This week I'll be focusing on the best writing advice I've heard/seen/received, mes auteurs, and I'll be kicking it off with some thoughts on what I think is the most crucial ingredient necessary to a writer's successful career: discipline.
As I've said before: even more than talent, a successful writer needs discipline. A modestly talented, disciplined writer can have a solid career with luck and hard work; an undisciplined writer of immense talent probably won't, since he or she will never actually finish anything, write regularly, or develop the kinds of relationships and connections that, generally speaking, grease the wheels of the Great Publishing Machine.
I'm going to preface this with the admission that, yes, there are exceptions to every rule, and I'm sure anyone could come up with a list of at least a dozen writers who were immensely talented, terribly undisciplined, and either had successful commercial careers, were widely recognized as geniuses after their deaths, or both. This advice isn't aimed at the one-in-ten-million outlier. It's aimed at you.
In patented, battle-tested Bullet-O-Vision™:
· Set and keep a writing schedule. Write regularly, if not daily. Do not wait to be inspired; writing is work. Even if you can only spare an hour a day three days a week, set that time aside and don't give it up for anything except a real emergency. Try to write at the same time of day each time you write, and be sure to select a time that works for you. Don't get up at 4:30 in the morning if you're not a morning person, because your writing will reflect this.
· Write the scenes you want to write when you want to write them. This isn't to say you should wait to be inspired, because (as mentioned above) you shouldn't. What I'm saying is: if you get to your daily hour of writing and are really excited to write the scene where your protagonist escapes from the robot Nazis, write that scene, even if isn't chronologically next in your plot. You have to stay excited and enthused, mes auteurs.
· Maintain a writing space. Find a place that works for you and write there consistently. It's a little Pavlovian, but it gets results: you'll train yourself to recognize that this time and this space are reserved for writing, and you'll find yourself undistracted and ready to write after a few writing sessions at the same time and in the same place. Again: try to write regularly, if not daily.
· Set deadlines and stick to them. Deadlines will be very real once you sign your first contract, so my advice is to get used to them early. If you can reasonably write 5,000 words a week, make that your goal; if you want to finish a chapter a month, set the 30th/31st as your deadline and stick with it. Reward yourself when you meet or exceed your deadlines and goals!
· Keep a notebook. When you are inspired, you won't necessarily be at your desk or computer. Record anything you think might be useful: images, snippets of overheard conversation, epiphanies, &c. Save the things you cut out of your novel for potential future use. Review them periodically. You'll be surprised how often they come in handy.
· If you fall off the horse, get right back on. Things come up: family drama, extra work at the office, family emergencies, holiday extravaganzas. Some weeks you might not get to your writing. If and when this happens, don't stress out, go into overdrive, or—worst of all—give up. Get back into your writing regimen as soon as you can and don't look back.
That's all for today, meine Autoren. Thoughts? Ideas? Comments? You know what to do.