Imagine this: you are writing on a desert island, or in a cottage with a view over mountains or forest or ocean. Words flow down your arms and out your fingers onto the page – glowing, powerful, beautiful words. Food magically appears when you’re hungry. No one interrupts you. No one disapproves. No one laughs at your dreams. You are not the slave of deadlines or expectations and you have plenty of money for all you need. You can write all day long.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Now, let’s take a look at reality.
Families and work and a difficult boss or unemployment and ill-health and aging parents or a child with problems. Traffic and noise and busyness and always feeling strangled by so many expectations, some of them the pressure you create for yourself. Always trying to find enough money or enough time or that other sock or the car keys or that document you need so urgently. Stress stress stress stress stress.
Now for the good news. There IS a way to realise your dream of writing a book.
Of course, the big question is how to write a book amid the swirl of daily reality.
I used to think I’d write when and if I got the Magic Writing Cottage. Until then, it was hopeless even to try. That’s what I thought.
But the fact is that as I write this, I’m looking back over the last three years of my chaotic and busy life. I’ve published three books, a fourth is due any day, and I’m 36,000 words into a fifth. (I had a little out-of-body thing as I wrote these words you’ve just read. I’m not sure I’ve even looked at it quite that way until this moment.)
This means even more to me because it took me 20 years to finish and publish my first novel. 20 years. No, I’m not exaggerating.
I’m a slow writer. And I tend to feel bad about myself when I see others cranking out a new book every couple of months. That feeling-bad habit ends now. I’m excited for those swift writers and I admire their achievements, but I don’t have to compare myself to them. I’m me. I do it my way. My way is OK.
Just in case you missed it, please note that I did the three books etc without the Magic Writing Cottage. I did it in the chaos.
Based on my observations of others, my own frequent mistakes, and my occasional triumphs, here are my ten top tips for how to write a book this year.
They are tips for me as much as for you, because I too am writing a book this year!
1. You will never have enough time. Do it when you’re too busy.
I’ve worked with dozens of writers over the past couple of decades as an editor, publishing consultant and writing coach. Not one of those people had a Magic Writing Cottage. Every writer I know writes in the midst of the mess.
Even the ones who have reached the exalted and envied status of Full Time Writer are STILL busy and lead hectic lives with a thousand things to do.
Here’s a thought: what if you had oodles of free time and the cottage by the sea, and then discovered you didn’t write any faster than you do now? Or you wrote even less? Or didn’t even write at all?
What if it’s the act of wrestling with reality that nourishes and empowers your writing dreams? What if your creativity would falter if you got the cottage and withdrew from daily life?
Something to think about.
It’s nice to have the occasional writing retreat, but it’s also good to write amid reality.
What I learned about finding time to write
This video contains some stories about how different people overcame the problem of not having enough time. I hope there might be a useful idea in there for you.
2. Stop being embarrassed and start honouring yourself for doing this thing.
I meet a lot of writers who are secretive about the fact that they write, not for privacy reasons but because they are embarrassed. They worry that if they say they are writing a book, their friends and family will either laugh at them, or expect too much and then pressure them with questions about their progress or their success.
It’s an understandable feeling, but it’s not very useful.
You might find it easier if you consciously disconnected the act of writing from the idea of being a bestselling author. That’s too much pressure and no one can predict it anyway. Every single bestselling author you’ve ever heard of, every author on the shelves of your local library… they all had to start where you are now: unsure if their writing would ever succeed.
I have friends who’ve hiked the Camino, restored an old car, spent hours of creativity in scrapbooking to produce beautiful family records, or redecorated their house one room at a time. They’re usually quite happy to tell people they’re doing these things, and their friends are interested or curious, and cheer them on. Why not? Big goals are exciting.
Wanting to write a book is a wonderful goal. It can certainly turn into a career for some, or a partial career, but you don’t have to achieve that to make writing worthwhile. It’s a great interest to have.
Writing helps us psychologically (one of my writer friends is engaged in serious research on this topic). It boosts our creativity and sharpens our minds.
Feel free to say out loud, “I’m a writer. I love to write. I’m going to write a book. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a big success with it or not, but I get so much out of the process that I’m going to keep doing it anyway.”
3. If your loved ones block you (accidentally or deliberately), try negotiating. And look for segments of time.
This one often springs from the previous point. When we’re embarrassed about our writing, it makes it much harder for us to set aside time to do it, or to compete for a timeslot in the busy family schedule.
It would be all very well to say, “Stand up for your rights and claim your writing time!” Some people can indeed do that. But I realise that for some it can be complicated.
Sometimes, however, it’s the writer who assumes their family member’s goals are more important than their own. “My spouse needs to go fishing/linedancing/play golf for 7 hours every weekend, and I have to take the kids to sport six afternoons per week, so I haven’t possibly got time to write.”
Your interests, hobbies and pastimes are important too. They matter to you. They might also matter to your loved ones, if you believed in yourself and explained it to them. Maybe there could be a little give and take. Maybe they might support you. Maybe it might even strengthen your relationships. You’ll never know if you don’t give them the chance.
Also look for ways to shoehorn little wedges of writing time into the week. Could you write on the train to work, or in the car while you’re waiting to pick up your kids from sport, or in the waiting room while a loved one has an appointment, or in the library on the way home from some other commitment, or by getting up before the rest of the household?
A time management consultant I interviewed told me about someone who wrote their book in short bursts on top of the washing machine. That’s a book that got written!
4. Stop making toxic comparisons, and regain your joy.
Remember when you used to sit down and write and it was a magical adventure?
It was probably before you started comparing yourself to someone else.
Learning from the experience of others is great. Toxic I’ll-never-be-good-enough comparisons are not great.
It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. Comparison has become a lot easier these days, now that every writer is blogging and tweeting and sharing inspiring pics on Instagram. We can now do it all day and even in the middle of a sleepless night. It’s also become a lot more toxic, because we compare our behind-the-scenes chaos with other people’s show reel.
We can’t see that the writer we admire and envy is at the same time comparing themselves unfavourably to someone else. Yes, the fun never stops with comparisonitis.
The truth is, only YOU can write your book. It won’t be the same as anyone else’s, but that’s a good thing.
Find your own voice. Enjoy your own adventure. Don’t write to be as good as anyone else. Just tell yourself your own story and have fun with it.
Here’s an idea: Only compare yourself to YOU. Look back in an honest and nourishing way – not a negative way – and see how far you’ve come.
Stop being so hard on yourself. By even getting serious about writing your book, you have achieved something special. Now build on that, piece by piece.
5. Write what you love.
I used to think I should want to write a highbrow literary masterpiece.
I was also a published writer of biblical meditations for many years, and thought that what little writing time I had should probably be devoted to producing more of those.
Either or both seemed more “worthy” than the other ideas that kept whispering in my ear.
I was embarrassed to admit that what I really wanted to write was mainstream crime novels — the type sold in airport bookstores.
Oddly enough, the fear of being low-brow began to dissipate after I joined my local writers centre (the Queensland Writers Centre). I went to a few workshops expecting to feel inadequate, and instead met other people who were also learning to write commercial novels, and having a great time doing it.
Another freeing moment was when I realised how much time I wasted doing things that are no more worthy than my tawdry crime novels, so why not waste that portion of time on my writing instead? (How many hours a week do you spend watching television, or on Facebook??)
Stop trying to write what you think you *should* be writing (at least for some of your writing time), and write what you really, secretly long to write.
And stop trying to write what you think is fashionable now, if it’s not what you really want to write. Those zombie romances might be out of fashion anyway by the time you’ve finished your manuscript and started submitting to agents. If you’d rather write paranormal westerns, just do it.
Have fun, listen to your instincts, and you’ll be more likely to keep going and finish that book. Incidentally, you’ll also be more likely to write a good book if it’s what you love.
6. Use deadlines if they motivate you.
I’m an old journalist, so deadlines help me. They seem to jolt me out of the endless and poisonous “but what if it’s rubbish?” mental treadwheel. The focus becomes: “It’s due X date. I’d better hurry up.”
Perhaps test if deadlines are a helpful method for you?
Ways to acquire deadlines:
- Enter a contest. They have firm deadlines – no arguments or excuses are permitted. Even if you don’t win or get shortlisted, you will write a lot more words!
- Write a completion date or manuscript milestones on a physical calendar where you see it often.
- Buddy up with another writer as an accountability partner. Tell each other your deadlines, and keep checking.
7. Get started.
When I just get in my chair and write, it’s amazing how much easier it is to do it again tomorrow and the next day.
Don’t try to be amazing. Just sit down and write, and see what happens.
8. Keep going.
Stop worrying if it’s worth finishing. You can’t really tell till you’ve finished it anyway.
And the First Draft is only the beginning of the work, so you’ll have plenty of time to fix it in the self-edits and rewrites.
Just keep going, one word at a time, one page at a time, one chapter at a time, and you really will get there.
A wise person once told me: a writer never finishes a book, they just stop.
As I discovered while hogtied by perfectionism while writing my first novel, even Aldous Huxley wanted to go back and change Brave New World.
If you’ve been writing and rewriting forever, chances are it’s time to stop dithering and call it finished. Getting it out to some beta readers can help you break free of that endless circle. Or consider a coaching session to get you unstuck.
Sometimes we forget to celebrate our achievements. We just move on to the next thing and miss that opportunity for joy.
One of my psychologist friends is big on the value of celebrating milestones.
I was too pragmatic to have book launches for my first few books – launches always cost more than they earn in book sales, says Practical Belinda. But when I published the German translation of my crime novel POISON BAY, it was such a big deal for me to see my words in another language. I decided to be Impractical Belinda and have a launch. 50 people from various parts of my life turned up at short notice and celebrated with me, watched the book trailer in two languages and a video message from my lovely translator Maren Feller, and ate an enormous Black Forest cake… even though only a handful of them even speak German. They were excited for me and I overflowed with joy. It lifted me and increased my motivation to write the next one.
But you don’t have to wait till the book is finished or published. Even something as simple as a tweet about reaching a mid-manuscript milestone can help inject more joy and motivation into the process. Try using a hashtag like #amwriting to help you get some reactions from other writers to help you celebrate and spur you on – like this writer.
#amwriting 932 words so far and I’ve finished another chapter on my WIP. Only 4 more chapters to write until I’m finished the first draft of book 2 of my adult romantic suspense series. #LilyandBlake pic.twitter.com/pIOI0YicJv
— C.L. Rose, Editor/Author (@clrose1990) April 21, 2018
What do you think? Are you writing a book this year? Do you have a Magic Writing Cottage, or do you write amid the mess? Tell me about it in the comments. I’d also love to hear what helps you keep writing. Let’s encourage each other.