Friday, February 25, 2011

Just general writing advice

Someone asked --"How do I make myself write?  How do I get writing again?"

First off -- congratulations.  You're way ahead of most folks who want to write.  You're doing it instead of talking about it.

Let me offer a few random pieces of advice.

-- Follow a writing routine.  Same time.  Same place. 

Put your butt in the chair.
Write every day.

Treat writing as a job.  You don't complain that you can't do the accounts today or you don't feel like teaching sixth grade this morning.
Write as if you were working for somebody else. 

-- The edges of sleep are strong writing times. 

Keep your computer set up and ready to go in a quiet place.  If you have ideas when you're falling asleep, get out of bed and go type them.

Write early.  Get up in the morning and head directly to the computer and work. 
Eat later.  Shower later.  Walk the dog later.  Don't talk to anyone.  Hold onto the dream state as long as you can.

If this works for you at all . . . give the first hour of the morning to your writing.

-- Write in little corners of time.  Keep a laptop with you, or a notebook and pen.   Write while you're eating lunch.  While you're waiting for the kid to finish dance class.  On the flight to L.A.

-- Write even when you're writing crap. 
Write bad stuff.  Just write something.
Nora Roberts said, "I can fix anything but a blank page."
Fill up the page and edit it later.  Just get something down.

-- Treat your writing as serious work.  It's not a hobby. 
It is more important to write than to have a clean kitchen floor.  You can send out for pizza.

-- Trust yourself.  There's endless creativity inside you.  If you lose an idea, it returns to the sea of your unconscious.  It will emerge again, that or something better.



  1. Excellent advice, Jo. I've been writing for years. Years and years. Even longer than I've known you. ;) But nothing gelled until I decided it was my JOB, and started treating it as such. Until I did that, it was too easy to shift it aside in favor of anything else that came along to demand my attention.

  2. Jo, this is a wonderful post. I've had stories knocking around in my head for years, but the logjam (log jam?) was broken when I did NaNoWriMo. I had to write a numerologically ominous 1,666 words a day in order to stay on track. I have a pretty demanding job, so I had to get up at 4:30 to write. I let myself pee (sorry) and make cocoa (coffee has too much caffeine). I was still half asleep, and the sentences and dialogue (mainly crap) just poured out of me. I didn't get to 40,000 words, but I wrote more in that month than at any brief period in my entire life.

    I've been side-tracked a bit because I've had family responsibilities in addition to my job. But the wonderful part is I no longer dread the process. I miss it, and I know I'm going to be getting up in the wee smalls again soon.

    I have to say reading your blog (and the persistent nagging of my writing parther) has been inspiring. I have no idea if I'm really a writer or not, and I don't care. I'm letting myself do something I love, which is likely pointless from a practical standpoint (I don't let myself think about the possibility of publication), for the first time in my life. It's liberating in a way I could never have imagined.

  3. P.S. I'm not yet at the point when I can just jump into writing when I have little bits of time. I'm too wide awake. But setting goals did allow me to write for an hour or so in the evening in preparation for the morning. And I use the other bits of time for research, so they're not a total waste.

    I don't even mind that my characters have changed in ways I didn't anticipate, and I have to throw out the first 17,000 words or so.

  4. Jo--
    I saw your post on Compuserve just a few minutes ago. Great advice. Any chance you'll be at Surrey again this year? I really enjoyed your workshops.

    I found the "deadline" of 1667 words per day for NaNo to be very motivating *g*
    Don't feel bad about tossing words. Last years NaNo ended up being_all_ backstory and won't be used directly in the main story. But they're words, and the first million are all practice, so they say.
    Keep it up!

  5. Aven, thanks much for the encouragement! I think of writing like knitting. When I first learned, I got discouraged if I had to tear out rows (lots of rows!). Then I reminded myself that I took up knitting because I like to knit. Fixing mistakes meant more knitting!

  6. Hi Linda --

    Remember when you were in college and the night before the test was when you HAD to reorganize your socks by color?

    It's like that.

    Not that you don't want to write, but there's all sorts of easier stuff that ties to sneak in between you and the writing.

    @ Annie -- If you page back in the blog, there's a post by Anne Gracie talking about this creative early morning time.

    I'm going to confess, I can't use it. The dog and the cat are too demanding.

    But there was a time I got most of my best work done about five in the morning. I miss it.

    But -- like you -- I'm in this for the long haul. This month you way not get much work done because of family responsibilities. Next month -- you will.

    @ Aven --

    >>The first million words are for practice <<<


  7. Couldnt agree more - you have to write something, even if its rubbish - then you can go back and edit it later. You cant edit nothing!

  8. Hi Grace --

    If I were to divide the writing world into 'good writers who get published' and 'good writers who do not' . . .

    one big dividing line would be -- "Can you put garbage down on the page?"

    If you're unable or unwilling to type stuff till it's 'good' -- you are unlikely to ever produce a manuscript.

  9. Where they write, with a bit of the why in the mix:

    “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” - E.B. White

    "The first thing you need to know about me is that I am a liar. I tell lies professionally, and this picture is just another one, because let me assure you, my desk is never that organized. But I am a liar with standards, so I cleaned the place up, hid all the bodies, before inviting you in." – Kat Howard

    "My favorite thing in my office is me, writing. Which I’m about to do right now." - A.S. King

    “My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.” - A. A. Milne

    Also, cats on desks.

  10. Hi Annie --

    Oh giggle.

    I just need to fit five or six weeks into every month. I'd be able to meet deadlines better if the months were longer.

    And my spelling, too, is wobbly.

  11. I'm an aspiring writer and I had a friend suggest your blog to me and I'm really happy I came here : ) Do you think I should start posting my stories on my blog?

  12. I sure do hope at least some of the advice I am handing out does more good than harm.

    I am so glad to hear you have a blog. I think everybody who is going to publish should have a website or blog prepared BEFORE they sell that first manuscript. It gets busy at that point and you will not have leisure to get the blog in tiptop shape.

    In a very, very general and tentative way, I'd say to write at the length you intend to publish at. If you plan to write novel length, I would advise writing novel length.

    So -- being very hesitant here -- I wouldn't say to put in a lot of time and effort polishing and publishing short stories if you want to write book length.

    Now, if you have short stories already written . . . my advice would be to hold onto them until you sell your first book. THEN, when the first book is about to come out and you are trying out fifty-dozen ways to publicize it, you can bring your stories out, pop them up at Amazon, and link them to your blog.

    I think what I'm trying to say is -- decide on your goal and head for it. Don't get sidetracked by the joy of keeping a blog or the pleasure of writing fanfic or the lure of short stories or the reassurance and delight of the many forms of social media. Let 'thine eye be single' as it were.

  13. Thanks! I don't have them written yet but I will! Also how do you get people to visit my blog?

  14. I hate to say this, but I don't think you attract readers by posting a blog.

    Once you HAVE readers you can remind them about your new books. You can make the reading more fun. You can lay down content that doesn't fit into the books but you're still in love with.

    You can do the whole self-expression thing about how you feel, which is liberating and I suspect everybody skips that part.

    But I don't see a blog as a way to garner new readers.
    I may be alone in this.
    And I am not what you might call a promotion maven.

    But I love blogging.

    What it is . . .
    We depend upon the immense generosity of the internet. Our research on-line depends on information posted without any expectation of return.
    When we blog, it's payback.

    If you're going to blog anyway, my advice would be to pick a theme you're passionate about and make your blog a creature of your love.

    It's nice if you're interested in some topic vaguely related to the kind of books you write. It might be the folks who come to read your postings on pirates or the labor movement in 1930 will pick up your 1760 pirate book or your labor-leader love story.

    But if your blog is knitting or raising koi, I think you gotta blog for its own sake.

    If you just make your blog an advertisement for your books, nobody's going to be that interested.