When I started writing back in August of 2013–I mean, seriously writing!–I had no idea if it would take me anywhere. I knew that I wanted it to, but what I was really worried about was: Would I keep writing, or fizzle out and let it go like I had in the past? What’s the secret to staying motivated? How do the professional authors do it?
The truth is as simple as can be: you just do it. If you want to be a writer (or anything), you have to DO the things that writers do. For me, that list is the following…
•…block out time in their schedules to write. For me, it’s two hours every night after work. I keep a somewhat-informal work log: a little notebook where I record the date; the time (to the minute) that I started writing, stopped for a break, started again, and ended; and the hours worked. Example: [Date: 5/14/2014 Start: 6:02 p.m. Out: 7:05 p.m. In: 7:10 p.m. End: 8:19 p.m. Total: 2 hrs. 12 min.] Like clocking in for work, it keeps me on track, and I feel proud to see the hours add up at the end of the week.
•…talk with people that their writing might affect. Let your spouse or children or friends know that you will be unavailable during those blocked-out times; you don’t love them less, and you will miss them, but you need some time to write; be sure you spend time with them before and after writing, whenever possible.
•…outline. Yes, outline. Sorry, people, but if you want to write, you need to outline; you need to begin with the end (the climax) in mind, and then work out a purposeful progression of events to reach that climax. Sometimes your outline will be five quick bullet points, and then you go! Other times it will be several pages of block paragraphs. Whatever it is, you need to explore your story before you write your story.
•…get sleep. Shoot for those 8 solid hours a night, even if it means–again–less time with family. Get at least 7 solid hours each night during the week, and get 8 hours on the weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights). As Robert Ludlum’s character Jason Bourne knew, “Rest is a weapon.” Keep your mind sharp and hit the rack.
•…eat right. I’m not talking about a super-strict diet; but you need to make sure that you’re eating some fruit, vegetables, and protein. Skip the fries at fast-food restaurants and ask for apple slices instead. Most places have them and it makes a world of difference. Drink more water. And go easy on the snacks; don’t snack while writing, snack before or after writing.
•…go for walks. How can you write an exciting, heart-pounding story if you yourself live a sluggish life? Block time for a walk before you write, at least 20 minutes. Walks clear your mind and get your blood flowing–ideal circumstances for creative potential! For me, I get home from work and immediately take my dog for a 30-minute walk, then I shower, snack, make a small cup of coffee, and sit down to write. After two hours of writing, I still have time to watch a 40-min. TV episode and spend time with my fiancée before bed. So take that walk. Make the time.
•…read. One of my favorite authors, Orson Scott Card, said it best: “If you don’t have the time to read, then you don’t have the time–or the tools–to write.” To become a better writer, you must read often, and you must read well! So pick that book you’ve been meaning to read, and read it…it will make you a better writer!
•…study the craft. Pick up a book on fiction writing, too. As with any professional endeavor, you can never know too much about the field. Study and practice the techniques you learn. For Sci-Fi, I recommend Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. For a principled understanding of writing for any genre, I recommend Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers. For a comprehensive study of writing techniques for all genres, I HIGHLY recommend the Writer’s Digest book series, “The Elements of Fiction Writing”–books are separated by topic, including Characters & Viewpoint, Plot, and Dialogue, each written by famous and respected authors.
•…finish what they start. You don’t have to finish every story. But you have to finish SOME of them! I used to give up on stories after the first few written pages because of one of two problems, or both: I didn’t know where the story was going; or I didn’t think it was any good. Outlining solved the first one. As for the second, I conducted an experiment: I finished a story that I had outlined, even though I thought it was boring. I figured, if it IS boring, at least I finished it…at least I practiced my craft and I have an outlined, written, and edited story, complete in itself. I did. It was a good feeling. And guess what? As I wrote it–even though I thought it might be boring–the actual process of writing it, of being determined to FINISH it, made it develop into something pretty amazing. I thought it would be boring; it turned out instead that people related to it so much that they wanted to share it with friends. That may not always be the case with every story, but that’s not the point. The point is: practice your craft, finish a story…and you WILL become a better writer if you do! We learn best by doing.
•…write an amazing story, and then write another and another… Get them out of your head. Write your story, love it, care for it, fawn over it, and finish it. Then forget about it. Except for the business of sending it in to publishers, once you’ve finished a story, let well enough alone. Forget about it, and move on to the next one. Make THAT one your NEW labor of love. Write it, edit it, and send it out. Then forget about it. Then write the NEW story… Rinse and repeat.
•…are patient and persistent. Writing stories one after the other doesn’t mean you’ll have 12 stories in a month (most likely). If you’re completing two (great) short stories a month, I think you’re doing well. Some stories need time to matriculate through your thoughts, your psychology, and your ideals. You might conceive a story one month, but not write that particular story until months later. Meanwhile, you’re working on the stories from months before. You should be working consistently, but that doesn’t mean you have to churn out a story a week. These are labors of love, after all. Just don’t labor all your life on one story.
•…stay focused. You might have one or a dozen projects on your mind and in progress at any given time, but try to keep your attention on one or two. Get those completed. Then move on to the others.
•…study the business. You want to get published, right? Well, get on Google and type in searches for getting published. I recommend author-friendly sites such as Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Relief. NOTE: You should never have to PAY to get yourself traditionally published! So please ignore anything to do with subsidy publishing. Check out this professional article by Joel Friedlander on the dangers of subsidy publishing.
•…attend writing groups. Hey, go find yourself a group. It might take a few before you find one you really like. I drive 120 miles round-trip once a week for a group I especially like. But that’s tough! So I’m thinking of starting my very own group soon in my city. I’ll still attend the other group every other week or so, though! A good group is a good group… Get some writing friends, ask for and offer feedback on your work, and stay motivated! Peer pressure can be positive! Check Meetup.com and other social meet-up sites to find groups.
•…know what he or she thinks to be true and good. Look, every writer is a philosopher, at least implicitly. You have a way that you think the world should be, that would make it good and right. Explore your thoughts on that, deeply. Read books on morality; or read the newspaper, and actively think about your opinions on the article subjects–war, poverty, social responsibility and personal responsibility, the role of government, etc., from the big stuff down to the little stuff. Read books and play detective: try to detect what the author’s worldview is. Weaving your ideals into your characters, settings, and events will make your writing pop and prosper in a way you never would have imagined! Try it. Start here: if there is some issue that you’re divided on–that you’re not sure where you land–develop two or three characters based on the opposing views. Have them interact. See what comes out! Again, I recommend Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers as a jumping-off point for understanding why philosophy is important–in fact, INTEGRAL–to writing.
These are the big “jumping off” points that, together, have made me a “writer.”
I recently had an exchange with my brother on a Bruce Lee quote: “As you think, so shall you become.” To me, that quote might imply that action is needed, but it greatly underemphasizes the importance of action (surprising, coming from Bruce Lee!). I would say that as you think and as you ACT, so shall you become.
Be a thinker, but be a DOER more! To paraphrase William Faulkner: You want to be a writer? Then be writing!
What are your tips for BEING a writer? Let me know in the comments below. =)
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