Monday, June 25, 2012

How To Write More... and More Often

I mentioned in an earlier post that my goal for 2012 is to write four books. I should amend that to say, my goal is to write four more books before the year is out. I've already finished and released three (two independently, and one to my publisher).

I would love to be in a position where I could churn out upwards of eight titles a year. That way, I could reduce the time I expected to spend on my planned writing down to seven years, instead of seventy.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, where I hoped to write one book a year. That was my goal. That was until I did the math, and realized that I'd have to live past a hundred just to write the stories that had come to my mind in the last seven years. That's not counting whatever other stories might present themselves between now and then.

In short, I had to learn to write faster. I'd like to say I've succeeded, and I suppose on one level I have. I am writing more, faster than ever, but I haven't yet reached the full range of what I think I could acheive. But there are some things I've learned along the way that I thought might benefit others who are deluged with so many stories and so little time. What can a writer do to write more and more often?

1. Get Busy

I don't necessarily mean busy writing, though that's certainly true. I mean busy in general. Get busy with life, with doing things--especially things that matter. This is a bit counterintuitive, but it works.
 "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it." Lucille Ball
Surprisingly, this holds true. The busier you are, the more you are able to find time to get stuff done that's important. Nothing wastes time like having time to waste.

On any typical week, I am working on three or four novels at a time, writing a weekly Bible study, teaching two to four co-op classes, working full time, working a part time job on the weekends, and mentoring someone in writing who speaks English as a second language. That's in addition to any editing or book cover designing I might do for other writers. We also homeschool our three children. Being busy has taught me to prioritize my time, rather than spending it frivolously.

Along with that, it is equally important to:

2. Kill The Hobgoblins...

Those little things we waste time on that steal time. Things like watching TV (especially fluff TV. I'm all for a good story. It can be quite stimulating. But reality television? Really?), playing video games (I'm still a sucker for Minesweeper and Mahjong Tiles), surfing the internet, or frittering away time on social networking sites. This doesn't mean I don't support using social networking sites for marketing and creative support - I do. But it's also easy to blow through an hour or two with nothing to show for it.

Also, are there things you are doing that other people can do just as easily? One of the best moves I ever made was teaching my daughter how to drive the lawn tractor (in fact, she's doing it right now). I told her that I wanted her to learn to drive the tractor before learning to drive my car (quite true, too). It helps that she's fourteen and not four. Just sayin'.

3. Keep Your Tools Handy

I have copies of my WIP both on my computer at home, and on the computer at work. If I have a break, say, during lunch, I can work on my novel at my desk while eating my sandwich. Most of my first novel was written this way. Make sure you have your boss's or company's permission first, though. Losing your job might free up more time, but it won't help you stay busy.

Taking a notebook with me wherever I go has turned out to be quite effective in helping me write more. Even though it's in long hand, I still can work on something if I'm in a waiting room, stuck in traffic, on a lunch break, or waiting to pick up my kids from scouting, guitar, or swim practice.

I've also found it useful to keep a notepad by my bedside. I've come up with some of my best ideas just waking up. Yes, sometimes even in the middle of the night. The only place where I haven't quite figured out how to write is in the shower. A lot of my ideas go down the drain as soon as I step out.

4. Break Out The Whips and Chains...

If you haven't heard of National November Writing Month yet, it's worth looking into. It took me three tries before I was able to complete a NaNo novel. Three weeks later, I finished the book. Seven weeks from start to finish. Not bad. I can do better, I think, but still not bad. NaNoWriMo is useful for teaching me to set goals and deadlines, and whipping me into shape. I doubt it's something I could do every month (especially since that wouldn't be in November. It'd be like, NaDeWriMo and NaJaWriMo... okay, I'll stop), but it's a useful discipline, nonetheless.

Writer John Ortberg defines discipline as, "Any activity I can do by direct effort that will help me do what I cannot now do by direct effort." (The Life You've Always Wanted, p 51). That's where NaNoWriMo comes into play. It teaches me to focus my efforts and energy into cranking out words despite all the hobgoblins that would rather steal my time.

Another useful tool is Dr. Wicked's Write or Die. You can use either the web version, or buy the app for $10 (he sometimes has a sale during November). This is a little quirky and kinda fun, but it does teach you to concentrate on what you're doing, rather than getting distracted by whatever happens to be going on outside the window.

All this comes down to setting reasonable goals and striving to stick to them. Even if you can't keep it up long term (and I'm notorious for this!), at least you'll accomplish more in the short run.

5. Tie Half Your Brain Behind Your Back

By this, I mean specifically the left side. The logical, critical, linear, math-oriented side. It's too easy to fall into critiquing your work rather than creating it. You can edit at another time. Like when you're done. Your primary job, first and foremost, is to finish the book. Even before you start, your job is to finish the book. Free up your creative side by turning off your critical side.

That being said, I find it helpful to sorta slide into wherever I left off the previous day (or night) by looking over the paragraphs and pages I worked on, tweaking them a bit until I can pick up the narrative. But that's the only reason to do it at this time. Don't worry about editing! Seriously. Mispelings, typ0's, poor grammar, whatEVER. Don't worry 'bout it till later. The mechanics can usually be fixed.

True, it's vital to learn good editing skills (and the best way to learn them is to edit someone else's material, such as on critique forums). In fact, the better you become at the mechanics of writing, the smoother your work will get. But don't get bogged down into editing your work when you should be creating it.

6.  Write More Than One Book At A Time

I have four I'm currently working on. The advantage this gives me is in this: if I get tired or burned out or stuck on one, I can switch to another. Just so long as I'm making progress on something. Whenever any idea creeps into my head for a new story (such as from a dream or in the shower), I write it down as soon as possible and save it on my hard drive under the Considered Titles folder. Sometimes those ideas just sit there and wilt away to nothing. Other ideas show more signs of life, and I keep returning to them to add a bit to the concept here or there. There've been a few I've pulled out even recently and started working on - especially when facing a recent month of burn out.

7. Plan Ahead

Some of the books I write require a great deal of research ahead of time. The old slogan, "Write what you know," is useful, but don't let it limit you. If you want to write something you don't know, learn it first. Research.

We have the advantage of the internet now, with tools such as YouTube, Google Earth, Wikipedia, and so on and so forth. Almost anything can be learned or studied or picked up. Of course, Reagan's old adage, "Trust, but verify," applies especially to the internet, but that's where becoming a good researcher and fact-checker comes into play.

One of my upcoming titles takes place in Russia. I know very little about Russia at the moment. Therefore, one of my tasks is to read material on Russian history and study its climate, culture, and so forth to get the details right.

I'm also a believer in outlining. I don't outline everything, and I don't always follow the outlines I do write, but I've found them to be useful tools on laying out the plot of a novel. I try to outline the entire novel in a single sitting if I can, and then flesh it out later. Sometimes it changes. Usually, it expands. But that's all right. The whole point is to give me a sense of where I'm going with the story, so I don't get bogged down or worse--forget.

8. And, of course, READ

Reading is one of the most useful activities you can do. Read voraciously. Learn to devour books. I go to the library at least once a week. Reading keeps the well full, giving me plenty of words, ideas, and other thoughts to draw from. Read in the genre you write in. Read in other genres. Read as often as you can. If you can't write, read.

And that's about all I can muster on the subject. Today, at least.
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