(Note: This post was originally published to my personal Tumblr. I’ve made some tweaks before posting it here.)
In the past four-ish years, I’ve managed to finish and publish a couple of manuscripts (one ~44,000 words and the other ~96,000 words), which for someone who’d never finished anything longer than ~5,000 words is a really huge deal. Here are some things I realized/started practicing that helped me get to this point:
- “Writer’s Block” isn’t a thing. That’s not to say that I didn’t sit down to write and have nothing come out, but the thing that got me past those times was realizing that there isn’t some outside force called “writer’s block.” When I couldn’t put words down, it wasn’t because there was a thing separate from me that kept me from doing it. It was because I didn’t know what happened next. When I realized that, it became a lot easier to deal with because “all” (scare quotes because even knowing this didn’t make it easy) I had to do was figure out where I was going and I could get back on track. Which leads in to…
- Talk it out, even with yourself if that’s all you have. This is the main thing I used to get past my slumps. Sometimes I’d talk with friends (seriously, I love all of my friends who are willing to put up with me talking about fictional things pretty much non-stop). Sometimes I’d just “talk” it out with myself in a separate document or inline using square brackets (which was a technique that Piers Anthony once told me about when I was way too young to understand the value of the advice). It wasn’t always quick, but talking things out always got me past the parts giving me trouble.
- If it’s boring you, you’re doing it wrong. Another huge momentum-killer for me was feeling like I had to “show” everything, even the boring bits. But if I’m bored writing it, my audience will certainly be bored reading it. Which means I need to find some other way of coming at the scene/chapter/whatever to spice things up, or just “tell” about the boring bits for the sake of advancing the story. Sometimes that’s resulted in things being really weird, and sometimes I ended up dropping the scene/plot thread entirely later, but that’s what revisions are for!
- Embrace crummy drafts. I kind of hate all the teachers who praised me for having such clean “rough” drafts because they gave me a complex about how drafts ought to look. It took a really, really long time to let myself start having drafts that look like crap. I’m about 14k words into the sequel to AMIND and it’s littered with so many instances of “and then this happened” or things in square brackets where I haven’t decided exactly what goes there yet. Instead of stopping to figure things out exactly, I just sketch things out and let it go. It can be fixed when I do revisions.
- Notes, notes, notes! So literally everything I write these days I have either a Google Docs or Evernote file full of random bits and pieces of musings about plot/outlines. AMIND’s Evernote file is about 5k words long, most of it copied from Hangouts chats I had with folks during the initial development of the plot and world-building. I would often go back to this document to remind myself of where I was going and what I hoped to accomplish. The version of the manuscript that I have now doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to the notes anymore, but those notes were imperative to me getting the damn fool thing done.
- Outlines, outlines, outlines! I used to be really bad about being a “pantser,” which is to say just writing without any idea where I was going in any but the most broad sense. This was Not Good because of the first bullet point up there. If I didn’t know what happened, I didn’t write, and nothing got done. I’ve started doing the vaguest outlines for scenes and that has helped keep me on track and writing consistently. I doubt I’ll be producing more than 300-900 words a day any time soon, but the fact is that with my skeletal outlines I can produce those words every day. And trying to sketch out about 2/3 of the story before I start (the arbitrary number I gave myself before I let myself start on the sequel to AMIND) gives me enough wiggle room to surprise myself while also keeping me on-track.
- Schedule writing time. This was kind of hard and is also a very new thing but it seems to be working well. I wrote most of Bodies Are Disgusting in spare minutes wherever I could, and probably about 50% of it was written on my smartphone. With AMIND, I tried to set more goals for myself and stick to them, and that seemed to help. Now I’m trying to write at least a little bit every week-day after I get home from the day job. I am getting really militant about achieving a certain word count goal during the week, and I also try to give myself the weekends off.
- BONUS: Writeometer! Google rec’d this app to me and HOLY COW, I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I don’t even use the whole “guava” and “treats” thing. Just having a way to record words and see a chart and set goals… oh my goodness, it has helped motivate me so much this past month. It automatically calculates what you need to do in order to meet your deadlines and you can set alarms and it’s FREE. If you have an Android device, I can’t recommend this app enough.
- BONUS BONUS: Scrivener! This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how awesome a tool Scrivener is for putting drafts together. I still do most of my writing in Google Docs, but once a large chunk of a draft is done, I’ll bring it into Scrivener so I can tweak scene placement and chapter arrangement. There are other cool things it can do, too, but it can be a little intimidating. Even so, I still really really really recommend it.
So, yeah, sorry, that got a little long, but I just wanted to share these things with y’all in case it helps anyone who’s struggling with their own writing. I’m certain that none of this is new information, but this is the specific cocktail it took to get me to the point where I could stop saying “I write” and start saying “I’m a writer.”