How Not to Waste Your Writing Time

I am having a difficult day today as far as the writing goes. It’s something that happens fairly often once I’m past the initial excitement of a new story and before I get to the editing stage. My head may be seething with ideas, but getting them down on a blank page isn’t so easy. Once the words start to flow, then it picks up, but getting them to flow can feel damn near impossible at times. So I thought I’d share a few of my tricks and tips to help with this process.

SET A SCHEDULE

I don’t write every day, but I do have specific days when I do write, and I don’t let anything else get in the way of that. By which I mean I don’t drop everything and go out for lunch with a friend on a writing day. Writing is a job, and you have to treat it like one. Refusing to write unless inspiration strikes (or your muse speaks to you, or however you want to describe it) just isn’t going to get you anywhere. Making yourself write when you’re not feeling ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is – can be downright painful, but it’s necessary. And make sure family and friends respect the schedule that you set up.

SET A SHORT TERM GOAL

It doesn’t have to be a huge goal. In fact smaller is often better because then you won’t feel overwhelmed. Telling yourself you’ve got to write 10k words probably isn’t realistic; pick a number that you know you can achieve without too much pain. My goal for each writing day is a mere 1k words. I know I can make myself do that even if I’m struggling. And then I reward myself afterwards with something more fun, even if it’s generally writing related. Such as working on cover ideas or my website or my Twitter following. And don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself making endless cups of coffee or emptying the washing machine instead. Just head back to your computer – or pen and paper – every time until your goal is accomplished.

SET A LONG TERM GOAL

This can be anything, big or small. Publication by a set date or the first ten chapters by a set date. Make sure you pick a sensible time frame though. I’m close to finishing my current novel – which is possibly why it’s so painful – and I plan to have it available on Kindle by the end of September. I know I can do that if I stick to my short term goal.

GO OVER WHAT YOU WROTE LAST TIME

You don’t necessarily have to change much, if anything, but I find this is a good way of getting back into the story. I actually enjoy editing much more than writing from scratch; it’s where I refine and polish the basic structure that I’ve set down. But I try to keep the editing to a minimum at this point because I don’t want to get distracted. Editing is a whole different process that I’ll talk about another time.

By Unknown – Open Clipart Library, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74745868

MAKE NOTES

This is a really good habit to get into. My brain is stuffed with stories – most of them unrelated to my current project – and if I didn’t write ideas down when they came to me, I’d forget them. Unfortunately I often have them at night when I’m trying to sleep. So I’ve lost a lot of really good ideas of how to get from A to B over the years.

For me, writing is joining up the dots of a story that otherwise only exists inside my head. I know my characters; I know the big thing that’s going to happen to them; getting them there is the writing process. So if there’s a sudden flash of illumination – oh yeah, THAT’S how that happens – write it down!

Ten Things I Do Instead Of Writing (that I think will help me write…)

1.EDITING

This can take two forms. One’s fairly innocuous and often does have the intended effect; I quickly read over what I wrote yesterday to get me in the zone/get me into my protagonist’s/antagonist’s headspace. The other is fatal. I go back and read something I wrote months ago, discover it’s terrible (everything I write is always terrible when I reread it months later)/full of errors/how-did-I-ever-think-this-nonsense-was-good. I then spend a large amount of time editing it. Sometimes it’s almost a rewrite. And when I say a large amount of time, I mean weeks. I then go back to my current project – which is now also terrible since it’s so long since I last looked at it – and I start editing that.

2.THINKING

I do this A LOT. And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Clearly I need to think about what I’m going to write. And if I do it in otherwise occupied time – such as walking the dog – it can even be productive. But quite often I forget what I have thought, even though I can recall it was positively brilliant, and that is frustrating. I’ve invested in a notebook (pocket-sized) to prevent this, but I keep forgetting to take the notebook with me …

3.WALKING THE DOG

See above.

Also the dog needs walking, that’s a given. And the fresh air will do me good, clear my head, help clarify my ideas. But, especially if it’s a beautiful day, I can spend hours clarifying and then not remember any of it.

Poppy is ready!

4.GARDENING

Pretty much the same as dog walking.

5.IRONING

Much the same as gardening except indoors. I’ll include most housework in this category although I do enjoy ironing more than, say, hoovering. I get more satisfaction out of the empty ironing basket, and I haven’t sat at the computer all day not writing anything because I’m thinking about the massive pile of ironing that needs attention.

6.PAPERWORK

I loathe paperwork. Much like the ironing, however, if I don’t do it, it niggles away at me. So it’s time well spent because otherwise I’d be distracted from my writing by the pile of bank statements and invoices and tax returns that are sitting there, threatening to topple over because the stack is so tall.

7.CLEANING (and clearing out)MY DIARY

Yes, this is a thing. I have one of those fancy ones that you buy new inserts for. It is bright pink, fairly shiny, and somewhat elderly (sounds like me…) so it needs a lot of upkeep. I wipe it vigorously, trim off any dangly bits and go through the pages to remove anything irrelevant. Generally I get distracted by diary entries that remind me of people I haven’t spoken to in ages/days out I want to recall/stuff I wrote down but still forgot to do.

8.RESEARCHING

I love researching. I trained as a historian so research is more or less programmed into me. It can lead me into a whole bunch of new articles for my blog or ideas I want to pitch to an editor. But I love it for its own sake – not just for the writing benefits – so it can tempt me dangerously far away from any actual writing. Instead I’ll find myself drawing maps, or making timelines, or arranging stuff on a spreadsheet so that I can find it when I need it (this never works, by the way)

9.REARRANGING MY WORKSPACE

This one is also fatal. It takes hours – it’s never just moving a couple of boxes of books – and it’s exhausting. This is the one that prompted me to write this list. On Thursday I had the great idea that if I dug out my old laptop, I could maybe do some work at the sitting-room table. But I didn’t like where the table was (it meant staring at a blank wall when I looked up reflectively) so I decided to switch it with the television stand. Three hours later my many hundreds of books are on the floor, I’ve moved every piece of furniture in the room, and my back feels like I spent the day harvesting a cornfield by hand. I am still dealing with the fall-out.

The fall-out

10.COOKING

Okay, no. Just no. I am a notable procrastinator, but I hate cooking. I would much rather write.