After finishing the first draft of “The Defectors” book two and beginning book three, I’ve realized that everything seems easier after getting that first novel onto paper (or into pixels). That first novel is hard to finish, but it taught me a lot about my process and my hangups that keep me from being productive.
If you’re struggling to pump out that novel you’ve been wanting to write, take a look at your daily habits and see if you are being held back by any of the following…
1. Getting Your Online ‘Fix’
Spending too much time on Facebook and Twitter is making you stupid, depressed, and unproductive. Think about it: Do you really need to see what all your friends thought of the same “Breaking Bad” episode? No. Do you need to see their drunken pictures? No. Do you really need another BuzzFeed list in your life? Well, one more can’t hurt, right? Wrong! These things sap your productivity and your mental bandwidth.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not great at maintaining my author platform, especially on social media. (Strange for a Millennial, I know.) However, I absolutely don’t waste my limited energy where my potential readers aren’t spending any time. Should you be everywhere? Ideally. But for me, writing more books is more important right now.
2. Reading Too Many Books on Writing
Spoiler alert: They all say the same thing. To be a writer, you need to write.
However, two books I would highly recommend for their actionable advice and lack of fluff is “2K to 10K: Writing Better, Writing Faster, and Writing More of What You Love” and “On Writing Well.” The former completely changed the way I approach a novel and really did help me write faster, while the latter made me a better writer and a better editor.
The same goes for self-publishing websites. During simple Google searches for things like cover designers, proofreaders, and even advice on KDP select, I’ve come across too many sites that seem more interested in lamenting the over-saturation of self-published books and chastising authors for releasing second-rate work on Amazon than actually being helpful. Ignore the haters and do your thing. If you’re just looking for a little helpful advice on the regular, I’d highly recommend The Self-Publishing Podcast and The Creative Penn. Both are hosted by successful, upbeat independent authors who give practical information while also making you feel all “rah-rah” about writing and being an author in general.
3. Watching Pointless TV
I love TV, but I don’t have cable. When I can just turn on the TV without expending the mental energy to choose something specific I want to watch, I end up watching old reruns of shows I don’t even like. I still watch a ton of television online, but I like to think it’s quality storytelling that broadens by horizons as an author (“The Walking Dead,” “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Newsroom”). Whenever possible, avoid feeding your brain garbage.
4. Not Having a Writing Schedule
Not all writers write on a schedule, but I think it’s crucial for beginning writers to. Never underestimate the power of habit. Find that time of day that you can carve out for writing no matter what. For me, I find I have the most to give creatively in the early morning. Even if you only have an hour, that’s plenty of time to pull a rough draft together. When I was a full-time student, working part-time and rowing, I found that hour in several 15-minute chunks throughout the day. You lose the advantage of a prolonged flow, but you get the words out just the same.
5. Not Having a Daily Word Count Goal
Running a marathon taught me one thing: 95 percent of achieving something huge is just showing up. That might seem like a weird thing to say, but by showing up, I mean just putting your miles in. Some people are naturally athletic. I am not one of those people, but I can follow directions. Running a marathon is extremely difficult (as in, requiring hard work), but it’s just following a recipe — logging 3 miles here, 10 miles there. If you put in the miles, at the end of four or five months, you will complete a marathon. It’s the same with writing a novel.
I think having a set amount of time to write each day and a word count goal you need to hit is a powerful combination. If I know I need to hit a thousand words in a set amount of time, it becomes a race against the clock instead of a leisurely plod forward. When I have that urgency, the words just come — whether they’re any good or not. Remember, you can edit anything to make it better, but you can’t edit words that aren’t there.
6. Writing Scenes You Dread
If a scene is a chore to write, it’s going to be a chore to read. I really believe that the spark of excitement (or lack thereof) the author feels when writing a scene translates to the reader. If I’m not feeling a scene, I ask myself if it’s necessary. If it’s not, I cut it. If it is needed for exposition or to get the characters from point A to point B, I try to find out what would make it more interesting. Usually this involves injecting a little drama: an element of danger, an added complication, or a pivotal moment for two characters.
7. Being Too Precious About Your Writing Mojo
A lot of writers waste time waiting for inspiration to strike. Or, they believe they can only write in one local coffee shop on rainy afternoons after 4 p.m. When I started trying to write, I had a really hard time getting work done at home, but that was because I was trying to write at a time when distractions were at their peak. I found that by writing in the morning, not only did I have fewer distractions, but my mind was clearer and I was primed for creativity.
As far as inspiration goes, you really can train your brain to be creative at a certain time in a certain place. Writing rituals are fine (a specific time, a pot of coffee, your favorite writing sweater), but only if they don’t restrict you from writing every day.
So get out there and finish your novel! Once you write one, the others will come more easily.