Saturday, March 21, 2015

How do I write more?

You just do it.

You just wake up in the morning or stay up late or write on your lunch break or stop watching television or give yourself a deadline or join a writing group. You experiment with different times of day and different methods until you find a rhythm that works for you. And you try to find some motivation outside yourself. But mostly you just do it. All the time. Until you're so sick of your book you can't think straight about anything. Don't worry about that part. You'll bounce back when the book is over. You just write.

I'm not saying it's effortless. It's super hard. There are days when you just want to sleep in or watch another episode of Chuck on Netflix. And there are days when you do just that. But then you get up the next day and try again.

There is sadly no substitute for the sheer amount of time it takes to write all those words. 

But there are a few things you can do to make it easier. 

1. Play to your strengths. 

Find some form or style that you can write fast and freely. Then see if you can turn that into a book. Or if not a book, then maybe it'll become the outline or the first draft.

My first finished novel was a paranormal, first-person, present-tense YA novel, with a hint of some steampunk backstory. Admittedly, it sounds pretty cool when I say it that way. But it was not easy to write. I'm glad I wrote it and it definitely stretched my writing abilities, but when I read it now, it sounds forced. It doesn't sound like me.

The Jane Journals, on the other hand, sounds exactly like me. There are seven different narrators and each one has a little bit of my personality, my voice. And because of this, it was much easier to write.

What made the difference? I used journal entries. This not only made it super easy to write in small chunks, like just one entry at a time, but I've been journaling my own life for the past ten years. I'm obsessive. I write in my journal everywhere: work, church, road trips, out with friends. I've been practicing this form for ages.

All I had to do was channel that practice into writing for fictional characters instead of myself.

So again, figure out what you write fast and well. Maybe it's letters or instructional how-tos or recipes. Not every book has to be written in third person or first person. You may discover that you don't even want to write fiction. And that's okay. Just write what you write.

2. Prioritize your passions.

If you are passionate about March Madness, then by all means, be passionate about it. It's okay to take a month off of writing sometimes. Just don't take every month off. If you really want to be a writer, then you probably won't be able to stop yourself from writing for an entire month anyway.

The point is to look at how you're spending your time over the course of a week or a month or a year and figure out if you're happy with your time budget. This may mean giving up a few things that you like but don't love.

I'm looking at you, facebook and pinterest.

On a typical day, I spend about eight hours at work. I try to watch no more than an hour of television. I might go for a walk or a run, and with a shower afterward that's at least another hour. I do my best to get eight hours of sleep because sleep is very important to me.

That leaves me with about six hours to do everything else: eat, read, drive to and from work, blog, brush my teeth, do the dishes, go to the movies, buy new clothes, magnify my church calling, keep in touch with my family, read my scriptures, hang out with friends, go to the temple, go grocery shopping, visit the library, ride my bike, go on a date, clean the house, and (of course) write.

I can't do all of that stuff all the time. 

There are days when I have no choice but to leave the dirty dishes in the sink because I have a blog post I want to write. It won't make my mom very happy to hear this, but it's the truth. I could waste a lot of time doing things I don't care about, but instead I say no to everything else so that I can do the things I really love. 

One of my favorite quotes goes: 

I live a fairly stress-free life. When I do start to feel stressed, I take that as a sign that I'm not devoting enough time to the things I really love. And I adjust.

3. Stop overthinking it. 

I've heard it called "discovery writing." I've heard people talk about how they can't outline or they'll lose interest. I've heard of it as anti-world-building. (That's not true, actually. I just made that up.)

Whatever you want to call it, consider the fact that you might be one of those people who can only tell a story once. 

I am one of those people. I used to spend hours coming up with plot lines and character ideas and key scenes in my head before I ever started writing a new book. But then something strange would happen. After I had it all set and ready to go, I'd sit down at my computer or put my pen to a notebook and get about two pages in before going, "This is boring. Why am I writing about this?"

And then I'd give up. 

For a long time, I thought I just wasn't pushing myself hard enough. Or that maybe I wasn't really supposed to be a writer after all. "What if I can never sustain my own interest long enough to write an entire novel?" I despaired.

But looking back on it now, I can see that I was just over-preparing. It's a real thing, guys.

Sometimes you have to let the writing process be the time that you discover the story. Sometimes if you think about it too much ahead of time, then the actual writing part becomes a connect-the-dots kind of chore. That's no fun for you or your readers.

Maybe it won't work and you'll get halfway through a book and realize you've written yourself into a corner. But there's usually another way out. Besides, you're the author. You can write in a trap door in your corner.

So try it. Stop thinking so much. Just write and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much easier it is.

And if you're really worried about getting lost in the woods or having to go back and rewrite everything, then keep a timeline as you go or chapter notes or whatever. But just don't get too far ahead in your plotting.

I know it's easier to write character descriptions than it is to write a scene with that character in it, but resist the urge. Because unless you somehow turn into JK Rowling or JRR Tolkien, no one will ever care enough to read your character bible. And that means, you're just wasting your writing time.

Those are my tips for the day. Sorry there are only three, but this post is already getting super long and I've got dishes to do. :)

Final note: There's a funny thing that happens when you practice discovery writing (or whatever you want to call #3 above). You'll get to the end of your book and go, "How did I do that? Did I really write that whole thing?" 

Don't worry about it. It's totally normal. 

I'm not a mother so I can't verify this, but I imagine it's the same thing that happens after childbirth when a mom looks at her kid and thinks, "Did that thing really come out of my body? How did I do that?" Sometimes it's best not to think too hard about the process.

The point is, we all have stories to write—ones only we know. It's up to you to determine if writing them down is something you're really passionate about. If not, lucky you. Writing is hard and the success rates are not high. Harsh, I know. But true.

But if this is your passion, then you just have to go for it. Spend the time. Stop the overthinking. Do it in a way that's natural for you, even if it's outside the normal bounds of "writing."

And don't give up. 

Good luck!

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