Ah, finally, the vital step. Writing. The first two steps are the fun and exciting steps. Then we get to writing. Writing is hard. Writing is the painful, strenuous, miserable, hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, fist-shaking, curse-shouting step. Writing is the step where everything can fall apart.
But it is the most important step in the writing process. You can get all the ideas in the world, develop them, plot them out, profile your characters, but if you can’t park your ass in a chair and put words on the page, then there’s no point.
For me, a typical night of writing looks like this:
Start up laptop. Open Word. Open Twitter. Open YouTube (FOR MUSIC!). Check all notifications on Twitter. Interact with some people on Twitter. Start trading gifs of Jensen Ackles and Tom Hiddleston back and forth with people on Twitter. Realize you haven’t started writing yet. Open appropriate document. Check Twitter again. Tell Twitter friends it is time for you to focus on writing. Open Facebook. Check Facebook notifications. Maybe interact with some people on Facebook. Realize you don’t have a blog post written for this week yet. Open WordPress. Brainstorm for blog post. Check Twitter again. By now it is 11pm. Realize you still haven’t written anything. Start writing. Fall asleep on laptop 20 minutes later. Wake up at 3am, delete the 3 pages of the letter s you wrote while asleep, put laptop away.
It is a true miracle I ever accomplish anything.
…okay in all seriousness though, I have a pretty good writing routine down. I write every day. It took me years to develop this habit, and I did not develop it because all the writer advice websites say “write every day.” I developed it largely because of anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. I used to have trouble getting to sleep at night, until I developed a habitual nightly writing routine. I’ve written previously about psychologically manipulating yourself to get results. This is another way. Attach writing to something in your routine. For me, I attached it to going to bed. I would go to bed, get out my laptop, and write. At first I did this because I had trouble getting to sleep, and writing gave me something to focus on besides every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in the past 25 years, but before long, I did it because it’s just… what I do. It keeps my mind occupied so I don’t lie awake brooding, and it keeps me productive. Even if I go to bed at midnight and have to be up for work at 6:30, I get out my laptop (usually in these cases, I just fall asleep on my keyboard two minutes later, but if I *didn’t* get out my laptop, I wouldn’t fall asleep). I do write during the day on weekends sometimes, but for me, writing is a “once you start you will not stop” habit. If I start writing in the morning, all other activities for the day are gone from my mind. Writing at night also saves me from having to stop for any reason. I’m in bed. The day is done. Leave me alone. I can write until I can’t write anymore.
Anyway, each night without fail, I go to bed around 8, get out my laptop, and write. If I go a day or two without doing this, I get anxious. I can’t focus. I get irritable. All I can think about is going home and writing.
So let’s face it: I’m addicted to writing. And I think that’s how it should be. Writing should be something you enjoy. Even in all its teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling glory, you should enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you should make time for it in your life. If you do not enjoy it, then why are you doing it?
I try not to get preachy or spew out advice about “how to write” or “how to be a writer” or any of that. Everyone’s routine is different, everyone’s process is different, everyone’s life is different. But I do think that it is important to develop a routine if you want to see any results. Just like with any skill or art, you have to put a lot into it if you want to get anything out of it. You have to practice in order to get better. Whether it’s 1000 words a day, a page, a paragraph, a sentence–whatever it is, do it consistently. Writing is not a spectator sport. You can’t read a book about how to write, sit down, and immediately tap out beautiful sentences, vivid imagery, and realistic characters. I have been writing since I was a tiny little child (as you all know, if you saw my 500 Followers Celebration Post). I started writing “seriously” when I was 11 (thank you Dragonball Z).
In other words, I’ve been writing “seriously” for over 15 years–I have a degree in creative writing–and I still think I’m awful.
But I keep writing, because I have to, because that’s all you can do, because that’s the only way to get better, and that’s the only way the words are gonna end up on the page. You gotta sit your ass in a chair (or on the floor, on your bed, on a bench, I don’t care where you put your ass, you could even write standing up, but it’s gotta stay there), you have to suffer through that self-doubt and anxiety, you have to accept that it is NOT going to be perfect (definitely not on the first draft… probably not after 5+ revisions, either. Just accept it), and then you have to start writing. I use a laptop. Some people write on a desktop. Some people write by hand. Some people use special pens or special notebooks. Some people write at home, some people write at coffee shops. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen.
One important thing to note about my writing process is that I am a pantser. That means I don’t outline in advance. I usually know what’s going to happen like 1-2 scenes in the future, and beyond that, there’s some vague notions of what might happen. Sometimes, I hit a wall. I get through those 1-2 scenes and then…. where do I go? What do I do? HALP. HALP. HALP!
When this happens, DON’T QUIT. You may need to take a day off. You may need to do more research. Sometimes you just down have the knowledge base to generate the ideas. This happened to me recently. I had some vague notion that Something Bad Happens, but couldn’t figure out exactly what. I was up against a wall. So I talked to a friend, figured out a direction, and then did some research to figure out a plausible way for that direction to be taken. I let the ideas stew and simmer for a couple days in order to coalesce in my mind, and now I have another 2-3 scenes in mind to write. After that, I once again don’t know what will happen, but fingers are crossed the boys will tell me when I get there.
If you’re having trouble with the writing step, I have a couple things for you to read. These two pieces stuck with me the most of any “writing help” I’ve ever read:
Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” (and really, the entirety of her book Bird by Bird) changed my life when I read it in college. I never finished a novel draft before reading this piece. I kept getting stuck on the idea of perfection. I’d edit as I wrote, I’d get caught up on things, and eventually fizzle out. After I read this, I finally managed to finish a novel-length draft!)
Neil Gaiman’s NaNoWriMo pep talk If Neil Gaiman can feel horribly insecure about his own writing, even after being published and awarded and praised extensively… maybe my writing isn’t as bad as I think it is, either.
Also for fun, a conversation between George R. R. Martin and Stephen King (I haven’t watched the video, just read the article) wherein Martin expresses his own insecurities about his writing.
So to summarize… Step Three – Writing = develop a routine and be consistent. Get words on the page. They are gonna suck, and you are gonna hate them, but you can’t make them better if you never bring them into existence. Once they exist, we get to move onto Step Four – Revision!!! MY FAVORITE STEP. (Jk I hate it)