I’m sure you have all heard the phrase, “creatures of habit.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines the phrase as the following:
“someone who always wants to do the same things in the same way”
There are some very good evolutionary reasons for this: good habits save us time and mental energy. They help us in negotiating the world, freeing our minds to invent things like fire and computers. On the flip-side, however, our hardwired ability to form habits also makes us vulnerable to picking up self-destructive patterns, too; things like smoking, or drinking, or becoming addicted to checking our email over and over. For the last three months when I sit down to write, I myself have had to fight the urge to pour myself a 44oz. cup of soda or grab candy bars two at a time while sitting at my writing desk. Habits can be both good and bad.
Writers are people who tend to be disciples of habit. I can’t say that I know one, single writer who does not utilize some pattern or ritual as they write. Writing rituals are personal habits, which generally make no practical sense to writing, but that people routinely perform when they are faced with a writing task. These habits are typically related to the time one writes, or the environment in which one writes, and/or one’s behavior while writing.
It’s hard to be a writer. I find that writers, myself included, are in a constant state of personal disappointment over their writing. For some strange reason, we writers – both new and veteran alike – have this misguided belief that anything and everything we write should be outstanding, worthy of a bestseller.
But because perfection is unattainable, we constantly seem to be engaged in a battle of self-doubt. We often sabotage our writing by doing things contrary to our goals and then feeling despair that the words are not perfect in the first draft.
Let me ask you – is there ANYTHING in your life that you were good at right off the bat? Were you an expert pianist the first time you sat at the keys? Could you run a marathon without ever having spent one second training or conditioning? Well if this is you Rainman, then don’t waste anymore of your super-human time reading any further. You’ve got Jeopardy to win. But, for the other 99.9% of you out there, the problem with your writing is not that you have no aptitude for it, but that you are probably approaching it incorrectly.
What follows are six elements that I have discovered which will help you to become a bit more productive the next time you sit down to write.
For me, the hardest thing about writing is getting myself started. Usually, I have already done tons of planning and preparation beforehand and for the most part have a plot worked out enough to where I’m comfortable to begin. The biggest problem I face after that – how to get going.
Whether you are a beginner or even an old hand at writing, chances are you’ll probably require a push to get started. Most writers that I know will tell you that starting a writing project is often the most difficult part of writing. And even if you’ve done tons of research and have everything organized, it’s still only research until you find the will to commit to the writing.
Facing a blank page knowing that you have several hundreds more to follow is terrifying and if you let yourself think on it too long, it can psych you right out of getting started. If you’re the type of writer that just wants to see where the writing takes you, then you have my deepest admiration. Me, I can’t do that. Most us require a plot that has been constructed to at least a basic framework (a three-part story-structure) and I general idea about the story we want to tell. But even after that it can be tough to get underway.
In a perfect world, I’d begin my writing day in some weird Disney-esque world where I’d happily wake up after nine hours of blissful sleep, with little birds chirping as music played in the background. Awaiting me would be a perfectly brewed cup of coffee and freshly baked muffins tickling my nose, the newspaper fresh off the driveway, and there would not be one meeting or work appointment scheduled to disturb me.
Just a pleasantly cold, snowy day where I could just sit at my desk hearing nothing but the sound of the crackling fireplace behind me.
Ideally, I’d have a clearly formed idea along with a solid outline so that I knew EXACTLY where I was headed. Oh, and a passionate attitude to accompany several unbroken hours to write.
While I’m at it, I would also like to have no family obligations, no holiday distractions, no phone calls or emails, and a Dictaphone app that could ACTUALLY transcribe my voice onto the page without it’s crappy auto-correct always trying to anticipate what it was that I am trying to say, instead of what I actually did say.
Well we’ve just passed the middle of November and for all of you out there participating in National Novel Writing Month you should be somewhere around the middle of your novel.
First – Congratulations to you – all of you.
The fact that you have made it this far puts you in a entirely different category from the “commoners”, and you should be proud of your accomplishment. You might not necessarily be happy with the 25,000 words you have written (writers seldom are), but trust me you’re doing great.
What’s that you say?
You aren’t anywhere near that 25,000 to 30,000 word mark? In fact you’re telling me that you’ve spent the last few days staring at your screen, sacrificing thesauruses on the alter of your writing desk just to appease the writing gods? You mean you’re stuck trying to figure out what’s next?
Well, I’m here to tell you – it’s okay!
Being a writer is kind of like being an inventor. You start when that killer idea pops into your head. That one thing that you know people out there are just dying to get their hands on. You’ve developed a basic design, you’ve set up your workspace, you have all the tools you’re going to need to construct this masterpiece at the ready, and then you begin building your prototype.
Only, shortly into the build, you suddenly hit an issue you never anticipated. How is this do-hicky ever going to fit with in that thing-a-ma-bob. It’s something you didn’t anticipate and now you find yourself struggling to move forward.
Talk to any inventor or creative person and I promise that they will tell you how it often takes several designs before eventually arriving at that wonder product that we all demanded. And that’s EXACTLY what you are doing now – you’re prototyping.
So maybe now is a good time to step back a little and evaluate what you’ve got so far. Take a few moments to look over your story and prepare to break down your second act so that you can push forward for a strong finish. What follows are five ideas to help you with that unruly middle of your book.
Writing first drafts is tough, right? I mean, writing first drafts of anything are difficult. Even writing the first draft of this particular blog post was tough.
For those of you participating in November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I probably don’t need to tell you that working every day to write a story is struggle. It’s a journey that often has no road map and no set destination.
But the one thing I have learned over the years is that, your first draft is all about discovering your story, not worrying about publishing one. It’s all about unearthing the information, getting to know the characters, exploring different settings, and discovering the arc of your narrative. It’s also about learning that the everything else can wait until the second draft.
Tip To Winning NaNoWriMo – Lesson #1 How to Eat An Elephant
One of the more difficult aspects of writing a novel is that it can seem so overwhelming at times. It’s very much like when you look out into your garage and see nothing but piles and piles of stuff scattered everywhere. You’ll make yourself a pledge that you’re going to clean it up and organize it, but you always end up putting it off. Why?
I’ll bet it’s because seeing all those boxes, and scattered tools, and and all that unused sports equipment just tossed together, probably makes it hard for you to know where to begin.
Writing a novel is exactly like that. It’s not so much about your skill level as it is about finding the willpower to hang on and see it through. I can’t tell you how many people, myself included, often end up psyching themselves out before they ever type one single word.
But I’m luckier than most because whenever I start to feel overwhelmed about tackling any big project, my little sister always tells me the same thing – every time.
“How do you eat an elephant, James? By taking it one bite at a time.”
That’s her way of reminding me that even the biggest of tasks is doable if you just break it down into smaller bites. By starting small, you discover how to attack bigger jobs in a way that you can easily handle.