Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.
J. K. Rowling
You and I need to have a talk. Yes, you, the writer who is using this blog (and others) as an excuse to not write. “I’m writing!” you tell your spouse. You know that’s not true. You know you’re just piddling around. Quit lying to them and to yourself. Write.
Your time is precious. You have a limited allotment of it, and you don’t know when you’ll run out. You could die of an aortic dissection in the next hour and then where would your stories be? Faded to transparency like Marty McFly, invisible to the world as if they had never existed. So write.
Yes, the chores will pile up. Your spouse/significant other will resent you at times. You may resent yourself at times. But priorities must be set and agreements must be made, because when you publish your work (be it online for free or for pay or through a publisher or by yourself) they will be proud of you. You will have accomplished something that others don’t because they can’t. Not everyone can write a story, but you can. So write.
Push away he outside distractions – including the Internet. Do not leave it on because you need to do “research”. You know where that leads; to that place where you lie to yourself and others. Jennifer and I have what we call Writing Nights, where she puts our son to bed and does not distract me with things. She retreats to the bedroom to read or downstairs to watch TV, while I sequester myself in the office – not in bed – and write. The point is to exclude the world and its demands so that the writing can get done. Because it needs to be done. So write.
There are stories in there, and they need to come out. So for all values of n except pen and paper (or keyboard and screen), discard n and write.
I am inherently lazy, which explains why I program for a living (at least until this writing thing takes off). Anything that can be described by a mathematical algorithm can be done by a computer, and there are few things in this world that cannot be described by an algorithm. Creative writing is one of them, so I have a difficult path ahead of me. Steven Pressfield would classify laziness as a manifestation of Resistance – the thing that, by whatever means possible, prevents you from creating. Fortunately there are ways around it.
The reason I was able to publish The Dragonslayers v1 this year was because I followed the advice of a writer at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2011. There was a Publishing Day seminar on something or other (I forget the topic, but that’s not the point), and afterwards I asked one of the panelists what time of day he thought was the most productive. I wish I could remember his name so I could honor him properly for his wisdom. He answered astutely, saying he wrote best at night (as in two in the godforsaken morning) but that it was different for everyone and that if I was having trouble making time for writing (my Resistance at the time) try different times of day.
Like an idiot, I sat on the advice for a couple years. Finally, after several years of looking at the manuscript for DS1 and wondering if it was going to get done on its own, I realized it wouldn’t unless I followed the panelist’s advice. I set my alarm and went to bed early enough to force myself out of bed the next morning at 5:30. When the phone went off, the only thing that saved it from a sudden death were (1) it was an almost-new phone, and (2) I had set up the coffee machine to be ready at the right time. I sat down with the coffee in front of the computer and channeled my rage at being awoken into my writing. “Kill your darlings,” says the writer’s adage, and the slaughter began. The clever phrase was snipped and replaced with actual wit, ‘that’ was removed wherever it appeared, and plot chunks were deleted in their entirety. I stopped a couple hours later when I needed to get out the door for work, but was able to renew it the next morning. And the morning after that. And so on.
Like the panelist said, the time that worked for him might not work for you, as it certainly wouldn’t work for me. But experiment, try different times, and be consistent. We are creatures of habit, and repeated tasks become easier the more they are repeated. Before you know it, the manuscript (or the editing job) will be done.
One of the things that came to me pretty quickly when I started writing was a technique for developing characters. I saw a quote posted by Lauralee Bliss on her Facebook page – “Plot builds character” – and realized it was quite true. Turmoil in the lives of the characters allows them to act in ways that reveal what’s in their hearts. But how do you organize it?
Act like a reporter. Ask and answer the five Ws and you’ll get ahead in your writing.
Who – Identify the character with something that makes them who they are. The first one is always their name.
What – Plot builds character, so identify a part of the plot line relevant to the character
When – it has to happen sometime in the course of the story. Identify when.
Where – There’s always a setting. Describe it.
Why – There’s always a reason for the What. Describe it here it short detail.
Then repeat. Fill the page with the character’s details, building a plot and a background and a personality all at the same time. This is also useful for breaking up Writer’s Block logjams.