You may have heard some variation on this
quote before: “Write a million words— the absolute best you can write, then
throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written.
At that point, you’re ready to begin.” All writers want to attain that level of mastery,
but reaching the million-word mark seems like a daunting task, especially if you have problems with motivation. Maybe you have countless ideas floating around in your head, yet feel paralyzed when trying
to put your imaginings into words. The root of the problem is perfectionism.
Sometimes we’re so in love with our stories that we want them to be born into the world
as perfect beings. But that’s what prevents writers from moving from the imagining stage to the creating stage. You have to get used to ugly babies.
Give yourself permission to write CRAP. But this brings us to another problem: We
all know we’re supposed to write every day, but we don’t do it! We waste time watching
TV or daydreaming instead. So how do we FORCE ourselves to write? Here are six tips on how to do just that. Number one: Establish a Routine. Writing at
the same time and in the same place every day will help you develop good habits.
Maybe you write in bed when you first wake up, or at the café you visit during your lunch hour,
or at the library between classes. As much as night owls hate to hear it, the
morning is the best time to write. Why? Because humans love to procrastinate. Waiting until
the evening leaves more room for excuses. Don’t fall into that trap. Try gradually setting your alarm earlier each
day until you’re waking up an hour earlier than usual, then use that time to WRITE first thing in the morning. Avoid checking your email or thinking about what else you have to do later that day. In addition, don’t research while you’re writing. This time
is for pure word-count generation only. Here’s another productivity trick: Write
everywhere. On the bus, standing in line, or waiting for dinner to come out of the oven.
If you like the feel of old-fashioned pencil and paper, start carrying around a small notebook.
Use note-taking apps to jot down ideas or short descriptions. There are so many short
stretches of time that we waste in a day by checking Facebook or browsing Reddit. By making writing as integral to your daily
routine as sleeping or eating, you will develop good habits, and
your future self will thank you. Number two: Eliminate distractions, such as
the Internet. You may be tempted to find the perfect synonym or Google pressing questions.
What you need is Self-Control. Self-Control is a free app for Mac that allows you to block certain websites for a set amount of time. StayFocusd and Leechblock are similar services
that are extensions for web browsers. There are plenty of others out there as well. Sometimes our loved ones can also interrupt
our writing time without knowing it. However, if you establish a writing routine, you can
tell your family, roommates, or significant other that you’re setting aside certain
times of the day just for writing. It will be easier for them to respect your schedule
if you follow a predictable pattern. Music can also further delay your writing
time, as you might waste time trying to find the perfect song to inspire you. Instead,
give your full attention to the task at hand— putting words on the page. Save the headphones for
times when you’re brainstorming ideas or plotting. Number three: Set daily writing goals for
yourself. Writing a novel is a huge task, but if you break it down into smaller chunks,
it can feel more achievable. Choose what type of quota you’d like to
reach. Maybe you’d like to aim for a thousand words per day, or perhaps you’d rather write
an hour a day, regardless of the resulting word count. You can also aim to complete one
scene per day, whether it be the first time the protagonist meets a love interest or the
final epic battle sequence. Write chronologically or start with the scene you’re most excited
to put on paper. Here’s another trick to keep in mind:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and
when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when
you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.” If you get behind on your daily targets, don’t
despair. Cut yourself some slack, but really try to avoid putting off your daily writing.
If you skip one day, you’re more likely to skip the next one…and the next…and
the next. In addition, people often underestimate the time it takes us to complete a project,
so give yourself plenty of leeway when setting goals. The Pomodoro Technique can be another great
time management tool. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and work on your project until it rings.
When you’re done, checkmark a piece of paper, and take a five-minute break. Then start the
timer again and repeat the cycle. Once you have completed four of these sessions, or “pomodoros” as they’re called, you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
These rest intervals will give your brain time to relax and digest stray thoughts. If you want to visualize your success, try
the Don’t Break the Chain method. It’s very simple: Set your daily writing goal,
then take a calendar, and cross off each day that you complete that goal. Your goal is
to not “break the chain” or leave any boxes without an X. If you’re a more extrinsically motivated
person, you can try rewarding yourself after each writing session. It could be your favorite kind of chocolate or an episode of some guilty-pleasure TV show. Make sure you only get this reward
after writing and not at any other time. You want your mind to associate
writing with that reward. Number Four: Try Alternative Forms of Writing.
Writing anything is better than writing nothing at all, so if you don’t have the motivation
to slug through your main work-in-progress, try something different. How about a writing prompt? You can put your current cast of characters into the prompt situation, or you can branch
out and explore new worlds. Think of these as flash fiction exercises, and try to keep your responses under a thousand words. Writer’s Digest posts some great weekly
prompts and also features a discussion section, where you can share your work and see how
others interpreted the prompt. Sometimes it’s easier to write about your
own life experiences and opinions rather than pull imaginary ones from thin air. Think about
how you can tap into your own emotions to convey your characters’ feelings more vividly.
Write about your first love or a time you felt true fear. Meditate on how it feels to have siblings
or to be an only child. Imagine how different you would be if you grew up with a different religion, in a country on the other side of the world, or as the opposite gender.
Start keeping a journal of your daily thoughts. Fanfiction can be another great way to boost
your daily writing, as you’re already working with an established world and familiar characters—but the plot and writing style are entirely your own. How about switching the perspective of
the story to a minor character? Play around with first and third-person. Do some genre-bending by adding fantasy elements to a story set in modern times
or switch to an entirely different time period. Although I don’t recommend basing your own
novel off of your fanfiction, this can help you find your voice and provide more storytelling
practice. Feedback from reviewers can also be beneficial for identifying your strengths
and weaknesses as a writer. Sometimes you need to take your writing a
little less seriously and just goof off, and that’s where roleplaying can be really effective.
Roleplaying involves writing a story with someone else, piece by piece. You’re not
playing Dungeons & Dragons; you’re exchanging messages. You team up with another person
to create a story and then your characters interact. Depending on your partner, the responses
can be anywhere from two sentences to a thousand words. Roleplayers either use instant messaging
services like Kik or Skype for real-time conversations or long-form methods like email. You can explore
different genres, from slice-of-life and historical fiction to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. It may seem a bit geeky at first, but you’ll
be surprised by how much easier it is to pop out a thousand words when you’re responding
to what someone else has written. Plus, roleplaying can help you brainstorm new plot ideas, flesh out new types of characters, and produce more completed stories. Number Five: Enter writing contests. Writing contests and magazines force you to adhere to specific deadlines, and that can push you to finish projects.
There are also certain word count and subject you need to follow, and having
that kind of box to work in can make it easier to start writing. Say the contest is looking for a sci-fi story
with romantic elements and it must be less than seven thousand words. Oh, and the topic
for this month’s magazine is artificial intelligence, and the deadline is in a month.
So, over the course of a month, you can aim to finish one submission with a little writing
and revising each day. The thrill of actually completing a project, even it’s just a short story, can be a great motivator, as it tells you that you’re capable
of finishing things you’ve started. Start small and look at contests posted on
blogs rather than huge international competitions. Many contests and magazines don’t have entry
fees. Others have small entry fees but oftentimes provide a year’s subscription to the online
publication with your entry. With any contest, there are some best practices you should follow:
always read past winners to see what the judges are looking for. You should also make a checklist
of the submission guidelines you need to follow, read the FAQ page, and double check the formatting
requirements before you submit. Number Six: Take classes and join groups. Creative writing classes mainly focus on short stories, but the lessons you learn can be applied to larger projects. In addition, classes give you an imposed deadline and expose you to new writing styles. College courses can be expensive, but many community centers, libraries, local art organizations, and online communities offer inexpensive or free classes that you can join. You could also join a writing group, whether
it’s a local one that meets in person or an online group. Grab a writing buddy and
use each other to stay committed to your writing goals by sharing your successes and failures,
bouncing off ideas and questions, and exchanging pieces for critique. Feedback is how you grow as a writer, and
receiving constructive criticism from professionals in the writing field and from your peers is
of vital importance. It’s one thing to write every day, but in order to truly become a better writer, you need to be actively revising and improving upon your work, and
that involves critically analyzing your own stories and prose. Here is one final anecdote to motivate you
to write every single day of your life. Imagine two painters. The first painter has
been working on his masterpiece for the past three years, meticulously choosing each color
and ensuring that every line is perfect. In that same time period, the second painter
has churned out dozens of paintings, experimenting with different types of brushstrokes and color
combinations and even adding other mediums. Sure, some of them are pretty bad—awful,
actually. But there a few that are quite GOOD, as if the artist has discovered
his own unique style. Now apply the idea of the two painters to
the writing process. The quality of your writing is obviously important, but producing a large
quantity of art can provide valuable insight. Both aspects are important, but don’t become
too obsessed with one or the other. With all this information in mind, go try the 30-day challenge. Pick one or two of the methods listed here, and stick to a routine for a full month.
Maybe you’d like to write for an hour every day and mark an X on your
calendar, or experiment with a daily writing prompt each morning, or even start an elaborate
roleplay set in feudal Japan. Whatever you do, keep writing.