Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring when we discuss aspects of writing not normally talked about.
For instance, the art of watching paint dry. I’m doing it a lot lately, not literally, but in the sense of not wanting to sit down at my desk and write actual words. After being published for four decades, and ninety books, this is a strange experience.
I’ve found all manner of things to fill the time, from reading to giving my home a spring makeover. Watching too many real estate and renovating programs may make one thing springboard off another. I also wonder, is this how people fill their time when they don’t have stories and characters chattering away in their heads?
After a while you start to wonder if the muse has deserted you for good. Not that I’m a big fan of the muse, believing that professional writers write, inspired or not. Over many years, when I’ve been unable to conjure up the exact words I want, I’ve given myself permission to write any old how, telling myself it will be edited later.
This process has never failed me – until now. But as with everything to do with writing, there are no absolutes. The process of writing is what spy thriller writer, Len Deighton, called “a muddled system of trial and error.” He said the hardest lesson to learn is that thousands of words must be written and then discarded or rewritten before the “keepers” emerge.
Deighton said he softened the blow by keeping his early drafts for months before throwing them away. If nothing else, this gave him the objectivity which is mostly lacking when confronting our freshly written drafts.
Writers trip ourselves up in dozens of ways. The most common, fear of failure, can lead to making sure we have no time to write that best seller. Spring makeover, anyone? Social media, while being a useful promotional tool, can feel as if we’re writing, without contributing a single word to a manuscript.
So here are five ways to stop yourself watching paint drying – or real estate programs.
- Find your best writing time and protect it ferociously
The time needn’t be from nine to five, unless it suits you. If you are most productive in the early hours or late into the night, keep these times free from distraction and interruption.
- Have your own writing place
Even if it’s only a corner of a room, or in your car, having that space and associating it with writing can be a powerful tool.
- Develop a writing habit
Victor Pineiro, blogged here http://tinyurl.com/zym8cq4 about writing his first novel by working on a laptop during his hour-long train trip to work. He says, “The key was not getting angry at myself for writing pure garbage some days. This was just an experiment — nothing to lose. As you’ve read dozens of times, once you do something for thirty days it becomes habit .” Once his laptop was open, he says, he felt obligated to write and it slowly became a habit.
- Use the small chunks of time
Like Pineiro, you can write while commuting; dictate story notes on your hands-free phone as you drive; plot the next step in your book while awaiting an appointment; or read reference material online while the kids play sport. This frees up your writing time to generate actual words.
- Write for yourself at first
I’ve blogged here about the critic over your shoulder, the inner voice insisting you can’t write so why bother? Somehow we have to overcome the critic and write anyway. Writing for yourself alone, and not letting anyone see your work until you’re ready, often helps. You can also do what Kate Grenville told me she does – put a sign over your desk, reminding yourself, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”
Now all I have to do is take my own advice. Right after I check out this Tiny House makeover.
Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!
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Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is available from Harlequin from November 21