Monday, April 11, 2011

Schedule, Schedule, Schedule

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, mes auteurs, then you're familiar with my opinion that, even beyond talent and luck, a writer needs discipline in order to succeed. John Gardner once wrote: "Most of the people I've known who wanted to become writers, knowing what it meant, did become writers" (bold emphasis mine). So: what does it mean to be a writer?

· You need to create and keep a schedule. If you can only write from 6:00 am to 6:45 am on Tuesdays, guess when you're writing? Bingo: 6:00 am to 6:45 am, every Tuesday.

It can be difficult to dedicate time to writing when you feel you have very little of it, since the payoff takes so long to realize. Even writing forty-five minutes a day, however, will get you a first draft of a short novel in about a year (assuming a modest 250 words in 45 minutes x five days per week x 52 weeks per year = 65,000 words).

· You need to be disciplined. Not only do you have to carve out the time to put your butt in the chair, you have to use that time wisely. No checking e-mail, no reading webcomics, no on-line shopping. Write longhand, go somewhere without wi-fi, turn off your router if you have to. When you're writing, you're writing. Period.

This can be difficult if you work long hours or have kids to take care of, but remember: there must be some time in the day, if even only a few minutes, during which you can write. Find it, set it aside, and use it regularly.

· You need to be willing to revise. Virtually nothing comes out perfectly the first time. While it can be frustrating to write that final sentence of a first draft and realize you're not even remotely done, you can't quit and decide your first effort will have to be good enough. Find some trusted readers and get busy cutting, recasting, and expanding.

· You can't give up easily. Every writer's life is full of rejection; I don't need to bust out the tired clichés and examples for you. Your short stories will get rejected, your novels will get rejected, you may have to try a dozen times to find an agent. If you're self-publishing, you may find your first half-dozen attempts sell as many copies before settling to the bottom of Amazon's title list. If you're thin-skinned, build some calluses. If you're prone to giving up easily, this isn't the business for you.

· Maintain your relationships with other writers. If people you know are writing, submitting, and publishing, it'll keep the pressure on you to stay on top of your game. Ultimately, your own expectations and motivations will determine your success, but it helps to have other people pushing you forward, intentionally or not. Plus, as I've said, it never hurts to network. Recommendations and referrals jump-start literary careers all the time.

But! You tell me, folks: what do you do to keep yourselves motivated?

24 comments:

  1. I remind myself that Stephen King and J. K. Rowling started this way. And if I really believe in the story, it's worth it to refine, rewrite, and take the hard knocks. One day, I'll be glad I did.

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  2. If I think I have a great story to tell, I'm motivated to finish it. Starting a new project can be more difficult.

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  3. Make tea.

    (lack of tea is a serious de-motivator)

    Other than that, I turn on the Focus Booster app. Pomodoros work, almost like magic.

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  4. Networking with other writers helps me deal with rejection and self-doubt. Also, when I'm at the initial stages of a book (ie plotting), I remember why I love writing so much. Being in the thick of editing sometimes makes me lose sight of the big picture.

    Oh, and lots and lots of coffee helps. :)

    (Love your blog...new follower)

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  5. I remind myself that there's always someone out there who's working harder than I am. It's pretty effective.

    Basically, shut up and get it done.

    I'm hard on myself :)

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  6. Thinking that the alternative is cleaning toilets or doing laundry is all the motivation I need.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  7. After being harrassed in the chat rooms for three years about my writing, that is all the motivation that I need to keep on writing.

    At the moment I'm trying to refamiliarize myself with a half written book that I put aside to finish polishing and start the initial querying my latest novel.

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  8. I really needed to read this. I've been struggling to edit the same three chapters for three weeks now and yet I find time to do other stuff that aren't half as important.

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  9. I find the time constraint hard to deal with right now. I'm trying to perfect a query, while reading query shark...trying to figure out what I want to put in a synopsis and haven't even touched my MS for the umptmillion revision...(don't worry, I'm not sending out query until it MS is completely completed.)

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  10. This is a great post. In many ways, everything you said is a 'no brainer' YET we need to be reminded on a daily basis, it seems. Scheduling works for me.

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  11. Like Tracy said, it's a no-brainer, yet we need to remind ourselves of these statements on a daily basis (even multiple times a day, for OCD and ADD persons like myself). Reading blogs like this help me get motivated to do my own work, as well. Thanks for the post.

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  12. Emotionally flog, argue with ourselves over whether we just throw in the towel and be the attorneys we were trained to be, then we listen to Elizabeth Gilbert talk about the genius in the corner and it all feels right and easy. Until it gets hard and then the flogging starts again.

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  13. My friend Tina Laurel Lee started a room dedicated to helping writers unplug for an hour and write--and then we get to "talk" in a chat room about whatever writing stuff we want to. It's great to turn off everything and write for an hour, and know that there is a prize at the end and people to hold you accountable!! I find myself adhering to all your steps when I take time to visit The Practice Room.
    Here's the link if anyone wants to come and write! (absolutely everyone is always welcome!) http://tinalaurellee2.blogspot.com/

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  14. Fresh air and the right music get me back on track every time.

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  15. To stay motivated I work from Starbucks with my fellow InkHearts (that's what we call ourselves). Among us are a mystery writer, YA writer **ahem, me**, editor, and a memoir writer. We sit together and write. Every now and then one of us pops up with a funny anecdote and then we go back to work. Much more fun than working alone from home :)

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  16. To some the word discipline brings harsh memories and to others means denying the self. I prefer the word 'organise'. Writers need to be organised and committed (in both senses of the word).

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  17. My writing schedule has fluctuated over the years. When home with little ones, I aimed for a minimum of three writing sessions a week, some only lasting ten minutes. When I returned to teaching, I spent most of the school year on revisions and wrote drafts in the summer. Now that I write full time, I've got a lot of freedom to write whenever and wherever. I set monthly goals, knowing things might change, and trust the words will come.

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  18. I rarely comment, but as they say on Facebook-LIKE.

    I am working on a very painful memoir with subject matter such as severe child abuse, domestic violence, criminal con men, an evil but famous rich family that the devil I married and bore the fruit of was spawned from, and more. It's juicy but hard to work on emotionally-reliving the hell. I have written a lot-kind of an extended brainstorming session at first. Then I did tons of research which took many months. Now I am clear how I want to the tale be told, and am working on it- VERY slowly. UGH.

    It's at the point where I just need to get this done. I can't wait. It will be like giving birth, horribly painful but such great relief and joy when it's all over.

    So please, keep telling me-"be disciplined-get it done!" Because when it comes to finding reasons NOT to write-I have them all covered. "I'm having such a great day-do I really want to think about THAT", "I will start tomorrow when I am less tired", "I will take a week next month and just write", etc... Oh please, I am so full of it and I know it!

    Thanks so much for all you do, post, write, etc. It is a kind and giving thing, cheering us all on as you do. Thanks, again.

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  19. What motivates me most are the daily thrills of writing. You get those thrills when you're working on your manuscript, struggling with some problem and something clicks into place. And when it's right, so often it's like ripples in a pond - that one right move filters through the rest of the story, improving everything it touches. Total brain sparkles when that happens.

    As far as discipline goes - I am very lucky to have a lot of freedom, which makes it pretty easy to stick to a writing schedule. I do not take it for granted, especially as I spent several years in a job that sucked every bit of life out of me. It's extremely hard to keep writing under that kind of duress.

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  20. Great post! Thanks for the 'push' I needed to get back on track. God bless!

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  21. Don't schedule, but I do set myself a word limit that usually gets done at night. 750 words first, then worked up to 800 and soon, it'll be 850. Takes about 2 hours to write 800 without distractions, which is how I write when I'm sitting down to do it.

    Meanwhile, I've papered the wall before me with helpful and motivational author quotes, :)

    Finally, I'm at a Creative Writing MA program which really pushes me to deliver. All of that combined's been exactly what I needed.

    Great post, btw!

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  22. Distractions are many, and a procrastinating nature doesn't help. Thanks for the reminder to get back to my schedule.

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