Are you a published writer who earns enough from putting your wordsmithy out there to live off it? Then you’re one of the few lucky scribblers who managed to swim up on the other shore of the treacherous Amazon river (pun intended) and you can go applaud yourself. This blog post, however, is for the rest of us who are still swimming.
First things first: if writing is your Sunday hobby and all you want is your grandchildren to admire your syntax, you can lay back on the sandy shore and cool your toes in the water and everything will be fine. But if you want to cross the river and have some public success with your writing, maybe even make a living at this writing gig, you need to toughen up and take your swimming lessons seriously.
If you’re really intent on being a writer, you must treat your writing activities like a real job. There are things you would never allow to happen in your day job—you know, the one with the office and the boss and the computer that mocks you every time you forget to save for ten minutes—but these things you repeatedly allow to happen to your writing. Deal with them, and not only will it make your splashing about more joyful, it might even keep you from drowning.
Now say it out loud: writing is my job, and for that I must–
1. Set clear goals and tasks
Wanting to write an awesome novel isn’t a clear goal. Wanting to write 100’000 words worth of epic fantasy by the end of the year comes a lot closer. Planning to write 500 words a day for 6 days evey week until November 30th, at your epic fantasy novel about a peasant’s daughter who discovers she’s the only one who can save her kingdom from magic wielding, fire spitting wizzards from the South, is definitely more like it. Clear goals broken down into clear, manageable tasks will make your gray matter goblins happy.
And because large numbers and long periods of time fall out of the brain’s capacity to visualize concretely (we can imagine them theoretically, but cannot actively work with them in reality), thinking of a full novel by the end of the year probably makes you wet your panties, while thinking of writing 500 words today—that’s only 2 pages worth of text!—feels like a cool breeze instead.
That’s all you have to do. Write 2 pages today. Two pages! That’s all. And then do the same tomorrow. And then the day after that. Come on, it can’t be so hard, can it? Just look at today, and keep going. The time will pass anyway, and if you write at this rate, on November 30th you’ll have a whopping 100K draft of epic fantasy as opposed to a closet full of wet panties and resentment.
2. Manage your resources
You’ve got 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else. The president has only 24 hours in his day, Stephen King has only 24 hours, Eddie Murphy, Oprah and Lady Gaga all have 24 hours in a day. It’s how you manage those hours that makes a difference. How many of them are wasted with activities that neither produce nor replenish? Think of the senselss TV watching, idling in the grocery store and surfing the web for LOL cat pictures.
And when it comes to physical resources, don’t complain that all you have is a lazy-ass Windows ’95, and must take notes on used paper bags because you can’t afford a Moleskine. Jane Austen didn’t have a Macbook Air with the latest software, or a notebook made out of tattooed Gibbon skin that’s been massaged by 10 Malaysian virgins every full moon. Use whatever you have at hand, and use it wisely.
3. Respect your working hours
If a colleague keeps you from hitting your week’s target, you send him away no matter how funny he is, because you don’t want your boss to shove his $1’000 fountain pen into your eye and your raise into someone else’s pocket. When you’re at the office, working (or pretending you’re a Russian spy hacking for top secret information while you try to mask your Solitaire game from suspicious eyes), you don’t allow your grandma to distract you, your cat to sit on your face or your lovely progeny to bug you every five minutes for an extra cookie.
Be serious about your writing as you are (or would be) about a serious day job. When you sit down to write you’re on working hours. No one must be allowed to disturb you. If it’s urgent, they can make an appointment for the nearest convenient time. If it’s even more urgent, 911 makes housecalls.
4. Check your progress and adjust your goals
Every now and then check your actual progress against your plan. If you didn’t reach your milestones, investigate the reasons of delay. Mostly it’s an overestimation of the work you can actually get done, ooor you’re a lazybone. If the first, adjust your target and keep on working, if the latter, initiate phase two of project BIC and stick a wet finger in your muse’s ear. Stir things up in La La Land.
5. Celebrate sensibly
After all the hard work is done and you’ve finished writing your first draft, set it aside to rest, or hide it in a Gringotts vault, and celebrate. But don’t tear your clothes off and run away into the night to spend a year on top of a mountain, with the purple Puma people that only you’re gifted enough to see. Unless, of course, you cannot stop yourself, in which case I would advise to take an extra pair of warm underwear, it can get rather chilly up here.
Go ahead and celebrate your achievment, and pat yourself on the back a little, you’ve accomplished a great thing that many only dream of—you’ve writen a full novel! But don’t wait too much before you edit, because you run the risk of never picking that work up again and running straight to something new and shiny instead.
Celebrate sensibly, like a paid vacation from work after which you have to return back and, well, work some more. A breather is very welcome, but don’t let it fool you into inaction. Swim, little baby scribe, swim, and you will reach the other shore eventually!