Goin’ Steady

Ever wonder how some novelists are so darned prolific? HOW do they write book after book after book? HOW do they write so fast? What is their secret? Are they paying pixies to do it while they sleep? Are they taking daily doses of the vitamin “Fizzywrite?” Are they just geniuses?

Various writers have various methods. For example, Jim Butcher uses the BIC (butt-in-chair) approach. Brandon Sanderson claims it’s all about consistent writing, day in and day out. Stephen King writes daily, taking off only his birthday and Christmas. Jack Bickham assigned himself a 50-page per week quota. Mel Odom writes between a dozen and twenty books a year. Somerset Maugham sat down to work at 9 a.m. every day.

Do you see a pattern here?

Among these admittedly different authors, there’s a steady methodology of consistent work habits–writing daily, writing weekly, writing habitually. None of these writers admits to the binge method of procrastinating for weeks and then typing furiously around the clock like the Mad Hatter on deadline.

You don’t get books written by just sitting and thinking about them. You don’t achieve a substantial body of work through dreaming it. You don’t succeed in typing “The End” by wishing it.

You can only accomplish it by writing steadily on a regular schedule that works realistically for you. Set a daily time and keep it as you would an appointment. Set an achievable page quota–a minimum that you must hit before you can leave the keyboard. One page a day isn’t so intimidating. And even at your least inspired, surely you can type one page of character dialogue or a passage of description when your protagonist Irmentrude enters the ballroom. Anything you write beyond your minimum quota deserves a reward.

For example, Jack Bickham attempted to write ten pages daily so he could take the weekend off. If he failed to create his self-assigned fifty pages by Friday, then he wrote on the weekends to stay on track.

One of the worst things you can do for your story is to write irregularly. If you only write when you can find the time, you won’t be consistent. Your story will suffer more from distractions. You’ll tend to forget important details that you meant to include but didn’t. You’ll lose touch with your protagonist’s emotions and motivations. Sadly, you may even lose heart and interest in what probably would have been a solid plotline.

And when you’ve given up and abandoned the story because it isn’t working, why not be honest and answer the question: is it the story that’s not working, or is it you that’s not working?

If you’re stuck and can’t get your story out of a corner, spend your writing time sketching out a thorough character dossier. Do you really know what makes your protagonist tick? Have you ever considered your antagonist’s motivations? Or maybe you should think about that plot hole you’ve been avoiding. Then write that minimum one page of copy, even if you hate every word of it.

It doesn’t take long to form good writing habits, once you put in the effort to establish them. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that your imagination is automatically clicking on at the designated time. You’ve trained it, and by golly it’s starting to cooperate!

Writing rituals can also help establish habitual working methods. What works for you? A certain type of music playing in the background? Making a cup of tea before you get started? Putting two cookies on a plate next to your keyboard … but you can’t eat them until you’ve written your quota? Turning off your cell phone or leaving the phone in another room?

Just sitting down and powering up your computer can be a sufficient ritual. My dog–the one I call The Spook–spent this summer making it his job to stare at me every morning at 10 a.m. before heading off into my office and curling up under the desk next to the computer tower. If I dawdled, just the sight of him faithfully curled up, waiting to “help” me work, was enough to make me feel guilty. And it would be BIC for me.

A ritual I don’t recommend, however, is checking your email before you start writing. You may possess the discipline of steel to take a quick glance before you open that Word file, but I doubt it. Instead, deal with your mail after you finish writing for the day. It will keep your priorities in the right order, and you won’t be distracted from writing an epic love scene by thoughts of the car insurance reminder floating in your computer’s inbox.


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2 responses to “Goin’ Steady

  1. You always make so many good points! I have been distracted since I began my blog (medical reasons) that I struggled with consistency. I was annoyed with myself over this. It’s been nearly 2 months I’ve been out of hospital and I am getting my routines in order and I want to turn over a new leaf and apply my routine into my writing… I haven’t wrote in the time I’ve been recovering and my confidence has dropped (I won’t allow it to stop me). I will eventually find what writing routine will work the best.
    Thanks for this post Deb.

  2. Hey, I know how it is to be sidelined by health issues. Suddenly you either don’t have the energy or the focus to sit and write, or else you can only write for a fraction of the time you used to. It’s easy to become discouraged, but keep trying! As you say, you’ll find a writing routine that works for you. Just stay determined and have patience with yourself.

    Best wishes,

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