4 steps to writing every day

This is an answer to a question I got on tumblr, which was about tips for finding time to write on a regular basis, despite the pressures of work, etc.

I am self employed though, which means that I don’t work at a soul crushing job all day, or at least it means that I only crush my own soul? And that does help. But writing on a regular basis is a lot like being self employed, in that it’s mostly about goal setting and time management, so when I decided I wanted to get more writing done, that is how I approached it.

The steps below are more or less that ones that I followed, only I’ve left out my whining and repeated failures. The most important things are to keep trying and make sure that you love what you’re writing. Those will help a lot.

1. Pick a number of words that you want to write every day

This number basically doesn’t matter. When I started doing this, I started at 300 words per day, but you could start with 100 or 50 or 2 sentences. The important thing is that it’s something you feel you can accomplish without wanting to throw your computer out the window or at the heads of your loved ones.

2. Find out how long it takes you to write that number of words

I’d recommend actually timing yourself rather than guessing, but maybe you are a better guesser than I am. You will get faster. It’s just practice. And remember that they don’t have to be good words on the first draft; that’s what editing is for. “Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist.” (Jane Smiley)

3. Find that amount of time in your daily schedule

This is the hard part, obviously, but once you do it, once you know objectively that you have X amount of time to spend on writing, actually doing the writing becomes (slightly) easier because that is The Time for Writing, not for walking the dog or planning how to take over the world using your duck army or worrying about bees or whatever. If you can make this the same time every day, it becomes even easier because it gets to be a habit. Habit lowers our initial resistance to starting something, even when we’re tired and run down and hating life.

4. Guard it with your life

(This will be especially difficult if you have kids.) Remove any distractions that you can possibly remove – phone, email notifications, maybe turn off your internet, close your tumblr tab, etc. Ideally, you want a time when nobody will bother you. That can be hard to find but, in times of trial, Tina Belcher comes to us speaking words of wisdom:

[gif from Bob’s Burgers]

Literally me. I do most of my writing in the early morning before my clients start emailing me.

You could also check out The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and Lifelong Writing Habit by Chris Fox.

I hope some of that was helpful, and good luck! :)

how to edit a novel

The subject line is a phrase I googled in desperation after I wrote my first one and realized my usual technique of “read it a lot and poke at the sentences with a sharp stick” doesn’t work as well when you have 90,000 words to go through and have to think about things like Theme and Structure and Plot with a capital P. And also you’re on chapter 9 and you’ve forgotten what happened in chapter 2.

Someone asked me about editing recently, so here’s my basic plan.

1. steal underpants

2. ?????

Wait, wrong plan.

highlighted printed out editing notes

Blurred out editing notes, since I assume you don’t want to know the entire plot of Singing in the Wilderness before you read it.

1. read through briefly and make a list of all the scenes, broken down by chapter so I know what happens when

2. note as I go through what I think of as open doors – things that raise questions or create expectations in the reader’s mind. These need to either be followed up on later or cut.

3. note also anything obvious that needs to be fixed (timeline contradictions, bad transitions) or that needs to be fact checked (can you actually cook liver like that???).

4. look at the open doors. Go through and either remove them or make them go somewhere, tie them into the plot if they’re not already.

5. look at the scene list and the overall plot structure. Decide if that works, if there’s sufficient tension and if it’s in the right places, if the climax is climaxy enough and so on.

6. make a to do list with all the things so far that I know need to be changed, starting with very large changes and going down to smaller ones.

7. fix those things!

8. once the major changes are done, I read it over and fix awkward sentences and poor word choice and dialogue like I mentioned above…probably like three times? Until it reads smoothly and nothing makes me cringe.

9. send it off to be betaed and fix everything they tell me to fix

10. go over it again at least once more, probably twice, because there is always something else – more adverbs to remove, sentences that can be shortened, words that aren’t quite right. And for the stuff I’m selling where I can’t afford typos but also can’t afford a proofreader, I have my computer read it out loud to me to catch stuff I won’t catch when I’m just reading it.

Most of the above is basically what Rachel Aaron recommends in her book 2K to 10K, and I wish I had read the book before painfully working it out on my own – it’s only 99 cents and the section on editing alone is more than worth it. (She also recommends making a timeline, which I should definitely start doing but haven’t yet.)

Anyone who got to the end of this is probably either editing something or avoid editing something and in need of a cup of tea, so here is Heloise to make you some. With death spoon.

 small blue hippo with tea being scoop in a spoon shaped like a skull