Five Practical Tips for Unleashing the Writer Within You
These tips, suggested almost six years ago, still apply:
For anyone who has always wanted to be a writer, the obstacles can sometimes seem impossible to overcome.
It’s not a question of ‘How can I make money from writing?’, though that’s obviously a concern. It’s not even a question of ‘Is my writing any good?’ though that clearly comes up too. No, there are barriers in the way before those questions can arise, let alone be answered.
The main query faced by anyone who wants to be a writer is ‘Why am I not doing it right now?’
At the end of the day, the central reason why you’re not being a writer right now is that you don’t place enough importance on it. Yes, it’s true, don’t scream at me: the fact is that, though your soul burns to write, though you would give up your day job in a nano-second to write, though you feel that ‘writer’ is inscribed in chromosomes upon your every cell, the reason that you’re reading this article is that you haven’t yet placed enough importance upon being a writer to actually do something about it.
Here are five very practical -probably over-practical for some- tips on how to get from where you are now to a point that is much closer to being a writer.
1. Get an iPhone or other gadget that you carry around with you.
I mention iPhones because that’s what I use, but any such gadget will do. You need something that you will actually carry around with you, though. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to have the capacity for keeping notes. There are plenty of free apps for this. You don’t need anything super-duper or complex: you just need something that you can write into and save. Apple’s ‘Notes’ app is fine -you can write up to any length and then email it to yourself.
Better to have it on your phone, because you will tend to carry your phone around with you at all times, whereas you might forget to bring a device dedicated to writing with you, and that’s half the problem. The iPhone 6 has the added advantage of extra battery power so you won’t burn up your phone energy.
2. Use said device.
Every time you find yourself at a loose end, start writing. Waiting for a bus? Write. Sat on a train? Write. In between meetings? Write. Write notes, write ideas, write chapter headings, write insights. Write whole chapters if you get a chance. It’s possible to write the basis for entire novels in this way, chapter by chapter, in the time that you didn’t even realise was ‘spare’. Try it. You’ll be amazed. And your writing morale will start to go up and up. You won’t forget those flashes of genius you had on the way home before you get to your laptop; you won’t forget that you even had a flash of genius. It will all be there in some form on your device. Apart from recording stuff, the notes on your gadget will begin to give you confidence that you can actually write. You’ll get practice, in small doses. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something? Well then, over the last eight years or so you’ve probably let 10,000 hours slip through your fingers literally by not having something to hand upon which to record your thoughts and ideas in these ‘invisible gaps’ in your life.
3. Write until you drop -don’t stop, don’t auto-correct.
On those occasions when you and a laptop share enough time for you to get somewhere, don’t waste time by ‘going over’ what you wrote last time, picking out spelling errors, grammar problems, things you’d like to ‘tweak a little’. Just hit the keyboard and don’t stop until your head hits the space bar with exhaustion. Set yourself high word targets per hour if that works for you. Whatever you do, don’t stop -don’t even pause- for any editing or ‘re-drafting’ or even basic corrections until you reach 200 pages of writing.
Why? For several reasons: firstly, and probably most importantly, getting 200 pages written is a tremendous morale-booster. You know that it’s far from perfect, you know it will take major editing work, but there it is: 200 pages of your very own writing. That’s a decent-sized book, right there. Think of it as the first step in making a cake: you’ve been to the shops and bought the ingredients. There they are in the pages in front of you. The second step, re-writing, is making the cake. But until you have the ingredients, making the cake is just a fantasy.
Secondly, writing flat-out like this will teach you a few things about yourself as a writer. When you read it over, you’ll see patterns, strengths and weaknesses, places where you falter and places where you demonstrate real skill. It’s a training programme for writers, getting your writing muscles fitter for the real thing: the next draft.
Thirdly, you avoid the counter-productive ‘pottering around’ that happens if you do it any other way: write a page, stop and think, change some things, correct spelling, maybe alter the while way the page works, wonder if you could have done better, and so forth. This tortuous pattern has produced one or two successful works, but at the cost of so many more that could have been written in the same time with less bother.
4. Timetable yourself into the writing chair.
This sounds obvious, but almost all the wannabe writers I’ve ever spoken to have the same problem: they are expecting Life to somehow open up a window of a few weeks so that they can ‘write the book they want to write’. Life doesn’t usually respond on its own. And so the wannabes get trampled into apathy by the demands of the world around them, their families, their jobs, their lives.
Take a look at your weekly schedule; examine your commitments; work out about three hours a week, preferably contiguous but not vitally so, and block that out for writing. Get everyone’s agreement. Ideally, pick a time that is interruption-free, or at least when you are less likely to be in demand. It’s possible to construct a schedule so that you are writing in the early hours of the morning -or even through the night, as long as you get sleep some other time- and to get a 300,000 word epic fantasy written in three months. But that’s an extreme. One long evening, or a weekend afternoon, or something like that, and, if you stick to it, you’ll find that in a few weeks you have made significant progress -provided you also apply number 3 and don’t keep interrupting yourself. Which leads to the final tip.
5. Stop interrupting yourself.
The primary enemy of a writer is interruptions. So devise a schedule that keeps these to a minimum, and stop interrupting yourself. Self-interruptions range from ‘I’ll just check my email’ to ‘I’ll get a coffee’ to ‘There’s no way I can write this scene in front of a fireplace until I’ve read this three-volume History of Fireplaces in the Seventeenth Century so that I can be convincingly authentic’.
Put distractions aside and get to the keyboard, or desk, or whatever you use. If you’re trapped by some kind of inertia from rising from your chair, use the gadget from Tip # 1 and write right there, wherever you are stuck. But watch out for the interruptions, subtle or not-so-subtle, and just get on with it.
Before long, you’ll be a writer. Then you’ll have to tackle the questions about making money from your writing.
But that’s another story.