Writing is hard, but I think that everyone should do it. It’s like working out. If your workouts aren’t difficult, then you won’t grow or improve. Regardless of how muscular you are or how much of a veteran fitness champ you might be, your workouts need to consistently bring the challenge to have a blossoming effect.
Writing is the same way, and can do a lot for you head game regardless of your designs on being a great author. The objective is to create a little bit that comes directly from yourself. Take it from a bulky, beautiful boy whose workouts get skipped more than a hopscotch game with the belly to prove it. Luckily, as long as we’re breathing, we get to try over and over again to get it right. That’s how health works.
So when a friend asked me for writing advice, rather than take my typical “beats me” stance, I decided offer up what I thought could help. She wants to write a novel, and while I have yet to finish one of those, I have a lot of great experience from all the times I tried and failed. That is good experience! On top of that, I totally get paid to write stuff, and have consumed far more than a reasonable amount of content about creating or sharing work. With that, I recommend Share Your Work by Austin Kleon, War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and The Practice by Seth Godin. Maybe I know more about the subject than i thought.
So, here’s the advice I gave my friend for how she could approach writing a novel!
Choose an idea you’re going to write about every day
Ideas are a dime a dozen.
Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one and all of them stink.
You think you know, but you have no idea. This is from Diary on MTV.
Maybe you have to be a “do it every day” kind of person like I am. Truthfully, I think everybody is; though the argument could be made that I only feel that way due the schadenfreude. Either way, we live in a world where fan fiction can become a multimillion dollar intellectual property on BDSM.
Everybody has ideas, and the difficulty is in crafting something workable from them. The little lights in your head are every bit as valuable as Stephen King’s. The only difference is that he will take the time to hammer his work into something that can be read. The audience can pull it apart and see what’s there, compare it to all of his other work, and start a podcast about all of it like on Kings of Kings. He has that much work
The trick to finishing a novel is just finishing the novel. It doesn’t matter how good it is if it doesn’t exist, and the only way to pull it into the real world is to spend whatever time it takes doing just that. Write a page a day and in 4 months you’ll have 120 pages. That’s usually about screen plays, but I’m down to read a 120 page novella about something cool. Give it a shot.
Set goals for your writing intervals
How would you like to break up all of your new bouts of writing? Could it be 20 pages in a day? Could you break it up with a ridiculous 10,000 daily word count? What about 6 crazy hours spent writing all at once in some sort of peyote induced fugue state that sees you succumbing to hunger and traveling across the spirit world as every character in your story at once?!
Whatever it takes baby!
The best goal is any you can stick to. Like with investing, it’s really the compounding nature of time that makes the biggest difference.
Many people (like me) have more success with shorter goals. This is one of the many tips Shaunta Grimes extolls, and she’s a writing teacher with more writing tips than you can shake a box of very expensive keyboards at. As long as you write toward your story every day, you’re doing the work. Here’s a post where she talks about only needing 10 minutes a day.
You can always go further once you go far enough.
Don’t edit nothing!
If you have a perfectionist streak, it’s easy to murder yourself with unhelpful busywork. You’ll invent reasons to check emails or read articles during writing time. Maybe you’ll start de-grouting your bathroom and pressure washing your driveway at 5:30 am like my friend Jess. Well, don’t knock it too hard. That perfectionism got you where you are now, but you need to flip the control dynamic of it to move forward with your writing.
That’s why people invented other tips for this sort of thing. Legend has it Ernest Hemingway used to leave a sentence unfinished for the next day’s work, for instance. Some start with rereading the previous days writing before starting on the new day’s stuff.
My advice is to not go backwards until you finish your latest draft. You’ll have plenty of time to edit once you’ve written something all the way out. The work you own is the work you finish. So get it on your hard drive or mail it to your secretary in the city who transcribes your daily missives from your safari tent in the bush.
Just promise me you won’t get caught up moving backwards until you finish your full first draft. You’ll have plenty of time to edit after that.
OPTIONAL: Do an Outline
Some people love outlines. They can be awesome for generating direction.
Some people hate outlines. They want to let the characters lead them through the world. If you’re unsure, just pick one and do that.
Treat it like an experiment. Give it 30 days and see how you feel, and if it isn’t working switch it up.
OPTIONAL: Have an ending in mind:
Now this is a much bigger deal for writing screenplays, comics or anything more finite minutes or pages. Novels can be more flexible. You don’t have to do this, but knowing where you want to end up can be pretty helpful. It’s much easier to leave breadcrumbs along the way.
HOWEVER! This is pointless if you’re going to get in the weeds about it. Better you complete trash every day, than write nothing while trying to be perfect. Plus… it’s easy to change an ending when it exists.
Everybody in the club get tips(y)!
So, rather than leave you with a few ideas, I will instead tell you what I think my friend should do based on what I believe I know about her. This is what I offered my friend based on what I think she’s like. You’re under no obligation to follow if it doesn’t fit you, but you can get an idea of how it might look if you’re new to the game. To me, she’s someone passionate, neurotically caring, intense, organized, highly intelligent, and all around has it pretty together in her working and political life.
She is also modest enough to argue many of these points, but if she doesn’t like it, she can write her own essay about how wrong I am. I’ll be waiting!
- Pick a consistent time to and write everyday where you’re uninterrupted. I love what author Cal Newport calls deep work …Not as much as I love being distracted, but you’ve got focus powers, so you can make this happen.
- Choose a small goal for yourself and sail past it whenever you can. For you, I’d say 10 minutes of writing straight. If you’re as keen at focusing as I think you are, you’ll be able to ride that wind to greatness. Put it away when you’re done and come back to it later.
- We’ve established that writing is hard. When you have a demanding job it only gets worse. If you’re the type to beat yourself up for things you don’t do well enough, nip that in he bud from the jump by choosing the right goals and sticking to it. Choose your finish time and adhere to it.
- No edits. You can’t handle it. Editing while you write slows you down. Your flow state is hard enough to reach without deleting, rewording, and working backwards. Try to stay focus on what you are typing only. Rewrite when it’s time to do so.
- Set yourself a reward for your hard work. Here’s something I don’t do very well. I always assume I should be able to do whatever I set my mind to like some kind of automaton. But I am not a robot. I am a flesh and blood human being, who needs to celebrate my accomplishments. I deserve cookie cake! It will inspire me to get to the end and make more and even better accomplishments! I think something similar can work for you. Make it weekly and do something nice for yourself because you write all the time. Future you deserves it.
- Keep going! In my estimation, the crux for your entire project is warding away the feeling that you aren’t good enough. Writing is a great way to stand up to that inner bully that wants to punish you all day for what you are not. We produce this bully ourselves. It knows exactly how to hurt us. Rather than letting it do that, we can keep writing. We can keep making something new that we enjoy and bask in the feeling that comes with creation. Chances are your novel idea has been there a while and there are plenty more where that came from once this one gets out.
Writing is not for the faint of the heart, but it is for everybody that wants to participate. This is especially true today. It feels so incredible to make something you care then watch it connect you to others who care like you do.
So go out there and find your “writer’s high,” every day you can. Bask in that feeling and continue to add to the brand new.
That’s the best advice of all.