How I Write: Four

This is the last installment in a series of blog posts on how I write. Previously, I talked about starting the first draft, revisions, and finalizing the piece.

You’ve learned how I write, and I think some variation of my method could help almost anyone. Still, don’t take any other writer’s word on writing. No one else can prescribe how you write. As I described in an earlier post, a program called Asana greatly helps me keep track of my writing, but that’s just me. You will need to approach your own method scientifically, setting up a certain routine, seeing if it works, and changing one variable at a time to see if your routine improves or not. Also keep note of external circumstances that thwart your routine or, in very rare cases, help it. You have to do all this without letting your experimentation distract you from your actual writing.

You will personalize your own writing process, but there are tricks that work universally on the human mind. If you must end a writing session, then STOP, in the most abrupt sense of the word. Leave ideas spinning. Let sentences hang. Allow thoughts to rage forward with no guidance. Make a note at the top of the document briefly describing where you are in the project. To start next time, you’ll simply have to follow the instructions you’ve left for yourself. This works because the mind hates stopping in the middle of things. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect. Check out this past post to read more about how the Zeigarnik Effect can aid in taming your muse. The deliberate sense of incompleteness you create will fuel your brain’s desire to finish the piece the next time you return to it.

Well? Reading a post means nothing. If you want to create a writing routine, you must take a concrete step, and now, not later. For 95% of people, the first step should not be grandiose. It should, in fact, be quite small. But the key is that this small step must get the ball rolling in such a way that it will not be easily stopped. For example, decide right now that you will write for one minute at 8 pm every evening. This is a stupid goal in and of itself, but as a means to creating a system for you to work with, it is invaluable, and a realistic system with potential to grow is worth so much more than an unattainable goal.

Go on! If you don’t have a system for writing, create a step that will propel you in the right direction. Go on. Do it. RIGHT NOW (WRITE NOW?).

Also, I have one final to thing to ask of you. How do YOU write?

8 thoughts on “How I Write: Four

  1. I’ve found that I write best in large chunks, since it tends to take me a while to pick up the threads and get back into the flow. This was a real pain when I was working full-time, but once I dropped to four days a week, things got better, and now I have almost nothing to do between breakfast and lunch but write. All I need now is the discipline to make breakfast happen earlier!
    I too have found that leaving my work half-way through a paragraph or sentence (with a few cryptic notes on the side as to what I see happening next), makes it much easier to get all the balls/clubs/flaming torches back into the air when I sit down to begin again.

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    • I’m glad you feel the same way. It’s definitely fun to fall into writing — I always have to make sure I turn off my phone, have something to snack on, etc, so I don’t get distracted. The more I think about it, the more grateful I am that “writing” is a thing.

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  2. Only now I have been reading more on the theory of writing. So far I have written randomly, occasionally, when inspiration struck, and was all done in one hot short spurt. I’ve been thinking of starting on longer pieces, and the advice to leave it in the middle sounds very sound indeed.

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  3. Make a note at the top of the document briefly describing where you are in the project. To start next time, you’ll simply have to follow the instructions you’ve left for yourself. Yes, yes, yes! I’ve just started doing this and it really works. That, combined with making a new document for each chapter now that I’m doing a final edit, has made a heap of difference. All I do is concentrate on that one chapter and I’m not tempted to scroll through the full MS in search of something I might think needs changing–I just leave it until I reach it. As I finish a chapter, it goes into a file called, funnily enough, “Chapter by Chapter.”
    Thanks Tom, for confirming that I’m not completely crazy in the way I do things 😉

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  4. I start with an idea and write it out, almost, in bullet points. That forms a basis for my plan, and I build it from there. I keep a handwritten notebook for creating my characters, little spider charts for each one. Every time I mention a new feature or attribute, I add it to their chart, minimising the chance of contradicting myself.

    My first draft is built up, layer by layer, not always chronologically. Then I read through and mark out the parts that need to be expanded. Redrafting and editing is always done methodically from start to end, checking for consistency and fluency. Final checking and proofreading, is done in the same way, several times.

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    • I need a character notebook! That’s a great idea. I always start with character sketches but kind of just forget about them as I continue writing and the characters grow out of their old sketches. Thanks for sharing, Tess.

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