welcome to session #2 of my weekly bulletin on writing & self-publishing! Last week’s session was all about the start of the writing journey. Check it out for the craft books I recommend. Today we’ll dive into why having a writing system is so important for crafting your novel.
Writing daily – your most important habit
Besides knowing the right resources, there are some essential things that writers need to do:
- read a lot – there is no better way to learn and be inspired
- write every day
- seek as much feedback as possible and grow a thick skin for feedback of the negative kind
Of these, the most important is: write. As simple as that – if you don’t put words on the page (or into your word processor of choice), there’ll be no book. It is your most important habit as a writer, and I hope I can give you some insights on how I try to cultivate this habit (and where I failed).
When inspiration strikes
There is a great quote that sums up the daily writing habit very nicely:
I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.
It’s commonly attributed to Peter DeVries, even though there is some discussion about its origin.
Sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it? Let’s take a closer look. To write you should be inspired – but what does that mean? Wait until a flash of genius hits? Until the story has fully formed in your head and you just let it flow freely?
There is a danger in waiting for inspiration to hit us like this: it might not come at all, or it comes so sporadically that your novel takes forever to get done.
More important, then, is the second part of this quote: make sure that you are inspired every morning. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike you, set yourself up to succeed every day of your writing life.
Having the right setup means something different to all of us: you have your workplace set up, it is the right time of day, the place is nice and quiet (or blasting the required music), the cats are in their usual spots, whatever. We all need a certain setup to really get into our work. Figure out what setup works for you and make sure it’s implemented before nine o’clock every morning.
Goals vs. systems vs. habits in writing
We need goals to chart our general direction. But often, goals are far away in the future and require many steps to reach them. Sometimes it’s also not clear how to get there. So to create manageable steps towards a big goal and to keep on track on a day-by-day basis, you can employ a system. A system is the repetition of an activity that is manageable, achievable and ideally feels good so that you can easily maintain it until it becomes a habit.
Writing a book is big undertaking. It’s a huge time commitment, and more often than not during the writing process, I feel lost. Or that the last day’s work reads like utter crap. It makes me wonder: how am I gonna get there???
But here’s the thing: the finished book is a goal, and while it’s wonderful to reach this goal, you will basically be failing every day until you finish it (because you haven’t reached it yet).
And this is where the system comes in: write every day, at a level that is maintainable. Every single day. And every day brings you closer to the goal. And you succeed, every day, because you followed your system. Besides, following your system creates a habit, and after following it for some time it will actually become harder NOT to write than to write.
I like systems-thinking in many areas of life (getting into sports, trying to change careers). And while I don’t think you can will something into happening (“make my book #1 on the NYT bestseller list!!!”), following systems puts you in the right place so that success can find you.
The concepts of systems vs. goals are explained in “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Scott Adams, which doubles also as his autobiography and is in general an enjoyable read.
My writing system
When I started out writing, I had no idea that I would need a writing system to make the most of my time. My baby son had just been born, and all I knew was that I wanted to get my ideas to paper and out to readers. So I tried to work whenever there was time, but more often than not tiredness, or the allure of other activities (ONE MORE EPISODE OF HIMYM!) won over. And then there’s always the household, or whatever your choice of procrastination.
But over the years I learned a few things that really help me focus and get things done in the face of daily life madness.
- Find your best working time. This has been most important for me. I believe that everyone has a time to shine, a time of day when their creative juice flow most freely. Some are early birds (larks), and some are night owls. Me, I’m a middle-of-the-day duck. I work best some time between 9 am and 3 pm.
Of course, this becomes so much more challenging when you work a full-time job or look after your kids. But even then, knowing your best time is crucial: maybe you can get up a bit earlier, use the lunch break or write when the kids are in bed.
- Have the right beverages available. I cannot work without hot drinks. Just doesn’t work. A coffee to start, and then copious amounts of decaf and teas in between.
- Have required craft books and examples nearby. Often I need to look up something when I write, and then I don’t want to run around and search for it. So my dearest craft books (see also last week’s session on that 😉 are always nearby, as well as any novels that I feel match the style I’m working towards (great for reference).
- NO SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s a huge time sink. While it’s great for many things, it can be a total rabbit hole. Also, it’s been shown that the ping of a new post, like or retweet creates something like an addiction. To write, I go on a complete social media diet. Facebook and Twitter are off (there’s even browser plugins that block them if you need that), and all notifications on my phone as well.
Building your writing habit
Habits are a strong force in our lives: we don’t think much about brushing our teeth or taking a shower in the morning – it’s just part of our day. And the same should be true for your writing: it should become a habit that you just NEED to do to feel good about your day. Here are some tips how you can get yourself into the writing habit when you start out:
- Get going. Even if you don’t feel like writing, at least open the laptop. Turn on your word processor and open that word document (or scrivener, etc.). Make yourself a drink. And even if you don’t write a word now, don’t feel bad about yourself. Once you have everything set up, it will be much easier to get going than to turn everything off again. (also works well with sports – once those running shoes are on, you’re much more likely to head out)
- Set yourself maintainable daily goals. One of the things you’re going to hear often from writers is “I write X words a day”. It’s great to have such a goal.
- Start small. A thousand words are a lot. Set yourself a reachable goal (for example, 300 words), and you’ll be surprised how often you’ll reach or even surpass it.
- Adjust as your writing habit becomes stronger. Up your word count, or even better, form scene goals. For example, write 1 scene per day. (More on word-count vs scene-oriented goals in another post).
- Not every day will be spent writing new stories. Part of creating a readable novel requires rewriting and editing. Determine an achievable goal to get through rewrites and edits. For example, rework 1-2 scenes a day. (Rewriting and editing will be another future post.)
- Don’t freak out when you see how prolific other writers are – we all write differently, consistency is most important (as we learned from the tortoise vs. the hare).
- Define rewards. This goes from the small (a nice coffee for reaching the daily word count) to the more extravagant (a night out for getting the first draft done). Make sure to celebrate a milestone before heading right into the next task.
- Let a draft be a draft. Don’t try to perfect everything on the first go. Striving for perfection can really inhibit you. Leaving blanks, putting a comment in and coming back to it later is perfectly fine – just keep going. You will polish it later during the rounds of edits to come. For an example, check out this snippet from latest manuscript: I didn’t stop because some tech and finance lingo was missing, but rather put in comments to return here later.
- Build in accountability. It helps if someone holds you accountable for your progress. Tell your spouse or a friend about your writing goals. Put your word count into your calendar and tick it off every day. Use a goal setting app. Whatever works for you, but check your progress! A great way to start right now is to take part in NaNoWriMo (that’s short for “National Novel Writing Month”, meaning you spend November to write a whole novel – more about this in next week’s session).
Writing with family & work commitments
Of course writing is not the only thing demanding our attention. We have day jobs, family, chores, hobbies… Finding time to actually focus on writing can become quite difficult. There are a few things I’ve found quite helpful, but honestly, this is a difficult one that will always require some juggling.
- Tell your family about your writing needs & plans! It’s great when your family is your ally. Tell them when you are planning to write, and ask for their support. My kids and husband know when I write, and try to keep me undisturbed in that time.
- Cut back on media consumption. I love movies. I love TV shows. But I love writing more. So especially if you work well in the evenings, skip Netflix and power up your writing setup!
Over to you
Let me know – what are you favorite writing habits? How do you beat all the distractions? Do you know any other tricks to build this habit?
Writing tip of the week
Second session and already a new regular category 🙂 Here I want to share some random tidbit from the last week that I found useful, entertaining or both.
This week I really liked KJ Charles’ posts on punctuation. Besides being a fantastic writer, she’s also worked as an editor, and it really shows in these two extensive and entertaining posts. Must read for writers!
Fiction reads of the week
I’m a romance writer and I LOVE reading romance in all its forms: gay, straight, angsty, slow-burn, erotic, etc. My book rec of the week is the Off-Campus series by Elle Kennedy. I’ve read the first three books so far and I’m digging them. Sexy, fun, college times. Yeah!
Bits & pieces
Autumn has truly arrived in Berlin, so cuddle up and get the writing going! Have a great week, Anyta
Books mentioned in this bulletin:
- “Bird Meets Cage“, a sweet coming-of-age story / gay romance set in the circus, is now available on Amazon.
- You can get a free e-book by signing up for my newsletter
- Disclaimer: All links to books in this article are affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you make a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost for you if you purchase the books via these links!
Session #1 – Where to start writing…
Session #3 – Writing in November: make the most of NaNoWriMo to boost your word count