Welcome to the Inspiration Diaries! Last year we had six writers – three published, three on their way – checking in each month as a sort of ‘year in the writing life’. (You can catch up here.) This year we’re doing things a little differently. Three new Inspiration Project graduates will give us a monthly insight into their writing lives, but first Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some of their favourite writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To…
5 Steps To… Writing Faster
In my life, July always brings two things: my birthday and The Doom of An Impending Deadline. This year is no different. The first draft of Book 5 is due soon but I’ve been distracted by moving into a new apartment (gotta get that desk set-up JUST right, as you know), some very exciting news (Rewind has been optioned for TV!) and the fact that Book 4, AKA The Nothing Man, is out in less than a month. This means that I not only have to get myself to my desk each and every morning, but that while I’m there, I need to put in some serious wordage. Here are my 5 steps to writing faster or, to be less click-baity, to increasing your daily word count…
- Word count isn’t one size fits all. The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that everyone writes at different speeds and just because someone on Twitter said they wrote 17,000 words in a day doesn’t mean you should, or that that’s even possible for you. Even if you wrote 100 words a day, eventually you would have a book – and you might have it even sooner than the people who pull down enormous numbers, because commitment to finishing something is a different skill. What I always aim for as my deadlines approach is to increase my daily word count, that’s all.
- Get motivated. One thing that’s guaranteed to bring me to my desk is to re-read some of my favourite writing books. I don’t exactly know why, but there’s something about reading about someone else printing out their finished first draft on fresh, smooth pages and settling down with a coffee and a red pen to read their book… Doesn’t that immediately make you want to do that? To be able to do that? I am also a fan of the ‘The End’ reward, or even incremental rewards (10k word mark, 25k word mark, etc.). How will finishing this draft make your life better? Write the reasons down and stick them within sight of your desk.
- Read Rachel Aaron’s From 2k to 10k. You can usually pick up this in ebook for less than the price of a coffee and it’s so worth it. I re-read my copy regularly. Having started out as a blog post that went viral, Aaron outlines how she went from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000 words without increasing the time she spent writing. Now, let’s be clear: I haven’t managed that. But this slim title is so full of great advice that she definitely helped me increase my wordage. One of her top tips is to take five minutes before you start to plan what you’re going to write. Rather than look at the blank screen, I type a really, really rough idea of what I need to write – fragments, not full sentences – and this gives me a way forward.
- Eat the frog. As the quote that people think is from Mark Twain but apparently isn’t goes, if it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. Translation: do your writing first. Do it before you do anything else. Do it before you pick up your phone. Do it before everyone else wakes up and life gets going and distracts you and before you know it, it’s getting dark outside and you’re too tired to do anything except flop down in front of Netflix and resolve to try again tomorrow. Prioritise it. Protect it fiercely. One of the reasons I love writing fast is that I only need to block out a short space of time to neglect everything else in my life, which makes it much easier to do the neglecting (!).
- Attempt a 10k day. There’s writers who regularly pull down 10,000 words or more a day – I am in AWE – but for me, it would be a feat akin to running a marathon. It would take a lot of preparation, I’d have to be in the zone and I definitely wouldn’t be doing it on a regular basis. But boosting those little numbers at the bottom of the screen by a whopping 10,000 can be such a major boost to your first draft – and your motivation to finish it. Last year while I was in New York, I managed to write 10k words of The Nothing Man‘s first draft in one day – simply by doing nothing else. I set aside the day for it, made sure I didn’t have to leave the apartment for anything, made sure there’d be no interruptions, told people I was doing it so I’d have accountability and scribbled a plan for the chapters I was going to write. And you know what? It was fun. And it was just the first draft. Why not have a go at it? You could even rope some writer friends into doing it along with you.
Now, I better get back to writing some first draft words! Let’s check in with our diarists…
Things are heating up here in Charleston. Not only are the number of Covid-19 cases on the rise but so are the temperatures. Recently, the city passed a resolution requiring people to wear face masks in public places all in an effort to try and stop the spread. With temperatures hovering around 100°F the last few weeks…I would have thought the idea of walking around (with a mask covering your mouth and nose) in the scorching heat would have been enough of a deterrent and motivating factor to stay home. However, judging by the number of tourists milling around the city streets…Clearly I’m mistaken.
In a year where it feels like bad news has been dominating the headlines, and fear and anxiety have been my constant companions, it was nice to take a break and celebrate two joyful events. The first happened a few weeks ago, when my youngest son proposed to his darling girlfriend. I’m thrilled to be getting another daughter-in-law and excited to have something else to focus on and look forward to…a wedding! The second cause for celebration was my sweet granddaughter’s christening. It’s been a nice reminder that even though the world has experienced some dark days, the sun still shines brightly, filling our hearts with love and hope. While bad things happen in life, so too, do the good.
In other news…work on the first draft continues. I have a bulletin board on the wall over my desk with notecards listing the beats from Blake Snyder’s, Save The Cat, pinned to it. They help me stay focused and in addition I have a few other sticky notes on the wall to help inspire and remind me this is the first draft; it’s supposed to be crappy. The quotes staring me in the face as I type this are: “You can’t revise what you haven’t written down.” (Sandra Scofield), “Get it written, not right.” (Stephen Wilbers and Faith Sullivan), and, “You will know more with every page you write.” (Sandra Scofield). I’ve found this last one to be especially relevant this past week.
Until next month…happy writing and stay safe.
Ah July when did you get here? What on earth happened? How is it suddenly July? I don’t know, I feel like I blinked and time got away from me. Since the beginning of June I’ve back to full time work and that’s been exhausting, distracting and fun, but overall not great for getting writing done. I’ve done lots of planning and reading and thinking about my writing but very little actual writing and as the date to write up my inspiration diary piece approached I felt I haven’t written anything, so I’ve nothing to say but that’s not entirely true.
I’ve been working at carving out time for myself and making sure that my family is aware that my writing work is just as important as my work work. It’s meant some conflict as I’ve had to say no to some things, and of course I’ve felt guilty about that. I know it’s the right thing to do though because I don’t want to end up feeling resentful towards my husband and kids because I didn’t get writing done, I want them to know how much writing means to me and see how much better I feel and how much happier I am when I do get time to write. All I have to do now, is use that time I’ve carved out for actually writing!
Well, mes amies, it’s the middle of July and it still feels like March to me. The skies are grim, the news is grim, getting a hair appointment is less grim but thankfully my family and I are well and I hope it is the same for you and yours.
Last month I told you all about the Kildare Arts Collective project that I have been working on. It’s strange to work in collaboration during these times but the project is almost complete and the good news is that there will be an exhibition of the work in September for Culture Night. It’s exciting for me, as I’ve never been involved in anything like this. It’s moved me out of my comfort zone which has been a good thing. I’ve discovered forms of poetry that I didn’t know about, and also poets that make me want to read more.
I also mentioned that I was interviewing the characters for a new novel that has been twirling away in my brain. After a few days of probing their lives, after a few conversations with myself while doing chores, I began to write. The funny thing is the voice that has arrived is not the voice I imagined. This woman is sassy, she’s in her late forties and has been around the block. She’s direct, blunt and cynical about relationships and yet still managed to get herself trouble. Initially I was concerned that her voice wasn’t the right tone, but on reflection I think that maybe this is what I need to read, need to hear – a sassy grown woman who has a sense of humour even though the story she’s telling is so dark. Maybe it’s what the world needs to hear. Fingers crossed that I can carry her pizzazz for the whole novel because it’s not easy. I’m managing somewhere between 300 and 500 words a day on this project when I usually write anywhere up to 1,200. But it feels right at the moment, so I’m going to go with my gut and get this first draft down. Novel 4, we got this!
Stay safe and healthy.
Join us next month and each month for more writing advice from Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, and to check in with our scribes!