve. Also, the context evolves so this is normal.
Work around your own quirks. But keep working. I keep an outtakes file and copy deleted paragraphs in before I chuck them out in the actual chapter file. I haven’t actually ever reused the outtakes file but it makes me feel less apprehensive about deleting stuff, so I delete more. I need to delete more. Do whatever you have to do to make you do what needs doing.
Read it out loud. It helps with pace, rhythm and is a good BS detector. If you can’t look at yourself saying it (use a mirror) you shouldn’t be writing that down either.
By all means read book about the craft and writing etc., but don’t forget to actually write. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is awesome. As are a lot of other books.
Give everything. Don’t hold back good stuff for “the other book” or for when you’re famous or whatever. Write the right-now-book now with everything you have to give for it right now. There will be other books with other things and by then you’ll be a different person and the world will be different, so do the now-thing now. And then later you can do the later-thing that is by then the now-thing. It’s OK to age and grow into a topic but keep writing now as well, that’s how that growing thing happens.
OK, now back to the actual book I’m meant to be writing #busted