Sunday, January 24, 2016

Take Writing Seriously

Get in the habit—the writing habit, that is. The more you do, the better you’ll become. Unfortunately, life’s little annoyances—work, kids, grocery shopping, T.V. binge watching—all interfere with just plain getting down to work.  Such can be the life of a freelance writer unless you buckle down and take writing seriously.

There’s lots of advice for the taking—write every day, don't edit while you write, have goals. And while all of these are good, none are very helpful if you're trying to figure out just how they apply to you.

Before you can develop a new writing routine, you have to discover where you are. For how long do you normally write at one sitting? How often do you write? How many words do you produce in one session? When do you write—morning, afternoon, or evening?

To begin, figure out what type of writing ’s easiest for you to write—description, narrative, dialogue. You should be able to find out easily enough by paying attention to how much you write in any one session and what type of writing it is. You’ll soon see a pattern emerging.

Keep track of what you’re writing. Put a small notebook or pad of paper by your computer and note the following: type of writing, time you started, time you finished, and approximate word count.

When and how much you eat can also affect your writing. You’ll find that you’ll write more on an empty stomach. Your brain processes slow down on a full stomach, so your writing will also suffer.  And don’t think constantly sipping on a cup of coffee will help you to stay focused. In fact, it’s just the opposite. You’ll write better by reducing the amount of caffeine you have daily.

The same goes for exercise. A brisk walk before writing will get your endorphins going and thus make it easier to think and write. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to get up at sunrise and run five or six miles. Even walking briskly around the block will help get things going. Strength exercises, however, will have no effect on your writing.

If you’re addicted to your smartphone, as many people are today, turn it off when you’re working. Anyone who tries to call you will try to call you back later, or they’ll leave a message on voice mail. Answering just one call can distract you from your current train of thought. And if you don’t have a cell phone, make sure you have an answering machine and let it screen your calls.

The old adage is to write 500 words a day. That really refers to fiction writers. But if you can manage to write more, do it. Try to write a little more per day each week. It’s just like walking or jogging. Trying to do a little more each week will give you more stamina and, in the case of your writing, a way to increase your daily word count.

If you write non-fiction, the daily word count doesn’t necessarily apply. Most of the time you may be writing articles which are better dealt with in drafts rather than pieces. Non-fiction books, on the other hand, demand the same sort of daily word count objective as fiction.

In either case, if you can write more, you may want to switch projects. Perhaps work on an article in the morning and then on a chapter of your latest book in the afternoon. Switching subject matter or type of writing will stimulate you.

Do you just sit down to write, or do you know what you’re planning to write when you sit down? If you do the former, it will take you a bit of time to get started which cuts into your total writing time. But if you informally plan out what you’re going to work on, you’ll find you get a lot more done. And better yet, make a To Do List of the day’s or week’s work and check things off as you complete them.

Some writers, like athletes, are superstitious. They think they need to put on the right clothes, arrange their work materials in the right way, and turn on equipment in the right order. None of this will make you write more. These little rituals only get in the way of just sitting down and putting your fingers to the keyboard.

Above all, develop some good writing habits. Try to write for at least two hours a day. Don’t start writing and just go on and on. You’ll find you’ll have to redo most of what you wrote in the last half of the time. 

Strike when an idea is hot. If a good idea comes to you, even at odd times of the day, take advantage of it and get to your computer—or at least jot it down on a piece of paper. This could be an idea for a story or perhaps a way of solving a problem you’re already having with a passage. If you travel a lot, you may want to start carrying a small notebook with you to write down ideas as they come to you.

Work in your head. If you’re going to be writing full-time, you’ll find yourself writing even when you’re not at the keyboard. A good time is just before getting up in the morning. For many, that’s an ideal time to think out scenes or chapters.

Lastly, find the time to write that’s best for you. It’s different for everyone. Some writers get up super early and then knock off at Noon. Others start around 8 or 9 A.M. and write until perhaps 2 P.M.. And still others write in the evenings. Find your best time to write—not do research or read, but write—and stick with it.