Yeah, I’m actually working on a big writing project too, but having a lot of trouble in getting myself to sit down and actually write. Maybe you have some suggestions?
That was a comment on my blog. I really like comments. I like that people read what it is that I write, no matter what it is that I write.
I especially like comments that ask me for my input. That means, not only is someone reading my stuff, but someone actually is requesting to read something that I will write. That is like money in the bank. I read this comment the other day and sat on it for a while, seriously debating on how to answer it. And I want to treat it as seriously as I can.
And, so I would ask someone who asked me for suggestions how serious they were about their writing project. Do they want to keep a blog like everyone else does? Do they want to keep a handwritten journal like so few people do? Do they have an idea for a short story or a novel or a novella or – Lord help us all – a poem or a ballad? So, my first suggestion is to pick your project.
If you want to regularly update your blog, then what exactly is regular? Do you want to update it with 1000 words every weekday? That’s 5000 words a week. There are professional writers that don’t have that kind of regular output. And, write down the number of words you do every day on a calendar where you can see it every day. The more crazy of us (like me) keep a spreadsheet tracking efficiency and productivity.
Do you want your blog to be topical? I mean, do you want to discuss your hobbies? That makes your word count even easier, if you write about what you know and love. If you want it to be topical, then get yourself a little black notebook. I have grown snobbish and I use Moleskin notebooks almost exclusively (I think the feel of the paper is delicious) but truthfully, take a jaunt to the dollar store. There are some really good hardbound notebooks you can get your hands on. Or a ring notebook. Whichever you prefer. And, when you get this notebook, use it to make notes on your first entry. And then let to notes flow until you have let them run dry. Keep the notebook handy at all times and update it with more ideas as required. This is because, when you get to the second or the twenty second journal entry and you are out of ideas, go to your notebook, check off the ones that you have already visited and tackle one of the one you haven’t.
Writing a short story or a novel or a novella, that, in my opinion, is a little more ambitious and it requires a few more rules. The rules are because it is so easy to start a story but it is a royal pain in the ass to finish one. It gets worse when you have to edit it and rewrite it. The rules are there to keep you honest and to keep you working. Because writing an honest short story or novel or novella requires that you make a commitment to a project which creates nothing more than words on a page. You won’t get paid for it. You won’t be idolized by millions. You will be told to keep up the good work but you probably won’t get any support for it. Unless it’s published, you won’t be able to use it on a resume or on a cover letter to a periodical or magazine you want to publish in. Contests are a good market – a remarkably well paying market, actually, relative to what magazines pay – but you have to finish the story to enter it into a contest.
I have one friend that I talk to about writing as often as I can. I harped on her for the need for rules. Because without them, our creative impulses would overwhelm us and we would be surrounded with the frustration of unfinished projects. So, she created her own rules. Click on the link and go to check them out if you will.
My rules, well, are more comprehensive. They are a kind of twenty questions I started playing. My brother started it with me a long time ago. I always operated on these rules, more or less, but when my brother suggested coming up with twenty questions to ask myself every day. I came up with these 20. I keep them with me in my Moleskin miniature accordian folder.
- How happy was I today?
- Did I tell my wife that I love her today?
- Did I tell my children that I love them today (this was before Elena – I wanted to be able to use these questions for the rest of my life)
- Did I read at least 1 chapter from one book today?
- Did I write at least 250 words today?
- How many stories did I submit for publication today?
- How many books did I purchase today?
- Did I finish writing one or more novels today?
- Did I speak to at least one member of my immediate family today?
- Did I meet all of my deadlines todaty?
- Did I make one plan for my future today?
- Did I take on a leadership role today?
- Was I team player today?
- Did I take responsibility for any mistakes I made today?
- Was I clear and concise in all of my communications today?
- Did I call back everyone who left me a phone message today?
- Did I take any calculated risks today?
- Did I recognize someone today for having done a good job?
- Did I attend to all of my responsibilities around the house today?
- Did my behaviour today reflect my values?
I do this because I cannot write my stories if I do not focus. And asking myself these questions focuses me so that I know that I can get to work without anything else getting in the way. I ask myself 19 questions so that I can get around to answering one of the yes – you can guess which one.
I do have one more suggestion. This is one that is more recent – a ratio of reading to writing. It really should be 10 to 1, I think. You have to read at least 2500 words every day if you expect to write 250 words regularly. As you get to a point where you are writing a novel, that ratio can maybe fall to to 2 to 1, or even 1 to 1, but never zero. Because you have to be able to distance yourself from your work to effectively write.