So there are two way of looking at writing. That there are set rules you need to follow to become successful such having a target amount of words to write per day. Or the only rule is that there are no rules so you basically fly by the seat of your pants and it will all come together.
There’s nothing wrong with either approach if that works for you. But I think there is a third option which is that you follow no one else’s rules, but your own.
You could spend hours reading articles, attending talks, listening to podcasts etc where bestselling authors give advice. They simply say what works for them. Most of them, I imagine, don’t expect you to follow that word for word. However many struggling writers desperate for success start to think – well I’m doing it all wrong! I need to work just exactly the way such and such works and then I will be successful like them.
See my problem with this? We are all different. We are all curious. We all have a certain sadistic bent when it comes to ‘work’ (long hours, little or no pay!), but we are still individuals and what works for someone else may not work for you. So here I will give you 5 tips on how to sort out what your rules are:
- Where To Write
So your favourite author has a writing haven with a view of snow-capped mountains. Maybe a friend has converted her garage into an office. That person over there can write at busy cafes, that person over there covering her ears and frowning cannot not get any work down unless it is quiet.
So what works for you? Try different things. If you feel setting up a desk or office will help then do it. If you are on a budget and don’t have the snow-capped mountain view or can’t afford an antique desk then improvise. Get folders in colours you like. Decorate a corkboard with postcards and pictures that inspire you. Whatever you think will make a conducive environment. Don’t have a desk or even room for one? So try use the dining room table or your lap. Whatever works!
Then think about how long each day you think you can sit there. Due to certain aspects of my chronic illness, sitting at one place for a long time isn’t always possible. So I have my desk, I have the dining room table, I use my iPad on the couch or even in bed! I also get work done at cafes and the local library (which actually has a lovely view).
So try a few places and if you like them, go back. Try a busy café, try a quiet one. Maybe writing on the beach works for you or on a bench by the river. There are so many options. Just want to stay at your desk? That’s fine too.
- When to Write
This is one that gets people. Some authors treat writing like a job and write basically 9-5 each day. If you can do that and it works for you, then do it. Your hours might be slightly different depending on your lifestyle, but if a set work day appeals to you then go for it. But perhaps, like me, you have a health condition that means that is not possible. Maybe you have another job or kids or a house to look after. Perhaps some days you can write all day and maybe others you will get nothing done. Some people are night owls and enjoy writing at night. Some people enjoy writing on the train on the way to work while others would feel sick if they tried that. Again – try out a few different things and see what works for you.
Don’t think that someone that writes full time is necessarily going to get things done better or faster than you either. Sometimes people become slaves to routine and maybe 3 out of 5 days what they write is crap and gets edited out. Hence why it is important to discover what works for you as an individual. Any writing is better than none so don’t waste time wishing you had more time!
- What to Write
This should be easy, but it often isn’t. But basically you should write what you want to write. Don’t write for a particular audience or publication just for the sake of it. Your writing will look and read as fake. Be authentic. If you sit down and honestly don’t know what to write as you feel so bombarded with information, then find a few writing exercises or prompts to get you started.
The one book I would recommend is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Again don’t read it and think you have to do everything it says to the letter. However it is entertaining and has some brilliant exercises to get you started if you are staring at a blank page. The point is, at first anyway, to simply write. If you wait for the ‘great idea’ you will be waiting a very long time and not getting any practise in the meantime.
Of course if you have a great idea – then write it. Get it down in whatever way you can. You can edit it later so don’t be afraid. What you type today is not going to be seen by anyone else unless you want it to be so just do it.
- A Word on Word Counts
Are you writing a novel? Do you set yourself a goal to write 2,000 or 3,000 words a day? Does it work for you? If so then keep doing that. Me? I would rather beat a hairbrush against my thighs over and over than work by such a strict regime. The way I see it is that, sure, if you write so many words a day then by a certain day you will have enough words for a manuscript. That is until you realise at least 25% or more is crap and needs to be cut. Day 1 you were sick, but you made yourself type those 2,000 words. Days 8, 9, 11, 12, 16 etc you wrote after drinking ¾ of a bottle of wine and took your character in a direction you forgot about later. Days 2, 18, 19 & 21 your child was home sick and kept asking you for things every 5 minutes so most of those words needed heavy editing.
Are you seeing my point? Again if that works for you – feel free to ignore me. But if it doesn’t then DON’T DO IT. I certainly won’t be doing it anytime soon. I’ll write thousands of words some days and maybe a few dozen other days. It depends what I am doing, where I am, how my health is, what I’m feeling, whether I have a deadline etc.
So write. As much as you want to when you want to. Guilt for not sticking to a strict regime you have set yourself is no good for your creativity or productivity.
- There Are Some Rules You Just Can’t Avoid
Okay, so there are some basic rules about writing you do need to stick to, but this is when you are wanting to send your writing somewhere for publication. You have to present it in a certain way or you won’t get a look in.
Whether you have written a feature article or a novel, you will need to do a few things before sending it off hoping to be published. There is plenty of info out there on how to format documents properly for publication so I won’t say it here. Just quickly though; you will need to learn to (often ruthlessly!) edit your work, format your work properly and read the contributor or author guidelines of any publication or publishing company before sending anything.
So other than point 5, I hope you have gotten the point that rules can be productive or counterproductive depending on who you are, how you work, what you want to achieve etc. Many of us need some rules, even the tiniest ones or we would never achieve anything. Other people need strict rules or else they feel uncomfortable. So make rules that suit you and only you. You cannot work by anyone else’s routine so don’t try. There is only one hard and fast rule if you want to be a writer and that is to write. How you go about it is up to you.