Monday, October 18, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 1 of 4

And now for something a little different!

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.


  1. For me, I rarely (and I do mean rarely) write a scene out of order. Since I don't outline before I begin writing, the details of the story evolve as I go along. If I were to write a scene that doesn't take place for ten chapters, I would find that when I got there, the story no longer aligns with what I previously wrote. I will instead write a paragraph or so, the part that inspired me. That way, when I get there, I can craft it to fit the story as it exists when I get there rather than how it existed when I first had the idea.

    Also, people tend to get overly focused on what constitutes a notebook. Most smartphones have a "notepad" feature where you can jot things down. Hell, most often, I'll email myself an idea I had. That way I don't have to lug around a physical notebook or feel that I'm losing out if I don't have my notebook when an idea comes.

  2. I'm with Joseph. I can't write out of order, with one recent exception. I'm writing my first book that includes the villain's POV, since it's clear from page 1 who he is. I haven't completely decided how to weave his scenes throughout the manuscript--chronology is an issue--so I've written a few of his scenes and will paste them in where they belong later.

    And good idea on the phone as notebook. But mine's a royal pain to type on--maybe I'll try the 'record' app.

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

  3. these are all excellent tips that I've used at least once--and thought it does sound wrong, writing out of order often works for me! :o)

  4. Your advice about writing the scenes when you want to, rather than waiting, is something I've done naturally. I've jumped ahead to future chapters at times if it works. Once those chapters or notes are in place, I find it much easier to wind my way to those future scenes or narratives, dropping clues or picking up plot lines as I go. This works better if you're a person that outlines or maps their novel.

    I haven't had the problem of story alignment that Joseph S. mentions. Rewriting is part of the novel process, as is rearrangement of chapters at times. Whatever works to get the job done.

    I keep observations and scene ideas in a notebook, but if it's not with me, I've been known to scribble on the back of receipts, etc. I also get ideas this way for future blog posts or short stories. Observation plays a large part in idea creation (at least for me).

    Looking forward to parts 2-4, Eric.

  5. Great tips. I definitely agree that good scenes should be written down as they come to you. To write your best, you should never save material "for later." That means you're not writing honestly, you're editing yourself before you let the work get to the page. Nice layout of tips! - Stasia

  6. I find that creating a time and space for writing is very helpful in that it makes you write consistently and helps you see writing as something more than a hobby to be picked up every now and then, but I think it's also wise to mix it up every once in a while. Writing at different times or in a different place every once in a while has helped me be able to be productive on some occasions where real-life issues prevented me from writing in my normal time and place. I don't get stuck only being able to write at one certain time in one certain location.

    I'm an extensive outliner, so it's easier for me to write out of order. I generally write chronologically now, but if a scene from a later book grips me, I'll write it. Then I'll worry about revising my outline as needed to make it all fit.

  7. Great advice, especially about deadlines. I need to work on my writing space - I should be a bit more fastidious about my desk organization habits. Thanks for the pep talk!

  8. I'm a huge fan of the pomodoro technique. It's a time-management system where you use a simple kitchen timer to create 25-minute blocks of time for whatever task you need to do.

  9. I tend to do all of these, too. I often write scenes that may not get used or may be used in a different book with a different set of characters. Sometimes just a small twist will make it usable. But as you said, it's important to maintain enthusiasm and 'let the muse strike' as it were.

  10. If you use Firefox, get Leechblock and forbid yourself access to the internet during your writing time.

    (Which means you have to do your research elsewhen.)

  11. I use all of these, though I find that I'm much better at sticking to external deadlines than ones I set myself. Deadlines for competitions and critique group feedback fit the bill for now.

    As for the dedicated work space, I also find it important to not have an internet connection on the computer where I write. I have a small form factor desktop (that I got off of eBay for $70) that is essentially a glorified typewriter. I don't read e-mail on it. I don't surf blogs on it. I don't play games on it. The machine just has Windows and a very old version of Word, and all I do on it is write.

  12. My husband is incredibly understanding about my writing. On days that I don't have an evening rehearsal, my writing time is from the time my toddler goes to bed until I have to go to bed, which is dire for me, as I have a chronic condition worsened by sleep deprivation. He often isn't home in the evening due to pep band, so it works out pretty well.

    I rarely skip, but things that due interfere with my writing include a sick kid, a husband who needs help, and pain. I believe it was Nathan Bransford who pointed out that no writing career is worth blowing off your family. Last night I had to skip. The pain in my muscles was so severe that it kept me from being able to concentrate, so on those nights I soak in the tub and read authors I find inspiring.

  13. All my goals for the coming year have one thing at their core: practicing greater discipline. So your post really resonates. Thanks!

  14. This advice has to be the tip I struggle with the most. Keeping a schedule is a pain in the butt. Daily would probably be the best thing for me to do, but because of my horridness at making routines, I have a bunch of really nice projects that are sitting by the wayside!

    I'm wondering, though...what about in the revision stage? How should you discipline yourself to get that done?

  15. If I write all the juicy bits first -- the scenes I WANT to write, can't wait to write -- I find myself demotivated to write all the connecting stuff. If I use those juicy scenes as carrots, I find myself staying more engaged with a project and even producing more because I NEED to write those scenes. It doesn't necessarily mean I write linearly, though. In the ms I'm shopping now, I had a number of chapters that got rearranged throughout the process. But I'm sure I wrote faster because I stingily meted out the scenes I just HAD to write.

  16. As a writer, I'm an undisciplined slob. I write scenes out of order all the time and I'm a chronic non-finisher with multiple works in progress. Just had to admit that publicly.

    Also, I always get the best scenes and dialogue going in my head when I'm in the shower, which is neither paper nor laptop friendly. Maybe I should try bathtub crayons...

  17. I'm a recovering chunk writer, so I agree with all the points except writing the exciting scenes first. Currently I'm trying to treat every scene as if it's exciting and just get through it. I'm writing to a (loose) outline for the first time and I must say writing is actually a lot more fun when I know where I'm going (albeit vaguely).

  18. I agree with what Kendra says about every scene being exciting to write and to read. If you've got junk scenes just to connect stuff that was fun to write, you still have a lot of work to do. I make myself write every scene in order, and I make myself find something cool in every scene.

    I don't have a dedicated workspace, because I write with pen and paper so I have a dedicated writing time and usually during that time I'm in a booth at a restaurant. (Actually, I have a nice desk and old oak office chair at home, where I keep the laptop and printer and all my research books, in a "designated writing room" wherein I do almost no writing at all.) A lot of writing is also done on the evening bus commute. But the point is valid that you should have a routine, and writing every day--even a little--is better than trying to write in huge chunks every once in a while.

  19. I write scenes out of order all the time. Sometimes I just can't help myself. But, rarely, when I drop the scene into the novel at the appropriate time, does it fit. The characters take on a life of their own and often their motivations have changed from when I originally wrote the scene. Sometimes I'll have to throw it out and sometimes I can tweak it until it fits in it's new home.

  20. I have a hard time writing out of order. My story evolves as I go along. It takes time to get to know my characters. However, before I write my novel, I already know the beginning, middle, and end..

    Thanks for a great blog.

  21. In the beginning, I do write scenes out of order. When a new novel is formulating, images and conversations come at me without warning and I just write them down whether I think they fit or not. Later on things seem to level out and the scenes go down more or less in order.

    I, too, email myself ideas if I'm at work and inspiration strikes. And I do have the handy notebook/journal. It helps to at least get the essence of whatever it was down because if I lose that, then whatever it was I'd thought of has no oomph when I go back to seeing if I can use it.

  22. Good tips, although sometimes it's a matter of what fits into your life (kids, bills, need to earn money). I write every day, as that's how I pay my bills, but I write articles, not fiction. I do set aside time, but not the same time every day. I can't. Sometimes it's the wee hours of the morning that I finally get to write.

    And holy crap, write a scene out of order? Gasp! My brain can't do that. I've tried, and I freak out until the rest of the story catches up to that scene. Drives me crazy. I will however make notes if a scene pops into my head. I know, it's really no different, but not having it 'in there' officially fools my OCD brain.

    And last, I want to add that deadlines work everyone. I promise. I set deadlines for every new project and they keep me focused. So far I've only missed the one where I publish one of these bad boys. That one keeps flying by.