Okay, I was giving some tips in a forum the
other day and thought I’d write them all down in one post for people to
reference. These tips will mostly be
useful for beginning writers, busy writers or those who just can’t find the
muse, but maybe there will be some info in there for pros to agree with as
well. Of course, these are just my
opinions, so you can take them or leave them as you see fit. I hope that everyone will find at least a
couple of things useful.
Kill the internet
Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it,
just do it. I defy anyone who claims
they can write well with an internet connection on the same computer. If they can, they’re a stronger-willed person
than me because I really can’t. I’ve
written 125,000 words since I killed the internet on my wife’s old laptop in
mid June and adopted it as my main writing computer. Some of you retired/stay at home/machine-gun
writer folks might think that’s nothing, but that’s my most productive period
EVER, plus, with working full and part time, looking after a wife and cat,
rocking out in a band and managing a cricket club, I rarely get more than an
hour or two to write per day. I can
directly correlate the last time I was heavily productive to the last time I
had a computer with no internet on it.
That was seven years ago. That’s
an awful lot of writing I didn’t do in exchange for mostly useless web
browsing. I may live to regret it, or I
may have pulled it back again just in time.
If you like the internet, have two computers (in different rooms). But one more time, if you like writing, kill
the internet. No talking. JUST. DO. IT.
No excuses either, no “Well, it’s my only computer and I need the
internet …” whiny type things. Save
it. You don’t need much power to
write. You can pick up a secondhand 512MB
laptop with Word 2003 for less than $100.
Then all you need is a cheap flash drive to transfer your work to your
power machine when you want to publish, format or do any of the other stuff. No excuses.
Stop watching TV
How much do you enjoy watching those chat
shows, soap operas, game shows, football matches? You’re allowed to watch some TV, of course,
but have a think about how much you actually watch because you’re interested in
the program, and how much of what you watch is just boredom browsing. Stop doing the latter, and stop doing it
right now. All the other things I could
say about this are covered in point 1.
Value that fifteen minutes
One for the busies, this. So, you’ve got some stuff on after work that
you just can’t get out of, and when you get back you’ll be tired, but do you
have time to jump on to the computer for fifteen minutes before you go out, or
just before you go to bed? How about
before you eat breakfast? You don’t need
to set aside an entire evening to write.
Fifteen minutes before work, when you get home and before you go to bed,
and you’ll have 1000 words a day down.
And that is three novels a year.
Some people might say that you can’t get into a story that quickly, but
the fact is, that doing it a little and often will keep the plot fresh in your
mind throughout the day. You’ll find yourself
thinking about scenes while you’re at work, or lying in bed, or in the pub with
your mates, and when you jump into that short fifteen minute session you’ll
find you have so much more to write.
Set goals/targets, and push
yourself to stick to them
I’m a killer for deadlines/targets. I literally can’t work without them. Back in June, I decided, based on a blog I
read, to try to write 52 short stories in a year. I set up a spreadsheet to keep track of
everything and then got to work. That
quickly morphed into 1000 words a day but I stuck to it. It’s very important to set goals within your
means, though. 1000 words a day is easy
for me. For others it might be 3000, or
just 500. Set a goal well within your
limits and then every time you beat it you’ll feel like you’re cruising and
anything else you write during that period will be a bonus. I wrote 57,000 words in the third month of my
challenge, but I didn’t increase my target because I’d be pushing myself too
much and there’s nothing that kills motivation more than failure. Regardless of what my final tally is, at the
beginning of the next month I just add another 30,000 words and get to work
trying to top that.
Don’t overcomplicate things
I read a lot of posts asking about the best
writing software and filing programs to keep notes, particularly from new
writers. That often says to me that
people are looking for shortcuts to getting the work done. You should write with as little distraction
as possible, and, particularly at the draft stage, just get those words
down. I use Word to write, then an Excel
spreadsheet to keep note of the major characters and what happens in each
chapter. I usually don’t do this until I’ve
finished the first draft, though. Again,
different things work best for different people, but I find if I’m spending too
long typing details into Excel I lose track of the story.
Plotting is your friend, but
don’t overdo it
Stephen King is the most famous advocate
for not plotting your books in advance, but while I love his writing his books
tend to ramble on and he’s not well known for great endings (I’m not dissing
him – I’d kill to be half as good!), but particularly when you’re a newcomer it’s
always useful to have a general idea of where you want the story to go. When I write, I’ll generally write a couple
of lines down for each of the next four or five chapters so that when I come to
the page I know more or less what I want to happen. Quite often I go off on a tangent or things
change, but there is nothing worse than sitting down and not knowing what is
supposed to happen in the remainder of a scene.
Again, plotting is something you can do in your head on a bus on the way
to work, or in a notepad sitting quietly beside you on your desk at the bank.
When “in public” as it were,
act professionally at all times
Okay, this is not so much about the craft
but is something that has frustrated me a lot recently and is rife in self-publishing. When you put your work out there for people
to buy, you cease being an anonymous person typing on a keyboard and you become
potentially a professional writer.
Therefore, you should act like it.
This involves complaining about reviewers and starting arguments with
other writers on internet forums (or in public, but at least the rest of us don’t
have to read it then!). If someone slams
your writing – particularly your mechanics (grammar, spelling, word choice,
etc) see it as a free lesson. Take a
good look at what you do and see if you can make it better. So many people think self-publishing is a way
to a quick buck. It’s not. Even apparently overnight successes had to
learn their craft. You have to too,
there’s no way around it. Don’t start
talking about getting someone to ghost write it, or search for a really good
editor to rewrite your paragraphs, learn how to do it yourself. Editors and proofreaders should be painting
your house, not trying to build it from a jumble of bricks you’ve dumped in
front of them. Read grammar books if you
have to, but most of all read other novels and think about the flow, the sentence
structure, the way the dialogue works. Then
get back to work on your own stuff. Don’t
thank the reviewer or bitch at them, because their review is not for you, it’s
for other readers. That doesn’t mean you
can’t learn from it.
And on starting arguments – just don’t. Self-publishing is not a school playground,
it’s not about jostling for the first go on the slide. If you’re childish enough to pick arguments with
complete strangers because they sell more than you or you think their book
sucks and yours doesn’t but no one buys it or whatever … get lost. Go back to school, learn some maturity and
come back in five or six years when you’re ready to try again at acting like a
professional. And if someone starts
coming after you, just leave. Internet
forums are not the world, they’re just places where people hang out and shoot
the shit. I used to be a member of an
English teacher’s forum and I got into a couple of minor disagreements with the
long termers who liked to shoot down all the enthusiastic newcomers and I got
tired of it. It became immediately
apparent that I would never win, yet the arguments were encroaching on my
thoughts at other times of the day when I wasn’t anywhere near the forum. So I left (without one of those egotistical, “I’m
leaving!” announcements, I might add), and I haven’t posted in the two years
since. Every now and again I pop in to
see if there’s anything useful, and around the occasional post with some interesting
information there’s the same stuff going on, the old timers shooting down the
newcomers, the occasional mouthy newbie getting dragged into a flame war, and I’m
glad I don’t participate. It’s not worth
the effort. I have better things to do. So, don’t be a dickhead. It’s a complete, utter waste of time, and at
best you won’t win any friends, while at worst people will start spreading your
real identify and try to trash your books.
Learn to touch type
Okay, enough about decorum, back to the
craft. You might think that you can type
well enough with two fingers, but unless you’re a virtuoso you probably can’t
type that fast, relatively speaking. I
learned to touch type at school and it is probably the most useful skill I ever
learned. According to this speed typingtest I can type at 70 words per minute without any errors. Yeah, so I’m a badass, but I only average
about 30 wpm when I’m writing, because obviously I’m not just copying, I’m
thinking as well, or rewriting sentences.
If you’re typing less than 20 wpm you should really think about learning
to touch type. You can get free online
programs to help you and it’ll really help you make use of those little fifteen
minute sessions mentioned earlier. Be
aware that it takes time to learn – even after doing a course at school it took
me six months of forcing myself to use a touch typing style when I wrote before
I could do it without looking. It was
hard, but so, so worth it.
Have several WIPs on the go at
the same time
A lot of people won’t agree with this,
but I find it really helps when I get stuck on something to have other works in
progress I can go over to. I have I
think six current WIPs, and while I have my favorites I keep everything on a
spreadsheet now so that I don’t forget about anything. Quite often I’ll take an hour and have an
update, doing ten minutes on each one, aiming just to get another 100 words or
so. Quite often one will take over and
draw me in, but that’s no bad thing.
10. Be patient
Rome – nor any other city – wasn’t built in
a day. Your book might be an overnight success,
but I can guarantee you won’t write it, nor even learn to write well,
overnight. Practice, practice, practice,
write, write, write. Then repeat. Then, after a minimum of a couple of years –
more like four or five – you’ll be writing at a standard that won’t get trashed
if you self-publish it. Neither should
you rush your WIPs. Having deadlines is
all well and good, but a book takes time to write itself, to iron out all the
creases and fold itself up nicely into something wonderful. Give it time.
Don’t write when you’re too tired.
Don’t write when you’re drunk.
Don’t write with the TV on in the background (okay, guilty, but it’s the
wife watching it and I live in Japan so I can’t understand most of it
anyway). Let your writing breathe, be
patient, take your time. You’ll be
better off for it in the long run.
Right, this little post has stretched out
into a 2000 word tome, so it’s time to put it to bed and get on with some
creativity of my own.
Thanks for reading (if you got this far!)
and I hope you find some of these tips useful.
24 September 2012