Things don’t always go as planned in life, especially when you are trying to break the status quo and write a novel. Here are some tips to get you back on your writing train, and start cranking words out again. If you just need a motivational fire lit under your butt, then check this out instead.
You are going to have breaks in your writing process. Generally, when someone is drafting a book, and asks for advice, I tell them all the same thing. Write something every day. The reason that’s so important is because even one single day without writing, or adding to your story, can be devastating. It happens though, the worst possible thing that can. You miss or skip a day. Then another one. Every hour without adding to your novel at that point severely increases the risk that you won’t finish, because you aren’t waking up and going to sleep thinking about your story. The details fade, and when you do come back to it, you forget where you were.
You go back and try to pick up the storyline from the last couple paragraphs, but it doesn’t work. So you go back to the beginning, telling yourself that you will give it a quick edit and get yourself back on track. You think you’re moving in the right direction, but soon learn that there is no such thing as a quick edit. You get lost fixing sentences, and before the day is out, you’ve lost another day without adding words to your manuscript, and more will follow, unless you break the cycle immediately. In the editing process, this isn’t as crucial, but when drafting, it could mean the difference between finishing and giving up.
But don’t worry, I’m here to help, by telling you what you need to hear, which isn’t necessarily what you want to hear.
Step One: Write
First and foremost, unless you can absolutely avoid it, do not go back through your story. Read the last page, get your head back in the story, and start writing. Don’t worry about repeating yourself, because you are going to find some redundancy in your text when you start editing anyway. So don’t worry about it. Put that pen to the page, or fingers to the keyboard, and start writing. Smash out a couple paragraphs, then go back and fact check whatever nit-picky pieces you can’t remember. This will put you in a creative mindset, rather than an editing mindset that read throughs can bring on.
Step Two: Take Notes
I’m a fan of keeping a working notebook with your story, so that you can have a brief list of all those important things that you might forget through the course of editing. You should have an outline available too. Remember how important I said it was to jot down an outline? This is one of the reasons. After you get a couple paragraphs down, make an outline if you don’t have one. Don’t get crazy with the details, just keep to the major plot points, everything up until this point of the story, and the big stuff that you have in store. Think of it as an index to help you keep track of where you are. Once that is out of the way, get a notebook and jot down every character’s full name, and any little tidbits about them that you need to remember. What color was Sara’s dress? Mike wears glasses. Rita hid the locket in her desk drawer, so don’t let her pull it out of her pocket later. What’s happening with the weather? Draw a map of the town. Anything to help you remember those juicy little details, so that you don’t need to go digging through text to find these things while you are writing.
Step Three: The Usual Muse Bait
If you are in a writing slump, then changing your routine, or doing something to convince your brain that writing time is important is essential. When I really need to focus, I get a small bag of hard candy, some caffeine, and I go somewhere unusual to write. I block off an hour, and do whatever I can to make sure that I’m not going to be interrupted by life. I remove myself from the daily grind, and I find myself writing easier. I’ve gone so far as to tell a roommate something like, “Unless World War 3 breaks out, an asteroid is coming to kill us all, or zombies come at the house, I’d like to not be bothered for the next hour or two.” Then I lock myself in a room with the laptop and I don’t come out until I have something accomplished.
Altering your frame of mind can be as easy as altering your environment. Drive to the coffee shop, or the library. Try a new energy drink or candy. Thumb through your notebook. Once you get set up to write, then write. If you need to scan through some of you novel to figure out where you were, then set a timer on your phone. Give yourself no more than 10 minutes, then start writing. That trick works well when researching things as well.
Step Four: Attitude is Everything
You need a focused mindset, not one concerned with something else happening in the next room, the White House, or on the other side of the world. Turn your internal dialogue into a coach. Tell yourself that you are going to put the rest of the world aside for a minute and concentrate on writing, consequences be damned. You can deal with any problems that creep up later. Turn off your phone, disconnect from the Internet, and be in the moment. Just you, your notebook, and your words. That’s all that matters. Make that glowing screen with your manuscript on it the center of the universe, and dig in. You need to be willing to let everything that isn’t writing slide.
Step Five: Congratulate Yourself
Doesn’t matter if it was one sentence or thirty pages. Give yourself a pat on the back, and get some kind of reward. Maybe a special brick of chocolate, a cold beer, a night out, a glass of wine, whatever. Do something nice for yourself, and make sure that it feels like a reward. If someone asks what you are doing tell them. “I wrote today, and I’m rewarding myself.” Who cares if they think you are being silly? It isn’t silly, or crazy, or anything of the sort. You are developing a habit, and that’s really hard to do. You know how hard you can be on yourself when you miss a day? You should be equally kind to yourself when you get some words in. That will reinforce the habit.
Prepare for the Next Day
Block off some time, before you go to bed. Find a spot in your schedule and clear it for the next day. If you spent 90% of your hard-won time getting back in touch with your story, the last thing you want to do is get derailed again. You should be terrified that if you don’t make time for your story, it will slip away, and you’ll never see it again. That fear is how you make it a priority. Use that energy to drive you forward. If there’s a chance that you’ll be interrupted again, wake up early and hammer out some words in the morning before everyone else is up. If you had a rough day, scratch out a paragraph before bed. Don’t let yourself sleep until you add words.
Make it a Routine
You’ve done it! Two days in a row of adding words. Celebrate, be happy, get more chocolate, or maybe some ice cream, and repeat the whole process. Be terrified not to write, justifiably, because you know if you stop, you could go your whole life without finishing. Reward yourself every day that you get words in, because you are working toward a goal, and you’re sticking to a plan. Make writing a priority, and keep good notes so you will spend more time writing, and less time leafing through your pages searching for whether or not your MC is still wearing their jacket.
I hope this helps out. There’s nothing worse than missing one day and feeling lost when you return to your story. Just don’t let it happen again 😉 Questions or comments? Leave them below. I promise to check in and answer them, once I get my writing time in for the night.