Everyone seems to have advice for writers:
Write every day or you’re not really a writer
Write x-number-of-words a day or you’re a failure
Write drunk, edit sober
You have to use this (expensive) program
Don’t use that program
You have to have an MFA
You must attend this conference every year
If you don’t write longhand are you really a writer?
It can be daunting to filter through all of the tips and tricks and warnings.
But what I’ve found over the years is that none of it really matters. What’s important is that you find a way to create. Writing isn’t just putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys, or chalk to tablet. Writing is a creative process. The process can involve physically creating, but is just as much about the world of words and emotions inside of your head.
That said, I’m currently writing my seventh book. Before that, I worked extensively on fanfiction, which is where I learned how to hone my craft and create stories that readers respond to. No, none of my original fiction books are published, but if you’re willing to be a beta/sensitivity reader I might let you take a peek at one or more. After all, stories are conversations between writers and readers. There can’t be one without the other.
But yes, I’ve written seven books over the past four or so years. A few emerged essentially fully-formed (concept-wise), but others took days of intense contemplation to establish a framework for the plot and even then as I wrote they continued to evolve.
I’m no more qualified to give advice than the next unpublished writer, but here’s what I’ve learned through my own experience:
Read inside of your genre. Read outside of your genre. Read published stories and fanfiction and everything in between. Read fiction and nonfiction and articles and books. Open your mind to other types of stories you’ve never tried out before. Join a book club and commit to reading and discussing the stories. You might be surprised at how much this can improve your own writing.
Go for a walk, do the dishes, take that laundry out of the dryer and actually fold it (come on, you can do it!), brew some tea, pet your dog, work in the garden, shovel the sidewalk. Do something else and allow your mind to wander.
The inspiration for my first novel came during a hot yoga class when I was meditating and my mind inextricably took two short story ideas I’d abandoned years ago and squished them together into a proper novel concept.
I’ve solved countless plot problems in the shower or while driving or in those twilight moments just before a nap.
Create a Playlist
This advice might not be for everyone, but I’ve found that each of my stories has a different “vibe” to it, and that’s best channeled through music.
I sometimes write to the playlists I create, but other times I simply listen to a specific “inspiration” mix that conveys the energy I’m looking to inject into the narrative.
Every single one of my stories seems to call for something different.
Make a Mood Board
Again, YMMV, but I’m a visual person and like to have reminders of what my characters look like, the places where they live, their clothing styles, and other random inspirational tidbits. I have a Pinterest account specifically for my writing projects.
Outline Your Story
Arguably, this is much easier said than done. But for me, I need to have at least a rough map of where I’m going in order to get there. Does that mean we won’t be taking some shortcuts (or long-cuts) along the way? No! But I at least know the general destination before I begin the heavy work.
Sometimes I already have scenes in mind or even written, but for the most part I spend a day or two simply forming the general pieces of my story, such as:
Characters - their appearances, habits, hobbies, and relationships.
Setting - the where and when of a story can become a character in it’s own right and informs what action/conflicts might come up in the narrative.
POV - 1st or 3rd? Past or present? How many narrators will there be? All of these things impact the tone and reader engagement. When starting a new project I sometimes open up the first pages of similar stories to see how they’re written.
Structure - the physical structure of the book. Are there parts? Are there chapter numbers or titles? How many chapters will there be? What’s my word count goal (this takes research and is based on the age you’re writing for and the genre). If there are multiple POVs, what order are their chapters/scenes in?
Plot - major plot points and where they land in the narrative. Part of my process is creating each chapter in Scrivener (my favorite writing software - again, it’s not a necessary purchase, but I do enjoy using it) and writing a brief outline of each chapter in the notes section, including the conflict arch. I also have a separate Numbers/Excel doc where I list the chapter title, character POV (if applicable), scenes (if applicable), number of words per, and a quick few words that I can use as easy reference if I want to refer back and add/edit things later. This is extremely helpful when it comes to continuity.
“But I haven’t written my 1337 words today!” you scream.
“You will be able to write again tomorrow,” I reply.
Or the next day or the next.
One way I track my writing progress (and at times lack thereof) is through a massive wall calendar I purchased on Etsy (similar to this). Every day I mark on it how many words I wrote, or if it was an outlining day/research day/etc.
Some days I’m just not able to write anything and that’s okay.
I wake up at 5am most mornings (what’s up #5amwritersclub), but that doesn’t always happen. I find my mind is most malleable/creative around then, but sometimes I sleep in or feel sick or get distracted or need to finish a book club book.
Sometimes the words just aren’t there.
That’s when I go back to my list of other things. I read a book. I find something mundane to do. I listen to my writing playlist. I check out my Pinterest board. I try to do something at least tangentially related to writing, but I don’t beat myself up over my lack of words on the page.
The story still exists, even when I’m not actively working on it. One day it will be finished and I’ll be able to share it with the world.
[All images are sourced from Pixabay]