Happy New Year my fellow geeks and ghouls.
This is a strange and exciting start to the new year for me as I’m currently preparing for the launch of The Suffering in February, so my goals and strategies for this year have shifted considerably compared to previous years. To kick off 2023, I wanted to share some of the things that worked for me and helped me to get to this crazy stage.
Plan Your Time
Use an online calendar tool or a good old-fashioned pen-and-paper chart to visibly block in your time and work out how you can squeeze your writing needs into your week. When you’re working a demanding job and have family commitments, this can be pretty daunting at first. But being able to see those small snippets of spare time can really help you to focus on making writing fit into your schedule each week.
- Start with a list of categories depending on what stage you’re at in your writing process, and what you need to focus on above all else.
- Break each category down into smaller sections and be realistic about timescales. Do you really need to start worrying about getting beta readers or an editor when you’ve still got half the book to write? Move tasks that can wait until a few months down the line into a separate list that you can revisit later in the year.
- Make the timetable less daunting and easier to reference at-a-glance by using colours, stickers, or specific fonts to break up each task.
Explore What Works for You
Your writing process is completely unique to you, so the best tips even a bestselling writer could give you may not resonate at all with your style or personality. Don’t try to follow a list of things that work for someone else if they just don’t fit your needs. The best way to understand your own process is to reflect on the times you were most productive. If you’ve just started out, or can’t think of a time when you felt as though you had a good ‘flow’, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I work better when I have a variety of things to do, or do I work best when I focus on one task at a time?
- Do I work better in a group so that I can bounce ideas off my peers, or am I better working alone until the writing is over?
- Do I start writing and see where the characters take me, or do I like to plot the entire book before I start?
- What is more engaging for me: the characters or the plot?
Questions like this can really help you to understand how your brain works, and what makes your writing tick. You may even be surprised by your answers, especially if you’ve been told there is only one way to write in the past.
Work through each question (and add a few more of your own!) and consider how to plan your writing time around your answers. For question one, my answer is changeable depending on what part of the process I’m at. Usually, I love having a number of things on the go in order to keep my excitement levels high and avoid getting stagnant. I check lists of short story sub calls (Authors Publish is a great one!), or pick a random writing exercise to keep up my inspiration levels. But, when I’m nearing the end of a project, or I’m in final edits, there’s no way I can work on anything else but the biggest task at hand. Your answers may be just as changeable, and that’s perfectly fine! Do what works for you at any given time.
For the question about character or plot, you may think, “That’s stupid. They’re both just as important.” And you’re absolutely right. But usually when you begin to write, it’s because you’ve been inspired by one or the other. Perhaps a brilliant character has popped into your mind and you can’t wait to write them down. In doing so, you unlock members of their family and friendship group, followed by their antagonist/s. That might lead you down the path of who the villains were in the past, and why they are the way they are. When you’re on a roll of discovering characters, you might not want to pull away from worldbuilding to plan out a specific plot for them. If you stop and think, “Wait, I need to actually work out what happens in the book, otherwise I’m going nowhere with this,” you may find your inspiration dries up completely. Finish getting out all you need to know about the characters, and then work on the plot. You don’t need to do it all at once. The most important thing is finding a way to work that keeps you interested and inspired to keep going each week.
Be Firm But Fair
This goes for the people around you, but also yourself.
- If you live in a busy household and there’s no way of getting out to write, try to set a firm boundary around the hours or minutes that you schedule in to work on your writing. If you have young children or carer’s demands, etc, you might need to consider adjusting the time you get up in the morning, or trying to work later into the evening. This isn’t always healthy, so be sure you’re setting acceptable goals that won’t impact your health and wellbeing.
- Acknowledge that some weeks just don’t work out. Life gets in the way of writing and that’s okay. Instead of beating yourself up and frantically scrabbling to get the time back the next week, simply re-set and start again, sticking to the scheduled plan. This will help you avoid burn-out and keep you motivated throughout the year.
- Even ten minutes is better than nothing. Don’t obsessively count the minutes at your computer or your wordcount, just show up each week and the rest will follow.
- An “unproductive” week might be anything but. By this, I mean that the time spent twiddling your thumbs and staring at a blank screen aren’t wasted moments. The ideas will come eventually, and by intentionally making the choice to work on your book, you’re setting the ball in motion for those eureka moments that will strike you when you least expect it.
- Be extra kind during your writing time. Do you have a favourite coffee or tea? A type of sweet or another snack that you just can’t resist? Make it a part of your writing session. This works especially well if you have to fight to make the time to sit and write when you’re already pulled in a million directions and feeling exhausted from a day working hard at everything else life throws at us. Give yourself something to look forward to, and make it synonymous with your writing time.
In a nutshell, it pays to:
Be organised, be flexible, and be realistic.
Those are the main ways to see results as you start your new year of writing. But, above all, be kind to yourself.